I had plans in my calendar for my 100th marathon and then the NDW100 so the Omen really wasn’t on the cards. A – I didn’t want to get injured before completing marathon number 100 and B – I didn’t want to see the North Downs Way route before running the 100 miler, I wanted it all to be new and exciting.
The Omen is a 66.6 mile ultra mostly on the North Downs Way. The route is not marked by the organisers, so the participants need to follow the path markers. In order to qualify, you need to have completed a marathon distance race before and ideally have seen a map with your own eyes. I have done both, so I thought it would be fine 😉
David (Race Director) messaged me saying that the entries close on Sunday, the week before… I wanted to do the Omen last year but I was signed up for the Butcher in Poland and couldn’t do it. This year, however, I wasn’t going to Poland… I needed a race… I needed the Omen. After Dave messaged me, a great FOMO started building up in me… there was just one problem… I was ill. Things happen and some of them tend to happen to me. This time it was three infections/conditions all at once, whilst being abroad, having to see a foreign doctor and getting a prescription that was questioned by a pharmacist: “Are you sure Miss, that this is all for one person?”. I was sure about that, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do the Omen… It was hard to walk, sit, sleep… Not ideal, to say it politely.
I came back to the UK on Saturday, the Omen closed on Sunday, Monday was a Bank Holiday in the UK, so I saw my doctor on Tuesday. She confirmed the diagnosis of the foreign doctor, despite being quite skeptical over the phone earlier, saying I would be quite unfortunate to have that combo. Well, I don’t win the lottery so I might as well hit the jackpot of unfortunate conditions! The good news was, that things were getting better and all the drugs seemed to have helped. I decided to brave it and ask her if I could run on the coming Saturday… I may have said the run was a shorter distance than it really was… shhhhh… 😉 The doctor said that it was fine. Whoop! I got some additional pharmaceutical supplies and busied myself in the next few days with recovery. I also asked David nicely and got a place in the Omen.
As you can see, I didn’t have a lot of time to plan things, but I managed to prepare my cheat sheet:
The race start was at 7am at Guildford Cathedral , if you don’t get the film reference, have a look here. There were quite a few people gathered at the bottom of the Cathedral hill, but it soon became apparent that most of them were doing the “Baby Damien” – a 6.66-mile race, finishing at Silent Pool. It was me and four guys running the ultra…
I had a GPX track of the route loaded on my watch which made me feel more confident about the route, especially with a few diversions from the official NDW path.
The race started and we went up the hill passed the Cathedral and down the side steps. Then through Guildford, down the bottom of the Mount, up Portsmouth road towards St Catherine’s Chapel.
There was one of the ultra runners behind me and the other three were ahead. I was on my own pretty quickly. David ‘made us’ go up the hill to the chapel and back down again. Over the river Wey and through Shalford Park towards the Chantries. Then following the NDW up to St Martha’s, where I met Hailey (who was going to marshal later) and back down and across towards Newlands Corner.
I panicked a bit about being alone and decided to upload the GPX track into the OS Map mobile application, as it’s much more detailed than the route displayed on my watch. I couldn’t seem to figure out how to upload it whilst running, so I called Jamie and asked him to do it on a laptop. A few minutes later I had the Omen route showing on the OS map. Brilliant.
From Newlands Corner, we took a small detour to Silent Pool. I managed to catch up with a few people, but none of the ultra runners. This was the finish line for the 6.66 Baby Damien and the first aid station for me. I had a drink and a snack and started climbing up the hill to get back tothe NDW path.
This section was very pretty, leading through woodlands and open fields with stunning views. The weather helped of course – it was a beautiful day (maybe a bit warm 😉 ).
Then I went a bit wrong, missing a waymarker, not ideal on a tough route like this, to be getting additional kilometres.
Back on track, I had a road section ahead of me leading to Denbies Wine estate and down towards the A24.
We were told that an attempt to cross A24 will cause a disqualification, so I went along the road towards the underpass. Yes, that’s additional mileage but also a much safer option, I didn’t have a problem with going a bit ‘further’.
Boom! Aid station number 2 – Box Hill 😀 16 miles / 25.7km done!
I asked about the other participants, nothing had changed, three guys were ahead of me and one was behind.
