The Hampshire Hoppit Marathon

I decided to run the Hampshire Hoppit Marathon after running the Thames Meander in March. I don’t remember how I got to find its website, I was browsing some other runner’s webpage I got to via the Thames Meander photos or something.
The pictures on the Hoppit Marathon site were really inviting and it was taking place just in between the NDW50 and the Race to the Stones, a perfect slot, so I entered.


I had never been on those hills so I did not really know what to expect. I got to the race start very early in the morning. I woke up at 3am to take my wife to the airport and then drove straight to the race. I got there at 7am and I had 3 hours to kill before the start. I tried to sleep in the car. I parked on top of a hill through which the race was running. It was a good indication of the type of undulation we were going to run on. I did not sleep much, 30 minutes probably, before the car became an oven, the day was already very hot and it was still early morning. I started worrying for the day: 10am is quite a late start for a Marathon.

Race HQ was in a beautiful horse stable grounds, with endless horse race tracks, beautiful grassy fields and nicely trimmed bushes. Everything very well organised, everyone very friendly, but no shade anywhere. By 10am I was already drenched in sweat and I had not even run yet. It did not help that the car park was quite far away from the start and I had to walk there twice.


When we finally started I felt tired already. After one mile there was a very steep climb, luckily the only one so steep in the whole day, but as a start it was a killer.


I then settled in a nice running pace that I knew was a bit too much, but I was enjoying it. The terrain was a mix of nice easy dirt road and very ankle breaking single tracks in fields, tracks that are large enough for a tractor wheel but not enough to run comfortably in.

The heat was the real killer of the day. I don’t know how high the temperature was but I guess 33 degrees and most of the race had no shades at all, no wind either. Luckily the sky was not completely cloudless.
I kept on running out of water before getting to the aid stations. I sweated so much I had the worst chafing between my legs ever.

I had decided to race with no vest and just carry a water bottle. I did not want to wear any more layers than needed. I am not so keen on handheld bottles and I have to say, I hated the decision as my right shoulder complained a bit after 30k.

I don’t remember any particular part of the first half of the race except that the views were really nice and the hills not too tough.

Hampshire Hoppit 2017 by Sussex Sport Photography 9:14:59 AM

Finally at around 28/30k there was a long stretch inside a wooded area, I was very thankful as it was quite fresh. It also helped that it merged with the half marathon race for a couple of kms and it mentally helped a lot to overtake people.

Hampshire Hoppit 2017 by Sussex Sport Photography 12:27:27 PM

Once that bit finished, the hard part started. This is where I suffer the most, after the thirty-second km. I had very little water, I was over heated and my legs where jelly. I walked 400m with another guy but then felt better and started my 1-2-3-4-5 counting routine that makes my legs move. Legs gone, no water, it was just a mental game.

I started overtaking some people, got to an aid station where they showered me in water and gave me an ice lollypop (which I did not eat, I just kept it in my hand to cool me down) and raced at best I could. I was suffering but I was enjoying it too.

After a final climb it was possible to see the finish line, but it was still quite far away, down the hill, but I was relieved to see the end and started running faster and crossed the line in 3:56:11.

Hampshire Hoppit 2017 by Sussex Sport Photography 1:55:34 PM

I sat down on the grass and could not move for 20 minutes. It was hard even to recover, having to sit in the sun, but I finally got up and went to get more water and bananas. I did not opt for the free beer as I knew I could not handle it in that condition.

The walk back to the car was endless. It felt far away in the morning, but after the race it was a torture. I had to stop twice, light headed and with my usual hiccup.

I got home in time for some father’s day celebrations. Thanks to my daughters for the wonderful cake and dinner. I did not do much apart from racing that day. Just kept my legs up, slept a bit and ate a lot.

And now it is time to prepare for next month race, my first 100k!

See you on the trails.


North Downs Way 50 and how I redeemed myself

This is going to be a relatively short report as it comes so late after the event, but I wanted to say a couple of things about the my run on the North Downs Way 50 last May. Spoiler alert: it was my best 50 miler to date, for many reasons. But as usual let’s start by talking about the days leading to the event.

After the performance on the SDW50 (I wrote about it here), I was really upset. I had trained very well for what I wanted to be my main race of the first half of year and I felt I was going to enjoy it and do well. The fever that caught me the days before the event ruined everything. Luckily training is never wasted so I decided to just wait a month longer to check if my training plan worked: the NDW50 was going to be even more important. I had to keep the level of fitness.

The week after the SDW50 I took it relatively easy, no speed training and just 60k in the whole week. It was Easter holidays so we went to Italy and I had a nice run with Davide on the Giro Dantesco, nice trails and no wild boars this time. During the Easter week-end I also went to reclaim the CR on Salita Bergeggi that was stolen from me for just a handful of seconds. It is mine again by more than a minute, so I should be ok until next year at least!

Then I had two strong weeks of 105 and 110 km each with solid SSR sessions (like this one) during the week and longer runs during the week-end. Nothing super long, but both week-ends I went to the NDW, once with super tired legs and still managed a solid 25k run and the next week-end 32k on the NDW with two new friends and a dog.

