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I didn’t really want to go to the High Weald 50km, it was a race I had been hugely looking forward to but after a blistering disagreement with the GingaNinja about running I had decided I was done with running.

However, in the days leading up to HW50 there was a change of stance as one of us backed away from the precipice and I then relented on my retirement from running (I may one day chronicle what happened but not today). The problem was I then hadn’t run for nearly a month – so I entered the Chislehurst 10km as a test of fitness and to see what damage eating all the food in universe had done.

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The bad news was that the Chislehurst Chase was not only incredibly tough on my unfit body but I also pulled my hamstring. Bugger. With less than 7 days to the HW50 race start I decided I’d rest rather run in the lead up to the race.

And so it came to pass that the day of the High Weald 50 arrived and I rolled up to the start line feeling suitably miserable. I collected my number and drifted to the start line, I really wasn’t feeling it as the race when we kicked off I drifted to the back of the runners and decided I’d stay there.

I hadn’t really know what to expect from the course other than it would be undulating but knowing Tonbridge and the surroundings a little bit I expected it to be properly hilly. However, as the miles wore on I grew a little happier, glad to be back on the trail and the HW50 offered real trail.

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With the weather overcast and a little drab it made for the ideal conditions and I was running a mildly consistent pace with a few ‘hurl myself down the hill’ moments – I could feel the fun rolling in. The miles were counting down nicely and I was through checkpoint 1 and 2 in good time but I could clearly feel my lack of training, too many pizzas and the hamstring I’d pulled a week earlier, it was about 23km in that I finally knew it was going to be a bit of a slog and that was when the sun came out.

I hadn’t prepared for sun, other than my buff visor, I could feel the heat bearing down on to my head and making the route feel increasingly difficult. Even undertrained and carrying an injury I had been running quite well but with sunstroke setting in this was going to be the Vanguard Way all over again.

Thankfully around the 35km mark I came across first time ultra runner Greg. There he was looking a lot like the honey monster with his salt and pepper beard, a jaunty approach to running and excellent conversation. Greg and I meandered through the next 10km or so moving back and forth for running ahead and he was having a lovely old time and I was able to hold onto what remained of my sanity by focusing on the conversation. However, prior to the final checkpoint I put on a burst of speed as I needed some form of sugary drink and knew that with just a few kilometres to go I put a bit of a burst together.

After some sugary drinks and pizza related banter I pulled out of the checkpoint and realised that the final section had lots of lovely cover and in these conditions I could feel my head cooling off and my desire to get the job done return.

I therefore did what I do what I can’t sleep – I jumped into the cockpit of my spaceship and pretended I had an urgent mission to complete / with the finish line my HQ and about a bazillion alien invaders between me and home.

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I managed not to lumber my way through the final kilometres, infact I was pushing and for the first time I thought about my feet and realised how lovely my Lone Peak 3.0 were. I was now back at pace and urging myself forward but whenever I would meet daylight rather than shade I retreated into myself like a vampire realising his alarm clock had woken him before sunset. As I thundered back towards the start I could see Greg’s family waiting for him and I shouted that he should just be a few minutes behind me (and he was). I powered up the final piece of undulation at the edge of the car park and towards the finish line.

In the distance I could hear a very noisy child shouting ‘dad run fast’ – little fucker I thought. UltraBaby came running towards me, my arms rose aloft to indicate it was me and I put my arms around her, picked her up and ran towards the finish line. Sadly UB had other ideas and starting howling for the GingaNinja and so I ground to a halt dropped her to the floor and directed her towards her mum. I turned and drifted over the finish line – much to the amusement of the volunteers and marshals.

Key points

  • Distance: 50km
  • Profile: Very undulating
  • Date: September 2016
  • Location: Sussex
  • Cost: £40
  • Terrain: Trail, some technical descents
  • Tough Rating: 3/5 (3.5/5 if you’re not very fit when you do it)

Route
The route was really very interesting and varied, remaining on the trail for the bulk of the race. The uphills felt like real uphills and some of the downhills were properly awesome. This was the kind of route I expected at The Ridgeway 86 and didn’t get but High Weald delivered in bucketloads, highly recommended route.

