"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Devil's Punchbowl Boxing Day Race 2019

Boxing Day found me in Surrey and although it's my birthplace I've never raced there - the long overdue opportunity came in the shape of the Devil's Punchbowl Boxing day Fun Run, 3.5 miles and lots of ups and downs. I remember driving past the Devil's Punchbowl many times as a kid - in my mind's eye it was a steep-sided valley shaped a bit like the end of a bathtub, with the main A road passing along the top of the rim. I didn't get that view from the start - the National Trust car park opposite the Devil's Punchbowl Hotel - but the downs were steep and early in the race and the ups were steep and in the second half so I guess we ran down into the "bath" and back up again.

470 runners lined up in the wind and rain, though for some reason it didn't seem like that many. I guess we were all huddled together like penguins and made a smaller crowd than usual. I lined up around 30 back from the front row, thinking plenty of people would be "fun running" and a few at the front would be going full gas. I was intending to throw everything into this one as the distance was short and I wanted to find out how race-fit I was. The mayor gave a short speech then started us off and we charged down a hard but splashy trail towards the valley rim. I was in a "hurricane" top, an ancient helly hansen lifa with windproof fabric across the front - it was fine to keep the drizzle and wind off. I also had gloves and a hat and my little-used club vest proudly worn over the top - Sri Chinmoy AC - it's time we all got Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team vests now the club has changed name. Anyway I digress...

The charge from the start saw a few younger runners overtake me but in turn I overtook quite a few "optimists" and some kids who had started fast. When the plunge downhill came it was a stress on my legs but the old niggles (calf/achilles) didn't play up. Game on! Mile one was marked and my watch said 6:40. I'll take that in a trail race! Pushing hard into mile 2 I was glad I had studded trail shoes on as the mud was thick in places and the trail hard in others. Around the mile 2 mark I slipped and fell, but was back up on my feet in an instant with no more than a ripped glove to show for it. The runners around me shouted encouragement and asked if I was OK - "yeah fine" was my breathless reply. Mile 2 clocked in at 13.20 ish. I still felt pretty good. The climb came and I took it as an opportunity to pass a couple of runners who had passed me on the downhill with long, youthful strides. Soon I was spent and hanging on at a slower pace, trying to keep the effort level at the max possible without blowing up completely. Speed was diminishing and I was running through some kind of double-strength gravity with leaden legs. Everyone else was too and I only got passed by a couple.

With the hills over and the drink station behind me I knew I was in the last half mile and was able to push a little harder - everything hurt but at the same time everything felt good. I was clearly race-fit, for this distance at least. Nauseous at the finish I walked the sick feeling off with a slow stroll back to the hotel, waited under the veranda while a heavy pulse of rain soaked everyone who was still out in the open, then jogged back to the car and headed home.

When the results came out I found I was 19th out of the 470 starters - an amazing result for me! Still I should remember many of those people were just jogging off Christmas Day meals and not really racing hard. Up the front there was a hard core of masochists like me wanting to give it the kitchen sink.

Anyhow I was more than happy with the way the race went, the experience of pushing myself hard with no negative repercussions, the ins and outs of a hard-fought race. It was just over 27 minutes but felt like forever. Certainly a memorable race, one of my best ever. Great way to end 2019!


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