Running the 66-mile Vanguard Way: 31 days to go


Tomorrow is May 16. In one month’s time, on June 16, I will – injury and illness-depending – equal the furthest distance I have ever run. That previous run was the 66-mile Bob Graham Round, completed in 19 hours and 32 minutes in 2012. This year’s run is the Vanguard Way footpath, another, coincidental 66 miles, but one that I am aiming to complete in half the time of the Bob Graham.

A 10-hour Vanguard Way, a track that traces a route from Newhaven to Croydon. It is plausible, isn’t it? Averaging 6.6 miles per hour for 10 hours on a track that should be firm by mid-June and one that climbs around 1800 metres, with the South and North Downs offering a far gentler challenge to the towering, scree-strewn summits of the high Lake District?

Why run the length of an obscure footpath in south-east England that terminates at East Croydon train station? Well, why not? Close to 2000 people have completed a Bob Graham; as far as I know, no-one has run the entire Vanguard Way. Although, using that logic, more people have set foot on the Moon than have completed the route. That says more about the Vanguard Way than the Moon. The run was originally suggested to me as part of a fundraising campaign at my school to boost the profile of the Motor Neurone Disease Association. The idea was that students and staff should challenge themselves physically when those with motor neurone disease cannot. I haven’t run for charity in a decade, but this cause seemed to make sense.

Typically, now would be the time to begin to think about tapering and resting. Unfortunately, I am not ready to run 66 miles. The furthest I have run in one go this year was 33 miles, a six-hour night run over the North Downs from Guildford and culminating in a soul-destroying trudge through south London to home. I’ve run two trail marathons too, Steyning Stinger and Three Forts, both of which were confidence-boosting efforts, but could not simulate the demands of 66 miles.

I will train hard up to a fortnight before the run. I haven’t got much choice. That means 30-odd miles on the North Downs Way on Saturday, a 40-mile recce of the Vanguard Way the following weekend, a couple of solid days on the fells of the Lake District thereafter, along with track and speed work in order to maintain a degree of pace. On the day, I’ll have to rely on these quick fixes, historic fitness levels and an ability to suffer – and that a newborn baby allows me to get some sleep. I’ll aim to keep this blog updated in the meantime.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrew says:

    Make sure you check out some of the quieter stretches-i’ve walked some of them before and it was quite overgrown. They might be fine as it’s still fairly early summer you’re planning. Good luck!

    1. heightsofmadness says:

      Anywhere in particular? It’s not a very easy path to follow at the best of times.

  2. ZF says:

    Good luck! You’ll be fine to run the thing just the 10hours is the more difficult call. Will you have any pacers? Zoltan

    1. heightsofmadness says:

      Thanks. I agree, 10 hours is a tall order. For that, nothing can go wrong and I need good weather. I’m hoping I’ll run with some of the people who got me around the Bob Graham so I’ll be pushing the pace.

  3. Ian Campbell says:

    Jonny,
    I have run the entire length of the VGW. I live in Croydon and run the route regularly. It is well marked but you did need to keep your eyes open. I am in contact with Gareth from the 100MC who is also planning to run that day/night. Unfortunately I am doing UTSW the following weekend otherwise I would have joined him. I know the route very well so if you need any tips/advice then email me at ipcconsultantslimited@gmail.com., Good luck Ian Campbell

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