Lenham Cross Winter Marathon Review

New running outfit Hit The Trail Running (HTTR), set up by top utrarunner Tremayne Dill Cowdry (Western States 100 finisher amongst many other races) held its inaugural event Sunday 24th Feb. With warmer weather in the run up to the event, conditions underfoot on the North Downs were looking perfect and on the day we had clear blue skies and a beautiful warm start to the race with highs of 15C. The event sold out prior to the day, always great to see but especially promising for a new company – the route and team behind the race clearly had a strong pull. There were 121 sign ups with 98 runners on the start line and 97 finishers. The event covers 27.5miles with a generous 8hour cut off, starting from Detling village on a north-westerly 7.5mile ‘lollipop’ through shady Boxley Wood and Westfield Wood before returning back to Detling Village to the starting point for the first check point. The route then takes you on an out-and-back south-easterly trajectory along the North Downs Way through Holingbourne for the second checkpoint at 13.1miles and on to the foot of Lenham Cross for the turn-around checkpoint at 17.5 miles before returning you along the same track to the finish at Detling. There’s a decent 4,300ft of climb packed in and 90% of the course is off-road.

Lenham Route

Lenham Profile

There was certainly a warmth and buzz amongst runners in the hall eager to get going on this new race. Registration was dealt with efficiently by the friendly team and it was nice to see a race with a stripped down mandatory kit list – nothing more than a jacket, cup, water bottle and mobile required. As part of registration you are issued with a good looking HTTR buff within your entry price, a great touch and it allows you to wear it on the day. The race kicked off bang on 9am from the pedestrian bridge over the A249 Detling Hill and from there you are immediately on to trail with a moderate climb to take you up on to the ridgeway – nothing too technical, just rolling woodland path from here with some amazing views south towards Maidstone including a beautiful cloud inversion on the day. At around mile 3, leader Stephen Hobbs of Thanet Roadrunners was already at mile 5 flying back past us mid-packers. Stephen went on to destroy the course in 3:21:27 – for a hilly trail (long) marathon that’s a superb time. I came home in 6:02:29 (62nd)

Back into the 7.5mile checkpoint at Detling Village Hall we were greeted by the smiles and cheers of the volunteers – quickly pouring coke, water and squash for those who wanted it. Overall the friendliness and quality of the checkpoints was very good. Largely just sweets on offer but I didn’t hear anyone grumbling that there wasn’t enough choice or volume. The race is chip timed so at Detling you are funnelled through to get your ‘beep’ and off to Holingbourne you go. Enticingly you have the Cock Horse Inn just feet from the check point – a reminder of where you’ll finish up after crossing the finish line! After a very short road section we hit a left hand turn and the view of the long slow climb up Detling Hill meets you. Beautiful and also a hint of what is about to hit you over the next 5 miles. The hills of the NDW are relentless here – this is where they have been hiding the 4,300ft of elevation. I lost count of the steps up and steps down but over the next 5miles there are a series of 9 very sharp calf-busting and then quad-busting inclines and declines. As you conquer each one and catch your breath you remind yourself you have to face this all over again in the last 5 miles of the race! The views along this stretch I would argue are the best on the NDW and it’s not hard to take a minute’s rest to enjoy them.

Thankfully once you’ve done the first round of hills you drop into Holingbourne for the next checkpoint – sneakily positioned next to The Dirty Habit pub to add temptation to the range of emotions you’re feeling. The last few miles to the turn-around at Lenham Cross are all on Pilgrim’s Way – a little stretch of road feeds into a dusty farm track skirting along ploughed fields before becoming a more rutted muddy stretch used heavily by tractor by the looks of it. This in turns becomes undulating road passed the wooden sculpture of sleeping pilgrim Brother Percival. Inscribed is “Pilgrim bound by staff and faith, rest thy bones”, I’m sure a good number of runners took heed and joined Percival on the bench. This entire stretch from Holingbourne to Lenham Cross is a welcome opportunity to get the pace up, a really enjoyable and runnable few miles. A quick stop at the checkpoint below the towering chalk cross and then back the way we’ve just come.

