The Inaugural Spitfire Scramble 24 is London's only 24 hour event

This weekend was the first year for the scramble at Hornchurch Country Park, in the London borough of Havering. 

Runners can either, enter solo, as pairs, three to five or teams of six to eight. 

Myself and close friend Helen Gittens decided on a pair rather than solo, as neither of us has sampled a 24 event. 

As newbies we wanted to test the waters, and after seeing some coverage on Twitter, we jumped at the chance to come along to the Spitfire. 

So team The Hare and the Tortoise will be trying for the most laps in 24 hours. 

Helen is running at least five laps for her boys #CONCEPT who will appear on the X-Factor this weekend. We are all so proud and excited for all her hard work, and the boys finally getting the chance to show their true talents. 

This weekend was ideal, as I decided against running UTMB this year after looking at the logistics and costs involved. 

The Hare and the Tortoise!

During World War II it was Home of RAF Hornchurch, an airfield crucial to the RAF's Battle of Britain campaign and the launch site of many a Spitfire mission.

No24 for my first 24 hour event

" You and your squadrons will tackle a
5.79 mile course, that winds through the paths, trails and tracks of the park and the neighbouring Ingrebourne Valley.

You’ll run on tarmac paths, gravel trails, up a winding hill and along farm and woodland tracks, with changes of scenery, varying gradients and the dying of the light to challenge your running credentials "

-Spitfire Scramble

After arriving at Hornchurch Country Park in plenty of time, as recommended from instructions. We found a good parking spot near the camping site. 

We spot Gosport Road Runners Keith and Ange Elshaw glamping it up! Surprised to see us and excited, we accept the kind offer to use the team tent, table and chairs for the weekend as they have plenty of space. Keith and Ange are running as a team pair.

Thanking them and heading over to registration, we then see Nici Griffin, also known from the Centurion team. It is good to see a familiar face. 

She is running solo and plans to reach a new goal. 

We collect our race packs which contain race numbers, ankle chip, competitor wristband, finish tee and a neon strap for teams to use as exchange. 

Spitfire Scramble starts with a countdown and burst of some hundred runners sprinting over to the fields.

A total of 220 competitors will run as part of teams, pairs or solo today. 

The grass is thick and lumpy for a short while, before heading left then onto a small path towards the first marshal. A clear marker and tape leads us into a small wood. Uneven tree stumps here, so need to be cautious for future laps...

Another left, following the arrow, then out from the trees and passing a small pond with ducks. Marshal no2 and a right turn down a tarmac path, before heading left across an open plain and picking up a gravel track. This track winds down almost a mile until reaching a larger pond, then up a gradual winding slope, reaching a stoned memorial at the top. 

The view across to central London and Canary Wharf can be seen from the distance. The track leads down to a marshal, which is the half way point, with water supplied here. I am thirsty already so have some before heading under a fence and across a large field. Lumpy grass again, then once at the gate, crossing the route from the first pond, it is straight ahead along the bending path. 

Following this then a short steep slope before a right turn at the arrow and over a bridge. The track becomes gravel again and has a slight gradient until reaching the next left turn. 

Passing some horses and then over another bridge, two steps over. A long, flat stretch of track field, until reaching some woods.

Turns come quickly as the track leads downhill, before crossing a third bridge. We follow the winding path until reaching the playing field and kids playground. Then to the big field start again and I can hear all the other runners cheering as we come in for hand over to our teams. 

Helen is waiting and shouting at the ready and has left me a sausage and some black coffee from the catering guys. Helen purchased a £20 wristband for the hot food supplied.

She sprints off with a huge grin on her face...

Lap one is complete and many more to follow...

The Hare starts the first lap

A little quick to start but I got wrapped up with the excitement of it all. I have about an hour, depending how quick Helen comes back in. 

We are planning on one lap each for now, unless Helen needs a little longer to rest between them. Being the Hare today it gives her much less breaks between starting the next lap, so later I will run two at a time.

Just a few of the running supplies for 24 hours

Soon enough the time flies by and after catching up with Keith, Lucy and the other Gosport runners, it is time to meet Helen for change over...

Ange has already run past the start for a lap (she is running three) so Helen must be behind soon enough. 

She comes in an hour and 15 minutes later looking strong and happy. 

Slapping the neon strap to my wrist I run along on for the third lap...

Here comes the Tortoise

The weather is staying dry and breezy, which when we stop gets rather chilly in the open field. But once running it warms up nicely. 

I take an S!Cap salt capsule half way through this lap and plenty of water. 

The clouds stay thick in the air and it feels rather humid. The track around the ponds is warmer with midgies and flies lingering about. 

Dog walkers, families strolling and cyclists are still using the park along the route. Most are clapping and cheering us on when we pass. 

Soon enough I come up the path through the playground and back towards the start, where Helen is waiting to start the fourth lap. 

London on the horizon

About an hour and 20 minutes later, and after some coffee, nuts and plenty of water Helen comes up to the start and to change over. 

With hands on her hips and out of breath, "go for two laps Lukey Duke" she says....

So off I go again....

