Lenham Cross Winter Marathon – Hitting the North Downs Way for some steps…

Last Sunday I drove 100 miles to Detling in Kent to run the inaugural Hit The Trail Running event, the Lenham Cross Winter Marathon. Race Director Tremayne Cowdry has picked a cracker of a route there and I’m sure that this race will be a feature for many years to come. It was well organised, inclusive, the route was well marked and there was some lovely cake on offer at the finish, courtesy of Tremayne’s Mum and her friend. Bonza! It was great to catch up with some friendly faces, including chip timing maestro Chris Mills, previous Grand Slammer Phil Bradburn, and fellow wannabe Grand Slammer Lee Kelly.

Allan Rumbles and RD Tremayne Cowdry enjoying the thought of the runners having fun with steps on the course!

[Photo credit: Allan Rumbles]

This race provided me with a great opportunity to recce some of the later miles of the NDW100 route (Bluebell Hill to Lenham Cross) and test my fitness. I’ve run some hills in training but have mainly been running flattish trails and roads since January. Oh, and I had the famous Detling steps to enjoy along the way…

The race is split into two out and back sections, the first from Detling to Bluebell Hill and back (around 8 miles) and the longer second section from Detling to Lenham Cross and back. It was a beautiful day and I soon removed my arm warmers and embraced the rare experience of running in a t-shirt in February, even wondering if I might get a little sunburnt! I had decided to resist looking at my pace on my watch as much as I could and to focus on running to feel, making sure to run the flats and downs (however short the section might be) and hike the hills with purpose rather than bumbling along. It was working well as I reached the first aid station, Detling village hall, in good time and was greeted by a smiling Tremayne.

The first sign of steps and we hadn’t even reached the Detling ones yet!

Still not at Detling!

A welcome reminder that I was still on the correct route!

One of several views along the route that encompass why tail running is do good for the soul – the early morning most visible below

After a quick top up of water bottles at Detling I marched on up the hill to rejoin the North Downs Way, soon enjoying the gradual downhill along the Pilgrims Way. Then a sharp left into a field led to a spell of uphill hiking intermingled with running as the single track levelled off before climbing again. This continued until the Detling steps – which seem to strike feat into so many runners from the NDW100 race reports and Centurion Running Facebook group posts – appeared.

Views from the North Downs Way aren’t too shabby – this one was looking down to the South East of Detling

The view looking back towards Detling isn’t too bad either!

The Detling steps – there wasn’t much opportunity to run these downhills, at least not with my (lack of) coordination anyway!

After reaching the bottom of these steps were able to “enjoy” another uphill climb!

Heading East towards Lenham the trail featured more climbs, including more steps, some more downhills, and mainly hard packed gravel and country tracks/roads, with a bit of mud thrown in for good measure. Quite how I managed to avoid tripping over my own feet and impaling myself on the barbed wire fence running alongside a narrow path on a runnable downhill section I don’t know. I was very happy about that though!

Mind your feet on this bit!

Lots of runnable tracks as well as steps

The Pilgrim sculpture just off the trail a couple of miles from Lenham Cross – he looked as fed up as me at that point as my legs were tiring but my spirit remained strong

Cheer up fella, the sun is shining and it’s t-shirt running weather in February!

The stretch from the second aid station at Hollingbourne to the turnaround point and third aid station at Lenham Cross marked a bad patch of the race for me. I was struggling to keep moving at my earlier pace and miscalculated how far I had to go until the turnaround. I thought I hadn’t even covered half of the race distance yet, forgetting about the first 8 mile out and back! The Pilgrim sculpture caught my eye and cheered me up and I took the opportunity to go off trail for a quick selgie with the big man to cheer myself up. This helped me reset and regroup mentally, trotting on to the turnaround a couple of miles away.

Lenham Cross memorial – much better photos are available!

Now it was time to dig in and get rid race done. I knew what was coming on the way back to Detling and maintained a run when you can, walk the hills (and downhill steps) strategy. The winter sunshine and unseasonably warm weather was making for an enjoyable day out and I was focused and kept moving. Before the day had started I thought that if I could finish in around 6h30m I’d be happy with my race and how my fitness is building in the lead up to the Thames Path 100.

As I made my way back to Detling I could see that this finish time was within my grasp, something such helped me to keep going and keep running rather where in previous races my head has gone and I’ve resorted to walking more in the later stages. I was absolutely delighted to see the part set of steps before the mainly downhill section back to Detling.

Joy unbounded upon seeing the steps back up to Detling from the final time

Cracking on, I heard towards the finish and was very happy to cross the line in just over 6h21m.

Only a few hundred metres left to go

Happy days – good race bling

Overall, I’m delighted with how this race went. I didn’t get lost. I didn’t lose my head and suffer a prolonged lose of confidence mid race (as I had during Wendover Woods 50 in November). I managed a decent time (for me anyway) on a hilly course without having run many hills in training so far this year. And I gained some welcome confidence in my running ability 10 weeks out from the TP100.

Most importantly, I ran 16 miles over the two days following the race and felt strong. The Grand Slam attempt is on!