Revenge, a dish best served cold apparently. So a February race on the North Downs
Way that was possibly one of my worst ever experiences first time round, a knee
injury causing me to walk the last 13 miles and finish long after dark.
To say I've matured as an ultra runner from 2009 would be an understatement but
also XNRG, the Pilgrim Challenge organisers, have gone from strength to strength
and they offer some of the best value for money and the most fun for a messy
weekend in the country.
66 miles over 2 days along nice, muddy, hilly trails, all leaning slightly to the
south and heading over some of my favourite hills including the meaty Box Hill
with its stepping stones and steep steps! Team 9bar were there in force with
Justin Montague (last year's winner) and myself, as well as Liz and Alan armed
with a bucket full of healthy goodness! Daryl Carter (2012 Brecon Beacons Ultra),
Craig Stewart (2011 GB 100k champ) and Sondre Amdahl (2012 Ultima Frontera 83k
winner) all lined up at the start and we were good to go!
|Justin and I at the start with Daryl Carter (30) and Danny Kendall to the right
The starting pace was electric, led by Sondre, it was all I could do to hang on
for dear life but I was happy to be pushing myself to such a level, chucking in
miles well below 7 minutes off road, on hills and through mud. A lead pack soon
emerged, then reduced to the three of us and before long Sondre and Danny Kendall
were off into the distance. Haribo and 9bars at the checkpoints kept me going but
my pace definately dropped as the course went on. I just hoped the front two
hadn't kept it up I'd have no chance on day 2! I managed to hang on for a 3rd
place on day 1 in about 4:21, about 20 minutes behind the leader and a few
minutes ahead of Craig.
After some showers that were so good that they set the fire alarm off, a spot of
rugby and a carbo loading pasta meal, there was a talk by Andy Mouncey, a top end
endurance athlete and engaging public speaker and I won a pair of wigwam socks
which were rather nice to have on my feet for the Sunday. They fitted nicely in
my new La Sportiva Raptors, a comfortable off-road shoe with a good level of
cushioning and excellent grip. Not one blister from the weekend.
Then we all settled down into the hall ready for our staggered starts in the
morning, walkers at 7, elite runners at 9. The weather was looking fine, chilly
and windy on the Sunday and we the wind was coming directly at us but at the
start it was the same again when Sondre and myself pushed the pace at the front,
both of us knowing we had to make up some time to have any chance of winning.
Danny knew he just had to mark the front runners and Craig wasn't letting anyone
sneak away today, so the 4 of us went off.
At the first large downhill I decided that I had to try and make a break for it
and managed to open up a nice, 50-100m break between myself and 2nd by the base
of the hill. I hoped I could keep a study pace and keep ahead, or at least tire
the others out when they tried to catch me.
A lovely plan. In reality I was reeled in and spat out the back like a break away
rider in the Tour de France, allowing me to see Danny and Sondre disappear rapidly
up a hill, forcing me to throw caution to the wind and promptly get lost. Serves
me right for sprinting down another hill...
After choosing to add a couple of extra miles on around one of the small towns on
the route, I probably confused Craig a little by turning up behind him after the
last check and telling him that "Henrik was coming!" I then sprinting off like
a man possessed. With a couple of miles to go I saw Danny and Sondre up ahead,
about 500m away, and like an excitable dog chasing a car it has no chance of
catching, I was off!
We came to the nice grassy finishing stretch and the two leaders were totally
unaware of the mad man chasing them at full pelt in an attempt to change nothing,
they both had big day 1 leads. I managed to finishing about 5 seconds after them
and collapse to the ground, confident that whilst my effort was relatively
pointless, I would never have it any other way. Every Ultra marathon needs a
Team 9bar were there and XNRG's Neil offered a medal and
then I was left to recover on the finish line, not before shouting "has anyone
got a 9bar?" to keep the sponsors happy!
|Pop up flags are all the rage these days,I’m in a pile on the floor just next to these ones.
So after just over 9 hours of running I was happy. Happy I'd come back and run
the whole course, happy that my fitness was at a pleasant level after Barcelona
and happy in the knowledge I will just keep getting quicker. Next race in Perth,
50k, sub 4 hours please, maybe another sprint finish?