In the week leading up to the North Downs Way 50 I watched the weather reports anxiously and glumly, with “light rain” forecast for most of Saturday. However, on Thursday the reports put the rain starting later, by Friday it wsa set to be dry, and on the day itself it was actually quite warm, with sunshine breaking through the light clouds (I even caught the sun a bit on my nose and cheekbones).
As last year, we all gathered in the hall of a primary school in Farnham, queuing for kit checks and to get our numbers – and of course for the toilets. Sitting in the hall I peeled off my socks, rubbed my feet well with Vaseline and then did my best to peel my socks back on again. I’d recently developed a pressure-sensitive area on the outside of my left heel, so I taped protection over that – chiropodist’s felt with a hole cut out over the sensitive spot. I also decided to wear my larger size trail shoes, which meants my husband woudn’t have to hang around to offer me a change of shoes (which he provided for me last year at the second checkpoint).
There were a number of familiar faces in the hall – runners I’d met at previous races, volunteers I’d seen before, plus a couple of people I knew from parkrun. The pre-race briefing made reference to the poor weather conditions of Centurion’s Winter 100, Thames Path 100 and SDW50 in reminding us why carying appropriate clothing is a good idea.
Then it was down to the start – actually slightly after the “real” start of the NDW path, since the initial signpost is on the footpath of the A31. Countdown arrived and with much beeping and buzzing of sports watches we were off. At first I ran along with Richard, whom I know from parkrun – although without his dog for this run.
Centurion had done their usual great job of marking the course and I never went wrong (although a runner ahead of me did miss a turning off a road late in the course, failed to hear my calls of “left!”, but thankfully heard the yells of the runner behind me before he’d gone too far).
Much of the NDW is footpath and was fairly quiet except for occasional groups of teenagers on Duke of Edinburgh walks, all heading in the opposite direction to us and carrying lots of kit. Some of the route is bridleways and we encountered several cyclists (who were pretty polite and a couple even held gates open for me). There were also a few horse riders, including one horse looking not very happy to see us on the woodland path, so a few of us took a slight diversion off the path and round a few trees to avoid upsetting it further.
I have to say I prefer the NDW to the SDW for its greater variety of terrain and scenery, and I really like the woodland areas. However, the uphills and downhills are much less regular and in retrospect I set off too fast along the fairly flat first several miles. I did enjoy running that section, but paid for it later! My quads mentioned the fact that I had run in the Beckenham relays for my club just a few days earlier, but were not too bad once they had warmed up. I knew what to expect up Box Hill, and coped okay with the several sections of steps up and down in the next section.
While I ran some sections with other runners I did a fair amount of the course alone just didn’t click with anyone else for pacing.
Everything went quite well until I was walking up Reigate Hill, when the outside of my left heel started getting really sore. I stopped briefly to Vaseline it, then at Reigate aid station I looked at it properly, saw the skin was looking very red and damp, so cleaned it off properly and put a blister plaster on. That seemed to help. However, as I countinued, my left ankle started to object more to hill traverses and uneven ground, my legs felt tired (that early speed, plus having slept really badly on Friday night) and then in the last few miles the sore patch on the heel started making itself felt again, together with my ankle objecting to every rut in the fields, the combination really slowing me down.
So, by Reigate I was thinking I’d be finished in under 10.5 hours, and at the final aid station I still thought I’d make it in under 11 hours, but I finally limped in to the finish (further down the road than last year!!!) sometime later than that.
Highlights of the run included the scenery; the photographer, Richard, who kept popping up along the course and was always very encouraging; and of course the aid station crews, particularly at Caterham, where we’d been told there would only be water, but in fact there were several goodies on offer including, amazingly, ice cream in cones – a lovely and totally unexpected treat!
It was also great to cheer in the next few runners before heading into the village hall for tea, food, and talk about the run and SWD50 and other runs. Unexpected treats there were a glass of champagne from a celebrating runner, and a great post-run massage – thank you Sandhya; my legs were in a much better state on Sunday morning than they had been after SDW50.
Next: Lakeland 50!