North Downs Way 50
Some brief thoughts on the Centurion 50 mile race on the North Downs Way, which I completed in May 2019:
- The NDW50 runs from Farnham in Surrey to Knockholt on the Kent-London border across 51 tough hilly miles. Tough not so much because of the distance or the steep hills (though these are definitely significant) but because of the nature of much of the trail – a lot of woodland, heavily loaded with sizeable roots in places, and narrow or overgrown paths. And steps in multiple places, leading steeply up and down.
- The course is great. Similar in some ways to the South Downs with big rolling hills affording immense views, but varied terrain – the aforementioned woodland, farmland, bits of road through pretty, very well-heeled villages, and even some proper sand which I wasn’t expecting (nor could I work out where it came from).
- As usual for Centurion, the organisation was impeccable - brilliant aid stations full of enthusiastic volunteers, encouraging, cajoling and kicking your butt back out there where necessary. The penultimate station even had a small keg of beer (tempting…but I was mentally locked in on the finish by that point). It felt like a party at times. Lots of good chat with fellow runners too.
- Similar to how I’ve been in other races my body and mind peaked and troughed and peaked again like the fiendish hills I was running on. I know the drill by now. Over the first 15 miles everything felt stodgy and tight (too much pizza the previous evening?). Then came ten fantastic miles where I flew along. This was followed by 5 really challenging ones (coinciding with Box Hill and friends). Finally, pretty good again for the remainder. In general, though, I had a consistent race – I ran every runnable part of the course right to the end, just hiking the steeper climbs, which I’d always planned to do. So, all in all, pretty pleased with that.
- That said, finally coming down off the Downs and seeing the finish line was superb. Realising that, due to the sadistic course design, it was still a good mile or so away was less superb. But at least it was all downhill…until the very end where it kicks up into the finish and a large cheering crowd, along with a very welcome (veggie) hot dog and the largest medal I’ve ever seen – far bigger than the buckle I got for the SDW100 last year.
- An excellent race on a pretty tough course. Coming off the back of a reasonable amount of racing already in 2019 (this was the second ultra on top of two standard marathons in a handful of months – a lot for me), I was perhaps a bit casual in my approach to this one – partly because I was trying to balance recovery but also because I guess I didn’t really consider this to be an ‘A-race’ (as the Americans say) – just an opportunity for a good day out in a beautiful part of the world. I certainly did enjoy it, but I think in an ideal world I would have put in a bit more hill training that I actually did. Still, life is full and time is limited. I did enough.
- I finished 54th in 9:13 (no podium nonsense - that came later in the summer). Centurion put on a 100 mile version which I might be tempted by for 2020, assuming I come through the Spine Challenger first without breaking body or mind…we shall see.
- Bonus tidbit (apologies if you are squeamish): Having lost both big toenails on the South Downs last year but had them grow back beautifully over recent months, I stubbed both feet HARD on those blinking roots early in the race. Now both nails are black again and, I fear, not long for this world. The wife despairs…