LAP 5/6
Still feeling strong and able to run a good pace, but perhaps a little slower than the faster first lap. I manage a steady 8:00min/mile around the first lap and a similar pace for the next. I am carrying my Salomon SLAB-5 vest now for my water and extra buff, battery and olive oil.

The sky stays cloudy and moody with the feel of rain in the air, yet it doesn't come, just a cooling breeze into the early evening. Photographers are dotted along the route capturing us in action. 

The marshals change over frequently and some are part of teams running also. So the directions they give to the runners is repeated again and again, which gets a little tedious, as I already know the route.

I smile and thank them, or reply with a "cheers" and thumbs up...

After finishing the 2nd lap and running up the familiar path towards the cheering runners and spectators, I see Helen grinning and waiting to start the seventh lap of the day....

I have a good hour or so to refuel on cheese, olives and avocado, then coffee before Helen arrives back again. It is the first time I have felt hungry since starting. I change my cap and tech top into fresh ones, as the humidity is causing me to sweat more than usual. 

Ange has now finished her laps and Keith is out on the route aiming for five laps continuously.

An hour and 20 minutes later Helen arrives in good spirits and ready for a cuppa...

She is having way too much fun out there it seems! 

LAP 8/9
It looks like it could get dark early tonight with this thick heavy cloud over us. I have my head torch on now for the night section. 

I did pack my Luna sandals for later in the day, but my Merrell trails seem comfortable enough and have plenty of grip.

Once I reach half way it does clear some and I can see blue sky for the first time today. 

I start to loose count how many times I've seen the same solo runners today, as I come round to the first bridge. I over take at around the same spot on each lap and come to expect to see these runners like clock work...

Keith is running well and enjoying himself, he jokes he will not have finished this lap and I will be on my next one already....

After the last bridge and the playground, then up the path again to the start. Helen is waiting nearby to check if I need anything... She has grabbed a small burger (just the meat) and a black coffee. I munch on the burger and take it with me. Passing on the coffee for now.

Thanks see you soon H...

The next lap is around the same pace, perhaps a little slower. I come on in to meet a waiting Helen. She too has her lights on ready this time.  

I have so far run six laps, making this nine in total for team Hare and the Tortoise.

Like an excited kid at Christmas Helen heads on out down the track, for lap number ten....

I change my running cap and tee again. Then pull on some arm sleeves as the wind is getting cooler already.

LAP 11/12
By now the glow sticks are hanging up on the marker arrows, and white chalk is drawn over those lumpy tree stumps. 

This is helpful and much needed now it is getting darker...

My legs start to fatigue by the second lap and I march up the slopes this time. I catch up with Keith who is having a walking break, he is in good spirits but with a sore hip and back, so is taking it easy for now. 

Nici is still out doing her solo laps very well and still smiling, although not quite her bubbly self as feeling the boredom set in...

Change of clothes again

I lose myself in my music which helps distract the same old scenery and track but also passes the time quicker and keeps my pace steady. I am finding the starting and stopping with rest breaks difficult to deal with and my muscles start to recover each time Helen is running. 

The discomfort of starting a lap all over again is quite uncomfortable on my aching legs, and it takes a good ten minutes to get back into auto pilot. I am only used to running long without stopping, this technique is all new to me...

My head torch has been fading rapidly so I will need to change the PETZL over for the next laps. 

I have plenty of rechargeable batteries for later too.

Day becomes dusk

Coming around the corner up the familiar path again to cheering runners and crew. i can see Helen waiting with her head torch and hi-viz vest on. 

She doesn't look best pleased. When I went to the car I sat in the front to use the mirror as I had a fly in my eye I needed to remove. I shut the door and locked the car.....well I thought I had?!

I hadn't and the light stayed on draining the car battery!......CRAP! 

I just want to be swallowed up by the ground right now...

Nothing we can do about it this evening. Helen will call out the RAC in the morning before the event is finished.

I feel so stupid but also gutted this will effect the end of our race. 

I have now run eight laps in total, and Helen has run four. 

I warm up in Keith and Ange's huge porch/tent, nibbling on my nut/seed mix and drinking hot coffee. Ange is keeping me company and is concerned about Keith carrying on. She wants to run instead.

Another hour and 30 minutes until Helen comes back in. Her slowest lap so far. I tell her how sorry I am, and hope it can be fixed in the morning.

With a battery change in my head torch I am set for another lap. I think I can only manage one this time as really flagging, and an hours sleep is much needed...

LAP 14
I change into a fresh tech tee and wear a buff around my head as all my caps are now damp and wet. The temperature is cooler tonight but very humid, so everything is getting so wet.

I hydrate with NUUN in my water and another S!Cap salt capsule, trying to take one every two hours. 


The night section passes very quickly and soon enough the sky turns lighter and the clouds reveal a warm glow across the horizon. 

Dawn is almost here...

Running buzz on the night shift laps

Once I come into the start again, I am ready to have a bite then shut my eyes for a moment. Helen is not here so must be resting. 

At the tent, Helen is all wrapped up in a blanket the size of an elephant and fighting her eyes from closing. She is feeling the cold in damp clothes.

I tell her she should rest and go out later in the morning. I can't do another lap yet until I've had a doze, so Helen decides to head on out in 30 minutes or so...

