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8th February 2013

Pilgrims Way 2013 Race Report by Michelle Double

Being typically British I eagerly watched the weather reports throughout the week (met office being one of my only and favorite apps!) and for once it changed for the better-  Rain was replaced by sunshine- Horray! I rocked up pretty last minute as this event is local turf for me, but there was a good bustle of friendly runners warming up for the 10am start. Lots of familar faces and a warm welcome from the Xnrgy team as always.

Before I knew it, the count down to start began- one of the things i love about ultras is the casual start – obviously a few shot off and rest of us found our pace, it was a nice big group so there were runners in vision most of the time… Day one was a very well marked path, lots of NDW signs and acorns for reassurance and xnrgy signs or paint in areas of doubt. 4 checkpoints break up the 33 miles nicely, always manned with smiling encouraging faces and great food to look forward too.. its always the simple things i find that can seem so amazing on a long run.. a pretzel, a random kid clapping you, a kind local that stops to reassure you you are still on the right path. We were warned the path was muddy in the briefing and to be honest i expected worse (I did a few crazy runs in December where I ended up with water up to my shoulders on occasions) this wasn’t that bad but the mud made the tracks harder work and i did hear the odd tale of lost shoes and saw plenty of people covered head to toe in mud -I’m sure there were some great comedy dives in it!

I did this event last year and have also walked sections of it, but my memories from last year were totally dominated by the extreme weather- not being able to feel my toes at the start, frozen portaloos and the amazing winter wonderland on day 2, running through branches laden with snow and the dazzle of sparks in my eyes from the pure white of the scene…. but the one thing that i had forgotton was that there were rather alot of hills and alot of steps on the climb up Box hill!! A lovely but slightly nutty American put me to shame dancing up the steps encouraging me by saying, ”love the steps, come on happy feet” I tried my best to feed off his enthusiasm and made a mental note that i need to do some more hill training (I do this alot at events!) That said we were awarded from the climbs with some fantastic panaramic views in clear blue sunny skies. Soon we came to the welcome sight of Mersham village and arrows past a few very welcoming looking pubs towards our accomodation for the night. Obviously I put in a sprint finish for the last 20 metres – its always good to have a strong finish whatever has happened before that! Coffee and cake are a great motivation too and always very welcome at the end of Xnrgy days – thanks Anna!

When I got in the hallway was full of trainers caked in mud and my first thought was, how am i going to know which are mine tomorrow they all look exactly the same?!
Showers were hot, food was good and plentiful and Andy gave a motivating talk using his incredible running experiences, during which some extremely hardcore walkers returned smiling after a very long day out in the field – great respect to them. Ed and Phil gave away some of their awesome wigwam socks and before I knew it it was time to crash amongst the sea of bodies and try to get something resembling a nights sleep. For once there was very little snoring to report but even so, when lights go on at 5.45am it always comes as a relief that its time to get up!

The morning brought a great breakfast, cheerful if rather tired faces and a few slightly strange walking styles! I went in the second group on day 2, the sky was dull but it was warmer than expected and no signs of rain, so good running conditions. We got off to a solid start and a group of about 6 of us stayed pretty close most of the way. I don’t know if it was the diffused responsibility of being in a group, slight complacency because the route was easy to follow on day 1, or just that it was less obvious going the other way, but there were a quite a few moments of confusion and wrong turns that added to the adventure on day 2. The views were a little less inspiring without the sun and we were all alot quieter (I think my companions were quite enjoying the peace as i usually love to chat when running!) Alot of the ground was firmer in the morning as the mud had frozen over night, but you really had to concentrate on your footing. Going down the steps at Box hill was rewarding- I kept thinking wow we really did do alot of steps yesterday, weldone us! This was followed by some very slippery turf though and a few of the guys in our group took tumbles and all those wearing road shoes vowed to invest in offroad trainers before their next event! It certainly kept it interesting though and gave us something to focus on. Checkpoints were plentiful and well stocked again, friendly and helpful as ever, always a good pick me up and focus when its getting hard. I spotted a garden full of very early daffidols too – this first sign of spring in the horizon also put a spring in my step.. As the country paths wound on, the finish tent in a field was a welcome sight and we were greeted at the finish by a friendly crowd of faces and an impressive medal.. another great weekends running with Xnrgy.

My favorite comment this weekend was from a smiley cyclist who very cheerily told me to ”Embrace the mud” great advice- there was little else you could do!

The great thing about these events is each time different factors play a part, even though it is the same route; weather, conditions, company makes it a totally unique experience and il definately be back next year if i can….
Thank you very much to the Xnrgy team for putting on such a fantastic, smooth, well organised, warm and welcoming event once again…

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