Tag Archives: box hill

My first half-marathon

Setting off


Nike+ claims I ran a half-marathon back in November, and at a stonking pace too. But the subsequent months have convinced me that this must have been some sort of glitch on the app’s part – I’ve never again been able to match it.

No matter. I definitely ran one on Sunday. And in driving snow, too. The picture above is what greeted me as I left the house. It was barely snowing at the time, although the wind was vicious and the temperature somewhere around zero.

But you just have to get on with it don’t you? So I set off, and ran to Leatherhead – a little under six miles away – and back, adding a couple of off-road loops into the run to make up the required 13 miles.

Crossing the frosted railway, heading out of Dorking

Crossing the frosted railway, heading out of Dorking

The route was suggested by Mrs Reed, who very sensibly pointed out that the tarmac roadside path would be much easier to run on than the thick, slippery mud-world all the local trails had turned into. And she was right.

Even better, my new Eat More regime proved its worth: my energy levels were transformed, and I reached Leatherhead quicker and more easily than I could have expected.



As I ran, the snow grew thicker in the air, although thankfully never quite developed into the blizzard it occasionally seemed to threaten. It came and went, and hardly settled, but having it whipped across you by that mean wind was fairly off-putting.

The good thing about running six miles away from home, of course, is that you have no choice but to run the six miles back again (with, as I say, some little extras to make the 13).

At Leatherhead, I made up some distance by detouring up a muddy track through the farmland, crossing an extremely high and energetic river Mole:

And meeting some hungry cows:

Then I doubled back and ran the roadside path again, taking a final little detour at the foot of Box Hill to make sure I hit 13 before I got home. Which I did. Thank heavens.

Yes, I was knackered, and yes, doing that distance twice in one day is a fairly daunting prospect. But with my newly improved knees, and considerably more protein and carbs fizzing round my system, I’m feeling a lot more confident.

I tested the legs on Tuesday morning with a quick morning run around Norbury Park, a local woodland. It was less than four miles, but involves a steep little climb (frozen mud: like running over shattered concrete), and that left me pretty exhausted.

But I remembered the wisdom of my trainer, who always says to keep going, just at a gentle jog, rather than stop. So I forced the legs on, and they gradually submitted and got on with it. You do learn, doing this stuff, how much more your body is capable of than you thought.

Next weekend: eighteen miles.


Box Hill: 8.1 miles

Running in Betchworth

Limbering up in Betchworth

Once a week I visit my personal trainer, the brilliant Karen Marshall. She’s done wonders for me – if you’re in my area and want to get fit, talk to Karen. She’s also very excited about me running the Marathon. So she’s been taking me, and some others, out for testing Saturday morning runs.

It’s great, because you inevitably push yourself (and get pushed) much harder when there’s someone else there who knows what they’re doing.

Which is why, on this dank, foggy January morning, I agreed to run up Box Hill.

We started on the edge of Dorking, limbering up by running a couple of miles over to, and across, Betchworth Golf Course, and then around Brockham. Then we cut back across the A25, and over the hard brown fields towards Box Hill itself.

Fields to Box Hill

Heading for the hill

By this point, even just heading towards the hill, I felt knackered. And this is why it’s so good running with Karen – I wouldn’t normally even attempt a run like this, simply because I wouldn’t believe I could do it. But if Karen believes I can, so do I.

Amazingly, it turned out that I could. Even after Karen led us to a narrow, rocky path that went straight up the side of the hill – none of this gentle zig-zag nonsense. I can’t claim to have run all the way up it. Some of it was more like climbing. But we got a pretty high pretty fast, and I was pleased – and relieved – by how well I managed to carry on after that.

I mean, I’m never going to catch these women. Karen is phenomenally fit, and only stays within my sight because she’s a kindly soul. Wendy (not my wife, those who know me – another Wendy) has been running for something ridiculous like 20 years, and simply vanishes off into the distance. Especially in fog like this. And Jan, to whom I’m probably closest in fitness (and who’s also doing the Marathon), still stays well ahead of me.

But none of that matters. What matters is that only a few months ago even the idea of running made me feel tired.

The last time I did anything remotely like this was at school, and the term ‘cross-country running’ still conjures miserable memories: foggy, damp days of trudging heavily through puddled mud-dumps, with aching lungs, aching limbs and a throat full of phlegm. It’s fair to say that I failed to perceive an upside to the enterprise.

Of course, it’s just the same now. The limbs and lungs still ache – far more, in fact, 30 years on. I still cough nasty, stringy gobs of phlegm into the hedgerows (or, just as often, all over my arm). But the attitude is transformed. Now, I want to do it. I even (horrors) enjoy it.

From the top of Box Hill - 1

From the top of Box Hill – 1

Sadly, it took 20-odd years of sitting on my arse in an office (when I wasn’t sitting on my arse in a pub, or the living room) to become unfit enough to feel I had to do something about it. Only then did I discover I actually liked it.

Depressingly, it all goes back to school. I learnt two critical lessons in PE: firstly, that some people had an innate gift for, and understanding of, sports; and secondly, that I wasn’t one of them.

From my first football lesson, when the ‘teacher’ yelled, ‘You’d think none of you even knew the rules of football,’ sport was pretty much dead to me. (I didn’t know the rules, as it happened. But my ‘teacher’ never took the time to find that out.)

Once you’ve learnt you stink at something, it’s a very hard lesson to unlearn. Especially if you’re not one of those naturally predisposed to standing inadequately dressed on a frozen field once or twice a week, and being attacked with sticks.

Thankfully, my own children are getting a much better start in sports than I did. I went to watch Tom play a rugby match recently, and it was uncannily like watching my own eight year-old self: a bit nervous, not naturally co-ordinated, happier near the sidelines, all of that.

But there’s a critical difference: Tom’s on the rugby field because – wonder of wonders – he asked to be on the team. And his teacher is interested in nurturing that enthusiasm, not just focusing on the obviously gifted. What do you know – Tom’s improving rapidly.

From the top of Box Hill - 2

From the top of Box Hill – 2

Anyway, I digress. We made it up the hill, and along the ridge, making a final, headlong descent down the steep slopes to the Burford Bridge Hotel.

By the time I got to the foot of the hill, my right knee was complaining loudly. It does that a lot these days. Something must be done. But even so, I made it back along the road to our starting point at the Dorking Cricket Club ground. Running, not walking.

8.1 miles in an hour and 35 minutes. Not bad, considering all that climbing.