It is now four weeks since the race in Zegama. And on Friday the exam period finally finished! This was a big relieve and it feels great not to think all the time about the next exam or essay. For months there was one submission or exam after the other. It is time again now to focus on sport.
Yesterday was the North Downs 30k trail run which is a very scenic run not far from Maidstone. I cross the ridge of the North Downs on a regular basis in my trainings and thought I would have to do this race at least once. It was also a Kent Grand Prix and I would like to help the Harriers to get a good position in this series. Unfortunately I can't do enough races on an individual basis.
The North Downs run claimed the first place in UK's Runners World in the category "other distance" so it would have been a shame really to miss the opportunity to start here!
On a training run on Wednesday some muscle groups started to be painful which forced me to stop. I had a few days left to treat my symptoms and my (still-) housemate Loic has helped me quite a few times in the past with some massages (thank you!).
On raceday I felt good and was just hoping the pain would keep within a bearable limit. It was a very hot day and I knew it was very important to drink enough on this day but also to cool down at every possible opportunity. Thankfully I had Josh who would supply me with Powerbar and water to cool down at the 10km and 20km aid stations so I had actually something different than just water. I also took a PowerBar gel on the way and chose for that my comfy Scott loose fit shorts with a bag either side.
Some familiar faces at the starting line would tell me that it would be hard to win today. After one minute of running a bright yellow shirt appeared next to me. It was to my surprise (and I am sure to his as well) Harold Wyber, teammate from Woodford Green. We were running the first mile side by side. I was trying to set a pace which I was comfortable with and was curious who would come with me with the result that I was on my own after two kilometers. I thought this was a bit early for a brake but I took it and just carried on and increased the gap to my competitors. The course went along a golf course, up and down some corn fields and into the woods. I was able to enjoy the scenery even though you have to be careful at every step as the whole race is basically on trails.
After about seven kilometers I crossed the bridge over the A2. The race marshal told me to turn right and to move on under the bridge. As I was just running on a bridge I concluded to make this 270° right turn and follow this cycling path which I could see from the top. Long story short: I went the wrong way because I could not see any sign saying any different. After a good minute I was quite sure I was wrong so I turned around but lost 2:20 with this maneuver and had an extra 600 meters on my watch. I was furious about myself because I knew there are some quality runners in front and it would not get easy to catch them. I knew I had to fight hard to make this time up but on the other hand I had to be patient not to overcook things in this heat. The water and Powerbar drink at kilometer 10 surely helped to delay this process. Soon after the aid station I saw the (now) leading five runners far away who did not realize they were leading the race!
There were just a few uphills on the north downs way and because they were pushing each other the group split up on the way to the highest point, Holly hill. I timed the distance between me and them and I just would not make up really any ground on these sharp uphills. Once it got flatter I started to catch one competitor after the other. They were all surprised to see me again and asked where I was coming from...
Before I reached the top of Holly hill I regained the lead and just carried on in my speed as the others were not likely to be able to change their pace just like that. I was happy to be upfront again and just carried on. I sure started to feel the muscles I was struggling with a few days ago. So I focused to have a smooth stride and to be as effective as possible. At the 20 kilometer mark Josh was awaiting me again and it was great to get this extra cool down and to move on with confidence because I was leading again with some distance. The last 10 kilometers were quite undulating with a few short but sharp climbs. I managed to get back under 2 hours and crossed the finish line after 1:58:30 and was 2 minutes in front of the second runner. Harold managed to get in 3rd place.
Data on Strava
It was a beautiful day and I absolutely loved this race. It was very unfortunate I went the wrong way but apparently the leading group took a wrong turn at the very same place last year. About 120 marshals on the course made sure we would make it back to the finish and they did a great job. And the live music in the finish area gave it a special atmosphere. A free cake and free massage in the finish area and other little efforts are the reason why this race is ranked #1. I only can recommend this race to everybody as it is well organized, quite challenging and brings you to some very scenic places.
Hopefully my next race will be the short distance European Mountain Running Championships in Pau (France). The selection will be next weekend. I would love to represent my country again at international championships!!!