Keith finished his laps and is now tucked up asleep with Ange. She will run again in the morning.

I change again and eat some cheese and energy mix I made earlier. 

Helen gets ready to head out and gives me the blanket to stay warm. 

I get settled and nod off until she reaches the first bridge, when she text to say so. 

I know this will give me 30-45 minutes. The next text she is back and in the catering tent already. 

I nooded off again...

LAP 16/17
I throw on my arm sleeves, gloves and my race vest to go meet her. I refill my water from the big tank supply and drink some hot black coffee with Helen, before I head on out for more laps. 

Helen says she may go out for one last lap but will see. She is cold to the bone and just wants to get the car battery up and running again...

I go on my way shuffling down the grass until I wake up and find my feet again...

It takes me a long time for my legs to loosen up as sleeping has made them all tight and stiff again...

Early morning lap

Once half way and seeing daylight again, I start to feel more awake and running is not so difficult. The light keeps me mentally alert. 

For the first time I walk the slopes and inclines. They feel much steeper than they actually are...

There is much more activity through the park this morning with many dog walkers and early morning runners crossing our path.

I come into the start to see sleepy team runners emerge for their morning laps. 

The buzz starts to pick up again for the last 4 hours of the Spitfire Scramble.

Helen is settled and happy she has run six laps for the CONCEPT boys. She makes calls to the RAC to help with the car. 

LAP 18
After warming up with some fuel, coconut water and choc coffee beans. A change into dry gear, I am ready to do one last lap of the day. 

I do not have the energy in my legs for two, after a few hours sleep I am still exhausted and aching in my legs.

The other Gosport runners are up and about eating breakfast now. Lucy asks how we are getting on, and is impressed we have stopped very little throughout the night...

I check the leader board before I head off again, and pleased to see that the Hare and the Tortoise are in the lead! 

My last lap

I catch up with Nici on the route, she is making great progress and on target for her goal. 

I can only manage a slow shuffle/walk once I reach the slopes and inclines at halfway. I drink a few cups of water at the pit stop and the team are very impressed I'm still going at it strong. 

I thank them for the support and that I have enjoyed the event. They would like to see me back again next year! 

That depends on other commitments and the tortoise....

Team trophies

I go through the woods one last time, the ground is damp from the cooler and humid night. The grass wet and soggy. Back through the playground and arriving  at the finish to quite a crowd of runners and spectators. 

Helen is not here so I go look for her.

I have run twelve laps in total and Helen has run six. We have reached 105 miles. I covered 70 miles and Helen has reached 35 in the last 24 hours.

I sport an RAC van coming through the park entrance. Helen has gone to the car to meet them. 

I change into my warm finish clothes and have some coffee. 

I can hear Helen laughing with the RAC chap when I arrive at the car. She is in happy spirits once again. The car is fixed and the engine is running. 

We just need to keep the engine running for an hour. So it looks like we have finished our running. 

I carry all our bags and supplies back to the car whilst waiting. 

Finished 18 laps in 24 hours (105 miles)

We catch up on the last day of the event, as we haven't seen much of each other. If it wasnt for the car needing a jump start we could of added another lap each easily enough...

Very happy with our results for a first attempt at a 24 hour event. We didn't think we would do this many or match the solo winner, coming in first for mixed pairs.

In 21hours 37minutes the Hare and the Tortoise reached 18 laps.

I completed 12 laps (70 miles)

We hand in our chips and collect our medals and a trophy each. Helen has not stopped smiling as she has never come first when running before, she cannot wait to come back again next year!

Depending on which weekend held in August, I would like to run the Spitfire in 2015. I have plans to attempt the T184 (hopefully) which is the end of August.

Team Hare and the Tortoise 1st place

A very Happy Hare and Tortoise.

Once we take many pics and chat to all the team and organisers involved, it is time to get on the road and head back to Brighton. We stop off for a much needed breakfast and coffees with cream on the M25. 

Once home we crash for three hours sleep, including Helen, I finally wore the girl out!

I was very impressed with the Spitfire for the first year and it all seemed to go along smoothly enough. the route had a little of everything and although it did feel tedious at times, the turns and varied terrain kept it interesting enough to pass quickly. 

I would prefer a few more eating choice,s as not all of us are running on high carb, foods, Helen made the most of the catering supplied but I didn't think £20 for sausages, burgers, jacket potatoes and beans warrants it. 

The sausages were nice and I made use of the coffee.

I always prepare by bringing my own NSNG supplies and tend to make up with a big meal once I have finished running. 

So until next year........ to reclaim are titles!

Ultra Luke


The North Downs Way 100 mile trail run covers a 9,930ft climb and an overall elevation change of 20,000ft. Making this one of Centurion's toughest events on the calendar. Today will be my 2nd attempt in trying to complete the route. 

