Over the weekend I did my first race since the NDW50 in May and ironically I was returning back to the North Down’s Way. To be honest after the race I didn’t think I would want to see the NDW for a long time, but when I saw this race, I couldn’t resist signing up.
The race started in Reigate, which involved an early start for me (I left at 6.10am for a 9.30 race) with a 10 min walk, bus, tube, 3 trains and a 27 minute walk up Reigate hill to get to race HQ! Next time I am joining zipcar and driving. The registration was quick and pain-free in a hotel alongside the very busy main road. After a short walk, we got to the start and after the race briefing headed off at 9.30am.
The race was an out and back along the worst section of the NDW50 from Reigate to Boxhill- I think the 7 mile section including the Boxhill steps took me about 2 hours during NDW50. There was also a marathon race on the day, and they set off 30 minutes before us half runners and had to do two laps of the out and back. The race started from the top of Reigate hill so as we were already up the first few miles were mostly flat, with a few gentle inclines and that savage downhill down Colley Hill, I’ve never run down it only walked up it, and I didn’t realise quite how steep it was until I tried to run down it. I’m a pretty terrible descender, and as I had gone for road shoes, I didn’t have much grip so tip toed or walked down the steeper bits, being passed by those who were braver on the descent. I was already dreading having to come back up it later on.
The first few miles featured a lot of single track, and as it was busy-ish towards the start, we just sort of fell into line, and just went at the pace of the person in front. The route was incredibly overgrown, I couldn’t believe how much everything had grown since May- a machete would have been useful- and sections of the course involved running through nettles and other foliage that was across the route, or ducking into it when another runner was coming the opposite way.
After about 4ish miles, the quicker marathon runners started coming back towards us, this was a little tricky on some of the single track, but I just stopped and moved off to the side if anyone was coming back towards me. Miles 4-6 involved a little climbing as we headed to the turn around point and the Box Hill lookout point. I wasn’t sure if we had to go down the steps at the other side of Box Hill and come back up but thankfully we didn’t.
There were aid stations around mile 3.5 and mile 6.6 at the turnaround point, I just stopped to refill my flasks on the way back which was probably around 9ish miles. I was very thirsty, it was much hotter than I expected it to be (26c) and even with the cover of the forest in places it was still hot, and on the short road section it was hotter than hell.
It was a little less congested once we started heading back, the first few miles were spent saying hi to the other half marathon runners heading to the turnaround point, there was a really nice atmosphere throughout the whole race, very chilled and friendly. As people were more spread out on the way back, it was a little easier to get into a rhythm. I enjoyed the few flatter miles before we got to Colley Hill, which was an absolute slog to get up, I was really struggling and walking incredibly slowly up the never ending hill. I knew it wasn’t too far once we got to the top, and I couldn’t wait to finish then, as I was hot, and my legs were knackered after the climbs.
The final mile and a bit were flat and runnable, and as we headed across the lookout point in Reigate I knew we were nearly back to the finish. My plan had not been to race this, just to get miles and elevation in the legs, and I was happy with how the race went, and how my body coped as I have only run two eight milers and a 10 miler since early May.
It was a really enjoyable race, and was nice to take in the scenery and views. I was glad I was only doing the half- the elevation across 13 miles was nearly half of what it was over the 50 so it was pretty tough going, the full marathon was over 5000ft elevation. I’ve done a few of the Hermes race events in the past, and they are always well organised, in nice surroundings and have a great atmosphere too. I really enjoyed my shorter jaunt on the NDW, and I’m going to try and get back out there frequently as it’s such a beautiful place to run, and for me in South East London pretty accessible too. The Hanson’s marathon plan doesn’t include races or recommend racing that often, but sometimes you’ve just got to go off plan and go with your heart.