North Downs Way 100 race report

Posted by Chris Foulds on 26 September 2019

This one goes from Farnham to Ashford.  It’s a bit hilly.

There’s a bad start three weeks before the race when I damage a plantar plate on my left foot.  Or that’s what my extensive internet research tells me.  I never quite get down to “ask a bunch of random strangers in a Facebook group who all know I’m going to race anyway”, which is the traditional ultra way of doing things, but the plantar plate is what everything points to.  Badly splayed second toe, feels like running on a squishy blister, moving in bare feet very bad news, overuse injury.  It’s got a little better but I’ve hardly run at all for those three weeks.

Turning up at the bed and breakfast on Friday the owner’s excited to tell me there’s someone else doing the race staying.  This turns out to be Sharon Dickson (who finishes 😊 ), also attempting Centurion’s Grand Slam of four 100 mile races in 6 months.  Registration’s followed by dinner at Zizi’s with what seems like most of the field, so it’s half eating and half race shirt spotting.  Highlight is someone in a Wendover Woods 100 top.  Not many people have one of those.

Kit

Kit

Registration

Registration

Bag drop

Bag drop

Oddly the route is available on Street View, so although I haven’t been able to do any recce in person I’ve at least got an idea of what I’m going to be seeing.  There appear to be a lot of woods and a lot of steps.

Anyway, after the race brief it’s time for me to set sail for fail on the North Downs Way 😊  Oh.  Spoilers.

I’m moving reasonably well for the first 25 miles, the injury is hardly noticeable unless it’s a hard surface.  On trail it’s fine.  Have to stop a couple of times to redo plasters which is getting a bit tiresome after the same thing at TP100 and SDW100.  Happily I’ve got some zinc oxide tape and this proves a more than acceptable substitute, so there are no more problems on that score at least.

Early on

Early on (photo by Karen Webber)

Then come the Box Hill stepping stones, which are a rather jolly set of hexagonal stones across a stream.  If you look at any race report or discussion about the NDW100 it’ll mention the section from Box Hill to Reigate is particularly tough, and this begins with the steps that follow the stepping stones.  They’re awful.  The first few dozen aren’t too bad, in fact I think to myself they’re no worse than the ones at Bramcote XC.  But every corner brings a new set of steps, all designed by someone who doesn’t know about the proper height to depth ratio involved.  There are 275 of them, plus several dozen people out for a walk who are all going downwards.  I appear to be the only person going up.

The top of the hill sees the beginning of a 25 mile section of soul crushing climbs, all in woods so you don’t even have any nice views while you’re doing it.  Occasionally there’s a half mile flat section but it’s never enough to recover, it’s always climbing or descending.  It dawns on me fairly quickly that I haven’t done nearly enough hill training.  I thought the hills at Race to the Tower last year were bad, but the Cotswold Way gives you a chance to recover between climbs and this doesn’t feel like it does that.  I end up stopping to rest at nearly every checkpoint and that’s very bad news.  Moving = good, not moving = bad.  It’s pretty much that simple.

The climb up Reigate Hill is appalling.  Or I was appalled, at least 😊  I pick up a bit of fruit at the checkpoint.  Someone’s on the ground with paramedics checking their ankle for swelling, someone else is bent over barfing an orange stream of liquid onto the grass behind the gazebo.  On into the trees – can’t really remember much about the next 18 miles, just more trees and more hills.  Somewhere I go past a cricket match, an ice cream van pulls up with the usual million decibel massacre of a twee piece of music.  This does not seem calculated to improve the concentration of the players.  Shortly afterwards another runner comes out of a pub and tells me the drink he’s just had has done him more good than anything else he’s tried so far.  He disappears into the distance so he must be right 😊

Checking my watch I try to work out when I’m likely to arrive at Knockholt Pound, which is the halfway point at 50 miles (sort of – this 100 mile race is actually 103 miles).  I get there in just over 13 hours which is far slower than my previous attempts at 100 miles (and would have missed the cutoff at NDW50).  Coming in to the checkpoint I feel rubbish and have spent the last hour or so seriously thinking about stopping at Knockholt.

