Hugh and Mark have been banging on about the LDWA (Long Distance Walking Association) for what seems like (and probably is!) years! One of the main points they kept making is that it is an event, NOT a race, which as the distances are either 20 miles or 30 miles appealed to me as I’ve never covered (note I didn’t say RUN) 20 miles before. They also mentioned the navigation challenge (you get given map references and a written summary, such as “after 950yds turn sharp right through a gap in the wall just before the main path turns left”- yes, you have to have your wits about you!), the fabulously equipped Checkpoints (of which more later) and the incredible value for money! So Danielle, Fabian and myself duly signed up (www.fabian4.co.uk) – for all three of us 20 miles was a step up from our previous longest runs so there was a degree of trepidation in all of our minds. Mark decided that as it was Mandys birthday he ought to take her somewhere exotic and warm at this time of year, so rode off in a cloud of spray and hurricane-force winds on a ferry to Ireland, so Amanda took on his place at a few days notice. Poor girl had just stepped off a plane from Florida and was jetlagged, so didn’t really know what she was doing!
So on a cold frosty Sunday morning, at 06:45 to be precise, off we set in the kaelin-mobile, all wondering why we’d thought this was a good idea! I think I may have over-prepared, taking the ‘read the safety message at all cost’ message a bit too literally and taking waterproofs even though the forecast was sunny and dry! I had spent several hours marking the route on an OS map (I love OS maps so this was a joy) so I wasn’t leaving that behind!
The temperature was just 2c when we pulled into the car park at Leatherhead Leisure Centre and registered in the wooden hut serving as the football pavilion (or tennis, or cricket, or all of them!). No numbers to pin on, we were simply handed a plastic strip the size and shape of a credit card, which was swiped at each checkpoint and at the finish to record the time. Of course, if this had been a race it would have been chaos as once you’ve finished, the clock keeps ticking if there’s a queue waiting to be checked in (as was the case actually) but for todays ‘non-race’ challenge event, it was easy.
And that was it, no fuss, no bother, we suddenly realised that we were off! We stuck together as a group, as although we had 2 maps and 3 sets of instructions between the 5 of us, the quality of following those varied! I needed my reading glasses to see anything, so had them dangling from my ‘utility’ belt. Hugh had the benefit of all the pages clutched in his hand and also a ‘cut down’ map but confessed he wasn’t confident about some of the route he’d transcribed, and Fabian had compressed the whole thing down to one page, albeit without the important Legend (who would guess that the abbreviation GW stood for Greensand Way??? Not us!!!). So as a group we were stronger.
With no warm up at all, and a very cold morning, that first mile was hard, especially with a cheeky hill after a few hundred yards. However the weather was fantastic and once we had got into the early sunshine, under cloudless skies, our spirits became high, though it was still cold. Our plan was absolutely not to run throughout. The Winter Tanners is a walking/running event with more walkers than runners, so we felt quite comfortable stopping every so often while we navigated the next section, and walked any steep hills. And that made the whole route an absolute joy! We were out to enjoy ourselves, not destroy our bodies. We stopped at various points to admire the glorious views of the North Downs and take photos. And everybody smiled!
Checkpoint 1 came up seemingly quickly after just over 7 miles. Sadly it was in the shade of a valley, so really quite cold after the running we’d enjoyed along the hilltops. There was a table set up with food in a draughty barn – fruit drinks, assorted bisv=cuits including Jaffa Cakes and, and, FIG ROLLS! When did you last see a fig roll??? Dani stuffed three down her gob and complained of eating too much after we set out to Leith Hill…….that was the southernmost point, and we turned North, to ‘home’, at just about the 10 mile mark, running along the aforementioned Greensand Way for a couple of miles and finding, of all things, a WATERFALL in Surrey – before re-crossing the main railway line and climbing a bloody steep hill (yes, we and everyone walked this!) to get to Checkpoint 2 at just over 15 miles – ‘high’ up and in full sun. What a surprise – they had cold fruit drinks, but also tea and coffee on demand, and, and, and CHOCOLATE! Coffee and a Bounty later we set off on the final leg, a mere 4.7 mile trot back to Leatherhead. We waved a cheery goodbye to the people staffing this wonderful place and told them they were the best Checkpoint EVER!
The final stage told a little as Fab, Dani and myself hit that magical ‘never been this far before’ figure, and we didn’t talk and laugh ‘quite’ as much as before. But amazingly soon, with only a couple of cheeky but small uphill bits, there we were, back at the Leisure Centre. I was slightly amazed at this, I thought it was farther away. So did Hugh, so while we turned right to the finish, he turned left to do an extra few yards. Right Way, Wrong Way, and Hughs Way!
Not that it matters but just over 4 and a half hours and 430m of ascent, and 20.24 miles. My old Garmin made it, but only just, and the GPS turned off at 13.2 miles. That’s just rubbish so I smell a Birthday present coming my way in February unless the battery improves!
All in all this was a really great event – obviously good company goes with saying, we had a laugh (We’re first and foremost – Henfield Joggers – so of course we would!) and word of the day is ‘Bitty’……
But the whole ethos of the events that the LDWA put on is fabulous. ALL of the above, teas, coffees, Chocolate, Biscuits, etc….and a certificate at the end – cost £4. Yes, £4. Makes even the WSFRL events look expensive!
Next up on this is the Devils Punchbowl Challenge on 8th February. We’re already signed up for the 20 miles – will you be there?