Harder than a 30 miler should be! Punchbowl marathon – 14th Feb 2016

2016 is a big year for me with seven ultras booked and the legendary UTMB as my A race in August. With a total of three ultras booked in January and February I decided to use these races as a chance to experiment a little – with alternative nutrition, pacing strategy and also to test how long I need between long races to properly recover.

The Punchbowl marathon is an event organised by the Surrey branch of the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) each year. 20 mile and 30 mile options are offered and typically for an LDWA event entry is very cheap. £6 I believe in this case. The event starts in a village called Witley just off the A3. This year the event was held on 14th February – two weeks after my fast run at the 48 mile Peddars Way Ultra. I had a feeling it was going to be an interesting day to say the least!

Punchbowl elevation profile

I met my ultra buddy Veritie at the start along with a few other friends from local clubs. Veritie and I loosely agreed to run together and see how it went as we both felt it could be a struggle. The conditions were excellent for a February race – a little cold but dry and bright without too much wind. Couldn’t really have asked for better.

Running makes me happy!

We ran off at a reasonable pace and started to enjoy the countryside around us. Within a few miles though I felt like it was harder than it should have been. By 12 miles in I was really feeling it and knew the remaining 18 miles would be tough. Veritie wasn’t having a great day either and was finding it tough so we decided to stay together. This wasn’t an event where the time particularly mattered so having some good company to make the miles pass quicker seemed like a very good idea.

Catching up with Veritie

One great thing about the LDWA events is the well-stocked aid stations so when we checked into the second one after around 17 miles I was able to refuel on marmite and peanut butter sandwiches along with cake, biscuits and other treats. The miles to the third and final aid station passed slowly and seemed very hard.

Following the rim of the Devil’s punchbowl

The highlight of the route is the long circuit of the Devil’s Punchbowl, a huge natural amphitheatre in the Surrey countryside. Originally the A3 road skirted around the edge but having been re-routed since the opening of the Hindhead tunnel the area is now much more appealing. Once this section was complete there was time for one last stop at the final aid station in a farmyard then the final few miles back to Witley. The climbs and descents were not getting any easier but we kept pushing and I was pleased to finish in a time of 6 hours 24 minutes.

Hard earned certificate

Time for several cups of tea and beans on toast at the finish then it was homeward bound with another race done. The one question I really wanted to answer today was how long should I leave between long races and the fact that this was only two weeks after Peddars was too good an opportunity to miss to test this out. I may not have a definitive answer but I can at least say that the answer is ‘longer than two weeks’!

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