Just before my last marathon in Istanbul I decided that as it would be almost 4 months before my next I decided needed a run in between them that wasn’t just training. Of course it couldn’t be a marathon or my A to Z project would be spoilt, and I wanted more than a half. Searching around I came across this run/race/walk. I had no previous knowledge of it (nor had my immediate running family) nor of the Long Distance Walkers’ Association (LDWA) who organise it. The Winter Tanners seemed to fit my requirements perfectly, a run that would be challenging yet not too daunting (I had toyed with the idea of Country to Capital but accepted that 45 miles was just too far…at present). It was close to home, would give me hills, tick the ‘ultra’ box I felt I should do and the timing was exactly half-way between two marathons. As one who is used to paying sometimes high entry fees for road marathons, the LDWA events are a welcomed money saver. This would have cost non-LDWA members £20 but after paying the annual membership of £13 it was just £4.
After getting used to road marathons, I was very apprehensive as the day approached. I had no real idea what to expect. Of course time on ultras doesn’t matter (but I did want to finish before it got dark). Weather could be the real problem, two years previously it had to be postponed because snow prevented marshals from reaching checkpoints. A week before this year’s race storms were forecast to cross the country, and it could have been very difficult. However when the day arrived we could not have wished for better conditions, sunny with clear blue skies, little wind and reasonable temperatures.
Having followed my ultra-running daughter Cat at many races I was looking forward to being able to run and eat, but with my gluten free requirements I knew there wouldn’t be a lot available for me. So I made sure I had supplies with me (“he’s got enough food to feed a small country” tweeted my daughter). In the end I ate very little of what I had taken, just a few squares of Waitrose caramel crispy bites. I did grab a handful for jelly babies at the first checkpoint, nachos at the second and a couple of pieces of banana at the third. I was also carrying a bottle with electrolyte and 2 small chocolate milks but only drank a couple of mouthfuls of one of the later. I did have the lemon squash at the first 2 checkpoints and coffee at the third. Also I had none of the gels I would usually have for marathons.
The big difference between this and any other race I have done was the ‘self navigation’. When dropping into the Run to Live shop in Leatherhead a couple of days before the race (I had gone over just to see how easy the instructions were to follow) they did confirm there was no signage on the course, it really was necessary to follow the detailed instructions. This is an example of them for just the first 1.7 miles.
From the pavilion entrance, facing the football pitch, TR twice to pass the pavilion on R & tennis/netball courts on L. At fence corner TL to keep courts on L. In 20Y TR on tarmac path thru treeline then TL along tarmac FP. When tarmac ends TR on XTK (FiPo HAWKS HILL). In 275Y ahd over railway & waterworks drive, & cont ahd across grassy area (shortcutting BW). Join TK from L & swing R uphill. At top of field FL & keep ahd to go thru gap in hedge & TL on BW. In 650Y cross busy RD (A246) WITH GREAT CARE & along drive opp which immed turns R past gate. In 75Y FR to pass small grass triangle on L. Cross concrete drive & tarmac pathway to cont ahd on BW with hedge on R. In 950Y pass brick barn on L & in 40Y ahd over XTK.
Runners were not supposed to start before 8.30 (looking at last year’s results many did start at exactly this time), which was my aim. But there was no official starting gun/klaxon, you just wonder up, present you card to be scanned and begin running. There was no runners waiting when I arrived at the start, so off I went. Cat started running with me, not as part of the race, just to keep me company for a while, take a few photos and do bit of gentle running before Country to Capital next week. Navigation wasn’t a problem before the checkpoint at 7.9 miles, there were always walkers or early departure runners ahead. Cat only ran to this point and my son Ed, who had decided use my run to do a day’s hill work on his bike, was waiting there. I started navigating, when I was ‘alone’ after this point, and was concerned on a couple of occasions when I had runners behind me but not visible in front, in case a took a wrong route, I didn’t want to be responsible for leading others astray. Before navigation became hard I caught up with a group of runners containing Tara Williams. I didn’t know of this doyen of the LDWA but it soon became clear that she was known to (almost) everyone else. Famed for walking every single step of the SDW100 in 2012 in 26:37 and her Harley Davidson passion, because it was my first LDWA event she allowed me a navigation ‘free pass’ so I could concentrate on watching where I was actually putting my feet rather than wondering if they were going in the right direction. Thank you Tara, one day I look forward to being like you!
The second checkpoint at 17 miles came and went, again Ed was waiting for me. The terrain of this first half hadn’t been too difficult, there had been some very muddy stretches and of course some hills but nothing as precipitous as the ones in the second half. The first was 26k in, after turning off Moon Hall Road Ewhurst where the gradient 21.6% and then over the Abinger Roughs at 37k where we hit 26.2%. Fortunately Tara was caring of those in her charge, and readily walked allowing us to keep with her (but she can walk bloody fast) and so not get lost. As the miles ticked by I was more aware that Dave Ross, who I knew was starting after me, surprisingly hadn’t yet passed us. This was a special event for Dave, his 100th ultra and despite his penchant for taking the odd wrong turn I really had expected him to have steamed past before the 38k when he did appear. Bizarrely it was just after this point that we found difficulty with the directions, we certainly did not find the ‘right fork’ only a ‘right turn’. Again Tara knew the trails/tracks so rather than carrying straight onto checkpoint 3 and arriving from the wrong direction, in order that we didn’t miss out on the ‘correct’ elevation we went down and along and up Steers Field to the checkpoint.
Hot tea/coffee and bananas/dates were available at the 25.7 mile mark, then it was the simple and quite fast homeward stretch, passing Tanners Hatch, the YMCA hostel after which the race is named. However my body seemed to know when I was over the 26.2 mile stage, because as soon as we had finished quite a fastish slightly downhill section and began a walking ascent my Adductor Magnus cramped. I did lose contact with the group as I modified my walking style, high steps with the offending leg worked and I was ready to run for the rest of the course and catch up the others. Towards the finish we were travelling back along the route we had started on 6 hours earlier. At the busy A246 I was ready and able to sprint when there was a small gap between the fast moving cars then it was downhill to touch in and finish at the pavilion, and my first ultra was over.
And what did I think? The whole experience was brilliant, running through the countryside that I have lived so close to for 30 years yet never really appreciated. The terrain was fun, the views stunning and everyone I met so friendly; and with the easy pace chatting was easy. I will certainly be running more ultras (wish I had an entry to one day of The Pilgrims), and look forward to increasing my distances.
Distance: 49.1 km
Official time: 6:26
Position: 45/209 starters/200 finishers/but how many of these ran rather than walked?)
Moving time (Strava) 5:59:57)