Summer really has arrived during the past two weeks and it has made most of my runs weather has been beautiful and it's just over 3 weeks until my second ultra marathon, Grimsthorpe 70 miler. As part of building up for this summer race I tok part in a very popular and highly rated off road race mainly because it was local and the route was over one my favourite parts of the country - The North Downs.The route follows country lanes, established tracks like the North Downs Way & Wealdway, plus numerous single track paths through the fields across local farmland. The course ascends from a low of 20 metres at Lower Bush up to almost 180 metres at Holly Hill. The majority of the course is off-road with some road sections along the way.
The race was scheduled for 10.30am and the weather was forecast as dry and bright with temperatures around 62-64F (perfect for racing). I arrived about 30 minutes before the start on my own as the family had decided to stay home as I was going to be for a few hours and there wasn't that much to keep them occupied in the end for that amount of time
At around 10:15am I warmed up with some light jogging for 5 minutes and then proceeded to stretch out comfortably both my legs and upper body. I queued up for the start somewhere in the middle of the 476 people taking part, atmosphere was quite relaxed although you could tell the guys at the front were going to pull away very quickly. I love that feeling of waiting for the horn to sound and the race to start not knowing what lies beyond in any great detail.
As the horn sounded we all started to move like a giant centipede with 100's of legs. I started off quite quickly as I got a little carried away in those first couple of miles especially as the terrain was going to be quite flat. I let plenty of people go past me as I attempted to ease the pace a bit and hold back.
Just after the 2 mile mark we reached the first signs of undulation with a hill around 60ft or so. I took it relatively easy going up but then absolutely flew down the hill passing about 10 people. Loved that feeling of just letting gravity take you. Still holding a good pace I took two small cups of isotonic drinks at the aid station and followed the path rising another 150ft over the next mile or so and then come a steep downhill of about the same measure. I let gravity take me and again the quads felt fine and my footing was solid.
I arrived at the aid station at the 10.2km mark around 51 minutes, again taking only taking two small cups of isotonic drinks on board . That felt fast considering there were the biggest hills around 11-15km. I was breathing quite hard on the hills so I decided to slow things down a little going up and hold the pace for steady.
Mile 7 and Mile 8 were the toughest on the course. I had slowed down deliberately to ensure I didn't blow out early as this was meant to be a long training run. The incline was about 320ft in total over a very short distance It was brutal and I power walked up there. When I got to that point just after Mile 8 the the views were fantastic. A lot of the trail at this point was single track across fields with swathes of wild flowers, poppies and crops. I got a mental lift at this point and decided to push things a little to reach the highest point of 586ft. At the 15.5km mark I found passed the next aid station and took 3 small cups of drink and walked a small bit to ensure I caught my breath and didn't choke while drinking. I admired the view for about 5-10 seconds and then pushed on.
The Halfway Point
Then I hit the downhill just after mile 10. Oh my god. It was a drop of nearly 400ft. I was hesitant at first but thought to hell with it LETS FLY, this is where the adrenaline rush is! This for me was the most exhilarating downhill I have had so far, I was so scared that I would fall but I held again very solid in my footing and balance, maybe a bit of luck involved!!!
Mile 11 and 12 went fairly quickly as we navigated through some beautiful woodland. The ground was softer than the hills and it was slightly cooler. I chatted to a few runners during this point but they didn't want to chat much. I was a bit disappointed by this but understand their possible reasons.
The next aid station was around the half marathon point and it was on top of a beautiful but very very steep 100ft hill swathed in poppies. An amazing site, I am still trying to find a photo to show you this as it's amazing. Once you reach the top the aid station beckons. I power walked the hill quite comfortably and as you reach the top you have a short way through a cobbled street (potentially hazardous for calves) to the aid station. I took two small cups of isotonic drinks and someone sprayed me with hosepipe which was most welcome.
The last 5-6 miles was undulating with a lot of frequent smaller hills. Mile 14 and 15 were fairly paced as I enjoyed the support of a lot of people cheering runners on at a great public house, a cold beer would have been good but I wanted to save that for later. The course took us through a beautiful apple and pear orchard for which this English county (Kent) is famous for. I didn't feel that tired at this point really more comfortable especially as my pace was keeping even as I was power walking the hills.
We passed the renowned "Leather Bottle Inn" where Charles Dickens the famous author frequented in the distant past before reaching the aid station. Again I loaded up with a couple of drinks and walked while I consumed them. The next mile was probably the hardest on course as there were plenty of twisting hill climbs and this showed in my splits with Mile 16 being a little skower than I had liked.
Still feeling quite strong I continued to hold a comfortable pace as we reached an uphill road section. At the end of this is the last aid station where I took drinks on board again. During the last couple of miles we had looped back onto the section of the course we had started the race on. The last 1/2 a mile or so was a journey across the field and Golf course back to the start. After sprinting the last 200m to the finish I clocked 2 hours 52 minutes and placed 209th out of 476 starters. I collected my T-shirt and medal before going for a cool down by jogging another 3 miles around the local park before going back to my car and stretching out.
Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of this race and really wish I had as the scenery is amazing and would definitely recommend it for any level of runner. With 3 weeks left until the Grimsthorpe ultra 70 the summer is only just warming up.