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It’s a pretty punishing course – those final 5 miles of sharp climbs up and steep stepped descents will challenge most people but at least the final descent off Detling Hill is a fantastically fast blast and a flat few hundred metres of tarmac to bring you back home to cheers from finishers drinking their well-earned pints at the pub at the end. Inside the hall at the finish there was stacks of cake – I heard nothing but glowing reviews of the bakes. Superbly organised and staffed, great medal and buff, and a really fantastic course with outstanding views. I think this will be a winter classic for years to come.

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2019, I’m coming for you

All being well I shall wrap up 2018 with lifetime stats of 9 road marathons, 53 trail marathons, and 32 ultra marathons so a total lifetime marathon count of 94. Not bad when I started the year on 42. When I set out to join the 100 Marathon Club back in 2016 I vowed to do it as quickly as possible. The thought of taking a lifetime to reach a goal didn’t interest me at all. I like to set a target and get it done; done well and done quickly. And so having rampaged through 2018 with 52 races I wanted to ease off the frequency in 2019 – simply to get to 100 (but still quickly) and to focus on a handful of ‘bigger’ adventures. As soon as one target slips into the shadows, another one takes the limelight…

So here’s my 2019 gamble:

  • 6 marathons between January and the end of February to reach 100 at the Lenham Cross Winter Marathon
  • Run Greater Manchester Marathon in April to meet the entry criteria for 100 Marathon Club (you must have 10 road marathons within your 100), even though at this point I should be on 106
  • Complete a beautiful overseas race (Berlin Marathon is the only international race I’ve attended) – diary clashes mean Jungfrau marathon will wait, so Zermatt Ultramarathon is in. The ultra distance is only 2 miles longer than the marathon but packs in a ridiculous 1’650ft of elevation over those 2 miles. That’s a crawl at best
  • Run The Fellsman – a race I’ve admired for years. It’s low key, it’s largely across fells and private land opened up just for this race, it is entirely self-nav and requires self sufficiency, it has over 11’000ft of climb over 62miles around the Yorkshire Dales, and it has the very best medal – your clipped tally from the race. It’s like an LDWA run on steroidsfellsman
  • Complete another Abbott World Major marathon (of the 6, I have London and Berlin in the bank) – Chicago or NYC are the options. Maybe even both if lucky
  • Run the two big 50 mile races in the Lake District – The Lakeland 50 (LL50) and Lakes in a Day (LIAD). Both wild, rugged, with serious elevation and serious vistas. I missed LL50 entry the last 2 years because it sells out so quickly, this year I was lucky. For me it ranks alongside the Centurion races for appeal and respect within the ultra-running community so it was a bucket list race. LIAD is its overshadowed sibling but packs almost 30% more elevation over the same distance. Gnarly!
  • To run an entire National Trail from start to end. Might as well pick a shorter one! Ridgeway86 comes with outstanding feedback. Following the chat on their Facebook page is reason enough to sign up. This race is the 62 miles of Race to the Stones with the first 24 miles of the Ridgeway bolted on the front – 86 miles of the wonderful Ridgeway National Trail. Great finisher t-shirt and buffs too!R86
  • And finally, King Offa’s Dyke Race (KODR). 185miles non-stop and pretty much a trace of the England/Wales border from South to North. Starting Chepstow Castle and finishing Prestatyn. I love the sense of history that comes with this race. I love the sense of adventure from carrying everything on your back including your bed, and map reading your way through our beautiful and sometimes bleak countryside. Rest when you want, run when you can – complete freedom so long as you make the finish by foot within 90 hours. And the elevation – 29,806ft. That’s 777ft more than the height of Everest

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Put all of that together and here’s the whole 2019 shabang…

races

 

 

52 marathons in 52 weeks

November 2017.

