North Downs Way Marathon

Last Sunday I went back to the North Downs Way to run the NDW Marathon. The first edition of this race organised by Hermes Running, the same people that organised the Thames Meander I ran in March. I loved the NDW when I first ran on it during the NDW50 and I was keen to get back there.

The day started with pouring rain but by the time I was at the Reigate Golf Club (where the race HQ was) the sun was out and it looked like it had no intention of raining again.
I had to park quite far away from the starting line, but that gave me the chance to get to know a couple of other guys including one I ran the first kms with, which is one of the reasons I like going to races.

After a bit of pre-race briefing by race director David Ross with his cool Western States buckle we were off. Some people in front just disappeared straight away. I had no intention of letting the excitement make me run too fast and I decided to stick to a 5 min/k on flat, run fast downhill and do whatever possible uphill.


I was feeling quite good. The sun was shining, the woods were thick and the paths were perfectly dry. I did not even feel the first uphill bit. After around 5k we were at the first big downhill, Reigate Hill. I remember doing it uphill during the NDW50 and it was as steep as I remembered it. I decided to go down fast. A lot of small steps and boom I was at the bottom pretty fast feeling like a hero.
I started overtaking some people. I remember hat part as being the bit I liked the most during the NDW50 but doing it the other way round I did not remember it much. I was going to do it again on the way back so I was curious to see if I was going to get some flash back from May.

At the 10th km there was another climb and on top of that I should have gone right and kept at the top of the hill until the famous Box Hill steps. Instead I took the wrong turn and went straight down. I thought I was going fast and instead I was overtaken by two guys (not taking part in the race) that were going at least twice as fast. Amazing speed. My eyes were watering, I could not go faster than that, I was scared of tripping and these two guys went down like missiles. I later discovered they were @TheGingerKenyan and @kendall_danny. At the bottom I found myself with the first lady and we both realised we were in the wrong place. The two guys told us how to get back to the Box Hill steps and off we went. I don’t think we lost much time, but we had to do an extra climb to find ourselves back on Box Hill.

150719213406_HThe downhill on the steps was fun, but my legs were starting to complain a bit. I was happy when I got to the stepping stones.

After crossing the A24 we ran up the asphalt road that I hated doing downhill at the NDW50, the bit through the vineyards. Doing it uphill was not too bad and after 2 more flat kms on top of the hill and through some woods we arrived at the halfway point where we turned around and started running back. I felt quite good. I was 10th (I counted the runners coming back). Stupidly I forgot that the worst part is after the 30th km and the good feelings I have at 21k do not count. Like an idiot I tried to keep my 10th place and ran a couple of kms at 4:30 but then the downhill via the vineyard really killed my legs and I started losing positions. I was happy when I arrived at the stepping stones again and I stopped for the first time at an aid station. I took some extra water and started going up the box hill steps, walking for the first time in the race.
When I arrived at the top I had lost 2 more positions and my legs were broken and still had 15km to go.

The rest of the race was just pure suffering. When I was running I was doing 6 min/km, but when the trail was uphill I had to walk and ended up doing some very slow kms. Cramps were always around the corner and I started eating salt sticks every 20 minutes, I even chewed one and almost puked, disgusting.

At the 37th km I walked up Reigate Hill. It felt like vertical, a lot harder than when I did it at the NDW50 even if I only had 37k in the legs and not 50+. At the top I could not get the legs moving and spent too much time walking and chatting with a guy on a horse. I then shuffled for a bit until I got to the last aid station, 1.6 miles before the end. I probably stopped to drink there for too long and two more runners caught up with me. As it was the end I tried to fight not to lose more positions. One guy stayed behind but the other one, a 60+ veteran, was just too strong. We did some bits at around 4:15 min/k and still as soon as there was a uphill part he was too strong for me.

I finished 22nd in 4 hours and 8 minutes.


