So Part I of the “Downs Double” was complete with the SDW50 medal hanging proudly on the wall. The legs were feeling fine. The hue of my blistered toes was changing from purple to black.
With NDW50 in just 5 weeks time, I had to answer the simple question, which would be the winner in the great North vs South “Downs 50” debate. The SDW had been very good to me, so it was going to be a close call.
The next “event” for me was marshalling at the London Marathon. It turn out to be a long day, but a very rewarding one. After my duties were completed, I meet up with some of my South London Harriers club mates in the pub and was in awe of some of the times the “Vets” had turned in. First and foremost was John Foss, who won the VM55 category with a time of 2hrs 50min.
3 weeks out from NDW50 and inspired by my club mates efforts, I decide to try my hand at some sprint interval training, along the Thames Path between Canary Wharf and Tower Bridge. It felt ok, until the next morning when my right Achilles was feeling more than a little tender. On Saturday I decided to go to and “watch” the local Parkrun at Banstead Woods (in full running kit of course).
Proudly sporting my SDW50 Finishers top, I stood at the start and began chatting to Jen from the club. As we spoke I thought, “what the heck“, may as well trot round. A course PB for me later, and the damage was done. Sunday morning I couldn’t walk without sharp pains on both heels/ankles.
I rested it for the next week and half with regular icing and self massage. 1 week to go and it was still painful. I decided to try and “run the pain off”. I completed a slow jog with Jamie on the Tues, and the pain was bearable. A second lunchtime run on Weds and the wheels flew off in spectacular fashion. Shooting pain on the outside of my right heel and a deep throbbing sensation in my Achilles had me hobbling the 3 miles back to work.
I had to work from home Thur and Fri, as I couldn’t walk in my work shoes. I spent as much time as possible with both feet in a bowl of ice water. The “Downs Double” looked like it was over.
I can’t begin to explain how annoyed I was with myself.
I had already sorted out staying at my Aunties in Farnham on the Friday night before the race. Cote Brassiere was booked for dinner. So my plans were hastily adjusted to meeting Jamie @ Waterloo, train down to Farnham, meal out with Auntie, get Jamie to the start and for me to ride the train to Dorking. He I would get picked up my wife Di, where were would both crew for Jamie at various locations.
My friend Tony was also running, his 1st 50 miler. Like Jamie he had a sub 3:20 marathon time, so I suggested they run it together. Tony is a Chelsea support too, so could take over my main role of ridiculing Jamie on Arsenals poor performance this year.
After a few too many beers over dinner (Chelsea had literally just clinched the Premiership title whilst we are having dinner, so why not?), I announced
“Well I’ve paid for cake, I am going to eat cake” !
Why not enjoy the banter at the race start, then try and trot to Aid#1 ? Then I could fill my face with all the delights the Aid station tables had to offer. I was sure I could persuade Di to come and pick me up form there.
Saturday arrived and I meet friends Tim Cooke and Antonio Martins at the pre-race bag drop. Antonio was over from Portugal for a quick holiday to UK and of course to run NDW50. I had been looking forward to catching up with him again.
Anyone who knows Antonio will tell you, he is both completely bonkers, and incredibly passionate about running. I had run with him many times before he had gone back to his native Portugal, and never had a dull moment in his company.
I explained the situation with my injury. He advised he wasn’t looking to finish either, as he had spent almost every hour of the last 5 months renovating is house on Portugal. So as Jamie and Tony trotted off to the head of the race, Antonio and I lingered near the back of the pack.
At 08:00 precisely, James Elson sounded the hooter and the NDW50 2017 was underway. It was just over 6 miles to Aid#1. Was the heel going to last ?
I adopted a shuffle style of running, minimising the flex of my heel. The pain was there, but was bearable for now. We ran and Antonio chatted, and chatted (you get the picture), and in what seemed no time at all, we reached Aid#1 @Puttenham. We stopped for a bite to eat, and I filled up his flasks with TailWind – I avoided the Caffeine one, as the last thing Antonio needs is caffeine !
“How you feeling Simon, you wanna stop here or go on ?” he asked
“I reckon I can make it to Aid#2 at Newlands Corner“ – I knew Neil was volunteering there, so thought I’d try and make it that far, and then call for a lift.
So we continued on our way. It was then I noticed we were running alongside the experienced Susie Chan and her friend Sophie from the BBC.
Antonio being Antonio, soon turned his conversations to the ladies (he had no idea who they were) and for the next 4-5 miles, we chatted and regularly swapped places with S & S – I suspect they were secretly searching for sanctuary !
As we overtook just past St.Martha’s Church, Antonio turned and shouted “you know we are going to beat you two“. I shook my head, and apologised, but they took it all in good heart, and the outcome of his outburst was a wager – losers to buy the winners a pint at the end !
The good news for me was, once again, all the banter had taken my mind off the pain, and before long we had reached Aid#2 @ Newlands Corner Mile 14. Neil was manning the crossing.
“Jamie is miles ahead of you, what you playing at ?” he asked.
Quick explanation about my “poorly heel” and he reminded me of my own much quoted saying
“All excuses are lies“. With that he sent us on our way to Aid#3.
I’d already texted Di and told her I was running and would meet her at the crew stop at Ranmore Common . It seemed like a long slog through this fairly flat and wooded section. To my surprise the ankle pain remained at a tolerable level.
At this point we saw a group of runners approaching rapidly from the other direction. James had mentioned there was another event on the NDW today, and this was definitely it. I looked in dis-belief as I saw the unmistakable John Foss bearing down on us, at his usual 6 min/mile pace.