I had run 11 marathons and 10 ultra marathons by this point in the year. Closing down 100 Marathon Club membership was the primary goal but I also wanted to grind out 10 marathons in 10 days as a personal challenge. But somewhere in between the two things I secretly craved placing on the 52 marathons in 52 weeks table. I had been running events in 2017 with a small handful of people there in 52in52 shirts and it was bewildering to think of how they achieved it. Having pushed so bloody hard to get to 21 that year through a mammoth commitment in time, money and effort that to get much further would be impossible, let alone reach 52. There are fewer than 100 people in the UK logged as completing 52 in 52 and that really didn’t surprise me. Often marathon addicts will tell you that there are fewer people who have run 100 marathons than climbed Everest (4,000). Just imagine then how few have done 52 in 52. This feat really puts people well into the 1% club. The 0.0002% club perhaps?

Capture

Most probably I was shuffling along a seawall in Kent, might have been Margate or Deal. Cold and drenched in miserable November conditions during my 10 marathons in 10 days attempt I made a call that 52 in 52 would be on for me in 2018. What better start towards the 52 than already bagging 10 races? The 10 in 10 sadly faded to 5 in 5 because of tendonitis, but the dream was still burning bright. It was still a superb start.

I managed to recover quickly enough through an intense couch potato plan to be back out 2.5weeks later to land 2 more marathons before the year closed. The leg-rest worked a treat and also gave me ample time to run the numbers and do the research for the 52 target. The entries flew in. Firstly it pained my bank balance, then I had a queasiness about what I was taking on mentally and physically, then I thought oh god how do I square this off with the wife. After all, doing this challenge is a particularly selfish thing to do. But I knew with the 7 races already logged it was now or never. Stringing out race entries allowed me to manage the cash investment, queasiness turned to determination and doggedness, and if I drip fed the races on to the kitchen calendar I might swerve an early death and/or genital loss.

I bookmarked proper holidays away. There weren’t that many. Every weekend that wasn’t a holiday was a race. When you look at a year stretched out it seems like forever doesn’t it, and then realising that the vast majority of it was work and then marathon or ultra racing it was like a black cloud before I’d really begun. Just about every week it meant finishing 5 days of work, then running all weekend, and then returning back to work, ad infinitum. What if I got injured? What if I was ill? What if unplanned family commitments appeared or if I was just desperate for a weekend off to slob about? Would I ever finish putting up my mum’s fence? There just wasn’t room for any of this. When I commit to something there is absolutely no stopping unless I physically am unable. I think its the only way anyone can make the 52 happen.

As if the 52 in 52 didn’t seem tough enough I also wanted to pepper the schedule with a bunch of bigger races I’d been kicking down the path from missing the previous year. I’d heard that the 45 mile Country to Capital race was great, as was the LDWA Winter Tanners 30 mile run so they went on the list….I’d also read about Pennine Barrier 50 mile from Dan Thompson, and Imber Ultra 33 miler from Jeff Mitchell. I really wanted to race Stour Valley Path 100k as well as Snowdonia Trail marathon (as part of my plan to race the 3 marathons that include the summits of Britain’s 3 highest peaks, having already completed Scafell Pike marathon in 2016). Then along came Serpent Trail 50k which sounded interesting. To crown it all I wanted to race the 4 Centurion Running 50 mile events (South Downs Way SDW50, North Downs Way NDW50, Chiltern Wonderland CW50, and Wendover Woods WW50) – to complete the 50 mile grand slam in one year. It felt like a gloriously impossible challenge and I thrived on the challenge of nailing so many big races alongside 52 in 52.

By March I was 5 months in to the challenge and 15 races down. I felt like I wasn’t far enough ahead albeit I was on plan…and then snow hit in mid-March wiping out my LDWA Sevenoaks Circular race. I was gutted, not only because every race missed blew a huge hole in my schedule, but because this was a race on home turf starting a couple of miles from home and covering trails and byways I love and run regularly. My home advantage would go begging this year.