Action selfie

Then I had one 73k easy week to start the tapering and finally race week arrived: 10k a couple of times but the rest was doing nothing and sleeping as much as possible. I also had the excitement of changing job that week.

On race day I woke up very early as usual and the classic pre-race routine of toilet – breakfast – toilet went perfectly well. I got the Race HQ early enough to find a nice parking spot outside the school at Farnham. I had enough time for a chat with various friends and then after the race briefing we walked to the start.

Race Briefing

Unfortunately some of us got delayed at the train crossing and by the time we decided to take the overpass we got to the start too late. The race had started at least a minute before we got there.

Note to self: listen to the race briefing from the back of the room, near the exit, so you can leave as soon as it’s done and not get stuck.

The first couple of kilometers were then a bit frantic as I did not want to be so behind everyone else, but then I made myself take it easy as the day was going to be long and I had enough time to make up for that lost minute.

I settled on a nice easy pace. Some flat or downhill bit at just under 5 min/km, some slower bits around 6:30 if I was walking uphill.

I basically walked everything that was making my heart go over 140 bmp. The plan was to be consistent all day, no crazy rush in the first half and no death march at the end.

At the first aid station in Puttenham (at around 11k) I did not stop as I still had a full bottle of water and kept going at that sustainable pace. At around 20k we arrived at the St Martha hill which I had visited 2 weeks earlier. I remember in 2015 in my total ultra-ignorance I ran up all the way. This time I walked it easy and bombed down on the other side. So far so good. Very warm day but I was feeling great.

At the top of St Martha’s hill

A bit of up and down on big grassy hills and I reached the second aid station (23k) at Newlands Corner. I stopped very briefly for a bottle fill up and some water melon. This time I was not going to get anything else, no coke, no solid food. I had all my gels and Tailwind to drink, I wanted to avoid stomach issues this time.

The next part of the trail is probably the one I ran the most in training. I find the flat woodland there a bit boring except the final part before Ranmore. I like the single track bits there, full of roots and speedy downhill. There was a very fast race going the other way round so we had to stops once in a while and let the other runners go by.

From the 35th kilometer or so until Box Hill there is a lot of tarmac and a lot of downhill that usually kills my legs. I was not looking forward to that bit even if I enjoyed bombing down it in January’s race. Luckily I started chatting with another runner, very friendly Kevin, and the time went faster and even the under-pass before Box Hill was gone before realising it (I usually hate it).

I was looking forward to Box Hill. Psychologically it feels like you are halfway through the race (even if it is around 40k out of 82k) and with the excuse of the long steps section I was looking forward to eating a bit more and take it easy.

Instead it was the worst part of the whole race. I felt really dizzy going up, even walking easy I could not eat anything and felt so tired when I got to the top that I could hardly start running again.

It took around 5k of slow running to feel better but by then my stomach was went a bit strange. This time I solved the issue straight away, I jumped behind a bush and the rest is history. I felt much better and got to one of the hardest climb (Reigate) feeling strong. Walked to the top and run the rest of the way to the 50k mark where the Reigate Hill aid station is. More water and watermelon and off I went.

Just one of the climbs, enjoying it

Apart from a couple of km on the road this is my favourite part of the race, especially the last wooden bit (Old Park Wood) before Caterham’s aid station at around 61k. It went relatively fast even if my pace was much much slower than the first half of the race. But I was running everything (except the hard climbs) and that is what made me very confident.

At Caterham I had to sit down a bit at the aid station as again I was feeling super weak. I probably spent 2 minutes there longer than I wanted, but I felt I was at the limit, I could not push too much. This is where in 2015 everything went wrong and I suffered the rest of the race. This time I was not feeling super, but I was moving, always. The legs were in pain, but my head was in a good place. And I think this sums up the whole day pretty well. The body was in pain, but my mind was set to do well and made my legs go, just go all the time. And the more I realised I was going and going and the more I felt good.

I started doing the math and while 8:30 hour (my dream scenario), was an impossible task I was happily going for around 9 hours which was much better than the 10 hours of 2015. After a bit I even realised that I could make it in under 9 hours and that was a pretty good boost too.

The climb to the last aid station at Botley Hill (69k) was endless but the end was in sight. I had a quick cup of tea there, preparing for the last push.

The final 13k were the most painful. I remembered from 2 years ago how hard the final fields were, but even if I was prepared it felt like they were going on forever.

Finally after a million fields the finish line was in sight and for the last 2k I just gave it all I had. I even ran the last mile at around 4 min/km pace. I was so happy to see the end and even happier to have made it in 8:51, one hour and 9 minutes faster than two years ago. Training definitely had an impact, but I believe most of this PB performance is due to experience. Running your fifth 50 miler is definitely different than running your first.


It had been a nice sunny day all day. I had a long time to wait for the bus back to the car so I quickly changed and then collapsed on the grass for hours. I probably drank 8 cups of tea and then had the mother of all hiccups, but I was the happiest man on the planet.

As always the Centurion people and volunteers put together a wonderful day for us runners and everything was fantastically organised. Everyone at the aid stations and at the finish was so friendly and helpful. Thanks! I cannot wait to run the next one in September. Now I only need to survive my first 100k race!