Errm…………this is a tough one to write.

I’d heard chatter about this new race series by Cancer Research some time ago and it instantly caught my attention, I am never one to shy away from a challenge.

The series is based around the country and as the name suggests these are not your typical 10k road races – these are tough! So tough, they categorised them into “Tough”, “Tougher” and “Toughest”. So when I got offered an entry I had the option to go for Tough at Epping Forest not too far away in North London, Tougher to Cannock Chase or gone Toughest and head back to the Peak District near where my parents live. Well, me being me, I thought if you’re going to do this to challenge yourself why not go for the hardest one – Toughest at Box Hill. It took me a day or two to click the confirm button, but I did it. Oh heck!


I’ve never been to Box Hill before, just heard the horror stories about it, so Nic kindly offered to take me on a walk (up) and around the area. You can read about it here

I’d got the route map for the race but wasn’t too bothered about following it, I just wanted to get a general idea of the terrain and elevation etc. We walked up and around some of the beautiful leafy trails and I felt ok with that, the steps on the way down were a challenge and took a lot of concentration, but maybe we wouldn’t go down them in the race? – We would!!

Comparing the race route to our GPS I figured I’d got a good grasp of the race and where we’d be going – felt a little more confident, but there are so many trails and who knows where we’d be going on race day.

Race Day:

It’s so easy enough for me to get to Dorking – 30min train journey from Wimbledon Station and I was there. I arrived at the Hub and collected my number, decided how many layers to go for as it was still quite chilly then so went for 4 layers plus gloves and head buff. I went and found Lee (Birthday boy), Susie Chan and Shaun Marsden who I’d been dying to meet for ages (along with Roy of course who was happy to receive lots of tickles and attention). I didn’t really look around at the competition – I knew I’d be near the back and it wasn’t a race to worry about time, although if it’s tough enough to get Susie and Shaun out of bed early on a Saturday morning it probably isn’t a walk in the park! I assumed that like with most charity races, they’re be the usual hen party walking 10 people wide, walkers from the startline and the people who had too much the night before – how wrong was I?

So is that the hill we’re going up?

As we were lining up for the start Sarah (@SarahGrimshaw4) shouted me, we knew we’d both be there and it was nice to put a face to a twitter handle. We chatted up to the start line and wished each other luck for the race ahead. Soon we were off flying down the road which was ok it was nice smooth tarmac and they’d closed part of the road off. I let everyone else go, I knew they would be a tail runner and couldn’t hear anyone else with me so figured there must be more people behind me.

 

Looking worried already

Before long we got into the trails and crossed over the bridge instead of going over the stepping stones. Before 2km we arrived at the steps – oh there were so many steps! There were a couple in front of me, who looked like they just come out of an Adidas photo shoot and I used them to pace myself up the steps – the sign that said 236 steps to go after what felt like an eternity was not helpful!! I took a strategy of walking up, hands on knees switching legs to step up every now and again, I thought I knew that once we got to the top, the hill was done with – yeah right!. Finally reaching the top & the 2km mark I took it easy to let my heart rate drop and get my breathing under control.

 

the long an unwinding trail

I managed to get a nice bit of running in on the nice soft ground & wearing my Hoka Rapa Nui trail shoes was the perfect choice at this stage. We moved on and got on another trail where I could see the leaders coming in the opposite direction. The path was covered in layer of leaves so didn’t look too bad, but it was incredibly rocky underneath and my ankles were twisting all over the place on the big rocks, I decided it wasn’t sensible to run and risk injury or going over. Fortunately, after a while a path to the left appeared & it was lovely short grass, perfect for running on and I made the most of it.
I knew there was a small kink in the route but I thought it was just to make up the extra yardage, I got there and there was a marshal that directed me to the left. I stopped dead in my tracks  “up there?? are you serious?”

 

That kink, turned in to one hell of a climb, I genuinely doubted how I would get up it – it was wet, slippery and I have the balance of a giraffe after 10 pints! Strategy was slow and steady and even stopping to plan my next five steps. I got to the top as others were just arriving at the bottom, some were already on the way down taking the path & saw someone slip (fortunately not seriously). I decided to take the steps back down.

