#328 NDW100 - North Downs Way 100 Race Report

NDW 100 done, buckle #20 earnt! And that is about the summary of the plusses of this, I suppose not finishing last this time is also one! This really belong to Rachel as she tirelessly volunteers, crewed me and paced through a pretty miserable day and effort. Thank you! If I am honest I really, really, really, don't like the North Downs, the ups are horribleand the downs are worse and when it started raining just past midnight I could easily have just called it a day as the course went from horrible, to horrible and slippery slidey, muddy and grim.

I took a long time to decide to do this as my ankle hasn't been the best for six or seven weeks not and only really decided I think it was Wednesday to do it, so really wasn't fully invested and was fully prepared to call it a day early if the ankle gave trouble. Would have caused a pile up to quit at yard 15 but never really got bad enough to quit and overall was ok, it was just my inability to negotiate anything at any kind of pace on this type of course. I almost feel I need to go back to the drawing board if I am ever going to be even reasonably competent at these kinds of trail ultras.

Centurion events once again excel, the set up, volunteers and staff are all brilliant, I promise one day to have a half decent effort at one of them, that's six 100s of their I have done now and they've all been poor in my opinion. I suppose I should be pleased with getting to buckle #20, I know the sum total of 6 others who have so many, and that's world wide, I am sure there are many more of course, but I can understand why so few people do many, they really are very hard work.

Sorry if this all sounds a bit down but when you take like 18 hours for the last 50 odd miles you get plenty of time to reflect on why you can't make a better effort at it! lol Oh and a huge thanks you to David FoxyDavy Bayley and Ellen Cottom for my goodies, one of us managed to leave their entire supply of race goodies on the sofa so they came in incredibly useful, thank you and well done on your finishes also!


The North Downs Way 100 in 2012 was my least favourite event ever in the history of the world, ever, ever, never doing it again, no chance. The event is fine, its the route. The North Downs Way has been cobbled together out of the mind of a Satanic trail maker in to a network of evil spawn, steps, brambles, stinging nettles and general misery. Because it's not an "historic" way, like the South Downs Way, it's not very popular in places as doesn't go anywhere and folk walking their dogs for example tend to avoid vertical ascents and descents. So whilst overall the ascent is just under 10000', which by 100 mile standards isn't very severe it tends to be concentrated in steep ascents and descents, not good on the knees, or the legs or the soul. So not only do you "pay" for the ups, you also don't get any benefit on the downs, and in many cases they're worse than the ups! So with that ticked off my list I need not ever do that again! So obviously having earned a free place by volunteering in 2013 I found myself in for it again in 2014. Mmmm....

Now since the Moriban 177k in June I've had a right ankle niggle, which has been annoying. It's nothing really serious, it just gets a bit sore when I run, and odd twinges and the thought, for 20000 steps, the next one might really hurt kind of thing, So I've ignored it, left it, rested it and nothing much seems to make much difference. The good thing is that its fine generally when walking, and ibuprofen solves it, so I'm sure its nothing serious, it just won't go away, so it's cut down my pace and made running a bit of a pain. So for several weeks was looking at dropping NDW100, I've done it, knew I wouldn't like it and it might damage the ankle even more, any excuse to get out of it. But... was in for the Grand Slam, walking is fine and suspected that even on a good day I'd be hiking an awful lot of it anyway but probably wasn't till the Wednesday before the event that I finally decided that I would do it. This isn't the greatest of things to be doing as you need to be fully invested in these things and I really never was. But am wise enough in these things these days to do the prep work on the route so spent a good few hours working on the GPS traces and double checking where the aid stations were (exactly... I mean to the nearest yard, funnily enough i didn't bother with the very last one as it's at 98.4 and who cares about one that late in the game? I promptly walked in to a field and thought, huh? Where did that go? Lesson learnt, check them all, was 50 yards further on since 2012 on the other side!)


So the alarm goes off at 0300 on the Saturday morning, quick bit of work and we're off to collect Peter Foxall, another Maidstone Harrier who was doing this event. We'd last given him a lift at the SDW100 when he'd been squeezed in amongst the tons of gear and food we'd packed, just for fun this time around we'd packed no food! In an act of stunning stupidity I'd neglected to load in to the car the five little boxes of goodies I had prepared! (Fortunately the Centurion events are very well supplied at aid stations and knew Rachel would be returning home at some stage anyway so wasn't a total disaster, but was pretty stupid of me! As luck would have it though Foxy David and Ellen Cottom in recent times had both been to the US and I'd asked if they had any spare space in cases to bring me back a couple of US treats and as it happened the start was where they were being delivered! So all in all just about worked out, thank you guys!)

