2017 is the year of the South Downs Way 100 for Nick and I. The plans started in January and the taper begins at the end of May. So we have 5 months of hard work, dedicated to back to back runs, races and core work.
Following the lethargy of the Christmas period, Nick’s injury problems and flu and my tweaked back, it was good to get the plan underway on January 2nd.
Neither of us were really prepared for Country to Capital, especially Nick, who was still suffering from the left over effects of the flu and hacking cough, but when the alarm went off at 4.45 on Saturday morning, it was definitely real.
It was dark outside, the frost was hard and it was eerie being out at that time in the morning when everyone else was still in bed.
The four of us took a taxi to the start in Wendover. Given the state of Southern Rail, we really couldn’t rely on them getting us there on time.
The HQ for the race is in the Shoulder of Mutton pub opposite the railway station in Wendover. It was perfect. We were there early, so got a table and chairs to sit down for an hour to get ready. They were selling tea and coffee and hot food. Most importantly, the pub was really warm. It soon filled up, especially when the crammed train arrived with the last of the runners to register. The last runners were very quick to register and we were off pretty much on time. Registration was quick, smooth and pretty impressive, given the time constraints after the arrival of the train.
The race is chip timed and you have to attach the chip to your wrist and touch the electronic timing pad at each check point to register yourself.
I really should have paid more attention to the race instructions. We signed up for it on the recommendation of Philippe, as a great way to properly kick off the training for 2017. What I didn’t realise was that the route is not marked at all and it is totally self navigated. The race organisers supplied everyone with a map booklet, but with my new found middle aged short-sightedness, it was useless, as I had no chance reading it. There was a lovely Irish chap in the pub who had done the race before and was a similar pace to me, so I decided to keep him in sight through the trickiest sections to navigate.
So, at about 9.40, we were off. Hats, gloves and long bottoms were in order, given the freezing conditions.
This is the profile for the first 56k of the race. It looks a bit hilly, but there is nothing to be worried about and as soon as you hit the tow path, it is totally flat right to the finish.
The first half of the race is lovely. You go through fields, country lanes and bridal ways. Initially it was all frozen, which made is so easier to run on. We were advised to start a little more quickly than usual, as there are queues at the 6 or 7 gates and stiles, but we didn’t and lost probably 15 minutes waiting our turn.
After the lovely countryside, you get the tow path for almost all of the second half of the race. I don’t know why, but I had some kind of romantic idea of what the tow path would be like. I was thinking lovely house boats, nice views of the countryside and maybe some wildlife. What we got was mainly skanky house boats, industrial estates, blocks of flats, more empty cans of lager and bottles of vodka than you can imagine and rubbish in the water. This added to the fact that this section was dull. As flat as a pancake and slippery in quite a lot of places.
The nicest views that we had were when we first joined the tow path.
We were really pleased to see the sign saying 13.5 miles to Paddington (where the finish is), which meant that we were leaving the Grand Union canal towards central London.
So, a half marathon later, with the sun almost gone, I got home in 8 hours 16 minutes.
I’m really surprised by that. I was expecting it to be a lot nearer to 9 hours, but if I hadn’t been held up at the gate/stiles at the start and if I hadn’t taken a detour, my finishing time may have started with a 7.
The learning curve continues and I keep getting things better. The packing of my back pack was much better. I had a small dry bag of spare clothes and another of food. I had smaller bags of food that fitted into the front pockets of my vest, rather than having to reach into the back pockets to get food. I also had the salt tablets and zero tabs in a more accessible place. Anything to make life easier.
Now, the weather forecast was for sunshine and low temperatures and a little back wind. What we actually got was cloud, then drizzle, then rain, then snow. When it started to rain, I stopped to put the correct clothing on and then repacked properly afterwards.
The tailwind certainly worked. I had a whole sachet in small Salomon flasks and sipped at them periodically.
There is certainly a question over footwear for this race. There is an argument for both trail and road shoes. I ran in road shoes and was slipping and sliding through certain sections. I benefited at the end with the extra cushioning.
So, the race itself. I’ve got mixed emotions. I’m glad I did it and would recommend doing it as part of a training programme. I wouldn’t do it again though. I now know that I don’t like self navigation events. I thought that the aid stations were basic, but maybe I’m spoiled by the offerings at the Centurion, STE and White Star events. It would be really nice to have hot drinks at a couple of the aid stations at this time of the year as well. The veggie sausages at one of the aid stations were a really good touch. There was no shelter at the aid stations and nowhere to sit. In an ultra it is good to be able to sit down to change clothes and tend to any foot issues. The only option was wet walls or a very soggy floor. The other thing I don’t understand is being told at the penultimate aid station that there was 13 miles to go. Evidently that was not the case as we had passed the 13.5 miles to Paddington sign some time back. It was a lot closer to 10 miles. If you’re working to a goal time or just knackered, this could really hit your morale. The volunteers were all fantastic, smiley (in some horrid weather) and helpful. We can never say thank you enough to these people who make these events happen.
Finally, you get a lovely long sleeved non-technical t-shirt and a really nice medal.
Thank you, Go Beyond. 2017 had got off to a really good start.
Take care and have fun,