Centurion Running – North Downs Way 50 17th May 2014

I had spent the whole of last week worrying and trying my hardest to convince myself that completing the NDW50 was possible.  In hindsight I’m glad I didn’t manage to reccie the route.  I would have been more terrified that I hadn’t trained enough.  My worry list was expanding each time I thought about the event and it was starting to really eat at me.  Why was I putting myself through all this, it seemed like a really good idea, a fun day out, a blast, an epic adventure, meet other likeminded ultra nutters – I had to keep my focus on why I wanted to do this in the first place.  Keep it together.  Don’t let fear creep in and destroy what could be an amazing experience.  Focus!!!

I was going to drive down there on the day.  Thankfully my lovely husband offered to book me a hotel room near the start.  It was free because of a reward scheme of some kind but it was lovely to have one less worry on the day of the race.  My first thank you goes to my lovely husband.

Friday morning and my work colleagues are saying good luck for the weekend along with – bonkers/nutter/insane distance hahaha!!  This really cheered me up.  Gave me a bit more steel for my focus.  Fear was not going to stop me!!

Friday afternoon and I’m at home checking over everything that I’ve packed.  Batteries, charger, shot blocks, electrolyte tabs, sun cream, anti-chafing stick, hat, map, torch – the list goes on.  Worry is a great organiser but its pants at trying to rationalise!! The kitchen sink would be next! An hour or two of checking, lunch downed and I’m in the car on the way to the hotel.  Oh jees this is really happening.  Oh dear, what have I done, I can’t do this, it’s bonkers, insane, why am I doing this!!!!  That’s it fear.  I’m not listening to you, you’re not helping.  Pink, Foo Fighters, Alex Clare and others get played in the car at full volume to drown out the bad thoughts.  One bad traffic jam drive on the M25 and I’m finally at the hotel to chill.  But where’s the start?  So I unpack and drive to the start.  Not far away.  20 minutes max.  Excellent.  I grab some food on the way back and arrange to pick up Stuart on the way to the start in the morning.  Fabulous.  Some company for the morning.  I thought I would find it difficult getting to sleep.  Nope.  Out for the count.

Yep.  This isn’t just about the NDW50 it’s the mental battle beforehand to get to the start line.  I had completed at least one 50 mile event before.  I knew the distance was a mental battle rather than physical.  I knew I could tackle hills on repeat after getting to 35 miles in the Lakeland 50.  The kit I had was good.  The electrolytes would work in the hot weather if I timed them right.  There was nothing left to do.  I was in the school hall with Stuart and Mark, ready to go, looking at all the other super SUPER fit people thinking – I shouldn’t be here, I’m nothing like them, what the hell am I doing.  Then completely ignoring the bad thoughts.  I’m here, I can do it, what have I got to lose, get out there and do it!!

A quick race briefing – it felt quick, it probably wasn’t.  A huge cheer for the volunteers.  Total respect for the volunteers.  You guys n gals ROCK!! Then we walk to the start.  Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear………

Stuart tries to get me closer to the start but no, I’m slow, I deserve to be at the back, let the faster people go in front so I’m not holding them up.  I must admit though.  The picture Stuart took was fabulous.  I look like I’m really pleased to be there.  Totally not how I was feeling inside.

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Then everyone starts running.  It’s happening.  Most of what I remember of the start was orange trainers, mud trail, black shorts – they fit nice, solamon pack, ultimate direction pack, bright yellow trail shoes, hairy legs, skinny legs, wow those calves are HUGE!, traffic jam at the first kissing gate, then open trail, I like those purple trail shoes.  A lot of following/being in a pack of runners before the first short hill on a road.  After that things were a bit of a blur.  I remember a very sandy track that was tough to get through.  A lot of scouts with huge back packs.

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Picture credit goes to Jon Lavis – Still looking very fresh at this point.

The first checkpoint was fleeting, water refilled, coca cola gulped down and on my way within a minute.  A very impressive turnaround.  It felt almost formulae one pit stop style.  Bacon sandwich at mile 12 – I’ve never had a brown sauce bacon sandwich.  I have been suitably educated, it was deliciously yummy.  A mixture of trail and road and then there was the next checkpoint.  Water bottles refilled again in formulae one style along with more coca cola.  Nearly 15 miles and I was still feeling okay.  Yes it was getting a bit hot but I felt comfortable.  My High Five Zero tabs were working their magic – I made sure I had at least half a tab between each aid station.  Shot blok every 3 miles.  I’ve never had coca cola on a long run before but this was working well for me too.  I was feeling very good.  I was even within my own calculated times for the aid stations.  At least an hour before their cut off.  Wow! I can do this.

