Friday, 15 October 2010

Pilgrim Challenge Race Report 6-8th February 2010 - Team Arktix

So the Pilgrim Challenge is a 2 day event organised by XNRG and is a new event this year. There is the option to just participate in one day (who would want to run ONLY 33 miles?!?!?) from Farnham to Merstham along the North Downs Way (NDW) on day 1 and then the reverse route back day 2. You would assume therefore that on the second day you couldn’t possibly get lost.

Never assume.

I entered this race with Oliver and Jay and the plan was for myself and Oliver to run both days meeting up with Jay on the second day. All the credit goes to Jay here, he has been running for only 2 months and already has Portland CTS marathon and now an ultramarathon under his belt!!! Now THOSE are some gutsy race entries!!! In actual fact its probably more a result of leaving Mr Sinclair to organise the race calendar. I have now run 5 marathons, 4 of which since December and 3 of which are ultras. Hmmmm.

There are 3 classes available (walkers, runners and um, faster runners). And on day 1 I had un-ambitiously set out in the regular runners group. Each group sets off an hour apart, walkers first and so on. My plan was to run steady and see how I felt, and obviously try not to get caught by Oliver who was setting out an hour behind me in the faster runners group. He had taken an hour out of me at Portland marathon, so over the extra 7 miles I imagined he would probably manage it.

All was going well, despite as usual I set out faster than I wanted/needed to ‘I can’t help it!’. But after probably about 4.5 miles I was with 2 other runners, with only 2 others in front from our wave. I was worried these guys would be a bit fast for me considering the speed I had set out at, but hey, I thought id hang on as see what happened. Now unfortunately, they were both locals (ish) and knew the North Downs way, so I was partly relying on them for navigation. (error?) Anyway we ran well and I felt comfortable, and then after maybe 12 or so miles we got lost. Ran down a road for about a mile, didn’t feel right. We stopped a car, some horse riders, some cyclists, all with maps, none knew where they were. WHY NOT! Others had followed us and as a result gone wrong too. After at least 10 mins of being lost, the runners who had caught up with us backtracked along the path leaving us three again. One of the guys then phoned the race organiser, but he lost signal over a crackling phone having described out location to the words of ‘I don’t know where you are but I think you f**ked up pretty bad!’. Helpful. Finally some motorbikers who had been standing around at the junction went ‘oh weve got a map if you want.’ (you think?) We found a trail that joined up with the NDW about half a mile down another trail. We reckon we lost about half an hour.

To the frustration of one of the guys in our 3, who doesn’t like getting lost, and angered by how much time we had wasted (I wasn’t that bothered) he set off like a crazy man. We were suddenly hacking along at about 8 min miles and I wasn’t sure how much longer id last at that pace, completely unsustainable. Luckily we hit a hill which knackered him out a bit, but he had vented as we again started to pass those we had already overtaken from the 1st wave.

As the day wound on we chatted away, and the miles passed, no Oliver yet. Over box hill and lime?! Hill with the last 4 or so miles down into Merstham. I was tired, but happy Id stuck with the two guys since I reckon theyd made me run faster. We finished together in about 5.37 13th equal for the day (shame we got lost eh?). Oliver hadn’t caught me but came in not long after having been lost himself. He ran 4.44 and had the lead by 9 minutes apparently only shooting off the front of his wave to catch me.

I got changed and showered then went for a massage (my shower was appreciated by the masseur, most not bothering) and wandered up to the local pub for a steak ‘pre-dinner’ with Oliver. We headed back to the school we were staying at to watch the rugby which they put on a big screen and then ate our second dinner of the evening in the canteen watching the rugby, chicken pasta and veggies. There was a caramel tart for desert which Oliver went up to get, I asked him to get some for me with cream. He said ‘how much’ I said ‘loads’. Unfortunately Oliver is a child (and I reckon was still upset about not catching me). He poured half a JUG! of cream and brought back a partially floating caramel tart in a bowl. Hmmmm. I ate/drank it though. Although did feel a little sick for a bit.

Day 2 – So Jay had got the first train down and picked up by a minibus shuttle from Merstham station. He set off in the runners group and I, having finished in the top 25 was in the faster group an hour behind with Mr. Oliver ‘have some dessert’ Sinclair.

