A100 – Centurion Running

A Business management lecturer once told us that studying failure is a much more insightful way to learn about a subject than studying success…

This is a story of failure. A story which, hopefully will show you what you can’t achieve if you don’t prepare for a race of a distance that commands respect. If you want to know what not to do, dear reader, then please read on…

The story starts off a year ago. Running buddy Darren and I decided to man one of the aid stations for Centurion Runners for the A100, a 100 mile race based in Goring & Streatley in Oxfordshire. We enjoyed the experience of helping people on their way, and as a thank you, the organisers offer you a place in the following year’s event. After a little bit of arm twisting, I thought what the hell, let’s do it.

Fast forward 9 months or so. The lead up to the event wasn’t exactly the best in terms of training and preparation, and I knew I was taking a calculated risk. A litany of issues should have got me putting the kibosh on the whole endeavour, which included limited training in the two months immediately before the race, and a number of business trips during that time, one of which involved two 7-hour train journeys across France the week before the race. I could go on, but suffice to say I lived up to my blog moniker for this race!

I’d almost decided not to run it, and had it not been for a discussion at a pub a couple of weeks before that it was worth a punt. You never know, was the belief, you might have done enough.

So, it was with that approach that I sat on the train the afternoon before with Nick and Neil Dawson, fellow runners from the village to stay the night at the wonderful Streatley Youth Hostel. Perfect place to stay the night, a couple of minutes walk from race HQ (Goring village hall) and the station. We had a nice meal at the Bull next door, went for a walk in the village, then went to bed, having checked the weather. No rain expected until the early hours of Sunday morning. Excellent.

We awoke to rain. Hmm…

We had breakfast and met with a few other runners who’d used the Hostel. A level of nervous excitement was in the room. One Grandslammer (all four 100 mile races in one year), two first-timers (me and one other), and four seasoned ultra runners. All had their tales to tell, and their plans to achieve.

CENTR-18-A100-Start-1
Nick, Neil and I on the way in. Photo by Stuart March

We decided to get ourselves to race HQ early, as advised. We got our kit checked and then our numbers, and were essentially sorted by 08:30. The race started at 10:00… 90 minutes to kill. It’s time like this when time seems to stand still. Having a chat with a fellow runner seemed as though we’d been discussing stuff for ages, and then you look down at your watch, and 3 minutes have passed! Nothing to do with the runners or the subject, you understand!

IMG_2490
Goring HQ. How did we all manage to fit in there?

Eventually, after what seemed like an age, James Elson (race director) gave us the race briefing. As usual, he made his points clear, but with good humour. The weather forecast (although raining outside at the time) was mainly clear, but wind would pick up, with rain in the early hours of Sunday morning.

IMG_2491
James Elson’s race briefing. Entertaining as usual and all-important

After the brief it was the walk to the start. I chatted with a few runners around getting their race plans and aspirations for the race. Then there were a few more nervous moments with a team hug with Nick & Neil, good luck wishes to everyone around, including Jay and Danny from Sussex Trail Events, and then klaxon went off. Then so did we!

The first part of the race is a route along the Thames from Goring, through Wallingford and Shillingham to turn around just near Little Wittenham and retrace your steps. The plan, what little there was of it was to run at about 11 minute miles to get the first leg done in around 4.5 -5 hours, and from there to run-walk the rest of the way. I started off pretty well, at the pace I’d planned. The first mile was a little stop-start  due to bunching and the odd stile and gate here and there, then got into my stride from then on. I chatted with runners next me, and all was going well, ticking off the miles as I went.

IMG_2492
Benson Lock on the way out

All going well, we reached the first aid station at Wallingford, feeling good. I grazed quickly, filled up the bladder in the backpack and carried on. All good so far.

The terrain remained the same, although at certain points we were off the Thames tow path and onto quite a main road in Shillingford, then back down on the towpath to the turnaround point and aid station.