SDW50 came and went, then NDW50. The Grand Slam was on track. Both races meant meeting up with loads of cracking runner friends from real life and Twitter. Pennine Barrier became the next towering hurdle to overcome, but you turn up and get the job done to stay on track. And so it was; a long day but a great day and another big race ticked off with the excellent company of Helen Bullock. Serpent Trail 50k with Claire Foley and Spencer Millbery was astonishingly tough. The heat, positively not the conversation. Then Snowdonia Trail marathon where I gladly tagged on to Paul Thompson at the start of the Snowdon ascent, who was running the Ultra distance; a few weeks later SVP100 with Kate Allen and a glimpse of Lyndon Cooper before the start line for an epic 14hour shift on the trails to earn the superb green SVP shirt before a long drive home. By the time I reached the 3rd Centurion race (CW50) in September I was at 45 races and knackered! Running again with Claire Foley and having some great miles with Con Wild, I got to the end but almost didn’t. It was by far the toughest race of the year for me with my kidneys yet again failing and only scraping through thanks to Claire who jettisoned her own race for me – having done exactly the same thing (with brother Dan) in 2017 at Race to the Stones which is how we first met. Both races on the Ridgeway. Both races saved by Claire. Both races my kidneys gave up, only this time without the trip to A&E! I’m only a little nervous about returning to run Ridgeway86 in 2019, honest!! In amongst these races I ran 36 marathons with SaxonVikingNorman (SVN) events with my regular marathon family!

I made it to 52 in 52 on 21st October at Ranscombe Autumn Challenge having completed 13 ultras and 49 marathons in 47 weeks. No medal for getting there early though. Traviss, the brilliant Race Director, giving me a small announcement before the race and gasping with foreboding seeing that I was wearing the 52in52 shirt prematurely for my final race. I loved that final race on a great course in great weather with great friends from the SVN family. I knew I’d made it. Somehow I had remained largely injury free and kept a 100% record of turning up and getting the job done despite in some instances running double marathons one weekend followed by a 50 miler the following weekend.

1,551 miles raced. 113,000ft climbed. 11 double marathons, 1 triple, and 1 quintuple. 3 pairs of shoes. 98th person listed in the UK to complete the challenge. My proudest running achievement to date.

So that leaves two question marks…. the Centurion Grand Slam which I hope to complete this Saturday at Wendover Woods. I’m very excited to be running it. And secondly, if I’ve already completed 52in52 why an earth wouldn’t I look to complete 100 marathons in 100 weeks, I’m already over half way there!  🙂

Date Race Name/Venue Dist. Elevation (ft) Count
Fri 24-November-17 Samphire Hoe Challenge 30.0 2,076 1
Sat 25-November-17 Fudgeathon 30.0 2,061 2
Sun 26-November-17 Saxon Shore 26.2 215 3
Mon 27-November-17 Hugin Challenge 26.2 694 4
Tue 28-November-17 Relativity Run 26.2 1,603 5
Sat 16-December-17 Usual Suspect 26.2 1,755 6
Sat 23-December-17 Dymchurch Marathon 26.2 640 7
Sat 13-January-18 Country to Capital 45.0 1,498 8
Sat 20-January-18 Ranscombe Winter Challenge 26.2 2,794 9
Sun 21-January-18 Winter Tanners 30 30.0 2,540 10
Sat 10-February-18 Olympic Run Challenge 26.2 1,657 11
Sat 24-February-18 Ghost of Roadrunner 26.2 430 12
Sun 25-February-18 Mods & Rockers 26.2 430 13
Sun 04-March-18 Mega Challenge 26.2 2,717 14
Sun 11-March-18 Imber Ultra 33.0 2,940 15
Sat 31-March-18 Darnley Challenge 26.2 1,657 16
Sun 01-April-18 RAF100 Challenge 26.2 1,341 17
Sat 07-April-18 SDW50 50.0 5,899 18
Sat 14-April-18 Betteshangar Marathon 26.2 509 19
Sat 21-April-18 Wonderland Caucus 26.2 2,245 20
Sun 22-April-18 The Reject Run 26.2 2,245 21
Sat 12-May-18 Bewl Water 26.2 2,176 22
Sat 19-May-18 NDW50 50.0 5,984 23
Sat 26-May-18 Mega Challenge 26.2 1,258 24
Sun 27-May-18 Mega Challenge 26.2 1,258 25
Sat 02-June-18 Coastal Viking Challenge 26.2 170 26
Sun 03-June-18 Dambusters 26.2 2,036 27
Sat 09-June-18 Black Phoenix 26.2 189 28
Sun 10-June-18 Thames Path Potter 26.2 189 29
Sat 23-June-18 Pennine Barrier 50.0 8,507 30
Wed 27-June-18 Black Knight 26.2 2,717 31
Sat 30-June-18 Ranscombe Summer Challenge 26.2 3,102 32
Sun 01-July-18 Ranscombe Ramble Challenge 26.2 3,102 33
Sat 07-July-18 Serpent Trail 50k 31.0 2,297 34
Sun 15-July-18 Snowdonia Trail Marathon 26.2 5,528 35
Sat 11-August-18 SVP100 62.1 2,992 36
Sun 19-August-18 Cyclopark Series 26.2 1,341 37
Mon 20-August-18 Cyclopark Series 26.2 1,341 38
Tue 21-August-18 Cyclopark Series 26.2 1,341 39
Thu 23-August-18 Cyclopark Series 26.2 1,341 40
Sat 25-August-18 Cyclopark Series 26.2 1,341 41
Sun 26-August-18 Cyclopark Series 32.8 1,341 42
Sat 01-September-18 Black Hugin 26.2 715 43
Sun 02-September-18 Kent Coastal Marathon 26.2 1,599 44
Sat 15-September-18 CW50 50.0 5,600 45
Sat 06-October-18 It’s a Numbers Game Marathon – Day 1 26.2 189 46
Sun 07-October-18 It’s a Numbers Game Marathon – Day 2 26.2 189 47
Wed 10-October-18 Cardiac Challenge 35.1 6,000 48
Sat 13-October-18 Kangaroo Kanter 26.2 2,502 49
Sun 14-October-18 Owl Amble 26.2 2,502 50
Sat 20-October-18 Beerathon 26.2 3,102 51
Sun 21-October-18 Ranscombe Autumn Challenge 26.2 3,102 52

