Enough of the emotional gush that was #30for30, let’s get down to the nitty gritty that was Winter Tanners 30.
As I explained in my earlier post, the LDWA has two annual events in which they allow runners to enter – Winter Tanners (January) and Punchbowl Marathon (February). You can become an LDWA member for just £13 a year and then entries are just £7, yes £7 for 30 wonderful miles, an easy to reach start point in Leatherhead, a safe bag drop with toilets/changing and 3 checkpoints on route with all the squash, water, biscuits, nuts, jelly babies etc you can eat!
Let’s get on with the race. As you will have read, I wasn’t feeling the most prepared on race day, but with an easy 30 min drive from Fulham we arrived at a little business park/race HQ in Leatherhead in plenty time for an 8.30 start. Walkers can start any time between 7.30 and 9.30 but runners are encouraged to start after 8.30 to make sure checkpoints are open when you get there. It was raining when we jumped out of the car so my OMM waterproof jacket went straight on, over a Uniqlo thermal long-sleeve, FRC vest and Asics windstopper gilet. I had my favourite Sweaty Betty running leggings on, a Gore headband to keep my ears warm/rain out of my eyes, my trusty Asics Fuji Racer 3s on my feet and of course my Salomon S-Lab 5l ultra vest to pack everything in for the journey. In my bag I’d packed a spare baselayer, hat, gloves, emergency foil blanket, maps, compass, phone, food and filled up my 0.5l softflask water bottles with High5 Zero electrolyte drink.
I was quickly getting the hang of things as we ran at a nice steady pace, checking we were on track every so often and ticking off the milestones as we went. The first and only sticky situation we managed to get ourselves into, as I described in my last post (and you can visualise for yourself in the photo), was near to the start when I was following the instruction “in 170Y FR onto BY & keep ahd, ignoring all turns, for 2000Y to cross RD. Ahd thru 3 low posts & BL on permissive path with RD on L.” Our perception of 2000 yards, as well as our naivety in assuming that other runners would be going the right way, meant that after more like two miles we came to the end of a footpath in front of a row of cottages, which weren’t anywhere in the route instructions. Soon after we stopped, a little puzzled, more runners arrived at the same dead end, with the same confused look. I described this feeling and my reaction to it in my last post, so without repeating myself I’ll just say that with a bit of quick thinking and a small miracle I had soon led us back on track, reunited with familiar faces (those walking who we had passed but then had overtaken us as we made our detour).
It was a huge relief to arrive at the first official checkpoint, despite being told off by one of the marshals manning the tent there that we had run in to it from the wrong path. We took cover under canvas and fuelled up on what was available – I went straight for the fig rolls – had our barcode scanned to officially check us in and within minutes we were off again. Onto the second set of instructions, counting down the miles, reading one sentence of jargon after the next, which was slowly turning from a secret code on a page to something I could quickly interpret while on the move, the further we went and as time moved on. Soon we reached the point of no return in my eyes – the fork in the map and instructions that led those targeting 20 miles away from those going for the full 30. I was pleased that neither Leo or James gave any thought to this point, choosing to ignore it completely and just assume we were heading straight for 30 miles. I think if I had been alone I would have questioned my ability, strength, willpower to continue. Twenty miles seems quite enough, but I knew I wouldn’t have been happy with that decision in the end. Why would I run 20 miles to celebrate turning 30? It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, so we ploughed on.
I need to stop a little here and describe the challenging terrains of the course. I remember reading some previous competitors’ descriptions of the route and, while I knew this changed every year, as every single one seemed to heavily emphasise the sheer amount of mud on route I was prepared to see my shoes turn a lovely shade of brown at some point. Never mind the shoes turning brown, how about losing your shoes in knee high, slippery mud? This happened to lovely Leo. The mud was like quick-sand. One second you’d planted your foot into what looked like a little puddle and suddenly you’d lifted it out and there was no shoe to be seen! and we weren’t about to run the rest of the miles in socks, so in went the hand to recover it. Oh that mud. Somehow I don’t think I’ll ever complain about a cross country course or trail being a little muddy again. When you’ve seen and been through that kind of mud, I say bring it on! It ain’t ever going to be as muddy as Winter Tanners!
Checkpoints two and three came quite quickly, though there was some tough climbs and to be honest it became more of a hike than a run at some points, the hills just weren’t run-able and it was quicker and easier to get a good walking rhythm going. The drop in pace also meant that I could focus more on the directions, and it became clear why some walkers, if their navigation skills were on point, were extremely speedy overall. If you follow the route to the letter, don’t get lost, add on a few miles and minutes, you could end up getting round the route very quickly.
At the third checkpoint, with only 5 miles to go, it really felt like the end was in sight. For reasons I wasn’t sure about, this was the only checkpoint to offer tea and coffee, which with such a short distance to go was the last thing I wanted, maybe ten miles ago at halfway yes, but not now. We didn’t spend too long here, we were eager to finish and we really felt we’d nailed the route navigating now, it even double-backed on itself towards the end so we’d be back on familiar paths in no time. A few more fig rolls and we were off. Just before the final mile, as I described in my earlier post, I saw the most amazing sight I’d ever seen in an event. Firstly, Nige – who had initially promised would just be at the end – waiting then running alongside me, and then, from a far, a group of supporters with signs, the only crowd we’d seen along the whole route. As I got closer I realised they were my supporters, my friends, who had made the huge effort to come out on a miserable wet Sunday afternoon to cheer me on. It really made the whole 30 miles feel worth it and I couldn’t have been happier running to the finish after seeing their smiling faces. After 7 hours and 24 minutes I finally made it back to Leatherhead with Leo and James, starting and finishing in unison, a whole 30 (+2) happy miles together.