The Joy of Racing Close to Home
After traveling to events internationally for years it was a treat to do one at home. No flights to book, no packing special food in case 'organic' doesn't exist at destination, no thinking about fitting liquids into that airport ziplock or if my 1st Aid scissors will be confiscated. I had forgotten how much easier it is doing everything in English. I often work in other languages but now the words could flow in my mother tongue without that confused look back at me.
NDW50 is 50 mile race on the North Downs Way trail south of London, one of eight races organised by Centurion Running on the outskirts of the big city. They have a great following of loyal and friendly runners. While relatively close, the trail is not on my doorstep. With a race check in time of 6-7:30 a.m, no car, and not sure the trains would run that early, I posted in several online ultra-running groups to seek a rideshare from London. Social media has it's uses! I not only learn that a number of people are taking the morning train from Waterloo but it re-connects me with names that I have not seen in years.
Commuting and Connecting
I left the house at 4:30 a.m. the only one in sport clothes, most people were stumbling home from their night out. I was happy to find the station office open and when I requested the train ticket for my A-B journey the guy replied: 'you know those are far apart?', my reply: 'I know, I am going to run in between'. He tried again to make me understand how far it was, 'yes, 50 miles', he conceded with a perplexed 'good luck'. The train was already on the platform and I saw something about the first 5 carriages which escaped me. A nice stranger explained only the front carriages go. I laugh at the image of myself sitting contently early in the wrong carriage while the rest of them pulled away to the race without me.
Old running friend Sophie Power (I last saw in Nepal for Racingtheplanet 2011) tracks me down and I get to match faces to names I have seen on emails back to 2010 for events like Marathon Des Sables. There are at least ten people in our carriage traveling for this event. The crowd is indeed friendly and much lower key than I find in countries like Italy, Spain or France. In our sub-group the conversation seems to revolve around 3 subjects: life with young children (discussed by the men and women) including talk of pumping breast milk, baby strollers, childcare, the UTMB (Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc, Chamonix), and comparing experience at Centurion events.
The route from Farnham to Knockholt Pound passes through fields, villages, and forests with pretty countryside scenery - rolling hills, cottages, sheep, horses, and storm troopers (if you're lucky)! It has a total gain of 5,600 feet with the famous Box Hill Stepping Stones half way and leading to the more difficult part of the course. Aid stations are well stocked with British favorites like jelly babies, chocolate, and sandwiches. Even better was seeing familiar faces in the form of volunteers Marissa Harris (I met at NDW50 2013) and Nick Ambatzis (I run with a BritMilFit).
The winner finished in 6:57 but I had an off day and it took me almost double that time.
The Finish Line is Far from Home
Having taken 12 hours to finish and after such an early morning I sit at the finish line tired and not able to get my head around how to get home. What seemed close in the morning now seems far. There is a train a few miles away but trying to get motivated to call a taxi for a ride to the station, I think about the stairs in the tube followed by the walk home and continue to just sit idle. The train concept was a good idea but exhausted and alone I watch the other runners with their 'crew' helping feed and cloth them with a warm car waiting and have to admit at moments like this I wish I had a car.
The kindness of strangers kicks in. The Volunteers give me a hug, bring me a cup of tea (after all, we are in England), then the RD James Elson finds somebody who can take me into London. My savior comes in the form of Louise Ayling a volunteer at the finish line. She admits that she might fall asleep driving so my job is to keep her awake but she fascinates me with her life stories of living in Nigeria, her Pastor father, and her passion for parkruns & ultras. She was so kind that she actually drove me all the way home and while I was prepared to give her all my money I realised I had planned to get cash at the train station so could not offer her much. In true ridesharing spirit she signed off with: 'that's okay, one day you will offer a ride to somebody else in need'.
Thank you for the generosity of people like Louise and the time given by all the volunteers.