Driving down to Peaslake memorial Hall in the Surrey Hills, the temperature gauge dropped to just 1 degree. It had been colder as the local cars left outside the pub no doubt from the previous evening had a good frost on. pulling in I bumped into Helen, whom I had run the SDW100 with. Her and her group were going off earlier than the advertised start time, for a bit of a bimble.
By the time I had got my gear on and signed in, sorted out my drinks and food (only 3 checkpoints on this course) it was 955am, so i thought I would go a little early, just to warm up.
I ran alone for the first 5 miles, the first 1.5 miles a brutal climb out of the valley to 700ft along the trail. Mile 2-3 the directions were open to interpretation with the light trails crossing the path and no doubt I took a wrong turn and dropped back into the valley, only to spot the windmill which was a marking point on the route. If you are not a regular reader; LDWA events are non-marshaled, non-mapped written directions. They can be a little confusing at the best of times. I've snapped an example below!
Anyway, I caught up with Anna who I ran with for about 3 miles. She was on marathon 43 and in good form. She said she couldn't keep up with my pace so we duly departed and I whizzed off on my way up to St. Martha's Hill, up a route I had not taken before to CP1. Spending just a couple of mins at CP1, I thanked the marshals and got on my way, and soon caught up with Helen and Anna Finn. Anna is a legend in ultra running circles....she has just come back from injury to the Plantar and Groin. We ran together for about 4 miles but after some confusion at mile 9-10 about a gravel path, we were on our way. I'm not even sure how we became separated, but we did, such is this business of XC marathons. Getting slightly lost as I accidentally turned over 2 pages of instructions and found myself in a stately home driveway. Quickly realising my mistake I about turned and up to the 900m climb and to the highest point of the course at 840ft above sea level. I was caught and overtaken by a group of 6 chaps who were running at a fair clip. I decided not to join but to go at my own pace which after joining the NDW and less of a need to follow the instructions.
I caught up with this group of 6, who then became 7 with me, then dropped to 6 as one chap fell off the back. Small talk and direction reading for the next 7 miles until CP2 was the name of the game.
The only real way to run these events is to keep a check on the directions and TRUST NO ONE! I say this in a positive way. Not 2 miles from CP2, but one of the group was followed without question and a mistake was made. I then took over and as we passed a few runners who were confused, I took the lead of the group. I felt good and realised that a couple of the chaps were struggling. Approaching CP2, we passed more runners, picked up hydration and some peanut butter sarnies and went off again. I was 9th through the CP
CP3 was 23 miles into the event. Within a mile there were 3 more runners passed and our group had dropped to 3. The next few miles were of that running ENDORPHIN that I love and crave. I felt smooth and checked my hydration, food and feet and all were great. I was on a roll! The chaps were now struggling a little and I pulled a few mins ahead, navigating my way. CP3 came up in no time. There were 2 guys there......both had started 30 mins before the official start time. We were now in the lead!
Ok, technically, these chaps were in the lead as I started 5 mins before. Could I take 5 mins out of them in the last 3.2 miles? Well I felt strong! Another mile went by and I took a 300m lead. I could hear the guys following me and I took a little walk break up a big hill. They caught me and then the DECISION.
We were at a 5 pointed trail divide. I had my eye on a path but the compass came out from one of the guys (Phil) and we chose a path. It is one of those defining moments when people (including me) try to make the directions fit the terrain. Scarily, we crossed 2 roads and followed fencing etc which was pretty damned close to what it should have been! It didn't pull off. I went one way further on. BIG MISTAKE! I ran on up the hill for what felt like forever. I found a walker with a map and realised I had gone wrong big time. I had no clue where I was and had made a mistake of not going back to the point that I was unsure. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, no map and a set of redundant directions, my first place slipped through my fingers like the Greensand I had just traversed!
Garmin compass engaged, I had a 5 mile run to the finish instead of 1.5! I legged it, hard and fast down country lanes. Nothing was taking me in the right direction, so I decided to take the law into my own hands......a back garden, a hand grabbing bramble shocking scramble up the steepest part of Hombury Hill, bracken above head height, a knee high stream, leg punctured twice by unseen barbed wire, a country estate and a fair few fences.
My first place was now in the realms of my dreams........Don't ever utter the words......."one of us is going to win" to anybody........
So I rationed my drink and sauntered over the finish line, powered by compass alone, 6 miles over the distance.....probably in some crap placing........but still felt that I had something in the tank. I'd prepped for a 26 and ended up doing 32 miles. It's not a problem. Thats what LDWA events are about.
So. The moral of this story is that it is not over until the fat lady sings. I had this event in the palm of my hands. I never have listened to others for directions......who know why I did this time. The thing was, it was such a good day for running, I have a small amount of frustration, but a huge amount of buzzing for such a good event!