It turns out that a change of shirt and socks, a cup of tea and a quick chat about the role of Lord Lieutenants in modern society with one of the volunteers works wonders.  It takes a bit longer than I’d like but once I get back out on the course I am fully prepared to do unspeakable things to the North Downs Way.  Most of them are implausible in the literal, biological, geological and indeed any other sense, but it all helps rebuild my moral fibre a bit more and there’s some determined power hiking (aka walking like you mean it) for several miles. 

The aggression gets me as far as Wrotham, but the tiredness catches up with me there and I need to sit down for a bit.  Again.  Still, I’m about 90 minutes inside the cutoff at this point.  The volunteer pointing us back onto the trail as we leave is also a VRUK runner so that cheers me up.  At some point after this there are some nice fields.  I think.  It’s all merged into one rather.

Somewhere round here there’s a wooded section where the path widens out and it all gets very pleasant.  It begins with, well, a three foot high Santa Claus missing its head.  Someone’s left it by the side of the trail which isn’t strange at all when it appears in the light of my headlamp.  The nice gentle section is broken up by a steep downhill which consists almost entirely of small rocks (presumably to mitigate erosion from rainfall and people walking on it).  They’re too large to move on comfortably and this is where my toenails take a bit of a beating as I try to avoid the worst of it.  It does give me the chance to go all Parappa the Rapper though – “Don’t get cocky, it’s gonna get rocky / We gonna go down to the next ya jockey now”*.  And if you know what that is without having to Google it there’s a prize (no there isn’t).

*Of course not out loud.  What’s wrong with you people? 😊

Toenails

Toenails...think I got off lightly

We’re soon going up Holly Hill, or Holy Hell which is what I’ve decided it’s called.  It doesn’t in fact feel too bad but when I reach the checkpoint the cutoff time is on display and I’m down to about an hour to spare.  A volunteer tells me not to sit down for too long (actually she says “Do you want a drink?  Give me your cup then.  Don’t sit down for too long.  Ooh I’m so demanding aren’t I?” which makes me smile).  The weather isn’t cold at all, conditions are ideal, but I seem to need warming up and this is one of many tea stops.

The next section includes the Medway Bridge, which is the point the race turns south and heads for the finish.  Every time we go uphill now it’s taking too much out of me.  I really haven’t done enough hill training.  By the time I leave the Bluebell Hill checkpoint (after another rest) I’ve got about 40 minutes inside the cutoff.  That isn’t totally desperate but the steps not long afterwards finish me off – no idea how long it takes me to get up them but when I look at my watch it isn’t even registering a pace.  Another runner is sat at the bottom, I find out later we are pretty much at the back of the race.

I eventually bin it at Detling as time runs out – I’ve lost the 40 minutes I had at Bluebell Hill and I might as well be going backwards.  Allie Bailey takes my number off me and says I seem pretty cheerful which in fact I am.  I don’t have anything left and there’s nothing more I can do so there’s nothing to be upset about (even the end of my Grand Slam attempt).  All there is left to do is get on the failbus for the Julie Rose stadium in Ashford.

Analysing the DNF starts almost immediately and I think failure to fuel properly is top of the list.  Nothing I was carrying would stay down apart from gels and they didn’t really seem to do the trick (you can see from the leftovers on my shirt I ate plenty!).  There was a wide selection at checkpoints but that’s topping up for me.  Humping a load of food around and keeping it organised / finding it in vest pockets is also a pain, so might be time to try some Tailwind.

I also didn’t do enough hill training.  SDW100 went pretty well but the NDW hills felt a lot steeper and sharper.  Better go and find something similar to practice on.  Tailor the training better and the results should follow, eventually.

No buckle this time but in hindsight it was still an enjoyable 82 miles.  Apart from the not finishing bit I can’t think of anything I’d rather spend a weekend doing 😊 

Failbus

End of my race

The finish

At the finish

 

Stats for the year:

Buckles:  2 (TP100, SDW100)

DNF:  2 (The Tunnel, NDW100)

Centurion Army:  Superb

Fun:  A lot 😊

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