30 Miles of Mud and Hills – The LDWA Punchbowl Marathon
An early start, up at 4:30 on Sunday 14th February, a cold and damp morning, to go and run 30 miles!
Living on the Isle of Wight does throw a few drawbacks at you, mainly having to allow time for (and pay for) the ferry crossing to get to any event or race on the mainland. As a rule of thumb that’s an extra hour and a half of travelling and about £40 extra in cost. But that wasn’t going to deter me, I was raring to go and looking forward to what was going to be my furthest ever run.
I arrived at the event centre for the LDWA Surrey Punchbowl Marathon at Whitley Village Hall in Surrey nice and early (7:30). I had ample time to sit and enjoy a few cups of tea whilst watching people getting ready and setting off on their 20 or 30 mile jaunts.
Some seemed nervous, some seemed confident, and me… well, I don’t know. I should have been nervous, but I wasn’t. I watched runners setting off and thought I’d give some of them a head-start as spotting people ahead later on, should I start flagging, might be a pick-up and motivate me to give chase. Well that was the general plan, but it didn’t really pan out like that.
For this event there was a written route description which didn’t appeal to me. Instead I spent the afternoon before deciphering the descriptions and plotting them with the Ordnance Survey online mapping tool and printing the route on manageable A4 sheets. Being confident in my map reading it was just my distance fitness that was to be tested and at 8:40 I decided it was time to get running and clocked out.
Beforehand I thought I’d be happy with completing the challenge in around 5 hours 30 minutes, an average page of 10 minutes 30 secs per mile, allowing for mandatory checkpoints I was required to check-in at and would need to refill water etc. But within a mile or so my pacing plan, together with deciding I would walk for 5 minutes every 20-30 minutes, went out the window and was totally forgotten. Every time I saw someone in the distance I went on auto pilot, chasing them down, which was something I said I would make a concious effort not to do. Doh!!!
The 11 miles to the first checkpoint were muddy and slightly undulating. I covered these in around 1 hour 40 minutes which I knew at the time was too quick. So I clocked in, refilled water and grabbed a few Jaffa Cakes in the space of 2 minutes and left the checkpoint. As I hadn’t walked at all during the first section I deliberately walked for 6 minutes. This was mentally tough as the eventual winner – Steve Low – came haring past me on a short road section as if he was running a 10km race!
With a slower, more conservative pace I made my way along the still muddy paths and bridleways to checkpoint 2. This was around 17 miles in so I downed a small cup of tea, refilled water, grabbed half a lemon curd sandwich and proceeded on. I was a little shocked that I’d been there for 5 minutes and when I hit the golf course at Hankley Common I felt cold and rough. I can only put this down to stopping for too long and the temperature being a measly 1 degree Celsius. Donning hat and gloves quickly solved this issue. Also, by now, the mud had gone… to be replaced by energy sapping sandy tracks around the the common, and I honestly don’t know which is worse. Some nice golf course grass wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Once leaving the vicinity of Hankley Common it was time to tackle the gradual 1.5 miles and 150 metres of climb to the top of the Devil’s Punchbowl. Most of the climb was up a rough (mud and small rocks) re-entrant which lead to a flatter track with spectacular views around the southern edge of the Punchbowl. As I’d gone through a rough patch less than 30 minutes previously I decided to walk the whole climb. It didn’t take too long as I was able to stroll up at around 16 minutes per mile and it gave me time to enjoy my stash of Jelly Babies!
At around 23.5 miles in, and nearing the Punchbowl viewpoint, I joined the old A3 road. From here to the 3rd and final checkpoint was 2.5 miles and, on-the-whole, downhill. I felt I was running well now which gave me confidence and the thought of an extra 4 miles after the marathon distance didn’t phase me… I was looking forward to it!
After a brief chat to the kind volunteers at the final checkpoint and a couple of Jelly Babies in hand I departed on the homeward leg. Legs felt fine but I was hoping that around every corner there would be mud or at least some sort of soft ground! My left forefoot was in a little pain due to running in shoes with very little cushioning – Inov8 X-Talon 212’s. I knew this was likely to happen with such a lightweight shoe but I’d donned them for the day because the grip they offer is outstanding.
Luckily most of the last few miles were through fields and farm paths so I was happy(ish). And the fact that I was running around 9 minutes per mile during the last mile, without too much exertion, made me even happier. I finished in 5 hours 41 minutes, 20th place on the 30 mile course (results here). Even though I was outside my 5 hours 30 minutes target I was thoroughly chuffed, as the conditions and climb made it pretty tough going!
Food Drink Consumed
1 small cup of tea
2 x Accel Gel’s Vanilla (4:1 Carb/Protein energy gels)
2 x Accelerade 2nd Surge Ultra Energy Gels (100mg caffeine)
12 x Jelly Babies
2 x Jaffa Cakes
1 x small lemon curd sandwich
Punchbowl Marathon 30 Mile route map and elevation
Taken from my watches gpx data, Suunto Ambit 3 Peak.
Total climbing: 2667 ft
Total descent: -2910 ft
Total Time: 05:41:31