Back in 2011, the NDW50 was our first ever Centurion event, held alongside 100 and marathon distance options. The course has remained unchanged in that time aside from the final 200 metres through Knockholt Pound village. Over the previous 4 years we’ve seen excellent weather each time, and this year was no different.
195 runners gathered at the trail head in Farnham on race morning, faced with 50 hot and hilly point to point miles. The route has plenty of flatter runnable sections but with a blend of lots of different terrain types and some stuff climbs including Box Hill, Reigate Hill and Botley Hill in particular the routes 5600ft of ascent feels like a lot more at times. The difficulty of this race as a 50 is somewhat borne out by Craig Holgate’s superb course record of 6hr47, the only runner to have ever gone sub 7.
The first section of the race is flat and fast and we welcome the lead pack through Puttenham aid station at mile 7, in 50 minutes flat. Already slightly ahead of the group was South African Richard La Cock. With a 7:01 5th overall at the SDW50 six weeks earlier he came in looking to improve and make his way on to the podium for the first time. The furious early pace stayed constant through Newlands Corner and on to Box Hill at mile 24, which is where the race really starts with the brutal ascent of the steps of the western side. It’s a short climb but a steep one and it pays to be patient. Richard’s time through the Box Hill aid station before the climb was 3:01, 7 minutes up on course record. He was pursued by Thomas Jeffery in 3:10 and Adam Stirk in 3:18, already slipping back from Richard’s relentless running.
On to Reigate Hill and across the most difficult section of the course, Richard arrived to a big crowd enjoying the sunshine, still on course record pace, but with the first cracks appearing as the heat began to take it’s toll. The gap was still growing however, yet he didn’t stop to check splits and timings, he just pressed on. Caterham View Point, mile 38 and Richard had dropped 6 minutes in 6 miles on Craig’s 2013 best and it was now a case of him holding on tight to the lead he’d built in the early stages. That he did, as he pushed through Botley Hill mile 43 and powered on home to the finish in a superb time of 7:05:12. The second best time we’ve seen on the course and with a path laid down by some very talented runners before him.
The battle for second and third was intense and separated by just a few hundred metres just 20 minutes from the finish, where both runners went off course. By the time normal business had been resumed, positions had switched and eventually John Melbourne ran out a 5 minute gap on third place Thomas Jeffery. Their times were over 40 minutes back of Richard’s, showing that depsite their detour he truly had had a stellar day.
In the ladies race, Gemma Carter led proceedings early on, running with the lead guys and positively sprinting through the first aid station. As the day wore on Gemma began to suffer with some stomach issues and the frenetic early pace faded, on which Annabelle Stearns was able to capitalise. After dropping from the race in 2013, Annabelle had unfinished business and looked utterly determined from the outset. Her steady early pace saw her climb from 14th at Box Hill to 9th overall by the finish and run out the ladies winner in a time of 8:18, good for just under 10 minutes miling. Gemma rallied and toughed out her finish for second lady in 8:36, to add to her podium finish from the SDW50. Third lady Deborah Turner broke the tape in a time of 8:54.
Many of the runners found themselves having to dig especially deep in the warm temperatures but were treated to the usual feasts laid on at the aid stations. Assisted by 50 of the most incredible volunteers, they were met by Allan Rumbles’ bacon barge at mile 11, and later with Jelly and Ice Cream at Caterham Aid station, something which is becoming an annual fixture continued on by local, Bryan Webster.
Last year the race saw a huge finish rate but it became obvious from early in the day that many were going to suffer at the hands of the heat to an early end to their race. All in all, 171 runners made it across the finish line under the 13 and a half hour cut off to be labelled official finishers. The battle at the back from Botley Hill in to the finish, was truly epic, With 10 minutes to go we were still waiting on 9 runners to come home. A sudden rush brought 5 of them across the line, the final runner Jeffrey Lee leaving himself just 19 seconds to spare, our tightest ever finishing margin. The final 4 made it to the finish just after the cut off had passed and deserved the credit for giving their all to complete the challenge. We hope they will all come back next year to dip in under that official cut off.
Of the final finishers lists there were a few extra worthy mentions. Ken Fancett became our highest all time Centurion runner. Having completed the Grand Slam and holding the record initially, he has now run a total of 800 miles at our events, and is entered in to all 6 of our races this year including his second Grand Slam. Rusty Gardham also finished 3 from 3 in his attempt to complete all 6. And we had our youngest ever finisher at 18 years and 10 months, Ryan Holmes.
A huge thanks once again to our army of volunteers, to the National Trust and National Trails for allowing our races to go ahead and to the runners and their families that make this event what it is.