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!
The Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon is truly iconic and is a bucket list race for many. The weather in San Francisco to greet the athletes this year was extreme: boiling hot temperatures, crystal clear waters, and a beautiful pink sky for sunrise.
After a few days of acclimatisation, race morning came and on the bus from Marina Green to Pier 33 it all began to sink in. Having visited Alcatraz Island the day before to get the pre-race atmosphere, I was completely in the zone and ready to go.
Boarding the paddle steamer with all the history behind it, we set sail for Alcatraz. The atmosphere on board was electric and a mix of all different types of athletes who had been carefully selected and invited to race this series. A race briefing followed and the ship's horn sounded.
The race starts with the athletes diving off the vessel into the shark-infested waters. That should spur you on to get a swim PB! The swim passed really quickly and I remember running up the beach at the boat club sooner than I thought.
A smooth transition followed after the 1km run to get there and the hilly bike course started.
This was technical and fast and to be honest very exciting. My mind was focused on the run and praying the mechanical gods would be kind to me. This event is a challenge as much as a race and the 400 wooden step ladder approached mid-run.
The sun was now belting down and it really made a difference to the course dynamic. I remember turning at the turn point at the run thinking that it was all uphill from here. I ran the beach and started my way back to Marina Green with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge behind me. I could already hear the finish commentary and this really did spur me on. I increased my cadence and felt strong and pulled out all the stops to finish with my head held high and continue to be greeted by my amazing support at the finish chute.
Alcatraz, you didn’t disappoint! It was an incredible experience never to be forgotten. Thank you so much and of course Sundried for your support. Let’s see what comes next. I can’t wait for the next chapter.
About the author: Andrew Jones is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
After coming second in my Age Group in 2018 at the European Age Group Championships in Tartu, Estonia I got a pre-qualification for the Europeans this year in Weert in the Netherlands. I went into the winter training period with only one focus in mind, to get back on the podium, with the hope of improving on the last result.
All was going well until October, when out on my last training run for The Great South Run, I tripped and broke my ankle. Despite this being a set back for several weeks, once I got the green light to get back into training, it was full gas for the European Championships.
The race was on the 2nd June, and having arrived a few days earlier, I had plenty of time to recce the bike and running route and quite quickly it showed that this was going to be a fast race, time to get excited. Having dropped my running shoes off at T2, it was time to cycle down to T1 (split transition, this was new for me!) to sort out my bike and get ready for the race. Being in the 20-24 age category we were first off with the 18-20 category (a wave of about 30 guys).
We were all called up and taken into the waiting pen, and that’s when the adrenaline really started to pump around the body.
The start itself was a running beach start, so we all lined up and waited for the gun. The next 5ish minutes was chaos, with 30 guys all trying to swim in the same bit of water aiming at the same buoy, but I kept my ground and stayed within the lead group. About 750m into the swim it was time to try and break away from the main group and have a bit of clear water, something I have been focusing on in my training. After a push for about 200m, I found myself on my own chasing down the lead group of 3 guys. I came out of the water in 4th place and kept this position through T1 which I was happy with.
Then onto the bike, a fast flat course of 2 and a half loops on some very straight roads. I knew that I was at a slight disadvantage to the guys on the TT bikes but I didn’t let that bother me, and I held my own pushing it hard on the bike (even though I was almost taken out by a Frenchman on a roundabout!) Despite losing two places on the bike I was happy to come into T2 in 6th place, with the guy in 5th just in front, I was able to get my shoes on and get out on the run quicker, sending me into 5th place.
Now onto the run, my favourite part of the race. 4 laps around the town, time to go hunting! After the initial excitement of starting the run, I soon settled into my pace and could see that I was already catching the guy in front. I had to tell myself not to get too excited and just to let it happen as I could see I had a faster pace than him. After the first lap I was now in 4th place and coming alongside the guy in 3rd, another British guy. I said to him as I passed to stay on me and we will catch the guys together. I continued at my pace and caught the guys in front, with 1 and ½ laps to go I knew I was in first position and still putting some time onto the other guys.
As I came round the last lap onto the final part of the loop I heard over the speaker them announce my name. Then it was time to take it all in and enjoy every second of running down that blue carpet. I didn’t actually realise my lead until the next guy came in 1 minute and 40 seconds later.
Overall it was an absolutely cracking weekend and I came away extremely happy with my result. A joint family decision was made to stay around for the medal ceremony despite us missing our Eurotunnel crossing (luckily we got one only an hour or so later).
Now it's time to enjoy the remainder of the race season and begin preparations for next year, as I am out to Edmonton in Canada for the International Age Group Championships and back to Tartu, Estonia for the Europeans. Cannot wait!
About the author: Will Grace is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
On Sunday 19th May 2019 I took on the 100 mile Vélo sportive ride from Birmingham City Centre. The route took over 17,000 cyclists from Birmingham through Warwickshire to Coventry before heading back to the city centre.
To say I was a little apprehensive about completing this ride would be an understatement. Having only been out on my bike twice since October last year and completing all my bike training in my cellar on the turbo, I wasn’t sure how I would fare or even whether I’d make the full distance.
