How to both win and come last in the Pilgrim Challenge Ultra Marathon...it is not always about the fastest finish time, it is sometimes just about getting to the finish line!


Guest Blogger: Vivien Toms 

This was my second attempt at the Pilgrim Challenge...

I wanted to do this Ultra again after last year when I had to drop out halfway through the second day.  To be fair, I was recovering from a nasty bout of pleurisy and had promised my long suffering husband that if I felt rough I would pull out. 

The snow won’t stop this event…just ask Neil

This time, I woke on the Friday to a thick blanket of snow which had drifted halfway up the side of our car.  Knowing that Neil, the organiser of XNRGY’s challenges, would rather put needles through his eyes than cancel (he is so hardcore, having won the 300-mile Yukon Arctic Ultra in -55 degrees), I ploughed through the snow to the station and finally arrived at Farnham which was completely snow free. Ha! 

However, the following morning it was almost knee deep and a bit like wading through treacle.  I started with the slower first group and was amazed at how fast the elite runners just glided past with no fear of death and wearing shorts and vests, hardly making any impression on the snow, while I was plodding along done up like a dog’s dinner in waterproofs, woolly hat, scarf, two pairs of gloves etc. 

It's flat…then you reach Box Hill!

The first half of the route is reasonably flat and then you reach the notorious Box Hill. At that stage it is up and down forever until the day 1 finish line. I managed to get in before dark and had a sleepless night on the floor of Redhill School’s gym, although listening to the snoring I think I was the only one awake.

Day 2…and back along the North Downs trail 

The next morning the snow had turned to ice made worse by all the hundreds of feet churning it up. At least yesterday when you fell over it didn’t hurt so much but now it was like falling on jagged rocks. The sun did come out in the afternoon so we only had to contend with slush but as soon as it got dark it was lethal. 

Thankfully the hardest part was over first this time, being an out and back race, but I was so scared of slipping over again in the dark as you couldn’t see the black ice.  Eventually I caught up with a group of girls, only one of whom was doing it, the others were friends who were taking it in turns to support her, so I felt happier then, also there was more light with our collective headtorches. 

Across the finish and I am the First lady over…, over 60 that is...

After dry retching for several minutes just before the finish I was amazed when Neil presented me with a glass trophy for first lady over 60, especially when I found out later that I had come last! 

Actually it’s not as pathetic as it sounds, apparently there were plenty behind me but they either dropped out or were persuaded to withdraw, so I do feel I really deserved to win that trophy, especially as it’s 12 years since I was 60!  Would I do it again next year?  Never in a million years!  (Sorry Neil).  Although, perhaps next year the weather might be kinder …….


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