As always I think I should have paced myself better and saved my legs a bit more on the downhill bits. It’s quite a difficult trail, but I really enjoyed the day. I had a couple of kms where I hated myself for being there, but the rest was fantastic. The belly, for the first time in a marathon, have not given me any problem. I stuck to my gels and just water and did not get anything strange form aid station this time.

The medal at the end was also the biggest one I have ever received. Beautiful day on the trails, met some nice people, seen some nice scenery, wasted my legs a bit, all in all: a happy day.

If you are interested here is the Strava upload you can check it out here.



Here we are. A few days before the big race. The one that changed my life’s routine for the last 9 months. The one I started this blog for. The North Downs Way 50. Soon I will know if I have what it takes to run an ultramarathon. I will find out if I trained enough to run 50 miles. I though about this blog posts for months and now I am not sure what I should write.

It has definitely been an amazing journey. Last year I was racing a half marathon a month. A couple of races were a bit longer, 16 miles, but not much more. Then I decided to try something new. To test myself and I became addicted to the whole ultra and trails running idea.  I went from running less than 40k a week to running 120k.

I did it scientifically. I read books. I listened to old and new friends who knew better. I think I did well. I never got seriously injured. I almost improved my diet too. I definitely feel stronger. I feel ready, physically at least. Is my head ready? I will find out Saturday.

Since last summer I have been running 6 times a week all of the weeks except a couple, either because I was not home or I was not well, but I did stick to my training plans virtually all the time. I am proud of the effort I put in.

But this journey did not just start last summer. I think this is the culmination of a longer journey. I have started running roughly seven years ago, when my dad passed away. The idea was to try and do something to keep my head from thinking too much. I needed something to fight that horrible time. It did not work. Running gives you too much time to think. You spend too much time alone and you cannot run away from such a loss. Even seven years later the pain is still there, with the same strength.

What did change was the fact that I realised running was fun. After the first weeks where I could not run more than 2k I started improving and a new world opened up and I got addicted.

I think I needed it. You can have a fantastic family (like I do), a career you are happy with (like I do most of the time :)), but you need an addiction in your life. You need something that is all yours. Something that keeps your mind busy when you need it busy. You need a passion and I believe passions should be almost unhealthy, otherwise they are not a passion.

When I was young I had two passions. Video games and skateboarding. Video games are so important in my life that I made a career out of them so that’s a passion I feed daily. Skateboarding was all my life for ten years. Everything else was less important (as my school results can attest). I was skating every day. I was good at it. I had people giving me free stuff. I won some contests (small ones) and could not think of anything else. I was not the only one. All my friends had burning passions. Some were skating like crazy like me. Some were into music and we knew all the most obscure bands, we played rough music, we went to gigs. I learnt from my friends that passions are worth feeding. All my friends are still crazy about something. Someone runs more than me, others snowboard like pros, others were into art and keep on creating. I don’t know if I was lucky or what, but my friends and my family always made it possible to do things 101%.

I always wanted adventures and I think that, slowly, running has become my way to go for adventures, even short ones in the park behind my house. It slowly became my passion and something I wanted to do with 101% effort. That’s why I think it is not surprising that I finally got to the point of preparing for an ultra. I always knew one day I wanted to jump from half to full marathon. I did that in 4 months and now it is time to go for an ultra. A bit quick maybe, but passions make us crazy.

Whatever the result of  the race on Saturday I will be happy. I had the chance to make new friends. I broke my records. I made myself more disciplined. I feel better as a person as a whole. Some people might think I am silly and that there are more important things in life. Yes there are, a lot of them actually, but running is not making me lose sight of what’s important. On the contrary it gives clarity and purpose.

I’d like to thank all the people that supported me in this journey. All the people that gave me hints and all the people that have asked me questions. I hope my daughters will not think that they have a crazy dad, but will hopefully see that cultivating a passion is good. That doing things 101% is how things should be done. And you do not need to win to be happy. You do not need to run a marathon sub 2:30 to be a runner. You can be happy for your career even if you are not a CEO. What counts at the end of the day is that you have put in your effort and a bit more, if you do that something good will come.