CENTR-18-A100-Benson-out-247
Another Stuart March gem!

The aid station was basically a Luton van at the end of a path near Little Wittenham Church. The food was in the back of the van to prevent it from being blown away!

There was something not quite right though. In order to capture the full potential 28 hours of data I’d set my watch to a lower gps setting, which lowers its accuracy a little. The turnaround point was meant to be around 12.5 miles. My watch, however was showing a little under 11.4! I’d somehow lost a mile, so my arrival at the aid station was about a mile too soon. What’s more, my timing for the race was off. I’d reached the turn at closer to 10 minute mile-ing, than 11. Not good!

I drank, ate, and turned around and went back the way we came. I wasn’t concerned at that point, but lowered my pace a little.

We reached Wallingford, and I went into the aid station. At this point I’d realised I wasn’t keeping up with my SCap routine. I’d had one already and thought I should have another. Being 3 hours in, I would normally be on my third (one an hour), but I only started 90 minutes in. I resolved to go back to hourly SCaps.

IMG_2493
One of many one-lane bridges crossing the Thames. This one in Wallingford.

At about 4 hours in, I knew I was struggling. My pace seemed to be okay, but there was something not right. Energy levels weren’t great, even though I’d eaten and was drinking regularly, so I was walking from about twenty miles. I was not alone – around half a dozen of us changed places backwards and forwards on the track from Wallingford to HQ, which couldn’t have come soon enough. I started to get a bit of a headache too.

I realised part of the problem was a tight I.T. band, which was giving me issues lifting up my right leg. I started to think this wasn’t going to be the best of ideas to turn up at the race.

I walk/ran the path back to HQ, where John Fitzgerald was outside. He asked how I was. Not good, and explained the situation. He urged me to continue on, just to think about each leg at a time, even down to the next aid station. This seemed rational although at the back of my mind, I still felt it was a tall order.

I stepped inside and sat at one of the chairs. Sarah Sawyer filled my backpack bladder and got me a tea. She also urged me to continue. I also saw a running couple I ran with at the Downland Challenge a few weeks previously and helped to get to the nearest train station afterward. Seeing them also lifted my spirits.

I sat on the chair momentarily, eyes closed trying to relax myself mentally, then got up, went to the gents to wash my face, and went back out on the trails.

It was a struggle, and it was clear it wasn’t going to get better. The only thing I could do was continue and try and nurse the I.T. band, with some walk/running. Every time the watch notched another mile, I ran for about 1/3 of a mile, then walked the rest, unless the leg was really not happy.

This did me well, and I started including some glute switching on exercises too, which seemed to help also.

At about 30 miles in, I met Jon Fielden walking the other way. Jon is a strong runner, and to see him clearly not racing any more was a little surprising. We exchanged experiences, wished each other well, and went on our way. In the back of my mind, a thought appeared: “If someone of Jon’s calibre can drop, then it’s okay for you to drop”. I countered that with “well if you don’t

I reached the next aid station at North Stoke, where I was greeted by Graham Carter, who welcomed me with a big smile and a hug.  We shared a few words before I stepped inside, drank and ate, washed my face again, and left vowing to see him again later in the day.

However, as the time went on, it was clear it wasn’t going to happen. I got slower and slower, and although I was okay on the uphills, happily pushing my way up walking faster than others around me, on the flat and downhills, it wasn’t really happening.

IMG_2495
Some of the pathways on the way up to the Ridgeway. I will be back to explore some more!

Darren phoned me for a mid-second-leg-pep-talk. He was going to be my pacer for leg 3, so he was also checking to see how I was doing from that perspective. I explained how I was feeling. He was encouraging as usual, giving his experience from races he’d done which was helpful. We hung up and I soldiered on…

I realised during this period that my concentration on injury prevention had overshadowed my food and electrolyte intake. I can’t remember when I’d last had a salt tablet, and the headache was still there in the background. I was also concerned that I didn’t want to ‘overdose’ with these things, so didn’t want to take another so soon after taking one. I was completely unaware how many I’d had and when to be able to decide what to take and when.

