The Foxy Harriers tackle the Fox Ultra Relay
Leg 1 – Godalming to Worplesdon – Nikki Legg
A 4am wake up was a shock to the system on a chilly Saturday morning. Arriving at the church, to register for the Fox Ultra relay was just as intimidating as I had imagined, with a lot of proper runners preparing to tackle the ultra and me. On the plus side, I arrived before a massive queued formed for registration, saw a smiley Chris Peck wishing me luck, and I was outnumbered by men, so there was no queue for the ladies loos! I dawdled over to the start line, really not feeling ready for it and lingered at the back, wondering what kind of excuse I’d need to give to pull out. Then, someone said go, and we were off. Then I saw Jo and Wally the bunny at the start and my mood lifted! I paused for a quick pic with Wally and headed off.
The first section of the route was fine, along passed the bandstand, down Borough road and along the section of river that runs parallel with Peperharrow road. The orange arrows were definitely visible and I started to feel more confident I wouldn’t get lost. Running was hurting though and I couldn’t find my pace and I didn’t want to do it. Then, at the end of the path by the river there was an arrow pointing left and as I dived in to the prickly, undergrowth, I realised it meant, turn left at the path, and I started to not trust the arrows.
I was led into Milton wood (a part of Godalming I hate! It’s swampy paths and slippery boards are one big nightmare for me, for someone with a fear of falling over). I picked my way through, saw a dead frog and wondered if it had died being trampled by my fellow runners. I shuddered and then couldn’t shift that thought from my mind. Finally, I was through a gate and on to firmer terrain and I continued, but I was starting to think I needed the loo and running still did not feel comfortable. I felt like I’d been running for hours, but my watch was barely saying 2 miles and I was not having fun.
I ran along a pathway, that run parallel with a farmyard and at the end of the road, I saw the A3 and the garage and dived in to use their facilities. I walked up the hill to the bridge over the A3 and then ran down the other side of the bridge into a field. I was running through super windy fields with not much clue where I was. I knew I was heading towards Shackleford, but wasn’t really sure where I was going to come out. I’m not embarrassed to say that I had a few conversations with the sheep as I ran passed their field.
I came out on to a road that ran through Shackleford village and I was feeling great. 3.5 miles in and my pace was good, my legs had stopped screaming and the negative voices in my head were silent, life was good. Another orange arrow took me off the road and onto the weirdest grassy terrain I have ever encountered. Nicola described it to me as grass balls, but at the time I thought it was deep tractor tracks covered with long grass. It was impossible to run on and just as impossible to walk on. Every time my foot hit the ground my ankle went over, it was horrid and also included a hill. Annoyed that my running had been interrupted when it had been feeling good, I stomped up the hill.
As I continued up a grassy path, I started to walk up the hill and recognised a field that belonged to Roger Taylor. Sensing that I was getting near Puttenham, I felt excited and I continued walking up and round the corner I saw my friend Kieran with his baby son, Felix. This boosted me to run up the last bit of the hill to see them. Clambering over the stile with my tired legs was hard, but I managed it without falling on my face. Then, Kieran and Felix ran through Puttenham with me. Unfortunately, they boosted me so much, that my pace sped up significantly, tiring out both me and Kieran. At the edge of the village we said our goodbyes.
Boosted by that surprise meet up, I was feeling good, if a little out of breath. Then I saw the hill, I was approaching mile 6 and knew there was an aid station coming and a big downhill, so I walked up the mountain that leads to the Hogs Back and then, gratefully, ran down the hill to Wanborough. As I came to the bottom, I had to brave crossing the busy road to the rapeseed field. I was really pleased to be running through the field and cutting out the curves of the road and was still feeling good and looking out for the aid station. I saw an arrow pointing left, through the rapeseed, but, inexplicably chose to ignore it. Thus leading me to a longer way around the field, instead of through it.
I made a quick pitstop at the aid station and ploughed onwards. The wind was picking up and nearly blowing me over on open fields. There was an eerie bit that involved a loud ghetto blaster playing rap music, in the middle of nowhere, with noone to be seen. I ran a bit faster through that bit. It was also here that there were so many stiles. Clambering over one of them, with my tired legs, led to one of my hips clicking and a surge of pain up and down my leg. Limping through the next field, I began to wonder if I would be able to make the last few miles. I’d promised to reach the church by 10am and I had around 40 minutes left, which should have been just enough time, however, running was out of the question. All I could do was limp on and hope that would help the situation. Luckily, it did ease up and I could continue across another busy road and head deeper into woodland and over many more stiles
Soon, I saw the golf course on my left and knew that I was really near the church now. But with 2 miles to go, I couldn’t work out where I was coming out. I got confused and thought I saw the manor house of Merrist Wood long before I had and as I was walking up a steep, grassy hill, I thought, that I was going to come out at the church. I was wrong, I came out at Merrist Wood college and as I started running, I could see my mum’s car and that boosted me that I might see her (I didn’t, she was drinking tea with a friend!). I came to a Y in the road and couldn’t see an orange arrow and wanted to go left, but something made me go straight on (thankfully, because that was the correct route) and after running passed emus and alpacas, I ran through a gate and towards Linda. It was so good to see her. She ran with me up a hill and across a ridiculously busy road to see Helen in the car park of the church. I was finished. My tired legs have never been more pleased to stop running. I handed over the timing chip and cheered on Helen, as she headed on her way through the churchyard.
