North Downs Way 50

Saturday 18th May 4:00pm (ish)
Halfway down a steep set of steps I slip slightly, topple over and gently end up sat on arse on a step. For a moment I seriously contemplate staying there. It could be comfortable here and there is a beautiful view of the countryside in front of me.

No, I can’t! Straight back up, and it’s time to get moving again.

41 miles in, and it’s been a long day so far.

Yet again I woke Lynds up bright and early and she dropped me in Farnham for the Centurion Running North Downs Way 50 mile race. I had really struggled to get porridge to stay down this morning, I was tired and nervous after a fitful nights ‘sleep’.

Walking into the hall I met Bryan, Graham, Kevin and Lindley. I did my kit check, got my number and signed my life away on the waiver!

We headed to the start line and at 8:00am the horn honked, and off we went; 160 runners setting off along the North Downs Way – the distance stretching out in front of us. I set off at a pretty comfortable pace, and having set my garmin off in my pocket I had removed time pressure from my run.

This week has been damp, and centurion have suffered this year from apocalyptic weather on their races. The race started off pretty dry though, and quite warm in my gilet. By the time I got to the first checkpoint at Puttenham it was time to get the jacket off!! I was fractionally up on schedule and feeling great running in the sunshine. The aid station crew were brilliant, as they were all day long!

I had written some rough time estimates on my arm, but this was rubbing off slowly and although I knew I was up on time, I was losing track of targets. Oh well!

I felt pretty strong all the way through to the boxhill stepping stones. It was at this aid station that I met Jon. Mum had told me to keep an eye out for #38 as they know Jon from their running club. We had a good chat before setting off up the steps. I was fully aware of how tough the steps would be having run them a few times, but never with quite so many miles in my legs. It was hard!! Some kids were coming down the steps counting; It was horrible to hear one get to 100 as she passed us – though at least we knew what was remaining!

At the top I was continuing to walk as I saw Lindley. He threatened to tweet a picture of me walking so I broke back into a jog. This section was always going to be a rotten one as the distance between the two aid stations included both Boxhill and Colley Hill in Reigate.

I caught Jon again as we neared the top of Colley Hill and I was looking forward to seeing Mum and Dad at Reigate Hill aid station.

Lindley was there too, and gave me a pep talk as my bottles were filled with water.

Pep talk
Pep talk

The tables were a smorgasbord of delicious fruit. It was just regular fruit, but after 31 miles of running I think it was the best fruit I’ve ever eaten. I stocked up my belly, and was reluctant to move on.

Jon and I stuffing our faces @ Reigate Hill
Jon and I stuffing our faces @ Reigate Hill

I hadn’t given much though to distance at this point, until Mum reminded me that I was at the furthest point I’d ever run before.

In all honesty though, I wasn’t fazed. I put the last bits of orange in my mouth and plodded on towards Merstham. Coming through the cricket ground I made out the smudgy ink on my arm that suggested I needed to be at Caterham at 3:15. That would mean 10 min/mile for the next 4 miles or so. Incredibly unlikely!!

I saw Mum and Dad again as I was chowing on an energy bar and walking the incline (by now I didn’t need it to be a ‘hill’ to justify walking) and soon after I saw Lyndsey for the first time. It was great to see her and I restocked my gels as well!

using the hill as an excuse to eat food
using the hill as an excuse to eat food

Jon caught up to me again and we ran to the Caterham checkpoint together having a bit of a chat about all things running. At Caterham, ultra-running legend Robbie Britton filled my water bottle and I discovered the wonders of Kiwi fruit (not for the first time, just the first time in a long run).

My deficit on the plan was only 6 minutes when I left the checkpoint and I was still feeling strong.

The route out of Caterham takes in quite a lot of elevation gain over the first couple of miles. On fresh legs a few weeks ago it hadn’t seemed too bad at all. But now I was struggling and walked for quite some time, before we finally started heading downhill again.

And that’s where my story started, finally heading back downhill until gravity overtook me and I landed on my bum.

I didn’t want to give up at all really, and as quick as the thought was there, it disappeared again. I dusted myself down and continued down the stairs (a little more cautiously now). I was still motoring along quite happily, and trying to keep Jon in my sights as he pulled away in front of me. The downhills were starting to become almost as vicious as the uphills on my quads.

Titsey Hill is a bit of a beast, and although I knew what was coming it felt horrendous when I got there. I caught two guys on the climb and we briefly discussed time and where we were on the course. I had 90 minutes to make it through in sub 10 hours. From here that was not likely to happen with 7 miles to go. Between us we resolved to aim for sub 10:30 and I powered on up the hill to the aid station.

