Oh my God! Are we finally poking out heads from under the covers of Lockdown 3 (or is it 4?) and seeing that the world survived this particular asteroid strike/zombie apocalypse/Sharknado and we need to spend a week attempting to make ourselves look respectable, or at least human, again before heading outside? Yes. Yes is the answer and as part of the Yellow Brick Road back to normality, Dorothy, races are back on.
And boy will they be on. I have 21 planned for 2021 including 3 of the majors and at least 3 multiday ultras. Bring it? Consider it brung.
And this one in particular was a long time in coming. I was meant to run the Hurtwood 50, brought to you by Freedom Racing, the people behind the much-loved Serpent Trail, back in December 2019. I was in a funk. The post-Chicago malaise I found myself in made me bin the last few marathons of the year, including Hurtwood, but I didn’t really regret it much as 4500 feet of climbs in mid winter in the mud, cold, and darkness was not something I was looking forward to anyway.
But then COVID hit and races were gone until August 2020. This was annoying as I had a rerunning of Serpent Trail booked that year. Not one to wait for a whole year I asked to swap my registration from Serpent to Hurtwood in December 2020, as it should be on and they said yes. Yeehaw!
December, for what it was worth, came and went and when we were put into lockdown again the December running of my Hurtwood was postponed to January 2021. This was now the 3rd date I should have been running it. But again it was postponed due to Lockdown. And like European Techno, it was all starting to get a bit repetitive.
After the roadmap out of lockdown was announced (terms and conditions apply) Hurtwood was back on, this time on the 10th April. Celebrate good times times! Come on, let’s celebrate! But then it was postponed yet again to the weekend of the 17th and 18th to allow for social distancing etc yada yada. And it is this running of the race, the 5th time it had been on my calendar, that I actually got to run.
The Journey (more than a feeling)… no that’s Boston.
The lockdown rules at the time still prohibited hotel stays so I found myself getting up at 5am in Hampstead, to get a car, tube, and train before making the walk from Dorking Station to Denbies Wine Estate, the location of many debauched days at Bacchus races. And it was all very well managed.
One way into the registration tent, bring your own pins, marshal letting one person at a time in, and then only after sanitizing hands, and wearing a buff. Collect racing chip and number, drop bag and then mill about outside in a socially distanced manner until we were allow into the start funnel at 8am (2 metres apart) to start what would become the first race of 2021 for me, and 100 Marathon Club number 52.
With the day starting at stupid o’clock it was cold and I headed to Dorking with jogging bottoms, a hoodie and gillet over the top of my kit. I would make the mistake of keeping this on through the starting funnel and into the first half mile of the race.
Nutrition-wise I added the new Buzz honey based gels, Prime Bar beef salami sticks, Human bars, and the old trusted Squashies to the pack, with coke in one bottle and flat Lucozade sport in the other.
I also took my sticks, as it was over 4500 feet of elevation, which was another mistake as I ended up carrying them the whole way as I can never get them to stay put on my bag.
My Coros watch has been acting like a bit of a prick recently, not finding GPS on my runs in NW3 so I binned it off and used my phone instead, tracking the route on the OS Maps app, the distance and time on Nike Running and my intervals using 26.2, with Apple Music providing the sweet beats.
Oh, and the most important piece of kit, this image.
So to the race. I was about the 10th person out and in familiar surroundings. The start of the route took us around part of the Denbies estate, through the vineyards before heading out and into the countryside proper. The first hill was upon us before we could get into any sort of rhythm. Not that I could get into any sort of rhythm myself. I was overheating from the off and, after the first zigzagging climb around the vines I had to stop and take off my gillet and jogging bottoms, and then repack my bag for the rest of the race.
It was stunning, it was great to finally be out racing, and I was happy to be there. And I was getting my moneys worth, that is for sure.
Whilst helping someone to their C25K in between Pelotoning, my long distance running fitness has gone a bit west. Sure, this was hilly, it was a bad example, and, looking forward rather than back, Hurtwood is probably going to be my most difficult race of the year. Forget Stones, King, Cotswold Way and London to Brighton, this was hilly plus.
I realised this pretty early and was glad of the long cut off for the races at the start of the year. It meant I could take it easy and enjoy the scenery, and being out there for the first time since Beachy Head in October.
I did do it, it wasn’t pretty and I was glad of the checkpoints on the long there and back through the woods. If it was easy it should have been called Easywood, or Flatwood and not Hurtwood. I guess it is all in the name.
I like it!
I was faster than other hilly 50ks, notably St Illtyd’s first time around and Pilgrims in the snow, but it wasn’t great. It may well end up being my slowest time of the year, and that includes the second day of the chunkier multiday ultras. And I am actually ok with that. My goal is to get to 100 marathons and above in 10 years since the first (25/9/2015-24/9/2025), replacing my old target of 100 before the age of 50. COVID really threw a spanner in the works, and races were lost for most of the year. I can change the plan, without changing the ultimate goal.
I didn’t use my sticks. The ups and downs made the intervals almost impossible to adhere to. I saw plenty of people I knew, socially distanced and milling about at the start, before out on the there and back. And I have the utmost respect for anyone who runs Hurtwood in the winter. That would extraordinarily tough.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE HURTWOOD 50? In the Spring? Sure. In the Winter? Not so much.
WOULD I RUN THE HURTWOOD 50 AGAIN? Only if I have to.