So the training was done, the hip flexor hurt and blisters stung. A pair of Salomon Speed Cross 3 were on e-bay (listed as “NEW“!). I had a bulk box of Clif Blok shots and High-5 Isotonic gels, along with salted peanuts, energy bars, salt tabs, Rennie antacids, flapjacks, chocolate bars …ok you get the picture, I wasn’t going to go hungry. Compeed share price had hit a five year high, as my online shopping bonanza came to an end. I had a surgical lance for any blisters, as Neil had resigned from the job as “chief popper”, on the grounds of health and safety.
I’d packed the goodies into three different food bags. One to take with me at the start, one to pick up at Ranmore and the last at Woldingham crew stop. My wife Di had the details of exact locations of the crew stops, and great husband as I am, I’d even driven her to them in advance – well if I had to recce the route, its only fair Di could recce the crew stops. Beats a romantic meal out any day of the week.
All this and still one week to go – I like to be prepared !
Sunday before the big day I risked a cheeky run. I was hoping all those hip flexor stretches had done their stuff. Eager to get even more advice, I arranged to meet up with Antonio and Marketa Martins and their wonderfully crazy 50 Shades of Trail running group. Both Antonio and Marketa are very experienced trail runners, and had completed NDW50 the year before. As we jogged the beautiful bluebell trails around Chaldon, Antonio and Marketa both gave me separate, and somewhat contradictory advice.
Marketa – “Enjoy the route, its beautiful, but avoid the ice cream, it gave Antonio stomach cramps last year, and I ended up beating him“
Antonio – “The trail is beautiful, but tough, so take your time. The aid stations are great, they have lovely ice cream at Caterham View point“
Also running with us that day was Tim. Tim had paced a lady on the last 50 miles of the recent TP100. I confessed to Tim, I was a little anxious about the last 20 miles of the course. Tim just said “Once everything starts hurting, you’ll be fine”.
At the last “planning meeting” the NDW50 Team had collectively agreed our key objectives/aims for the run:-
- Start and finish together as a team
- Stretch finish target around 10hrs
- Realistic finish target 10 1/2 hrs
- More than happy if we finish any time under the 13 hr cut off
- Enjoy as much as possible – Its not a race Jamie!
- Only excuse for dropping out is loss of a major limb – this was later upgraded to loss of two limbs
- Run 1st half around 11min/miles (includes stops) – prepare 12min/miles+ for tougher 2nd section
- Anyone who can’t complete the run, (see point 6 above), will be taken to nearest Aid station and unceremoniously dumped there
- Spend as little time at Aid Stations as possible –Its a race Jamie, not an eating contest!
- Team motto is “ALL excuses are lies“, so don’t even start to complain
Above all STICK TO THE PLAN!
So as I sat in a coffee shop at Waterloo station on the Fri night before race day, I pondered what lay ahead. Jamie arrived with his over laden backpack and Richard soon followed. Before long we were headed to my Auntie Anne’s in Weybourne, who had foolishly agreed to house us all for the night.
A very nice meal and a few pints of Hogs BackBrewery finest ale followed in the Wheatsheaf pub in Farnham, after which it was back to Aunties for a quick cuppa and an early night. All three of us slept well. I exclude my Auntie in this, as her crazy Jack Russell “Dibbles” never sleeps, so nor does she. Porridge smoothies, scrambled eggs were duly served at 6am, camel packs/water flasks filled and we were off on the short trip to ‘Polycarps School’ for registration.
First anxiety of the day for Ultra virgins, “Kit Inspection“. Jamie and I hung back, as we cowardly allowed “the coach” to approach the desk first. Whistle, Emergency blankets, mobile, and water capacity check – TICK – The waterproof jacket with taped seams & 10000mm+ specs, which had caused me the most challenges, had been removed from the mandatory list for the 1st time ever, due to the good forecast. Never mind, my son can use it on his A-level Biology field trip.
Jamie and I stepped forward next, but no issues. We handed in our signed waivers, and race numbers were received and pinned on. We sat and waited for the briefing. When the Race Director James stood up there was a sudden change of mood in the room. Everyone became very serious. That was up until the point that James advised, “those who thought they had signed up for 50 mile race are getting a little bit extra for their money. The race is in fact nearer 51 miles, and there is no point complaining to me about it, cos I don’t give a sh*t, its a trail ultra, deal with it!“
The serious spell was broken, and it was good to feel the buzz of excitement in the room . A quick show of hands also indicated there were a few more 50 mile virgins running today. We wandered down to the start area, and mingled at the rear of the pack.
The hooter sounded, GPS watches clicked into life and we trotted off. Jamie as usual, was already 50 metres ahead in a matter of minutes. Richard and I just looked at each other and laughed. Another 50 metres up the trail he was waiting like a scolded puppy, “come on guys, we are way behind everyone else!“. Coach had a word, and all was good in the world again.
Being right at the back of the field had one disadvantage, getting through a series of gates on the path. We waited patiently in line at each, and I saw the Garmin average pace start to rise. This was fairly short lived and after a few miles we moved into a steady/sensible pace.
It was at this point that I realised that Jamie was stopping for a “Gypsies Kiss” about every 3 miles. At this rate he would stop 17 times!
