Written by John Lovenberry - https://johnlovrunning.wordpress.com
Last year (2016) on a bit of a last minute whim I ran the Hermes North Downs Way marathon. I completed it but the course absolutely broke me. It was by far my worst ever marathon finish (just under 6 ½ hrs) and I vowed that I would go back and get my revenge. So when my email pinged one afternoon telling me that a Waitlist spot had become available for the Centurian North Downs Way 50, I was both excited and very apprehensive at the same time. I had never run further than 31 miles, so 50 was a big step up and I knew how hard the NDW could be. But I thought what the hell let’s do this.
Fast forward 2 months, there I was standing in a school hall in Farnham, listening to James, the race director, telling 250+ very fit looking runners and me that the course was actually just over 50 miles but you can see the finish about a mile before you get to it.
We were then walked down to the glamourous start next to the a31 and the race started at 8am precisely. I stayed at the back where I knew I belonged, plodding along happily. I knew I was in for a long day and had no intention of pushing myself at any point. My race plan was to pretty much use every bit of the 13 hour cut off.
The first few miles went by quickly. I fell into a good groove, walking all the uphills even from the very start. The first half of the race is notoriously much easier than the second so I knew I needed to keep as much in the bank as I could. I rolled into the first aid station at Puttenham (7.8miles) feeling good. I grabbed a couple of jelly babies, high fived Stuart March the race photographer and cracked on, knowing that in a few miles a treat awaited.
The bacon barge has become quite infamous at the Centurian NDW races and as I came down the hill to the river Wey, there they we’re, 2 sumo wrestlers handing out bacon sandwiches and potatoes wedges.
I grabbed a handful of wedges and was handed my sandwich, which I tucked into straight away, knowing that the hills were about to start.
St Martha’s hill and Newlands corner are the first big climbs of the race and both felt good.
I knew that it was relatively flat for a good while after leaving the Newlands corner aid station (14.8 miles) so I took some time to eat a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and the best satsuma I’ve ever eaten. I pushed on.
I actually found the next section quite difficult, it is the longest section between aid stations at 10 miles and it is all through woods, so it actually got a bit boring. I was also starting to get tired and as I descended through Denbies vineyard I actually started getting some pain in my hips, but I pushed on to the Boxhill aid station. My aim was to get there within 5 hours which I did, just. I took about 15 mins rest here and ate as much as I could.
Boxhill steps… 270 steps… After 24 miles… Were actually ok. I know these steps quite well, so I felt quite strong on them, but the next 7 miles hurt. This section between Boxhill and Reigate was definitely the hardest of the race. The course twists and turns. There’s steps and climbs and hard descents on slippery chalk paths and it’s topped off by climbing up Reigate hill. I rolled into the Reigate aid station about 25 minutes behind schedule.
I pushed myself quite hard down the hill from the aid station hoping to make up time and this is where the wheels really fell off. I got to the bottom of the hill, pretty much to exactly where the NDW marathon finished and I felt like giving up. I questioned what the hell I was doing. Was I mad? I’ve given up a whole day with my family to do this! The next few miles dragged. I toyed with idea of dropping at the next aid station. I didn’t even know if I would make the cut offs. The climb up out of Merstham was a very slow plod but it flattened out at the top and I managed to keep some sort of pace for a while.
I rolled into Caterham aid station feeling a bit better. I looked at my watch.
It said 16.59.
What? My plan was to get here at 17.00 how the hell had that happened. I was bang on target pace. Suddenly I felt amazing. I only had 12ish miles left and I had 4 hrs to do it in.
I was going to do it.
I left Caterham with a spring in my step. I knew parts of the next section and the familiarity was comforting. I knew I only had one major climb to go, Botley Hill. I had walked up it a couple of weeks before so I knew what was coming. Just get through Oxted common and I’m good.
I’m sure Botley was twice as long as it was when I walked it. It seemed to go on forever, but as I reached the top I could hear people shouting my name in encouragement which gave me a nice boost. I grabbed some fruit at the aid station and went on my way. 7ish miles to go with 2 ½ hrs to do it in.
I was still running, downhill at least, So I managed to make some good time for a few miles. There were a few sneaky hills to contend with but I still felt ok. The last few miles just seemed like endless field after field and not knowing exactly where the finished was, dampened my spirits somewhat. I had a quick facetime call with my son, to say good night, which gave me a nice little boost.
I watched 50 miles tick over on my watch and I still hadn’t seen the finish line. But then suddenly there it was. Over the field to the left. Brilliant, 1 mile to go. A small loop around the village of Knockholt Pound and there it was, right in front of me. The finish.
I did it 51.2 miles 12hrs 40 mins.
What an amazing experience, if you ever get the chance to do a Centurian race do it.
Huge thank you to the organisers and the amazing volunteers.