Drink, snack and off I went across the river and up the steps. Unfortunately, the stepping stones were closed, so I had to go over the bridge.
I was looking forward to trying to conquer the stepping stones, as when I tried crossing them last time, I got stuck. It must have been a strange case of vertigo, I couldn’t move and I had to hold a stranger’s hand and be guided off them. A little embarrassing really…
The hill was waiting for me. Whoever doesn’t know Box Hill, will get a bit of a surprise here… It goes up and up and up, it’s quite a draining ascent. I didn’t mind, as I was sure this wasn’t the worst that the NDW would through at me that day.
The top of the hill seemed like a suitable place for lunch. I had my wraps… I know they may sound a bit disgusting… but they work for me, don’t dismiss them until you try! I have tested them so many times and they are perfect. They are not dry, like bread sandwiches can be; they are not sweet, like many things you get offered at aid stations on long runs; and they are definitely not bland 😉
The ‘recipe’ is simple: wrap (white flour) + hummus (preferably carmelised onion) + ketchup (Heinz) + mustard (Polish Sarepska mustard from Sainsbury’s or Tesco 😀 )
I set off again and thought I went the wrong way, went back on myself, took an actual wrong path and came back again. The signage isn’t bulletproof so the OS map really helped me.
The next section was up and down in woodland, pretty and fun.
Then I saw someone running back, wearing an Omen race number. My first thought was that something had happened, ‘fortunately’ he ‘just’ got lost. Easily done… but he was running back, not recognising the areas he had already been through… He mentioned that the arrow was showing this direction… well, it’s a point-to-point path… it goes both ways…
He then questioned my directions and I spent some time trying to prove to him that I knew where I was going (not sure why I did that…). He was definitely a good runner, having done road marathons in under 3 hours, but I had a feeling that the Omen wasn’t the best way to be introduced to trail running.
Eventually, I decided to run ahead and leave him to it, whether he wanted to run with me or not. Very soon, I was alone.
After a short bit of road, I was in the fields again and shortly after in the woods, climbing. I was guessing that this was Reigate Hill.
I met a friendly dog:
And took some selfies as a break during another neverending climb (Reigate Hill).
This area was absolutely stunning:
The next aid station was just around the corner. 23 miles / 37 km. Hailey was there! It was nice to get a bit of a rest and refill my backpack with water. I was taking Saltstick tablets throughout to make sure I wouldn’t get cramps, it was getting really hot now.
I caught up with one of the participants, Gareth, but he left the station before me, so I missed a chance for some company. It’s hard running alone. There were Jamie’s parents there (the guy I met, that was going the wrong way), being very worried that he got lost and planning to walk back to meet him. Hopefully, they found him.
I had 7 miles / 11.3 km ahead of me to station 4 at Caterham.
The route took me through the woods, then Gatton, a golf course and a cricket ground. I was getting tired and hungry. I realised that I may have not taken enough wraps. At least I had some crisps from the last station!
I ran through Merstham and passed the beautiful St. Katharine’s church (nomen est omen).
After crossing the railway tracks I got to a stretch of road that I found very boring. I was tired, everything hurt, so I was walking and it wasn’t even pretty… I looked at the beige houses with lion statues and questioned the owners’ taste… or maybe I need a lion and a column in my life to understand it? Thankfully I was back in nature very soon and could stop thinking about it!
This bit was slow and I was happy to see the next aid station – 30 miles / 48.3 km done!
Both Gareth and Jamie were there, saying that they were dropping out… Gareth dropped out here and Jamie at the station before. I have to say, this made me nervous… only 3 people left in the field…
As I signed up late, I didn’t get a GPS tracker, so I was updating a Facebook thread with my progress. With the boys dropping out I asked Hailey for one of the trackers and since then I became ‘Jamie 23’ 😀
I definitely felt a bit safer having a tracker, it updated a website with my location quite regularly. I knew that my mum would be very pleased to see a moving dot on a map 🙂
I left the station and it wasn’t far before I got to Woldingham! That was a nice surprise, I did a marathon there with Gemma! We got completely soaked that day! Fortunately, the weather during the Omen was much better and I felt good running in a familiar area 🙂
Let’s not forget about the steps:
Running across the fields through paths overgrown with bramble, it seemed like there’s not much human traffic in the area.
