Gatcliff 50k - Nov 2006

Greetings from the ultra side.

On registration I picked up the 8 page map. My eyes glanced over the “TL into the FD. 600m FL ignore G continue and XST by the KGT”. Thinking how I often struggle to find my own bedroom I realised that this could be a long day.

And then some hope. I found a guy who was starting the race the same time as me. (I cockily turned up for the 9.30 start because I had this silly idea in my head that I was quite good at running.) Great. So long as I can keep up with him I’ll be fine. Oh, what’s that you say? You’ve won this event ten years in a row?


We started the first stage. I made a few observations on the way such as; its very muddy, there are a few hills, not another style, oh that rusty gate looks hazardous, ahhh look at those cute sheep. This was met with responses such as; yeah it gets muddier, yeah it gets hillier, yes there are hundreds, I know its worse in the dark, don’t be fooled by their apparent fluffiness – they are evil – just keep running and pray. I’d like to think I was currently doing the hard bit. How wrong. How wrong.

First Checkpoint – 7.5k 52 minutes. Apparently that was fast.

A drink and some chocolate digestives and we were away. (Incidentally, the entry fee for this was only £6. For that I got about 10 cups of juice, three cups of tea, soup, 10 chocolate digestives, 2 sausage rolls a ham and tomato sandwich, 7 ritz crackers, a twix and a bacon sandwich. Just a shame they make you get muddy first)

After about 8 miles or so my companion decided I was too slow. “Are you OK with the instructions as I’m going to pick up the pace a bit?” Yeah yeah I’m fine I say. I’ll figure it out.

Exactly two minutes later I was lost.

I was in a golf course. The instructions said something about a golf course but I couldn’t understand. I ask some golfers whether they’d seen someone run past and they pointed down a path. I followed and then onto a road, stopped a car an asked them the way to Godstone, the village I was aiming for. I was going completely the wrong way. That golfer had deliberately misled me. B*****D. Then I thought, if you are up that early to play the most boring sport in the world you have to do something to make it fun. (For those that think Cricket is the most boring sport in the world, you are wrong. Cricket is not a sport).

Somehow 20 minutes later and by accident I found a gap in a hedge that was mentioned in the notes. Found a yellow brick road and soon was in Kansas City.

Checkpoint 2 – 15k .05. need to bring meaning to the phrase “make up for lost time”.

If you are familiar with the works of MC Escher you may recognise the picture where the people are marching upstairs in a loop continuously. It’s a great picture sure, but it’s impossible in reality isn’t it? No. They have accomplished the very same thing over a 50 kilometre course using horrid muddy hills instead of steps. The course became unreal. One muddy hill followed another. A bit of muddy flat followed by a steep muddy hill then a steeper muddier hill followed by a slightly less steep muddy steep hill.

These hills could barely be ascended on foot. The worst came just before the end of the stage. A Big hill followed by a huge staircase. Stairway to heaven? Almost. At the end was chicken soup.

Checkpoint 3 – 24.5k 3.35 I could have jogged a marathon by now.

With races like this the most confusing map instructions are always the ones immediately after the checkpoints. Such as “Leave exit, Turn Left and then turn left on road”. That’s fine, but what about when there are 2 exits? And 2 roads?

Obviously I picked the wrong one and ran half a mile in the wrong direction before I realised that I had gone several minutes and have not seen a hill or any mud. I am way off course. So I returned to the checkpoint and was lead in the right direction. “This way dear, just turn left here and go into that big pile of mud”

What followed this was a really beautiful part of the course. I was on top of a big hill with great views of several other hills, villages and of course the M25. Finally there was a downhill bit. Unfortunately this downhill was so steep that I had to walk down otherwise I would have either broken my leg or ran straight into the M25. Still, it was a welcome break from hills and mud. (Did I mention those?)

One of the really exciting things about doing this race was the opportunity to carry some equipment that I had not carried before. In my bum bag were the following; A torch, a compass, an ordinance survey map (187), a rain jacket, 4 boost bars, paracetemol, Imodium, toilet paper (all bases covered), phone and money. There was one essential item that the organisers did not tell me I’d need – a dictionary.

“FR downhill, TL over F just before the bifurcated birch tree”. Forgive me for my poor vocobl poor vacublu poor covabular for not knowin no words or nuthin but I had never come across that word before. I knew that “bi” meant two or twice, but was does that mean? And then I realised, what’s the point of worrying about it? I don’t even know what a birch tree looks like? I ran back up the hill and bumped into someone I overtook earlier and ran with him for a bit.

Checkpoint 4 – 34k 4.50 For some reason I thought, its OK, it’ll get better. Given that it was getting worse and worse its hard to justify in retrospect that logic.

I’m not going to finish this in daylight. On the plus side I get to use my new head lamp. On the minus side how the **** was I going to manage to navigate in the dark given that I’m so bad in the light?

I carried on some quite pleasant and runable paths. They were uphill but not very muddy. I passed another couple of people. These events are fantastic for chatting to others. They were armed with Garmins that informed them that we have actually done more than the advertised distance. In the end I think the measured distance was 55k, I did at least 5 more on top of that in detours. After chatting for a while I decided I wanted to run again and so I set off and left them. In doing so I entered a world of pain.

I misread an instruction. I was supposed to follow a path until it reached a track. For some reason I read “track” as “style”. I ran and ran and ran saying “Where’s this f*****g style? Out loud if I recall. Some time later I realised that I must have got it wrong so I went back. I found the two intrepid explorers from before trying to figure out where to go. Here I discover a new trail race motto. “If you’re gonna get lost, take as many with you as possible”.

We were briefly on the right path and then came to an ambiguous point in the route. We could not decide whether it was left or right. Left or Right? Right or Wrong? Can’t remember exactly. But it wasn’t right.

Looking back I feel like such an idiot. We were about a mile from the next checkpoint. The checkpoint was called “Crockham Hill”, yet we decided to go downhill. Serves us right for being idiots. We crossed a huge field (which was probably muddy, by then I could not tell where my body ended and the mud started) and found a couple of people walking. They were not in the race, but they did know the way to Crockham Hill. Would you believe it? It was back the way we came. I didn’t see that coming at all…..

At this point it was getting dark and we were all walking. I could have run but I thought what’s the point? I’ll just get lost quicker.

Checkpoint 5 – 42.9k 7.25

I came here with a reasonably good time as a goal. I now just want to leave Kent alive. The rest of it is downhill. Lovely. We took a detour along a road that was going to Edenbridge, the place where we had to end up. I knew how to get there from the train station so in theory if we follow the signs to Edenbridge we’ll make it.

And make it we did. I arrived in a glorious time of 8.27. Not quite what I was expecting but I realised that this was the first race I’d done for ages where I didn’t know what to expect.

I was asked to take my muddy shoes off before entering the building. I said I already have. Those are my actual feet. “Oh”, she said, “use plenty of talc”.

So it finally finished. The hardest race I have ever done. Though, the last part it was no longer a race. Not with each other anyway.

Words I may live to regret……

On the train back to London whilst reflecting on my day of hardship I could not get this thought out of my mind…

45 miles on a flat walkway beside a canal?