Tuesday, 25 August 2015

North Downs Way 100.

The North Downs Way 100 race is reputed to be Centurion Running’s toughest footrace over a 100 mile course. It is 102.6 miles to be exact. Its starts in Farnham and makes its way all the way out over the Surrey Hills and on to finish at Wye in Kent.  The course follows the National Trail. It is a hilly route with steep climbs and steps including the ominous Detling steps after 82 miles, they are pretty tough after running the distance to get there. The course is quite challenging and demanding with an elevation of 9930 ft. or 3025 m.

I had some fears about this race and had read a few blogs. I had also managed to reach Bluebell Hill last year before dropping, just because my head was not in the right place. But a week before the event I put those fears aside and started to look forward to it. On registration day I was picked up from a nearby Travelodge by my friend and fellow Ultra runner Luke Ashotn and his Dad. It was nice to have the company on the way to the race start. I was feeling pretty good about the day ahead, so was Luke.  I asked if he had slept well and he said he had and he was ready to go. 
Looking relaxed @ Race Brief. Picture Luke Ashton.
We registered then waited for the race brief, I said hello to a few people - Mark Johnson and Big Cliff - friends I made from when I first got into running ultras. James gave the race brief; we would have an extra mile at the start due to a road being closed. This had only been discovered the night before, more miles for our money! The weather was going to be good with it in its 20's. We then made our way from the hall to the trail head, about 5 minutes’ walk. Time for me and Luke to take a picture. We wished each other well and Luke headed off to the front of the pack.
My plan for the race was firstly to finish and secondly to enjoy and have no big expectations on myself. Being in the Grand Slam and having DNF’d here last year there was a fair bit at stake. Also Donna said we could not go on holiday if I dropped! I was looking forward to having a break after this. I was aiming for an average 12 minute mile pace to start with. 

The first Aid station was Puttenham at 6.8 miles. I settled into a nice easy pace, watching others overtaking and speeding off.  The weather was warming up and it was quite humid. I arrived at Puttenham feeling good in around 70 minutes. I topped up my water and moved on. I had a couple of niggles coming into today, peri formis had been playing up and one of my achilles was a bit inflamed. So far I had no problems with either.
Aid Station 2 Newlands Corner at 14.7 miles in Guildford as I make my way to there I start one of the first and many hills at around 11 miles. We ran past St. Martha’s Church. In the Woods here we were greeted by a cheerleader jumping about with pom-poms.

Early Morning Cheer leader.
The Woods before St Martha's Church.

The third Aid Station is Box Hill 24.6 miles, the heat has risen and the day is becoming hot. To get to the aid station we had to run along the road then through a subway, as I run along I see Mark and Cliff wave to me from the other side of the road. The whole day we would  pass each other. I arrive at Box Hill in the shade of the aid station. There was ice and plenty of food. It was good to see Brigitte Groves, fellow runner and one of the ladies who regularly volunteers. The temperature was affecting people and we were all feeling the heat. I had a quick nibble, drank and rubbed some ice round my neck. 


Next were the stepping stones and across the stream. It would have been lovely to take a dip here, the water looked so clear and inviting in the heat of the day. The climb up from here was fairly hard going. Box Hill is described as a summit, the highest point being Betchworth Clumps at 174 metres. I passed the Salomon’s Memorial.  It was not too bad, but I was glad to get the top.  However I was going through water like no one’s business. And 2 - 3 miles from Reigate hills I was struggling. I was feeling sick to my stomach and was finding it impossible to run. I started to dry heave when I did run. I had to have a couple of pit stops for loo breaks along the way. I was dehydrated, my mouth was feeling very dry!

Making my way to Reigate Hill there was a climb spread out over 2 - 3 miles.  It was hard going but with no water it was not easy. The sun was shining, it was too hot out of the shade.  At this point there are some woods as well as plenty of open trails. They were cooler and nice to run in. At the summit of the hill a guy turned up selling ice creams. I could murder one, but I had no money on me. I had bumped into Mark and Big Cliff who gave me some water, which was a life saver and helped me to start moving forward again.  I had been taking s-caps at regular intervals and I had been putting dyralites in my water.

