An indulgent blog post about Winter Tanners

muddy shoes

2lbs lost. 39.5lb in total, 7lb in 2015.

Apparently, this blog is a little guilty of being gushy and self-indulgent at times.  This is almost always deliberate since it’s a personal record of experience :).  Winter Tanners 2015 was a wonderful day and so I fear for the gushiness of this blog post as I attempt to convey why!

Go and grab a cup of tea.

I last did Tanners 30 in 2009 in my 6 marathons in 13 weeks charity attempt for the Children’s Trust.  It was my first ultra and I absolutely loved it.  I was accompanied first by friends from my old running club and then from the 20 mile turnaround point by Penny who met me at the second feed station to keep me company.  She would also ride on ahead to forage for tea and cake at the NT cafe and keep me amused as I watched her throw her mountain bike over the many stiles that year. I was very grateful for her companionship, it made the world of difference to the whole experience.

So, as I pondered having another go at the 30 miles this year (after a few years doing the 20) I knew it would be important to recruit companionship.  Happily, Pauline, Mel, Cliff and Grant are easily pursuaded it seems.

The last couple of years have been really muddy and Tanners route changes every year.  When they released the route last week, I had a quick scan to see where we would be off to to try an ascertain a reasonable start time to get us back before dark.  It looked to be a corker and would visit the same areas we went to in 2009: A quick trip to Denbies via Crabtree Lane; Westcott; Holmwood (Checkpoint 1); Leith Hill; Holmbury Hill; Pitch Hill (Checkpoint 2); Peaslake; Abinger Hammer; North Downs Way; Ranmore Common (Checkpoint 3) then back to Leatherhead.

In the end we decided to meet for a 7.30am off.  It was all going fine until I dropped my van keys (in the dark) on the gravel drive behind the van and spent 5 minutes on hands and knees looking for them.

I picked Mel up on route and when we got to the shop, the rest of the gang were there waiting for us.  We pulled up late to much derision from the others.  Mel’s first words while clambering out of the van were ‘It wasn’t my fault!” then we started laughing.

We would be laughing for pretty much the rest of the day.

My legs were still hung over from Whole 30 and a beasting in the attic on the Friday evening (double race night – yikes).  Fortunately Mel had cycled 60 miles though armageddon like weather the day before so happily agreed to the run the flats and downs and walk the ups plan.  If that failed, plan B was to just hold onto the boys and get them to drag us round.

We registered and were presented with a credit card, faffed around for a bit and then finally got off around 8am.  The route out of Leatherhead was the same as usual, up the hill at the back to Bocketts Farm and then along the track to Crabtree Cottages.  Navigation was easy at this point and we started off with lots of jollity and banter within the group and those around us.  Lots of runners came past including a very wet looking Simon Irwin who had (deliberately) thrown himself into the River Mole before setting off.  Training for Tough Guy apparently.

We expected the course to be really wet at this point, and actually, it wasn’t too bad at all.  It raised hopes of a less muddy route than previously and we made reasonable time despite lots of uphill and therefore walking.

Just as we popped out onto Chapel Lane, another running club friend Andrew came up behind us.  He had set off slightly later but caught us after only two or three miles.  He stayed with us for the rest of the day and was a very welcome addition to the party.

We picked up the North Downs Way at the back of Denbies.  Periodically people would come past us while we were walking and we would catch up and over take when we ran and this was where we caught our first sight of Vincent.  He was dressed in long muddy coloured water proofs and walking boots and accessorised with a knapsack and stick.  He looked like he had been walking for a very long time.  A sort of very old forest gump of the LDWA with wild bush hair and grey beard.  He could safely be described as a ‘character’ and I was wary after my run in with ‘cous cous‘ man last year.

We caught and passed him on the descent through Denbies into Westcott and assumed we would not see him again.

We did some fab ‘if we won the lottery what house would we buy’ shopping through Westcott as we passed row upon row of stunning houses.  We were still climbing although not excessively so and the surface underfoot started to become increasingly muddy slowing us down even more. Vincent passed us going into a woodland and then promptly slipped over landing quite hard on the floor.  ‘Nothing hurt but my pride’ he announced to our expressed concern then got up and marched off ahead.  The route turned from woodland to stiles and fields and got increasingly wetter until Checkpoint 1 came into sight.

