Sunday, 28 November 2010

Gatliff - Race Report

On the 19th Jan 1934, 24 members of the YHA met above Cox's Café, Croydon to form Croydon YHA Group. Herbert Gatliff was one of the founder members. The first Gatliff Marathon was organised in 1984 as part of Croydon Group's 50th anniversary celebrations. Hence the distance.

Don't be fooled by the race title, this is not a marathon as we know it, there is no 26.2 miles in these runs, they are 50km, 35 km or 20km and primarily designed for walkers.

It was at 5.20 am I arose from my bed to go downstairs to my awaiting kit and with great trepidation stepped into the freezing cold crisp morning to see George pull up in his car with perfect timing. Without saying a word he pointed to the digital thermometer in the dashboard..eeeeekkk it was -6 °C/21 °F. The journey went by with mumbled conversation, I am not a great talker at those hours of the day but we soon arrived at Edenbridge, Kent and walked the 1/2 mile to the sports centre where the run was to start and finish.

As always the race entry was simple, name, address, telephone number, hand over a £10 note to be swapped for £2 coins. Putting the final touches to our kit and awaiting Richard's arrival we were soon out of the door at 7.20 am to follow the route directions.

The Route started off quite flat but between mile 2 and 4 it rose sharply by 200 feet, this wouldn't be so bad but the temperature was working against us freezing the ungulate trampled fields to the hardness of steel causing it to become treacherous and ankle turning stuff.

As the route rolled out in front of us we were to discover that the directions were not easy in some places as the frosted landscape was not making making it very hard, the views at this point are fantastic, the landscape was covered in haw frost with the trees and bushes looking as though they have been dusted with icing sugar with every pond and puddle frozen.

At Holtye we could see the check point car in the distance which was there to mark us off and also to provide us with cold water, little did we know that it was going to be very cold water as we were informed that they had none as it had completely frozen!!!

It was then we discovered that in that hour the sports drink in Richard's bottle was now the consistency of a Slush Puppie and mine a big lump of ice!!! ( make note for future that if I run in these temperatures to put the water IN my back pack as my body heat would keep it melted)

Holtye to Ashdown Forest
We were now entering Winnie the Pooh country and George made it known that Pooh Bridge was somewhere around us but we agreed that it would be nigh on impossible to play as the water would probably be frozen like our bottles.

Soon after the check point we were asked to rely on yellow arrows as waymarkers, fine for walkers, not necessarily good for runners and at mile 7 soon found ourselves making the first of a few mistakes which added a mile or so to our overall distance and some ground lost. Good hearted still we carried on afterall it wasn't a race but a training run to get some much needed distance and experience under our belts.

We were now deep into the Wealds of Kent and the forest and woodland was indeed established, we were directed down paths about 1 foot wide with 50 foot drops to the side which soon turned to concreted and gravel paths then woodland to take us to check point 2 where we had the first food of the day, 2 Digestive biscuits and a cup of orange squash (cordial), I emptied out the ice from my bottle and refilled it with water from the barrel and then left to the steepest ascent of the course and then to the highest point at 500 feet

The trek North
After a good run we agreed that the mileage was being eaten up in a very consistent way and we were soon to see the bearings start pointing northwards and then found ourselves running on a disused railway line where me met some really nice people, one who recognised me by my Union Jack shorts as he read my blog [you know who you are ;-)]

That 1500 metres was a fast, tough run as we searched for the turning for the check point where our lunch awaited. At the check point I had:
  1. A ham salad sandwich
  2. 2 cups of chicken soup
  3. 2 slices of fresh orange
Hartfield to Ashurst Wood
After we left the checkpoint we came across a runner hold his head up by his arm looking very sorry for himself. He complained of his neck hurting and making a "crunching" sound!!! I looked at his neck and indeed there was a lump. I then handed him over to runners approaching the check point asking them to ask for the staff to assist. I really hope he is OK.

At the next check point we decided that a hot cup of tea was in order and to get some core heat back in out bodies and were soon on our way to complete the last 15 km. From this point forward we really dug in, focussing on the route directions, in this section there were many short, sharp ascents and descents each one eating away at our ankles.

Why rotten potatoes?
At 25.8 miles we were struggling over a field with the remains of a potato crop rotting on the surface when I heard one drop from height near me, I was informed that we had run 25.8 miles. This magical number marked the end of the 2000th mile I had run this year!

Our return to Edenbridge
Amazingly we were still extremely strong towards the end as we ran off the hills and the lower areas of Edenbridge again on rutted path which was slowing us down in sections but we could see the Rugby posts of the sports centre in the distance and the thought of hot food drinks tempted us.

One tough run not helped by the cold conditions and rutted paths of ice and hardened mud. We agreed that we had held back a bit but were happy with our run but knew we could have carried on a little longer considering how little we had eaten during the course of the run


  1. Could not wait to read your race report, love this stuff. Have you read 'flanagans run' by Tom mcnab ? It's a great book about a guy who runs across the states during the great depression! Rather like now really. I have a copy here if you want me to bring it round. Yesterday morning I sat there and thought, hope he has sum warm water. So I looked up the race on the web to see if I could come down to watch, but with no route map, it was impossible so I stayed in the warm and watched tv ;-)

  2. Yes please Mike I have run out of reading material at the moment

  3. Sounds fun but frigging cold! Nicely done, and nice report, as always.