"Beginning in Farnham at the Western end of the North Downs. The course works its way through some of the best of the English countryside before traveling through the small village of Puttenham and on to Guildford. It then continues on to Ranmore Common before the steepest climb of the race up to the top of Box Hill. The trail then drops down the other side and back up to Reigate Hill, on through Merstham to Oxted and a further 8 miles to Knockholt Pound and the 50 mile point at the outermost edge of Greater London. The course then travels on through Wrotham and Holly Hill before crossing the Medway Bridge. The final 25 miles see runners travel South East towards Dover running the majority on trails, paying brief visits to the villages of Detling, Hollingbourne, Harrietsham and Charing before dropping down into Wye and the finish"
Centurion Running

With a very early 3am wake up call to reach the start in Farnham this morning. I have my usual race fuel of half an avocado, with olive oil. Then Bulletproof coffee for the car journey. 

I stayed at the parents in Horsham this time, which is about 50 minutes away. Dad is driver today and we pick up ultra runners, Shawn and Katherine from the Aldershot Travelodge along the way. Arriving in good time just after 5am. 

I remember the registration well from last year, and so far there is no wait for bag check and number collection. A big hug and warm welcome from Nici Griffin, then I spot Kevin Smith. We chat about the day ahead and how excited we are to get going. 

This will be my 3rd experience of the NDW event. Back in 2012 I didn't get a spot from the wait list and volunteered at Botley Hill mile 43 instead. Then 2013 I dropped with an ongoing ankle issue at Botley Hill. So this year it would be great if I make it past this spot and discover the 2nd half of the NDW....

I attach my number then drop my halfway box in the van outside. Just before the race brief I bump into Tim Lambert and meet his lovely wife Solange. 

The route is very straight forward and only slight diversion at Knockhalt Pond for the 50 mile aid station, but just follow the Centurion arrow markers. 

Race Briefing 05:30

A last minute toilet stop and then a short walk to the trail head start. John is outside chatting with Shawn, he said he wanted to make it for the start, and true to his word he has! Hopefully John will be able to pace me this evening somewhere along the route. 

My coffee is kicking in and I am feeling pumped, ready to hit the trail. We had plenty of rain last night with the feel of thick humidity still in the air... I am only in a tech top as I know I will heat up quickly with this morning...

With Ultra runner Shawn Timmons

A last few minute pics and wishes of good luck. John says he will look out for me at Newlands Corner which is 14 miles away. 

With just a few seconds to go, I make my way closer to the front pack and set my Runkeeper and Garmin at the ready...

180 runners have arrived to make the start of the 2014 Centurion North Downs Way 100.

And GO.!!!!

Quickly the runners disperse along the track as we weave in and out of lanes, gates, fields and woodlands. Memories of last year come back to me, looking around at the other runners, I do not recognise anybody at the moment. I take in the pleasant sights of dawn as nature starts to wake.

The Trail head North Downs Way

The morning is still cool but very damp, with the humidity rather high. Already I am heating up and my clothes start to feel clamy and wet. 

I stay to just under 9.00min/mile pace and preserve my energy on the climbs, then running the flat and downhill parts. 

After just over an hour I take an S!Cap, which I wouldn't normally do this early, but I am sweating bucket loads already!

Good morning North Downs Way

Mile 7
Eventually the track leads through some woods and to the first aid station. I have enough water in my Salomon S-Lab Hydro5 pack for now, so just have a few cups of water. The team take down my number and I carry on ahead along the route. 

I spot a runner in a kilt who I've seen at another race before. Turns out to be the MarathonManUk (Rob), who asked the time I planned on finishing today. When he said he has just finished a midnight marathon, I didn't think he meant today!

He is running at least one marathon every day for a year and is on day 119. I chatted some with him as we run, he said how it's been a great challenge, but now with the day job it is starting to take a toll on his body. 

Sometimes the running can be the easy part...

Newlands Corner
Mile 14
Very damp, still humid and no sign of the air clearing yet. The sun is shining but it will take more than that to dry up. My clothes are soaked through. 

When reaching the next aid station I catch up with John who has been waiting here for me. I refill my water bladder and take another salt capsule. I am still fueled by the coffee so just consume plenty of water with NUUN electrolytes for now. 

I thank John and will see him again later.

Robert Young heads off up the trail

Navigating through fields, woods and country lanes, it all is very straight forward to follow. Either the national trail north downs marker, centurion arrows or red and white tape. The occasional orange spray paint 'ndw100' on the ground is a good guide when paths are overgrown or covered. 

The markings are much clearer this year and closer together when needed. I even stayed on track this time at Martha's Hill, and only go slightly off course through a village before noticing my missed turn... 

No missing this!

The air has finally cleared from the wet and the sun is heating up the ground fast. It feels dryer already and my clothes are less damp, at last... 

The bright light and big clouds show an array of lush green hills with Surrey and Denbies below. The north downs are breathtakingly scenic and those steep climbs really make it all the worth while from the top. 

More miles running and another salt capsule needed, 20 miles in and I am just starting to feel ready for some fuel to top up my engine. Few sips of olive oil that I carry on me is sufficient for now until I reach the next aid station.

View from Colley Hill

The route is very familiar still and after heading downhill into the woods, the chalky track leads down steep towards the A25 crossing near Denbies. I am grateful I went for the Merrell Trail shoes with this race rather than the Luna Sandals at SDW100. They are holding up well with the terrain and cushion in the right places when my feet get tired.

