This is going to be a relatively short report as it comes so late after the event, but I wanted to say a couple of things about the my run on the North Downs Way 50 last May. Spoiler alert: it was my best 50 miler to date, for many reasons. But as usual let’s start by talking about the days leading to the event.

After the performance on the SDW50 (I wrote about it here), I was really upset. I had trained very well for what I wanted to be my main race of the first half of year and I felt I was going to enjoy it and do well. The fever that caught me the days before the event ruined everything. Luckily training is never wasted so I decided to just wait a month longer to check if my training plan worked: the NDW50 was going to be even more important. I had to keep the level of fitness.

The week after the SDW50 I took it relatively easy, no speed training and just 60k in the whole week. It was Easter holidays so we went to Italy and I had a nice run with Davide on the Giro Dantesco, nice trails and no wild boars this time. During the Easter week-end I also went to reclaim the CR on Salita Bergeggi that was stolen from me for just a handful of seconds. It is mine again by more than a minute, so I should be ok until next year at least!

Then I had two strong weeks of 105 and 110 km each with solid SSR sessions (like this one) during the week and longer runs during the week-end. Nothing super long, but both week-ends I went to the NDW, once with super tired legs and still managed a solid 25k run and the next week-end 32k on the NDW with two new friends and a dog.

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Action selfie

Then I had one 73k easy week to start the tapering and finally race week arrived: 10k a couple of times but the rest was doing nothing and sleeping as much as possible. I also had the excitement of changing job that week.

On race day I woke up very early as usual and the classic pre-race routine of toilet – breakfast – toilet went perfectly well. I got the Race HQ early enough to find a nice parking spot outside the school at Farnham. I had enough time for a chat with various friends and then after the race briefing we walked to the start.

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Race Briefing

Unfortunately some of us got delayed at the train crossing and by the time we decided to take the overpass we got to the start too late. The race had started at least a minute before we got there.

Note to self: listen to the race briefing from the back of the room, near the exit, so you can leave as soon as it’s done and not get stuck.

The first couple of kilometers were then a bit frantic as I did not want to be so behind everyone else, but then I made myself take it easy as the day was going to be long and I had enough time to make up for that lost minute.

I settled on a nice easy pace. Some flat or downhill bit at just under 5 min/km, some slower bits around 6:30 if I was walking uphill.

I basically walked everything that was making my heart go over 140 bmp. The plan was to be consistent all day, no crazy rush in the first half and no death march at the end.

At the first aid station in Puttenham (at around 11k) I did not stop as I still had a full bottle of water and kept going at that sustainable pace. At around 20k we arrived at the St Martha hill which I had visited 2 weeks earlier. I remember in 2015 in my total ultra-ignorance I ran up all the way. This time I walked it easy and bombed down on the other side. So far so good. Very warm day but I was feeling great.

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At the top of St Martha’s hill

A bit of up and down on big grassy hills and I reached the second aid station (23k) at Newlands Corner. I stopped very briefly for a bottle fill up and some water melon. This time I was not going to get anything else, no coke, no solid food. I had all my gels and Tailwind to drink, I wanted to avoid stomach issues this time.

The next part of the trail is probably the one I ran the most in training. I find the flat woodland there a bit boring except the final part before Ranmore. I like the single track bits there, full of roots and speedy downhill. There was a very fast race going the other way round so we had to stops once in a while and let the other runners go by.

From the 35th kilometer or so until Box Hill there is a lot of tarmac and a lot of downhill that usually kills my legs. I was not looking forward to that bit even if I enjoyed bombing down it in January’s race. Luckily I started chatting with another runner, very friendly Kevin, and the time went faster and even the under-pass before Box Hill was gone before realising it (I usually hate it).

I was looking forward to Box Hill. Psychologically it feels like you are halfway through the race (even if it is around 40k out of 82k) and with the excuse of the long steps section I was looking forward to eating a bit more and take it easy.

Instead it was the worst part of the whole race. I felt really dizzy going up, even walking easy I could not eat anything and felt so tired when I got to the top that I could hardly start running again.

It took around 5k of slow running to feel better but by then my stomach was went a bit strange. This time I solved the issue straight away, I jumped behind a bush and the rest is history. I felt much better and got to one of the hardest climb (Reigate) feeling strong. Walked to the top and run the rest of the way to the 50k mark where the Reigate Hill aid station is. More water and watermelon and off I went.

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Just one of the climbs, enjoying it

Apart from a couple of km on the road this is my favourite part of the race, especially the last wooden bit (Old Park Wood) before Caterham’s aid station at around 61k. It went relatively fast even if my pace was much much slower than the first half of the race. But I was running everything (except the hard climbs) and that is what made me very confident.

At Caterham I had to sit down a bit at the aid station as again I was feeling super weak. I probably spent 2 minutes there longer than I wanted, but I felt I was at the limit, I could not push too much. This is where in 2015 everything went wrong and I suffered the rest of the race. This time I was not feeling super, but I was moving, always. The legs were in pain, but my head was in a good place. And I think this sums up the whole day pretty well. The body was in pain, but my mind was set to do well and made my legs go, just go all the time. And the more I realised I was going and going and the more I felt good.

I started doing the math and while 8:30 hour (my dream scenario), was an impossible task I was happily going for around 9 hours which was much better than the 10 hours of 2015. After a bit I even realised that I could make it in under 9 hours and that was a pretty good boost too.

The climb to the last aid station at Botley Hill (69k) was endless but the end was in sight. I had a quick cup of tea there, preparing for the last push.

The final 13k were the most painful. I remembered from 2 years ago how hard the final fields were, but even if I was prepared it felt like they were going on forever.

Finally after a million fields the finish line was in sight and for the last 2k I just gave it all I had. I even ran the last mile at around 4 min/km pace. I was so happy to see the end and even happier to have made it in 8:51, one hour and 9 minutes faster than two years ago. Training definitely had an impact, but I believe most of this PB performance is due to experience. Running your fifth 50 miler is definitely different than running your first.

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It had been a nice sunny day all day. I had a long time to wait for the bus back to the car so I quickly changed and then collapsed on the grass for hours. I probably drank 8 cups of tea and then had the mother of all hiccups, but I was the happiest man on the planet.

As always the Centurion people and volunteers put together a wonderful day for us runners and everything was fantastically organised. Everyone at the aid stations and at the finish was so friendly and helpful. Thanks! I cannot wait to run the next one in September. Now I only need to survive my first 100k race!

One thought on “North Downs Way 50 and how I redeemed myself

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