Tag Archives: Hermes

North Downs Marathon

I’m one week in to the Maffetone two week test – eating no sugar or refined carbs. My goal for this race was simply to survive and finish, using just energy reserves stored in my body. I had water, and an emergency gel, but was not planning on eating. Unusually for a race, I wore a heart rate monitor, to try and help ensure I kept my HR low and in the fat burning zone. The plan was to keep HR at 135 – 140.

The North Downs Way between Reigate Hill and Denbies Estate is amazing. The trail alternates between sheltered woods and wide open meadows with superb views to the south over the Surrey Hills. It’s one of my favourite places to run. Unfortunately on Sunday the  it was overcast and alternating between 100% humidity, drizzle and light rain. I had my sun cream and sun glasses, but during a few of the wooded sections I really wished I’d brought a head torch as it was so dark.

Sarah and the children had decided to come with me, although their plan was simply to play around Box Hill rather than try and follow the race. Race Registration and the start and finish was at the Reigate Hill Golf club, so after getting my race bib, I had a coffee and a chat with Bryan and Conrad. At 9, Dave Ross sent us on our way. The first mile was fairly flat, so I managed to run reasonably near the front, but then in the second mile the route climbed 300ft, and I had to slow to keep my heart rate from soaring. From Reigate Hill and along the ridge to Colley Hill is flat, and then there is a steep drop down a technical track to another flat section at the base of the downs.

After six miles the trail starts to climb again, heading slowly up to Box Hill. I walked the steps up, mindful that my heart rate had been pushing up to 150, and would be burning carbs for fuel, and I had no plans to eat any in the race. The steps down the other side felt fine, but in places the chalk path was slippery I saw a couple of runners slide and fall. The race route goes over the stepping stones rather than the bridge, which is fun and makes for a good photo. My family were here to watch, and the children had been running back and forth over the stones when there was a gap between runners. Fortunately no one slipped and fell in.

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The Stepping Stones – Photo by Jon Lavis

The route briefly follows the A24, to go through the underpass, and then back up to the Denbies Wine Estate. It climbs 400 ft over the next two miles, but for the most part the gradient was not too bad, so I ran up slowly but steadily.  Finally I reached Ranmore Road, and then ran on a little way further to the turn around point, and began the run back.

The long downhill section through Denbies was fast and fun, but the section at the A24 was very crowded. In addition to our race there was the Badger half marathon and a cycling race, all sharing the same section of path and adjacent cycle track. Fortunately after the underpass, we had the route to ourselves again. I was starting to feel a little low at this point. My energy levels were down, and it felt like I had run much further than the 16.5 miles my garmin was showing. Normally I’d take a gel and push on, but instead I slowed down and tried to recover.

After the crossing the stepping stones again, it was now back up the steps to the top of Box Hill. Even though I walked the steep section, my heart rate still hit 152 here.

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The long climb up Box Hill – photo by Jon Lavis

The run along the top of Box Hill was fun, as was the descent, but after crossing Buckland Lane at 21 miles I had to slow down again a few people ran passed me. The last big climb up to Colley Hill was slow and painful, and my right hip and glute were causing some pain, but with only 3 miles left now I was nearly done, so pushed on to Reigate Hill and then the drop back down to the golf club and the finish line. At the finish

My time (4:21:51) was largely irrelevant. I’ve been starving myself of carbs all week, and my body has not yet adjusted to this new regime, so I was just glad to finish. I did feel a little wobbly after the race, but fortunately they were serving food at the golf club, and after an omelette and salad I was feeling much better.

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Huge Medal!

https://www.strava.com/activities/636571319/embed/1bc40a3b6839f049d73c36b986592f9dd53c926f

Bewl Water again

I’ve run the Bewl Water marathon twice, but never the ultra. However this year it was a perfect fit for my race schedule so I signed up early and targeted it as a hard race and good test of my endurance before my 100 mile race in June. I believed I could run the three lap (37.5 mile) route in 5:20 and after seeing that last year’s winning time was 5:47:15 I thought I might be in with a chance of a race win.

The weather was on my side as after a warm and dry couple of days the forecasters were predicting 11C and dry on race day. Perfect conditions to run and although the trail had a few muddy sections it was generally in great condition.

