Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Up on the Downs for marathon 86

How does that work then? Ah well, I know the answer to that one - the word 'Downs' is derived from the Celtic word for hills! This time it wasn't my beloved South Downs, on Sunday I headed off to the North Downs for my latest marathon. The North Downs are comprised of a ridge of chalk hills stretching from Farnham in Surrey right across to the Kent coast at Dover. On a clear day there are some fantastic views. Sadly, Sunday was not one of those days.

It made a nice change to be going in a different direction to Kent as this event was in a part of Surrey that Mike and I used to know very well. Race HQ was at Reigate Hill Golf Club, a beautiful location at Gatton Bottom in Surrey and I had a nice relaxing journey both there and back. The downside was that I arrived much earlier than planned, although that did mean that I got a good parking space. Good job I'd got my trusty flask of coffee and a chocolate bar Mike had kindly bought me as a treat for afterwards (ahem!) to help pass the time.

About 3/4 of an hour before the start I headed off to find James who had promised to drag me round what has been described as a marathon 'even more challenging than Beachy Head' (gulp!). He'd also promised me an ice cream so I could hardly refuse now could I. It was nice to walk into the reception area and see so many familiar faces as I can remember when I first started out on my marathon journey and I used to try and blend into the background because I didn't know anyone.

As the weather can be so unpredictable up on the Downs I decided to take a light, waterproof jacket with me and I'm glad I did as it did indeed rain a few times and the sun only deigned to come out for the last 1/2 hour or so. I'd stuck my walking poles in the boot of the car as well but decided against them as I didn't fancy having to carry them for most of the route when we were running.

The weather had looked rather dreary right from the moment I got up and it didn't seem to be getting any better by the time we set off. I didn't take a huge number of photos as it was so dull but I hope I've captured some of the route well enough to give a feel for it.

It was an out and back route starting close to the North Downs Way trail, across to Box Hill, down some hideously steep steps (of which there were several different flights and of course we had to climb up on the return leg), across the River Mole, through an underpass to get to the other side of the A24 (it was great fun making loud noises and hearing the echoes as we ran through there!) to a trail passing alongside the Denbies Wine Estate and past St. Barnabas Church and then on to the turnaround point.

The route was described as "a testing and very hilly trail run" with  "a mixture of undulating trail interspersed with tree roots, some rocky sections and there can be muddy or sandy parts on the course" and that was a very accurate description. Exactly the sort of terrain where I am extremely cautious for fear of tripping.

As we headed out of the golf club we started to climb and that was really the theme for the day as we were either going up or down a hill for 90% of the time!

This is the Salomon's Memorial Viewpoint, high up on Box Hill. On a clear day the views are spectacular but on Sunday not quite so good.

This was taken from just below the viewpoint

I was only slightly disappointed that so much of the route was through woodland. Not that I don't like woodland, I do, but because I longed to see more of the far-reaching views. Plus, it meant I spent a lot of time looking down so as to avoid tripping on tree roots. First stumble went to James as we were going down a set of really steep steps - I was going down so slowly that I managed not to trip there.

We shared some time with the lovely twinnies, Julia and Theresa, plus Martyn, Richard & Costas and the chatter really helped pass the miles.

A clearer view across part of Denbie's Wine Estate

Part of our route took us along a concrete access road and both on our outwards and return journeys we passed a truck pulling several carriages full of people sipping champagne on a tour of the vineyard. On the return section I waved at the ladies in the last carriage and they held up their glasses to me so I ran after them holding out my hand to much hilarity and they gave me a cheer and shouted "good luck".

I'd been told we had to cross a river via stepping stones and most people were looking forward to it but I have to confess that I was rather nervous about it. Not that I'm scared of water but because my eyesight affects my balance making judging distance/depth a challenge for me. This is probably one of the reasons I trip and fall sometimes - goodness knows what I'll be like when I'm really old!

Martyn and Julia watched as this man ran across them making it look easy - I was not so brave and
walked very slowly across. 

The one good thing about the crossing was that I knew when I got back there James was going to treat me to an ice cream!

