As the alarm went off at 4.30am on Saturday I hauled myself from the pillow after 3 hours sleep and realised it was finally race day-the time that I had been training 6 months for! I wolfed some porridge, felt sick in the taxi due to my sleep deprived state, and finally got to Old Deer Park amidst absolutely torrential rain! There was thankfully a huge marquee to keep us out of the rain. My trainers were already drenched, so there was no bloody way I was going to stand in the pissing down rain for 15 minutes doing Zumba as a race warm up! I headed out just before 6.40am and a group of us set off on our way.
The weather was absolutely horrific, and the first section which was 12k around the Thames path to Kingston was completely water logged. I spent more time dodging round puddles, trying to keep my feet as dry as possible, not that that happened at all.
After a quick detour round the houses we reached the first stop point at Green Lane 12.5k. I was feeling pretty good by this point, other than being soaking wet. I had a quick toilet stop and headed off on my way. The stops along the way were awesome, there was huge marquees, ample portaloos, and loads of food and refreshments. I had brought all my own food so didn’t have anything, but there was loads to choose from.
From looking at the route map I knew the route started to get a bit hillier, and from about 10k until 35k the route was steady incline. There was a little bit more round the houses, and throughout there was a lot of crossing of very busy roads, one road in particular near the end took an age to get across. We headed through more built up areas, with the most bizarre section cutting through a train station including up and down the steps.
The mud was a bloody nightmare, and having gone without trail shoes thinking it was best with the initial road sections I had literally no grip on any off road sections. My shoes did not stand up well, and I was amazed I managed to stay on my feet.
It finally stopped raining at around 16-17 mile point, and I took my jacket off for a bit but it was only a few miles later that the heavens opened again.
I felt decent for the first 18 miles and ran up all the hills until that point, I went through half way just after 3.20 taking it slow and steady. At this point we started getting into the North Downs and it got very hilly and more undulating on footpaths off-road, there was a huge incline and I decided that from that point it wouldn’t be worth slugging it out on the inclines so I walked any from there.
The field never spread out that far, and there was always someone in sight behind or in front, although it seemed like there was significantly more men than women running it. The course was really well marked with pink arrows and km markers so I managed not to get lost like my last trail race. I had a lot of nice chats with fellow runners along the way, and I just love the atmosphere of races like this.
I really struggled with any sections that were muddy particularly in the second half of the race and had to walk a lot of them for safety more than anything else. One of the worst sections was a very steep downhill which was slightly muddy, I was trying to go against gravity and slow myself down as it was really slippy and dangerous, but this just destroyed my knees. This combined with stile after stile in the latter part of the race was brutal on tired legs!
Not long after 20 miles I realised that my very very wet shorts had started to chafe my inner thigh, it was stinging really badly and I had to lash a load more vaseline (yes I am anti-vaseline but I bought it for this) on them and wear my shorts as low as possible to try and alleviate it. Every step was painful and I knew I was going to be in a bad way!
I was quite glad to see the rest stop at around 26 miles, and stopped for a little bit to have a toilet break, update the social media and family and have some food before heading off for the final section. I pretty much ate the whole way round: bars, gels, almonds, baby food sachets. It kept me going and occupied me mentally having to remember to eat and drink something every 20 minutes.
The last 9 miles took absolutely forever. Thankfully I teamed up with another runner and we both spurred each other on for the last hard push, she was doing the 100k but actually stopped at 56km due to a knee injury and the atrocious conditions. I think a number of people who were signed up for the 100k actually stopped at the 56k as the conditions were so bad and I don’t blame them.
The final section was all on trail, through farmers fields and off-road paths with thick mud which was impossible to run through. These miles took an age, and we seemed to do more walking than running as the conditions were awful, we did drop a 10 minute mile in there at one point, but most of them were very slow (17 minutes!) and very hard work as we crawled to the finish line.
I wished that the race had been 50k rather than 56k, as that extra little bit mentally was hard especially as it was the toughest part. I ran without music the entire time, I was going to get it out for the last 10 miles but then having a run buddy there I didn’t need it, it helped so much as I don’t know what state I would have been in without her. We battled on through heavy rain and thunder to get to the finish.
We got to 56k and there was literally no sight of the finish line which was quite demoralising. Especially as we had been trudging through the mud for the last few miles up particularly steep slippy inclines. At 57.4k the farm finally came into sight and we ran together across the finish line. I was given my medal and offered a plethora of refreshments, downing the prosecco first! Rehydration is important! There was massage and blister tents, as well as loads of hot food and refreshments for anyone finishing or continuing onwards.
I picked up my bag and headed to the disabled portaloo to get changed- glamorous. I was absolutely soaking and caked in mud, so after a quick wet wipe down got changed and headed to get the shuttle bus to the nearest train station. Ironically as soon as I stopped running the sun came out and it didn’t rain for the rest of the day!
I’m still in a little bit of a phase were it doesn’t feel like it’s all over or that I’ve done it. I feel absolutely fine, my feet are a little sore, but nothing as bad blister wise as I would have thought. The only bad part is the horrendous chafe on my left leg, it is so sore! The body feels pretty good, probably as I had to walk through quite a lot of the second half which broke it up a bit.
Right now I’m not sure if I’d do another one, I did enjoy it and I guess if I can do one in those conditions I can do one in anything. I’d probably choose a bit of a flatter one to do next time too! The whole race was incredibly well organised, there was great banter along the way and it was just a shame the weather didn’t co-operate, but it didn’t dampen spirits too much.
I finished around 7.20 on my Garmin and 7.36 overall. Amusingly I was the second lady in the 56k and 11th overall. I think it’s a case of there being hardly any ladies running, but I’m taking it anyway ha! I was on for a bit faster than that, but the second half was largely un-runnable. I actually enjoy long distances like this off road, as I don’t care about the time, I just run because I enjoy it, and I enjoy the places I am running, even though they may be really bloody muddy! I definitely think my heart leans towards trail running, there’s just something so special about it, and I’d like to do it a lot more in the future.
But first, to rest for a few weeks and celebrate becoming an ultra runner!