Monday, 23 May 2016

Centurion running North Downs Way 50 2016 ultra-marathon race report

My preparation and running strategy for the Centurion 2016 North Downs Way 50 ultra-marathon, much the same as my strategy for every other run, can best be described through the experience I've had with my toenail.

My biggest-toenail on my biggest-toe on my biggest-right-foot was damaged as a result of the NDW100 last year. It never really recovered, but never really gave up its affections for its toe and doggedly held on - even through another ultra-marathon, the 2016 SDW50. However, with increased 'training' recently, and the demand from my wife that I cut my toenails the day of the event, it gave up the ghost and mostly detached itself. A swift tug would have completed its demise.

Why am I telling you this again? Because it's a near perfect example of how I deal with pre-race and race running strategy. I don't. My toenail had pretty much fallen off of my toe and yet I simply placed it back into its seat and slapped a plaster around it. No one would be the wiser, not even me.

So when I asked Justin 'Jimmy' Bateman (above right (love running with that guy, BTW)) on the run "When does it feel like you're running 50 miles?" I was metaphorically bound up in plasters and, through self-coerced ignorance, 'out for a jog' that just seemed to keep going one step at a time.

And there were a lot of steps. 100,000 or more I should think. They took me through some very familiar trails, twists, ups and downs and through some of the most beautiful parts of England. Having ran here twice last year, I was quite familiar. But still I gazed at the lofty views from Denby's vineyard and ran more slowly through the colourful woods carpeted with bluebells and other coloured plants (with names that I'll never care to learn). I even enjoyed the sprawling tapestry of roots in the ground as they cross-crossed my path and caused me to dance between them. All of the trail, apart from those bloody steps, were a delight. Actually the steps weren't even too bad and I even appreciated the fields between the last check point and the finish a little more than I did the previous two times.

What possessed Stuart March to take such a photo?
... And why did I pay for such a photo?
I think that appreciation came mostly from the pace I held in my eagerness to catch-up with Jimmy and Ilsuk 'The-Man-The-Myth-The-Train' Han. You see, I had started with both of them and I had a burning desire to finish it with them too. But it was not to be. I'd failed myself and whilst I have no regrets on my efforts on the run, I was a little gutted to have left myself behind.

Having said that, if I'd have known they would have abandoned me, I'd have hung out with the 'Bazooka!'. Mad, hilarious and all awesome, the Bazooka! was the nick-name I gave to Goska. She gave me the nickname 'Sean Penn' after calling me Nash and Josh and asking 'what's your name, again' 4 times. She was immediately a character I liked and quite literally a barking mad one at that. She ran past Ilsuk with a bark and growled at some sheep. See, character. Tracking towards coming in under the cut-off time of 13 hours, but making it in with a last stellar effort of 10:25, I was happy to get a chance to offer congrats at the finish. She beamed a huge smile, shared a note of congrats and fist-bumped me a goodbye - hope to run with her again sometime!

I pushed Ilsuk and Jimmy out of the way
to be the first to get a photo across the stones
I'm not sure whether it was because I was usually on the heels of Jimmy, but I didn't really get to know anyone else. I was generally quiet and focused with getting on with the run. The heat at times was exhausting and couple it with the hills it all certainly made chat less of a priority. Still, in the opening flatter miles it was nice to chat with Jimmy and Ilsuk, but for their army of fans. It seemed every other corner there were people running or waiting to greet them. Ilsuk himself was of course effortlessly roving and chatting around the conga line keeping up his network of fans and friends. Such a flirt.

I did find some time during the 09:49 I was out there to contemplate both the previous years 50 and 100 events. The NDW 50 had stolen my heart with the heat, the route and the hills, but the 100 had trampled my body for much the same reasons. I was genuinely broken at the end of the NDW 100 miler. But here I was out on the same trails and I asked myself whether I'd do the 100 again. And whilst I didn't out-rightly call it, I think I would. However, I was surprised at my reaction to the question and I felt a genuine pang of in-trepidation about the thought of doing it again. It really was brutal. Which, for me, is cause enough to stand once more at the start some time and see it through.

These are the bacon sarnies you've been looking for
It's of course not a Centurion event without mentioning the volunteers. Splendid people who not only are really helpful in getting you topped up with water, pep-talked to continue or stuffed with food, they're mostly runners themselves and really get why we're out here and pushing ourselves through it. I really must make an effort to volunteer to help - I think if I carry on and do more runs without volunteering I'll be missing one of the biggest, if not the best, parts of the community.

And lastly, whilst ultra distance runners report hallucinations, apparitions and such, it's quite rare they happen so early into an event. But Jimmy caught a photo to prove that this did in fact happen around mile 8 or so. Props to the 'Naval Division' for the offer of the bacon sarnies and the Imperial Fleet for taking the time to make the run even more fun.

Next up for me with Centurion events is the Chiltern Wonderland.

Pleased with another NDW50 finish

Garmin trace and data of the North Downs Way 50.