Pilgrims Challenge – 2 days, 66 miles

Given this was my first ‘multi-day’ event I approached the race with a sense of both intrigue and excitement. How should I pace the event? What was a realistic finish time? How easy should I run Day 1?

The conditions on the North Downs Way can only be described as challenging. However a trail race in January is always going to be tough. The race stated at Farnham on Saturday morning, finishing in Redhill and then on Sunday the course is run in reverse back to Farnham. Other than 2 miles from Reigate to Redhill the route is entirely on the North Downs Way.

Runners line up on Day 1 of the Pilgrims Challenge.

There was a decent covering of snow at the start in Farnham and we were all wrapped up tightly. After a couple of miles I started to regain feeling in my feet and I was soon into a decent rhythm. After 7/8 miles of pretty good running conditions on hard packed snow, the trail deteriorated and it was pretty much mud all the way to the end. The section around Box Hill and Colley Hill was particularly tough going. I did however manage to keep just above the 8 min mile pace and coasted the last 3 miles to finish in 04:29 in 2nd place.

Glorious conditions! The snow was soon to be replaced by mud however….

So, into Day 2 with a 6 minute deficit to make up on race leader Paul Russhard. However it soon became apparent that Paul had plenty in the tank and at the first checkpoint I was already several minutes behind on the day. Again the Box Hill section was hard going however I had paced the run pretty well and I managed to push on through to Newlands Corner.

Interestingly plenty of runners had like me fallen trying to negotiate the infamous Newlands camber, all made apparent by thick lines of mud down everyones right leg and side at the finish! After Newlands, my target had been adjusted to try and win the day as opposed to overall given Paul was around 10 minutes ahead. I did close the gap again to 6 minutes to finish in 04:33 to finish 2nd overall.

I would highly recommend this race as a taster for multi-day event, especially if you like hilly, muddy trails. The team at XNRG put on a great event which was superbly well organised. For me its now onto the Monument Valley 50 mile ultra next month before an assault on the Centurion Grand Slam.

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