Negative thoughts at this point were – just because you feel good now doesn’t mean you’ll finish.  There’s Box Hill to come yet!!  You’re slowing down, you’ll start missing your own cut off times if you don’t keep up the pace.  You’re too slow!!

The Box Hill check point was cruel but joyous to see.  One minute you’re following a trail, the next you’re standing next to a dual carriageway and across the road is the check point.  Lovely red tape markers say to turn left.  Hmmmm, is this right?  I wave HI to the lovely aid station volunteers and head in the direction of the tape.  AH!! It goes to an underpass.  Right!! Under the road and jog on to the aid station.  Phew!  That wasn’t far.  Another lightning fast pit stop.  Bread scoffed, coca cola drank and I was on my way again.  Gotta love Centurion volunteers.

I think it was after this stop that I decided my feet needed checking.  I could definitely feel hot spots so better to sort it out now then after the hill climb to come that I’d been warned about.  Socks off, blisters popped, pain killing gel applied, socks and trail shoes on and away I go.  Sorted.  Now I must admit, pain killing gel is not something I’d recommend in any way for blisters but I really didn’t want to mess with my hydration and I knew taking oral painkillers can mess with my thirst mechanism.  On a hot day like this I couldn’t risk that.  So please don’t take this as an okay to use this yourself.

Box hill.  Seriously! This hill should be in Lakeland50 not near Dorking!!!! Good grief! One step at a time, keep moving, if I have to stop I count to ten and then move again.  Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving, oh hell, there’s MORE STEPS!!! Keep moving!! WOW!! Look at that view.  Keep moving.  The top – HAH!! BOOYAHH!! DID IT!! I BEAT YOU!! Not sure if that was the hill I was yelling at or my own disbelief but boy it felt good.

Reigate Hill check point was a welcome sight.  More of the formulae one style water refill and coca cola and the promise of jelly and ice cream at the next check point.  I was starting to worry now though.  I was falling behind my checkpoint closing time agenda.  This wasn’t good.  I had to increase my pace.  I had to run everything but uphill.  Every uphill had to be done quicker or I wouldn’t make it in time for the coach.  I must get back before the coach leaves!!!!

My head went down after this point and I’m sure I missed some wonderful views.  I did however see some wonderful optical illusions.  Giant bear head statues that were a mixture of logs and leaves.  Grey rabbits that were plants lined up just right.  I was thankful for the distraction.  Wild garlic that was so over powering it was sickening.  More steps.  More fields.  I checked my watch and noted the next checkpoint with jelly and ice cream was just over a mile away.  I NEED to get to that checkpoint.  KEEP MOVING!! The trail opens up onto an open field downhill and there’s another runner in the distance.  I’m catching up with him.  All the while chanting “jelly and ice cream, jelly and ice cream, jelly and ice cream”.  I made this guys day apparently, the thought of jelly and ice cream was so enticing at this point.

The trail came out onto a road and just around the corner I could see the aid station.  I tried to run up the hill towards them but there was nothing in the legs for this.  No matter how much I wanted that jelly and ice cream.  After lots of cheering from the volunteers at this aid station and lots of encouragement on how well I was doing I finally got to the jelly and ice cream.  OOoooooooooooo my!!!!! Heavenly food!!! Absolutely perfect.  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!!!

I stayed at this aid station longer than I should have but oh boy did I need it.  Refuelled and water refilled I set of to the penultimate aid station.  I was losing time and was definitely pushing myself harder than have in any other event now.  I met up with two lovely guys who missed the red and white tape signalling the footpath in the verge.  I can see how they missed it.  If you weren’t looking for it you would have no idea it was there.  We were all going at a similar pace at this point which helped me a lot.  This had to be the loneliest ultra I had done.  Normally I’m with a group of people and we’re all different strengths but we stick together and get each other through the tough patches.  Today I was slow, way behind the majority of slow runners and feeling like I needed to catch up or lose the chance of getting back to the start on the coach!! I was so grateful for the distraction to my ranting fear that was now forcing me to move ever faster than I felt comfortable with.  Lots of kicking branches, tripping over rocks, nettles and I even managed to bash my foot on a tree stump!! OUCH!! A few steps later and I could feel the hot spot from the skin that had just been moved to start forming a blister! Damn it!! A few moments later and one of the guys stopped.  A blister he had been ignoring had popped.  OUCH!!!  A quick discussion on what to do and my idea of pain killing gel seemed like nothing to lose.  At least it would get him to the next check point.  Shoes and socks off, gel applied, socks and shoes on.  Back on his feet and walking for a bit.  Then after a minute or two, back to running.