As expected the 1st half of the race was event free. Well if you exclude the Bacon Barge complete with Storm Trooper, the amazingly enthusiastic pom pom lady who popped up at several locations, and the dead horse, (no, not Aussie slang for Ketchup) a real dead horse – did anyone else see this around 9 miles?
Neil was waiting for us at Newlands Corner, so we stopped for a quick chat and a bite to eat at the aid station – food was too good to turn down. Point 9 on the plan was already out the window.
How were we all feeling? -I was a little concerned about blisters and the hip flexor wasfeeling tight, but remembered the team motto. Richard and Jamie said they were both feeling fine. We quickened the pace and enjoyed the trot through Ranmore (quick crew stop with Di and son Alex to top up electrolytes), and then the nice long descent through Denbies Vineyard.
Next was my biggest fear on the course, the dreaded Stepping Stones. I am not sure if I am alone, but confronted with such a challenge, as walking over these, causes basic functions like, err… walking to desert me. Luckily I made it to the other side, much to the disgust of all the on-lookers, who can’t have failed to notice how nervous I was looking – I am sure I heard one say “Fall in you old git”.
Now the small matter of the Box Hill Steps – to practice these I had walked up 14 flights of stairs in my Canary Wharf office for the last two months. Beats the over crowded lifts, and certainly helped. Who needs a gym when you have a stairwell at work?
At the Box Hill Trig Point my son Alex stood alone, no sign of Di.
“Where’s mum ?”
“Err, gone to get a Cappuccino!” Alex replied apologetically
“See you BOTH at Woldingham” I snorted.
At about this point we had adopted a new recruit to the team, the very glamorous Sam Ridley. Sam stuck with us for the next 15 miles. Quite how she managed this was beyond me. I am not talking about her running skills, she proved more than a match for us. It was more her resistance to inane banter and constant reference to #UltraMindset, (I’d read Travis Macy’s book twice), and continued pressure to provide me an upgrade to 1st class on my next flight, (Sam works for BA).
I didn’t think the dynamics of changing from a three man team to a four person team was working. I hung back and discussed with Coach, as we approached Reigate Hill. We made a tough, but measured decision.
“Jamie, you’re on you own, see you at the end!“
The climb up Reigate Hill was tough, but we were met by Matt and Tom, “running royalty” at our work run club. Matt, as he likes to remind us, has won more Parkrun’s than anyone on the planet. Tom followed the last 100m on his MTB, saying we were barking mad, but giving us lots of encouragement in the process.
More pork pies, scotch eggs, water melon, coke (cola!), and other goodies were scoffed. Alex and Di filled the flasks and we were off again, very much on home turf for me know, (I lived only a few miles away), I was in the groove again.
As we approach Caterham Aid station, I saw Jo from SLH waiting. “How’re you feeling Simon?” – I felt great, I honestly did. I had had these euphoric moments on a couple of the longer training runs. A switch is flicked, and I go from plodder, struggling to keep up, to race mode in a instant. Am sure there is running term for this, but I wish it happened more often. This also coincided with both Jamie and Richard wanting to slow the pace a tad. Coach gave me one of those looks, and I knew it was time to curb my enthusiasm.
Di was waiting at Woldingham crew stop, and we all filled our flasks with remaining SIS rocket fuel. We knew the Botley Hill climb was coming, when we arrived, it was heads down, “don’t look up lads, lets talk about Arsenal’s failure to win a cup this year Jamie!”. The ensuing argument lasted the 3-4 minutes to reach the summit, and the trick had worked, we were at the top of that B@stard hill and at the 43 mile mark.
Matt and Tom appeared on their bikes again as we upped the pace and ran the last of the road sections. At this point we were passing more and more runners, a great feeling. “No one overtakes us from this point on?” Jamie called. Most had already finished I thought to myself, but you have to admire his enthusiasm.
And then the finish was in sight, a look at the Garmin and we had a chance to get under 10:30, so heads down and we clocked our fastest mile of the race.
That little grassy mound just in front of the finish line, was so unnecessary, and will be included in my complaint letter to Centurion, along with the extra mile we hadn’t paid for, and James’s potty-mouthed pre-race briefing.
We linked hands and crossed the line in just over 10hrs 27mins. Joint 97th Place out of 213 starters – not important in the big scheme of things, but my recurring nightmare of coming last had been unfounded. Di recorded the last 50 metres on her iPhone so I could show the grandchildren in the years to come.
START TOGETHER and FINISH TOGETHER
PROJECT SUCCESSFULLY DELIVERED
The last steps to the finish
Medals collected, we headed to the village hall for cuppa and the best “dog roll” I have ever tasted, served by the delightful Donna. I had talked to Donna on the South London Harriers forum, but great to meet her in person and chat about her amazing marathon adventures.
And as we sat and munched on those hot dogs, Jamie turned to us and said, “we’ve qualified for a 100 mile event now !”
To which both Richard and I retorted
“100 miles, F*** Off !“
Footnote: Thanks to everyone, been a real adventure from the first sight of that Centurion Flag a year ago, to writing this blog. Thanks for all advice I received from so many people, along the way. Thanks to all at Centurion for providing us the awesome challenge. Hugs and kisses to my wonderful wife Di for all her support with my new obsession. Thanks to “Coach” Richard and Jamie for making it all so much fun.