We were lucky to secure the A1 parking spot in front of the road works that has closed the normal access to the school for registration so wandered up there, secured a "Harriers" corner and did the last minute preparations. It still amazes me sometimes how many people stand up for an hour before these things. I sat on a little chair resolutely! The usual chatter with folks and good lucks, the briefing and then the wander down to the start. (Mental note to self - pre race food was a pop tart, clif bar and bottle of Ensure, seemed about right). I didn't bother to get too far forward as knew I wouldn't be flying. It has rained fairly heavily overnight so had made a fairly late choice of Goretex Salomans at the start, switching to Hokas at mile 24 where Rachel was helping out at the Box Hill aid station. Plan for anything on the NDW route is get to the bottom of Box Hill asap, then let the misery start...)

I soon realised that I was a bit too far back in the pack as felt rather held up for the first mile or two, but no big deal, what I didn't want to do was plop my feet in mud or puddles so always tend to hang back from the runner in front for a clear view, though overall in fact the trail was better than I imagined it might be, better than the first part of SDW100 which was a slight surprise as basically for this first part there was nothing that couldn't be avoided with a bit of care.

So off we toddled and immediately the ankle starts to get sore like it has done of late. It's not real pain, it's not dreadful its just sore and it means you can't really push off the leg like usual and you're extra careful where you put it down so cuts the pace a bit and you're a bit more cautious. And gradually it gets a bit sorer, but fortunately, it's never (yet) got dreadful, but was fully prepared to DNF if it got nasty early. With Rachel at Box Hill that's an easy get out of jail, but fortunately early enough that its not going to be too tempting otherwise. (Hopefully!)

I'm hopeless on hills (i.e. don't do the training, it's not like its genetic, I'm just lazy) so it doesn't take too long before I'm walking up those as have an excuse and it's a nice morning and there is no great rush. My A goal for this would be about 26 hours I think, I've long since abandoned any hope of a sub 24 on this type of course in the shape I am in, so there is no forcing the pace, but the early start plan is run anything at whatever pace feels OK, march uphill. Have a few chats with folks, share a mile with Allan Rumbles who is out on the trails having a run and a socialising session which was nice and just settle in to things. The ankle stays a "I'm here, but not getting any worse state" and that's about it really. Navigation is easy enough in these early bits, I don't even bother with the Garmin trace at this stage. I'm starting to work on the nibbles I have on me (I'd at least packed my backpack!) and all is well, its a bit warm, a bit humid so I'm sweating heavily, but all is well.

Aid station 1 comes and goes, aid station 2, 14 in, not flying, not struggling. It's 10 miles to the next aid station which I suspect where some folk start to make mistakes by not eating or drinking enough as the day is warming up, but my discipline is good, share some more miles with folk but generally now its music on, head down. In an act of stunning daftness I actually went a bit astray at one stage here, lots of paths and didn't see a trail marker (James had mentioned at the start that three of his trail markers hadn't managed to finish their job, but was hopeful that he'd be able to re-do those bits whilst the race was on, but did notice in places the trail marking was "patchy" and had suffered a LOT of vandalism, saw a number of bits of tape on the floor or ones tied to trees or bushes where its been pulled so only the knot was left...) but anyway I was in the right kind of direction and a quick check of the Garmin trace and I was soon back on the correct line. (It never ceases to amaze me that so few people have the routes on their Garmins, I have these to the yard if I can! Be prepared!)

So Box Hill arrives, about 4:40, so not flying, but bang on 2012 and NDW50 schedule (I had a note of my 2012 splits with me, despite feeling generally fitter and more experienced these days I was never that far ahead of them, which was a bit surprising, or disappointing, not sure which yet!). Had no real excuse to think about DNFing here, things were going OK, the ankle had settled in and had a sit down with a nice cold can of diet Coke. The luxury of a car with a cooler (thank you Rachel!). I decided in fact not to switch to the Hokas, my feet felt absolutely fine, so don't change if I don't feel I need to, knew I would see Rachel again at 50, so would change then. Picked up poles, soft flasks and eventually dragged myself off. Not the best aid station discipline here I will admit!

