Here's an idea. This cold weather normally happens around the same time of the year doesn't it? It's quite common that say between the 21st December and 21st March that there are low temperatures, ice, snow, chilly winds and fog. It often comes as a shock to everyone, you only have to look at facebook updates, BBC news reports and bewildered geese walking on rivers to see the confusion that reigns.
But I have an idea, one that will eliminate this suprise we suffer every year. How about we just give this period of time a name? Something that's short and snappy but sounds cold and grim. Something to refer to when talking about this particular time so that we are not all completely unprepared when it comes. I even have an idea for a name. Lets call it...... Winter.
There we go, problem solved.
It was minus 9 degrees (the melting point of Bromine) as we headed out on the train to Farnam for the start of the two day XNRG Pilgrims Challenge where we'd be covering 33 miles of the beautiful North Downs way each day. Allan Rumbles said at the start that Surrey was his favourite county to run in and it's hard to disagree, even if it does have the highest population of Man Utd fans in the UK. Beautiful hills and trees and trails. There is no mention of something that'll kill yer here, it's lovely.
What is less lovely is the sight of so many men in tights. I think I was one of two runners at the start wearing shorts. So long as it's sunny it's still shorts weather. I was sporting a week long beard though, I like a warm face in this cold weather and that's what beards are for. And come Valentines day I will shave it off at that can be Gemma's present. Two birds and all that.
I started at a nice pace and would have been happy to get around without getting lost. I settled into a small group with some guys I just met, Richard, Bill and a girl whose name I don't think I got. She was running her first ultra though which must have been pretty exciting. There are only a few slight gradients on in the first half before we hit the steps of Box Hill.
I caught up with Jen Bradley around half way who as always was having Garmin problems. This time it was stuck on "map" mode meaning she knew that she was on course but not how far she had gone or how long she had been running for. Or the actual time but then no one wearing a Garmin ever knows that.
At around 18 miles we ran into the Denbies wine estate. I remember this from last year when I was marshalling at this point and we dropped the tortill chips all over the floor."Quick, scoop them up and put them back, they'll never know and they'll be delierious by then anyway". At this checkpoint were Ed and Phil and it was great to see them. I don't think Phil recognised me and was worried that I was not dressed correctly and thought I was a bit out of my depth.
I struggled a little with the asthma which flares in cold weather. The hills started, a runner near me commented "wow, this is the hill that just keep on giving". It did give a lot until the notorious Box Hill steps. I can't remember how many million there are but there are lots and certainly enough to make be briefly reconsider my choice of bodyweight.
Not long after the hill there was a lovely section of trail that led to a junction where a sign had been removed. Left or Right? Who knows but in these situations I was always tought that if in doubt go uphill. I did and a few guys followed me. Not long after we arrived at another sign which did not mention the North Downs Way on it at all. By this point we were a bigger group getting bigger by the minute. The more people who were there the more confused everyone got. It was obvious that if we are not not on the NDW then we should have turned right at that junction and not left. However as soon as you get a committee involved everyone becomes incapable of logical thought. At some stage it was suggested that we phone Neil. But all we would be able to tell him was that we were on a path that was not the North Downs Way. Not very helpful.
Anyway I went back down the other way with some others and soon we were back on track. I was pretty lonely in the last section but I didn't mind because the views were so nice. I plodded into the finish in just over 6 hours, pretty pedestrian but still quite pleased.
I love the atmosphere at the end of these races. Some time to put your feet up, have a beer, find a place to sleep and just chat to others who you may not have seen for a while. I caught up with Mark Collinson and Mimi Andersen and it was great talking to them. Mimi and I were plotting a cool thing to do next year. I also met Sam Robson for the first time and later discovered he was the chap who ran the London Marathon and then ran back home to Cambridge. He is a very quick runner with lots on this year.
I was giving a presentation later on may LANY race and it seemed fitting that this felt like some of those places we camped in the USA. More people but the same set up of sleeping bags and food in a canteen. The difference here is that I had so much more time. There was no rush, I'd finished by 4 and had all the time in the world to faff and eat and chat before going to bed at 10 and not having to be up till 6 in the morning. A lie in.
I think the talk went well, I felt like I missed loads of bits out. In the Q&A section Mimi asked me how I get out of the low points and I said I thought about my own funeral. It really works a treat. Imagine yourself in a box while everyone else is just banging about how awesome you are. No one is going to say anything bad are they? You can go on a complete ego trip. "James Adams was possibly the most important person ever to live on earth, and he was a snazzy dresser too". No one is going to call you a dick are they? And if they do they are not invited.
Anyway I didn't sleep too well on my punctured mat (I forgot that). It was like a nights sleep in the USA so was not too worried about not being able to run. The ground had been covered with snow and facebook had been covered with "My road race has been cancelled". There was not chance of this happening here though. Neil had worked through the night to keep this event going and it was going to. He admitted that even if he'd cancelled he knew half of us wouldset out anyway to get back to Farnham.
The trail was wonderful, it was like were were running on a completely different path. The trees were bowing under the weight of the snow and I ran with Dan De Belder who was complaining about having to crouch so much. It looked magical though and it was a little warmer than yesterday which was good for my chest. I was still in shorts as per the rules.
There were a lot of MDS runners here and this was great training for them. You don't really need heat or sand just tough conditions and snow definitely counts. I caught up with Mimi who looked like she was struggling a bit with her asthma. She admitted later she just needed to be told to man up. She did around half way and flew off into the distance.
I was thrilled to see that the girl I was running with yesterday (whose name I still don't know, sorry again) had decided to celebrate running her first ultra by running her second ultra the next day. Awesome.
The descent of box hill was interesting, trying to to fatally slide down the steps and soon were were on a big open field where hundreds of kids and parents were there hurling themselves down on sleighs. It looked great fun. I was going ok in the snow, my new bomb proof Columbia trail shoes holding out quite well. They are not that comfortable to run in but I am breaking them in for the end of March where I need something I can hurl bricks at and not feel a thing.
Towards the end of the day the snow turned to slush which wasn't so nice to run on but I was still glad I was out here rather than anywhere else. It was great weather for penguins, great weather for me. I thought about Oklahoma quite a lot though.
I finished the second day in about 7 hours, an hour slower than yesterday which seemed to be the norm. There were no McDonalds on the route but there was a good burger van at the end as well as cake and coffee. Great rewards for a job well done.
I can't recommend enough the XNRG events. I've done about 5 of them now and they are always a blast. Great for the first timers as well as giving the quicker guys a chance to race. The courses are always great and the scene at either ends of the races are great too. The extra work they had to put in to see that we had a good event to run on Sunday was immense. Thanks guys and see you at the next one.