Organisation
The High Weald 50 gets a 10 out of 10 for organisation – from car parking to race instructions to finish line cake and tea, this was a well drilled and organised event. The volunteers, every single one of them were brilliant and everyone should be incredibly proud of the job they did.

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Support
Aid stations about every six miles and lots of good stuff available (I stuck with the Coke) it was a really good spread and the supporters, be they the volunteers or the runners individual supporters were brilliant.

Awards
The real reason I rolled up to the race wasn’t the medal or the route it was to ensure I claimed one of the awesome mugs that come with the High Weald 50km. This one made it just that little bit special for me and it’s joined the other non-medal trinkets I’ve won over the years. The medal itself was nice enough and the delicious cake and cup of tea at the end were much needed and as good a reward for racing as I’ve ever received. The awards were definitely a winner!

Value for money
There’s been a general rising of prices across races as it’s got more popular and in a number of cases it’s becoming harder to justify the cost. However, the chaps at Trail Running Sussex have a tremendous event at a very decent price and even if this went up a few pounds it would remain exceptionally good value.

Conclusion
It’s true I had a terrible second half to the race where I suffered with sunstroke quite badly but that wouldn’t stop me saying this was one of my favourite races – I had so much fun. I have no problem in recommending this race, especially if what you want in an event is a low key and tough autumnal challenge. It’s got much going for it beyond the great organisation, atmosphere, route and lovely mug – it’s got that great sense of achievement that should come from doing something awesome. I’d love to say I’ve got something negative to say but I haven’t the race is perfect just as it is.

Keep up the good work!

 

  
The last few weeks have been quite draining and as we all know the run up to Christmas is a busy affair for all manner of reasons. This therefore makes my latest (run) decision somewhat perplexing. So previously I;

  1. Did the Greenwich MoRun pushing the buggy up and down the hills of Greenwich Park leaving my thighs knackered
  2. Then went off to the challenge of SainteLyon which also left me completely exhausted
  3. And this weekend I did a 24hr return trip to Liverpool via public transport carrying UltraBaby and about 50kg of presents and kit leaving  me absolutely destroyed

So I thought the only sensible thing to do was to sign up to the Sikhs in the City ‘Dawn ’til Dusk’ challenge! 50km, on what I read, is a bit of a toughie to run around. Bugger me! Still it was that or find myself a Santa Dash. However, I’m promising* this is definitely the last race of the year. 

*my fingers were crossed

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Sssscccrrreeecch

This was the sound of my flight landing at Gatwick on Friday evening, I’d been in Budapest for a week enjoying the cultural highlights of the city – highly recommended is the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Museum of Fine Art.

It was now just short of 9pm and we were off to get the car – I needed to spin round the motorway and get to a Sainsbury’s fast as I had no running food supplies. My other half put her foot (legally) to the floor and by 9.38pm we were filling a trolley with falafel, malt loaf, lucozade and a gigantic lasagne thingee from their nicer tasting food range – it was going to be a long night.

I got home at around 10.30pm – the GingaNinja threw some lasagne at the oven and I started to get my kit ready for the National 100km. It normally takes about 2 weeks for me to prep for an ultra – this one took less than 40 minutes, it’s not that I’m getting faster it’s just I was being tired and sloppy. At 12.54am I was in bed and exhausted, my hip stinging gently in the darkness of the early morning hours and me with the knowledge I needed to wake in just over 4 hours to run my third ultra in a month.

At 5.00am I turned off the alarm of my phone and stood exhausted in a shower of steamy water and thought to myself why do I do this? Regardless I applied the usual liberal amounts of Vaseline to all the usually affected areas and proceeded to get dressed. I’m much happier preparing for trail ultras but I figured this would be much the same, albeit with the addition of my box of goodies from Sainsbury’s. When I arrived at the Gravesend Cyclopark I could see that it got treated very differently. The other runners were mainly in low profile racing flats (I’d gone for Hoka Tarmac) and nobody was carrying a pack, I felt that my inexperience on the track was now showing a bit.

At the off though there was a very nice atmosphere as the group of runners straddled the start line and Ian, the race director, gave us a few final instructions and the location of the toilets. And then we were off!