Ok maybe I am over-thinking this. This post might be too much. It is just a run after all, but for me it’s been a long journey and it is just the beginning!

This week I have been mostly resting with only 2 short runs, so no usual post this time. The next post will be my race report. If you want to follow it in real time you can check out this page on Saturday.

I hope I have not bored you too much. See you out there, giving your 101%.

Trailscape Wendover Trail Marathon

This week was a race week so I had to take it easy until the week end.

Monday I did 10k at 4:31.
Tuesday rested.
Wednesday ran for 9k a 4:48.
Thursday I did 7k at 4:49.
Friday I rested and started worrying about all the things that could go wrong in my legs and feet, but nothing felt wrong.

I felt in a good shape and ready for the Trailscape Wendover marathon.
I prepared my bag with the cold temperature kit as the weather forecasts was predicting temperatures around 1 degree and possible snow fall. Ate lots of pasta and potatos and went to sleep early.
The race was in the Chilterns hills. I knew it was a nice area as I had been there for a long walk a couple of years ago.


I also knew it was going to be quite a hilly race and as it had rained the days before I was again expecting mud. I was just hoping it would be less terrible than the previous one. I was soon going to discover that there is worst mud than the one experienced before.


I got there quite early and it was pretty cold. It had snowed a bit during the night and it looked very nice. I went to take my bib and register and then went back in the car to get warm, listen to some inspiring music and get dressed.


I packed more gels that the last one and this time I tried to run with electrolytes in my water bottle. I ate a banana, a power bar, drank more water, did a quick warm up and then went for the race briefing. As last time everything was very well organised and everyone was friendly.

And then we were off. Around 70 people started running on a nice field that gave the wrong impression that it was not going to be too muddy after all.
Two guys in front just shot off and even I knew there was no point in following them. I stayed a bit behind and after a bit the track started going up hill and we thinned a bit. I think I was fourth when at the 6th kilometre I encountered the first problem. By then I had already realised the mud was going to be a problem but on a long downhill slope that looked more like a small river bed there was also a bit of snow. I gathered too much speed and at the bottom lost control, slipped and fell on the ground. Like an idiot I was worrying about cleaning my gloves (so that I could grab my gels and water without problems later on) and did not notice a small sign and took the wrong turn. I run for 200 meters uphill and then realised there were no signs, I turned around and saw 20 runners going completely the other direction. It took me a lot of effort to catch them all. On a long large uphill track I overtook almost everyone again: error number one.
By the first checkpoint I think I was in the top 7 and I was running with four other guys.


The next 10 km were a mud fest. Probably the hardest of the whole race, even if on flat ground. It was impossible to run with consistency. We had to jump puddles, change direction, hold on trees not to fall in deeper mud. It was very tiring, the sucking on the shoes was terrible, I tfeared cramps again. At that point I should have slowed down a lot and I should have run by myself instead of trying to stay with those guys. Instead I pushed and pushed and ran with an average of 5:30 even in that mud and uphill. That was error number two.

At the time I did not realise I was doing a mistake and I felt quite good when me and one of the guys arrived at the halfway point. As the race was basically a figure of eight with the start, end and middle race in the same spot we were back at the start at around 22km. A nice lady marshal shouted at us that we were doing great, so well we were 3rd and 4th (someone had retired). In my own sick mind I thought “that’s cool, I feel super good, the worst climb was in the middle, I am close to third, now it is just a race between me and this guy, if it goes badly I will just finish 4th and he will finish 3rd”. I was so wrong. the only correct assumption I had made was about him, he did actually finish 3rd.

