The Centurion North Downs Way 100

The Centurion NDW100 was my second 100 mile race, having successfully finished SDW100 just a few months earlier. That first hundred had gone remarkably well so I was confident that I could repeat this on the North Downs. Aware that the NDW typically took an hour or two longer to complete I naively thought that I could push a bit harder than I had on my first hundred and so a sub-25 should be achievable and maybe even another sub-24, also this time I wasn’t going solo the whole way but had a pacer (my brother) to keep me motivated for the last 25 miles (the night section). A lot of the route is also familiar territory for me as the majority of my long training runs take place in the Box Hill area leading to more overconfidence.

As the SDW had been so successful I tried to keep everything the same: fuelling, hydration and kit. I did however have a new watch, a Garmin Fenix 3. I’d been training with the watch for about a month and was sure that I had it setup just right for navigation and pacing, but disaster struck just a mile into the race: the watch kept locking up so I wasn’t getting any info or notifications. After a lot of messing about it seemed that course navigation was the issue. With nav disabled the watch was back to giving me useful data again bar guidance for the route, which was only really a concern after Knockholt Pound as I didn’t know the second half. I just hoped that Centurion had done a good job of marking the course.

With that problem out of the way I could start running at relaxed pace and enjoy the course. It was a beautiful sunny day and fortunately I don’t suffer in the heat so I was making steady progress, sending regular updates to my family who were going to be at the top of Box Hill to cheer me on. I was really looking forward to seeing them 25 miles in and those 5 hours just flew by, reaching Box Hill about 10 minutes ahead of schedule and feeling great. A few minutes at the top chatting and then it was time to get going again so I departed shouting “see you in 50 miles!” to my brother. Not long after that my mood took a turn for the worse. This was down to me fixating on just how far that next 50 miles was. Reaching the aid station at Reigate was a big lift and suddenly the race didn’t seem quite so intimidating and I was once again able to break the race down and focus on getting to the next aid station.

The section from Reigate to Knockholt is a bit of a blur but I remember reaching Knockholt feeling good and appreciating fresh clothes from the drop bag and some hot food. The volunteers there were brilliant, taking care of your every need so I set off on the second half of the race feeling refreshed and strong. Things were still going well until darkness fell at around the 65 mile mark. At this point I was on a wide straight track so I took the opportunity to send a quick text message to my brother to tell him I was about 10 miles away from Bluebell Hill so he could start making his way to meet me there. Five minutes later I’m still on the same track but can’t remember the last time I saw any marker tape. Yep, I’d missed a turn, most likely whilst sending the text. Backtrack and eventually find my way up to the aid station on Holly Hill. Cue another downer – 10 miles in the dark until I saw my brother suddenly felt like a very long way. It was at this point that I started to struggle mentally – my pace was slowing and every time I calculated how long until Bluebell Hill it seemed it was even more time to go. Eventually the ETA did start getting closer and before long I was hiking up Bluebell Hill reaching the top a little after midnight.

I expected the final section to be quite straightforward, a pacer to keep me motivated, a course that looked easier – this was meant to be a doddle! Once we’d got past the climb out of Detling I was expecting a nice flat trail to the end but instead it felt like we were doing repeats up and down the stairs at Box Hill, so once again I was struggling as things were so much harder than expected. We battled on and finally made it to Lenham. By now the sky was starting to brighten and my mood lifted – not long to go now! The last 10 miles or so passed without incident and being flat I found it easy to have my brother to set a pace and just focus on following his heels. The final miles ticked away, so no walk breaks now, we’d almost done it. Into Wye and superb efficiency from the volunteers at the end supplying drop bags and bacon rolls made for a happy finish.

The race was so much harder than I’d expected and left me questioning whether I wanted to do any further races of this length. Just a couple of weeks later and I’m already planning the calendar for 2016 and naturally it’s got an even tougher 100 in it. This ultra lark is addictive, isn’t it?