I was joined for a while by Steve Illingworth, the Grandslam breakfaster from the Youth Hostel, and Vicky Thompson. Steve sat me down on a fallen trunk and had me stretching the IT band, which helped for a while, and I was grateful for the company. But eventually their pace was too much for me, and they dropped me shortly after.

I pushed on, wondering when the aid station at Swyncombe Church would arrive. Knowing that the miles on my watch weren’t accurate, I couldn’t be sure how far away I was.

CENTR-18-A100-Swyncombe-out-359
Another Stuart March shot – taken about 15 minutes before I dropped.
CENTR-18-A100-Swyncombe-out-358
Shortly before I reach the end of my ITB…

The final straw came when I absolutely knew this was the end. Just before Swyncombe, there is a wood down the side of the valley which you go through to get to the aid station. I was warned of this by one of my breakfast companions Michelle, who’d just passed me on her way back. “That hill back out of the aid station is absolute hell!” she said.

I took to the hill, and the race ended at that point. Every step down the hill was agony. I could barely weight bear, and the jarring was making things worse. I struggled down, and up the other side, and met Neil from the Centurion team. He asked how I was and I told him I was done. He took my number. I sat down in the field where the aid station was, stretched, and waited for Darren to pick me up.

So, the usual questions.

What did I learn from this race?

  • You can’t turn up to a race like this and just “wing it”. Mental preparation is important. A race of this magnitude is not to be taken lightly. It deserves respect, and conditioning is required to be able to achieve the distance.
  • Fuelling isn’t something you can leave to chance on a race of this distance. I was clearly not paying enough attention to it, especially electrolytes.
  • Other preparation is important. Clothing was all fine, but the technical stuff was off. I relied upon the watch to know where I am, so I should have checked its performance before trusting its accuracy. Alternatively, I should have learnt to go on feel!
  • Listening to the body should have been more important than the hope of finishing.
  • I gave myself too many get-out clauses. The urge to finish was strong, but I think I kept the DNF door open too wide!
  • On a plus side, my shoes felt comfortable, I still have my toenails, and no blisters!

What did I like about the race?

  • beautiful scenery. I want to go explore the area now.
  • The birds on the way. So many Red Kites, calling to each other, hovering overhead.
  • wonderfully organised, with helpful aid station teams.
  • Wonderful race camaraderie. Our co-runners really care about each other. One big family!
  • It was loops. It was great to see runners coming back, and when you reach the turning point it gave you an idea of the terrain you were going to face in the next dozen miles.

What didn’t I like about the race?

  • Bit hot? Who’d have thought it would top 22 deg C on a mid-October day?
  • That’s about it, really. Yes, I got injured, but that wasn’t the race’s fault! Mind you, nor is the weather really. Perhaps I’ll just say nothing…

Any regrets?

  • Not as many as you might think. The one and only regret was not pressing the self-preservation button sooner. Easy with hindsight I know, but dropping at HQ at the end of leg one would have been the best thing to do. But hope is a big motivator in spite of evidence. And I don’t blame anyone for urging me on, the decision to continue or otherwise is solely mine.

Would I do it again? Yes. Eventually. I need to consider the training plan before attempting it again though. And I will finish it.

But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.

To bring this to a close, writing this a week on, my reflection has changed a little from immediately after the race; but still the idea of me doing this race with the level of mental preparation wasn’t enough, and I’ve learnt a lot from the experience.

However, I’m extremely grateful to everyone who helped me on the day – Darren Chilcott who rescued me from the wilds of Oxfordshire and brought me back to HQ as well as being prepared to run with me on the third leg across the nasty ridge, my wife Sue who drove up prepared to pace me to the finish, John Fitzgerald for the words of encouragement and consolation when I returned to HQ, Neil and Nick Dawson for being great company, Steve, Vicky, Michelle, and many others I met on the road for their help, words of encouragement and stretching advice!

