Monday, 31 August 2009

Garden of England

Kent is known as the garden of England apparently. Believe it or not there is some good running to be had round there over the North Downs. I tried (and failed) to persuade Mark to come down here in June to run the North Downs 30k so when he agreed to come down and stay with us for August Bank Holiday I had to find somewhere for us to do a race (family permitting of course!). I found this report: on the Pilgrim's way run and knowing how some of the runners down here tend to exaggerate the size of their hills I thought it would be worth a go; '3 miles of downhill', 'Those with experience of fell running came to the fore', 'Nearly half a mile of a narrow, uneven, near-vertical slope so brutal that almost everyone was forced to stop and walk up it'; I had to have a look!

In preparation we had a nice Indian and also downed a bottle of champers over the weekend. Me and Mark had been out for a jog Saturday morning, my knee has been worrying me the past few days so I used this run as a tester. I have been preparing for the Ben race since Borrowdale and have managed 40+ miles a week through August (a lot for me!) but I think the mileage is taking its toll. I felt it would be OK for the race anyway so we set off for deepest Kent early Sunday.

Leaving the M20 there were some surprisingly good views, I have done the North Downs 30K a few times now but never ventured this far South of London in the car before. OK it isn't the Highlands but it was still refreshing to see. We parked up and registered with plenty of time for some warm ups. I did a few laps of the Rugby field along with the kids, they set off for another lap as the runners were called to the start. I found it quite funny that the start would be marked by setting off a cannon which none of kids knew anything about; it made a huge racket and recoiled about 4m as we set off. The kids were on their way back from another lap of the field and nearly jumped out of their skin!

My plan was to start near the front and just run as fast as I could for an hour or so, not much of a plan but I thought my (relatively) faster downhills would make up for the usually poor uphills. We hadn't left the field and the 10 or so people in front of me had already gone wrong, trying to exit through the car park gate! Anyway we passed the clubhouse and out onto a country lane where it wasn't long before the '3 miles' of downhill started. This was great fun, quite a narrow gravelly track and we flew down here, there were a few treading carefully but everyone else went hammering past eyes wide open looking out for the ruts and tree roots.

After a while the ground leveled out and the track undulated along the hedgerows for a while. I was feeling OK and as expected one or two others passed me here but I managed to keep the pace up and on reaching the water station was still on the lookout for the 'killer climb'. I don't usually take on water in short races but decided to take a few sips with it being so warm. It was just after here that we started the ascent onto the North Downs. Taking the race report as a challenge I wasn't going to walk any of the route, a couple of those that had passed me earlier walked briefly at this point and a few more came powering past me. I was just getting into a rhythm when the ground levelled off and we were on the North Downs! This was familiar ground for the next few miles being common with the North Downs Run, we passed a marshall who was counting places; he told me I was in 18th. This spurred me on so I picked up the pace and caught the couple I could see in front, knowing that it was nice flat track through the woodland for a while and then another fast downhill.

After that it was tarmac for a while and the lead lady passed me, for some reason I had it in my head that there was another big hill before the finish. The route then became another stony track which was a gradual incline, I managed to stay with the guy in front and almost felt sorry for him; I am not keen on hearing someone right behind me in a race. At the end of the track we came out onto more tarmac, the runner I was with asked the policeman blocking the road how far and he said about another mile.

That did it for me, I was still feeling good so tried not to let anyone else pass. There was another brief hill in the road where the girl who had caught up passed me but as soon as I figured out where we were and realised the finish was just up the road I sped up and passed her again on the finish field. Lisa was shocked to see me so soon after the leaders had finished, my time was 1h03m(ish) about 8 mins behind first place. I was chuffed to come in 17th place, much higher up the field than the fell races I am more used to running, probably due to this race being on terrain similar to that where we now live as opposed to the fells where I would like to!

Mark had a good run and crossed the line 16 mins later in 87th place with another 95 runners still left to cross the line after him.

In the end it was a good race and one I would definitely do again, maybe try and beat the hour now I know the route.

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