 

SDW50 Race Report

Saturday 7th April: 50 miles, 5’700ft

Could I beat the CP cut offs and my 50mile times of 12.47 for Gower50 and 12.41 for Grand Tour of Skiddaw (48miles)? I’d got round 46 miles of Country to Capital earlier in the year in 9.01 so that seemed very possible but 50 miles is a long way and lots of unexpected things can crop up. That’s all I could think about the night before. At these longer distances the chances of failure really seem to be amplified – you can weather rain and cold for a marathon but the effect on you over 50 miles is that much greater; a niggle in your body is bearable at shorter distances but over 12 or so hours of running, forget it. So for me the SDW50 was a balance of looking after the legs and mind to get me round but push on fast enough to have a couple of hours of buffer against the DQ time of 13 hours. If I managed that almost by default I’d get a PB time for 50 miles.

The night before I’d clocked off work and with a 90minute drive to Eastbourne and a hotel check in time no later than 7pm I was already racing about. The room – well I thought I’d walked into a Mark Rothko abstract painting. Best keep the lights off in this pit. I thought I’d get over to Worthing for kit check and bib number collection. Registration was open until 8.30pm, plenty of time but it took me 10 minutes of driving to work out that I’d have 3 hours of round trip driving just to get a number I could sort in the morning. You plank Chris. At least that got me out in the car so I could get food. Passed a McDonalds and to save driving round in circles looking for something better dived in for a Big Mac meal and a hamburger.

So back to the room of doom, got the burgers down and cracked on triple checking kit. Belly full, legs not too bad after last weekend’s double marathon, and kit packed. Sorted. And then pal Spencer gives me a free pass – a 7am lift to the start. Fantastic! Pulled back the duvet ready for bed, linen is full of rips – gross. Opened the window so I didn’t wake up dehydrated – the squawk of a seagull colony perched on the roof that was there when I went to bed, and was there to wake me up at sometime around 5am.

Weather seemed great in the early hours and the forecast was saying chance of light rain for a few hours just after lunch. This could be perfect racing weather conditions but with rain on the horizon kept the waterproof bottoms and gloves in my vest. I don’t do breakfast on race day so the only decision to be made now was shoe choice. I’d brought along Invo8 Roclite and Terraclaws – but I find they’re both unforgiving over long distance and on hard packed ground. The alternative was to take the chance on the new kids in town – the Altra Lone Peak 3.5s I’d picked up 3 days ago. Felt comfy in the shop, loads of cushioning – take the extra cushioning for the risk of new shoes killing me? Yep, had to – just couldn’t imagine often flinty/stony hard tracks over 50 miles in the Inov8. Worth the gamble I figured. So with 0 miles on the clock, on they went. Ready…..