Until next time, I wish you all injury free running!

Advertisements

Arun River Marathon 2018

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 17.14.27
The Arun River Marathon, Strava Map

This is another of the Sussex Trail Events races – the second in the year, but the final one of the group of four marathons they put on. Putting the four nice medals together from each of the four races forms one huge one. Finishing this race meant I’d done them all.

So, the race, the Arun River Marathon. It starts and finishes at Littlehampton Marina. In my mind, it’s a four quarter route. First quarter takes you out of the marina on narrow paths along the meandering Arun river on top of the levee until you reach Arundel town, through the other side and to the first aid station at the Black Rabbit pub.

The second quarter is another couple of miles along the river, then over the bridge at South Stoke through a wooded section to the bouncy bridge (love that bridge), up over the hill to North Stoke, back through some more woods, to rejoin the river up to Amberley. From there you cross back over the river, join the South Downs Way and go up the hill to Kithurst.

The third and fourth quarters are a the second and first quarters in reverse. It’s a little like half the Mouth-to-Mouth, back and forth. With a 600 feet climb at 10 miles in, it’s not a race that’s got PB written all over it!

As with most of the STE races, they’re low-key, well organised, and well received. Less than 100 runners for this edition, but a high quality field. Paul Sargent was there for example, hoping for a sub 3hr result. He almost did it, too!

So, the race started at 9, and my plan was this: get to the start of the hill in 1:40, then take it from there. It was 10 miles to the bottom of  the hill, so 10 minute mile-ing to the hill, walk/run the hill, then see what’s left when I get to the bottom.

The conditions were pretty good to start; overcast and cool. However the weather was due to get warmer, and although it was cool, as soon as we started running there was a noticeable humidity. The first quarter went pretty quick, mentally. As usual I started near the back, mainly because I was chatting with Jim Graham during the race brief (he finished third), so I had a few moments of sitting behind groups of runners waiting to find a suitable place to pass. Not all bad, though. It meant that I wasn’t going off too fast at the start, plus there’s a certain psychological boost to passing people.

I had a slight mishap when coming out of Arundel. Due to path repairs along the river, we were pointed along the Mill road towards the Black Rabbit, then sent back onto the riverbank just before the Arundel Wetland Centre. John Fitz was there at the end of the detour to point us the way. It was in the woods here that I came a cropper, catching a flint on the narrow path which sent me sprawling into the undergrowth. Luckily I had the presence and time to be able to fall in such a way that landed on one side and then rolled. I was able to get up brush myself down, tell other runners not to fuss and get on with it. I figured the experience gave me a bit of an adrenaline boost, as I was off again feeling a little more lively. “Pick up your feet!” became my motto from then on!

I reached the Black Rabbit in under an hour, which was a little ahead of schedule. Real wife Sue and ‘running husband’ Darren were there manning the aid station along with Chris Ette, which as usual was well stocked with stuff worth eating. Quick change of kit (top layer removed), a few grabbed foodstuffs and I was off again.

The second quarter went on without much of a problem. The runners had strung out a bit at this point, but there were a few runners bunched together across the path, which again was quite good to get a few minutes of relaxed running behind them. Once we’d got to the bouncy bridge the route goes up a small hill in a field which allowed me to pass the group. It was then a short downhill on road to the next wooded section, right-hand turn at the end and back onto the levee to Amberley. So far, so good.

At Amberley we cross the road and turn right just before the railway bridge, and follow the path back onto the levee. A few more steps, and you’re on the South Downs Way going east. Ish. Round the fields you go until you get to the road you just crossed in Amberley and then you reach the bottom of the uphill section.

So, I wanted to reach the base within 1:40. I looked at my watch at the bottom and was pleased to find I’d reached the base at 1:37. Feeling good, I pushed my way up the hill, walking a little but mainly running as much as I could.

