I have been training for an ultra-marathon event that is taking place in August and Patrick Wadsworth mentioned that he was doing a new ultra which was being organised by the AAT Events team. It was only in Guildford so I thought it would be a perfect race to test out how my training was progressing. The event is called The Fox Ultra but they have three different distances: 13.1miles, 26.2miles and 37miles which you can also run as a relay. This race follows The Fox Way which is a scenic circular course devised by a man called Richard Fox who was an avid local walker. He was so amazed by the beautiful and varied countryside he found along the route that he was keen to share his findings and Richard set about signing and publicising his “Fox Way.”
It was a very early start on the day, I was up at 3am so I had plenty of time to eat, get ready and do my final checks to ensure I had everything I thought I may need during the race including a first aid kit that would probably have given St John’s ambulance a run for their money. Patrick picked me up at 04:45 and we headed off for the race registration at the Wilfrid Noyce Centre in Godalming. When we arrived I began to feel quite nervous because my longest run since August 2015 was 20 miles and I had only done that once but having Patrick there really helped. He said he was going to stay with me during the race has he had to be careful not to ‘overdo it’ due to him running the London marathon the next day… Nutter!
We were on the start line ready to go with our racing backpacks on and then at 6am, we set off. We had decided to start at the back as we weren’t aiming for a fast time and we didn’t want to get caught up in the flow and go off too fast. I’ve done that before and it’s never worked out well. Right from the word go, we had fallen into a steady pace and were just plodding along nicely, nattering all the time which really makes the miles go by very quickly. We started off going across lovely farmland fields and down small country lanes towards Shackleford and then everyone in front of us started to disappear. I wasn’t worried about how quick they were going as long as Patrick and I kept well within the cut off times we would be fine. They give you approximately 2 hours to complete each 10km distance and each of the 6 checkpoints had a cut off time which was very generous.
The route took us through Puttenham and towards Wanborough via my favourite named local place – Christmas Pie Avenue in Normandy. We had manged to reach checkpoint 1 in Flexford and were treated to the delicacy of chocolate biscuits and sweets all washed down with some squash, coke or water. Patrick had made sure that we didn’t waste too much time in the checkpoints as that can make the difference of getting round in time or getting a DNF and neither of us were prepared for that to happen.
Although I had lived in Guildford for a long time previously, I never realised how many beautiful routes there were around and how tranquil they are. On parts of our route, there was no one and the only company we had were the beautiful bluebells which was lovely. I was trying to recognise places that we were passing but I couldn’t until we ended up running through the Merrist Wood golf course heading towards The White Lyon and Dragon pub in Worplesdon. This was our second checkpoint and at 9am it was the start line for the marathon. At every checkpoint we had to scan our chip so they could track us and at this checkpoint Patrick tried to scan his watch instead of the chip!!!! After topping up our supplies we headed off again towards Sutton Green.
We had been running again for about 15 minutes when I saw a runner going the wrong way and heading towards us. On closer inspection, it was in fact our very own Max Woods who was running from the train station to the marathon start line. After a quick hello, good luck and see you soon when you fly past us, we carried on. We soon found ourselves on the canal path heading towards Ripley. It was during this point in the run that we were slowly but surely catching up with those that may have set off a little too quickly, secretly it is a nice feeling when you can catch people. Patrick and I just weren’t sure if they would be overtaking us back on the latter part of the run.
After we left the checkpoint in Ripley, we were on route to West Clandon. We were running along small country lanes and we saw a lot of classic MG cars that we doing a rally from London to Lisbon which was cool. This was quite a busy road with those cars, people out on road bikes and other runners but we managed to not get run over before we were off road again. We then had to run down a private road where we were admiring the humongous houses, they were ridiculously big!!! Things like this are a nice distraction. Anything that takes your mind off the legs running really helps and before we knew it, we were at another checkpoint which was the half way point for the marathon and 26 miles for us.
There were some more ultra runners there so we had a little chat whilst we restocked and off we went. As we were passing West Clandon train station (the start of the half marathon), I did think that it was quite handy having all these stations along the way in case you got injured or something. Patrick and I did contemplate whether or not anyone would notice if we jumped on a train for a bit but said we had run it…. we decided against it, not sure anyone would believe that we could run faster than Mo Farah and we were enjoying our adventure.