The path heads down the cycle lane and then under the road, to the other side and into the small car park, where the support team are waiting with refreshments. 

Box Hill
Mile 24
9:12 min/mile

3hrs 46mins of running so far. My number is recorded and with help I refill my water bladder and add some NUUN tablets. I eat a few almonds, pecans and cherry tomatoes before thanking the team and jumping across the stepping stones over the river. 

Always a beautiful site but with a nasty twist around the corner.... 

STEPS! Big, steep, high and uneven terrain to add to the mix. I think the one good thing about these is the huge trees that shade them. Then the views once out on the top again. 

I march up them one at a time and refuse to look up until I reach the top step! Music is my way of distraction right now and seems to be working...

 The stepping stones-River Mole

The views from the top are brief once reaching more woodland. The terrain is uneven with plenty of tree roots, stones and chalk. The track leads down steep and just like last year, and at the same spot, I loose my footing and fly forward, catching my fall with my right hand. 

Luckily I do not hit the ground as hard as I did last time, but I've landed heavy bruising the knuckle. I worry little of it now and the legs are still mobile which is my main concern...

Steps to Reigate Hill

Dusting myself off and heading downhill with caution. 

Soon enough after a few more miles I come into the next aid station.

Reigate Hill 
Mile 31
Reaching 11:00, over the bridge and a big welcome of cheers and clapping from the spectators. I see my crew, Mum and Dad as I pass the cafe into the park grounds. 

Number checked and recorded. Another water refill and a few cups to quench my first. Alma is here to greet me with a big hug and some cheeses and olives, as always. A Centurion event wouldn't be the same without her here. It's always good to see her along the route. I pick at a few but am not overly hungry yet. 

Ultra Crew: John, Mum, Sunday, Dad and Will

I catch up with John, Will, Sunday and the folks. I swap over my Salomon flask with one of Johns, as I've had a leaking tip which is becoming so annoying and wet in my pocket. With half water and coconut water added, problem solved. 

John to the rescue again! 

I have a coffee with cream and try some of mum's almond nut bread (my recipe). Very nice but not my usual race fuel. Instead I eat a few scoops of my Energy Fuel that's in the crew cool box. 

It's time to head off, Sunday reminds me to get moving again. I thank and hug everyone and tell them I will be reaching halfway today and feeling great!

Mile 38
Just 7 miles later it is the next aid station. This section was yet another steep climb through the woods after Colley and Reigate Hills, but then shorter and some flat road as the route leads through Merstham village, Oxted, over the M25 and then towards Caterham. 

I picked up my pace on this leg, still feeling strong and the coffee doing the trick. 

Top up with salts and water. Few nuts, cherry tomatoes, bites of melon and quick chat to the team, I am ready to move on. 

Photo courtesy of Hisayo Kawahara

I have memories from seeing the medic last year at this spot, ice and some worries whether I would finish or not. 

I leave with a spring in my step and a confidence that I WILL finish the North Downs 100 today! 

Approaching lunchtime and the sun is really warming up the air. Although It is much drier now and sweating has become less of a problem as I adjust to the more pleasant weather. 

The last climb under the shaded trees rises very steep until reaching the next aid station up Botley Hill. It is impossible for me to move quickly here, so I hike up having a breather and in happy spirits I'm making good progress with no discomfort as yet...

Botley Hill-The Pirates
Mile 43
I am greeted by a warm welcome and hugs from the Pirates here. I explain how great it is to reach them after last years drop. I refill with some water and add another NUUN tablet. I'm pretty good for fuel so just have a few bites of cheese with some almonds. 

Photo courtesy of Matthew Toy

Thanking the guys I head on over the road and follow the trail through another wooded area. I come across two markers for the North Downs Way, either straight on or up the steps. No centurion marker to be seen so go with straight ahead. 

I soon see a marker with an arrow to the left, is this for up the steps or straight on? I am confused....

Eventually I come out of the woods and meet a lane. No footpath or markers. Damn. 

I walk up the lane and get out my map for the first time today. Shortly two runners ahead walk down the lane and ask where we are. After locating us on the map, we can reach the track on the right when it crosses this lane. We should have took the steps after all. 

Which way?

Once back on route it is a pleasant flat track and then mixture of fields and road until going off the route slightly and into Knockhalt Village. 

I pick up the pace where I can on this section and really start to buzz that I am passed my dreaded drop point from last year! I am feeling so good right now and looking forward to the unfamiliar second half to come... 

Knockhalt Pond
Mile 50
10:36 min/mile

8hrs and 50mins has passed. I refill my water and grab my drop box, turning down the offer of hot food from Solange who is part of the team here. I eat light when running ultra, and most who know me will understand how I can run very long hours without crashing or needing to eat. I have become very fat adapted the past year and follow a No Sugar No Grain lifestyle. Which not only stops the need of snacking but keeps my metabolism fueled in 5th gear all day and when running. 

I let Sunday and Mum know I am just changing my clothes and freshening up.

Halfway point with a very proud Mum

I top up with P20 spf50 sunscreen as it can wear off with sweating. Drink some coffee with cream and eat some avocado then a few small spoonfuls of my energy fuel mix. I pack some cheese and top up my coconut water and nut mix to take along with me. 

