This one has been a long time coming. Let’s start with Rachel. You know those friends you have were you can’t remember how you came to be friends? The time you first spoke to each other or when you first met isn’t clear to you. You are just friends. It’s almost like that with Rachel. The difference being, this was the first time we’d actually met! Some time earlier this year, through Instagram (she’s an ever present and inspiring part of the running community you’ll find on Social Media), we just started talking. I can’t remember what the trigger was (obviously it was something running related though!). Over the months we’ve continued to speak and even been in the same place at the same time on several occasions – see Brighton Marathon and Serpentine Trail – but haven’t managed to meet yet. For months we’ve been talking about it and trying to plan it. Sometimes we’ve come close – hours apart at the Serpentine in the summer, screwed over by my availability for a planned run back in September and just miles apart recently when Ben (along with Matt and Adam) were running the Greensands Way. On that day we’d planned it so that I’d still be running with the team when Rachel would join near Leith Hill. I never made it that far! At 7am and a few miles away from were we hoped to be, I had to leave for work.
Fast forward to last week. Rachel let me know that her and Ben would be running the route of the Hurtwood 50 (a 50km trail race from Dorking to Farley Heath and back). The Hurtwood 50 is run by the same team (Tom @ Freedom Racing) who organised the Serpentine Trail race. It will no doubt be an excellent day and, if I hadn’t already signed up to the Dorset Ultra on the same weekend then I’d have been looking at it myself. Rachel thought I might not be up for it due to the Beachy Head marathon the day before, but I was! I wasn’t running Beachy Head. I was in. Here we go again.
You may recall I first met Ben a few weeks earlier when he was attempting the GSW111 fastest known time (which they got!). I tagged along for a few miles and met him for the first time, in the dark of night, after he’d already covered about 70 miles or so. On that day I was hoping also to finally get up to Leith Hill and see Leith Tower which I’d heard so much about. Alas I didn’t make it that time. Besides Rachel and Ben, Maggie was also going to join us. The tight-knit running community of connections doesn’t stop there – Maggie and Rachel are Salomon Ambassadors, and had briefly met before, but had also never run together. Maggie met Ben earlier in the summer at the LoveTrail Festival. Finally, you might know by now that I know Maggie through her Wild Trail Runners group. As Maggie lives so far away, she would crash at mine on the Saturday night. The caveat being she’d have to come out with me and some friends for some drinks.
Saturday night. Oh my. Far far too much alcohol was consumed (didn’t stop me from successfully registering for the Madeira Island Ultra Trail (MIUT) though!). With the clocks going back, we managed about 5 hours sleep before the 6am alarms made us get a move on. Delays on the trains meant we’d been on the move for about 2 hours before we finally got to Dorking and, after some confusion on where we were meeting (Sorry Rachel!), met up with Rachel and Ben. For the last hour it had been absolutely belting it down with rain. Neither Maggie nor me were interested in running. We wanted sleep and warmth. Before we’d even started I was fantasising about the food and warm bath that would be indulged later that day.
We arrived at the starting point in Dorking (near the Sports Centre) and set off, just as the rain ceased and the sun started to come out. The first 2 miles were a long the roads as you pass through the town before joining the trails behind Westcott. Approaching Wotton the trails turn south towards Broadmoor (past ‘Matt Buck’s Waterfall’!) and you begin the climb up to Leith Tower (the highest point on the route at just under 1,000ft at mile 7). These first 7 miles are pretty much all uphill as you climb to the tower. It was tough going. The hangover was in full swing and each step pounded my head whilst the beer sweats kicked in hard. I wasn’t running these hills. No way, not today. Rachel and Ben however were springing up them! As we approached the top of the climb and emerged onto the hill, Rachel and Ben were waiting and tucking into their snacks. We took a few minutes to absorb the views and play around on ‘Rachel’s Tree’. It was fairly overcast and bloody freezing up top. Out came the waterproofs and gloves as we carried on in the morning chill, greeting the ramblers and mountain bikers we passed along the trails.
The next section of the route was down hill through the wooded area of Pasture Wood, before the inevitable climb back up, this time to the next view point of Holbury Hill. Here you are deep into the routes namesake – Hurt Wood. It was becoming very clear that the views on this route are spectacular. Every now and again the hills would open up to unobstructed views of the south with places like Horsham and Blackdown visible in the distance, on a clearer day the view would be even more impressive.
Carrying on with heavy and tired legs we reached Pitch Hill. The final (significant) viewpoint on our route which again treated our eyes to a feast of the South. Shortly after though, we came across a little ‘hut’ built of metal and wooden slates inscribed with memories and sayings from various individuals. This was incredibly tranquil and we stayed a few moments to absorb it and take pictures.
From here we continued on. This time downhill and past the car park where Rachel had left her car. The plan was to finish the ‘loop’ part of the course, returning to the car park and then drive the last 14 miles or so back to Dorking (the route of the Hurtwood 50 is an ‘out and back’). Running from the car park towards Farley Heath, the route follows a river path that is very uneven and rocky. the terrain is challenging and pretty much straight for over a mile. On tired legs this was tough and a mental challenge I didn’t enjoy. It requires a lot of focus and attention to ensure you don’t roll your ankles. My mind wasn’t in the mood for such concentration. On race day I suspect this could be wet and tough for the competitors.
The next section of the route takes you along some single track roads back down towards Cucknells Wood. This was probably the least enjoyable section of the route as you give way to passing cars and feel the impact of the tarmac on your legs. The final stretch is a climb back up to the car park (past an absolutely massive house!). We were done.
I was absolutely shattered and starving. Knowing there were still a few hours of travelling to get through to get home and before I can finally relax. Rachel and Ben drove us back to the station and onboard the train we started to warm up, knowing the fantasised food would soon be a reality!
Finally, after months of trying I’d run with Rachel. Bonus that it could be shared with Ben and Maggie too. Extra bonus that I’d been inducted to some new trails and finally experienced the viewpoint that is Leith Tower! Friends are made on the trails!