fat ass 54 miler
4th jan 1997 - englandalternate title : firth's tenth frisky filthy formidably fabulous feckless fight the flab fat-ass fifty four finally finishing in farnham as expected, it was 54 miles, starting from the sevenoaks in kent, finishing in farnham (surrey?). it was a cross-country trail race mainly on little footpaths that make up the north downs way long-distance footpath. the entry form suggested "no support, no awards, no wimps. modest welcome at the finish. route instructions for runners. only very experienced runners should contemplate running with no support". dawn decided that she fell into the wimps category as britain had suffered from a week of freezing weather and the day was forecast to have a top temp of approx -1c (!!) i decided to run, partly as i like off-road races, and partly to encounter old-time strider david sill who recently moved from sydney to leeds, england. we thought that we were experienced enough to run with no support and that was the plan. to let us know what it was all about the entry form prompted us to confirm : i know and therefore will not complain that the north downs are neither flat, paved nor lit and that in the month of january the weather could become a little inclement making shoes muddy. i realise that if i take longer than 11 and a half hours some of the very nice people running the event will have gone home or be in the nearest pub but i will phone or fax them to ensure they know what happened to me i had spent the few days prior to the run testing out various combinations of cold weather running gear, as i am not accustomed to wearing much more than shorts and t-shirt. on the day, 7am turned up, very dark, very very cold, very windy with occasional snow flurries. i wore all my cold weather gear. simple. as it turned out i wore this for the entire day without removing anything : socks, shoes, underoants, thermal long johns, tights, 2 thermal long-sleeved tops, striders singlet, wateproof, windproof coat, woolly hat, neck warmer. me and dave planned to run approx 9hours, this being governed more by the fact that this would give a finish around 4pm when it would get dark, than actual running ability. 54 miles of complicated footpaths with meagre, if any, food or drink in terrible weather conditions was hardly likely to be run faster than 50 miles of virtually flat, perfect aid, perfect weather as we had at the sunmart 50 (where i ran 9:40). our plans were optimistic... we all set off in the dark. we started running with a group that included the race director, alan deacon. they planned to run 10 hours, and had mangaed to run under 10 hrs the previous 8 years, so obviously he knew the way and what he was capable of. two minutes into the race me and dave decided, therefore, that 10 hours was what we would aim for. we had read the race instructions, and decided that there was no way we wanted to have to follow them as they were too complicated, and especially we did not want to risk getting lost in the dark. if someone knew the way then bugger it - we would follow them. dave was especially pleased when they decided to walk the big hills, and wait for a re-group after crossing stiles. i prefer the come-out-with-all-guns-blazing-then-die-a-long-slow-death approach, but figured i could really die on this one if i wasn't careful. there was a lot of snow and ice around and i didn't want to risk my never having dnfed streak. our group resembled some kind of army group march - we numbered 9 or 10 people at times, all trying to keep the race director in sight, like a bunch of squaddies keeping the seargeant major in sight. out of the 40+ registered for the run, only 20 actually made it to the start to hand over their 6 pounds cash... whenever the race director's group stopped at a check/aid-point we all stopped. me and dave virtually the only ones carrying all our own gear. at least our bottles of water were very cold. at one point me and dave were nattering along at the back of the group and missed a turn, but luckily guessed a few other tracks correctly and found our way back onto the north downs way, unbelievably right behind the main group - i don't even think they noticed we were gone for 20 minutes or so. the race was not along a pre-determined route, it appeared, as long as you made the correct checkpoints, so we were still legal. we even saw fellow internet ultra society member, dave palen, who introduced himself part of the way on the run. we had been running with him for almost 2 hours before he recognised us (we wouldn't have guessed him if left up to our own devices). the halfway point was at box hill, at approx 5+ hours, where someone saved my life with a couple of cups of tomato soup. i had been continually slipping off the back of the group and was barely managing to keep up. a warm drink and time to really re-group was what i needed. the course had displayed some rare beauty - very wintery scenes of snow covered hills, frosted trees etc. virtually all of the course was on snow and ice so the beauty was wearing off as i just hoping to get to the end. when alan decided it was time to go, we all quickly left. it was grim. i was dropping off the back within minutes. i ran up every hill and pushed and strained. i tried everything, even chocolate pocketrockets, but at some point i just never saw them again. i should have admitted this to myself, but i continuesd to hurtle down the narrow footpaths a quickly as i could go. i should have stopped and read my directions as when i eventually did get to the next checkpoint it was nowhere to be seen. i had gone wrong and not even known it ! to make it worse, i didn't have a map, just the course instructions, which meant that other than retrace my steps i had no way of getting back on course. i guessed that i had gone wrong miles back (literally) and set off to find a better route. i got to the nearest village, and managed to buy a map (!!). from there i decied to run by road to the next checkpoint- some 4 miles distance. this i did. at this point (newlands corner), i realised that not only would i be very late, and finish in the dark, but i would be all on my own, as i hadn't seen any one for about 2 hours. luckily there a tea shop open, so i bought a cup of tomato soup (saved my life again) and a vegeburger as i figured i'd need something warm inside me. i ate these whilst walking along the track and deciding on my plan of action. i decided that firstly there was no way i'd quit. secondly i'd keep going all night if i had to, even though i had to go to a nephew's christening in the morning. thirdly, i'd relish the pain and suffering as we are taught at the sydney striders that this is the way of things. by now it was getting darker, so i pressed on, map in hand this time. within an hour or so it got dark and i also ran with a torch in hand. i made good progress, even though it was soon pitch black. it was the first time i had to race with a torch. i have run before at night on an athletic track, and i have done bush runs along trails known to me in the dark, but had never raced in the dark on trails before. i found it easier to read an instruction by torchlight, turn it off, stagger to an appropriate point then turn on the light again. after an hour of this, i was almost interrupted having a drink, a pee, and a squeezy by another runner catching me up. me and rory quickly became friends and ran the last 2 hours to the finish together. it helps to have someone to run with in the dark. if you have never run the english countryside footpaths then it is certainly an experience. try this one in the dark, in sub-zero temps after you have been running for 10 hours : cross rd and go thru hedge to l of house around edge of golf course for 600 yds to go over stile to rd. tl and in 450yds tr at "t" by club house. follow rd for 660 yds and tl (just past pair of cottage on r) (acorn on fence l) and pass between barriers. go along path between fences thru barriers to rd tl and in 30 yds tr on tk by mulberry cottage. follow ahead for 360yds to tr on wide xtk at sp to tl in 160 yds up steps just before field. over stile ahead between fences then hedges to stile. it goes on and on for 12 pages ... at one point we read about following a wall for 120 yards and rory said "what wall ?". turned on the torch and there was a wall 100 yards long by 10 feet tall about 3 feet to his left ! 1st stephen moore (hertford and ware) 7:33
10th david sill (sydney striders, australia) 10:59
13th kevin tiller (sydney striders, australia) 13.01 unbelievably, there were a couple of people in the results finishing in 18 hours !