“No, I am only doing the half” – Dead Keen’s 50 mile North Downs Way race report

What a great day!  I did the North Downs Way 50 mile run yesterday in 10:31.  My first ultra.

The organisation was great, marshals and people at the aid stations were very friendly and the route was well marked. A great set-up.

Physically, I found it quite tough. Mentally, I found it easy. My favourite line when people asked me if I was doing the 100 miles was, “No, I am just doing the half”. What a profoundly stupid thing to say. But I liked saying it.

I also worked out that madness is a matter of degree. Some people at work think I am mad using the stairs to go up one floor, let alone two. I think that the people who ran to my finish, and then turned around to go back to the start are mad. And I am glad they are. It made me feel normal.

So 50.3 miles in 10:31. I was impressed how I did. I finished each of the legs of to the aid stations strongly and confidently. Then I walked slowly, out of the aid station, eating something, letting it go down before starting to run slowly, before getting quicker and quicker (but quicker is a very relative term).

I found the bit either side of the Box Hill aid station to be hard.  My tummy felt a bit upset in the few miles coming up to Box Hill.  Then after the aid station there is Box Hill itself.  It is high and steep.  And there are lots of steps to climb.  Lots.

My calves cramped a little every now and then on the run. This was normally after climbing up a steep bit (like Box Hill)  and then starting running again. It was not the whole muscle but, I imagined, more an area the size of a ten pence piece. Normally, I could refocus on my running style and it went away. A couple of times I stopped and lent against a tree to stretch it out.

I got lost twice. Once going through some woods where a path forked. I chose up hill but after 50m I didn’t see any of the red and white tape and so I turned back and chose the other path. Once I went on the wrong side of a field boundary (took the wrong gate) and had to climb over a couple of barbed wire fences to get back.

It was really nice running with other people. Everyone was very friendly. Running with someone else at one stage was really helpful. I was feeling tired after about 55k and I ran with him at a pace faster than I thought I was capable of at that stage. That gave me a lot of confidence. However, it made it harder on my mind as sometimes I thought I was slowing him down. And other times I wanted to walk.  After I decided to let him go ahead, I stopped and put some tape on the back of my heels.  The shoes were great to run in but power walking up hill meant that the back of the shoes dug into my heels.

I guess I was a bit disappointed with the scenery. Sometimes it was great.  I remember looking down at a sheep-dog trial from the top of a hill.  Great.  Sometimes, the low cloud stopped the views being as good as they could be.  But often we were running in woods and so you didn’t have much of a view.  On the last half, you always heard the traffic on the motorways but that’s more a function of the North Downs Way than anything else though.

Mentally I found the run easy. Not simple. I think the thing that helped me most was to think about the next aid station in terms of time. It’s 18k away. 18 x 8 mins per k is 144 mins. It’s now 12:15 so that gets me at the next aid station at 2:40. 9 mins per k means I’ll be there at 3:00. So I just new I had to run until 3pm. That was so much easier than thinking in terms of distance.

The last 5k turned into a bit of a sprint. After losing quite a bit of time trying to get back on course with the barbed wire, I saw two people about 600m behind me. So I walked less, ran more. About 2k out one of them was a few hundred metres behind me and it turned into a bit of sprint! I was probably running under 9 mins per mile and he was still catching. Then he ran behind me for a bit and wouldn’t overtake. I couldn’t keep the pace up and so when we got to the next gate, I opened it for him, let him through and walked a bit. This was about 300m from the end of the path, 800m from the end.

At the end I got my T-shirt (a nice technical one that for some reason says “2012” rather than “2011”), went to the pub over the road bought a drink and then had a proper wash in their toilets.

One intriguing question I had was could I run back? I think the answer is no. Running through the night on that course would be too hard for me. Could I have gone another 20k? Yes.

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