Mark suggested at Reigate Aid Station 31.8 miles it would be a good idea to take some time and get some water in. It was a relief to get to Reigate, it was nice to see Alma Botes and Sunday. I was well taken care of and made sure I ate and drank. I said hello to Luke's dad and mum and asked how he was doing. Luke had added some extra mileage getting lost and had a fall. After some cheese and crisps I headed out again. I walked and ate before starting to run again. The time to drink and eat had made a big difference to my thoughts and being able to run again. I was to use this process many times later when I was struggling and having moments of despondency. Just get to next aid station eat and drink before making any decisions. It was the main reason I was able to finish.

Eating and drinking, Picture Sunday Odesanya.
After Reigate it was nice to have some downhill for a few miles. The going was good here. I was feeling hot but I was feeling good. Every now and then I would listen to music or just focus on what my body or breathing was doing to keep me focused and to keep me positive and moving.  After Reigate we crossed the M25 and M23.
Denbies Wine Estate.
Caterham was the next aid station,  mile 38. I had seen one of the ladies at the previous aid station as she topped my water up she asked how I was. I said better and I had got some good running in. She said I looked better than the last aid station. This was good for me to hear.  It had started to get a lot warmer now and I was sweating quite heavily. 

Sweating at Redhill.
The next aid station Botely Hill was at 43 miles. Making my way here I felt good as I ran along the NDW with the London Orbital to my right, I found myself on familiar ground briefly, part of the London 2 Brighton route. I thought of Mark Dean as I had run some of this route with him. I made good progress here and was feeling strong. 
 I knew I would soon be at Botely Hill as I was remembering quite a bit of the route from last year. There is a lovely climb although arduous in some woods. After the open trail the woods again were most welcome due to the shade. I made my way up the hill to the aid station followed by Mark and Cliff. We were all feeling the heat. I had a quick top up of water and was soon on my way again across the road and on to another tarmac road in the shade however. This part was again undulating and we were soon on trail.

It was a slow slog to Knockholt for the last couple of miles. I was feeling pretty good mentally, but the day’s heat had taken it out of me. I was looking forward to sitting down, which I have a habit of doing in the latter stages. I always waste too much time like this! I ate a pouch of baby food in the last mile as I wanted to cut down on time at Knockholt. The last mile to here was one of those that seem to go on! It was great to arrive and get a hug from Karen Webber and see the other people I know. I changed and checked my feet, they looked good. I had stubbed my toes on a number of tree roots and stones, but all looked well. After 20 minutes and a gentle nudge from Karen to get moving, I was off.

Out of Knockholt and straight into a hill having refuelled and having spoken to others, I was in good form. I remember last year running this bit so I did the same again this year. The natural slowdown in the second half is something I wanted to avoid as much as I could. There were others with me, this is always a good incentive for me to keep moving and not to start walking. This part of the route into Wrotham involves some road work. I went off course after a couple of miles; I soon backtracked and found the way I needed to go. There is quite a big ascent once out of a housing estate if I remember right, you go through an alley and are soon presented with a hill that does your back in due to its steepness. It has steps cut into it. But they do not help lessen the steep climb. I remember being here last year!

I arrived at Wrotham. This Aid Station was at the edge of a sports field, it was dark now, I sat and had a cup of tea. I changed my top as I could feel it was getting cooler. The sweeper bus was here picking up people that had dropped. Whilst here another runner made the decision that today was not his day. I tried to not sit for too long. I ate some food and was off again. I started to run as I had gotten cold. Along the Pilgrims Way I continued. Once out of some woods I saw the route went up into a field and off the road. As I was going through the  field, which ran alongside the road, I could see runners going  along the road. I thought to myself I have taken the harder option here. It was hard to see any marking tape. There was some type of party going on in a big garden with loud music. I spotted more tape which then ran out. I was getting a bit panicked about getting lost. I came out of the field following the natural direction I assumed the tape would be going, I was back on a road, and I could see no headlamps of any other runners. 
I headed up the road then decided to phone race HQ. I spoke to James, he said others had just phoned and I was heading in the right direction. I said to James there was a sign saying Colsplay Woods? he said that I would be going through here.  As I went up the road I saw tape in a field so I got back into it and followed a trail up a hill. It seemed like forever before I saw any tape again. I got my map and compass out, it was hard to see without my glasses. I found out where I was which was a place called Waterford Water, I was heading in the right direction.  I had wasted a bit of time now trying to locate my position, but it felt good that I could find out where I was. Nick Jones, my pacer, had been in touch to see where I was. When you get lost your mood can drop really quickly. It's a good idea to try and get on top of things and take control. Being able to use a map and find out where I was lifted my spirits, but also I could now see headlamps from others runners coming up the hill. As I came out of the woods there were some guys from Centurion Running coming out to mark the route again. I had noticed on route that some tape had been pulled down. Some people have nothing better to do! 

