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Hilly trail fun at The Punchbowl Marathon – report by Richard Boese

This Sunday could have been set aside for a London training plan long slow run round Sandhurst, Camberley and Crowthorne or wherever 20 miles of street pounding would take me, but instead I booked myself in for some hilly trail fun at the Punchbowl marathon. This is one of the Long Distance Walkers Association’s challenge events where you get given written instructions and you have to navigate your way round either a 20mile or 30mile course, mostly off road.  Aid stations are minimal – just the 3 on the 30 mile course, which also act as checkpoints where you get your timing card scanned. The other quirk to these events is that there is no mass start; you choose when to set off between 7:30 and 10:00am depending on how far you are going and whether you are running or walking.


Let’s start off with a Disaster! I intended to start at 8am giving me 2 and a bit hours to get to the first checkpoint close to opening time at 10am.  The alarm went off at 6am and I didn’t move from my bed. The backup alarm got me going 10 minutes later and I was ready breakfasted, dressed and had the motorbike packed for the trip to the start in Witley, Surrey, just over 30minutes away. It was a cold trip down to the village hall where the start is and I found a parking spot right next to the hall. Result! Then it hit me – I had managed to pack everything except my trail shoes!

I managed to get through to my wife on the phone – I think I got her out of bed – and got her to pick out my favourite and most muddy Salomons and take them to Farnborough Gate. Back in Witney I managed to get registered and ready to run and set off at 9am – an hour late.


Long Slow Run – or Trot/Walk/Read the Route?

Out of Witley I was trying not to get hung up on the late start and push too hard too early – focus on this as a training run – but fortunately there were not too many hills in the first 10 miles, so I was able to make some reasonable progress.  My main worry is that I thought I had set off absolutely last and so wouldn’t have anyone also on the course to follow and check my navigation skills against. This year’s route was almost he same as last year, so I did start to recognise a few trails and landmarks along the way.

The first half of the route takes in a lot of gently rolling heathland across Thursley Common  at 3miles, Ockley Common at 6 miles, Puttenham Common at 12 miles and Crooksbury Common and Hill at 15 miles. The second half of the route gets a bit more hilly with the long Kettlebury Ridge (from which you can see where the final scenes of the James Bond movie Skyfall were shot), on up to Kettlebury Hill and then the 2 mile climb up to join the old A3 at the Devil’s Punchbowl at 24 miles. After the Punchbowl things calm down a bit with rolling trails though woodland and farmland before getting back to Witley.


The important bit – Aid Stations and Results

There are three checkpoints and the finish. Checkpoint 3 is in an open barn in a farmyard, but all the others are in village halls with big tables full of sandwiches, cakes and biscuits, tea and coffee and squash. They are totally awesome, with great service and had plenty to eat, even for a latecomer like me. I think I now have my London Marathon nutrition plan sorted – tea and Jaffa cakes all the way!  Getting to the finish, there’s another quirk of the event – you have to take your shoes off before effectively crossing the finish line, as the scanners are inside where no muddy shoes are allowed. It added a minute to my time, but then you do get rewarded with more cups of tea and BEANS ON TOAST (YAY!).

The result for all this effort was a handsome new course PB for me, taking a huge 31 minutes off for a time of 7 hours 16 minutes. Definitely a grand day out.


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