Alechia van Wyk : Pilgrim Challenge North Downs Multistage Ultra

Mud, mud, glorious mud.

 Apparently there’s ‘nothing quite like it for cooling the blood’ – if you’re a hippopotamus that is, but if you’re a runner taking part in the Pilgrim Challenge North Downs Multistage Ultra  (31Jan/1Feb) then it almost stopped you in your tracks.

 It seemed to me that the whole of the North Downs is built on Surrey clay which feels like running in glue. It made the 66-mile, two-day event even more of a challenge.

 But now it’s done and I’ve passed another vital staging post in my psychological progress towards coping in these grueling endurance events and going beyond the inner hurdles and demons, I have created in 2014, with many DNFs.

 The race started early Saturday in Farnham, Surrey and attracted a field of over 240, the youngest of whom was 19 and the oldest 71. We ran, walked, struggled, 33 miles east to the village of Merstham, before returning, along the same route, the next day.

 Day 1 was hard but Day 2 was much, much harder. The legs were tired and the elevation over the North Downs was slightly greater.

 The weather was very kind to us on both days but the build-up of snow and rain on trails and cross-country paths meant than I hadn’t seen that much mud in ages.

 One of the best things about these events is the people you meet. At the start line, I bumped into 6 very friendly, nervous ladies (bragging about their over 50 status). They were running an ultra for the first time, after one of their husbands dared them.

 Many runners were there just for the Pilgrim’s Challenge – an extremely well organised by XNRG Extreme Energy event – but some, were using it as a training run for bigger events. There were quite a few preparing for April’s Marathon des Sables in Morocco. According to those who had run the MDS before, there’s no doubt that all that Surrey mud, coupled with the sand also encountered, is perfect preparation for the Sahara.

Carel’s video on the other hand captures the 2-day event so much better.

 My total time of over 15 and a half hours went pretty quickly.

The winners would have come in at just over eight hours and I felt sorry for them that they didn’t get the opportunity to listen to all the audiobooks and podcasts that filled my time. But my inner athlete would like to “race” that someday.

 With all this distance training done, it’s time to get faster.

Alechia on Twitter.

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