 I arrived at the next aid station which is Holley Hills at 65.6 miles. I was clapped in here.  At some point in the later stages of running a 100 mile race a number of things happen. One is that you lose all sense of time, so I had no clue what time I got here. I saw Mark, he said that he had been being sick and had felt disorientated and had told Cliff to go on. Mark was still talking about carrying on but when speaking to him I could see things were not quite right with him. The paramedic had advised him not to go on and one of the volunteers had given him a space blanket. I said to Mark he really needed to take that advice as he might risk causing himself some long term damage. He did, I am glad to say. It was time for me to get moving. As I left seeing Mark like that left me feeling troubled and concerned for him.

Now I was heading to Bluebell Hill at 76.2 miles, just over 11 miles. Last year this bit had finished me. Despondency and the hurricane Bertha is what led me to dropping. Nothing physically wrong with me, just mentally and I gave in to what was going on in my head. I was not going to let that happen this time. I had been focusing on positive things that made me happy if my head was turning to negative thoughts, but also listening to music. I normally only do this when training as I can find it irritating.  
There were a few of us grouped together and the later stages can see a game of cat and mouse going on. I like this, but it's also nice to have people around as this can be when things get tough and it’s nice to chat to others. Luke had texted me to say he had had to drop just before I got to Holly Hills, heat and his ankles had started to play up. He had dropped at Bluebell. I knew he would be in good hands there as the BOSH crew were there, Steve Amiet and Tina Amiet. Also John Fitzgerald was there. 
I had calculated in my befuddled head how long it was now going to take me to finish.  A silly thing to do! I had to push that aside. At this point I caught up with Cliff, he was finding things difficult and said he was finding it hard to make 3mph but he was going to carry on. I kept moving forward and soon arrived at Bluebell with Cliff not far behind. It was awesome to arrive here, see everyone and get some hugs and fantastic encouragement. Nick got himself ready while I refuelled with a cuppa soup, some bread then a coffee. I said my goodbyes to everyone and headed off.

As me and Nick headed off from Bluebell Hill I felt pretty good, this would be a new adventure for me having not been this far.  I was also aware that I had to keep moving forward consistently as we were getting close to the cut offs. It was good to have Nick's company as knowing you are close to the cut offs puts a bit of pressure on you. Having Nick along meant that from now on he took over. We had talked end of race strategy prior to the race. However Nick having paced me before on SDW 100 knew what to do to keep me going. We spoke for a while about how I had been doing and how others had done. Then the comfortable silence of getting the job done came. My tummy had been struggling for a while. I had run out of loo roll and desperately needed the loo. Nick had none either so unfortunately I had to stop and use my SDW 100 top. It was not too bad.  However I would later have to put this back on as the temperature rose.  I had to change as I was overheating, I smelt pretty awful anyhow by that time so it could not be any worse and I at least had the foresight to use the back which would not be seen. Sorry to all those that hugged me at the end.

The next aid station was Detling at mile 82. I remember a lot of steps on our way to Detling and thinking this must be the steps that people spoke about with reverence. I thought these are not too bad. Before we got to Detling we were greeted with a wonderful sunrise. It took us 2 1/2 hours to get to Detling. It was good to get here. I needed the toilet again; I made sure I took some loo roll away with me. At this point there were 20 runners behind me. I ate a little and took some gels. I do not normally take gels, but it was quick and easy. Eating sandwiches at this point in an ultra is like chewing on a blanket, it's time consuming. I ate and drank and what I could. 
As we were leaving Detling I was able to do the sums in my head, I believe it was 5.45am and we had 18 miles to travel. As I found out in the Aid station we still had the Detling Steps to contend with. Having taken 2 1/2 hours to do just over 6 miles I thought this is not going to happen. I said so to Nick; I was ready to give in. He said ‘it’s not over yet’. We started to run, or shuffle. I kept running and thinking we were making good time, but it was more of a shuffle. But forward we went! The decision I made was that I was going to keep moving until I was told to stop.  

Coming across Detling.