I felt quite lonely, I hadn’t seen anyone for a while, it was hard going. The next section was… fields. Loads of them… Neverending fields… Zzzzz…
Then there was an evil uphill. It was long and dragged, I was really hoping that there would be an aid station at the top… there wasn’t… My mood was getting low again, I needed to see people (anyone!) and have some food.
The stretch to Station 5 in Tatsfield was long and flat. When I finally got there, David was waiting for me with hot tomato soup (I may have requested it). He also gave me some words of encouragement which were extremely needed after I found out that another person dropped out… So there were two people left in the race…
I had about 13km / 8 miles to the next station in Otford… through some stinging nettles…
If I’d known what was coming, I really wouldn’t have bothered worrying about the nettles.
The next ‘attraction’ was: cows.
There were just a few cows in the first ‘Cow Field’, but they were on the path. Fortunately, they didn’t care that much about me.
The second ‘cow field’ had about 30 cows… I armed myself with a stick. Being naturally curious, cows came to see my weapon and started fighting over who will sniff my stick first. NOT the result I wanted.
Terrifying! I missed a turning, but who wouldn’t, being followed by 30 cows!
Little did I know, there was a third field with cows, by that point I thought nothing could have topped up the previous one. Well… the cows in field 3 had calves.
Fine! What next, North Downs Way? What next?
Soon after, my watch showed a marathon to go, that was some good news:
I went through some strange chain-gates that I’ve never seen before:
It seems that the things that I find interesting are usually different from what most people find exciting, please move on, if you are not into gates.
Eventually, I got to a town! With a pub! I stopped and asked for some soda (usually free, sparkling water) and that was a great shout. Soda was so refreshing. It was still hot, despite it being after 6 p.m. so that water really hit the spot.
The next station couldn’t come fast enough, especially as I noticed that my skin started reacting to all the vegetation I ran through… I needed a break.
Otford! Finally! CP6 – 45 miles, 72.5 km
I met up with David, who brought with him some food and drink, he was on his way to drop another participant off at Otford train station.
It was good to sit down for a bit and chat with someone.
Otford is also quite pretty:
It was after 19:00, time to move on, another 8 miles / 13 km to the next station.
I started running, went passed the train station, up a hill and back into the wilderness. The sun was slowly going down and the light had this gorgeous gold colour.
I met some animals. A friendly horse:
A sheep and a ram (pam pam)
I met a lot of animals actually, rabbits, foxes, and then… there was the feisty horse. I went into ‘his’ field and he didn’t like it. He charged straight towards me. I’m not afraid of animals, I thought he just wanted to check me out.
Well… no. He started pushing me. He was pushing me backward, off the field. He was going faster and faster! I had to hold his head…
I bet you can just picture it… me in a Wonder Woman outfit, wrestling a horse. It must have been quite a comical sight, but laughing was the last thing I wanted to do! I was quite scared at that point!
I finally managed to escape the wrestle, I was shaken up, but relieved that I escaped.
It started getting dark and my mood started dropping again. I was thinking about being alone in the middle of nowhere, being attacked by farm animals…
I had a breakdown, it wasn’t good…
The picture above is mainly here to show you that’s it not all fun and games. Ultrarunning is a massive rollercoaster for your body and your head.
Enough! I needed to pull myself together. I decided to try and get to the next station in Vigo Hill before it got dark. The sun was setting fast and this was my mini personal battle. I didn’t want to take my torch out. I was checking on OS Map and the tracking app to see how far I had to go. I needed this so much…
It was another blow when I realised I wouldn’t make it… I felt discouraged, tired, unmotivated, scared. I took my torch out as I got into a wooded area, feeling as if I failed myself. When I got out of the woods onto a road I saw Hailey! Right… My mind was starting to play games with me… ‘whateva!’. I should take it easy, look after myself more, believe that’s all going to be fine, rather than setting myself some little goal and then feeling useless for not fulfilling it! Easier said than done, hey? 😉
Hailey gave me some antihistamine cream for my bobbly legs, hot mushroom risotto ❤ and a drink. I felt better… a bit of TLC is just what I needed. I also had a chat with Jamie on the phone, as in my darkness breakdown I called him to admit that I was afraid of horses now.