We run together for a bit but while chatting we did not notice we had taken the wrong path again. Error number three. We had followed the signs that we were supposed to follow at the end, on the way to the finish line. So back we went and again I killed myself running uphill on the slippery mud to catch all the guys that had overtaken us.
By the 30th km I was dead. There was no gel, no water, no aid station snacks that could help me. I could not run anymore. I walked uphill, shuffled in the mud on the flat and sort of run downhill and people started overtaking me. Then the worst happened, I started having cramps in my belly. Terrible ones, I could not even walk. I started feeling cold. I stopped and put my jacket on and then discovered how low you can feel when wet, tired, cold and alone in the mud. That’s what I love about trail marathons. They make you feel stuff that half marathons don’t do. States of mind that are completely new. I hated it at the time, but I am treasuring those moments now. It’s all experience.

I started counting every step I did running, up to 10. then back to 1, 2, 3… again. If I was not running I was not counting, but then my head started counting by itself and the legs had to follow. I stopped thinking about my legs and my belly, I only wated to count, which made me want to run too.

I made myself run/walk for the next 10km and then saw a sign that said “Last mile”. Yeah, finally, I could not believe it!
I started running fast towards the sign and then boom, the track turned 180 degrees and went up the hill again. I wanted to kill someone.
At the top of the hill I found myself were I went with the other guy by mistake 20km earlier and I knew it was the end. As it was downhill it was a pleasure to let myself go, thinking about the hot tea and cake slice waiting for me at the finish line.


I finished 14th in 4 hours and 34 minutes. A terrible result, I finished an hour later than the first guy! I hate myself for having wasted so much energy in the first half. I really need to learn that 42km are a lot, there is no point in trying to catch up people ahead, there is time. I have to learn to run my race and when it is hilly and muddy I should not just add 30 seconds to my minutes/km pace, I should add 1 minute and run consistently at that speed.

Anyway it was a blast. I hated and loved it in equal measure and I am already looking forward to the next one (which is flat, so I might again calculate my pace wrong).

The organisation was fantastic and I will definitely take part in some (if not all) of the races they will organise next winter. I would like to thank the organisers and marshals for the wonderful work and Maurizio Crispi for the two photos of me above.

Overall I ran 69km this week. I will now rest a bit the next week.

See you on the trails/roads.

A muddy emotional rollercoaster

What an epic week it has been.

I had to do a bit of tapering before my very first marathon on Saturday so I decided to only run 3 days of the week and not for longer than 10k each time. So Monday I did an easy 10k run and pushed a bit only the last 2k. Tuesday I was meant to go running but instead overslept, but bought a new pair of socks. Wednesday I did 9k to try the socks and then Thursday did another 7.5k easy with the Brooks Cascadia I was going to wear at the race, just to “prepare” them. Disaster struck! My left hip got stuck. It happens sometimes, I just kick in the air a bit and it goes “click” and everything is fine. It did not happen. Thursday afternoon I was limping and crying inside as I saw my race Saturday turning into a disaster or a no show. In the evening I did every possible stretching I could find in Bob Anderson’s book, copied tens of youtube videos to try everything possible to get the hip to click in place. Nothing. Friday I was limping even more. I tried running for the train in the evening and it seemed like running was less painful than walking so I decided to go to the race anyway. I tried to forget all the little niggles, the hip and how scared I was of running my first marathon and prepared everything for the day after and tried to go to bed early.

This was the menu for the day, before, during and after the race:

I got up at 5, had my usual pre-race breakfast of tea/toasts and made sure my belly was ready. I got into the car and drove to Ashurst, in Kent, even if most of the race was taking place in East Sussex, in the Winnie the Pooh forest.
I got there quite early, registered and waited drinking my water, had a banana and a power bar. The marathon was starting an hour or so earlier than the half marathon and 10k race, so there was not a lot of people around. Around 40 runners or so. After the briefing I hardly had time to get the GPS to lock and we were already running. No time for warm up! So I had no idea if the hip was fine or not, but completely forgot about it.
The very first thing that we all noticed was how much wet the terrain was. Mud everywhere, it was worth going off the beaten track most of the time to find some solid ground. After a couple of kms I was in the group of the top 5 and we ran together for a while. Nice guys, we chatted a bit and I started thinking, well if I do not do anything silly and stay with these guys at this pace the worst I can do is finish 5th (as no one else was behind us close enough to be seen). I kept on telling myself, try to stay behind the first guy, or lead for a bit but always stay with the group.