I thought there was just water here, so I was pleased that there were more snacks available. I had caught Jon again, and we set off together after he cursed me for forgetting to tell him about that particular hill! Before long though he was running well and off into the distance for the final time.

When the route finally rejoined the road Mum, Dad and Lyndsey were waiting for me and cheered me along. I waved but carried on going. Lindley shouted some words of support, and then I saw Kevin who also shouted congratulations.

I didn't feel as bad as I look int his picture!
I didn’t feel as bad as I look in this picture!

I might have looked strong, but I was struggling. Struggling in a very particular way. Despite two helpings of anti-chafe, I was having some John Wayne issues, so this very runable part of the course was particularly tough.

I knew most of this route was runable from here on in, but I needed to add longer walk breaks on the flat sections too now. Time was slipping away from me, but I was still confident of my sub 10:30.

I don’t know if it was intentional, but the bloody race organisers made the finish line both visible and audible in the corner of the final field. The only problem was that we were running away from that corner, and still had half a mile or so to go!! The swines.

The finish line
The finish line

I ran all the way down the road to the village and along to the village hall. I had been going quicker than I had for some time and my calf responded by beginning to cramp slightly. I made it up the ramp (evil buggers) to the finish line and Robbie handed me my medal. I was done!!!!

a shake of the hand from GB ultra runner Robbie Britton
a shake of the hand from GB ultra runner Robbie Britton

And it felt good!!

Ok, so I was tired, and my legs hurt, but it was such an amazing feeling to be able to say I had run 50 miles, in one go, in 10 hours and 20 minutes!!!

I bloody well earned this!
I bloody well earned this!

The race was so well organised, and Centurion put on an amazing event so thanks go to them and the brilliant crew members for making the event so special.

hot food and a cup of tea. amazing!
hot food and a cup of tea. amazing!

It’s often said that ultra running is more a mental sport than a physical one, but surprisingly (for someone who often struggles to deal with mental demons on a long run) I felt fantastic the whole way round. Don’t get me wrong, I was mentally drained and got a little annoyed that I couldn’t go any faster at the end, but I completely understood that it was simply fatigue and couldn’t be helped. I never seemed to find myself in a really dark place. I think a lot of that had to do with the weather and general atmosphere among the runners I chatted to.

Whether I can do that again, plus another 50 miles, in August remains to be seen. But here is to three months of strong training!!


36 thoughts on “North Downs Way 50

    1. If it’s on any of this section I can guarantee you’ll have a really enjoyable run! I can also guarantee that it’ll be tough – but that just makes it all worthwhile! :-)

  1. For the 100 get your support crew to have a hot meal ready for you at the half way point !
    Well done great effort & time on your longest run of your life – so far.

  2. congratulations and well done Chris. Wish we could have been there at the finish too. Can’t believe you don’t even look tired at the end! Well done and finishing the shed after all that too!!

    1. :-) I was tired, but I think the elation and pride just did a good job of covering that!! Yesterday I just had to try and keep moving – hence felting the shed roof and mowing the lawn! :-)

  3. Well done, Chris – such an amazing achievement! I grew up in this area (Caterham, specifically) and had no idea this race went through it. It’s definitely one I should do at some point (although I’ll see how I get on in my first 50mi ultra in October beforehand!).

  4. Well done, Chris! Congratulations on a superbly strong first 50, amazing stuff. Jon really enjoyed running and chatting with you during the race. Good luck for the NDW100! We’re crewing the mile 98 aid station so look forward to seeing you then! :-)

  5. Hi Chris. It was a pleasure to run with you. You certainly helped me on several occasions. You looked really strong throughout. Great performance. Still no idea how you forgot to mention Titsey Hill though – I think your words were something along the lines of ‘it’s all pretty runnable and flat after Oxted’. If you can run that hill then you are a better man than I am!! Seriously, was great to run with you. Good luck in your training for the NDW100 – see you there.

    1. Thanks Jon. I think I forgot that Titsey Hill was after Oxted. That’s my excuse at least, and I am sticking to it. Look forward to seeing you again at NDW100. I might not be quite so chatty at that point though :-)

  6. Fantastic! Great time, great report, great inspiration. Knowing you’d finished your 50-miler on a tough course really helped me to get to the end of my easier one.

  7. Cracking blog post Chris. What an excellent 50 mile debut. Congratulations. I agree with your comments about not ending up in a dark place as I never thought I couldn’t go on, which surprised me. Bring on the next ultra. Good luck with the NDW100.

    1. Thanks Graham, and the same to you on your first 50 and for far exceeding your expectations! I see you are already planning ahead for the next one :-)

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