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XNRG Pilgrims Challenge – Iain McCready tells of 66 muddy miles on the North Downs Way

I had decided to undertake the Pilgrims Challenge as the start is only 2 miles from my home and I was trying to get back to fitness after not being able to run in Portsmouth in December. I have had experience of XNRG events before having undertaken the Round the Island race in July last year so I was well aware that it would be a challenging run.

The run was to follow the North Downs Way (NDW) all the way to Redhill and back again on the Sunday a total of 66 miles and 2374 metres of ascent.

Iain Pilgrim Challenge route

After the race briefing just before 9am we set off in the morning rain. We were quickly onto the NDW as the start was situated very near to the Sands Golf Club and we proceeded to run along the perimeter. I had previously run on the NDW to Guildford so I new the route quite well. After a bit of mud and no let up of the rain I made it into Guildford to the first checkpoint. The Checkpoint was very busy with runners and walkers who had set of an hour before us, so I decided to miss this one and crack on.

The next section was unbelievably muddy and at times it was a challenge just to stand up. My chosen footwear for the day were Hokas and I wish I had brought some crampons! Newlands corner was especially difficult as I had to swerve round dogs, children and at one point a radio controlled car. After Newlands the trail was less muddy and I was able to run well. After missing the first checkpoint I was hoping the next one wouldn’t be much longer as I was running out of fluid. I had forgotten to bring my route card so I didn’t know when the next one would be so when after another muddy section near to Denbies Wine I was relieved to find checkpoint 2. I filled up my reservoir and grabbed a handful of Jaffa Cakes and trotted off looking forward to the downhill section I could see winding its way to the A24.

After crossing the A24 I was onto the final stage of the race. I still felt good and as I got to the start of the steps to the top of Box Hill and I was happy to trudge all the way up passing a few shattered runners on the way. After the summit I continued along towards Redhill and was immediately swept off my feet by a sea of mud. After a not so funny couple of minutes of trying to stand up I managed to crawl to a fence and make my way down a steep incline. The rain still had not stopped and as I approached the last checkpoint of the day I was relieved to find out that I had only 2 miles to go. After a little over 7 hours I reached the end of Day One feeling ok but very cold and muddy.

The base for the evening was a large School and the team at XNRG had laid on hot drinks and cake for the finishers. XNRG had taken over part of the school for the weekend and the gym was turned into a dormitory and a evening meal and guest speakers were planned for the competitors. I had planned to go home after the finish so I could get a good nights sleep and have a bath so I was picked up and left the rest of them to their evening.

Day Two started early for me as I had to be in Redhill for an 8am start. The walkers left at 7am on the second day joined with all finishers who had taken longer than 8 ½ hours to finish the first day.

We had another race briefing just before 8 and we were of again back to Farnham.

The race was very processional until the first checkpoint due to the very muddy conditions so finding a suitable pace to run at was very taxing. I decided to skip checkpoint 1 again I managed to find some clear space and started to get into a rhythm. Box hill on the return trip was a breeze and after a long slog up to the top of Denbies Wine I hit checkpoint 2; grabbing a handful of sweets I set off towards Newlands Corner. The mud was worse than the first day but after changing to a different make of runners for the second day I coped a bit better.

After Newlands and again trying to swerve around families out for a Sunday walk I soon found myself back into Guildford and at the last checkpoint. The run back from Guildford was mainly spent looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was gaining on me and after another hour or so I was back running past the Golf course where the weekend had started. After a sprint finish due to someone sneaking up behind me with 200 metres to go I went through the finish line. After having a medal placed around me and being pointed towards the table full of cakes I was given a read out of my time for the day. I had finished 24 seconds slower than the first day!

Overall it was a great weekend arranged by a great company.




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