Sorry for a blurry picture, it was dark and my phone was probably all sweaty (nice, I know!).
I know that rational thinking is hard, when you have run a long way, but just wanted to point it out that horses sleep at night, so do cows, me thinks 😉 Nevermind…
After a chat with Hailey and Jamie, I felt so much better. It was this new energy that got injected into me. Please never underestimate the role of support teams; one message, hug, laugh can change the whole race around. Seeing people you love en route or strangers who simply care about you is a feeling that keeps you going and stays with you for a very long time. Thank you ❤
So what did I do with all this new energy? I decided that doing some running was a good idea. I felt tired but fresh if that makes any sense 😉 My legs were tired but my mood lifted and I felt good, therefore was running quite well.
It was a long straight path through the woods, it kept going and going. I was pleased that it was dark because I couldn’t see how far along it went 😉
Then the tricky downhills started with sharp stones and uneven terrain carved by water. I needed to focus on where I was putting my feet, didn’t fancy a broken ankle.
When I rejoined the track I got to a bit where the route split, it wasn’t obvious from the signs which way to go, my watch wasn’t sure either. I got my phone out to look at the map when I noticed a car… a car in the middle of the woods… just parked there… lights off… guys inside… Oh, s#!t! “Please, can I have the angry horse, back? All is forgiven!” It didn’t seem to me that they were just having a ‘good time’, it seemed that they were living in that car! S#!t! S#!t! S#!t! I ran, there was nothing else I could do. I ran as fast as I could, I guess adrenaline helped a bit…
I knew that from the last station I had just over 11 km / 7 miles to the next one. It couldn’t come soon enough.
So guess what happened next?! My watch died!!! My watch with the race route! HAHAHAHAHA! (Hysteria). One has to laugh if the only other option is crying (and I’ve done that already).
I was navigating using my phone, plugged into a charging block, not as comfortable as just glancing at your wrist, but I’ll take that.
I got to the next station at Lower Bush and was very pleased to see Hailey. Also: salt and vinegar crisps never tasted so good and not getting murdered in the woods was a huge bonus!
I didn’t hang around for too long, I had about 10km / 6 miles to go. I wanted to get it done, I really did!
Here’s a badger for you:
Running through woodland in the dark can be quite spooky, especially as I managed to freak out a lot of birds, that were flapping and screaming all over the place. Sorry, birds! Then there are all the other animals, that you see the eyes of glowing from a headtorch beam. And then… the spiders (!) since the only other person running this trail was so far ahead, the spiders got busy and worked on their webs. The webs landed on my face as I was going through trees and bushes. You think it’s fine, but no, trust me, it’s ticklish and annoying. Moving on…
Then there was The Road… the route takes you along the M2. It was after midnight when I got there and I was lacking energy again. Then I noticed signs from the Samaritans, every 10 metres… Why was I doing this?
Finally, when I got off the road and onto a track, I was back in pitch-black darkness but felt better, apart from whenever I saw a parked car… Eeeek!
I was running through a nature reserve, then Blue Bell Hill, when I saw a guy with a torch coming in my direction. OMG! Wasn’t this day challenging enough? There’s only so much adrenaline that a body can produce!
Thankfully it turned out to be David! Biggest ‘Phew!’ ever! I didn’t have far to go and David said that he will go ahead and meet me, later on, to make sure I took the right track to the finish. Yay!
I was so happy when I got to the end. I was the 1st (and the only) lady and the 2nd finisher overall 😉 but I won this race in so many other ways.
Please don’t let my ‘adventures’ discourage you from doing the Omen. I loved the race, actually, mostly due to all the obstacles I encountered and how hard it was.
Thank you to David, Hailey and the Team; Jamie; friends (Fitstuff, Facebook, Instagram) and family for being there with me on this difficult day. I am very lucky to have such wonderful support ❤
Here are the race results:
Oh! And just in case I didn’t discourage you and you are thinking about doing this race or investigating the North Downs Way yourself. Be prepared, take a map and a phone, the route markers are not bulletproof, to say the least. They change along the way… A quick example below 😉