Monday, 6 March 2017

Pilgrim's Challenge - hills and mud, lots of mud!!

So, I thought, I've done Race to the Stones (RTTS) over two days in the summer how about doing a comparable distance in the winter?  I really have stop listening to those voices!  So I decided to take part in the Pilgrim Challenge in early February.  YouTube footage of the race left me in no doubt this would not be as easy going as RTTS either in elevation or underfoot.

The race is a two day race starting in Farnham, Surrey, and heading out along the South Downs Way to Merstham, near Redhill, a distance of 33 miles.  Those doing the race on both days can stay in a wonderful 4 Star school hall or gymnasium and after a good nights sleep get up and do the whole course in reverse.  Sound appealing doesn't it?

I travelled down on the Friday evening after work and set about checking my kit in the hotel.  Packed everything where I would need it and stowed what I could in the car for the early start.  A breakfast of porridge, coffee and fruit laid out ready.  I drifted off at some unearthly hour.

Day 1

I arrived and parked up at the start with plenty of time to find the reception\changing area\hot drinks tent in full swing.

At 8am the walkers and slower runners set off, for some reason I decided that I could make the cut off time in the second tranche setting off at 9.  As the time got closer we were called forward out of the warmth of the tent to a briefing at the start line.  The briefing left us in no doubt that we were self navigating.

 We were let loose and set off around the field before heading East along paths and tracks with no real hills until we passed through Guilford at about mile 10.  Running along I started talking to Mina, whose husband was also racing, and we discovered that we live in the same town!  Our paces matched so we ran and talked.  I love the trail running community!!

Early miles - easy going tracks

The long slow climb out of Guilford put us high on the Downs overlooking Gomshall and Dorking and although the section was fairly flat there was long sections of deep mud on narrow tracks making the going very hard.  Some of the paths the mud was over our ankles and really hindered the progress.

easier section of mud
Up high on the South Downs

At 20 miles we started a long decent along track and road to the A24 at Westhumble, Box Hill filled the skyline as we ran up to an underpass and back to the car park and steps that lead you up the side of the hill.  The steps are uneven making it hard to make quick progress and when eventually at the top the paths are wide and well looked after (in places).

Looking down from Box Hill
We dropped down Box Hill, encountering the same steep steps and then off the trail and into the CP at Betchworth, before returning along the same route and then up onto Buckland Hill.  The steep climb up Buckland Hill is along a track that consists of chalk with a thin layer of mud over it, coming down this track the next morning would be just as tricky.  I pulled away from Mina at this point and promised to catch up at the overnight stop.  I picked up with another runner at the top of the hill, which consisted of narrow paths with ankle deep clay that slowed progress down to a crawl.  After what seemed like miles we eventually we started the decent.

Once finally down we ran through a private school grounds through a small wood and then as we broke from the trees and across a field the village of Merstham came into view.  Across the local golf course and winding through the town to the school that was the finish and overnight stop.  We picked up pace and eventually I finished day one in 7:21:13.  I had made the cut off for the 8am start the next day, not that I would have got any longer in bed!

Final field leading to the golf course

The overnight stay was in either the school hall or the gymnasium.   The showers were hot but other facilities very limited.  The evening meal was edible and I soon tried to settle down for the night, deciding against staying up for the talks being supplied by some VIP guests.  Could not find half the things I'd so carefully packed.

Day 2

Those that didn't make the cut off time set off in the dark at 7am.  At 8am I lined up at the start with Mina and we decided to get it finished rather than kill ourselves attempting it.  The first 3.5 miles of the route are a climb of nearly 500ft and straight into the deep clay footpaths that were even worse for 200 runners the previous day.  Across the brow of the hill and then slowly picking our way down the chalk/clay slide/path.

Back up onto Box Hill, at 8 miles, which was shrouded in mist as as we climbed our gloves were coated in dew.  Finally at the top we ran through the mist to be met by a large cow or two!  These great beasts roam Box Hill and are extremely friendly.

Mina taming the wildlife

Back down the steps of Box Hill, across the major road south or Dorking and then a long slow climb back up onto the South Downs hills and yet more narrow footpaths and more MUD!  5 miles on and we started the decent again to the 25 mile point.  The last 7 miles were "undulating" along the tracks and fields until finally we broke out onto the road along the side of the Farnham golf course and we knew we were nearly done.

look at us pretending to know what we're doing

The last part of the course is a lap of the field where we started and finally back through the finishing arch at a time of 8:08:27, an overall time of 15:29:40.

A hot cup of sweet tea and a few pieces of cake before it was time to try and untie my laces and change before the drive back into darkness.

This is not a beginners ultra, far from it.  The route is self navigating and very technical in parts.

Would I do it again?  Possibly.

Shoes - Altra Lone Peak 1.5 (finally killed them)
Vest - Hoka 17 ltr hydration vest
DRC/Tailwind Buff

I used Tailwind, Torq gels and various energy bars.  Got the fuelling correct.

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