When you are training for a big race, consistency is a prime requirement – so today, snow didn’t stop play.
There is also a much used phrase which goes something like ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad equipment’ and today I was going to put this to the test.
I had prepared everything the previous night, hoping to get out about 5:30am so I stood a chance of getting at least 20 miles done in the conditions, and this included three tops, two of which were long sleeved, one wicking, shorts and longs with compression socks over injinji toe socks, a buff around my neck and a beanie to top things off – I’m sure I looked a real sight, but at that time in the morning, with the route I had planned and in this weather, I didn’t really care!
I figured the roads would be ok, but the pavements might be icy and some of the side roads I normally use could also be in and indeterminate state, from the point of view of whether the gritters had managed to get to them or not. No, I thought the best bet would be the trails since the snow would be relatively uncompacted and fresh where I was planning. I was half right.
I had my hated backpack (I must get into the ‘my backpack is my friend, it holds my food’ mindset for the MdS!) with its ballast of 6kg, along with my waist torch and today I thought I would try this in tandem with a head torch to see if this made things any better when looking ‘off-track’. Other than my normal juice and a snack in case of emergency and my phone, I was ready to go by 5:45.
I set off up the hill and immediately realised I had made the right choice. The road up Pewley Hill was very icy where the cars over the last 24 hours had compacted the snow and it was a veritable ice rink in places. The pavements were not too icy, but even so I felt the trails would still be a better bet and this was confirmed as soon as I levelled out across Pewley down. The snow was perfect; still soft, dry, not too deep and it reflected my torch so well I could see for miles 😉 The two foxes I saw crossing my path seemed relaxed and happy enough so I reckon they agreed!
As I carried on towards Newland’s I started to think about where I should go after this – down to the Chantries? St Martha’s? Even around Guildford?
Running to Newland’s Corner involves a couple of sections of running across a slope, with the higher ground to my left and the valley below. On occasions where the mud is particularly fluid, yet sticky, some of these slight slopes can be a nightmare to run through, risking sliding helplessly down the slope as you continued to traverse it. Often the only thing to do is simply to stop and pussy foot along. I was expecting this to be a difficult section today, but as luck would have it, the snow and frozen surface seemed to have combined into a firmer surface and this area was not a problem.
That fun was still to come.
I had seen lots of sledging tracks as I traversed the face of the slope about half way down it and thought what fun people must’ve been having yesterday. It was on what I reached the next corner,and the top of one of the slopes that the ghosts of yesterday’s fun came to haunt me. The top of the slope is, naturally, the starting point for all of the sledging activities which had clearly occurred within the previous twenty-four hours and the slope I was on now was like the top of an olympic ski jump, only I was trying to run across it, without skis on 😯 My trainers with their sticky rugged tread made no impression on the surface and I may as well have been wearing plimsolls. My pace for this section was down on average!
After reaching the top of Newland’s and crossing the road, I carried on along the North Downs, having decided the snowy trails and nothing to do with roads and hills was the best bet and I soon settled into a rhythm.
The trails along the top of the ridge are often quite muddy and there was some visual evidence of his today, as my torch picked out the darker patches and the tops of frozen puddles, but they were easily spotted and the easily avoided. There were large stretches where walkers, runners and cyclists had created ruts all following the same path through the snow; the path of least resistance.
Eventually I found my way to the top of Staple lane after the West Hangar car park and after a brief detour along the road looking for the continuation of the trail which joins through to Coombe Lane, which happened to be right opposite, but in the dark I missed it – duh! I continued down a brief section of road to the horse riding stables at Hollister Farm. The horses were still sleeping, but their presence was evident from the smell! The rough unmaintained surface had clearly been compacted by the journey’s of many parent’s 4x4s the previous day and I slipped suddenly as I realised the state of things. Thankfully straw had been spread around to reduce the slipperyness of the farm drive.
Leaving behind the only signs of ‘life’ I had so far encountered, I rejoined the North Downs trail on the way to Ranmore Common.
I have done this route occasionally, but never as far as I have been today, and never in the dark, and certainly never in the snow.
Up to this point, about 13km into the run, the Sun had not shown any evidence of honouring the world wth its presence, and if it had the tree covered canopies I was negotiating were effectively blocking any light, but about now I started to see the first signs; the slightly lighter sky, the silhouettes of the branches, more evidence of objects outside the tunnel of my torch, which correspondingly seemed dimmer. There wasn’t going to be a glorious and dramatic sunrise, but the additional light was welcome nonetheless.
I very quickly passed the point to which I have run previously and now started to keep an eye out for the new terrain and wondered what was up ahead.
I have a bit of a confession in fact, I think I probably wondered off the North Downs around this point, as the route split a couple of times and with the limited light I could not see the markings. Better planning next time I think.
Still after another few km of slipping and sliding around on what seemed to be a track frequented by motor vehicles I found myself on a road, which, after the icy uneven surface of the trail was like running on a carpet! However, road running was not the order of the day so at the next opportunity I ducked back to what I hope would take me to ‘better’ terrain.
The first spur I chanced on, took me over the edge of the Downs and through a patch of soft mud covered by soft snow. Slipping and sliding about I quickly turned round, not wanting to lose my shoe in the mud with 10 snowy miles still left to go. The second spur was similarly muddy and since I was about half way at this stage I turned back and started on my way home.
The dawn had well and truly broken by the time I started on my return journey and it was interesting to see where I had run in a different light, making an out and back run far more interesting than it might otherwise have been.
The icy patches still caught me on tired legs though and several times I slipped heavily, once outside the stables even knowing the conditions were bad. The two deer that I saw bounding majestically past me after Newland’s Corner didn’t seem to be having any such problems 😉
Even with 6km to go, by the time I got to Newland’s I felt I was on the home straight. There is a lovely long downhill to the Merrow golf course, followed by a slight uphill just to the south of the Epsom road before reaching the roads in the suburbs of Guildford. It was only here, at about 8:45, that I finally saw some dog walkers and one other runner. I felt slightly less lonely!
The final section to the town centre was a mixture of icy pavements and clear roads, so I obviously stayed on the roads and was soon home coming down the high street.
20 miles complete and under my belt and quite an enjoyable run in the end; running in the snow is great and the quiet and peace really helps with the meditative quality of the activity.
And that breakfast sure did taste good 🙂