If someone recommended a race to discover some of the best gentle rolling trails in Surrey, it definitely wouldn’t be The Copthorne. This iconic race from Canary Trail Events works around a 10 mile loop, each with over 2,000 ft of elevation on each loop. To be fair, there are some lovely runnable sections, but it's the climbs that stick in the memory. So many stairs……
This small friendly race has some lovely quirks. You need to carry a canary at all times; a fine is imposed on anyone not being able to produce one. And the swear box in the village hall, which became heavier and heavier as the race progressed. But, as all proceeds from the race go to charity it's all done with good cheer. The race is in memory of Mark Thornberry, a well-known and well-loved local runner who gave Liver cancer a damn good fight before finally passing last year.
Halfway between Leatherhead and Dorking is the small village of Mickleham, it's village hall being the base for The Copthorne. At the end of each loop you return and have access to your drop bag, hot drinks and the usual food selection from the 'ultra buffet' table (so many sausage rolls).
With a limit on numbers due to the race license all three races started together. The racing snakes dashed off to a fast start to avoid being caught in the hill-train on the first climb, which kicks in almost immediately, I wisely started at the back just behind the guy on crutches who was doing the 50k (yes, seriously).
I had entered the 50 miler from the three distances on offer (50k, 50m and 100m). As a local I already knew the route so was I under no illusion about just how tough it was going to be.
The weather was chilly and damp, with the promise of worse to come. On the bright side the ground was soft but not to cut up or muddy. Which was good because the first decent, Kamikaze Hill was living up to its name, even with decent grip. The tactic of crashing from tree to tree to slow the decent proved best method, but the number of muddied runners at the bottom was testament to the fact some had to learn the hard way.
After that (surprise surprise) another climb up onto Headley Heath for a few miles (and another climb) of heathland running dodging gorse bushes and extremely large cattle. Although the route is marked, it's easy to miss a turn if you’re not alert. After Headley Heath you pick up the North Downs Way for a lovely runnable decent to the Stepping Stones (thankfully passable after several days of rain). Then? The climb to the viewpoint of course. Then another runnable gradual decent before the climb back up onto Mickleham downs, aptly named 'Satan's Staircase'. It lives up to its name and whilst shorter than the Box Hill climb it makes up for it in the incline and size of the steps. Luckily it's the last climb before you drop down to the friendly atmosphere of the village hall for a hot drink - and the start of the next loop.
My time for each loop showed a steady decline, from a bright canter on loop one to a sluggish crawl on loop five. The last climbs up Box Hill and Satan's Staircase were at a speed even a lethargic sloth would have been embarrassed by. Luckily by this stage the icy rain was coming in sideways to take my mind of my aching legs. All in all it went pretty well, start slow, get slower, just don’t stop. I cannot begin to think about adding another 5 loops to make the 100, or how the races first blind runner completed 2 laps, and the guy on crutches finished the 50k. I doff my ‘rain soaked’ cap to you all.
The real icing on the cake is that the race raised nearly £500 for Mark's charity researching liver cancer at Kings College Hospital.
Would I enter again. Absolutely! I’m already thinking of taking on the new 100k distance or maybe, just maybe, the 100 miler…..