As we were heading off road again we came across some school girls on a narrow footpath who were training for the Duke of Edinburgh. They let go by wishing us luck as we went and in return Patrick wished them luck with not getting lost. We actually passed them again further on in the race as they had taken a short cut. In the distance I could see the summit of Newlands Corner and I have to admit that a bit of dread did wash over me as I thought we may have to go up and over but to my relief we went around it towards the Silent Pool gin distillery. It was still a bit of an incline so we walked it. Unfortunately it wasn’t a good time to stop and have a gin so we carried on towards Albury. As we were running through more fields, we came across more kids doing DOE but this time it was a group of boys. There were a few more walkers on this route and they were kind enough to also wish us luck.
It was at approximately 28 miles when we were passed by the marathon leaders and man were they flying along. They still had time to tell us well done and then they were gone. It wasn’t until quite a while later that anyone else went by so we knew that they were running a fast pace. This part of the route was much hillier and we had to walk a bit more now as we didn’t have it in our legs to run the hills and we needed to conserve our energy to get to the end. It was at this point that I ran out of water having forgotten to fill at the last aid station, rookie mistake. Luckily for me Patrick saved me as he had plenty in his platypus. There were a couple of sections along here that had steep downhill sections and that was very painful for my toes and my knee which I had twisted slightly on an earlier part of the route.
I quickly learnt that my multi terrain shoes weren’t good for long distances as they weren’t wide enough to cope as my feet became hot and swelled. Luckily I had lots of talc in my socks which I always do before long runs to stop blisters so I didn’t get any rubs but going downhill was really painful. On the flatter parts and uphills it was ok so I could keep going. It was on one such steep downhill section that we heard a familiar voice behind us so we turned around and saw Max. He was telling us that he had set off too quickly and he was now paying for it. We offered him some encouragement, more good lucks and off he went again. Max made that downhill section look like child’s play as he whizzed past us and some more runners further down who were taking it as gingerly as we were.
Both Patrick and I were feeling our legs tiring and I was getting desperate to see the last aid station. Every time we came across a road I told Patrick that I was sure the aid station was close. He liked my optimism but sadly it was to no avail. We weren’t chatting as much now as it was starting to get harder. We finally arrived at the last checkpoint and were met with hot cups of tea to Patrick’s delight. The guy who came 2nd in the ultra in just over 5 hours was there helping the marshal. What an impressive run he had and he was only a couple of minutes behind the winner. He offered us some kind words and we set off for the final 5 miles of the race.
Patrick was hoping we would do it in under 8 hours and we were on target to achieve this. We were back on the canal path now and as we were getting closer and closer to Godalming I was getting more and more excited and began cheering us on myself… poor Patrick having to put up with an excitable me. In the distance I could see a little roundabout across the water and I did a little cheer thinking it was the one near the finish line only to realise it wasn’t. Gutted but we carried on running looking for a bridge as we knew we had to cross over one to be on the right side to finish. All of a sudden we saw an arrow telling us to go up on the road and that’s when I realised we were a couple of minutes from the finish line. The happiness caused me to jump in the air with delight but I didn’t realise there was a woman there walking her dogs on the bridge and I jumped right in front of her. I also cheered loudly and whoop whooped telling Patrick we were practically there. It must have been quite a sight as I made the woman burst out laughing! We ran over the bridge, crossed the road and then we saw it, the finishing line and what an amazing sight it was.
Patrick and I had ran the whole way together and we crossed the line together too. I was so elated, we made it and it had been a fantastic race. We got given our medals and headed to the fuel station where they had ice pops. They went down very nicely, so refreshing after being warm from the race and then came my favourite part.. taking off my shoes and socks and walking on the grass ahhh lovely. I just want to thank Patrick for sticking with me and getting me through it, he makes an excellent racing partner and such great company. The race itself was brilliant, a good mix of road, fields, woodland and canal paths with such stunning scenery. This was the first running of The Fox and I hope they do it again next year. I will definitely do this again and highly recommend it.