Saturday 7 February 2015

Centurion North Downs Way 50 Race report

I have been intending to write a race report on this for quite a while but a minor injury has given me the nudge to put some words down. Hopefully you take one thing from it to help you if you race it this year or maybe sign up for 2016. I am recovering from surgery on a broken hand caused by slipping while out running along the Thames. Surgery is a lot like an ultra - compression socks, fear of intense pain the day after and you are glad when it is all over. However the nil by mouth thing wouldn't be a great strategy for an ultra.

The NDW goes near my house and a few years ago, I saw markers out for a Centurion race and wandered what it was about. I looked up the website and thought was mental and wandered what kind of weirdo would do that kind of a race. 3 years later, I was one of the strange people on the start line.

I had read a lot about the Centurion organisation and it really is good. I was registered with minimal fuss and picked up Harvey's map which I didn't need but was compulsory and takes a lot less space than 2 OS maps. A quick race briefing from James Elson and off to the start line.

The start was fairly low key. I started at the back so I didn't go off to quickly and was into a steady pace of about 9min miles. My aim was to go sub 11 as this was the old Western States qualifying time before it became too popular which would be 13 minute miles.

The first 24 miles was fairly uneventful. I was sticking to a run 20 mins and then walk 5. I thought this worked well as I had drank and ate plenty during the 5 minutes. I also walked every incline. I made it to Box Hill in just over 4 hours which was 25 mins ahead of plan. I figured the wheels would fall of at some point but would crack on.

I had a fear of Box Hill and this was pretty tough. However the 1-2 punch with Reigate Hill slowed things down a lot. Definitely worth taking slowly and just getting one foot in front of the other. Lots of day walkers on Box Hill but they were very kind with support and moving out the way. I felt a bit guilty when an 80 year old woman moved off the path for me. A massive bees nest at the top got me up and running again.

My slow start was paying dividends as I must have overtaken a dozen runners on the way to Reigate and 31 miles. There was a good crowd at the checkpoint and the cheering was a big lift. I had a funny moment with time keeper as I thought she had got my number wrong but turns out she was telling me was 60 at this point but I was telling her, no I am 30.

I had run the next 15 miles in training and it is a lovely stretch with woods and rolling fields. I saw a runner who was in terrible shape going through Gatton Park school. He was chucking up and had left it too late to start refuelling. He recovered well and overtook me 10 miles later and beat me by 30 minutes. Goes to show that an Ultra is never over....

The Caterham aid station was a high point due to the Ice cream and Scotch eggs. I drew the line at Pork pie though. I was here in just over 7 hours with a buffer of 40 mins ahead of plan.

My favourite stretch is the next 3-4 miles which are part of the Woldingham loop which is a favourite run of mine. All was going well at this point. There are some tricky steps which I walked very slowly down and still managed to almost fall. The NDW runs alongside the M25 at this point which isn't the best but it was going to better than Botley Hill.

Botley Hill looked to be the last hill of the run and all was flat from there. To make it more difficult, I decided to kick a root and thought I had broken my toe but it turns out it was just my toenail coming off. The last aid station was at the top and just 8 miles to go from here.... I was here in 8hrs 10 so in great shape with not far to go.

I had massively underestimated the last stretch. It looks flat on the profile but has lots of short pitches and twists and turns. It is the hardest to run (except Box Hill) especially if you aren't prepared. Some of it is vehicle paths with deep ruts so the choice is to run in the mud/puddles or in the long grass. There is also a sign for Knockholt (3/4 miles) but you have 3 miles to go. I thought I almost done with a 9hrs 30 in sight but but the finish is at Knockholt POUND.

As my watch hit 9hrs 50, the Centurion Tent was in sight across a corn field. Turns out there is still a long way to go from here. I battled on as the course took me further from the finish and onto the roads of Knockholt. I had got the hump at this point and it seemed a long way to the finish. I got into the sports ground and there was still quite far to go. I had massive cramp in my hamstring but attempted a one legged sprint finish to dip just under 10 hours and 61st place.

Things I learned

Makes sure you eat and drink lots - walking breaks are good for this
Cherry tomatoes are great trail food - and Scotch eggs too
Remember which way up your Camelback bladder should go
Look at the map of the last mile of the race
Centurion aid stations and volunteers are fab
Be wary of running shorts with cycling style inners (the rubbing of 50 miles is considerable)
Inov8 trail shoes are awesome with foot damage only due to root kicking

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