There was so much woodland trail, fields and stairs going up and down that I lost track of how close I was to the next check point.  Just as I was cursing the fact that there was this large F**ing hill climb once again and my legs are just turning to jelly and I’m not going to make it I see a person near the top of the track.  It’s the check point.  Wow!! I still have a chance.  As I’m forcing myself up the last bit of the track I’m quickly sorting through in my head what I want to do.  Sort out the blister, get it comfy, cola, water, move move move move…… The checkpoint volunteers were absolute angels here.  You beautiful wonderful angels.  I tried sitting in the chair but couldn’t reach my foot so dropped myself on the floor to get to my poor painful foot.  I tried to pop the blister but it was too far under the skin so painkilling gel applied again and that would have to do.  Loads of cola supplied by the wonder angels.  Then a helping hand to get my butt of the floor and I’m up and running again.

The last section was a blur of panic looking for tape, distraction of being investigated by cows, walking when I wanted to run through a field that had uneven ground hidden by grass, following my gps because I’d lost track of any sight of red and white tape, road, field, more woodland trail then an open field.  All of this whilst I’m panicking about the time.  It was getting close, the finish must be close.  There can’t be much more.  Keep running, keep moving, don’t stop.  It’s starting to get dark so I pull out my head torch, just then the trail turns to giant sticky and slippery mud.  Head torch on, back pack on and I’m running again.  Another field, wait, is that the finish.  It must be.  So close!! I’m running as hard as I can now, out of the field onto the road, oh thank goodness its downhill.  Oh wait!! The last bit up to the school and the finish in the school field is uphill.  ARGH!! I can’t stop now!! I need to run!! I’m met by the most wonderful person who keeps me moving, keep going, come on you can do it, last bit, not long now, keep going, you can do it, nearly there, you’ve got two minutes, come on, you’re doing really well…….. My legs felt like they were going to break apart, my lungs just couldn’t drag in enough air, my heart felt like it was going to run to the finish on its own, my brain had lost all sense of what the hell was going on – FINISH!!!!

I DID IT!!!

With seconds to spare!! Seconds!!!! 13 hours, 29 minutes, 15 seconds.

I couldn’t move, I’d stopped and couldn’t move hahahahahaha!!! I did it!!! I tried to gently sit on the ground but I fell to my knees, took off my back pack and lay down on that cool lovely grass for at least 10 minutes.  A very lovely volunteer handed me my medal – a very hard earned medal.  Only ultra runners get one of these and today that was me!!

I really do wish the two ladies who came in after me whilst I was lying there on the ground had got a medal too but they’d just missed the cut off.  I really felt for them.

Eventually I got up with the ever present helpful volunteers on hand.  A very sweet cup of tea and a few bites of a giant hot dog roll and I’m ready to get changed and head back to the start.

Now here come the thank you’s.  A massive thank you to Louise who gave me a lift back to the start because the coach had to leave with the last of the runners already on it.  A big apology to Peter who followed me when I lost sight of the red and white tape.  I’m sure we would have made it to the finish a couple minutes sooner without having to climb over a fence!! Big thank yous to ALL of the Centurion team/volunteers – you were all so lovely and kind and helpful.  Thank you.  Lastly, thank you to my lovely son Vincent who knew I was running 50 miles and made me some badges and insisted on buying flowers for me for when I got home.  Bless!

4 comments

  1. Helen, this is brilliant & a massive WELL DONE to you, you superstar!! I am so glad i read this now as I am doing my first marathon tomorrow, the Weald Challenge Trail marathon and I totally understand the mental battle as that is always my downfall on most of my runs. Reading this has me totally fired up and given me a real boost, so thank you 🙂 x

    • You’ll smash it 😉 just keep that in your mind and focus on that no matter what.
      The most helpful bit of advice I’ve ever been given lately is to focus on each check point/water station. Plan when you want to be there and push yourself to keep to that plan. Several small races rather than one large one.
      Good luck tomorrow. Remember to take in the views 😉

  2. Enjoyed reading your report! Congrats! I was running near your pace all day, reading your post felt like a report of my race! From getting lost in the cow field to kicking tree stumps and blisters. It was a tough one. Great job.

    • Thank you. Reading through it again has brought back such vivid memories of that day. When I have low points I read through these to remind myself that I’ve tackled what appears impossible and survived haha!!

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