NDW50 Wk 24: The finish line is in sight (wc 24.04.17)

Like most things following a bank holiday I’m running late, but that’s ok because my runs are a day late too so this week’s post is a little off kilter with an extra day thrown in!

Banstead Woods parkrun: running in the bluebells

5km, 23:39, 7:44 min/mile, 141ft elevation gain

I still don’t quite believe it when I run a 23:39 5km, especially when I feel as if I could have run harder. It was May last year that I first dipped under 24 minutes with 23:51 on the flattest, smoothest road parkrun I could find & here I am now running faster on a much harder course. It just shows how much my running has improved over the past 12 months.

This was exactly the kind of run I now love, off-road, trail, through woodland & a little undulating! A little bit of parkrun tourism to meet some of the girls from Striders & run through the famed bluebells of Banstead Woods. I hadn’t run for two weeks since the slightly disastrous 13 miles around Cannock Chase, my foot was still a little sore, I was apprehensive. But as the time shows, I was still able to run!

Meeting up with some of the Striders girls at parkrun

But my tiny, little 3 miles was nothing compared to what some runners ran on Saturday…

The Thames Path 100

Having absolutely zero ultra running experience I don’t really know what to expect at the NDW50. I’ve been reading blogs, listening to podcasts, talking to ultra runners, listening in on conversations & trying to gain as much information & as many tips as I possibly can.

I wanted to try & experience the ultra environment before the race & so I signed up to volunteer at the Thames Path 100 (100 miles that is…). Run by Centurian Running, the team behind the NDW50, I knew it would give me a good idea of what it was like behind the scenes before running my race.

What. A. Day.

I was assigned to the Henley aid station at mile 51, so just over half-way. I arrived at 4pm & started off by helping unpack & sort the drop bags. We don’t get a drop bag at the NDW50 but for this race runners had two opportunities to leave a bag with essential kit they may need later on in the race. Henley was the first collection point. It was fascinating to see what runners packed. One person had a cornish pasty & some cereal bars & that was it, someone else had a tupperware box of cold pasta, others had an entire change of clothes. As I discovered, for many of the slower runners this was their changeover point from day to nighttime running & so they had dropped off warmer kit to see them through the cold night.

We then got to grips with preparing the food. When people tell me that an ultra is like a picnic they are not exaggerating (or as one runner commented the food table looked like a children’s party without the children…)

We had:

  • Watermelon, pineapple, satsumas & bananas
  • Jam, peanut butter, cheese & ham sandwiches or wraps
  • Cookies
  • Mini cakes
  • Crisps
  • Nuts
  • Chocolate
  • Jelly Babies
  • Tea & Coffee
  • Water, coke & Tailwind

Plus we were a hot food station so we were also serving up pasta with a meat, vegetarian or vegan (yes, I was impressed!) sauce.

We hadn’t long set up when the first runner came through. We clapped & cheered as race leader Michael Stocks ran through in 6:48 (can I just point out that that is 51 miles in 6 freaking hours & forty-eight minutes. And he still had 49 more miles to run!). He barely paused for breath as we topped up his water bottles & he was off… He eventually won the race in 14:57. That is 100 miles in 14 hours 57 minutes!

First lady through was Mari Mauland in 7 hours 53. She stopped, had some pasta, changed her socks & sat for about 15 minutes. And she still went on to win by an impressive four plus hours finishing fifth overall. I’m in complete awe!

From then on runners came in dribs & drabs until the masses mid-evening. Where as the early runners were in & out quickly, the later runners took their time, enjoyed the food & drink, had a chat, changed their clothes & prepared themselves for a long & lonely night along the Thames.

A few runners dropped out, either injured or too exhausted to continue. It was always heartbreaking to see, runners who had put so much into their race being forced to call it quits. It must be a really difficult decision to make.

We finished just after midnight as the last runners came through literally minutes within the cut-off, we filled water bottles, gave them food & made sure they got back out running before the 12:15am deadline.

