The kitchen cloth and the “First Lady”


Some of you asked me how my ½ Marathon went last week so here is a little race report. I have entitled it ”The kitchen cloth and the First Lady”.

It was my return to a competitive event after a (too) long time inventing excuses and procrastinating.  A little cold that started a couple of days before the race was not going to stop me! So here we are, Sunday 6th March 2016, ready to take part in a “half marathon from Dorking to the top of the highest point in southeastern England - Leith Hill (and back)”, hence the name the Leith Hill ½ Marathon . The race is mostly off-road, with a few miles along a B.O.A.T. (Byway Open to All Traffic) which means that horses, trail motorbikes, etc. can use it and it can get muddy. 310 runners had signed up but only 240 were on the starting line. What happened to the missing 70 will remain a great mystery.

Nicole (Tabitha’s Mum) was also taking part in the race and she looked like she had done one or two of these races before. We agreed to remember and apply all the Turbokids coaching: pacing, pacing and pacing. Good form, short strides going up, etc. As we were waiting for the start, the prize ceremony for the “Wife carrying Race” was in full swing. The Wife Carrying Race is a very serious event just in case you wonder.

 I just had time to spot the marshals preparing the snacks for the finish and I could not resist to a Jaffa cake to carboload before the start (a bit late I know..) Anyway, enough digressing, off went the bang, and straight away into a climb to the top of a small ridge overlooking Dorking.  5 minutes into the race, I was not feeling well and had to battle some negative thoughts such as:

“I should have stayed in bed

 “It is easier to be a coach”

Why did not I choose a flat race?”

“Nicole will “smoke” me in a minute” .

10 minutes into the race, my heart rate was way too fast, and I was breathing like an old steam engine making lots of strange noises. I would like to say that at this stage this is where the mental  kicks in but that sounds a bit presumptuous. Let us just say that I filled up my mind with some positive thinking such as

“Leith Hill is just a molehill”

“How could they call it the toughest Marathon in England?”

“I am going to stuff my face with Jaffa cakes after the finish”.


And it worked! I relaxed, watched carefully my steps, my stride, my pace, and of course my beloved £x89 Garmin Fenix 3 watch which is my coach. Yes, a coach needs a coach! My HR went down and I settled into a nice pace about 20 meters behind  a group of 4 young lads that were busy avoiding the puddles not to get their new trainers dirty. Coachie went straight for the puddles gaining a couple of meters every time and eventually catching up with the group. It was now time to remember my cycling training saving energy with a bit of drafting staying close to the young lads.  So a bit of cruising for the next 20 minutes or so, taking time to enjoy the race and the beautiful views. At that point, a marshal shouted at me “Well done, you are the First Lady!” Damn it, do I really look like a lady? I started to wonder if it was a good idea to wear a kitchen cloth in my hair. By the way, I should explain that Helen (my wife) asked me a fundamental question before I left home that morning “why are you wearing a kitchen cloth in your hair?” “Well” I replied “I want to look like a proper trail runner today”. Helen knows that it only means one of two things: either wearing  my long knee level compression socks or my technical head warmer bandana that Helen disrespectfully calls a “kitchen cloth”. Maybe I should try to wear both next time but that might just be an overkill.  

I looked over my shoulder and soon realised that the marshal was actually encouraging the lady running just behind me. My natural French gallantry could have prompted me to step aside and let her go with the encouragement that was due to the top female runner in the field but, I may have lost some of the fitness of my younger years, the competitive spirit never goes away.  The objective of the day had just moved from “beating the young lads with the new trainers” to “beating the First Lady”. I hope that I am not offending anyone in our politically correct obsessed society to admit to my mean goal.

Back to the race…At that stage, the path was started to climb more steeply towards Leith Hill Tower. This is when I start regretting this Jaffa cake that slowed me down, not to mention the 86 kg that I have to carry. So unfair! The young lads flew by. And so did the First Lady. I swore to myself (in French of course) something like “***@@@???”$$$$****”. Guys Coachie has not said his last word! Wait a minute…


The path starts to climb steeply and a lot of lighter runners are catching up!


And here we are “summiting”at the Tower which is a little below 300m. This is the half way point . Summiting is the easy part but will I ever make it back to base camp? We have all read some mountain climbing adventures and the dreaded  “dead zone” where the oxygen is so scarce and euphoria is a real danger. The bad news is that the First Lady and the young lads have now got a nice lead but I still have them in my visor. The good news is that we were about to start the return leg which will have loads of nice downhill and fast rolling sections.

I saw Nicole, she was not far behind me and looked like she was going for a walk in the park (notice that she was not wearing a bandana or long socks but was holding a drink – substance over style).

So time to focus now, trying to make the most of my weight in the descent, looking far ahead and going for the most direct line through the puddles, lengthening the stride, using my arms and keeping focused. For the first time in the race, I was feeling good, my old diesel engine was now fully warmed up. It took me about 3 or 4 km to get back to the first lady and the young lads meter by meter. I wanted to close the gap on the flattish section of the course as the last bit gets a bit hilly again.  I tried to build a little lead. Just 100m or so. I don't now if I did because my coaches always told me to never look back. All what I know is that I could not hear their steps anymore and that's a great feeling. 

Then came the final section, and some steps. Now I could hear some noise behind me. Another round of swearing, still in French ***@@@???”$$$$***,  only aimed at digging a bit deeper. The First Lady was catching up fast but I was not going to give up now.  

The finish line was less than a kilometer away. And I just made it!

I finished 32nd in 1:42:41, a full 9 seconds (!) ahead of the First Lady. Tired but happy and eager to do more races and get a bit faster. Nicole was just a few minutes behind despite having stopped to let frightened horses (or rather horse riders) cross the trail.  She was the 4th lady, narrowly missing the podium. Well done Nicole! And well done to the first lady for letting Coachie finish before her. Here are the details on Strava:


In summary,  a fantastic  event, very well organised by Rob and his team. Will do it again next year!

I attach some more info on the event here:


  Coachie Richie



Richard Thevenon

M: +44(0) 7784 397 259



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