This was the 44th edition of the LDWA Sevenoaks Circular, and i’m embarrassed to say it was my 1st.
The start was at 8am. After an early breakfast I left home at 7am and was parked up, registered and enjoying a cup of tea by 7:30. This event is so local I don’t know why i’ve never done it before. With a 24 hour race coming up soon, i wanted to have a good 5 hour run under my belt and get in some steady pacing. Obviously hilly and muddy trails are not exactly terrain specific training for running laps of a track, but are a lot of fun.
The start / finish is at at West Heath school, and after a short road section the route heads into Knole Park. I had been chatting to some friends at the start, but i was being more aggressive with my pacing, aiming for some early 8:30 miles before the route got too muddy so pushed ahead, just behind the lead runners.
After Knole Park the route headed out to the East into the open country side and dropped downhill to Ightham Mote and then Shipbourne Church.
We then started to loop round to the south, across the Fairlawn estate toward Hildenborough. My daughter has her riding lessons here, so i recognised this section as we crossed Riding Lane and headed towards the A21. This is about the lowest point in the entire route, and i knew there were a couple of big climbs coming up, so i took a gel in preparation. I was running with a couple of other guys – one in long sleeved top and tights and the other in t-shirt and shorts. They were following the route on a gps watch while I had the paper route guide, so between us we had no navigation issues.
The second checkpoint was in the village hall in Weald, and then the route starts to climb up Wickhurst Road. I walked the steeper sections, and eventually reached the summit and then there was a long steady descent through Mill Bank Woods. A runner caught me here (red shirt man), and told me this was a good downhill stretch, and then flew off into the distance. The weather had been glorious all morning, with bright sunshine and light winds. However as i ran into Dryhill park it clouded over and started raining. This was the third checkpoint, and after topping up with some water, I grabbed a bag of mini cheddars, aiming to eat these on the big climb to Knockholt. We had caught up with red shirt man at this point, and leaving this CP found another (T-shirt man) who was running towards us having gone the wrong way. Briefly there were five of us running together, but by the time we reached the A25 road crossing two had disappeared and I was back with the two guys i’d been with since CP2. Dashing across the main road was a bit scary, but we were soon running through Chipstead. I was surprised how tranquil the village seemed, being so close the M25/M26 motorways. Over the motorway bridge and then we ran towards Chevening Church.
The guys i’d been running with slowed for a walk up this gradual incline, but i carried on, knowing it was going to get steeper very soon. After the church there is a brief section across a field, and then it is steeply uphill to the North Downs Way. My legs were burning as I hike up here. I’ve done very little hill training this year (with Crawley and GUCR on the schedule it’s not been a priority) and paid the price. Eventually I was at the top, and joined the road into Knockholt.
The checkpoint was in the village hall and had some great looking cheese and tomato rolls, so i helped myself and set off to walk and eat. As i left I saw the guys i’d been with earlier running passed the CP, so called them back. I’d caught three runners in the CP, (red shirt man and two I’d not seen before) but they caught up with me as i enjoyed my snack and strolled down the road. However I started running again soon after and ran with them down the road only to see T-shirt man heading towards us!
Back on the North Downs Way and two of the runners stopped to walk, so now I was running with only red shirt man, and we were playing leap frog with T-shirt man. He was using his phone to navigate, and had done the Knockholt loop clockwise to our anti-clockwise, and was now heading down the field on the other side of the hedge to us. GPS is useful, but you still can’t beat written route guides.
The three of us ran into Duncton Green together and then through the nature reserve. As I caught sight of the Knole Acadamy (a large secondary school), i realised we were going back into the centre of Sevenoaks for the last couple of miles. While it was still rural and secluded I stopped for a toilet break, and then ran up to the main road. I could see red shirt man followed by t-shirt man, but they were powering up Bradbourne Road and I couldn’t catch them.
Although I had a vague idea where i was, it wasn’t until the route directions took me through a wooden door into Knole Park that I recognised the location. There was now only a couple of miles left, but all gently uphill. First through the park and then onto the road. I could see the two runners ahead, but hadn’t the speed to catch up.
Finally the school was in sight, and I jogged up the drive to the main building and the finish. I’d been hoping for 5 hours, but given the muddy conditions i was very happy with a 5:07 finish and third place.
P.S. I’ve been vague with names in this blog, mostly because I didn’t know the names of the guys I was running with. However after checking the results, I realised they were all called David, so using their names would not have improved the narrative.
1st place David in 5:06
2nd place David in 5:06
3rd place David in 5:07