But then the silly novice in me made me do the opposite. After the first check point, around the 12th km there was a small climb and I felt good and did not slow down and found myself gaining terrain and I just kept on going. Big mistake. For the next 2 hours I ran alone, I kept on looking behind me and could not see anyone. I could not believe no one was catching up. I felt good at first. It started raining, I got to the steepest climb and power hiked in the mud and started telling myself how cool a guy I was etc. I was talking to myself aloud, like a crazy person. I felt heroic.

Things changed dramatically around the 30th km. I was supposed to get to the third checkpoint (which was the same as the second) but it never seemed to arrive. The trail was always the same mud with some bushes, mud, bushes, mud, bushes. I started to feel like I was lost and was going around in circles. The signs on the side of the track told me I was on course, but maybe I had been there before or was I going back? There were some dog walkers around and I was sure I had seen them before. I started panicking, I could not see anyone behind me either. Finally I got to the third checkpoint and the nice marshal lady there said something like “I was not expecting to see you here so early!” and I thought, well I am kicking ass here and got a bit of a boost. It did not last long. All of a sudden someone caught up with me and overtook me around the thirty-second km. That was a massive blow to my confidence. I ate my final gel and tried to stay with him but I could not, cramps were around the corner. As soon as I tried accelerating my legs stiffened. That was something I was not prepared for. I started seeing all the other runners behind me and all of a sudden I was 8th. I was so upset with myself. How could have I thought that I could just run at that pace all the time in that mud and be faster than all those more experienced guys? And now I still had 8 very hard km to do in the mud and I might lose even more positions. Running half marathons does not prepare you for psychological situations like that. In a way I was happy I had decided to do 3 marathons before the NDW50, I need these kind of lessons. These kicks in the teeth.

Luckily at the last checkpoint they had Jaffa Cakes! That really gave me a boost. I could not eat any more gels but the Jaffa Cakes were miraculous. I started running with a better pace and started catching up with some guys.
Then everything became confused. The half marathoners and 10k runners were finishing their race too and we all mixed. I did not know who I was supposed to try to catch up with or whether I was losing positions or not. I raced with a guy I then discovered was finishing his half marathon. Anyway it helped as I must have overtaken some marathoners too as I got to the end and I was 5th.

What a relief! At least I did not do worse than I had planned before the first check point. I still managed to finish with the 4 people I was running with at the start. I wonder if things would have been different. Probably not as they would have probably had more energy than me anyway at the end. You can see the final results here and how I managed to lose a 5 minutes advantage and finish 5 minutes after the first finisher.

So, I finished in the top 5, in 4:11 on a course I believe was quite tough. Not much ascending, but the mud was really relentless. Even running downhill was hard as it was so slippery. Good experience, next time I will be smarter.


The race was very well organised. The marshals were super friendly, the atmosphere was good and I cannot wait to taking part in the next race in the series.

Once I got over the fact I made it harder for me from the start and I realised I finally managed to run a marathon (and a trail one) I was very happy. I still am, I am a marathoner now! I’d like to thanks all the friends and family who sent me messages before and after the race. I like to feel people care about my adventure and you are all helpful.

I’ll wait a couple of days and they I’ll start preparing for the next one. More hills work and at least one run over 35km.

See you on the trails (in the mud maybe).

Dirt Running

This has been a very nice running week.

I did not train much during the week as I was getting some rest for Saturday’s race.

Monday I did an easy recovery 11.5km run. It was also the first run with the new Asics Nimbus 16. It is early to say if they are still the best shoes for me but they felt really good. I am going to alternate using them and the old ones for a while now.

Tuesday I rested and then Wednesday I did a bit of warm up and then tried to do a 5k fast run. I felt really good. In my old way of training I never did slow recovery runs like the one on Monday and I have to say, that was a mistake. You really feel energised by those easy days and Wednesday I felt really good, no pain anywhere, and did those 5k at a pace of 3:50 min/km which is not amazing, but it was all about feeling good for the race. Plus I had two pints of beer the evening before! I know, I broke my rule of “no alcohol 2 weeks before a race”, but I had to.

