The North Downs Way 100 mile trail run covers a 9,930ft climb and an overall elevation change of 20,000ft. Making this one of Centurion's toughest events on the calendar. Today will be my 2nd attempt in trying to complete the route.
The morning is still cool but very damp, with the humidity rather high. Already I am heating up and my clothes start to feel clamy and wet.
Dusting myself off and heading downhill with caution.
8hrs and 50mins has passed. I refill my water and grab my drop box, turning down the offer of hot food from Solange who is part of the team here. I eat light when running ultra, and most who know me will understand how I can run very long hours without crashing or needing to eat. I have become very fat adapted the past year and follow a No Sugar No Grain lifestyle. Which not only stops the need of snacking but keeps my metabolism fueled in 5th gear all day and when running.
I let Sunday and Mum know I am just changing my clothes and freshening up.
I start to spot a few other runners here and there as they slow their pace. I pick up where I can and gradually overtake, increasing my position. At a guess I am now around 15th place but not sure.
The path leads out and onto another long stretch of road that meets the countryside, heading towards Bluebell Hill. The climb is steady and windy. It's much cooler so I put on my arm sleeves for now.
I top up with my salts and then eat on some cheese and my nut/seed mix. From the flat and busy suburban roads to the great open fields and track, it is quite the contrast of scenery on this 10 mile leg.
I enjoy my music and let my mind drift off, thinking of the finish later, and whether I can make it in sub 18 hours? checking the time it looks unlikely and I won't have a true idea until reaching 80 miles. I also need to keep the aid station stops to a minimum...
I get my number checked in and a hot black coffee with the team.Some water and a refill to my bladder. I feel ok without the fuel for now and just have a few sips of coffee and cream that Sunday managed to track down at a nearby coffee house. I have a few olives from John and pack some more cheese.
I spot Will and John cheering us inside and they come in to help assist us.
15hrs and 51mins has passed. So we head outside to make our way back on the route. Goodbyes and thanks to everyone. John is now joining me on this leg so I run along side with him.
He keeps me focused by talking about the day and the running I have planned later in the year, which is a clever distraction. He holds the gates open and helps me over the styles. He even moves large stones and branches away from the track for me and the other runners behind us.
A couple of miles along the trail and through woodland again before reaching those steps everyone talks of at Detling.... I wish I hadn't looked up, but you do, you always do...
I stop half way for a salt capsule and more water. Breathing in the night air. The rain is in the clouds already, I can feel it approaching...
What feels like a huge climb actually passes soon enough and I think with company it really wasn't as bad as I was expecting, so is a bonus. We are very high up in the hills and can see the twinkling lights of Thurnham and Hollingbourne down the valley.
The trail runs fairly straight on the edge of the hills and at one stage leads round a few bends, confusing us. Apart from our head torches guiding the track below, there is no way of seeing anything ahead in the distance. We go off ever so slightly but soon realise our error.
At Hollingbourne Hill and 88 miles into the route we reach the Pilgrims Way and a long stretch of flat road until approaching Lenham at 91 miles. The road is tiresome on my legs and they ache more than when on the trails, but it is also good to pick up the pace and just run on auto pilot...
We hug her and she helps to refill my water and makes some black coffee. I nibble on a few nuts and melon and spot avocado that Jacqui made up. I tuck into some, and we chat how it has been today. I joke that I need to make it by midnight, but now know this is out of the question. Jacqui asks if I am worried of turning into a pumpkin, then treads on my toe. Which I later found out, but do not recall any of this, it is all rather blurred and like looking back to a dream.
I am sure all this running long distance is like being on an acid trip...
John says we are ready and need to get moving, I remember that part. Thanking Jacqui and all the team, we head back along the Pilgrims Way towards Charring.
I can see a few spotlights ahead and slowly we see it is two runners, the first I have seen since Bluebell hill, You can tell which one is racing as he has an awkward shuffle scuffing his feet.
The road is so long and without many bends, rocky and uneven in places then a steady incline. Few miles later I have a slight lull all sudden and eat some pine nuts and coconut chips, along with another salt capsule, in the hope it lifts my spirits. I let John do the talking and just follow him...
At about 95 miles we approach Sunday and Will parked up ahead along the lane. Feeling better and a few mouthfuls of coconut water, some olives and cheese, washed down with coffee, that is now cold. I start to feel perkier again.
Sunday is happy to take over again and we will see Will and John at the finish. Almost there, but not before the rain starts. It comes down so fast and hard, I am soaked before I even get my jacket on. We say bye for now and carry on down the road.
The road stays much the same and smoother. A runner approaches in the other direction to come chat with us, I am confused if he is to pace someone and still waiting or just out to cheer the runners.
Turns out he is part of the team at the next aid station and came up the lane to meet us.
Nice chap, but I cannot place his name or remember much of the conversation.
Up and over another field and through high brambles and stinging nettles, Sunday shouts out in discomfort as the nettles sting his legs, I feel them but not so much through my tights. I look for another track but we are so deep into the growth it is impossible to see over them.
Once out I check he is ok. The rain is some relief but not much for him.
Lights can be seen and signs onwards to Wye, the finish. My Garmin has already died so I cannot guess how many miles are left. I think Sunday is bored with me asking how much further do you think?
My phone gets soaked even in my waist pouch and the Runkeeper paused without me realising it.
I was expecting an endless road with houses all asleep but soon enough lights from the station can be seen and a few spectators in the road waiting. We can see Will and he runs with us to show us the way. He stops to clap once we see the Centurion flags and I run around the village hall to the finish line with a slightly surprised team waiting...
I hug Nici and it takes a moment before she notices it is me.
At last the day is over and 102 miles accomplished. I finally made it through the North Downs Way, after two years on my to do list. My 4th 100 miler to date and 5 times of running 100+ miles.
It is so good to get another buckle and complete the Centurion set. A shame it is not in one year to qualify for the Grand Slam but I am so pleased I have experienced all four.
I came in 8th place in the end which was a nice surprise as my pace started to slow with all the climbing and technical terrain.
North Downs is most certainly the hardest 100 I have run but also the best with my outlook and how I was feeling throughout...
I would like to thank all my wonderful crew and support:
Sunday, John, Will, Mum, Dad, Steve, Tina, Sam and messages from Helen.
The fantastic team and volunteers that make Centurion events even better every time:
James Elson, James Adams, Nici Griffin, Edwina, Paul, Alma, Karen, Solange and Jacqui
Katherine finishes yet another 100 as 2nd female.
180 runners joined the starting line in Farnham and 70 runners did not finish along the way.