The poles were dead useful going up the Box Hill complex, the soft flasks less so as fell out within 10 yards! Bits of fiddling and messing around and got those sorted eventually, but I missed my bottle! Think I'll have to switch back to a hydration pack when using poles as this experiment wasn't the best (Folk, practice with your 100 mile gear, don't be fiddling up Box Hill like I was!) Foxy David caught me up and we share a mile of sweat up the hills. He'd left Dennis Cartwright behind who was having worries and soon sped off to have a huge PB run. OK, nobody speeds off Box Hill but I managed to get a ton of sweat in my eyes and I was staggering around like a drunk until I sorted myself out! That's my excuse for being so slow anyway. So onwards the plod goes, up down, up down, it's just horrible. The momentum goes and I'm just hopeless. Reigate Hill eventually shows up, my only consolation was that it didn't feel quite as bad as on the NDW50, but its only marginal. By now the field is spread out and you're generally on your own and no other runners so navigation slightly more concentrated, there did seem a long stretch in the 30s/40s where there were very few markers, but knew I was on the line and all was good.

Caterham at 38 miles,, in and out, Botley Hill at 43, in and out. Its just plod, run, walk, on the line, plod, run, walk, on the line, head phones on, just getting on with it. The day is nice, bit warm for me, but nothing much. Poles are a pain if its nothing steep so am tending to carry them more than use them. There is some real rubbish trail around here and the start of the miserable bit of the NDW100 I think. The trail is less used, brambles, stinging nettles, rutted low quality trail, yuk. Some horrible short, sharp ascents and descents. Plod.

Paid special attention to the navigation as got lost about mile 48 last time around, I notice about 5 bits of tape on a rather obscured gate in the corner of a field, which is where we went wrong last time as the natural line (and trail) just takes you to the right, I am guessing that lots of folk went awry here as its so well marked this time.

Coming in to Knockholt they were taking us in a shorter way this time rather than the NDW50 or NDW100 2012 route though this did take me off the line. Dilemma do you follow the markings, or the trace? I'd taken the route off the site so knew it was correct and knew from my prep work that it took me to where I wanted to be. Mmmm... was the trail marked incorrectly or had some kind soul decided to move a bit of tape for fun? (It happens.... there are some sods in the world) Decided to go with the tape, maybe it was a last minute diversion for a reason, a locked gate or something and could see the line was at least running parallel to where I wanted to be going and also knew that there was a road to the left and at least two that intersected (seriously guys, I like to know where I am going). But all worked OK in the end, met Rachel before the aid station (Find a Friend app is really useful for crews!) and again decided to stick with the shoes I had on as was fine, and as was warm and still the best part of three hours till sun down would switch in to night gear at 76 rather than here. Grabbed goodies and didn't even bother to go in to the aid station, Rachel filled my bottle (I decided to go to one pole and my usual water bottle) and got me a couple of bits and refilled my goodies supply. Organised crew can save you so much time, I doubt I even broke stride. Easily saved maybe 15-20 minutes on going in to the aid station, having food, sorting drop bag etc etc

For what is was worth 11:52 was by best time over that NDW50/NDW100 first bit. In 2012 had spent a good 35 minutes here, this year not even 35 seconds and now was a good hour up on 2012 so that was good.

From 50 to 60 is really an eternal drag, the second part of the NDW100 isn't great and it just seemed to go on FOREVER! It's rough in places, some ridiculously steep bits in a couple of places, there is one downhill where I just cannot imagine you can stay upright if its wet, just grass and seemingly vertical! This also seems to be where people start to having more navigational issues, I see people coming towards me, always worrying! I knew I was going the right way, am I sure? Yes, are you sure? They've just gone around in a circle it seems. They walk with me a bit, I am on the line, I know I am going the right way and they show me the markers they followed, there are three almost in a line, they seem to indicate right, my line is left. They seem doubtful and there is now a group of five. I'm going my way, they follow, we find more markings, everyone happy and onwards we head off. A girl catches me at some stage going well who says she's been off course by three miles. Ouch. I maybe check I am on the line every 100 yards! (mental note to self, Sunnito's aren't great under trees for the trace, I've stood and watched it go around in circles! lol)