The picture above was taken by Cliff just after leaving checkpoint 1 and doesn’t do any justice to the amount of mud on the route from this point onwards.  Grant nearly came a spectacular cropper on one uphill section after slipping on muddy grass.  His displayed some excessive windmilling and somehow managed to stay on his feet.  Things were starting to get raucous by this point.  Especially on one cambered path thick with clay mud that had us resorting to hanging on to the fence post with both hands to stop us going face first into the mud.

Once back across the fields we headed off up to Leith Hill, along absolutely beautiful trails and wondered, after aloud how people could still run up such steep paths.

Prior to the event I had facebooked Spin Barrie to give him approximate times and venues for him to meet up with us with promised tea.  He picked the perfect spot at Leith Hill tower and the national trust tea hut where Grant furnished us all with tea.  It may well be the best tea I have ever had and we enjoyed it while relishing the panoramic views.

leith hill view

Once we’d finished we got up (to much stretching and groaning) and made our way down the hill finally being able to get a bit of pace up.

We popped out at the bottom of Leith Hill I was fully expecting to climb back up to Holmbury Hill since Holmbury farm had been mentioned on the intructions.  Fortunately, this part was undulating and we picked up the pace to make a bit more progress.

My legs were goosed by this point and I was really struggling to hang on to the back of the group.  We hadn’t yet got to half way and I was wondering how the hell I would manage the whole thing.

Andrew thankfully had taken over the responsibility for navigating at this point, so I just had to follow blindly and hope things would improve.

The mood in the group was still really buoyant and that really helped.  We all went through bad stages at different times and when someone did, others stepped in to help chivvy and motivate.  It worked remarkably well.  The mood in the group was always just so positive, it was a really lovely place to be, even if you were suffering at the time.

I just listening to the banter and stole the positivity from the others in the group,  channelling it into the will to keep going.  Finally the path turned upwards until we were face to face with a vertical climb in the arse end of pitch hill.  The instructions actually said… ‘DO NOT FOLLOW ARROW but go steeply up faint path (10º).‘ What it should have said was ‘DO NOT FOLLOW ARROW but go up steep path until faint!’.

Fuck me, it was so steep I had to hang onto the vegetation and pull myself up, calves and quads burning.  Every now and again I would sneak a glance upwards and get flashes of Grants luminous yellow hat heading further and further upwards.  With a heavy heart and heavier legs and I carried on until finally, gloriously we reached the top.  Before I had time to relish the view I very nearly toppled backwards onto the rest of the group still making their way.  Grant grabbed me and pulled me forward and held onto me until I had a chance to right myself and then still heaving made my way to the view point and safer ground.

We waited at the top until all our group and fellow travellers joined us.  All with a comment or other about the ascent.  One of them offered to take a photo of us.  Here it is…

The gang at Pitch Hill

Once over Pitch I knew the last of the big hills was behind us and only the climb to Ranmore remained.  It was a real turning point.  We ran down to checkpoint two and suddenly I started to feel so much better.

After a top up at the checkpoint the mood lifted quite substantially.  On our way out we had a bizarre conversation with a member of the public who was convinced we were doing to the 30 miles on mountain bikes despite having watched us enter and leave the checkpoint on foot.  Already giggling at that, we were further cheered by the surprise appearence of Vincent!  He was still going strong and followed us for quite a while until we hit the next descent and commenced running.

Cliff went through a clumsy stage falling down a hole and then nearly tripping over a post.  The giggling turned into proper laughs until about 10 minutes later still heading downhill at a clip, Vincent turned up again!  ‘Have you got wheels on them shoes?’ Cliff quipped.  The timing was perfect and laughter turned hysterical.  So much so we couldn’t run, much to the amusement of a group of cyclists who were heading upwards and laughed at us laughing so much.  We never saw Vincent again after that.

Now we turned back towards Abinger and the correct side of the A25 for Ranmore Common and home.  The banter continued all the way along the North Downs Way and Checkpoint three and tea!

Then we we back on familiar ground past Alan Blatchfords seat and onto the Bookham 10k route to Tanners Hatch then Bagden Farm towards home.  With ‘Time’s wingèd chariot’ sitting on our shoulder and darkness rapidly descending, we ran more than walked our way back to the Leisure centre and even after such an epic day had enough for a sprint finish.

winter tanners elevation


About PT Nicky

I'm a girl in the world just trying to make 1% improvements everyday. I recently qualified as a Personal Trainer. I certainly don't fit the aesthetic of a PT and I wanted to demonstrate that ordinary people can achieve their hearts desire. Clean eating advocate with paleo leanings.
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