Halfway up I was met by the lead runner, the one and only Paul Sargent, who was looking comfortable – well, he was running downhill. I was half expecting to be caught a lot sooner, so took a lot of encouragement from that! It was a good few minutes before the second place runner came past – good job, Paul!

I reached the turnaround point in just over 2 hours. At the aid station were the Amiets Steve and Tina, with Zoe and Dan. I made sure my number was noted, filled up my water bottle, grabbed more foodstuffs and turned back around. The climb out of Kithurst wasn’t too bad, but the temperature was definitely going up. I made sure I took sips from the water every few minutes on the way back.

The downhill was great fun, quite fast. I had a moment of good fortune when Rachel McCarthy saw me coming towards a gate while she was going through and held it open for me! I was very grateful, but continued on my way down the hill, legs free-wheeling until I reached the road again. We had a bit of a wait for a gap in the traffic, but we were on our way again soon enough.

The route back from road into Arundel went without incident, although I knew I was getting slower as I went further, and at every gate and stile I had to climb over I used as a small ‘stretch’ to put my legs into a different position than just running. The heat was surely getting to me, but I continued to drink from the Camelbak as I went along.

As I got back to the Black Rabbit Sue Chris and Darren were there manning the aid stations, so I spent a couple of minutes refilling an refuelling, and then was off to the end.

The rest of the run was a run-jog-walk on what should have been familiar territory, however it doesn’t always seem that way. When you’re running along the levee towards Littlehampton it seems as though you never seem to be going in the right direction to get there! I’d also told myself (like I do when going up the Beacon by bike) that there’s always another meander you’ve forgotten about! On this occasion, however, I’d got it wrong, but in a good way. The bridge of the A259 over the Arun river, under which the race goes appeared sooner than expected, and with relief I ran into the marina car park and to the are finish in just under 4:15.

Happy? yes.

So, the usual questions:

What did I learn from this race?

  • I can go fast. Having done the Southend Pier Marathon race a couple of months ago, and employing that as a springboard to continued fitness and improvement, this was proof.
  • Self-belief is a crucial factor in achieving things. Sometimes it’s within, but sometimes it’s from an outside source. This time it was a comment from a friend who’d told me the night before that I was running well, and that I was capable of a good race. That was enough for me!
  • Although I did run well, and hard, I think a little too much in the first half put paid to any heroics in the second.

What did I like about the race?

  • It was hilly. The views!
  • STE events always have good food at the aid stations.
  • Did I mention the views?
  • The bridge!
  • The friendliness of the runners and marshals.
  • Low-key.

What didn’t I like about the race?

  • Bit hot? The temperature rose as the day went on, hitting about 24 deg C in the end. Not really a complaint about the race itself, more the unpredictable weather we have in the UK
  • That’s about it, really.

Is it a PB course? Not really.

Is it a Negative Split course? Potentially, so long as you don’t go too mad in the first half!

Would I do it again? Yes. Eventually. I enjoyed it, but for me I want to try others out there before I run it again. But I will at some point, I’m sure.

But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely. All STE events are great, well organised, and the team behind the races really like to put on races that are a little unusual but very welcoming.

Is it worth the fee? Yes.

To close, this was a nice race which was well organised, and well received. Chatting with other runners at the end, it’s like one big happy family at these races. I’ve one more race of theirs to do (above half-marathon distance) and then that will be the set done. That is, of course until they devise another race…

 

Note: No pictures this time. I was too busy running it! And Jon Lavis had a weekend off for once from taking photos!

 

 

 

 

Southend Pier Marathon

This is another brainchild from the Sussex Trail Events team. “Wouldn’t it be great”, they thought, “if we could run up and down a pier as a marathon event?!?”. Well, they chose the perfect pier to provide this. Southend pier. The longest pleasure pier in the world, and a listed building too!