Antonio and I gave the “Go Fossie” chant and I managed a quick pic of 2 legends crossing each other.
Before I even got to where Di was waiting at Ranmore Mile 21 she was shaking her head.
“You idiot, what are you doing running on that ankle”. I pointed at Antonio and said
“He made me“
I said I was genuinely feeling much better, and had a quick stop for a coffee. “How far ahead are Jamie and Tony ?” I asked. “About 20 mins” was the reply.
Antonio’s wife would be at Reigate Hill, so the plan was now to get there. At that point we would both “definitely stop“. Di pointed out there would be zero chance of parking there now, so if I “insisted on continuing“, why didn’t I meet her at Merstham (about 2 miles from our house) – “Agreed” – I said.
Antonio and I trotted off like naughty schools boys (bloody old school boys at that).
Another familiar face, Andrew Hughes was directing runners to the underpass at the A24 junction. A high-5 with Andrew and we are off. A quick “grab and go” at Stepping StonesAid#324 miles and Antonio was keen to show me his party piece. He sprinted across the stones as quick as he could.
I on the other hand wobbled from step to step, very unsure of myself.
Now just the small matter of the 275 step climb to reach the top of Boxhill. The view at the top was worth the effort.
We made good progress along the ever more undulating course. The weather was warm and sunny, but the course is 80% shrouded with a tree canopy, so we remained mainly in the shade.
We climbed Colley and Reigate Hills and with 1/2 a mile to the next aid station we were met by Antonio’s wife Marketa. She followed us down to Reigate Hill Car ParkAid#4 32 Miles
At this point Antonio advised he was starting to feel the miles in his legs. We agreed I would push on and meet Di as planned. He would have a breather and try and catch me up.
I really didn’t want to leave him, but I could tell he had made his mind up. We both topped up on Tailwind and for the first time I started to quicken the pace.
Antonio was to make it to Aid#4 @Caterham, before calling it quits (he had lost his wager !).
I was really on home turf now, the ankle pain seemed to have gone completely by now.
As I approached Quality Street, I was glad to assist 2 runners who had started running the wrong way, back towards Reigate. I showed them the path over the M25 and sent them on their way.
I met Di in Merstham, and to my (and her) surprise, she said Jamie and Tony had passed by only about 2 mins ago.
I didn’t have any desire or plan to catch them, but it certainly spurred me on. Another cup of coffee prepared me for the long drag up to Chaldon. I was soon approaching Aid#5 Caterham Viewpoint mile 38, as I neared the feed station, there was Jamie and Tony, ready to head off. I called out, Jamie’s face was picture “How the hell did you get here, did Di give you a lift ? We’ll wait for you if you want ?“.
I had pushed it a bit hard for the last few miles, and knowing how desperately Jamie wanted to go under 10hrs,I told him I wanted a quick rest, and for them to carry on.
I left Caterham Viewpoint with a young runner called Alex, and before long we were discussing a range of topics from Cyber Security to why the “yoof of today” are addicted to computer games. The conversation continued up the long climb to Aid#5 at Botley Mile 43. Enroute I was pleased to see Dave Stuart handing out Pepsi and Peppa Pigs on the “Steps from Hell”.
Another familiar face in Mr Marathon “A-Z” Keith Simpson was manning the station. Quick chat with Keith and I shouted to Alex to get move on. Alex said he hadn’t eaten enough, and he’d catch me up. He never did, but was pleased to meet up again with him at the end.
I was on my own again, a quick cross of a small country lane, and I heard shout in distance. About 200m down the lane a runner was waving frantically at me, throwing her arms in the air. I was standing next to the trail exit point, across the lane, and beckoned her up the hill. Lets just say she wasn’t a happy bunny. She had missed the trail marker and had run a mile the wrong way. I told her I knew the route very well, and I suggested we ran the remaining miles together. I’d tried to make light of the situation, though wasn’t convinced it was working. “How many more of these bloody fields and hills are there ?” she asked. “End of the next field and you’ll see the finish” I replied.
Sure enough there was the finish. What I hadn’t said was we had another long field to run across before we could turn back towards it. I told her the downhill section at the end was one to savour, and I was pleased to see the smile come back to her face, as we sprinted down the last hill and onto the Finish line @ Mile 51
Di, Jamie and Heather were waiting. Jamie has smashed his course PB by a staggering 51 mins finishing in in 9hrs 36min, and I had knocked 24 mins of last years time in 10hrs 3mins (S & S you owe me a pint). Tony wasn’t far behind.
So lets get back to the main question SDW50 vs NDW50.
I had asked a number of people on the course which one they preferred. There was very much an even split in the responses, I could see why some preferred the beautiful rolling hills of the SDW vs the harsher, more technical NDW. Others preferred the shelter and less exposed trail of NDW, especially when the sun was out. NDW can certainly lull you into a false sense of security with a relatively easy initial 24 mile, and then bite you on the butt for the remaining 27 miles.
Personally I prefer the variety NDW offers over SDW, but wouldn’t argue the case too hard either way.
The Centurion Staff, aid station delights and wonderful volunteers are equally good on both trails, so which ever one you pick, you’re going to love it -why not give ’em both a goand decide for yourself ?
Thanks to all the great people on the course – Centurion Staff, Volunteers, Runners, Supporters, Stuart March Photography, Pom Pom Girl, Bacon Barge Allan and of course my wonderful crew !
http://www.stuartmarchphotography.co.uk/ <– Provider of the awesome photos above
http://www.chelseafc.com/ <— This one is for you Jamie