I think we can all agree that you have to be a little bit barmy to want to run 50 miles in one go. Or maybe a little bit daft. Or a little bit foolhardy. Perhaps a combo of all three.
Somehow I had put aside sense and was toeing the line this weekend of the North Down’s Way 50 - a 50 mile foot race put on by Centurion Running. Starting in Farnham the race follows the national trail all the way until you reach Knockholt Pound. The first half of the race is pretty runnable with wide trails and minimal gradient and at halfway you get knocked sideways by the gruelling flights of stairs up and down the trail pocketed with fallen trees and tightrope thin passageways through stinging nettles and brambles. A race of two halves indeed.
Off the back of a BQ at Paris Marathon I had just 6 weeks to be ready for NDW50 and it’s fair to say I underestimated what would be needed to do myself justice on the day. I felt amazing through the first half and, as is normal for the course, while I went out a bit fast I justified it as it would get hot later and it perfectly matched my desired splits for the arbitrary sub-10 hour goal I’d set myself. I flew through aid stations topping up on the liquid fuel Tailwind and a gel at each one and hardly pausing.
By the time we reached Denbies my legs weren’t loving the aggressive pace on the long tarmac descent but I also hadn’t taken on quite enough liquids and fuel, something rectified at Newlands Corner and I felt revived as I reached the beast of the climb up Box Hill. My ever cheerful cheer squad from We Are Daybreak were giving me all the enthusiasm as I power hiked up Box Hill and as I pushed on through the ‘6 miles of torture’ I felt brilliant.
It was all going so well until it suddenly wasn’t. As I arrived at the golf course at Mershtham I suddenly felt quite sick. It was hot by this point in the day but something else felt off and a quick investigatory prod of my spine felt that something was my back. One of the discs at the top of my spine was agony. I think I must have tweaked it ducking and diving over enthusiastically over a fallen tree (of which there were irritatingly lots). While it hurt a lot I also didn’t have the usual well of “I can suffer through this” reserves I usually have to tap in to. I knocked on that door and there was no reply. So I did what anyone does in these situations: had a good feel-sorry-for-myself cry.
After quite a bit of walking I hadn’t miraculously felt better and the pain at the top of my back was making it hard to drink from my soft flasks. It had also kicked off some sciatica twinges in my hip which were pretty unpleasant. It was a long way to the next aid station and I forced myself into a 20 seconds on 20 seconds off strategy which eventually I managed to persuade myself into 60 on - 10 off but I was moving at a snails pace.
At the 60km aid station I had a good cry, applied some Deep Freeze to my back, ate and was made to feel a lot better by the amazing volunteers. After a recovery break I pushed on confident that even if I walked it in I would make it in before the cut off but gutted to be bleeding a hard fought top 10 place. It was tough. Really tough. But some company with other runners also struggling helped and we slowly clawed our way through the miles. With 10 miles to go my amazing parents met me on the trail all enthusiasm and high energy which was wonderful. Leaving them was tough and though I pushed on I felt pretty defeated as I arrived in to the final aid station at Titsey Wood. 7 miles to go feels like a long way when everything is agony and you’re an emotional wreck. Again the volunteers were amazing and helped remove any thoughts of quitting I had but just one mile out of the aid station I was so smashed apart I thought it might be the end of my day.
With 7km to go as I was contemplating (rather darkly) how nice it would be to lie down on the side of the trail and die, the extremely cheerful Kirstin appeared behind me and the door of reserve energy I’d tapped on earlier unexpectedly opened. It wasn’t quick and it most definitely wasn’t pretty but we ran our way together to the end, clicking off signs and hedges and field boundaries as we went and suddenly I felt renewed. While in a fair amount of pain still, my head was suddenly back in the game and I loved that final section and was proud of myself for finishing on a high.
I ended up crossing the finish line in 10:40:24 for 24th place, a time I was in the aftermath disappointed with but on reflection I’m very proud of. This same girl would have previously spent a race like this chasing the cut offs and here I am disappointed a full 140 minutes inside of them.
66 women started of a field of 279 runners and only 56 made it to the end. NDW50 certainly isn’t for the faint hearted but my main goal today was to have an adventure and that is definitely a good word to describe running 50 miles on that course.