Monday, 25 March 2013

The day after tomorrow

After the relative "success" of the Orion 15 Saturday, focus now switched to the next day and the Sevenoaks Circular, run by the Kent branch of the Long Distance Walkers Association this was a challenge event which meant runners could also enter.




There were 3 routes today to chose from 15,20 and 30 miles. I'd obviously entered the 30! I was starting to regret this choice but knew I had to do it as I needed the time on my feet as training. By some form of miracle it looked like the snow had stopped over night meaning the drive to Kent wasn't going to be too hard.

I left the house just after 6am and in about an hour I was pulling up in the car park. I love these events as I was greeted by smiling faces and a mug of tea! (You don't get service like this at road races.) Soon the club was filling up as I sorted my kit. I was wearing a base layer with a thermal top and didn't know if I should go straight for waterproofs and if to wear trail shoes or full on fell shoes? Fell shoes once again and a windproof.

It was then I noticed a couple of familiar faces enter. I'd not heard of anyone else I knew entering but due to the poor weather two of my running club colleagues were in attendance. John Williams, a seriously experienced fell runner of class and Janet Hill, a legend in my opinion in off-road long distance ultra running. They joined me at the table and confirmed they switched plans last minute due to the weather. (John was running Wrekin Fell race and Janet a 55 mile ultra in the Yorkshire Dales!)

Soon we were at the start line stood in front of some iron gates that looked like they protected a stately home, then we were off. As soon as we started I could already feel the pain from yesterday's run. I had a plan today to take it easy but also didn't want to take too long. We were soon negotiating large slopes and extreme mud (ring any bells?) and I knew at this point I'd be in for the long haul and it was going to be a long day.

There didn't seem many people running the 30 miler and already the small field had spread. John was already nowhere to be seen and I was trying hard to stay with Janet as long as I could. With field after field of ankle deep mud or snow, the going was slow and I was taken completely by surprised by how big the hills were here. I'd trained in the North Downs area just once before but don't remember anything like this, anyone that says the south is flat is mad.

Eventually I get to the first checkpoint which was only a couple of people in a car park. I got my card stamped and set off just in front of Janet. Due to the location of Sevenoaks the route seemed to cross a number of large "motorways" at various points and we're soon crossing yet another main road only to end up..... you guessed it! in yet another muddy field.

The other main factor that I haven't mentioned yet was the fact that it was a narration event. This means you follow a set of descriptive instructions that literally tell you which way to turn. This is something I've done loads of times in trail races before but this does slow you down as you need to keep track of where you are on the instructions and one missed turn can result in a 30 mile run turning into a 35 mile run.

So far the instructions were decent but as we entered a small village I could see a group of runners questioning the route. I stopped briefly to confirm where I thought I was and then carried on. This group were runners who had passed me in the first few miles and I have to admit it felt slightly morale boosting overtaking them (you need to use anything to mentally help you.)

I was now running in a small group of me, Janet and a girl that as it happened knew an old friend of mine (small world hey!), suddenly from behind up pops John! When did we overtake him I thought? He confirmed that he'd not been careful (his words) in one section and had ran some extra miles in error (as I said, easily done).

Finally we got to the second checkpoint. This time it was typical LDWA fare a large village hall with loads of food and drink. I took off my pack and relaxed for a while with a mug of tea (note, you have to bring your own mug, LDWA rules). Before I'd finished my tea John and Janet had already gone! I knew I shouldn't stay too long and quickly downed the drink and grabbed as much food as I could hold and started walking down the road.

We were now at mile 12 and I was feeling ok. What I did remind myself was that we were not even halfway yet though. More fields, mud, snow and hills followed and I'd managed to catch Janet and a few others up as we wove through the occasional forest and sprinted on downhill sections but as soon as I'd catch them up they'd drop a gear and motor off (these were experienced guys).

I managed to get to the next checkpoint at around the 20 miles mark with the group in sight and again consumed a couple of sausage rolls but didn't hang around too long this time. I followed the group including Janet into a large wood with what seemed like a thousand small paths within it. Soon I noticed where I'd been pushing to keep with the group that I'd lost my place in the instructions! Stuck in a huge forest with no idea where I was heading could spell disaster. As I've said it's easily done and normally you can eventually find a reference point on the ground and continue from there but I had little chance in this place.

I'd done a lot of these type of events before so decided to take a leap of faith and push hard to keep the group in front within sight and just hope they knew where they were going (not ideal). I knew Janet had done this run before and even though the route does change I guessed that the same hall checkpoint "might" have been used before and as a result the route could be similar? This may sound like like a risk but it was a calculated risk and sometimes you need to think fast. Due to the ground I'd often loose sight of the group though so I'd have to then push even harder just to catch a glimpse.
Soon I got to a section though where I could once again match the instructions to the ground and I started to relax. Not for too long though as soon I was falling back from the others and at the base of what looked like the only mountain in Kent. I could see the others in front getting to the top but they were just dots in the distance now!

I noticed that I could barely walk up the hill and I was starting to sway. I was barely 24 miles into the run and already my body was starting to hit the wall. I'd eaten previously but obviously not enough, I'd also been trying to ration my energy gels a little and this had resulted in the state I was in. I was in a bit of a mess halfway up when I was passed by a runner that I'd motored past earlier. I gave myself a mental kick up the ass and told myself to "man up". I composed myself and started to eat as much food as I was carrying and within a few minutes I was feeling slightly better. I started climbing faster and soon I'd reached the next checkpoint.

The group in front must have been feeling it too as some of them were still there but Janet had long gone. I know it sounds strange but I was impressed I'd stayed with her for so long. I don't know Janet that well just what I've been told but she has an awesome resume of runs behind her and has completed several 100 mile plus races. This was probably a stroll for her and I got the idea that she could probably run this pace forever!

By now the calories had kicked in for me and I thought I would need to re-think fuelling on the SDW and take some more real food and start eating a lot earlier. I got the same advice from U.S. ultra runner Catra Corbett when we had swapped emails and really she was dead right! The kit mods that I'd had done including the front pouch worked well but to be honest the pouch was still a little small as I'd like to carry more food to hand and I'd also like somewhere to store gloves or hat when not being used and removing the pack is a last resort.

At the last checkpoint I knew I was only a few miles from the finish but from the instructions linked to my Garmin (the Suunto Ambit was in for repair) I guessed that the course was going to be long. I pushed as much as I could and even caught a pair of runners up that were well ahead earlier. I passed them but they too started to push and with a mile to go they passed me again. We were now on the same route we took going out and then were running through the town to the finish.



Laces frozen solid!

7 hours 20 minutes later and I'm done. I'd learnt a few lessons along the way and I couldn't help but think I needed to be a bit smarter for SDW. Yes the hills are more "rolling" there than mountainous and it's mostly paths and not fields but fuelling again will be key.

Sitting in the club house I couldn't even get my shoes off as the laces had frozen solid and a helper kindly had to pour hot water over them to thaw them out! I managed to negotiate the stairs to be greeted by John and Janet eating their post race meal. It had been hard for me but as the others had shown me, this was just the beginning!

Many thanks to Brian the main organiser and all the helpers!



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