I hadn’t slept well all week in the run up to the event, my mind had been racing with a million thoughts about the race. After another restless night in the Premier Inn I headed the short way to the start at Farnham, where I showed how half asleep I was by queuing in the T-Z group for my race bib (my surname begins with an R!). After catching up with a few people and meeting a few faces from Twitter, we headed off to the trailhead and were underway promptly at 8am.
The first few miles were fairly congested, we had some lengthy pauses for queues for stiles and gates, but after a few miles it started to spread out a bit more. I have never run the first half of the course before, and it was really beautiful, especially from around mile 12 onwards. There were a few changes in terrain, most notably a few sandy sections thanks to all the dry weather we’ve been having.
It was drizzling at the start, but other than a few tiny spots of drizzle, the weather was good all the way, 17 degrees and sunny, although the humidity was tough, and I was really struggling with it for the first half of the run, I was sweating a lot and felt like I had a headache due to the humidity right from the start.
The first section to Puttenham aid station is fairly flat and runnable, I was feeling strong and moving through at a decent pace. I filled up my 250ml Ultimate Direction hard flask and grabbed a handful of raisins and nuts and was on my way, trying not to linger too long at the early stations.
The first real challenging climbs came around 12-13 miles in, at some point on this section I went offtrack and lost the course marking, luckily a man followed me and asked if we were going the right way, which we definitely weren’t, and we managed to cut across a path and found our way back onto the trail. I ran with Su for a few miles, and actually most of the race we seemed to be very close together, it was nice to have some company and hear all about his running.
The second aid station was at nearly 15 miles at Newlands corner, I was going to go to the toilet here but completely forgot once I got there. My brain was totally not working on the day. I refilled my flask with water again, and grabbed some more trail mix and headed straight off. I was still making good pace up to this point. I knew the first half was a lot flatter and runnable than the second so I wanted to try and bank some time, and then cling on in the second “half”.
The next stretch was a long one, and the longest between aid stations all day, but I knew my brother was going to be at Box Hill to cheer me on, so it gave me something to target. I wanted to get to the stepping stones which were at 24 miles within 4hr 30, as I thought the second half would take me around 2 hours longer than this. I was still moving OK during this stretch, though slowing a little, and getting tired of long straight flat sections, I definitely started to walk a lot more from here on out on anything that resembled a slight incline.
At mile 23/24 I ran with a lovely lady called Tania, and these were actually 2 of my quickest miles of the day, including that horrible out and back bit under the A24 to get to the stepping stones carpark. I love meeting people during ultras, and hearing all about their lives, running, past races and future goals. We got to the Boxhill aid station together, around 4.22 and after I quickly filled up with some tailwind in my flask, and grabbed a bit of watermelon I was on my way up the steps to find my brother.
This section of the course I was familiar with having run it 3 weeks ago on my recce run. The steps were even tougher than I remember, with the legs already battered and it hurt like hell going up. After a quick stop, chat and hugs at the top, I was on my way on what felt like a very long way to go, especially as I knew what was to come.
My pace started to slow dramatically over the next few miles as the hills just kept on coming. Colley hill I found even harder than Boxhill, it is so steep, and goes on forever. The section from Boxhill to Reigate aid station is only 7ish miles, but it took me almost 2 hours, it’s so punishing, brutal climbs, horrid descents and just really not nice terrain to run on at all. This I think is where my real lack of training on this terrain started to show.
It was lovely to see familiar faces at Reigate, and the aid station was really busy at the time. I had a quick chat with Steph, grabbed some cherry tomatoes, and a massive strawberry jam filled vegan flapjack, which was all I managed to eat for the rest of the race, nibbling a bit every few miles.
I didn’t manage to eat a lot during the race, and ended up with most of the food I had taken with me still in my pack. I also had hydration issues from here on out, I was so distracted in the buzz of the station I forgot to fill up my flask, and realised shortly after leaving that my camelbak which had 1.2litres in at the start was almost empty. Luckily it was only 5 miles to the next aid station so it wasn’t catastrophic. I was getting a bit fed up of running, and my head just didn’t seem in the zone, the thought of still having 20 miles to go at mile 31, was not encouraging
I ran a lot of this section with another lady called Sydnee, we would stop/start in-sync, kind of motivating each other to keep pushing on. I think at this point we were both starting to count down the miles, and growing tired of running, there was a really long concrete section and we just couldn’t motivate ourselves to run it at all.