Spence and the Wandering Milbery’s arrived dead on time and let me ride shotgun up front. Got to Worthing in bags of time so straight to the front of registration, 60 seconds to get through showing waterproof top (taped seams were checked!), survival blanket, headtorches – very slick. Usually I don’t see anybody at races but here I was spoilt. First Ally, then Kate, got to meet Ben Goddard for the first time, and then Jane Carter also, then Paul and Karen from SVN marathon circles…then Dan, and Paul, and Mark Thornberry. No one had managed to spot Brian though. Superb crowd.

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Before we knew it the shouts went out – “race briefing, get to the start”. Here we go!!! No time for nerves, this is happening. A short rain shower had just ended, a great buzz filled the air from competitors, and swarms of well-wishing families gave the start area a real sense of occasion. I was aiming for 11.30 min/miles for the first 24 miles so was happy to sit at the back of the pack and Dan seemed to be on a similar pacing so we ran out together.

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I’d been told the route was wide and open so I was looking forward to runnable stretches from the first to the last mile, but the first couple of miles were single-track pathway so as many stop-start sections from runners finding pace and fighting for positions as you’d find on the NDW with its gates and stiles. It always takes me about 6 miles to warm up and bloody hell the first 6 were hard work as the body got up to speed. At this point we started to get on to the SDW proper with ridgeway views coming thick and fast. This was a great boost. The running was flowing, the views were excellent, the ground was perfectly soft and superb to have Dan’s company.

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The route is brilliant, the hills are evenly spaced and rolling, largely the CPs are evenly spaced and the support along the course is top notch. The race never feels like it’s going to overwhelm you. I’m terrible with remembering details from within races, but Dan and I did a good job at filling the time with chat, picked up a couple of fallers (who then wiped the floor with us in the race), and kept pushing each other to run when walking was the easy option. Got to 26miles very comfortably and started the countdown to 30miles, knowing that beyond that we had a stop at 34miles, and then we’d be at 40 and into the home stretch and single digit miles. Nice easy chunks.

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Time flew. First thing I really remember is being at the Southease CP at 34miles. No rain yet – instead we had a good 20minutes of hot sun. The meadow birds were singing, legs were completely fresh, had fresh drinks on the go – I remember saying “this is heaven”. Southease was probably the toughest climb of them all in my opinion. Not very steep, but steep enough and very long. I liked the fact that after every CP there was a big hill. Meant you could stop for 2 minutes to refill bottles, rest the legs and then drive on up the hill and get it done quick after the break.

thumbnail_IMG_1755Top of climb out of Southease

We pressed on and by about 45miles had it cracked – we had climbed the final big hill around the back of the Long Man of Wilmington and had Kate a few hundred metres ahead in our sights now and Spence closing in about half a mile behind us. The weather here was closing in and getting much colder. But just a mile to the final CP and then the last 4 mile canter into Eastbourne to finish. Just before the CP we met up with Kate and ran in together.

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We had a sub-11 on the cards but none of us was particularly fussed by it – and a final hill climb helped snub out our chances anyhow. 2 miles to go – a slippy rutted chalk track down off the hill and a boring pavement section through town to bring us out at the Eastbourne Sports Centre where we entered to applause as the rain started to fall and the sun set an unbelievable orange and crimson. No one behind us so we plodded round, phone cameras in hand to record the finish of a cracking day.

thumbnail_IMG_1753Photo courtesy of Ben Goddard

11.09 on the clock. that comfortably beat my previous times. The new shoes were a dream despite being fresh out of the box. My legs still felt like they had another few hours running left from the easy pace we’d taken. Felt great. Shame not to have a 9 or 10hour something but I was just happy to have had a great day out running with Dan and Kate. There’s always the NDW50 or CW50 later in the year for a quicker time if I can be fussed. The camaraderie in the finish hall rounded off a top event – few photos, got the shirt and medal, had a free cuppa (bliss!), chatted to rest of the gang who were there – one of the best races I’ve ever done for all round enjoyment. Got back to the room of doom with a takeaway curry and reflected on marathon 53: a Randall 10/10.

