Winter Tanners 2011

This run is hard enough. 30 miles of hills and steps of the Surrey countryside. Add to the the miserable weather in the days beforehand leading to the very muddy conditions. Oh and what's that? I'm going to have to do all the instruction reading because I am running with Claire Shelley who couldn't find her way out of a car park in Portsmouth? Oh, and what's that? She has some sort of suicide bunny instinct for trying to get killed outdoors? I had my work cut out.

The sky was as blue as I have ever seen it. We've had a "bad" winter where some snow fell which caused chaos.  A plane was cancelled, some people got stuck on a train and one of my Christmas cards turned up late. I am exagerating of course, I didn't get any Christmas cards. Anyway many races suffered cancellations as the usual spate of health and saftey Nazism  encouraged us all to stay indoors and wait for the elders to tell us what to do while at the same time moaning at the makers of roads for not making them ice proof. Fortunately that had all blown over and it was a practically tropical 4 degrees at the start. This event was officially cancelled last year however lots of people turned up anyway to do it. I've never known a non-French ultra to surrender to the weather. The LDWA don't normally do that kind of thing. "At your own risk" is their middle name. No actually it's "Distance Walkers". But you get the idea.

Anyhoo, Winter Tanners. Turn up an a carpark in Leatherhead whenever (preferably between 7-9.30am), fill in a form and hand over a fiver and then you get given a number and a route description that in theory leads you on a beautiful circuit of Surrey before ending up in the same car park some hours later. The only things stopping us were a lot of stiles, some mud, many significant climbs and Running Induced Dyslexia. There were a few steps

I set out of the carpark with Claire, Teresa (doing her first ultra), Alex and Gemma and Jany who were both doing the 20. I ran fast at the start so as to get past the kissing gates before Gemma got there (they just slow me down). Past the Football Club where the summer Tanners starts and the Mole Barn. Pretty soon we are in the woods but are made to divert from the original route because of flooding. Luckily there is a special paragraph for that.

The run the instructions warned us of 191 steps to descend, these are the ones we go up and down twice in the Picnic Marathon (A hilariously diffficult marathon held in June every two years). Not long until we were in muddy fields and Claire was trying to get herself killed, firstly by running into an electric fence. I saw the big yellow sign "Electric Fence" seemingly suspended in mid air but obviously it was held up by a couple of electric wires. I had to yell at her to stop her running straight into them. Did she not wonder why everyone else was climbing a stile? Looking behind me I could see the massive chalk ridge that we had just come down, it looked amazing.

First checkpoint was in a car park after around 9 miles, it took us 2 hours to get there nad shortly before we ran into Kevan and Liz from the Serpies who were doing the 20. This checkpoint is where the 20 and the 30 go in completely opposite directions. At the CP I saw Dave Ross and Phillip who had caught up to us. The food was fairly basic (can't argue for a fiver), juice and biscuits. About a mile from the checkpoint we bumped into a guy running the other way asking us if we were doing the 30. He was doing the 20 but had set off with the 30 people. We said he may as well do the 30 as he was going to run 30 miles anyway with that kind of navigation skill.

Claire, Dave, Phil and I ran together for a while with me in charge of reading. It was quite a responsibility but I was doing OK I think, I don't recall going wrong. The instructions I think were the best I had seen in such an event, perhaps even too good. "Turn Left at track, 9Y ahead from Bridge and 11Y before road". Who has measured all this to the yard? Sometimes the instructions would switch measurements which confused all the Garmin people, from Yards, meters and miles. When it told us to run ahead 750 yards we'd get into a debate about how far 750 yards was. "Nah, it can't be this track cos we have not gone half a mile yet", "But 750 yards is less than half a mile?", "Is it? How far is a yard?" "Less than a meter", "Oh. Then what's a furlong?".

Shortly before the second CP we caught up with Hillary Walker who was (like everyone else) using a nice muddy hill as an excuse to walk. A quick chat about my America thing and Hilary suggested I treat it as a 9-5 job where I have to think that running is my job. I suspect there will be plenty of overtime when I get out there and I'll probably have to work through lunch too.

A bit later up the muddy hill there was an adolescent Horse (dunno what the proper word is) who was kicking around then then scared Claire back down the hill. I need to get some sort on instant camera to capture these events. The amazing climb up to Leith Hill was included on the route with it's very recognisable tower that sells ice cream. I was happy to wait in the queue for one but Claire was determined to press on and finish before the other Serpies who had started after us. Boring.

At CP 2 we bumped into Paula who seemed to be keeping up a good pace. I delved into some of the food I brought along with me. Sainsbury's were doing a half price deal on basically everything you need to eat for ultrarunning. Sausage rolls, pepparami, jelly babies, energy drink, milkshake. We pressed on and sent Paula down a long hill before calling her back to say that the turning was right here. It wasn't deliberate, honest.

More stunning scenery and a lot more mud which Claire tried her best to drown in. Just before the third CP there is a massive climb, over a railway up a hill into the forest and then up 100 steps or so. We had rejoined the slackers doing the 20 miles. The climb is beautiful but very hard. Regular Tanners veterans were saying that this was the hardest they has ever made it. Possibly due to the discontinuation of the Summer Tanners now.

I met Anna Gilmore for the first time at CP3 and then bumped into Martin Illot and Lawrence who I had met in the Spartathlon last year. MArtin made me laugh with a quote in his Spartathlon race report where he said "Pain is temporary, a commemorative perspex block depicting ancient greek runners lasts forever". It was good to see them again.

Behind us there was another team of Serpies being led my Alan Hall who I was sure were going to come up charging past us. They were all about twice as fast as me and Alan is about 50 times the navigator I am and thought that the half an hour we had ahead of them would not be enough and they would hunt us down like one of those pretend fox hunts that happens around this time of year. In the end they didn't which means my navigation was obviously awesome. Finished in just over 6 hours.

SO glad I got out of bed to do this. I recommend anything with Tanners in the title, and hope that the summer one will be back soon.