Published: 12:00, 05 May 2021
| Updated: 14:53, 06 May 2021
An ultra runner from Gillingham has completed the entirety of the North Downs Way in a record time.
Matt Evans ran from Farnham in Surrey to finish in Dover, completing the 126-mile Southern Route in 27hrs 28mins and 44secs, to smash the previous best known time by over 14 hours. Matt’s previous longest run before the weekend had been 65 miles.
The North Downs Way, as described by the National Trust, is one of the most accessible trails in England and cuts across the South East, taking in spectacular scenery, picturesque villages and glorious countryside.
Matt - known to many as Smevs - had a 6am start on Saturday in Farnham in Surrey and ran through the day and night pretty much continuously, other than for a few refuelling checkpoints, along the route.
Temperatures dipped to freezing and he was joined for the last 31 miles by pal Rick Walton, from Kingsnorth, who had only got into running in November 2020. Matt himself has only been running properly for a couple of years.
Walton said: “A battle of both mental and physical toughness was endured and he was in no doubt he was going to make it in good time despite being in a world of pain towards the end.
“Thankfully the good weather was with us and we were able to ditch the head torches around 4:30am on Sunday to see in the sunrise as we approached Stowting and Farthing Common.”
Matt, described by wife Carly as “just your average family man who day to day runs a heating and plumbing business” had originally targetted 36 hours to complete the trail but with the finish close, they had a new one to beat, 28 hours. There were still steep hills to climb over to Etchinghill, Crete Road East and on to Dover, where he finally crossed the line with a sprint finish at 9:28am on Sunday, May 1.
Proud wife Carly added: “What he has achieved is incredible and everyone is super proud of him, myself being the proudest as I have watched him work so hard, seen the tiredness from the extensive training and early mornings on top of his normal workload and running around after us!”
Matt had previously taken on challenges such as a 70km race from Brecon to Cardiff along the Taff Trail and tackled the 50km SAS Blade Runner event before upping his game with the help of running coach Liz Weeks.
He began to enjoy runs along the North Downs Way before deciding he wanted to run the whole distance - in one hit. His previous longest distance was 65 miles, with a 100 mile distance cancelled because of Covid. The 126-mile southern route had a record time of 41hrs 52mins and the challenge was on.
His route had been planned and practised meticulously. Throughout the race he was joined by fellow runners and cheered on by family members.
Commenting on the finish, Matt said: “First rule of running always save something for the end. I cranked the pace right up down into Dover town, working my way towards the seafront, I didn't even know if Rick was still with me at this point.
“Through the subway, up the stairs, I was jumping these two at a time, then across the road I could hear them, my crew, my team, my family all cheering me on, the end was there. I ran across the road and crossed the finish line in a time of 27.28.44.
“Crouching down up against the North Downs Pillars filled me with all sorts of emotions. To have completed this challenge which took me a couple of months to plan was done and apart from a couple of issues which were actually inside my belly, everything went to plan, in fact better than plan.
“If you have a crazy idea, all you need is a few crazy people to believe in you and you can make it happen!”
He thanked his team, adding that they were “amazing and friends for life.” His runners were Steve Biglands, Paul Brenton, Kristy Tappin, Daniel Titcomb, Emma Roper, Linda Johnson, his running coach Liz, Ben Comery, Adam Ward, Dan Fernandes, Vanessa Vander and Rick Walton.
The run took place with help from sponsors such as Lifeboat Lettings, Inov 8, Tailwind Nutrition UK, Leaf Organics CBD, Trail Events, MyoMaster, Truesapien plus all the support crew and running pacers that helped Matt at various stages from start to finish along the journey and gave up their time for free.