I don't entirely recall when, but the discussion about going for a look at the full course a week or two before the race came up some time ago, and Mrs did a bit of homework about how many days it would take and where we might stay.
Then, one weekend in a hotel bar after enjoying a bit of parkrun tourism in Jersey we decided to commit, and booked all the accommodation for a six-day trip to cover all 153 miles on foot. The shortest day would be around 20 miles, and the longest well over 30.
We were travelling light - just a few kilograms each in a small pack each with essentials, a change of clothes, and very few luxuries.
Over the six days we ran, hiked, and walked a total of 272.9km (169.6 miles) in 47 hours (47:13:15 to be precise), and gained an impressive 5,755m (18,881') in height.
The official distance of the North Downs Way is 153 miles, we went a little further due to getting to B&B/hotels and one or two wrong turns!
Day 1, Farnham to Dorking
41.1km (25.5 miles) in 6:22:18 with 655 metres (2,149') of climbing
I was a bit nervous on day 1 - this was due to be far and away the biggest mileage week I'd ever attempted, with longer back to back running days. Plus it was hot. This combination my be why with barely 10km completed I felt weak and light-headed and barely able to run downhill, never mind on the flat. Mrs was really understanding, and we stopped for an early drink and took a walk for half an hour.
For the remainder of the day I gradually felt stronger, and was able to run at a good pace in the closing stages. I ached and was tired, but was pleased to get day one ticked off.
It's over there
The "before" shot
My view for the next six days
Poor horses :(
First of many fields to cross
Quite a bit of sand under-foot
We found a cheese and chilli festival!
Found a deer
Day 2, Dorking to Dunton Green
48.0km (29.8 miles) in 9:10:09 with 1,326m (4,350') of climbing
Woke up quite achy today and it took a while to get going. Nothing damaged or hurt, but I clearly had done some running yesterday. We started very easy with a 1km jog back to the North Downs Way, and the fun of the stepping stones followed by the never ending stairs of Box Hill.
The going was slow due to all the steep climbs, but we made steady progress. The second half of the day was faster. There was no repeat of yesterday's light-headedness, and I was pleased that once I'd warmed up there seemed to be no sore spots on my feet or elsewhere.
It took a long time to get through the day, the slow and hilly start definitely took its toll. We were tired when we finished, but we'd got through it in good spirits. We knew the first few days would be hard until we got into a routine.
Skipping across the stepping stones
Today's theme: steps
Box Hill is all about the view from the top - lovely on a clear day
Steps go down as well as up (but are no easier)
First of many cows today
Mrs dealing with some foliage so it doesn't cause a problem in the NDW100 next week
Happy to be aliiiiiiive!
It's this way
Mrs found a friend
Woah there, Speedy McWifeFace!
We traversed many fields...
...and bridged many motorways...
...to make it to the Donnington Manor Best Western Inn!
Day 3, Dunton Green to Rochester
33.4km (20.8 miles) in 06:04:20 with 701m (2,300') of climbing
Happy that today was a shorter day, we set off in good spirits. We made good pace and I certainly felt like I was getting into the groove.
It was much easier to manage the transition from walking/hiking to jogging and back, and we were able to spend more time chatting. I was starting to settle into the rhythm of the days now - getting up and going was easier. We just had a cup of coffee and headed out - both of us preferring to run the morning before stopping for a good brunch.
Smiles all round - the path starts right next to the hotel
Sometimes you have to work really hard to take the wrong road
Lots of horses today
Here's another one
Wheeeeeeee! (recreating the Centurion cover page photo)
Any form of transport you like, including horse and cart
Lots of cows today too
Always feels like you're taking a direct route going across a field rather than round it
Racing the combine harvester
Managed not to get harvested
Day 4, Rochester to Boughton Lees
49.1km (30.5 miles) in 07:44:57 with 1,037m (3,402') of climbing
I felt fantastic today. No soreness or aches in my body, I got up, repacked the bag, drank my coffee and was raring to go. We ran a lot today, and I'm surprised to see how much climbing there was, it didn't feel like it. Clearly we were used to just getting on with it now!
Most of the day was runable, particularly after our half-way break time. We ran a half-marathon distance to the night's hotel in under 3 hours!
The beauty of the North Downs Way
Found a Battlestar Galactica launch tube
Petrol station food stop - you have to take the opportunities when they arise
Left a bit
We saw a lovely inquisitive calf...
...then Mum turned up...
...then we found a lot more cows...
...and then Dad found us and was unimpressed...
...and we decided to get the hell out of dodge, at pace
Tonight's digs, Eastwell Manor Hotel
Enjoying a well-earned pint on the terrace
Day 5, Boughton Lees to Dover
55.7km (34.6 miles) in 09:12:58 with 665m (2,182') of climbing
Shortly after starting today we reached the split in the path. Two routes to the coast, one long, one slightly longer. We planned to get the long route done today to have a slightly shorter last day left for tomorrow.
