The Punchbowl Marathon is another of LDWA Surrey group’s challenge events. So, similar to last month’s Winter Tanners it’s either 20 or 30 miles of cross country trail following written route instructions with checkpoints at around 7 to 11 mile intervals. Unlike Winter Tanners the Punchbowl route is the same each year, and it’s more of a traditional LDWA challenge event, in that there are well stocked aid stations with hot drinks on course and a hot meal for finishers, unlike the traditionally more basic Tanners.
A month later in the year there is an hour more daylight and, as there are many more sandy trails on this course, it makes for less mud. This was also helped by some reasonable weather in the days leading up to the event and, although it rained the day before, Sunday was a crisp clear sunny day.
The plan for this event was to run with my friend Leon, but he called the evening before saying he was probably not going to get home before 3am. He was crewing for our clubmate Max Woods who was doing the 100 mile Arc of Attrition. So, I called up another running friend Hannah, to share a lift with, who was doing the 20 mile route. Having done over 60 marathons and ultras, you’d think I’d have everything sorted in my race bag but I managed to get two miles from home before realising I’d forgotten my race route instructions. I was a mile away again, when I realised I’d forgotten to put my contact lenses in. Damn it! That’s not a good start.
I arrived at Hannah’s with my phone ringing, but just twenty minutes later we got to the start at Witley, parked with no trouble and registered for the 7:30am start for walkers and slow runners. After finding spare contact lenses in my bag, getting in race kit and a bit more faffing I was ready to go about 5 or 10 minutes late.
The 20 and 30 mile routes are the same for the first three miles so Hannah and I shared the navigation, catching up with the walkers in the first mile.
This made for an easy start to the event, and though we lost quite a bit of time filing along single track paths, it meant getting to chat to quite a few people along the way and not having to pay much attention to the route description.
That changed at Thursley Common with the 20 and 30 mile routes splitting and, with the wider trails, being able to trot past most of the walkers. Soon I was jogging along by myself with just a few other runners in sight.
The route came to Elstead from the south and I had caught up with a few more walkers, so I got chatting again, not realising that the 20 and 30 mile routes had briefly rejoined and I was following some 20 milers. I thought the route looked wrong getting into Elstead but by the time I had backtracked to a main road in the village and got back on the route I had covered nearly a mile extra and with the late start, lost nearly 30 minutes.
After Elstead it was off to Puttenham Common and then the first Checkpoint at 10.7 (11.7!) miles at a little village hall in Puttenham. I took time to have a cup of tea and some biscuits and cake and pack away my light jacket as I was too hot. Out of the checkpoint and back to the main road, the instructions said turn right, but looking left I saw people running off in the opposite direction. “Just leave them to it”, I thought. So, out of Puttenham and into another part of Puttenham common following part of the Farnham Pilgrim marathon in reverse and getting a little lost again, missing a fork in the path while following another runner – I must stop doing that and just rely on my own navigation!
So far the going was reasonably good, not too muddy, at least not the sapping war of attrition that was the Tanners. The geology is different around this part of Surrey, with a lot more sand and sandstone near surface so there are sandy trails that drain well when wet. It was only seven miles to the next checkpoint at Tilford and this came up quickly and almost as a surprise. The lovely half timbered village hall was filled with tea and tasty treats and I had another sort out of kit while enjoying cheese and pickle and lemon curd sandwiches. I felt a bit slower coming out of Tilford!
On then through Hankley Common golf course and the trails up to Hankley Ridge that skirts around the location of the James Bond’s Skyfall lodge, before climbing up to Hankley Hill. After a quick descent I was into the long steady drag up to the Devil’s Punchbowl. It’s a pretty relentless cobbly path rising all the way for nearly three miles to get up to the view point where you then start to descend to the final checkpoint.
I was feeling very tired on this climb, realised that I needed to eat and get some more energy in me, but thought, I can’t be bothered to take my pack off to get to my food. Lesson learned; I should carry some easy to get to food in a marathon belt for emergencies like this.
I eventually got to the top, passed the viewpoint and walked and jogged round the sloppy silty mess that is the old A3 road in winter. Getting off the Punchbowl I stopped to chat to a runner who was sat by the trail, had a bit to eat and instantly felt better. Well enough to jog the next mile down to the final checkpoint at 26 (now 27!) miles. This is a pretty basic affair, just juice and nibbles set out by a barn at a small farm.
Four miles to go then of undulating pleasant countryside with not much mud. The only real challenge being to fit through some tall but very narrow kissing gates before making it back to Witley.
It was a lovely day for this event. Pretty good conditions for winter and the sandy trails made it a much easier task than last month’s Winter Tanners (9 hours 22 minutes of rain, snow, mud and hills). I finished in 8:03 which could have been closer to 7:30 or quicker without the fannying about at the start and getting lost. After a nice sit down, with tea, a hotdog and soup and catching up with how Hannah’s run had gone, we headed home, still in daylight.