After what seems like an eternity the mile 60 aid station at Wrotham shows up. I ran out of fluids about 3 miles before so have a real decent refill and drink here. I think that may be the worst section, except I know its not. At least the bit up to Holly Hill is only six miles and the night comes in. I recalled from 2012 this section being utterly dreadful, but this time didn't seem quite so bad, I think being that further ahead this time around meant I got to bits in daylight that were night before and the foliage didn't seem quite so evil, the benefits of a drier summer perhaps. Am sure the hill wasn't quite so steep either, or maybe I am slightly fitter!

66-76 isn't great and it seemed to be a stretch in 2012 that lots of folk had trouble with. I am fortunate in two regards, firstly part of it goes through the Ranscombe Farm Trust place so know that well, and secondly I have the bloody route on my GPS and paid lots of attention to where I am supposed to be going!!! Again I come across some pilgrims going 180 degrees the wrong way. Its full dark now and one way or another I seem to have become the leader of the pack, at one stage I noticed my posse had grown to eight! It tends to happen almost naturally at night that runners group together, not sure if its a "human" thing, a "runner" thing or a "leadership" thing. Someone seems more confident that they know where they are going than you are, follow him...

Even at one stage I am struggling, a gate onto an open slope, the line is at a slant, but there is no path, there is a path right, a discussion, two guys decide to head right, two guys go left. I am literally on my haunches looking for an "indian line" and think I can see a trail of bent grass. I decide to trust my line and the imaginary trail I think I can see. Am sure there is a marker missing there, or we all missed it. In the gloom a gate appears, with a marker, phew. I shout to the others who by now are all spread out over this slope. Eventually they all catch me up again and the procession continues. The group seems smaller now though after a couple more miles and we're down to five and we suddenly hit the Ranscombe sign, Ouch! Nahh, but know where we are now exactly so chat to the group where the next few miles go, down, up, bear right, turn right, left, right across the bridge, right off it up the hill. Just stopping for a quick wee and they all leave me behind, never did catch them up again and they didn't wait.

It was forecast to rain from about midnight and felt a couple of spots, but nothing much, but as luck would have it was just across the Medway bridge when the heavens opened so was able to get swapped in to my rain jacket under the bridge so kept completely dry. Tip guys, if it rains in the night, put your jacket on BEFORE you get wet. Otherwise these jackets have the habit of sealing you in wet clothes and you'll never get warm or dry again.

The rain is quickly heavy, and miserable, and its just yuk. It's maybe a 4 mile trudge up to the 76 aid station at Bluebell Hill and its just horrible, squelch, slip, slide, squelch, splash. I am so pleased I have on the Goretex trail shoes now, correct choice Traviss. The major challenge is just staying upright and its just grim, its not that cold luckily. Yet. Rachel comes and finds me just short of the aid station and I have serious DNF thoughts traipsing through the mud. I don't care about this race, don't want to be here, its wet, its muddy, its horrible and its going to get worse because I know what's ahead. There are several folk sitting in the dry in the aid station looking very chilly and wrapped up, you know they're not getting moving again. I've already decided against DNFing on the basis I can't be bothered to DNF either! My legs are already trashed, I've got 11 hours or so to meander a marathon or so distance. It's that awful stage of these 100s, too far in to quit, too far left to go to be happy you're close to the finish. Worse is that you know its 103 miles or so, 76 not as close to home as you want it. 3 miles isn't much till you get to 98. Trust me, five miles is a vast distance late in the game!

Off I trudge in to the night, any real vague attempt at running seems to have gone now, the odd little effort. As soon as I leave Rachel and she's gone off I start to get cold, mmm.... maybe I should have changed jacket/top there. Even five minutes in the aid station was enough to chill down. The cake was nice though (oddly on this one I didn't really feel sick at any stage which was unusual, so able to eat yummy stuff pretty much the whole time). Trudge, trudge, trudge, slop, slip, splash. Stop for a wee at a trail junction, head off in the wrong direction as I'm not paying attention. Damn. Its all just a bit rubbish, you dream of nine minute miles. in fact 15 minute miles would be good! Can only be about six miles to the Detling Aid station, takes forever. Meet up with Rachel, out comes the warm jacket and top now. Having crew is priceless at times like this, cold bottle of coke, a choice of clothing, a ton of options, clean the glasses, off we toddle again feeling much better.