The Kink from the top!!! (Not my photo)
Made it to the bottom – can you see the tiny sign at the top? It doesn’t give it justice!


Trundling on to 5k we got given water and a gel (not something I’d planned on using for a 10k but I think it warranted it), so I shoved both down and planted them in the makeshift bins. The marshals congratulated me on my good work and said up you go – up??? the path from 2k to 5k (apart from the kink) had been a very slight downhill so hardly noticed we’d descended so much.

 

Now this was a big hill – included the King of the Mountain stage, I thought initially it was the same hill as I’d climbed a few weeks before, but this was huge –  according to Garmin 500ft, in well under 1 mile. I couldn’t make it all the way up in one go, I’d take 50 steps, rest for 20 seconds and go again – every time you thought you were at the top, it’d go again!

After this my thought was that it would be all down hill from here – guess what! We took a long straight path that was quite steep in places and wasn’t conduit to running on – well for me anyway, it took a lot of concentration to plan your steps including walking with your feet at different angles at some points.

7km came up, and we were climbing again up to the war memorial on really steep, thin tracks, that had a huge drop to the left hand side. Then it dawned on me – the steps were coming! Through this part you could see the finish area way below…”I could just roll down from here”….. As we were working our way up, the couple behind me caught me and overtook me – I also got the tail running for company.


We started making our way down the steps, thinking I’d make time up on the couple in front, I could hear the tail runner behind me was struggling, he was slipping all over the place, whereas I was doing ok & I was thankful for having trail shoes.

Just to rub salt into the wounds – there was a runner – not in the race, but doing hill repeats, up and down the steps, he must of passed me three times going up and down, we both looked in amazement and questioned how he was so quick – I put it down to confidence and a good centre of gravity. He was really nice though, offering words of encouragement each time he passed me and the tail runner.

Finally I could hear the road, and I could see the stepping stones, we’d finishing the steps finally!!! It came with so much relief, my thighs were crying out for a rest.


Once I got on the road I could see the couple in front but I figured they were too far but I’d give it a go anyway. They weren’t getting any closer so I started to walk a bit as my walking was probably quicker than shuffling along and I wanted something left for a sprint finish.

Just before I turned into the Hub for the finish line I could hear Russell announce the last runner was just coming in – darn! I made the most of it and got plenty of cheers so I hi-5’d my way over the finish line and put a smile on for the camera.

laughing or crying – you decide

I was really glad to see everyone from CR & a few other runners had stuck around, most were probably home or in the pub by the time I finished. The cake stall was still open #winning and everyone I saw congratulated me and stopped for a quick chat as I collected my bag, it was a really friendly atmosphere, no one judged and everyone wanted to hear your opinion & how you got on.

 

I was a bit dejected to finish last, for the first time, but as mum said, someone has to and I guess the cheers at the end were worth it. If I hadn’t have finished last, someone else would & it’s not a feeling that I’d wish on anyone – so I’ll take it!

I’ve taken some advice and done a race review in my notebook, there are positives to take away from Saturday, but mostly I have to keep in mind that I did it, I didn’t pull out & I didn’t cry!


I think my shoes let me down- they soles were way too hard for most of the surfaces we were covering. Saying that I couldn’t have done it with out the grip they had on the hills and slippery parts. I would love to find some sort of hybrid, soft sole but with lots of grip!


Would I do it again – probably, though I’d have a go at the Tough and Tougher events first next year.

I’d also like to do more trail running, been researching the Maverick series which has a 7k in Sussex next Feb. Seems like a good event for me – trails but not so  elevation heavy & shorter distance.

And of course, who can forget the bling – it’s a thing of beauty & one I’ll probably treasure along with my half marathon medal!

I have to put a special thank you to the organisers, the marshals on the course who must have been freezing standing there for hours. Everyone of them gave words of encouragement & advice to get through to the next marshal/check point👍🏻