The 2012 Pilgrims Challenge will stay in my memory for a very long time! Winter had finally arrived.
Pilgrims Challenge is a two day event of 33 miles each day starting in Farnham and finishing in Merstham along the North Downs Way, returning to Farnham on the second day. You couldn't have imagined two more different days of running, Arctic conditions were expected in the South East over the weekend.
HWMBO (who was crewing) and I left home just after 6am, the temperature outside was just below freezing so I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about, twitters and FB posts saying it was -9. As we drove towards Farnham the temperature began to drop, - 2, - 4, -6 eventually stopping at -10! I was FREEZING when we arrived and I have to say the thought of running in such cold conditions didn't appeal to me, but my start time was 10am so fingers crossed the sun would make an appearance.
This race wasn't one I was planning on racing, the two days were to be used as part of my training. My asthma was playing up because of the cold but I presumed this would sort itself out once my chest had warmed up.
10am and off we went, immediately my chest tightened up and I kept on having to use my inhaler which isn't a good sign. I managed to keep up a goodish pace and arrived at CP1 and got ticked off by HWMBO. I also met a lovely lady called Joey who was training for the MdS next year, great to chat to such a smiley person. I continued to CP2 slowing the pace down so I could try and get my asthma under control. After leaving CP2 runners eventually come to a dual carriage way which we were instructed not to cross but had to follow the correct route along the road, under a subway and back down the other side. I noticed when I finally got to the other side of the road (having done the correct route) that there were runners crossing the road, I'm afraid I did point out to a couple of people that they weren't supposed to have done that, but as soon as I was out of sight they kept on going, oh well no matter (they probably thought I was a right stroppy old cow!). After the road section we then had the marvellous steps of Box Hill, 266 of them to be exact (no I didn't count them, Neil the RD had done that for us, thanks Neil!)
From about CP3 I was running with Jules and Michelle which was great, got to CP4 grabbed a few sweets and the three of us set off for the final 3.2 miles to the finish. We finished in a time of 5hrs 16 minutes which I was very happy with considering my breathing issues during the day.
After a hot shower and something to eat we were treated to a fantastic talk by James Adams who entertained us with an amazing account of his Race Across America, a real pleasure to listen to.
I said at the beginning that the South East was expecting Arctic conditions and although day 1 had been cold I wouldn't have likened it to the Arctic. While James was talking the snow came down and down and by the time we woke in the morning we had between 6 - 8 inches of snow on the ground - how exciting! Neil, Anna and their team were fantastic, they changed CP's around so that runners had easy access to train stations should they decide not to continue and instead of 3 start times there was a mass start at 8am.
I wasn't able to sustain a good pace so had to go much slower than the day before as once again my asthma wasn't good, also the going was harder because of the snow. The scenery was stunning though and with the weight of the snow on the trees the branches were hanging extremely low so I would have to duck underneath them, occasionally getting a fall of snow down my back (brrrrrrrr) I managed to get to CP1 where once again HWMBO was stationed but had a megga low point on the way to CP2 and made the decision that once at the CP2 was going to pull out. I couldn't breathe, my pace was slow which in turn made me cold - I was in fact feeling sorry for myself, something on a race I don't usually do. Arriving at the CP Hannah was great and helped perk me up, I'm sure at this point I burst into tears and someone told me to man up! Lizzie and Kevan had arrived to say hello to everyone which gave me a much needed boost. CP 3 was only 10 miles away so I reluctantly stayed in the race and would make a decisional the next stop as to whether to go on or not.
Although I was running on my own I would try and stay with other runners who were going at a similar pace as this seemed to help me and about half an hour after leaving the CP was back to my normal self again. By the time I arrived at CP3 I was feeling much better and maintaining a pace that enabled me to breathe (thats a relief!!!) Big hug from Edward, got some water and off I went again, knowing this time I was going to finish the race.
I met up and ran with Jim who is a Fell runner and was having a bit of a bad time so it was marvellous to chat and run together. Being a Fell Runner he ran down hills extremely quickly - although he said that wasn't at full pelt! a bit of practising for me!
The end was in sight, Jim and I ran in together which was fantastic, finishing the event on a high and receiving our medals. ( I was very pleased to finish!) Its events like the Pilgrims when you realise how fantastic the world of Ultra running is, everyone helping each other when needed, giving the support and encouragement required at the right time to get the runner to the end of the race, simply wonderful.
A big thank you to Neil, Anna and the team for putting on such a fantastic race and enabling us to run on the Sunday when a lot of races were cancelled. A very special thanks goes to HWMBO who worked his little socks off and spent the evening snoring!
It was wonderful to meet up with lots of friends and meet some amazing people, with their own exciting and tough challenges and spend a weekend talking all things running!
Great post Mimi - I'm sure a lot of people will draw strength from the fact that even super-human people like you struggle occassionally. Really chuffed that you mentioned the hug!
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