The race start was 8:30, but as Bewl is only 10 miles from my front door it was a relatively civilised start time, and after registering I lined up on the start line in the cool breeze, desperate to be off. At 8:30 Dave Ross (RD) sent us off, and almost immediately two guys broke away and disappeared. I figured their pace was far too fast for me and would end in either spectacular glory or more likely a spectacular blow up. I let them go and settled in to a chase group of five runners.

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Leading the chase group after 1.5 miles. I guess the photographer didn’t like my race face!

We ran the first 5 miles together in just under 40 minutes, swapping positions a few times, but sticking together. This felt comfortable and the first five miles is one of the easier sections of the route, but even so, i felt this was still too fast for my target of 5:20.  When our group started to break up on the first significant climb, I let two of them push ahead and settled into 5th position. The next few miles I ran alone, but then after the third checkpoint, I caught and passed one of the guys who had been in our chase group, and pressed on in 4th position. I was walking the steep sections and using the walk breaks as an opportunity to take a gel and drink. After a steep climb up to the car park at the Bewl visitor centre it’s 0.75 mile to the start / finish line and the end of lap one. I paused to refill my bottle and check the time. 1:41:30 for the first lap was ahead of schedule but not so fast that I was concerned. I could just see the 3rd place runner a couple of hundred metres ahead of me as I started lap two and hoped if I kept up the pace I would soon catch him.

Lap 2 was very different from the first lap. The Half Marathon race had started at 10am, so about 12 minutes before I set out on my lap, and it wasn’t long before I started passing runners from that race. The whole event has a friendly atmosphere and when they heard me coming, all the half marathon runners waved me through. However I run with a light step and unless it’s a 10k my breathing is nearly silent. A few people didn’t hear me coming and I startled one poor woman as I suddenly appeared at her shoulder. Sorry!

Sarah was running the half with a few of her friends, and their cheerful encouragement as I passed them gave me a lift. The lap seemed to go really quickly and before I knew it I was at the third CP on the lap and well over halfway through the race. Physically I felt fine, but mentally I was feeling tired. I found it hard to judge my pace on this section, and when I saw a group of runners in front I wasn’t sure how aggressively I should chase them down and pass them. It’s always tricky when there are multiple races on the same route, and I had to check my garmin every minute or so to ensure my pace was on target. Lap 2 ended in 3:25, so a 1:43:30 lap. Slightly slower than the first lap, but still ahead of my target.

Lap 3 was always going to be where the race really happens, and the trail was now empty again for the next few miles. I tried to get back into a steady rhythm and run decent 8:20 minute miles and hopefully reel in the leaders. I was still in fourth, but surely the early lead pair would blow up soon.

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Running alone

I was passing a few marathon runners now, but as I ran up the road section to the 2nd checkpoint of the lap, I thought I recognised one of the runners from the original lead pair. At the CP he stopped, and when he turned I saw his green race number just as he saw mine. At Bewl green numbers are for the 37.5 mile race, and when he saw mine, he grumbled about being caught, but set off with me for the last 7 miles.

After the CP is a fast downhill on the road, and then a steep climb, and I’d walked it on the previous laps so walked again, while Mike ( I learned his name later) ran passed me. At the top of the hill he was only about 100m ahead, and I was sure I would catch him over the next 5 miles. However despite running hard he never seemed to get any closer. At one point I was running 7:30 pace (practically sprinting in an ultra) and still not gaining on him.

With a mile to go I got to the bottom of the final hill. I could see Mike just turning right at the top, and knew there was no time left to catch him. He was running too well for me to catch him over the last downhill section. Despite that I pushed hard and must have passed a dozen or more of the marathon runners. I knew I was well inside my target time of 5:20, but would finish in 4th place. Fourth really is the worst finishing place- I’ve been there a few time as my daughter likes to remind me.

As I ran down the hill to the the finish, both my children ran out to join me. At the local Parkrun they always manage to outsprint me to line (that’s what dads do right?), so they seemed a little surprised that they couldn’t keep up.

I crossed the line in 5:11:22, so a good time and well inside my target. I saw Mike, congratulated him on his run and thanked him for making me push so hard over the last few miles. I was then surprised and delighted when handed a 3rd place trophy. Either I had mis-counted, or one of the early leaders had dropped out.

A lovely 3rd place trophy

Very smart finishers medal

The race was won by Kristian Morgan in 4:53:21 with Mike Wilson in second place in 5:10:13. Full results Race results