Tag Archives: North Downs

Snowy Run – Revisited

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.

GoMotion Waist Light Kit - Ready to go
GoMotion Waist Light Kit – Ready to go

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!

The trail ahead
The trail ahead

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!

Beauty, Tranquility, Peace and Quiet - Who could ask for more?
Beauty, Tranquility, Peace and Quiet – Who could ask for more?

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.

Snowy Trails Ahead
Snowy Trails Ahead

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.

Nearly Home Now
Nearly Home Now

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 🙂

Trails and Hills

After being on a rollercoaster ride with my foot for the last few weeks, I have finally made the decision to pull out of any attempt to get to Leadville this year. It was only a small hope that I might have been able to run it but after I had run over marathon distance a few weeks back it seemed like all my training was coming together. Even though I had ramped up a slowly as I could, it was obviously too much after everything my leg had been through.

So, although I’m not going to be doing a 100 miler this August and that is disappointing, the advantage is that I can now concentrate on training for the MdS in April next year, which is now only 8½ months away. Hopefully that is more realistic as a training goal.

The Chantries

This morning I decided to try the foot out on some trails, with my new shoes!

One of the routes I used to run, and have run a couple of times since my ‘return’, takes in a few hills around Guildford, from the forests around the Chantries, up the sandy trails covering the hill on which the church of St Martha’s is situated, and then down the other side and up all the way to Newlands before coming back round again. About 11km loop of hills, not major hills, but a good ‘interval’ session  after a few loops.

Today, I only did a loop and a half, as I wanted to limit my distance to 11-12 miles as I am still testing things.

Nevetheless, it was a good run around the trails and nice to have a full run on the trails for a change. The shoes worked well, although as they are trail shoes, they are a bit tighter  to keep the feet stable so they pushed my toes together a bit and some hot spots were forming by the end of the run.

Marathon Day

The plan today was to do a marathon distance run.

I’d run nearly the distance a couple of weeks ago, but it doesn’t count if you don’t do the whole thing!

So I was ready about 7:00am after the normal faffing around with backpacks, juice and gels. Then I was out the door with my iPhone plugged in and my GPS and HRM strap tightened. On the last couple of my runs the HRM strap has been falling down around my waist all the time; not particularly comfortable, or helpful, as far as recording my heart rate is concerned, so I made sure it was extra tight today!

The weather has been better, by which I mean drier, over the last few days, so I anticipated that the trails would certainly be less muddy that they were a couple of weeks back. So although I wore a couple of tops because of the distance and the fact the sun was unlikely to show it’s face, I still wore shorts.

Marathon Run - 20/05/2012

The run took me first along the familiar Bramley railway line before I peeled off to Shamley Green, after another couple of km extending the run, as I was trying to get an extra bit in hear and there. The hills started at this point, first a gradual climb from Shamley Green to Farley green, then some undulations before the first big downhill to the outskirts of Albury. I normally join the A25 after this, but tried a different route today, across a trail to the edge of Shere, which was much more pleasant, and I found myself at the bottom of the turning up to Coombe lane in no time.

My legs had been managing ok up to this point, but I’d been taking it very slowly and my left ankle was still feeling ‘not quite right’ – I’ll have to talk to the physio about it. I was glad of a 20 second enforced stop at a level crossing (probably for the one train in 2 hours along that branch line) which allowed me a brief respite up the hill.

I wound my way down towards West Clandon, which was about 3km downhill and then across to West Horsley before the final uphill stint towards the top of Coombe Lane again, before joining the North Downs trail all the way home. I added another slight detour to get the extra miles in, out and back along the posh ‘White Lane’ with it’s multi-million pound houses, with their unobstructed views across the rolling countryside, before getting back to Pewley Hill.

It was a great run to have done, and even though it was grey and misty all the way, it was dry and a serious milestone in my training. I was happy to have not walked at all during the run as well.

My heart rate strap behaved itself as well 🙂


Not 100%

Liz was not 100% this morning.

