The North Downs Way Half Marathon is organised and run by Hermes Running who provide organised running events in Surrey and London. This challenging trail half marathon follows the North Downs Way with a climb up Box Hill thrown in for fun.
This event is organised by Hermes Running who organise runs in and around Surrey, Kent, and London. The North Downs Way Half Marathon and Marathon are overseen by David Ross who has been organising events since 2012. He is an experienced marathon and ultra marathon runner himself so knows what runners want and expect from a race and his mission is to make sure his runs are scenic and enjoyable, something I'd say he's definitely achieved with the North Downs Way Half Marathon.
This event sees a half marathon and a full marathon run concurrently on the same out-and-back course. The start is at The Bridge House Hotel in Reigate which is a great venue as it means runners can relax in the comfort of the hotel lobby before the race starts, and make use of the facilities instead of queuing for portaloos in a field! For the 2019 race, despite it being the beginning of July, it was raining profusely so it also meant we were able to stay dry and warm before heading out to the race start.
The race start is in a field near the Reigate Hill car park and David gives a short race brief before the off. Parking is a bit of a pain as there are only a few spaces at the hotel and the next nearest place to park is a very long walk down Reigate Hill to the station. It acts as a decent warm up for the race though! But it was quite a sight seeing hoards of very wet, chilly people slogging up this hill before the event had even started.
Overall the race is organised very well and it's all very straight forward.
This race is advertised as being 'challenging' and challenging it is! Not for the faint-hearted, the half marathon is once out-and-back while the full marathon is twice out-and-back. This is a trail run and gets very technical in places. There are some sharp, steep descents and ascents as well as stairs and single-file sections, tree roots and rocks to jump over and thick foliage to push through.
Despite the challenging nature of the run, the views are superb and the route is beautiful. You forget how much your body is hurting because you're focusing on your footing as well as enjoying the views.
The turn around point is right at the Box Hill lookout so your reward for making it up Box Hill and to the halfway point is a quick respite with some snacks and drinks provided by the aid station while enjoying the views out over Box Hill.
The route goes through various different sections including open fields, woods, and tracks. There is a very short section on a pavement next to a road as well. Many sections are single-file which means overtaking is a challenge however by this point most of the runners had settled into a steady rhythm and so this wasn't a problem at all. You do have to be careful when the faster runners are coming back the other way and us slower runners always stepped to the side so they could get past quickly and easily.
If you're a recreational runner like me, this is not a half marathon you would do for time. There are some sections where running is simply impossible due to the technical nature as well as one particular hill that is so steep even the fastest athletes were having to walk. This is definitely a run you do for fun instead of a PB but it really is great fun and I loved every minute of it.
The race is held at the beginning of July so I expected it to be very hot. However, it just so happened to be fairly chilly (14 degrees) and raining the day of the 2019 race so this made it a lot easier but also meant the route was slippery under foot at times. If it had been very hot, it would have been a lot more challenging.
The support at this race is absolutely outstanding. Because it's an out-and-back route, you see the faster runners on their way back and everyone smiles and says, 'Well done! Keep going!' to each other. Then on the way back you see the marathon runners heading out for their second lap and so cheering them on and congratulating them on an insane achievement is a real mood booster, especially when they smile and say well done back.
At no point was I on my own: there were always other runners around me the whole time which really motivated me and kept me going. The camaraderie between the runners was the best I've ever experience during a race; it was the friendliest race I've ever done.
There are two aid stations on the course, one at roughly 3 miles and one at the turnaround point. This means the half marathon runners get to pass an aid station three times (twice for the first one and once at the turnaround) and the marathon runners will pass an aid station six times. The aid stations are stocked with water, juice, dates, Chia Charge bars and various other snacks.
As this race is so challenging, you can expect to add on around an hour to your normal half marathon time, and up to 90 minutes to your marathon time. Because of this, some of us slower runners didn't finish until over 3 hours after the start. I was really impressed that there were lots of people at the finish to cheer us on and support us as we finished. It's great that they all stuck around for so long, 3 hours is a long time to wait! There was an aid station at the finish with plenty of provisions and the addition of a big bag of electrolyte powder which was well needed and appreciated.
Overall the support at this race was outstanding and the best at any race I've ever done. I really enjoyed this race even though is was so challenging and physically demanding and I'd massively recommend it to anyone. Just make sure you do lots of hill training and don't skip leg day at the gym!