There was another big climb heading into the aid station at Caterham which couldn’t come soon enough at mile 38. I had quite a lengthy stop here as I needed to refill my camelbak bladder, once I had got it out of my pack and had it filled with a litre of tailwind, I did it up and went to put it back in my pack to realise I had done the opening up incorrectly and the liquid was pouring out of it everywhere. When I went to undo the opening, it was completely jammed, and several people at the aid station couldn’t undo it, so I had to abandon it and leave it there- luckily I had a 250ml soft-flask as well as my harder flask, so I could fill both of these up, I felt like I had stopped for a very long time here, much longer than I had wanted to. I grabbed some grapes and a few other bits of fruit and headed off.
As the miles ticked down I could start to think about the finish, though 10 miles still seemed like a long way. I didn’t want to run anymore, and my mind was trying to convince me not to- working out that if I walked from there I could still make it under the cut off. I would say in general I felt pretty low for a lot of the second half, I don’t know if it was the humidity, having run the first half quite quickly or just the brutality of the second half of the course, but I did find it really hard going mentally, which is something I’ve not really struggled with in an ultra before.
I started to feel quite nauseous with about 12 miles to go, so I ate a few ginger chews and had to walk quite a bit to settle my stomach, and wait for the nausea to pass. I also really needed the toilet but there was no sheltered areas, as it’s quite open in the section on the way to Botley hill.
I think Botley is the worst hill of the lot, so I was glad to reach the aid station at the top. I had a friend Sarah volunteering here and it was lovely to see her. They had peanut butter and jam sandwiches so I grabbed 2 triangles which gave me a real boost for the next section and the home stretch.
We were counting down the miles, and every step was taking me closer to home. I found the last section really hard going, running round dry, hard, rutted fields is really monotonous and draining. I finally found a sheltered spot so stopped to go to the toilet, and not long after this I had a very lengthy stop as I had an extremely sharp pain in my little toe which left me unable to walk. I took my shoe off and couldn’t see anything wrong so I put it back on, but I couldn’t run, so I took it off again, took my socks off and put a plaster on it, unfortunately it was a really gravelly section, and my sock and shoe filled up with bits of stick and stones so I took ages sorting this out, all a bit annoying as I was feeling quite decent before that happened. The toe was still hurting, but it took my mind off other things that were hurting like a heel blister, and really bad chafe. At this point Su caught up with me again, and we kind of shuffled along together.
The last 3 miles of the course were unknown to me, and it was hillier than I thought it would be. I also wasn’t sure how far the finish was as I thought it was going to be closer to 51 miles than 50. At one point we went through a fields of cows, I walked past skirting the edge of the field as there were loads of calves and bulls, and one of the calves tried to follow me which was a bit scary. I was trying to motivate myself to run, but the need to walk was overwhelming at this point and the miles were passing so slowly.
Suddenly we passed a sign that said Knockholt Pound 1 1/4 miles, I wasn’t sure if this was exactly where the finish was, but not long after we could see the finish gantry, and you have to do this horrible out and back for a mile or so with the finish in sight the whole way. I realised at this point I had 15 mins left to get in under 11 hours, so if I ran the last mile I could dip under this barrier. I think I managed my first mile beginning with a 10 since before Boxhill at mile 24, and finally crossed the finish line after 10 hours 55 minutes and 17 seconds.
Another Centurion run done, and 35 minutes knocked off my time from the SDW50 which is a shorter and in my opinion easier course (I really struggled with the mud last year). I was really considering one of the 100’s for next year, but this has put me off entirely. It was the hardest race I’ve ever done (even though Race to the Stones was 13 miles longer), the second half is savage, and I just struggled to hang on. I felt a bit broken physically and mentally at the end, and need a good break to recover.
I met some amazing people along the way, the volunteers and everyone at Centurion were amazing as always, and these are definitely the events to go for if you want to do an ultra.