Monday, 10 January 2011

Winter Tanners 30

My first long run/race report of 2011 and it's always nice to start the year off as you mean to go on. This was the Winter Tanners which is a LDWA event and the first one I have taken part in (but definitely not the last). My friend Nick (Ham) travelled down from Stockport for this one too, with his brother Julian also joining us and my dad. A real rarity for me to actually run in an ultra and not travel down and run on my own. Nick and I had entered the 30 miler whilst Julian and my dad opted for the 20.

A good hearty bowl of porridge and maple syrup set me up for the day with my homemade energy bar packed in my backpak to fuel me through the race. It was a cold frosty start with the four of us wearing a variety of layers to keep the cold at bay. Nick obviously knew what was to come out there as he donned a pair of water proof sealskin socks (not real seal skin I should add!).
Myself, Nick, Julian and dad
The first 8.9 miles were the same for both distances but it was soon apparent and expected that Nick and I would be going at a slightly faster pace than the others. Being an LDWA event the other unusual aspect of the start is that you are free to decide when you start between 7:30 and 9:30. We aimed to start at 8:30 (having got up at 5:30), and at 8:28 we were on the line ready for the off. Such planning! We exited from Leatherhead car park in the town centre and headed South out of town and along a busy main road (a diversion of the route due to the height of the River Mole which meant we couldn't run along the river bank). We were soon off onto the trails though with route description and map in hand to guide us on our way. The route description was very thorough and described every aspect of every turn (sometimes in perhaps too much detail which left you wondering if the 'right then immediately left' described was actually just straight on).

It wasn't very long until we hit the first major climb in Mickleham Woods. It was a walker, as were many other ascents on this route. It's no surprise as the route goes around and through Box Hill country park which is the venue for the only fell race in the South of England! We didn't actually tackle the steepest part of Box Hill though.

The weather was very kind to us with the sun shining and not a cloud in the sky. Nick and I continued on our way at around a 9-10 minute average pace on the flats and considerably slower on the ascents. Despite the sun being out it was far from dry under foot. Some fields were extremely sodden with thick shoe sucking mud in places with it impossible to keep dry feet (except for Nick who was loving his sealskin socks!).

There were 3 checkpoints on the 30 mile route with CP1 at 9 miles. We were greeted with a table full of biscuits including fig rolls which I went straight for. Three of them in fact!! Time to fill up the water bottle too, however I was surprised to see that I had hardly touched a drop in 9 miles of running. Not too clever but the cold doesn't really prompt you to drink too much. I made a note to self however to conciously drink far more on the second section.

I felt we were making good and steady progress, but without racing. I was running within myself, but this was how I wanted to approach this race anyway. It wasn't a race and the LDWA instructions actually stated as much. This definitely took any pressure off that one could feel the need to perform to their limits. It was the first event of the year and I was there to enjoy it and take in the scenery. Easier said than done though when you are concentrating on both your footing and the route description. Because of the level of detail you had to keep your place on the notes to avoid losing your place. I took to reading them out loud which helped to take them in and visualise the next turn or landmark.

Nick tackling Leigh Hill
 Time was flying by and we were having a blast (I'm sure I can speak for both of us - although you may want to check Nick's race report too to see if he agrees!). The next major landmark and section of route that I can recall is the climb up to Leigh Hill Tower. Another walker for sure!

This was the busiest part of the whole route with many folk out enjoying the wonderful sunshine, blue skies, and scenery. Although I'm not sure the many mountain bikers we saw out were there for the views. Some of the trails would of been a blast to ride.

Leigh Hill Tower
We stopped briefly for some tourist photos in front of said tower then decended down to arrive at CP2. This would be the main stop to refuel as CP3 was just 5 miles from the finish. Time for the homemade energy bar full with energy packed seeds (including the almost magical Mexican Chia seed!!), banana, dried fruit, and oats. I filled by bottle which this time was almost empty with my SIS energy powder mixed with water. And we were off. 17 miles down, just 13 to go.