James Elson is at Detling (RD) oddly its just about empty as always seemed quite bustling when I was there last year helping out, a quick chat and off in to the gloom and wet again, though light is almost coming up now. The least said about the next section the better. Head down, hood up, I'm sure the day got lighter at some point as the headtoch got switched off, I think the rain might even have eased off at some stage too. All just a blur of bleeeeeeeghhhhhhhhhhhh. The sleepy hours. I'm never doing the NDW100 again, the trail is just so rubbish, I'm never going up a hill again, never going down a hill again. I want flat running forever more now thank you very much!

The only saving grace of the NDW 100 is that the last 13/14/15 miles are flat and boring. Unfortunately that also means muddy as anything in places after hours or rain. In an act of outstanding trudging I both manage to remain upright and keep my feet dry, no mean achievement. I can tip toe around puddles like a pro these days. Lenham at 90.9 shows up, James is there again, I should probably start being a bit more worried about the cut offs perhaps! What's nice over these last bits is that Rachel can meet me a fair few times, what she does is drive to x point, walks back/runs back to meet me, we trudge along, get to the car, anything I need is sorted and she'll trudge some more to keep me company, go back, drive to the next spot and repeat. It's brilliant as am able to swap jacket again, have nice cold cokes, whatever flavour of M&Ms I fancy and so on with just about zero time wasted. I even have the odd go at running down some slopes, falling down them perhaps a more accurate description, even pass a few others who are struggling even more than I am. In fact from 82 to the finish I go from 108th to 87th, there are some dreadfully slow looking pilgrims in a couple of places. When you're doing 17 minute miles and leave them for dead then you know their day is going worse than yours.

The rain occasionally stops, then starts, then stops. Ultimately the 98.4 mile aid station is found (see note above!) Peter Johnson of all people is there helping people over the stile (a bloody stile!!!!) at least these days everyone admits the NDW100 is 102.6 officially, I suspect everyone must do 103-105 at least, in 2012 officially was still 100 miles and 1.6 miles to the finish was listed (having done the prep I knew this was a huge lie, but must have been a bit soul destroying for some to discover its well over 4 miles to home from there)

Last couple of miles were just dreadful in places due to the mud. A ploughed field at mile 102 anyone? A wet slippy stile at 102.4?! I pass one poor guy who is just going so slowly its painful to watch. The saving grace is that he has an hour for the last 0.8 of a mile, I tell him he has 0.75 to go, i don't want to give him any false hope. I saw him finish so that was OK. I bet he took 40 minutes though from when I saw him... I once could never imagine a 30 or 45 minute mile. Now I can. I've done them.

At TP100 and SDW100 there is a field/track to "run" around so there is some sense of finish. Here its round a corner and, oh, there is the finish. Not even sure where it was exactly. It's raining hard so nobody is about, Nici gives a hug and a buckle, so I guess that was the finish line . I'm never in the mood for a photo at the finish, sorry Stuart! I really just don't care. Get in the dry, the bacon sandwich is brilliant, but can't hang around chatting too long as have work to do. All rather anti-climatic for me, 29:03, a better time by about 40 odd minutes than 2012, but a poor effort really. The rain maybe cost me an hour, lack of effort at the end another one. When you know you're going to finish then 28:30 or 29:30 who cares.

I'm writing this right after the event rather than a few days really just for my benefit so I can refer back to it in the future if I am ever tempted to do this one again! Remember Traviss, you hate this route! It's just not my idea of fun at all, the problem is that I am just utterly hopeless at this sort of terrain and it's not a genetic flaw I have. I don't train on it, I don't do the work and brambles and stinging nettles bother me so I tip toe like a fairy on rough stuff and lose time like a sieve. I am always paranoid about rolling an ankle on a rutted bit of trail so go cautious, I'll meander in and out around brambles, I go like slow setting treacle on anything steep. I have so little sense of achievement for this one, I finished but means so little to me it actually makes me sad. Just was never invested in it at all, so don't care, which is daft. i suspect I will feel better about it in the future, but right now, blegh. I finished it anyway, so that is always a plus.


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