NDW50 2015 – Heaven and Hell

Right, this post starts with a great big soppy thank you to my wife of nearly two decades Shelley, she is the best. Any partner of an ultra runner has to have endless patience and understanding  of something they just don’t understand! Getting up at 04:00, phone alarm screeching,  fumbling around looking for that particular water bottle waking the whole house. Raiding the food cupboards, mood swings, tantrums, we are freaks, lets be honest!

This was my A++ race for 2015 having been my first ever ultra in 2014 with a time of 13+ hours. This was bettered half way of the NDW100 last August with 10:58, so I set myself a lofty goal of sub ten hours this year. Training had gone well, yet a recent trail race was an epic fail and confidence was not high but I remained optimistic if everything fell into place of hitting sub ten hours. One area of training I had skimped on recently was hills, this was to become a costly mistake mid-race.

My crew and I are on first name terms with the staff at Holiday Inn Farnborough, a steady ten minute drive from the start of Centurion races in Farnham. We travelled from Ibiza on Wednesday and spent a few leisurely days in and around the hotel before the race, even checking out sections of the trail around Guildford. Did I mention getting pissed wet through at Thorpe Park on Thursday, what fun that was!

Race day had an extra element of excitement as I had asked for a signed copy of a book by ultra legend James Adams to pickup at race start. This was my third Centurion event and it’s great to see many of the same faces and king pin Nicci, she’s ace J We gave a couple of guys Brandon and friend a lift to the start, it was good to exchange nervous racing chat en-route to Polycarp. Brandon, incidentally,  blasted out a nine hour finish, respect. It was great to chat with NDW100 running buddy Paul Haynes who had recently done the Fellsman followed by an epic London to Paris bike ride, nutter!! Paul had lured two newbies into the dark and highly addictive world of ultra running, big respect guys and girls, I’m sure our paths will be crossing in the future.

Due to the record field size, race briefing took place on the trail head so by the time the horn hooted I was peeing myself with nerves and excitement, Jesus, I needed a poo already. The first mile or two was more traumatic than usual before the field spread out, I was desperate to get onto my target pace of 10 minute miles, and definitely no chance of a poo with this much traffic. Since I started running three years ago I have learned that when I have a feeling of not wanting a race to be over it’s going to be a good day, I felt this from mile one to fifty yesterday, why can’t every race feel this way?  Aid station one at Puttenham seemed to appear before I even felt warmed up and thoughts were already turned to the bacon sandwich, if ever there was a reason to run the first twelve miles quickly legend Allan Rumbles is the reason. Bacon sandwich with brown sauce, I nearly choked trying to eat it whilst keeping my supposed 10 min mile pace, but hell it would be a good way to kick the bucket, eating a bacon sandwich during an ultra!

My plan had been to run as much as possible of the first 24 miles to Box Hill aid station but the severity of some of the early hills fooled me and I soon reverted to walking the uphills whilst reducing my overall average pace closer to 10 minute miles. The section from Guildford onwards is where the route starts showing off it’s magnificence, the view from the top of the first big ridge across the valley never fails to impress. A youngish runner who stopped to take a photo of this wonderful vista nearly paid with his credit and Oyster cards, luckily I spotted said items before the guy sped off! The lovely long steady downhill section heading to Box Hill aid saw my one and only sub 9 min mile and I still felt good, something was definitely wrong! It’s appropriate at this point to give thanks to the army of volunteers. The guys at Box Hill were again bedecked in Hawaiian costume and as at every aid station the efficiency and help they give to all runners is incredible and adds something a little bit extra to the day. These races would not exist without them, we all know this and cherish their help and support big time, thanks Box Hill crew, you rock J On a recent holiday in Rome I developed a hatred for selfie sticks it’s no fun getting repeatedly poked in the eye whilst trying to enjoy the sights. Arriving at the Box Hill stepping stones and being held up for several minutes whilst a young blonde girl  made full use of her narcissistic  device mid steps only served to re-enforce my hatred of the wretched things, did she not realise I was running fifty miles? Looking back at my split times, Box Hill scythed me down with  a single blow, a 20 minute mile on this section from which I never recovered, I never did another sub 11 minute mile. I developed an intense knee problem that rendered a shooting pain on downhills, increasing to tear inducing levels on the farking steps to the extent I had to go down sideways. After Box Hill I had my first blip with navigation, taking a lower gate coming to a fork and no red tape, bollox. I stood still to hear a squeaking gate somewhere above me, re-tracing my steps I soon got back on track.

