As this is a LDWA event you can immediately downgrade it from Race to Challenge...either way it was a cracking run whatever you call it. These events are self-guided using written instructions with the odd compass bearing thrown into the mix (thank God I remembered to take it)
This event is unusual as it starts at 1.00pm, which to any runner is the first hurdle as we like to get the run over and done with and I promised Gemma that I would be there at about 12:15pm after I had dropped off the various family members to there work and play. At 11.00pm the delightful Mrs S was unceremoniously dumped into the centre of Bromley and I disappeared in plume of tyre and exhaust smoke to race to go nowhere as I hit the M25 which had created a 5 mile tailback all of my own! After a few frantic calls to Gemma (who appears to arrived at the crack of dawn and was ready to run at 12 noon!) I eventually got into the hall at 12.45 pm and got on the rest of my kit ready to run (rather franticly)
At 12.55pm the ever efficient LDWA voluteer marshalls called us to the checkout, cards stamped we stood on the start line....err veranda...a photograph taken and we were started, or should I say we were reminded that the event had started as we were all to busy chatting! With that approximately 20 runners started the run with a few whoops, calls we were off.
Now there were rumours that Gemma was rather loquacious but she had not met me yet! Never in the history of trail running had the two most talkative runners run together which soon proved to be a very fun filled few hours. Gemma was very polite when inundated with various geeky facts about navigation and how to convert miles to kilometres using only addition by my good self!
The first hill
After settling our legs into the run at around 3 miles after a very steep hill we thought we were all right for a little while until we reached the approach of the Devil's Punch Bowl which saw us rise 450 feet in 1 mile which was one hell of a tough climb in the heat of the day which saw me dripping with sweat whilst Gemma was not even out of breath although our converstion did drop off for a minute or two. The climb was worth every inch of climb when we reached the view point of the bowl which was just out of this world.
For the next 10 miles we were running in sunshine until it was pointed out that "The clouds look a bit dark Jerry" probably the understatement of the day and also the first of a few navigation errors against a poorly written note saw us take a right fork and climb a 150 foot hill to then realise at the top that we were wrong, so after an exploratory search we retraced and Gemma came up with a brilliant call to take a specific path which negated the requirement to go back down the hill as we found ourselves on the correct path (we were only 50 feet from the next direction). Morale was high now as we traipsed on to find ourselves running our old friend the North Downs Way and as if to greet us the weather turned bad as we were hit with torrential rain and wind that buffeted us from all sides, the added difficulty now was that the light was getting worse, especially in the trees.
At the next check point about 20 miles we agreed to take a little extra time to get our kit sorted out, get some food in and it was then I was really grateful to Gemma's Mum (Jan) and Gemma's boyfriend (Sam) who were waiting for us in the car. I think I must have demolished the jam roly-poly plate and the custard creams in one fell swoop. With my water bottles full and a pocket full of penguin biscuits I rejoined Gemma to continue our journey along the North Downs Way taking us to the lowest point in the course to then start our ascent to the top of St Martha's Hill and the church to take a small descent to a steep climb to Newlands Corner. It was here we made a mistake in navigation, this was primarily down to the awful conditions as it was still very wet and the seemingly enormous number of fingerpoint signs which appeared to point in every direction and was here that we went on a round trip approximately 2 miles. Morale was a bit low here but we made a decision to retrace our steps to the Corner and after a little search we found the North Downs Way again.
As we past the 30 mile mark we found that we were travelling at an overall average of exactly 5 mph which is pretty good when added to the check point stops and it had gone very quiet between us, for no other reason that we were mid-race and were concentrating hard to see the route and the various hazards in our way as the night began to draw in which brought our speed right down as we tried to understand the directions given which were quite complicated for a tired runners brain to comprehend so Gemma and I kept checking our decisions which proved very useful and my compass getting yet another airing to see if the path we were on was correct.
The weather began to clear up but the paths and tracks beneath us were treacherous finding ourselves slipping, tripping and stumbling. It was after the third ankle twist that I turned to Gemma, who was a little quiet now, to ask if we should make a difficult decision now before we got to the check point.
After weighing up the odds we decided we wanted to leave the course on our terms as the conditions were just not right for runners so agreeing that 35 miles over such conditions and route was a testimony to our fitness and ability we made the decision to carry on to and hand our numbers in at the next checkpoint.
At the checkpoint we pulled out and then had some warm soup and a cup of tea and I went about getting some dry kit on to find that I had been bleeding quite badly from some yet to undiscovered wound as my shorts contained a frightening amount of blood! Dressed, tummy full we were given a lift back to the start by Jan and with a big hug from Gemma and handshakes all around we departed happy in the thought of a run well done.
I am totally happy with the sensible decision to withdraw as this morning my ankles are very slightly swollen from the continued twisting on the course and it was only a matter before an injury happened. From what I could tell quite a few other people pulled out at the same point probably for the same reasons. Great run which in normal conditions would have been easy to complete just not this year.