My back up ANKER battery for my iPhone is running low, so I swap that with a fully charged one. I swap my sunglasses for my PETZL head torch with another spare to carry for the night section. Then pack my arm sleeves with me. 

Feeling dry, fresh, watered and fueled up again I think I am set to get moving. 20 minutes or longer has already passed. 

Thanking and hugging everyone goodbye, I head on down the road and follow the diversion markers to reach the NDW again. 

I have a smile on my face and a sense of accomplishment as I break the halfway point. 

A few miles of small country lanes then fields before reaching what has to be the steepest and highest climb of the day. It looks like a narrow track high into some woods. I walk quickly but tire halfway and slow down. My quads burn just from walking. 

What feels like forever eventually flattens out then descends very steep. Tree stumps and muddy track is very technical to navigate with fatigued legs, so I tread carefully and slowly as I can. 


The track soon opens out to glorious open fields and all the colours of summer can be seen from afar. An enjoyable stretch of flat and undulating trails meets the village of Otford. 

I see a familiar face approaching ahead wearing running kit. I'm so in my zone but figure It must be Allan Rumbles. We exchange a hello, he looks to be meeting a fellow runner. 

Few more miles pass and now on the Pilgrims Way. Another salt capsule and plenty of water before I reach the next aid station.

Mile 60
Once reaching and rather tired now from the flat road section but still feeling strong, it's time for some strong coffee from the team and few nuts with melon. 

I refill my water and chat to the volunteers  how tough the climbing has been. Reassured that I am looking good and fresh, so it can't be all so bad. 

I feel hopeful I will keep up the pace until the finish. Little words like this can really help boost the mood and spirits when needed. 

I thank everyone and once set make my way down the lane for the next 6 miles leg. 

Photo courtesy of Dan Skrobak (@dnna)

This section is a combination of small lanes, track through woods and fields. 

Holly hill as a pleasant climb that leads out to more glorious scenery of the downs and Kent. The clouds are broken and the breeze has picked up, making the conditions perfect this evening. 

 View from Holly Hill

From Holly hill it is then through Birling with plenty of rolling lush green and not much else to see except sheep and goats. I really am feeling good and my body just seems to be running on auto pilot. 

Some olive oil and cheese with another salt capsule is about due. I am keeping the salt levels up every 2hours and it seems to be working very well with my hydration. As the humidity has dropped I am not needing so much water as this morning. 

 Somewhere near Birling

Somewhere shaded by the trees is the next aid station with another warm welcome. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but it seems Christmas has arrived with the theme here and it is a very Merry one! 

 Santas Grotto

Holly Hill
Mile 66 
The team record my number and help assist refilling my water. I drink a few cups and nibble on some Brazil nuts and cherry tomatoes. Another strong coffee and then I take a jelly baby sweet for my sugar trickle. 

Thanking the team and looking forward to some long flatter miles to follow for this next leg. 

I chew out the sugar and glucose before spitting out the sweet. Just this small amount seems to give me enough to focus my mind. However I'm looking more forward to my choc covered espresso beans once I see my crew...

 Upper Halling/Noth Halling

I start to spot a few other runners here and there as they slow their pace. I pick up where I can and gradually overtake, increasing my position. At a guess I am now around 15th place but not sure. 

Further on I spot smiling photographer Stuart and hi five him when passing. 

The miles seem to tick over nicely and although my body is fatigued I feel a sense of euphoria and high running this long. I feel alert and awake it's like a drug. 

The track becomes less trail and trees as the Medway Bridge starts to approach nearer. I can see all the boats across the water. The path leads out onto the road then follows the cycle path over the bridge. 

Although a great experience up high and with the view, the long endless road is rather unpleasant. I take some pictures as a distraction and keep my head down until I meet the end of the bridge..

Medway Bridge Rochester

The path leads out and onto another long stretch of road that meets the countryside, heading towards Bluebell Hill. The climb is steady and windy. It's much cooler so I put on my arm sleeves for now. 

I top up with my salts and then eat on some cheese and my nut/seed mix. From the flat and busy suburban roads to the great open fields and track, it is quite the contrast of scenery on this 10 mile leg. 

I enjoy my music and let my mind drift off, thinking of the finish later, and whether I can make it in sub 18 hours? checking the time it looks unlikely and I won't have a true idea until reaching 80 miles. I also need to keep the aid station stops to a minimum...

Wicham Reach Borstal
Bluebell Hill
Mile 76
Once reaching the next stop up another steep climb, I can see my crew and what looks like the Bosh Run flag. When in view I see it is Steve and Tina cheering me on. Along with John, Will and Sunday. I chat to everyone, perhaps a little too much, as I am buzzing with endorphins right now!

The Ultra crew tracking me down

I get my number checked in and a hot black coffee with the team.Some water and a refill to my bladder. I feel ok without the fuel for now and just have a few sips of coffee and cream that Sunday managed to track down at a nearby coffee house. I have a few olives from John and pack some more cheese. 