Next up: Betteshangar Marathon next Saturday 14th April

Kit List:

  1. Altra Lone Peaks 3.5
  2. Drymax Cold Weather Crew socks
  3. Inov8 Race Ultra Gaiter
  4. Ronhill shorts
  5. Chaffree boxers
  6. Inov8 race ultra mitt
  7. Isobaa merino base layer
  8. Karrimor XLite midlayer
  9. Inov8 Race Ultra Pant
  10. Montane Minimus Jacket
  11. Unilite PS-HDL6R
  12. Kalenji chest light
  13. Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0
  14. Sea to Summit collapsible cup
  15. Anker A1211 power bank
  16. Suunto Ambit 3 watch
  17. Mountain Fuel, Clif Bloks, Jelly Belly Sports Beans

Centurion Running SDW50

Having long been an admirer of the Centurion ethos and a lover of the SDW and NDW it was only a matter of time until the money went down on entry fees for the 50milers. As running only re-surfaced in my life around 2015/16 I don’t remember Centurion events hitting my radar until 2017 at which point spaces had long vanished. So by the end of 2017 I’d heard lots of gushing talk about the races and lots of opportunity to do the digging and quickly had my heart set on ticking off the 50mile Grand Slam of South Downs Way, North Downs Way, Chiltern Wonderland and Wendover Woods. I’m OCD on races – just like the misery of my incomplete 1986 Panini album, if I enter one race in a series it’ll niggle that there’s unfinished business. It had to be all 4 or nothing.

So these 4 went down in the diary and the rest of the race calendar parachuted in over the top for my 2018. I’ve run just one official 50miler – the 2016 Gower50 with RunWalkCrawl. That had 4,400ft of ascent and felt like a very tough slog almost the entire distance. I’m hoping that this was down to a very technical cliff-hugging first half and lots of energy-sapping beach running because the SDW50 will be about 5,700ft. I’ve been out on the SDW a few times and the hills don’t often stop but the route is straight, rolling and runnable for the most part. Gower50 was also my 10th marathon so now that I’m up at 33 marathons and 19 ultras I can rely on a ton more experience and better pacing ability

Plenty of reassuring emails out of Centurion is great, and what else is great is the stripped down mandatory kit list. Maybe it’s a hangover from my mountain ultras but nice to look down the list and not think how the hell will I squeeze all that in a race vest.

As usual for me – flying by the seat of my pants – there’s a last-minute realisation that…

  • I have a hole in the sole of my Drymax socks
  • My limited and knackered shoe line-up of just Inov8 Terraclaw and Inov8 Roclite probably won’t cut it
  • I’m almost out of Clif Bloks and don’t remember seeing any MountainFuel lying about
  • I meant to buy folding Leki poles weeks ago but made excuses about finding the cash for them

So all in all I feel a bit exposed. Not in the least bit helped by finding my local running shop has started stocking Altras…. on Wednesday…. that fitted like a glove when tested on the treadmill. Knowing I need a new pair of runners I went ahead and splurged the cash but will I risk new shoes on a 50 miler? Could I fit the Old Faithfuls into my vest as a back up if the Altras start to hurt?

I also ran a double marathon weekend last week after 3 weeks out, not even a dash to the car to avoid the rain in that period, so that killed something rotten. The hamstrings came out stinging. Got straight off to a sports massage Monday night and that’s about the best I could do to have the legs ready for Saturday.

Whatever happens I’ll be at the start line 8.30 Saturday and dead excited at the prospect of racing my first Centurion event. Also excited at the prospect of a beautiful course (do I take a short detour for a photo of the Long Man of Wilmington?). Also looking forward to meeting a long list of running superstars from the Twitter community (but not so much the pressure to keep up with their pace). One way or another I’ll also be there at the finish line.

Cannot wait.

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