197. The Hog’s Back Road Race, Guildford 2008 – It’s All About the Hill

hogs-back-road-race-2008-two-hundred-million-years-of-fog-guildford-surrey-england-by-roadsofstone“Upon the whole it was an excellent journey & very thoroughly enjoyed by me; the weather was delightful the greatest part of the day…  to my capacity it was perfection. I never saw the country from the Hogsback so advantageously.”

So wrote Jane Austen of her trip along the Hog’s Back, in 1813. But today is a different kind of day. The view from the top shows nothing but fog. A December morning, chill, damp and misty. That’s how we live.

And yet, I can’t complain. An hour ago, I was still tucked up and fast asleep in bed. Thirty minutes of muesli, tea and fast driving delivered me to the start in Artington. Five minutes to jog to the start, another five minutes to score a race number, and I almost arrived too early for my geological odyssey. But not quite.

hogs-back-road-race-2008-the-climb-begins-mount-pleasant-guildford-surrey-england-by-roadsofstoneTime at the start line is always good. A few minutes to share notes on the course, and establish credentials.

A woman next to me is wearing London Marathon leggings from 2006. I ran it that year, too. Her son is a huge rower from Belfast. He’ll struggle on the hill, as will I.

And yes, the Hogs Back Race — it’s all about the hill.

hogs-back-road-race-2008-running-past-the-ship-inn-guildford-surrey-england-by-roadsofstoneThe view of fog today comes at three miles in. A ten minute warm-up along the Godalming road, with a gentle leg warmer up a sandstone rise just before the Law School and the ancient Ship Inn. A slow cruise into town, and a sharp left as we come into Guildford, and onto the climb.

Two breathless miles follow, between the houses at first, and then playing with the traffic all along the Farnham Road.

hogs-back-road-race-2008-playing-with-the-traffic-farnham-road-guildford-surrey-england-by-roadsofstoneThis hill is a familiar enemy. For years it staked out the start of my lunchtime run from the office.

I work elsewhere these days, but once a winter I’ll force myself up the Hog’s Back to run back home along sandy trails of the North Downs Way.

These hills — they’re the reason that I live here. Their history is quite recent, and stretches way back in time. Deep beneath my feet lies one of the most important faults in England — since the Hog’s Back forms a geological dividing line at the edge of the Weald Basin.

For a hundred million years as the Atlantic widened, a block of old rocks beneath London stood eroding, above a muddy river plain to the south. Then as the coastlines encroached northwards a hundred million years ago, tidal bars and beaches swept sands along their reach.

And when sea swamped the land entirely, a thick band of Chalk formed from the bodies of billions of calcareous plankton as they settled to a tropical sea floor.

Sixty million years ago, a long way south of Godalming, the Mediterranean began to close as Africa drifted northwards, pushing Italy and then Spain before it like a pair of hammer heads driven into the soft underbelly of Europe.


The Alps and the Pyrenees were formed, the earth heaving and the rocks buckling and shearing into fantastic folds and thrusts to form a mountain pile as tall as the Himalayas are today. And here, more than one thousand kilometres away, the crustal compression was enough to force the Hog’s Back fault into reverse.

The muds and sands of the Weald Basin were uplifted to form the Surrey Hills and the High Weald of today, whilst the Chalk was rucked up like a carpet into vertical beds within the North Downs beneath my house.

Great rivers flowed northwards now, laying down new sands and muds to fill the London Basin, where the London Platform once had been, forming the foundations of Guildford Cathedral which hides in the fog off to my right.

hogs-back-road-race-2008-running-past-the-withies-inn-compton-surrey-england-by-roadsofstoneIt’s a fantastic story — the geological history of the past two hundred million years defining the lie of the landscape I’ll run across today.

With so much to think about, the distance flows much more easily from here.

Fast running down through Compton, past the Watts Gallery and The Withies Inn and turning with tiring legs (fortunately) just before the cemetery, then on to Loseley House. That’s where the yogurt comes from, by the way.

hogs-back-road-race-2008-loseley-park-compton-surrey-england-by-roadsofstoneEight miles, a monster hill, one hour and thirteen minutes — all seen through two hundred million years of fog. So much for the Hog’s Back Race.

It’s all about the hill.

197. The Hog's Back Road Race, Guildford 2008 - It's All About the Hill : : 197. The Hog's Back Road Race, Guildford 2008 - It's All About the Hill : : 197. The Hog's Back Road Race, Guildford 2008 - It's All About the Hill : : 197. The Hog's Back Road Race, Guildford 2008 - It's All About the Hill : : 197. The Hog's Back Road Race, Guildford 2008 - It's All About the Hill : : 197. The Hog's Back Road Race, Guildford 2008 - It's All About the Hill

Related articles:
58. Running in the North Downs
83. Seven Bridges Road – the Wey floodplain
112. Forests of fire and iron – Surrey Hills 1
90. Iberian chains – Tierras del Cid, Spain
43. A sense of time – Earth history and the London Marathon
146. School cross-country – Clandon Park 10 km
34. Lines from the Battle of Guildford

6 responses to “197. The Hog’s Back Road Race, Guildford 2008 – It’s All About the Hill

  1. Roads, this is a great post! You can weave the present and the race in with the past and the geology like no one else. Running through (or above!) 200 million years of geology all in one day. Interesting how it’s called the Hog’s Back – must by the type locality of a hogback, but it seems a little different. I’ll have to look that up!

    And now, I’ll be on the road myself, although in an old pickup truck. Have the best of holidays!

  2. Good to see you getting out there Roads. I’ve been terribly remiss on the running front, lured by pasttimes not associated with health or fitness. There’s a lot of work to be done before the end of January.

    A detailed report, some of which left me feeling a little like the stranded plankton. None-the-less enjoyable, to a fault.

  3. Thank you, Silver Fox. Enjoy your great odyssey under the big skies of the American West. A bit more outcrop to enjoy than in our green and pleasant (and often foggy) land.

    Merry Christmas!

  4. You chalked up some good puns there, Sweder. And you had me rocking with laughter.

    Yes, I got out there, although it was a close-run thing. It’s a busy time of year and this was the first time I’ve managed to run this race, despite a few good missed opportunities.

    As it happens, I ran eight miles the day before as well, since I forgot that the race was on. But remembering late was no problem, and picking up a race number was just a few seconds’ work in an event characterised by brilliant organisation, if just a little too much traffic along the A31.

  5. Just wonderful. I loved the geology lesson and the scenics are a bonus. (How anyone can get out the door in 30 minutes will remain a mystery and an achievement beyond my abilities.)

    Happy Christmas and Happy New Year, roads. May ’09 be a far sight better for the world than ’08.

  6. Thanks, Ella. It’s true that working as a geologist makes you see the ground beneath your feet in an entirely different way. And when your head is resolutely down as you’re pounding your way up a monster hill, that’s no bad thing indeed.

    As for getting out the door inside 30 minutes — it’s unusual for me as well. But faced with pressing priorities, it seems that I can make exceptions…

    I’m optimistic about 2009. The potential for meaningful change in so many areas is enormous, and certainly all the greater following the tumultuous economic shockwaves which have blasted the world in 2008. I wish you all prosperity and happiness across the year ahead.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s