Definitely a worthwhile experience. Some of the time I just watched the runners, what did they do, what kit were they wearing, what food were they eating. Anything that may help me in a few weeks time!

The finish line is in sight

16 miles, 2:52:41, 10:48 min/mile, 1,355ft elevation gain

With falling into bed at 2:30am in the morning after my volunteering shift at the TP100 I didn’t fancy doing my long run on Sunday so, as it was a bank holiday I delayed it by 24 hours & headed out early Monday morning.

For me this was a massive psychological run. I have now covered the entire 50 miles of the NDW50 route from the start in Farnham to the finish in Knockholt Pound. As a complete novice to ultra running, trail running, off-road running & anything that isn’t the streets of London this gives me a bit of a confidence boost ahead of race day.

I’d deliberately left this section, the last 11 miles, to as near to race day as possible so that hopefully when I am tired, fed up & hurting after 40+ miles it is still fairly fresh in my mind.

I was apprehensive & I’m not going to pretend it was a perfect run. My foot is still sore but it & I survived. Apart from being ‘aware’ of it, it didn’t hinder me or stop me & at points eased completely. I can’t imagine it will be completely better by race day but I can deal with it.

I met up with Martin who I’d run from Dorking to Merstham with back in January. His next race is a rather exciting hilly 30k at altitude in Madagascar & so he was quite up for a little bit of bank holiday trail running on the North Downs!

Coming out of Caterham station we ran along the main road to join the North Downs Way at the A22 crossing, the point I’d left it six weeks earlier when I’d run from Dorking to Caterham. The early parts were mainly through woodland, the bluebells adding a flash of colour to the slightly grey & drab start to the day. It was raining (it was a bank holiday, of course it rained…!) so I got to try out my super duper new waterproof jacket (part of the race mandatory kit list). Kept me dry but bloody hot on the inside!

We passed the turning to Woldringham School where the Striders turn off on the Merstham 14 run before hitting the fields that had thwarted me on my previous attempt at this section back at the end of December. Then the mud was a foot deep & the fog was so thick I could only see about 20 metres in front of me, a cow across my path cut that run short. Today the terrain was completely different, the mud had dried up & the surface was hard & uneven. And there were no cows. TF for that!

The sun came out & suddenly the downs were alive with colour. We ran through a narrow gateway to be greeted by a vibrant blaze of yellow rapeseed, the colours, with the blue in the sky, were glorious. This is what I love about running, this is why I run, to explore places like this, to see views like this, to run through a gateway & look out over a vista & simply go ‘wow!’.

There is one ‘big’ hill in this section, Titsey Hill, admittedly small in comparison to some of the earlier hills but at mile 46ish it’s going to feel like a mountain!

The last couple of miles are around more fields, the ground dry, hard & rutted. When tired it will be easy to trip. We turned & ‘sprinted’ down the narrow country land to Knockholt Pound.

The end.

Only it wasn’t. The sign said Knockholt station 2.5 miles… If we were to get home we had another few miles to go! I WILL not be doing that on race day (note to self, must arrange getting home after running 50 miles…)

So how to do I feel after ‘finishing’ the NDW50 route?

I feel relieved that I’ve been able to recce it. Lets just say that navigation is not my strongest skill… But I now know how well the NDW is signposted (& I am told Centurian are also excellent for marking routes). I am also learning where to look for signs when they are not obvious. One of my original fears was getting lost but now I am fairly confident I won’t.

I would have liked to have had time to go back to some of the earlier sections. Dorking through to Woldringham School I know well as this is the easiest section for me to pop down to for a few miles. I’ve only run Farnham to Dorking the once & there were a few sections around Guildford that I found tricky to navigate. I would have liked to have gone back & run those again.

Just two weeks to go. I’m hoping to get a couple more decent runs in this week before a very easy final week leading into race day.

Week Twenty Four (+ one day!): 19 miles in total with 1450 ft elevation gain.

The bluebells in Banstead Woods

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