To my surprise, I found the majority of the ride relatively easy going and it was a great opportunity to practise my drafting skills and to meet fellow cyclists. The only point at which I experienced real discomfort and pain was at the 86-mile mark. This was at a stage of the race when the main section of the climbing took place and my back and feet started to really hurt.
A brief stop at one of the feed stations to take some ibuprofen and take my shoes off for a few minutes eased the pain and I pushed through the final miles before hitting the home straight and proudly crossing the finish line. Throughout the ride there was a fantastic atmosphere and the support en route was tremendous with families cheering us on and locals handing out drinks, sweets and biscuits which I politely declined as I had packed enough endurance snacks to sink a ship. I was aware that the feed stations would be busy so I made sure I had my energy bars and jam bagel to keep me going. Not including stops I completed the ride in just over 6 hours which I was very pleased with all things considered.
During the days following the ride I experienced very little aching or muscle fatigue, however I found myself needing to be in bed by 8pm and sleeping for anything up to 11 hours in a night! The ride had clearly taken its toll on my body so I listened to it and only did light training before I felt my energy levels were back to normal.
About the author: Kate Miller is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
Stockton Duathlon Festival 2019 – Sprint Distance incorporating ITU World Sprint Duathlon Championships 2020 Qualifying
Draft-legal racing. For a man with the bike-handling skills of a toddler, these words send shivers down the spine. They make you question everything you thought you knew about cycling. Reverting to a roadie, having to think about tactics, and not allowing the mind to drift off to zen-dom.
Much like many of us on the starting line, this was the first time I’d gone draft legal. There was plenty of time to panic about bluffing through this race as Stockton-on-Tees is a long way away. Wikipedia informs me that “Stockton is known to be the home of the fossilised remains of the most northerly hippopotamus ever discovered on Earth”. Historic.
After further reading about how hippos would beat humans in triathlons (thanks Reddit, although T1 and T2 would surely be problematic?), I switched focus to the race itself and how it was likely to pan out. It would be a flat course, a technical course on both run and bike, and the sprint race would have around 400 people in it. Should you run hard and mix it up with the leaders? Should you hold back and rely on drafting drag you through the field?
Questions quite swiftly erased upon the realisation that I would a) never trouble the leaders anyway and b) I have the bike handling skills of a toddler.
The event itself was a very well-run endeavour. An event village had been constructed with marquees and triathlon-related stalls, and with engineering works ongoing in the town the organisers did a fantastic job in ensuring a limited transition area would be functional for the three races on that day. It seemed that for a short while the weather wanted to pay homage to the organisers so Mrs B – who again didn’t drive – threw me her coat to enjoy the quite glorious sunshine. Wishing I could also enjoy these rare moments of sun in the North East I toddled off to transition to set up the bike and took my bag to the bag drop – secure and always manned.
An extended warm-up was undertaken as my Achilles issues continue to plague me, before donning the incredible Sundried men's aero skinsuit (simply, WOW) and feeling like I belonged on the start line. That was until during the race briefing, the Mayor of Stockton and another medallioned wight (in the most literary sense) decided to burrow into us for a photo opportunity. Some welcomed this political intervention but I considered it incredibly discourteous and rude to distract athletes from listening to course instructions. And until this Mayor approves the erection of a hippo statue on Stockton High Street, they will continue to incur my wrath.
The sun disappeared shortly before the race began, and it became very chilly with a cutting northerly wind. The first run passed by without incident. What was interesting was seeing certain groups of people running together, obviously preparing to cycle together. I briefly felt like a loner before I saw transition loom and, with trepidation, hopped onto the bike to try and avoid any issues.
The bike leg was very interesting. Blessed with technology we know how hard we are pushing, how fast we are travelling, and how far we have moved. But nothing can prepare you for the power of drafting. Watching my power drop and speed increase after finding a small group, I confused my simple mind. I then tried to increase power and speed to leave the group in my wake but couldn’t shake them off. Collaboration therefore was key. Working in the group was actually very rewarding as we picked off other groups and individual riders. But you always wonder if you were travelling quickly enough – after all, we were trying to qualify for Team GB!
T2 came and went, and relief set in. Drafting was actually quite fun and I learned more during those 20km than years racing on the TT bike and non drafting races.
The final run has always been a strength of mine (as it takes me a whole race to warm up properly – thanks body) and being relaxed and relieved helped the final 2.5km pass quickly. No sprint finish required and not much opportunity to as a final hairpin 50m from the finish line threw most people’s anticipation of a home straight.
As ever, a paler-than-usual looking Mrs B welcomed me on the finish line with an angry glare – I had submitted her to a 4am start, cold temperatures and a lot of standing up. It was ‘that’ look only a husband knows. Out of the fight and flight responses, flight seems to win every time with me. So instead of engaging with her I stealthily weaved through a crowd of people to pick up my results. 2nd automatic qualifying spot for the Worlds in the bag! Excitement and bravado overcame me as I announced this achievement to my shivering wife.
“My coat is in your bag”.
The walk to bag drop seemed longer and more painful than the race itself.
About the author: Matt Baldock is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.