In fact, she was still feeling really ropey, so I elected to work from home today and help out as much as I could. Liz stayed in bed as she still had a headache and was still having the flashes in front of her eyes. So, I made sandwiches while they ate breakfast and I tried to remember all the things that the children needed for their activities today (gym clothes for the little-ones I remembered, but a shout from above about Joshua’s Clarinet was a timely prompt) – otherwise the journey out and up the hill was uneventful. All the boys were in a good mood and Savannah was happy to hold my hand all the way up to Pewley.

Pewley Down - Dramatic Sky

I was back just after 9am and after fixing a coffee for me and a tea for Liz, I was connected to work on the VPN.

I spent most of the morning chasing problems with IE8 upgrades for business users, adding to my presentation and had a conference call about a future project.

Lunchtime was a quiet affair as well, but as Liz was unsure what she felt like, I made a surprise sandwich – Cheddar, ham, spinach, rocket, Mrs Balls original chutney and mayonnaise. Yummy 🙂

I had to leave to pick the boys up just after 3pm and after meeting them, we walked up to the downs and then back across to Pewley. The boys pointed out to me the fields where they run with the school club on a Thursday and proud Dad was happy to be with them at that moment. On the way through they pointed out the dramatic clouds and sky we could see from the spine of the downs – they are starting to enjoy the environment around them 🙂 very chuffed about that!

Unfortunately we had to wait for Luke and Savannah in their Boogie Pumps after school class, and here’s where the problems started. I was watching through the glass door and Savannah was quite happily dancing away, but then at the end of her piece slipped on her way back to sit down so the teacher asked her to take her tights off – at which point she noticed me and was clearly highly embarrassed a upset. So I moved away to save her further heartache. Then on the way down the hill she got upset again and I spend the whole journey coaxing her home.

After a snack (warmed oat waffles with honey) I made tuna pasta and then took the older boys swimming again. Joshua did his ‘trousers-and-tee-shirt-off-while-treading-water’ practice and really enjoyed himself. Morgan seemed slightly less attentive this week for some reason.

It was the usual late Monday evening for them after we got back home, but they were packed off to bed with only minor drama.

I was back at the swimming pool again for my lesson 20 minutes later – I seem to have lived there over the last few days (have been there on 4 separate occasions over the last 3 days) so I am beginning to know how Zelda feels. Still, this evening’s lesson was much better that last week, so perhaps that is rubbing off as well.

More cross-training planned for tomorrow – if I make it to work; Liz reckoned she was 70% by the end of the day but still couldn’t stomach food, so that doesn’t bode too well.

Normal service will be resumed shortly

For the last 3 months, since being signed off and allowed to run again, I have been trying to be very conservative with my training, but as per normal practice have been ramping up steadily with my distances and pace.

Starting from scratch again was far more frustrating than it was difficult. My mindset was one of desire battling with capability, and as my current (lack of) capability has won out, I have had to constantly temper my desire. As before I have tried to mix my runs during the week between intervals, easy and more lately ‘long’ runs, which embarrassingly have totalled less than 9 km up until last weekend.

Still, I am confident this is the right approach to getting my body used to the distances again. Speed is another matter though.

North Downs - St Marthas from Newlands Corner

Just before my ‘incident’ last year (I think I shall refer to it that way from now on, as it has held more than enough sway in my life over the past few month, but it’s hold is dwindling), around July / August time, I was quite capable of kicking out sub-4:00 minute km, and that was without any speed training whatsoever. Now, however, I am struggling to make sub-5:00 minute km even when running downhill with a following wind.

When I see my physiotherapist, Stuart, in a couple of weeks time I will need to ensure the programme he devises for me incorporates a lot of speed work in it.

Nevertheless, I am happy that my distance training is heading in the right direction, as I have just passed a milestone 10km run. At the weekend I was back on what was once a familiar route, from home up the challenging Pewley Hill (as a warmup) and then another 4 km of road and trails along the backbone of the North Downs to Newlands Corner, before turning round and following the same route in reverse. The quiet solitude and the beauty of the Downs came flooding back to me, after so many months of restriction and confinement, and now the rest of the world beckons 🙂

After a few weeks of running most days, I am now taking a rest week and concentrating on cross training but after that I shall be ramping up to higher distances and training in earnest will start in January 2012.

Six months ago I could barely walk without crutches. Now I am nearly at the stage where I can run without any issues and I am contemplating my first race, and my first ultra distance.

Life is good.