I decided to do this race as a break from the Channel Swim training and it became the main focus for 2015.
The race starts at Farnham Station and follows the North Downs Way for virtually all of the 50 miles, until you drop down to the finish to a small village called Knockholt Pound. There is a 13 hour cut off with 6 aid stations along the way with food and drink, as well as a few other designated areas where you could meet your support ‘crew’ and mine (Katie and Mary) were brilliant.
The route is hilly and I did most of my training on the South Downs, initially running all the time, but started to walk the hills as I got nearer the race (I had been told early on in my training that if I tried to run the whole race, I wouldn’t finish). I covered the whole route in training, breaking it down to two 25 mile runs. The first 25 miles from Farnham to Box Hill is reasonably flat, other than the climb up to St Martha on the Hill near Guildford and Box Hill itself (275 steps not the more benign Zig Zag road as used as part of the Olympic cycling route). The second half contains some major hills, including Reigate and Botley, but even the sections that look flatter on an altitude profile can be made up of short sharp up and down sections, some of which are steps and are borderline brutal with tired legs.
As I was nursing knee problems in training, the down hills can actually cause more grief than going up and I struggled a bit on both the training runs on the route itself. Fortunately, I discovered yoga during this period, which has really helped my knees and on the day, they were not too bad.
The race was on 16 May 2015 and I was one of 227 competitors. The weather was kind on the day, cloudy to start with the sun breaking through later, but fortunately it wasn’t too hot and much of the course is in shade. I started at the back knowing I was one of the slower runners and was so pleased when everyone around me also stopped and walked when we hit the first hill at around 2 miles.
I got to the half way stage at the top of Box Hill in 5 hours 10 minutes and felt ok, but then came the ‘flat’ sections of short up and downs followed by the climb up to Reigate Hill about 30 miles in. Walking up was tough and I really struggled to get running again at the top. The scenery is stunning at this point and I was not sure if it was an inspiration or an excuse to walk and admire the views.
Unfortunately my crew couldn’t park at the Reigate Hill aid station and whilst I took on water, I ran out of my energy drink. The knock on effect was that I suffered with cramp (thigh and calf muscles at the same time isn’t nice) before we met up again and I replenished the energy drink, as well as taking on some salt.
I always had my eye on the clock and generally felt I would finish within the allotted time, but was a little nervous with 10 miles remaining as I still had Botley Hill to go and knew that part would be really slow. It was somewhat ironic that having climbed Botley, running well and with just 7 miles to go, my right leg just suddenly shut down and I hobbled along for a while before finally getting the leg going again.
Fortunately the last part was reasonably flat and I finished as the light was fading, in 200th place having taken 12 hours 52 minutes and 13 seconds, a long way behind the winner who did it in 6 hours 43, a new course record and over 1 hour ahead of the 2nd place finisher. Six others finished after me, with the last guy 9 seconds outside the cut-off so he didn’t get a medal!
Here’s Phil finishing the North Downs Way 50 mile race