The leaders from the national teams set off at a blistering pace and while we watched on in awe I think it dawned on most of us the challenge that lay ahead – 48 laps of a tarmac track with a couple of bitchy hills. Now I’ll be honest this, on the face of it, wasn’t going to be as tough as any of my previous ultras and as I drifted along at 5.05 per kilometre I was perfectly happy. In fact things couldn’t have been going much better, the toe infection I thought would be causing me problems was nicely secure in my Hoka and the various blisters from the WNWA96 and SDW50 that still hadn’t healed were holding up beautifully thanks to some strategic strapping and compeeding. Even the exhaustion I was expecting from my late night exertions at the airport hadn’t kicked in and so by about 14km in I was a very happy bunny. I was even remembering to eat and drink regularly which is something that often kills off decent times on an ultra for me.

It was when I making my second stop at the feeding table and having a bit of a laugh though that I ruined the race. Here’s what I think happened.

1. Stuffed Jaffa Cake in gob
2. Told a moderately smutty joke
3. Set off wiggling my arse and throwing hand shapes around in the air
4. Wasn’t looking where I was going
5. Slipped off the tarmac
6. Twisted right ankle and knee
7. Cursed myself – may have dropped the C bomb a couple of times

Before the end of the lap I knew that the 100km was out of reach as I was hobbling pretty horribly and even the 50km would be a tough ask within the time limit of six hours – to say I was devastated is an understatement as I’d be running well enough to do the distance in 10.5hrs which was the Spartathlon qualifying time. As I meandered what would have been about lap 8 I decided that I’d risk further injury and give it everything I had for the 50km.

I was now much, much slower and the pounding of the tarmac was making my feet feel heavy and combined with the injury the wheels just started to completely come off. I stopped remembering to eat and drink properly, I was leaning away from the right leg too much which meant the weight was pressing heavily on my already destroyed hips and worse was the sun was coming out and I didn’t have any sun cream – nor had I put any on.

15 laps in and I’m a bit dazed and confused but still going forward having finally figured out a method of movement that didn’t cause too much discomfort, I was back to eating sensibly and drinking but my skin looked a bit like crispy fried duck – I’d burnt badly. However I stayed in good humour and chatted with runners as I passed them or they passed me.

As I passed into the final lap I gave a little jig or two to offer a bit of amusement to the crowds and then pushed on doggedly. Despite it having been a disaster of a race, the like of which not seen since the Bewl Water Marathon last year, I was feeling okay if a lot despondent. I approached the final ascent up the unofficially titled ‘Tourette’s Hill’ and crossed the line.

‘Are you okay?’ was the question
‘Disappointed’ I answered wearily

I took my medal but stupidly left behind my excellent goody bag, I wasn’t much in the mood to celebrate as I crossed the line. For a while I sat in the coffee shop mulling over my disappointment and my scorched skin and decided to leave both of these behind in favour of supporting the other runners home – probably the best decision I’d made all day as this really lifted my spirits seeing dozens of runners completing the race and achieving such amazing feats of endurance.

A few words about the race
The chaps at TZRuns are Amazeballs, they really care about racing, running and runners – it is all extremely well planned, well executed, brilliantly supported and reasonably priced. The National 100 was a race you could enjoy and while I had a personal nightmare that was nothing to do with the organisation.

The Cyclopark in Gravesend is a great course with great facilities, toilets, coffee shop, children’s playground – if you want a family friendly race location then this is it.

Special Mention
The supporters, photographers, medical guys and the marshals – epic. At every turn they offered a friendly face, a bit of a laugh and the right amount of food and drink. I wanted for nothing (except sun protection cream). In fact all the personal stores I took along with me pretty much went home because the feed stations were so well stocked.

Conclusion
Great race, with the 100km record time broken, stunning supporters, amazing organisation and great facilities. Add to this a course that was challenging and hard on your feet but fun to get involved in and you have perfect race conditions.

I’ll be going back for the Kent Roadrunner in a few weeks time (just 17 laps this time) also organised by TZRuns which I think says more about the organisers than anything I can possibly commit to my writings.

The only problem with this race was with this runner and I aim to fix that in time for the marathon.

Happy running guys

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