Today felt great, it was easy to pick up the pace on the flats and downs, and we hiked the ups comfortably. Yesterday and today really felt like we'd settled into a rhythm and could put in a big mileage like this every day.
The miles ticked past - it didn't feel like the longest day at all. There were quite a few fields to cross where there was nowhere to hide from the occasional patches of sun - but towards the end of the day it got quite a bit cooler and there were some short sharp showers with small pointy rain-drops in the wind.
We finished with a run through the outskirts of Dover, and stopped out watches when we got to the coast - as it happens our day finished exactly where the channel swim attempts start and the North Downs Way officially starts (or ends, depending which way round you're doing it).
The split point - all paths are the North Downs Way
"I think it's that way!"
We found the most beautiful village in the world, Chilham
Every property was perfect
The church yard was spectacular
Overgrown bit - much swearing from me at brambles and nettles (and then a bee stung me!)
Stopped at Canterbury for lunch
Pushing on, covering good ground on the longest day
Highly unfriendly pub
The start/finish line of the North Downs Way (or turn-around point for us)
Day 6, Dover to Boughton Lees
45.6km (28.3 miles) in 08:38:33 with 1,371 (4,498') of climbing
Today I paid for being cocky about feeling amazing for the last two days, like I could go on for many more days. Today it was hard. We started with a steep climb out of Dover, then up and down the coast to Folkestone. We were annoyed early on by a section of path that was closed (only we didn't know until we got there) so we had to double back and take a longer route.
The aim was to get back to Boughton Lees for 17:15 in order to get a cab to Ashford and pick up a hire car to get to parkrun on Saturday and then drive home afterwards. It was always going to be tight, and that made us a bit short tempered and led to the first sharp exchanges of the whole trip.
Eventually we turned in-land, but straight away started to struggle with the signage. We hadn't put a foot wrong on navigating for the last five days, but today seemed trickier. We weren't sure which side of a fence to be on, or which exit from a field to take. This led to our only two proper mistakes - we got stuck in a field, making an entire trip around its circumference, and then once we escaped and got back on track almost immediately went wrong again.
Added to this I was certainly feeling more tired today and made a few footing errors and slightly twisted ankles. We were losing time.
After pushing on for a few hours without breaks, trying to make the time target, we stopped at a pub. We were quite stressed about the time now, so I decided to defuse the situation by buying a couple of beers, cancelling the cab, and changing the car booking to tomorrow. It was more important that we finish together and in good spirits.
We sat at the pub for a couple of pints and relaxed in the sun. Much better.
With about 15km left we set off. The going was hard as we were both tired now (not to mention a couple of pints each!). Before long I started to get a pain on the front of my right foot and ankle - kind of the opposite of the achilles tendon. Quite quickly I was reduced to walking with occasional short jogs, and then for the last 5 or 6km I just had to walk.
We finished the day in good spirits, happy to have completed our biggest challenge yet.
Happy, and a bit weathered, to be setting off on the last day
Cross-channel swims start here!
I felt so good I ran up these steps (unwisely, today was longer than I expected)
Mrs tackling the steps
Mrs tackling yet more steps - today was just up, up, up to start
Instructed to enjoy the view...
...here's the view
We saw lots of perimeter defences today, remnants of wars past
Nice to run down the coast for a while
A moody sky, but the rain held off
Looking down onto the course used for the Samphire races
Coastal trail time again
Make sure you're following the right arrows
Clinging to the hillside
Folkstone international rail terminal
More cows because, well, more cows - right?
Pushing through another field
The majestic Tolsford Hill BT Tower radio transmitter
Stuck in the corner of a field - the path is on the other side of this mess
Heaven, by the name of Tiger Inn - stop, relax, calm down
"Look at the camera and go BLARGH!" (extra points if you remember that)
Beautiful in the late afternoon
Follow the arrow!
Another beautiful view
Mrs found a donkey!
Back at the split near Boughton Lees - the end!
...I'm over the moon with this week - I really didn't know if I'd make it or not, it's so much further than I've gone before. Oddly, I had no doubts Mrs would finish it - she ran even further than this a while ago and ran the whole Thames Path (184 miles!). My disaster scenarios always had me giving up and meeting Mrs at the end of each night, never her.
In this six days I covered beyond marathon distance on four of the days - something I've only ever done twice before (Croydon Ultra 50km and Chiltern Challenge Ultra 50km). It gave me a lot of confidence about future multi-day events, and cemented in my mind that I would certainly be taking on the Centurion Running Chiltern Wonderland 50 mile race in September.