Leg 2 – Worplesdon to Clandon – Helen Askew
It had not been the best of training plans, having a chest infection for the two weeks before my first half marathon. So, I found myself at the start waiting for my wonderful team mate, Nikki, wondering mostly if I would get lost and or if my lungs would crap out on me.
As the chief marshal started the marathon runners early, I found myself heading off on my own through the pretty church yard of St Mary the Virgin. Nerves has been plaguing me for the last few days but thank goodness for my other wonderful team mate Linda, who crowbarred me out of the house by coming and picking me up.
Being new to running for longer distances, I had been trying out various options for in run fuelling and as sweeteners and additives tend to rile up my asthma, I had landed on dates and glucose tablets. Dates had never tasted so good and are now a firm favourite for running.
The route was very well sign posted and I found myself enjoying the rhythm of the run and the scenery immensely, leg two was the flattest and took me though woodland, open fields, secret paths behind houses and along the river. I’m a low tech runner but managed to perfect the art of texting Nikki and Linda updates as to my location as I passed locks and bridges.
It was lovely to stop and chat for a moment at the Send water station and I treated myself to a well-deserved jaffa cake. The poor marshals were very cold in the wind but it didn’t stop them trying to wind me up, by telling me that the cows in the next field were quite randy.
Before long I realised I was running towards Ripley high street somewhere I had not been for years, this was the most traffic I came across on the route and I’m afraid I became high irritated as I waited for the green man, didn’t they know I was in a running event?
Despite being born and raised in this area, I really don’t know it well at all, as it turns out. So, I had no idea how close I was to the end until I turned the corner and saw Nikki and Linda’s two girls who broke in to cheers to encourage me on and who ran in with me that last few yards.
To be honest even as I was running the leg I could not imagine running the whole distance, who would have thought I could run half a marathon? Well as it turns out I can, and I did.
As my running mates will testify I do rather love fox’s, to now be the proud owner of a fox medal for running on the Fox Way makes me rather happy.
Leg 3 – Clandon to Godalming – Linda Chung
It wasn’t until a day or so after the race that Nikki mentioned she was writing a blog about her experience, and did we (Helen and I) want to also write about our legs? “Yes!”, I said enthusiastically, but inside I wished I’d paid more attention to my surroundings during the race. Never mind, I can come at this from a different angle…
Being the last leg, I had waited patiently (or impatiently) for what seemed like forever to run my leg. Really, I just wanted to get it over and done with. I had felt very intimidated by leg 3 when I’d taken a look at the route (stupidly, for the first time) the week before. It was “hilly”, and my “training” had been too little, too late. Hey ho…
Waiting at the aid station for Helen to arrive, I managed to use the portaloo twice (clearly, nervous toilet use!). I chatted a little to the volunteers, and watched as the last few ultra runners came through, stopping for supplies, taking their time before continuing on with their journey. When Helen arrived, I was totally not ready to start: all fingers and thumbs attaching the chip to my wrist. And then I was off…
I set off at a slow, steady pace. I didn’t want to wear myself out running uphill, with what looked like on paper little respite from the hills, for the first 2-3 miles. In reality, yes it was uphill, but it felt quite gentle, so not the terrifying ascent I had imagined!
It didn’t feel like a race. I was running by myself, without any other runners in sight, and once I’d turned off the pavement in Clandon, didn’t see a soul for quite some time. I kept alert. I didn’t want to miss an arrow (they were bright orange and very noticeable), whilst in the middle of nowhere, all by myself! Eventually, in the distance, I saw one of the solo ultra runners I had seen come through at Clandon. That cheered me up no end, knowing I wasn’t by myself anymore. I said “hello” as I passed, and exchanged pleasantries. I carried on like this, until I’d passed the 5 or 6 ultra runners I’d seen earlier at Clandon, each time saying “hello”, and checking they were ok. I have no idea how many miles I’d covered by this stage, or where I was!
During the few days before the Fox Ultra, we’d kept an eye on the weather. On the day, Storm Hannah was still around, so it was windy, but thankfully dry, and not at all warm. The temperature was ideal for running. For much of leg 3, the wind wasn’t problematic. Running up the side of a field, I felt a couple of gusts actually blowing me up the hill. Very welcome relief from running uphill.
Further along, running through Blackheath, it was very sandy underfoot, and I could see swirls of sand being blown up by the wind. With head down, and hands shielding my eyes (I really didn’t want sandy grit underneath my contact lenses), I trudged on through the sand. Rookie mistake! I came to the end of a path, and in the distance, through the bushes, what I thought might be an arrow, turned out to be the red brake lens at the back of a car. I had so wanted it to be an orange arrow! I turned back, retracing my steps, and thankfully it was only a couple of minutes or so before I found the right way. Phew!
As I plodded on, I passed a few more ultra runners. I liked this. A “race” where I wasn’t overtaken by anyone!! (Though obviously everyone I passed had run a marathon more than me, starting at 7am, when I had still been tucked up in bed!) Eventually, I came to familiar territory. Recognising Bramley, I realised I probably only had another 3 miles to run. Off the main road from Bramley, I ran/walked up the hill towards Godalming, and then started my descent into Godalming, passing through Catteshall, and then turning onto the tow path. The home straight!
In the distance, I could see the finish line flags. I could hear people shouting my name, but I couldn’t “see” anyone, so I just carried on running, eventually seeing Nikki, Helen and some other Harriers. Such encouragement at the finish line, and what a welcome sight. And I’d finished!
I thoroughly enjoyed the cameradie of being in a Fox Ultra relay team. And I thoroughly enjoyed running leg 3, despite my reservations. Who’s joining me next year?