“The lord tells me he can get me out of this mess, but he’s pretty sure you’re f**ked”
6am, not much sleep and the coldest of November mornings, I leave the family abode to return to Canary Trail Events (CTE) for their second offering since establishing themselves with The Raven marathon last month. I’d been looking forward to this one and welcoming another stab at the brutal course that I can only imagine must be like an SAS beasting session. I imagine some of the runners who did the event may even be able to answer that.
The race was a 50km in and around Headley and Box hill in the heart of the Surrey Hills. 6000ft of elevation that comes in short sharp bursts throughout the three laps required to complete the course. I had signed up with some of my closest running family members. Initially signing up for the 100mile option CTE had on offer, all of us bar 2 had decided to step down to “just” the 50km. Mad men Gareth Allen and Ollie Dawson, both with a huge wealth of 100 miler racing experience from this year alone had stuck to their guns with the 100 mile distance. Friends Jay and Danny from Sussex Trail Events had also pitched up to have a bash at the 100 and 50 mile options.
Great to catch up with everyone at registration. We knew what the 100 miler boys were in for and the rest of us were feeling rather smug with our drop-down decision. We gave them some encouragement (“The lord tells me he can get me out of this mess, but he’s pretty sure you’re f**ked”) before RD Allan Rumbles started the briefing.
8am and we were off. I told the guys I had some idea of a plan. The marathon (in the pitch black and pouring rain) the previous month on roughly the same course had taken me a monstrous 6hr 11. My longest time to date I wanted to match it even with the additional 5 miles.
I started slow, a quick natter with the other twin dad Jon White and elegant Sarah Marshall whilst enduring the first climb before moving on up the field to catch Oli for the second climb. After only an 1hr tops I pushed on and for the remaining 4hrs 20mins I ran alone. This didn’t bother me. The place is stunning and a reminder of how lucky I am to live in the Surrey Hills. Lap 1 done and no one could remove the smile from my face, not even the brutal course. I got into the aid station and was quick, got in and got gone. I did this each time and each time taking a few positions whilst runners dithered over the more than impressive spread that had been put on by our hosts.
The course is brutal. A swear jar had been placed in the aid station with a sliding scale of fines depending on the severity of the profanity. It’s done in good taste with all proceeds of the ad hoc bits going to charity. Even so, I’m a gentleman and had no need to contribute to the swear jar.
In the race briefing we were told to stick on the right-hand side for the decent of Kamikaze hill just in case we did go over as there would be trees to break our fall rather than tumble all the way down. The other steep descent (goodnight sweetheart) we were advised to tackle from the left next to the barbed wire. Nice. I’m crap at downhill, I’m pretty good at uphill and the course tests your ability at the uphill quite rigorously with Satans staircase and those stepping stones steps on the NDW! It was at these points where I would gain ground on others, only for them to make it back up on the downs.
Lap three and having not seen another runner for some time I caught up with a chap who said there were only a few ahead. I had not been monitoring the situation but if a podium position was up for grabs I thought at this stage of the race it was now or never and hammered down at the 25mile mark. Back to the Stepping Stones and closing in quickly on the next man I passed him half way up the steps. He was tired. Not done but tired. We had a brief exchange and he advised that he was 2nd. Oopps. Sorry. I reassured him that there was no one behind for quite a while so we would both be able to secure a podium and there was still a fight for 2nd if he wanted it. I pushed hard and crossed the line only a few minutes before him. The marshals were not expecting me in and whilst I crossed the line they carried about their business. Maybe I had been a bit of a grey man during the race. It felt that way but I seriously just went head down and got on with it. So much better in the dry and daylight hours to my experience with The Raven. I had beaten my marathon time by 45minutes! Ha!
A brief catch up and thanks to the race team, Karen Webber who is the queen of ultra-marshalling and fundraising sensation Mark Thornberry before I departed a very happy bunny with that feeling of satisfaction on a great run and my huge trophy that reminds me of a bog roll holder.
I am starting to develop a very strong love/hate with this lot. Would I recommend CTE. Yes. They have a wealth of experience with the team they are surrounded by and it shows from route marking, aid station, medics and general organisation. It’s not for beginners, the routes are tough and these guys require hearty running experience. If you’ve got it, look out for this lot, its going to kick off! I’m even signed up again for their drink (cough cough, I mean group) run over the festive holidays and am looking forward to it. Well done guys it was a great show.