Thursday I did 10 easy km and then after work went to the pub again! I know, big mistake, but I was invited to a party, I had to drink.

Friday I rested, had pasta for lunch and dinner and went to bed early. This was the plan:


The race was a bit far from home so I left quite early, good thing the start was at 10am. It took me a lot less to get there than expected and had to wait a long time. I ate a banana, an energy bar and used the toilet before the usual massive queue formed. I hate waiting.

The day was perfect, cold and dry. The location seemed very nice too. On the way there I passed a lot of nice little old villages, all of them made of a couple of old houses, a church and a bridge. Loads of tiny bridges over little canals. Really nice.

When it was about time to start I went to take my place on the starting line, in the group that aimed to do it under 90 minutes. I was confident. My half Marathon best is under 85 minutes and I was hoping the trails and hills would not affect me too much. The plan was to run at a steady pace around 4:10 min/km but as always the pull of the other runners made me start faster.
After a couple of km it was already possible to see the leading group forming in front and gaining distance. I stayed in the second group. Last of that lot, maybe 25th.
The first half of the race was on flat, on a very nice towpath on a canal. It was not a trail but it was very slippery, especially under the many bridges. Being very narrow the path made it hard to overtake but after a while I was feeling so good I started running well under 4:00 min/km and started gaining places until after a while I was the first of the second leading group. At that point I went crazy and decided to give it all. I was not even halfway through the race and decided to dig in and run fast. All the time I kept on thinking it was a mistake. I could see the people I was overtaking thinking the same. “Where does he think he is going? Doesn’t he know the hard part is still to come?”. No, I did not know and did not care. In these cases ignorance is a good thing.

Finally we left the canal and went into the fields and after a while the path started climbing and I thought “OK, this is the end for me. I overdid it and now I will pay for it”. I was wrong. All those hill training on Kingston hill paid off. I slowed down a bit obviously, but not that much. I was not looking at the road. I just looked at the feet of the people in front and one by one I overtook five of them and found myself at the top of the hill and, cheered by the small crowd, I started running down. This is where the best part of the race was. Up and down this hill in the mud, skipping roots, jumping between puddles, running through cattle gates, in the wet fields sometimes with the feet completely under water. It was exhilarating and as I knew I could not catch the leaders I, at least, ran as fast as I could to avoid being caught up by the people behind. Really, I could have not run faster and I did not care that there was still quite a bit to go.


I was so into it that at one point I missed the correct trail and started bombing down a tarmac road. Luckily one of the marshalls shouted at me “Ehy! It’s a trail race not a road race!”. I laughed but had to go back up. I only lost probably 25 seconds, but one guy behind me caught up and we were entering the small path at the same time. I have to thank him for being such a good sportsman. He stopped and waited for me to get back into the path and run ahead of him. Very nice stuff. It was the highlight of the event for me.

We then run all the way to the end together. After a bit more wet fields and slippery wooden bridges we rejoined the towpath for the last 4k of the run.
Here the competition started between us, or at least I felt like it. We ran close to each other at around 4:10 min/km pace. Going faster was either not possible because we were too tired or we both were waiting for the other to do his move. We ran together until we were 500 mt from the end. There was a small slope there, very muddy and slippery and he lost his momentum and slowed down a lot. I overtook him and he shouted “Go go! You won!”
I saw another guy in front but it was impossible to think to accelerate at that point and just enjoyed the feeling of crossing the line and finishing my first trail race.

I finished in 14th place, 6th in my category, in 1 hour and 26 minutes. It’s a result I am really proud of as I gave it all and loved every second of it. I hope this is the first of many. I will definitely go back to do this one next year.

For some stats have a look at Strava.

Cannot wait to do more. My next race is a full marathon! Unless I find another race to do before then 🙂