id326-The Gatliff for Greenhorns

Written by Geoff Reed   

See under Articles on the Main Menu for the Original Contribution

The Gatliff for Greenhorns.

Miscellaneous notes on how to do 50 km better.


1. Getting There

Edenbridge is a small place. So why they had to build a bypass last year that seemed to me to cut off the rugby club from you when you?re trying to find it I?m not sure. Anyway, from Kingston it?s 32 miles and takes about 50 minutes by car. The entry form will tell you to park in the town car park – about 600 yards from the club-house start: it?s inconvenient. But they have guards to stop you from parking in the club-house car park: these will probably be in place by 7.00 and the club-house doesn?t open much before that.

2. Instructions.

The route is different each year. It is not marked on the ground. You will pick up about six sides of A4 with route instructions. You can pick up the wrong route if you like. They are full of abbreviations and these are listed at the top of page 1. They will be your only guide to get around. The abbreviations are not difficult but novices can find an extra thrill in trying to understand what they mean when they need them. Participants should have something waterproof to keep the instructions in. I use a map case. You will be out for a long time and it often rains. I have seen a runner turn up at a check-point, holding a blob of papier mache and ask if they had any spare sets of instructions. The answer was ?no?; and in any event, as it was still raining, a new a set would probably have lasted for about a mile.

3. You?re on your own - 1.

When you leave with your instructions it?s a good idea to read them from the first line and keep on doing that. Don?t pack them away for later. The strangers in front of - or with - you may not be looking at theirs either; often in groups no-one is. I recall one entertaining year when I and my companion ran past the same two walkers three times before we were out of the suburbs of Edenbridge. And it?s a small place. True, by the third time I could hardly run for laughing, but when I?ve taken wrong turnings after 15 or 20 miles, as you may, the consequences have been be less funny.

4. You?re on your own - 2.

As they give you instructions, a map may not be essential; but many people take one (two possibly). And before they start you may see them tracing the route onto their map. (There will be a board OS map at the clubhouse of the route – too heavy to carry around.) I always take a map and usually do some copying, at least of check-points. If you get lost, what you need is to get to the next check-point somehow; and when the instructions have become temporarily useless, a map could be essential. A compass helps too, so I carry one; and I?ve used the recommended torch - to read instructions or map when it?s gloomy (or dark).

5. Variety.

Nowadays three different distances are run at the same time. A lot of entrants no longer can, or want to, do a 50k. It wasn?t always like this. These wimps, as you will no doubt consider them, have not been sent out just to confuse you. Though they may have that effect: because they have different instructions and are doing two other – different - routes. They are particularly dangerous in the early stages – obviously – and towards the end – less obviously. The latter, because you will be tired and less alert. So when you see people ahead you may think they are on your route. And they may be - we all finish in the same place. But they may swerve off it surprisingly late, following their own route. So watch for them; clues are if they seem fresh or, chatty; things you stopped being long ago.

6. Rain.

It doesn?t always rain. It isn?t always bitterly cold. Some K/P competitors, full of useful marathon training (whatever that is), may be zipping along like Andy or Catherine and think you wont need much to keep you warm or drier. But if you get that wrong it?s miserable and an early end to your event; and that would be a shame. I usually cover both bases. I wear excess gear in the early morning (hat, gloves, extra chest layers) on top of wicking kit, and carry rain gear in a rucksack, where other excess is stowed when I warm up, and retrieved as I chill down. OK a rucksack slows me down (who said: ?who?d notice??). If this seems too big a drag, good luck: it?s a long day. I usually wear most of what I take at some point and have been grateful for every single layer and more on one or two years.

  1. Before starting.

A liberal application of Vaseline to delicate areas that might rub is a good idea, and any other gels you think may help ward off cramp or other pains. Late carb-loading will help too. On my feet I wear road trainers: they do. Should you find yourself running for a km or more in water three to six inches deep, you?ll get wet feet; but you will anyway: use Vaseline.

  1. Starting.

Essential to do at some point; just not too soon. I usually stay in the club-house, changing clothes repeatedly, eating, putting it off as long as possible; hoping it will get drier, sunnier, warmer. It never has yet. I usually settle for waiting until I can read the instructions (reasons above) before I start. Some intrepids start in the dark. I have seen them leave the club-house, repeating the same compass bearing, but leaving in quite different directions; and I think a little daylight is a great help. K/P competitors will class themselves as runners or joggers for this event, and so can start when it?s light, expecting to pass through the field (say hello) and finish early. But walkers need to start early: there are only ten hours of daylight and entrants are only allowed ten hours to complete. Within limits you choose your own ten hours. You are timed out as you start, individually, simply by telling the people at the computer your number and that you want to start. Easy. You should have your card to get filled in at each check-point; take care, check-points have individual opening and closing times.

9. Getting lost.

No-one is going to do this of course. Good plan. With my limited skill I?ve never quite pulled it off. Each year after the event, when I leave having showered (your own towel and soap), eaten and relaxed, I see people in the car headlights, along the road-side, just trying to get back to Edenbridge - off the route, well timed out and no doubt fed up. So the aim is to not get into this position. There are no guarantees. One good trick is - when you realise you?ve gone the wrong way, turn back. I have failed to follow this simple rule at some cost. Getting lost can of course be caused when the instructions have a line missing. This somewhat undermines maxim 3 above but it rarely happens, so have confidence. The key is probably: if the instructions cease to make sense, something is wrong – turn around - slightly lost is one thing, seriously lost is another. That other competitors may be following the same route might seem comforting but is no help. I was once followed by a group I heard say ?he must know the way?, when I went miles and an hour off course. And I knew.

10. Sustenance.

I usually carry a couple of bananas to eat between later check-points. Marathon runners may not do this, but this is not a marathon. It is slower, so you can eat on the move, and it takes quite a lot longer. The event provides food and drink at about five check-points, with lunch at one. The emphasis is on carbohydrates and I find them essential to keep going. It may seem pointless to the ?stick-people?, who usually pass me after 10-15 miles, but there aren?t many of those[O1] . The CPs are also the places to get fluids, unless like me you carry a little – yes, more weight; but a safety measure and I use it.

11. The best idea.

To get around quickly, reliably and with no ?what do I do now?? stress, the best idea is to run with Dick Ockenden. He will has created the past ten or so routes, and at some point he will probably jog past (me at least), carrying nothing and confident that he will make it – he always has. He is very slow – in cross-country races I beat him easily. Why, when he passes me at 20 miles or so I cant keep up I?m not sure – maybe it?s the gear I carry; or maybe 50k is just his distance; or no longer mine. Anyway, no K/P runner will know him. And you?d think him far too slow. He is of course. So - not a practical idea, just the best one.

12. That apart.

Fast runners will eventually (by the second half, say) often find themselves alone. It?s a thin field – probably around 80 starters on the 50k route. Many are walkers; others have done it several times before and are slower now, including some past winners. Most just want to finish. Fast novices are rare and should cut through the field. But there is no prize for winning; and with the variable starting times the winner may be unknown – unless it?s David Wakeling again. So, if you find yourself alone in the later stages, don?t worry too much, you may still be on the right route, just leading; good luck.


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