With the 2013 North Downs Way 100 this weekend I thought I would eventually post my blog about my first attempt shuffling along a Centurion Running event. The inaugural NDW100 was a good day for me.
I’m not one for sentiment but I can’t help a smile spreading across my face whenever I think back to that race, one that I was convinced to run by a Mr. Allan Rumbles because you got a belt buckle for finishing under 24 hours. A shiny belt buckle!
It was a 50 mile out and back course from Farnham, Surrey to Knockholt Pound, right near home and my dad and his mate Mick had offered to come along and help out.
I set myself the target of sub 20 hours and decided I would walk anything that resembled a hill from the start, sharing my misery with Allan Rumbles, as this was his fault really. I really enjoyed the first 30 -40 miles, chatting, eating, never over exerting myself and plodding towards halfway. I met up with Sandra Bowers along the way, a solid runner who was doing the 50 miler, and both our competitive spirits came out as I urged her to beat the woman in front, who knows, she could have be taking the lead? We upped the pace to the half way point and Sandra finished in about 9.50, leaving me on target but with little room for error.
On the way into half way we had seen Dave Ross, Neil Bryant and Mark Collinson all go the other way and Neil, having won the JOGLE the year before, was miles ahead with South Downs Way 100 winner Mark looking strong as well. I turned around in fifth place and I was happy to be on the home straight, albeit a 50 mile one.
I was feeling rough from 50- 65 and, although I overtook 4th place because he was running the wrong way ( I did correct him and run with him for a while), I wasn’t feeling my best and at 65 miles I was still 90 minutes down on Neil, who had led from the start.
At the next checkpoint around 65 they told me I was gaining on third and it brought a little spring to my step. I put the music on, a mix of reggae, dance and indie folk and I pushed my pace. I started to feel good and I knew I could catch Dave in 3rd, apparently he wasn’t looking great.
Coming up Box Hill I was starting to feel rather nice, I was expecting to see Dave any second, pushing on through the woods in the dusk, when in the next clearing stood Dave’s missus, wondering where he was, he must have taken a wrong turn in the woods but I pushed on. He might be just behind me.
I shot down Box Hill, much to the anger of my quads, and met Mick and Dad at the next check, where, to the disgust of a nearby lady, I shouted for Vaseline, chaffage is an issue in many races but the boys were in trouble. I shot straight out the other side of the check though and was off, apparently 2nd was a long way off but going slower than I. I looked too strong, still 24 miles to go, I won’t be able to keep this up.
I trudged up the next hill, eating Gu and any other food thrust in front of me, I was starting to believe I could catch these guys, two very experienced Ultra runners…
I kept feeling good, it was like a 30 mile runner’s high and I kept smashing on. Just before the last check point I saw a light up ahead, surely not? I pushed on and chatted to Mark briefly, he had had some issues with tainted water and was struggling. I told him tag on and we can push to the finish but he didn’t have it in him. I got to the final check and Henk was there, a little drunk as usual, but a stalwart of old school ultra running and organiser of my first 100 at Caesars Camp.
I screamed as I came into the check “how far? How far?” And Mick shouted that Neil was only 10 minutes ahead, but going well. With only 5 miles to go I had to make up 2 minutes per mile. I was rueing my decision to start so slowly, I was going to lose by a tiny amount but I had to try.
Henk told me to f**k off and I let out a primal scream as I left the check point and knew at this point I had to give everything I had, anything less would not be good enough and even that may still have resulted in failure. I pushed on, feeling as if my pace was worth of a 100m final, but constantly hoping to see Neil round the next corner, or just a light in the distance, something to chase.
With about 2 or 3 miles to go I saw a light, one single beam, on the ridge ahead. It was a few hundred metres ahead, but it was there. It couldn’t possibly be Neil. For some reason I turned off my head torch, I didn’t want him to know I was chasing him down and I didn’t know if he knew I’d been sprinting for 30 miles to catch him.
The closer I got there surer I was that it wasn’t Neil, I hadn’t made up the 10 minutes that quickly. I pulled up alongside and said “hello, you’re Neil Bryant right?” And after a monosyllabic reply I congratulated Neil on his JOGLE run and how much in awe of his previous performances I was. As with Mark I asked Neil to tag along but my competitive spirit wanted to leave him for dust.
I pushed on, now with a different fear. What if Neil overtook me now? What if I took a wrong turn? It was actually my race to lose now, Neil had led for 155 of the 160 km but now I was on front, and I felt awesome. I shot down wooded trails and followed sign after sign, begging for the finish to appear.
I heard voices. Was it Neil behind me? No it was ahead, it was Dad. One last little corner they said, I let out another yelp, an involuntary roar, then sprinted for the line. I had done it. I had won the NDW 100 and my time, 19.47 was nicely under 20 hours. It was the closest to a negative split I had ever finished, regardless of distance.
I clapped in Neil and Mark and then collapsed into the van. I was spent, my body had nothing left to give. I had never felt better. Maybe I had a few more miles in me ;)
I cannot think back to this race without a strange feeling running through me, without emotion welling up and a smile reaching my face, even a laugh, maybe a tear. It was a 30 mile runner’s high at the end of a 100 mile race and I loved every second of it. I wouldn’t feel that feeling again until Barcelona 2012, but I know I will be chasing it in every race I do, until they lock me in the sanatorium for good.
Enjoy the North Downs Way 100 this weekend everyone and I hope you find a bit of the magic I did on that trail.