Bosh support: Steve, Tina, Sunday and John

Sunday is all kitted up and ready to hit the trail with me from here on. It is always great to have a pacer in the later stages and Sunday has become quite the tradition at the last section of Centurion events. John was not so sure if he could pace me a few weeks ago as he had a fall, but he is slowly getting back on it again and has offered to meet me later on down the route. 

Pacer ready at Bluebell Hill

Thanking my amazing friends for making the effort and the drive out to see me, I hug everyone and set off down the hillside and through the shrubs with Sunday in tow. I feel over whelmed that Steve and Tina came along again at another race and try not to let the lump in my throat develop tears. 

Sunday soon distracts my mind and fatigue with all the updates of the day, Bosh runners, family and friends all send their words of encourgement. Mum and Dad still cannot get over how far I can run and in one day! It blows their mind....

Head torches now on and navigating through more wooded areas over tree stumps and rocks. I find it easier to follow Sunday, as when behind I just see my shadow and cannot see the floor. He is very good in keeping my walking to a minimum, except with the climbs and steps along the way.

The sky turns dark very quickly and the breeze picks up bringing in the rain clouds. It is due to downpour by midnight and I really wanted to finish in that time. 

The route is approx 102 miles and just  approaching 80, so to cover over 20 in less than three hours is looking very tight. Detling is the next stop and after this the hills with killer steps everyone dreads along the NDW route...

Almost to Detling...

We weave in and out of some fields, over styles, and country lanes. The grass becomes very lumpy and thick in places causing our pace to slow. I have my arm sleeves on now as the temperature is dropping bringing in the damp feeling again. 

A few miles are left, heading along through Boxley Warren that runs parallel to the Pilgrims Way. It feels like a long way but having the company has helped as a distraction on my aching muscles. 

Still feeling very alert and focused we head on out the Warren and over the A249 onto Pilgrims Way where the flags and lights of the next indoor aid station can be seen. 

Mile 82
11:35 min/mile
I spot Will and John cheering us inside and they come in to help assist us. 

Few cups of water and help to refill my water bladder, John comes to help the team. I eat a couple of nuts and top up with black coffee. Will grabs my energy mix that contains the magic ingredients to keep my strong and fat burning. 

A tap on my shoulder and to my surprise Mark Griffiths is here. He was pacing, but his runner dropped, unfortunately, so he is here to see his mum Gwen. Gwen is one of the volunteers and tells me how great she is doing going NSNG. 
We chat about how easy it is once adapted and what I am eating on now. She thanks me for all the recipes shared and the best of luck. 

It's great to see everyone and finally meet some of my followers. Sunday reminds me I have a race to run and I realise I've been chatting for too long again....

15hrs and 51mins has passed. So we head outside to make our way back on the route. Goodbyes and thanks to everyone. John is now joining me on this leg so I run along side with him.

 Pacer No2 John Fitzgerald

The last time I ran with John, I was pacing him for the London to Brighton Challenge. It is good to have another running buddy and John is a natural with crew support and now it seems as a pacer too! 

He keeps me focused by talking about the day and the running I have planned later in the year, which is a clever distraction. He holds the gates open and helps me over the styles. He even moves large stones and branches away from the track for me and the other runners behind us. 

It is as if he is reading my thoughts, but I am just unable to put these things into action, as my reactions have become slower. I just follow him one foot in front of the other. It is all surreal but very clear and sharp too.  

A couple of miles along the trail and through woodland again before reaching those steps everyone talks of at Detling.... I wish I hadn't looked up, but you do, you always do... 

HUGE, STEEP, BIG and wide steps leading high into the dark woods. 

It is an eternity into blackness. I put my head down and hike up, refusing to look up again. Over more stones and tree stumps, it is actually easier to use the sides where it is smoother with no steps. 

I stop half way for a salt capsule and more water. Breathing in the night air. The rain is in the clouds already, I can feel it approaching...

What feels like a huge climb actually passes soon enough and I think with company it really wasn't as bad as I was expecting, so is a bonus. We are very high up in the hills and can see the twinkling lights of Thurnham and Hollingbourne down the valley. 

The trail runs fairly straight on the edge of the hills and at one stage leads round a few bends, confusing us. Apart from our head torches guiding the track below, there is no way of seeing anything ahead in the distance. We go off ever so slightly but soon realise our error. 

At Hollingbourne Hill and 88 miles into the route we reach the Pilgrims Way and a long stretch of flat road until approaching Lenham at 91 miles. The road is tiresome on my legs and they ache more than when on the trails, but it is also good to pick up the pace and just run on auto pilot...

Mile 91
Soon enough when we see the lights and signs ahead, and just as the rain starts to spit on us, we make it into the next aid station.

Yay! our running friend Jacqui Burne is part of the team here! 

We hug her and she helps to refill my water and makes some black coffee. I nibble on a few nuts and melon and spot avocado that Jacqui made up. I tuck into some, and we chat how it has been today. I joke that I need to make it by midnight, but now know this is out of the question. Jacqui asks if I am worried of turning into a pumpkin, then treads on my toe. Which I later found out, but do not recall any of this, it is all rather blurred and like looking back to a dream.   

I am sure all this running long distance is like being on an acid trip... 

Probably why ultra running is so addictive.... 

