I used to do most of my running at work with some friends. I now do most of my running at work on my lonesome. Sob! The problem is that I left a large company with many runners to join a small company with one runner - me! We were known in the local bakery (where we used to buy vast amounts of carbohydrate for post-run refuelling) as The Three Musketeers which was quite appropriate since, like the musketeers, there were actually four of us.
Anyway, the Four Musketeers now work for four different companies at the three corners of the country - Axminster, Edinburgh and Woking/London - and we thought that it would be rather nice to do a little jog together. Unfortunately only two of us made it to the start line although one of the others did offer us some moral and alcoholic support the night before.
The little jog was planned as: "Get the train to Haslemere and follow the Greensand Way towards Dorking (forty miles away) until we either get there or don't." 'Tis only forty miles. So one fine morning two of the musketeers, whom the aforementioned bakery staff believe to be brothers due to visual similarity (like both being tall, dark and ... well, scruffy I suppose) got the aforementioned transport to the aforementioned town and began following the aforementioned footpath towards the other aforementioned town. (Actually, the path started heading precisely the way in which the other town wasn't but eventually curved round to a more acceptable direction.)
It was a lovely route and quite variable with woods, heathland, fields, tracks and a few roads (to which even I am not averse every now and again). Being sand (albeit not particularly green) it is well-drained so there was little mud despite the generally wet weather of the preceding weeks. It was also remarkably hill-free with only 3,500' of ascent.
We carried a small rucsac with a couple of water bottles, energy drink powder and some extra clothing. (Actually Barny carried it most of the way which conveniently slowed him down to my pace!). We were logging both elapsed and running time since we needed a number of stops for navigation and things. ("Things" in this context means pee-stops, almost all of which were mine. If anyone tries to pass along the Greensand Way next spring they'll be faced with an impenetrable barrier of vegetation thriving on nutrient-rich ground!)
Navigation wasn't too difficult but we did need the map. A succession of footpaths through villages, woods and fields led us to a convenient tool hire shop after about ten miles where we scrounged some much-needed water. Another ten miles and a pub was approached with muddy feet and some trepidation but the lad there very kindly not only filled up our bottles but gave us each a pint (of water!) to down. We were starting to feel a little tired by then but certainly not as if we had just run twenty miles. We were probably running at around 7:15 min/mile although making a slower nett rate due to the many stops (more "things" than navigation!) and time passes very quickly when covering new ground without any of the usual pressures to get back quickly.
A guidebook had said that the third quarter of our route was perhaps the best stretch of the Greensand Way and it was certainly some of the best terrain I have ever run. It included three hills (Pit, Holmbury and Leith) with mixed woodland on sandy soil, excellent paths, a well-marked route and superb views of the South Downs to the south. A brief sit-down on a bench was felt necessary to invigorate the soul even if the body was rather too far gone by then!
Barny began to suffer on this part so I took the sack before we descended into a village for our third stop at another pub. More energy drink and diluted orange juice set us up for the long haul up Leith Hill. It was all runnable, even in our feeble state, although the three quarters of a mile from the car park to the tower seemed like an eternity! But we got there in the end and felt that we'd really cracked the route so celebrated with a cup of tea from the National Trust kiosk - never before has a cuppa tasted so good!
It was downhill all the way from here ... ish! We initially estimated about six miles to cover in the hour and twenty minutes until we had to meet our train - no problem. It started with a track down to the A25 then a nice sandy path behind a village. But one of the perils of 1:50,000 maps for running is that many small hills can hide between the 10m contours. And there were quite a few of the little devils on this stretch! On one such incline Barny made an important discovery, and I quote:
I now know how to stop you having an opinion on a subject such as 'relative calorie burning amongst individuals exposed to the same exercise regime' and that is to take you on a 35 mile run before asking you!
It turned out to be nearly eight miles from Leith Hill but the timing looked spot on as we descended into Dorking with a mile to do in ten minutes. We had a couple of minutes extra since we were going for Dorking West Station rather than the main one for which we had checked train times. But things started to look distinctly tight when we found ourselves at a dead end so still had a mile to go but now in only eight minutes! Cruising gave way to seriously legging it and we arrived at the station with a couple of minutes to spare.
And then the bombshell - the train listed on the monitor was to arrive in another half hour. A quick check of the timetable and our fears were realised - the 2:23 from Dorking doesn't stop at Dorking West! So we went to the pub instead, bought a drink and a bit of nosh and had a sit-down before giving ourselves ten minutes to cover the hundred yards back to the station!
We both felt elated at what we had just done since neither of us had ever purely run (as opposed to mixed running and walking in the hills) more than about 30 miles before and anything over fifteen is rare. This was new territory for us and we had conquered it in about five hours running time. Roll on the next assault!