What am I doing?
21 miles, 3:31:36, 10:05 min/mile, 1,880ft elevation gain
Early Saturday morning fuelled with coffee & oatmeal I headed out to explore another section of the North Downs Way. My aim is to have covered as much of the 50 mile route before race day as possible. I hope that a knowledge & understanding of the route will be a massive phycological boost. (Although sometimes I wonder if knowing about the hills in advance really is worth it…)
Simply put, this was one of the most challenging & hardest runs I have ever done.
I started at the start… The very beginning of the North Downs Way & the place May’s adventure will begin.
I’d been excitedly planning this run all week but sitting on the train to Farnham I had actual butterflies in my tummy. For some reason I was really nervous & anxious. To the extent that I very nearly changed my plans.
I was worried about the distance, worried about the hills, worried about whether I was actually capable & a little worried about running by myself. Whilst I often relish solo runs as my ‘me’ time, I think for a challenging run like this on a new route I would have benefited from company. I was really worried in case something happened whilst I was out alone, (there were actually miles when I didn’t see a single other person). Perhaps this is something I need to learn from for future runs?
So why was this run so challenging?
The distance. My furthest run since June 2016 & since my last injury. I’ve always seen 20 miles as a massive barrier in marathon training. Hit that & it’s only 10km to go. Today, that wasn’t even going to be halfway.
The terrain. I’d been warned about the sand. In Surrey. It was almost beach like & hard going. And the mud… I had to walk a lot of mile 19 (which to be honest was a blessing…) as the mud was so deep it actually wasn’t possible to run. I pity the poor people who sat next to me on the train home as I brought half the North Downs back with me…
The elevation. Over 1,800 foot of climbs. This surprised me a little as I’d been led to believe the first half was the flatter section (though not ‘flat’, obvs). And I stopped before Box Hill & Reigate Hill. Not far off my highest run ever.
(But being the stat geek that I am, the elevation for this 21 miles was about the same as the 13 miles from Box Hill to Mersham run – eg. the next bit – that I did a few weeks ago… Eek!)
Navigation. This was a completely new to me section & I had NO idea where I was. Previous adventures on the NDW I’d known at least a little of the route, or perhaps the surrounding area. Here, I knew nothing. I’ve never even been to Farnham. I’d studied the map but all I can say is thank god for 4G & google maps… I actually only went wrong once, in the first couple of miles when I missed a sign on a road section, but there were quite a few points when I doubted myself, it had been a little ‘too’ long since a sign, the track looked a little too random, there was a bit too much concrete… Was I really still on route? A combination of google maps & the course map on the Centurian website were my life savers. (I really do need to get to grips with GPX files for these kind of runs).
So the run? I’m not going to pretend it was all wonderful & amazing. It was hard. So hard. A warm day, I almost wished I’d worn shorts, & misty to start. One of those days when you can’t see the other side of a field & trees are just shapes in the distance! A little bit of a hill & some woodland to start, past some llamas, a road section where I missed a sign & added on a mile, golf clubs, fields & hills… To be honest, it’s all beginning to merge into one.
I fell apart 16 miles in & had a serious wobble. I wanted to stop. My knee started hurting. My energy had gone.
I was fed up.
But I was in the middle of nowhere, quite literally, & had no choice other than to carry on. I gave myself a talking too, ate some chocolate covered coffee beans (seriously the bomb!), put on some music that would get me dancing & forced one leg in front of the other.
The talking too worked (“don’t be a wuss, just get on with it…”) I did actually have a couple of reasonable miles before the mud at mile 19 hit. From then on it was a run/walk tactic. Or rather a walk/slip tactic… I resisted the temptation to look at the map. I didn’t actually want to know how far I still had to go. A little bit of woodland, a grassy trail. I was done. Mile 21 was powered by Stormzy. I’d planned for 20 miles, I made 21.
I always knew that I would finish in the middle of no where. Farnham to Box Hill Stepping Stones is 24 miles. I knew from the onset that 24 was too far for me so planned to get to 20/21 & then walk to the nearest train station. I hadn’t counted on getting lost in the first couple of miles though…
Not long after stopping I came to Ranmore Common & the turn around point at the Three Mole Hills race last November. I’d joined up another section of the route. This run means with 12 weeks to go I have covered about 40 of the 50 miles. Just the last ten-ish, the hardest ten, to go…!
I’m fairly happy & confident about the Box Hill to Caterham section. I’d like to do Guildford to Box Hill maybe Reigate Hill & then Caterham to the end. Maybe two or three more runs down there before race day, I also don’t want to ‘over-run’ the route. I want there to still be some excitement about it on race day!
Hard run. Tough run. Challenging run. Super sore but also super pleased. Looking back, does it sound weird if I say I am proud of myself for doing this run? Of putting myself outside of my comfort zone. Of carrying on when I wanted to stop. And of not getting completely & hideously lost.
Other runs included an 8 mile recovery run on Monday following last weekends 18 mile long-run through London. That hurt but is getting me used to running on tired legs. Wednesday night Striders club run with Group Two, felt probably the most comfortable I’ve felt in that group (it’s usually just a fraction too fast for me, ideally I need a group 2.5, somewhere between G2 & G3…!) & my own tempo paced run on Friday morning.
Week Fourteen: 45.2 miles in total with 2,854 ft elevation gain. (Highest weekly milage since at least 2014 & pre-long-term injury lay off)