There was a strict cut-off time of 3.5 hours for the turnaround point and we made it with about 10 minutes to spare meaning we still had 4 hours to complete the return leg to get back within the 7.5 hour time limit. I was surprised that they did not record our race numbers at that point as the route was not well populated and thought someone could take a nasty tumble and need assistance without anyone knowing they were missing. But it was OK as what I'd forgotten was that we were chip-timed, which means we had a small device attached to one of our shoes, and when you crossed the start and finish line it registered so if anyone was missing the organisers would know.

As we left there we actually went past Brian who looked as if had taken a tumble and we mentioned it to Nuala who was marshalling at the A24, just in case he needed any medical treatment as we'd noticed he had blood on his face.

All the marshalls were very friendly and encouraging. These 2 were my favourites 'cos we had a bit of banter with them each time we passed.

These marshalls were a welcome sight because........

.....that meant it was ice cream time (thanks James!)

Then we retraced our steps and I stopped occasionally to take photos of the things that I'd made a mental note of when we passed them earlier:

Mousy carved on a log

There was a wealth of wildflowers all around and I got very excited at one point as I spotted loads of orchids and Yellow Rattle plus this little beauty below which I think is Deer Pea Vetch (aka Vicia Ludoviciana). I was so excited that I probably bored James and Julia to death with my Naturewatch lesson. Soon after that I was off again when a tiny vole scuttled across the path in front of us!

Look at the intensity of the blue of Anchusa Arvensis (aka Bugloss)

James trots off to chat with Richard to escape my twitterings about wildflowers!

I mentioned the steps earlier but didn't take any photos of them myself as I was too busy trying not to stumble. I thought going down them was tricksy but climbing up the blighters was a whole different level of pain. My goodness some of them were steep, plus some of the risers were really high. There was lots of huffing and puffing from all of us. I can't remember who took the 2 photos below but they give a feel for one of the easier climbs:

In the photo below you can see Nick. He looks just like an ordinary runner doesn't he. Well, he deserves an extra special mention because he's doing something quite amazing this year by running a vast number of marathons/ultras. Only a few days ago he completed 11 marathons in 10 days and if that isn't impressive enough he's already completed 96 marathons so far in 2016 and we're only halfway through the year. Absolutely brilliant!

Nick making this set of steps look easy (great big show-off!). Photo courtesy of Richard.

I think it was that set of steps where I spotted this magnificent Stag Beetle which of course I had to announce to those following behind (sorry if I bored you all to tears!)
There was a slippery section shortly after that and it was hard to work out how to get round the claggy puddles which were sitting at he bottom of sloping ground. We had to sort of balance on one side and hope that we didn't slide into the puddles. Amazingly I managed not to slip into it but poor James slid right down the bank and ended up with 1 shoe completely caked in mud.

There's not really much to say about the rest of it as it was a case of running/walking and chatting. The last few miles were shared with Louise, a new chum and I wish I'd taken a photo of us all at the finish but I forgot. I love meeting new people at races and sharing experiences and I hope we see her again at another marathon.

As we got closer to the finish James reminded me that I'd wanted to take a photo of this lovely  mosaic to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. As we slowed to a walk so I could take this we were walking 3 abreast and Louise noticed that the speed camera at the side of the road was displayed 3mph (it must have been tricked into thinking we were a car!) but I wasn't quick enough to take a photo of it. It made us smile though. 

We went past a school and I snapped this interesting sculpture. We couldn't decide what it's supposed to represent though.

We'd targeted 7 hours and for the last mile we pushed on a bit just to make sure and crossed the finish line in 6:55:06 to get a lovely medal and a welcome hug from Donna. All in all a grand day out and a lovely route.

That'll do thank you!

Another medal for my collection - love the mantra "Pain is weakness leaving the body"!

So, that's marathon 86 done with 87 coming up this next weekend. Onwards and upwards.

I've still got to write about judging day for Village in Bloom but that will have to wait awhile as I've got too much going on (as usual!).

No comments: