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North Downs Ridge 50km, One Step Beyond - Charles Tatham

On completing the virtual London marathon last autumn, I thought what next? I didn't have the inclination to go for a marathon PB as too hard (and impossible unless just for an age group). Something different then - a trail race or even an ultra or perhaps combine them? At first that might have felt out of reach, but someone once said if something looks unattainable, reconsider and it might just be possible.

So the target was set and taking inspiration from other Hoopsters the NDR 50k looked like a good option. So in the New Year, training would begin in earnest - starting with the amphibious Middlesex XC Champs. At least I knew by finishing that however slowly, my training was moving forward. More XC challenges came with more mud and more hills. Surely this was doing some good I thought.

Then came an injury (ankle?) that flared up at a track session and I had to limp home. After a few days rest or minimal miles, I sensed that this was hardly going to plan. Right time for a change I decided - do a training run out of town. So I joined a pre marathon training group in Hemel Hempstead (even though no London marathon this spring there were lots of other events coming up). Success at last - 17 miles completed without any niggling signs of injury! Am I really back on track now? After one more hilly Hampstead session I as ready for a trial run - a 'Run The Wild' off road marathon in the Chilterns. Even though most of the group seemed to be seasoned ultra runners (and a lot younger), I got through it with the help of the run leaders there and the pit stops! So now this is real, just four weeks away and no turning back from this point. After my final long and hilly run up to Ally Pally and back it was time to taper.

For the day itself, it was great to have the company of two other harriers, Emmie and Fran, not to mention Sam's support team! For my longest running challenge ever it all seemed really relaxed at the Denbies vineyard start. Pre flight checks all done and we were off. After barely two hundred yards most of us started walking (otherwise it would have been a beast of a hill in the first mile - from Green Belt Relay memories of this hill climb!).

This time one could enjoy the view from the top of the ridge without gasping for air. The beauty of the course became apparent with wooded trails breaking out into open fields looking down into the valley. The main part of the course was an out and back section of the NDW, and it wasn't too long until I could see the leaders already coming back! At the turning point there was a refuelling station and the marshal simply said 'its back from where you came I'm afraid' after checking that I had clicked in at the checkpoint. At least I knew what to expect including at least one very long hill in the woods. The obstacles distracted me whether it was horses, dogs, or kids on a backpacking expedition. The fallen trees that had seemed easy to clamber over or crawl under on the way out seemed much harder coming back.

The sight of Sam pushing Dali in his buggy at another point was very welcome, but then there would be long stretches with seemingly nobody in sight. So on the next walking section, time for a gel. Between the checkpoints from 17 miles and 24 miles seemed the hardest (just like a marathon so why am I expecting it will be different?), but I knew a lot of this would be downhill - one foot in front of the other and let the hill do the work! After the final depot, the NDW was done and just a smallish loop with slight undulations I thought. Looked at my Garmin - 42.2k! Now I really am one step beyond and time for powder refreshment to keep me going!

I can't stop won't stop! Oh no a killer hill in sight - the hills just kept coming. Somehow a few of us were running together (or rather attempting to power walk up the hill). Not many miles left and a pair just ahead shouted out 'we have finished the last hill'!! So they sped off through the trees like it was the end of a short XC race. Then came the welcome sight of Denbies Vineyard once more and as I shuffled down this last section, former president Sam cheered me home.

Ultra Challenge Done!


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