Shelley and the children plus Kevin and Rebecca old friends turned cheer leaders were waiting at Reigate. It’s amazing how a hug and kiss from one’s partner and children can re-acetate the engine, just what was needed at this point after some brutal ascent. The view from Reigate Hill is breath taking add in smiling faces of loved ones and this was a definite high point of the fifty miles, I almost sprinted back onto the trail…At this stage my overall average pace was still under 12 minute miles that magic number of a sub ten hour finish. Ever the optimist I hadn’t given up hope until the next downhill steps, every single one produced a string of expletives; at least it made me forget about needing a poo for a while. I think it was around here a young female runner in a yellow top tapped me on the shoulder giving words of encouragement before fairly sprinting off, “Has she just started?” I asked myself, it’s amazing to see the powerful runners glide past with seemingly little effort. The next few miles are something of a blur, my thoughts were wandering to ice cream and soon enough the dream came alive, arriving just as a new tub was opened, “Would you like jelly too?”.. At this moment in time, life was perfect, the previously increasing aches and pains vanished, at least until I moved from the spot where I had stood for thirty seconds soaking up the whole occasion. I knew Botley Hill was not far away and shared a few conversations with others to pass time away. A couple of guys who I hobbled up the Hill to the aid station with whose names I didn’t get had smashed out an eight hour SDW50 a few weeks back, blimey there’s a lot of speedy sorts around, we did the overtake one another until the end. Going into Botley Hill my average pace was 12:07, leaving a minute or two later it was 12:17, even in the eyes of me the lairy optimist, sub ten hours was as likely as a top ten finish at Western States. I must offer my profound apologies to the great people of Botley Hill, I saw a cup of coffee and asked “Is the coffee for staff only?”, “Staff??, We are all in this together. Help yourself, it’s got sugar.” It was mile 43 my mind was all over, so sorry guys I respect and admire every volunteer massively.

This final section I find tough, the narrow rutted tracks and fields seem to be my nemesis, possibly as I have no similar terrain to train on but the end was within touching distance even if my dream time was gone. By this stage of the race I was desperate to find some cover and  flattened a half square metre of nettles with the trail side explosion, phew that felt good, I even remembered not to use nettles to ahem, well you know. My body was screaming, my knee was occasionally dropping me to the floor like a toddler having a hissy fit but I felt better than any race in my life, I still didn’t want it to be over. In the final few miles over the fields a young girl passed me, moving really smoothly, it’s an age thing I told myself! Checking the finish times, she put five minute on me in around three miles, much respect. A guy approached from behind moving smoothly which had my yet again thinking “How do they do that?”, it turned out to be Chris Mills (I later learned) re-marking the course (great to meet yoou Chris is you ever read this!).  I tried to run the final two miles without stopping, throwing down two 12/ 13 minute miles which I was chuffed about. The finish area was busy, Shelley and the children plus friends and other runners gave a great cheer, thank you so much, nothing will ever beat August last year at the end of NDW100, but this came close. Is there anything better than the finish area of an ultra on a sunny day, what a stupid question, of course not, it’s what life is all about, right?

Having cheered in quite a few runners, sadly it was time to head back to get our evening meal, stopping at the village hall to collect the finishers tee. No way in one zillion years did I expect to see my name on the whiteboard in the top 100, how the hell did that happen? At this point I nearly subjected Nicci to another bone crunching hug, saw she was mega busy and knew I would be pushing my luck!

Reflections…This  felt like my coming of age race, I had run hard where I could, walked the uphillls and it feels like covering fifty miles in 10 and a half hours is not too shabby. Box Hill reminded me not getting into Western States this year had been a blessing, the race would have battered me senseless. Likewise swapping Transvulcania for the NDW50 this year was the right decision, there is a lot of training to be done before I am worthy of lining up in La Palma 2016. My new for 2015 beard helped me shave off a few minutes, I’m sure of it, Shelley is not convinced..I love this course but Transvulcania is my A+++ race for next year. Unless I can sneak a SDW50 in without Shelley knowing, it looks like 2017 will be my next shot at a Ceturion fifty miler. Until August, I will say good bye for now North Downs, I think we have some chemistry together and we sure as hell aint breaking up just yet.

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