The DETLING Steps, I have heard about them many times. Only in experiencing them can you appreciate the difficulty of having to get up and over them after running for 82 miles. The first set I just power hiked up and caught Nick up, but then we had more. This was not too bad; I think the overall slower pace of the race had helped.  My positive mind-set for most of the race was standing me in good stead too. Nick was doing a fine job, he kept moving ahead of me. This kept me going.  The temperature was now rising and I was getting really hot. There were some spectacular views on this part of the route as there had been along the whole NDW. Getting to Lenham seemed to be taking forever and I asked Nick ‘how much further?’ It gave me a lift to see Jackie Byrne walking down the road. I was definitely shuffling because Nick said ‘how much further?’ and Jackie replied ‘5 minutes at that pace!’ It was also great to see Sharon Dickson, another BOSH member. We had made the cut off to here with time to spare. 
Picture Nick Jones.
We just had to get to Dunn Street now 7 1/2 miles away before 10.45am. I took some more gels and I took my tea to go. Nick wanted us to keep moving so that we could be comfortable with the last 4 miles and not have such a push. I agreed. I was now feeling pretty good, I was buzzing and every now and again I would well up with emotion knowing my Grand Slam dream was still alive. We had made good time on the hardest part of the course and with 82 miles in the legs and no sleep! I was looking forward to seeing my partner Donna.

There were bits of shaded woods which was a welcome relief from the sun that was getting incredible hot. Nick kept moving forward ahead of me. I had a few dry heaves along the way and just needed to stop and put my hands on my knees for 10 seconds to just rest! 

Getting to Dunn Street inside the cut off with time to spare was a relief. There was cold coke there and I ate and drank. We had just over 4 miles to go. We set off knowing that we would get to the finish in time. I remember the cornfields and the heat in the exposed fields. We met two others along the way, deep in their own mental battle to get to the end. Words of encouragement were given. Over the course of the past 24 hours I had stubbed my big toes many times on tree roots and had somehow even managed to toe punt a big flint stone. My feet had been sore for a long time from the pounding they had been getting but I had I chosen to ignore the discomfort. But now it felt like one of my toenails had come adrift and was rubbing on the other toe. I said to Nick I needed to stop and sort this out, it was getting too painful. One sock off and there was a big blister pushing the big toenail out if its bed. 

The hobbits toe, picture Nick Jones. 
We taped it down to stop it moving. I took the other sock off and we just started to laugh. The big toe nail had a big blood blister under it and was lifting right off, there was a massive blister on the side of the toe also. At this point two runners passed and winced at the sight of my toes. I put on some fresh socks and we started to move. I could gingerly prance about every little root or stone in my way or I could just run and get this done. I ran.  Further on it felt like I had stood on a nail, but it was a blister on my little toe bursting.
The Last mile. Picture Nick Jones.
Getting to Wye was a pleasant run. Coming to the railway crossing at Wye we decided to go over the steps, the train was taking forever. As we rounded the corner I could see a crowd of people.  I could see Donna and as I was running nearer I could just see Mark, it was great to see him looking recovered. As I reached him he said ‘just four more laps around the field and you are finished!’. Reaching the end was just great. It was uncertain and it had been a tough 29.45 minutes on the course. It was not easy, but I got it done and remained positive throughout most of the race. 
Nearly there!
At the start yesterday there had been 218 runners, by the end of the race 137 had finished. It was Centurions highest drop out. It had been a tough one. I am glad I had booked some holiday time off. My feet were painful for a couple of days. I found it difficult to walk properly due to the swelling and my toe nails.  I have a real sense of achievement having completed my 7th 100 mile ultra-race and my third in the Grand Slam. I look forward to the Autumn 100 my favourite Centurion Race. 

I am fundraising throughout the Grand Slam. Just Giving . This is for Crohn's and Colitis Uk. 10years ago I was diagnosed with having Ulcerative colitis I had been struggling with this illness since my early 20's. Unfortunately I had to have my large bowel removed I had become seriously ill. My bowel was either going to turn cancerous and kill me, or burst and do the same. It took a long time to recover. I took up running to beat the depression but also to just do one marathon! I have what is called a jpouch. A reconstruction out of my small bowel. I work differently down there now and I have things to contend with. I let this hold me back at first, but through trial and error and perseverance I have been able to achieve more than I think I can. Please visit my Just Giving Page Shawn Timmons if you would like to make a donation. Many Thanks.


  1. as always good to see you - and so proud of you!!

    1. Thank you for your much appreciated support and help you other .