Thursday, 23 May 2013

North Downs Way 50 race report (original title that!!)

My final race before Western States in June was the North Downs Way 50 this past weekend. Organised by James Elson at Centurion Running it promised to be a great race on what is fast becoming my favourite trail. I knew the route well having run it twice before in 2011 and 2012 as part of the NDW100.

The 50 mile route boasts around 5,000ft of vertical gain with the second half having a fair proportion of this. So good training for WSER. The route starts in Farnham, Surrey and finishes in Knockholt Pound in Kent. I drove to the start in the morning having filled up on one of my primal omlettes. I was feeling good about the race and judging from last years time was aiming for a top 10 finish and going under 8 hours. The plan was also to try and run as even a paced run as possible. That didn't happen!! ;-)

This was also my first race as a sponsored ultra runner! :-D Just days before the race Buff confirmed me as a new member of Team Buff UK. I had been speaking to their head of marketing Sarah over the past few weeks having met her at the ElliptiGO ride event in Hyde Park. I enquired about sponsorship opportunities and followed up with an email to Sarah explaining what I have coming up in the way of events and the exposure this could bring the brand. A bit cheeky but worth a shot right! And it worked :-) There are quite a few other UK ultra-runners on the team including Sarah Gardner-Hall who is absolutely smashing it right now including a win (outright) at the 8hr Hellrunner race a few weeks ago.

So the pressure was on to perform for my new team at the NDW50 which certainly added something extra to my approach to the race and hence why I was not only thinking about time but positioning as well. As a result the early miles as well as my average pace for the first half was higher than I had intended but I wasn't willing to let too many people past. And more besides it was FUN!!

I led off from the start line with race favourite Craig Holgate who won the Thames Path 100 in 2012 in a little over 15 hours! So clearly in a different league to me. I understand Craig's also a 2:3# marathon runner so he has a lot of speed and endurance. We exchanged pleasantries in the first mile which was run at a 7:30 pace before I consciously decided I had to slow my pace down a little. So I let Craig and a few others past and found myself in I think around 12th place as I settled into a more sustainable pace. And this is how it stayed for much of the first half. I hit the first aid station in 8 minute mile pace and felt good. I knew I would be slowing a little in the second half of the race but I hoped by not too much and wanted to keep my average pace below 9 mpm for the total distance.

Much of the first half of this race up to Box Hill can be best described as undulating. No massive climbs to speak of really, and what there was, is over pretty quicky. The trail is sandy in parts but most definitely very runnable.

The longest downhill section on the whole course is the approach to Box Hill that descends past Denby's Vine Yard along a tarmac section and allowed me to catch and overtake 3-4 more runners. The stop at Box Hill aid station (24 miles - 3h:22m - 8:26 mile pace - 8th place) was very brief (as they had been at all the stations on route). A quick refill of my bottles and some fresh fruit, cherry tomatoes and some ham was off. No sweets, biscuits mars bars etc for Mr Primal! I've been sticking to the paleo diet for 3 months now and its working so well for me. Once refilled I headed up the 200+ steps to the top of Box Hill. It sounds pretty horrific having run almost a marathon but it really wasn't. I was surprised how quickly I reached the summit and took in the amazing views. I wish I had some photos to post but this was a race after all and so my phone was staying firmed tucked away in my chest pocket (for emergency calls only). There was one guy out there though who was managing to take plenty of photos. He would stop take a picture and then catch up and pass me with ease only to then stop again a mile or so further up the trail and take another snap! Great interval training! 

The first marathon completed in 3:44 went by so quickly it somewhat caught me by surprise that I had been running for that long. In that time I kept on top on hydration and nutrition taking on board a Nakd bar every 10 miles and regularly refilling my 2 water bottles one of which had GU brew electrolyte tabs in. Peach tea flavour! Yum.

The second half the race is far hilly than the first, and you definitely feel it too! However beacuse I knew the course so well by now I was simply able to focus on the next aid station and the trail ahead and really did enjoy every second. I did try and put in a conserted effort after Box Hill to pull away from those behind me as there was at least 4 or 5 runners that merged together whilst we huddled to eat and drink. It worked and I wasn't over taken in the second half by anyone from behind. However my pace was slowing from the intial 8 minute miling in the first half to the then 8:30 and slower. But then so was everyone else's too.

I hit the Caterham aid station (38 miles - 5h:41m - 8:58 mile pace) in 6th place (not that I knew that at the time) and had more fresh fruit - kiwi this time which tasted simply amazing!!! I was still moving well however knew that it would be difficult to hold the 9 minute mile pace that I was looking to average over the whole course. I was running with my Garmin so knew the score on that front.

The last 10 miles were just as enjoyable as the first as I thought to myself how much my running and fitness had progressed with the last 4 months of solid training in the build up to WSER. I could take a lot from that and was glowing with quiet satisfaction of a job well done. However the race was not over and there was still more to do. I power walked the long climb up to Botley Hill aid station which is the last one at 43 miles (fresh melon this time!) and was told that 4th/5th place were just one or two minutes ahead. This gave me some renewed focus as I set off after them. On a normal day making up this time over 7 miles sounds like a piece of cake, but the continued undulating terrain and the growing fatigue in my legs meant that whilst my mind wanted to catch them my legs were a little way behind. With 3 miles to go I spotted Nick and Emily who had been running together for much of the second half of the race. It wasn't that I hadn't seen them before as I had actually been running with them both earlier but their speed on the flat was a notch quicker than mine, but I always seemed to pull it back on the climbs. However they still had 400 metres or so on me which in the end proved too much to pull back.

The finish was great coming into Knockholt Pound village and swinging a left to be greeted by a few families out walking who clapped and cheered. I responded by blowing on my emergency whistle to more cheers. Then it was a short 200 metres further up the road into the village hall carpark and under the Centurion Running finish arch on the grass field behind.

Loved it! My finish time was 7:51.53 meeting my primarily goal of going sub 8hrs. Nick and Emily finished 3 minutes ahead of me with 3rd place Matt Smith just 7 minutes ahead. However 1st place went to race favourite Craig Holgate in an totally amazing 6:47!!! A full hour ahead of me!!! How!!!?? I had better continue training.... and with that its off to bed to get some well needed sleep before an early morning track session and site visit to Kidderminister.

Oh... one last thing.... In true sponsored althete style ;-) I have to thank my new sponsor Buff for being the coolest brand around and being willing to take a punt on Ultra Disco Stu - a young (read: middle-aged), passionate (read: obsessive) ultra-runner! I truly do love the Buff product which is why I got talking to their marketing manager in the first instance. Livin' the Dream!!

Some totally Buff pictures will be posted on this blog very soon so watch this space! My next post will be on my session at the Kingston University Heat Chamber which was on Tuesday... But I REALLY need to go to bed now.... zzzzzzz

Centurion Running NDW50 race report here

Official NDW50 race results here


  1. Well Done again Stu, this "achieving goals and targets" is hitting you with disturbing monotony :).... congrats again on a great finish. (Have been looking and following Marks Daily Apple for a while too - thanks for the link)

    Best of luck for WSER ... look forward to reading your report

  2. My final race before Western States in June was the North Downs Way 50 this past weekend. Organised by James Elson at Centurion Running it promised to be a great race on what is fast becoming my favourite trail.

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