John says we are ready and need to get moving, I remember that part. Thanking Jacqui and all the team, we head back along the Pilgrims Way towards Charring.

I can see a few spotlights ahead and slowly we see it is two runners, the first I have seen since Bluebell hill, You can tell which one is racing as he has an awkward shuffle scuffing his feet. 

The road is so long and without many bends, rocky and uneven in places then a steady incline. Few miles later I have a slight lull all sudden and eat some pine nuts and coconut chips, along with another salt capsule, in the hope it lifts my spirits. I let John do the talking and just follow him...

At about 95 miles we approach Sunday and Will parked up ahead along the lane. Feeling better and a few mouthfuls of coconut water, some olives and cheese, washed down with coffee, that is now cold. I start to feel perkier again. 

Sunday is happy to take over again and we will see Will and John at the finish. Almost there, but not before the rain starts. It comes down so fast and hard, I am soaked before I even get my jacket on. We say bye for now and carry on down the road. 

Dunn Street
Mile 98
The road stays much the same and smoother. A runner approaches in the other direction to come chat with us, I am confused if he is to pace someone and still waiting or just out to cheer the runners. 

Turns out he is part of the team at the next aid station and came up the lane to meet us. 

Nice chap, but I cannot place his name or remember much of the conversation.

We follow him to Dunn Street...the last aid station.

Few cups of water and a check of my bladder in the backpack. Still plenty of left, so I just sip on some of Sunday's coffee and a few cherry tomatoes. 

Really not been hungry much the last 20 or so miles and the salts and water are enough. 

The rain is still coming down hard and looks to be getting worse, so we thank everyone and make a move. I want to get this finished now and quickly...

I soon forget the wet and rain, it feels refreshing and therapeutic. Until reaching more tracks in the fields and over slippery styles. The water has mushed all the long grass and it clings to my ankles, making it impossible to run smoothly. 

Luckily the track leads up into more woods and the trees have sheltered the rain. It is still uneven but less of a mud fest. 

Further I hear a rustling from the hedges and a large black and white animal scurries across my path. 
"OMG what the F... is that!?, Sunday shouts out from behind me. I try not to laugh too much, I explain that it looked like a Badger and has now gone. 

"Good" he replies... 

The Finish
Soon enough the track leads out of the woods and down short lanes before heading across more fields. The arrows mark diagonal over the field then onto a road. No signs or marker can be seen in the dark and we figure it is straight ahead on the road in front of us. What feels like a long time running we soon see the familiar white and red tape from a tree. 

Up and over another field and through high brambles and stinging nettles, Sunday shouts out in discomfort as the nettles sting his legs, I feel them but not so much through my tights. I look for another track but we are so deep into the growth it is impossible to see over them. 

Once out I check he is ok. The rain is some relief but not much for him. 

Garmin tracked 86 miles before dead battery 

Lights can be seen and signs onwards to Wye, the finish. My Garmin has already died so I cannot guess how many miles are left. I think Sunday is bored with me asking how much further do you think?

My phone gets soaked even in my waist pouch and the Runkeeper paused without me realising it. 

I was expecting an endless road with houses all asleep but soon enough lights from the station can be seen and a few spectators in the road waiting. We can see Will and he runs with us to show us the way. He stops to clap once we see the Centurion flags and I run around the village hall to the finish line with a slightly surprised team waiting...

I hug Nici and it takes a moment before she notices it is me. 

At last the day is over and 102 miles accomplished. I finally made it through the North Downs Way, after two years on my to do list. My 4th 100 miler to date and 5 times of running 100+ miles.

All smiles with Sunday who sees me to the finish again

It is so good to get another buckle and complete the Centurion set. A shame it is not in one year to qualify for the Grand Slam but I am so pleased I have experienced all four.

I came in 8th place in the end which was a nice surprise as my pace started to slow with all the climbing and technical terrain. 

North Downs is most certainly the hardest 100 I have run but also the best with my outlook and how I was feeling throughout...

I would like to thank all my wonderful crew and support:
Sunday, John, Will, Mum, Dad, Steve, Tina, Sam and messages from Helen. 

The fantastic team and volunteers that make Centurion events even better every time:
James Elson, James Adams, Nici Griffin, Edwina, Paul, Alma, Karen, Solange and Jacqui

8th position

Just as we are leaving I catch Shawn who sadly didn't make it today and had to pull out. 

I later found out that Andy and Kevin suffered and didn't finish. 

Tim makes it to the finish completing his first 100 miler race. 

Katherine finishes yet another 100 as 2nd female.

180 runners joined the starting line in Farnham and 70 runners did not finish along the way.

My recovery this time around was much quicker than usual, perhaps as I had the South Downs Way 100 from six weeks ago in my legs? or good nutrition and being very fat adapted? 

Two weeks later I lost a small toe nail but suffered with very little blisters. My achilles on both sides became rather inflamed but soon subsided. 

I ran a 40 mile training run and it went much better than I though it would. I struggled some in places yet not so much as I was preparing for. it seems my body and muscles are remembering and becoming better conditioned.

Either way I really enjoyed the highs and the lows and look forward to the next 100 miles....

Long may it continue

Ultra Luke
Running Free