It was the next section that Nick and I both lost our concentration and position on the route notes. Less than a mile after the checkpoint, having being following the group ahead of us I couldn't pick up where we were on the notes or the map. Those in front didn't know either. Looking at the map now (as I write this) I'm unsure why we couldn't work it out. It was a straight track that we needed to stay on for 1km or so, however the notes confused matters somewhat by making it sound far more complex than need be. There was a road to our right which I could see on the map so not knowing our exact position we decided to follow the road ahead and hope we hadn't already missed our turn. At the next junction our new friends (2 chaps and their Husky dog) whom we had crossed paths with many times onroute were looking as confused as we had been. With the map out however I confirmed our location and we decided to take the right turn along the ajoining road which would then intersect the trail that we needed to get back on to. It worked and we were on our way. By this point many behind us had chosen to follow our lead along the road so there was quite a bunch of us by now running together.

There was a quick descent down Whiteberry Hill on uneven ground followed by a long winding climb back up and even higher around Coldharbour and Duke's Warren. I still had plenty of energy and was keen to press on a little. Nick was grateful for the walk up however which in turn gave me a chance to ease back and remind me that we weren't racing today.

I really don't remember too much about the next section. There were no doubt more ascents and descents, more sodden fields, more mud, but plenty more sunshine, good banter and smiles too, as we went about our business of completing this opener to the year.

Soon after the next major village/town of Westcott we steered a course North and could see to the top of the North Downs Way. That's where we were heading and it was straight UP! At first a few fields gradually ascended but once over the railway which was one of those traditional STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN ones (I love those - reminds me on being a kid again) it was a massive steep climb to the top where CP3 awaited us.

I pressed on figuring that the sooner I was at the top the sooner I would have the much promised hot cup of tea in hand that the organisers had laid on. The climb was well worth it both for the views as well as the tea and chocolate digestives. Nick opted for Coke to quench his thirst and give him the energy for the last 5 miles back to Leatherhead.

I received a text from my dad at CP3. Him and Julian had finished the 20 miler in under 5 hours. Way to go dad! This of course meant that we had one hour exactly to complete the remaining 5 miles to go under 6 hours. I thought it was doable although Nick had his doubts. We were refreshed and ready to give it our all. The next descent through Ranmore Common was a real blast and probably the best of the whole day. Long and fast with the breaks off! hehe. At the bottom was the much spoken of 'Tanners Hatch' - a youth hostel in a very old cottage that provides the name of this LDWA event. Not quite sure of its significance beyond that but I should look it up.

From here onwards it was a case of just keep going across more fields and mud. I felt we were still on for sub 6 but it would be very close.

The closer and closer we got the tighter and tighter the maths looked. The critical moment was when we came to cross the A246 which is a busy road with plenty of traffic. We had 1.5 miles to go and we had under 12 minutes to do it in. Nick knew he couldn't run that pace and said as much. I saw an opening in the traffic (30 seconds of waiting had felt like 5 minutes with the clock ticking) I crossed safety but Nick hesitated. I had an instant decision to make as I slowly starting running along the trail ahead. As I looked back I still couldn't see Nick and with a sub 6 all but fading I decided to press on ahead a go for it. I hope Nick doesn't think worst of me for leaving him. Someone should of reminded me this wasn't a race ;-)

I was running too fast to read the route notes and had no idea of the way so I relied on catching and passing those runners and walkers ahead of me to guide the way. Luckily it paid off and as I rounded a corner and recognised the road ahead I continued along, crossed the road and into the car park and finished in 5h:57m. My last mile was a 6:30. This wasn't a race and I didn't race it throughout but my competitive edge definitely kicked in at the end, and there is always something satisifying about ducking under the hour. Nick followed shortly afterwards, with dad and Julian waiting for us both at the finish.

Nick and I at the finish. A job well done!

We cleaned off and headed to the pub for beer and burgers! What a way to start the new year.


  1. aahhhh that was you that thundered past me in the latter section, we were a little more sedate enjoying the biscuits a little too much :-)

    I was the guy in Union Jack shorts if you remember

  2. haha remember you I do! yes was that towards the very end in the very last mile or so... I just posted on your blog before seeing your comment Jerry. Let's catch up on the next event. What do you have planned? I'm probably looking at the Lightning 12 in March as my next challenge. did it last year and it was ace!

  3. That's a really good report, Stu. You captured the day perfectly. I don't need to bother writing mine now. I'll just insert a link to yours ;-)
    I don't mind you blasting off for a sub-6. I knew there was no chance for me so there was no point you hanging back. I can't believe how fast you did that last mile.

  4. Really enjoyed my first ulta type event. Physio said I hadn't damaged my IT band too badly! Thanks to Julian who kept me going.

  5. fantastic race report. Missed it through injury but really enjoyed the Founders, the summer version.