One of the two guys I had run with the day before had sneaked off into the runners wave an hour earlier since he needed to get a flight that afternoon but the other started in the fast wave. I wasn’t sure anyone could stand my company for 2 whole days so just thought id run at my own pace and see how it went. Yep, as usual, I probably set off too fast and latched onto the lead group of about 5 runners. I say lead group, Oliver, not weighed down by copious amounts of dairy, had gone off the front like a man on a mission and no one looked like catching him. Barring disaster the win was in the bag there and then.

Anyway, the pace was pretty good, but I felt surprisingly strong. I was running with the leading girl who has come in on day 1 in 5.03 so similar sort of time to what I would have liked to have run without navigational errors, yeah right! ;-). I did get a bit worried though as she told me about her history of running and said she had only got into ultras having gone sub 3 in road marathons. Hmm, out of my depth I think. I lost her after about 13 miles or so, but having head off quick was way ahead of who I knew was a place ahead of me in the overall standings and also way ahead of the guy I came in with yesterday. So although it was a tough start to the day with almost all the hills on the course in that section I felt pretty good, and how I had been going I was buoyed by the start. Run fast while you can I say, time in the pocket!

I then ran alone through the next to checkpoints and finally caught up with Jay after about 2 hours 50. I asked him when Oliver had come through and he said about an hour and a quarter ago!! Man he must have been steaming! Oliver had caught Jay after merely an hour and half of running.

Anyway, after a brief chat with Jay I said I was going to head on since I thought I was in place for a top ten and as I reached checkpoint 3, I was feeling pretty good. It was at this point it all went wrong. The marshals had said, the next and final checkpoint is 4 miles from here and then its 6 miles to the end. Right, ill go steady to the next one then push hard for the final stretch. About half a mile down the road, I went wrong. I ran past a weathered sign for the NDW (not seeing it) and ran for about 5 mins up a hill into Guildford. Finding the road familiar but not seeing any runners behind or in front of me who I had just sighted I asked a pedestrian who said he hadn’t seen any runners either. I turned around and ran back down the hill and finally saw the weathered sign. GRR!!! Didn’t think id lost too much, time, but had started to understand the anger of the runner from yesterday, now that a goal was at risk. I saw a runner up the hill and followed him up. He veered off the road onto a footpath and again followed him. Suddenly at the next junction on the path he was gone. Strange. If in doubt follow your nose, I ran straight ahead down the hill for about 5 mins and came to a totally unrecognisable field. All the path signs were not for the NDW. ARRRGH!! Ran a few hundred yards either side of a t junction in the path to look for landmarks, roads, anything. Nothing. I asked a guy in a field with his dog, he was Korean, and barely spoke English and didn’t know where or what the NDW was, where Farnham was or anything. I cut my losses and ran back UP THE HILL! And it was steep. I got back onto the road where I had veered off and finally saw another runner. He was going slow though and didn’t recognise him so must have overtaken him ages ago. By this time I was TIRED! And really angry that id got lost. The next checkpoint took forever. As they cheered me in saying ‘not far to go’ I could barely muster a smile as I said, not the way I’m running. I had set a new record though. Over 45 minutes to cover 1 mile of the course. Just what you need when you’ve run 60 odd miles. I tried to put it out of mind and pushed on the last stretch. I tried to stay calm but was infuriated as I began to re-overtake people I had passed 2.5 hours before!!!!! I came in on 6.10 (ish?), and figured I must have been on for sub 5.30 that day. I had fallen from 13th to 15th overall but would have had 10th if I’d stayed on course. The guy I ran with on Saturday had run 5.36 (a min faster than our day 1 time), and I had been WAY ahead of that. If if if if if!!! Shame they don’t count!

The delay had caused me to miss Oliver ‘I don’t drink dairy but make others neck bowls of it’ Sinclair’s award ceremony which was a shame because he has run a blinder. 4.30 something on the second day, 15 mins faster than day 1 and the win by half an hour!! Well done robot boy.

I still managed to smile as I passed the finish line and had had a great weekend. Lets face it, if its all about time on your feet I had made an awesome session for myself. Awesome running from Jay too who came in on about 7 and half hours, which is a MASSIVE effort from such a short time running.

Bring on the next!

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