So, what’s it all about? Well, it’s eleven out and back loops, out into in the Thames Estuary towards the Isles of Grain and Sheppey and back. You turn around just past Jamie and Jimmy’s Ice cream parlour, and head back for shore.

IMG_2081
The world’s longest pleasure pier – Southend!

My plan for the race was simply to finish. I was keen to do this one as it was the inaugural event. It may well be organised again, as it was so well received, and went without a hitch. It’s nice to be able to say you’ve run the first edition of an event, whether or not it runs again, but I certainly hope it is. However, my training up to it hadn’t been that comprehensive. The furthest I’d been in the last three months was a two-hour run, so I wasn’t bothered about time, just to finish and not pick up any injuries on the way.

We were driven up by my long-suffering running buddy Darren, and accompanying us was Steve Roberts, another Burgess Hill Runner and all round superstar at the club.

We weren’t allowed on the pier until 9:15, where each entrant had to show their race number at the turnstile to get on the pier itself. Otherwise it would have been a £1 entry fee. Once we were all through we had the usual race-briefing (emphasis on brief) by Jay. What’s the rules? Go up turn around when you reach Danny at the other end, come back, collect a hair band, continue until you get ten, then on the eleventh collect the medal and give back the bands. Simple! Not quite, the pier was still open to the public, so we had to respect the general public’s needs as well. Rudeness would not be tolerated by any runner, with the ultimate sanction being disqualification.

40750173671_21f3f690fe_z
The Burgess Hill Runners contingent, waiting for the off. Not sure why we’re smiling… From left, Steve, Jon, me, Darren, Jamie and Paul.

The race was started by someone from the pier staff, who’d worked with the STE team to put the race on. She received a very warm cheer of thanks for allowing the race to be put on.

IMG_2080
Waiting to get on the pier
IMG_2082
The Race Brief with Jay.  

She did well to start the race without getting trampled on!

Off we went, getting a feel for the “route”. It was quite unusual, I don’t remember starting a race as well kitted out as I was here. Although we’d pretty much missed the rain forecast, there was still a dampness in the air and on the floor, and chilly wind from the East cooled things down further. I was running in four layers on top, and still feeling cold. It took me until loop two to warm up.

The pier has a railway, which was running on the day, bringing spectators, locals and visitors to the end of the pier, where there is the aforementioned Jamie and Jimmy’s Ice cream parlour (where they do their tv program), the Lifeboat station, and the Salt Cafe, where you can sit a mile out to sea and watch the world go by (or in this case a hundred idiots run a marathon!).

IMG_2087
Jamie and Jimmy’s! From the tv! Closed, unfortunately..
IMG_2083
Looking back down the pier from the railway buffers
IMG_2086
Sir John Betjeman – the perfect moving windbreak. The heat from the diesel engine was nice, too!

As you can see from the photos, the pathway isn’t exactly wide. Four-Five abreast is about the most you could do, so as the day went on, with more and more fun seekers going up and down the pier, there was some congestion at times. However for the most part the timing was such that no-one had to wait behind any walkers, and everyone was happy and polite with each other.

The quality of the boards were mainly good, although the odd one was a little worn, and I turned my ankle once when I landed on a good and bad one simultaneously. At the turning point as well it was a little slippy, as the wood had some algae on it. It got moved into a less slippy bit until the boards dried out, and was then put back.

So, what else? I definitely saw a 1/3 mile, a 2/3 mile and a mile sign along the pier, and maybe a 1/2 mile sign? That last one I’m not sure of. In addition, the pier had a few places to sit (not that I did!) up the pier, with a bunch of benches covered by windbreaks and hoardings showing local photographers’ work of local individuals.

40040662854_14fb40ff80_z

40042615364_2cd5e079f1_z
Shoulders…

The train! Sir John Betjeman, ran up and down the pier every fifteen minutes, which was nice. It was a kind of moving windbreak, keeping us out of the Easterly winds for a moment each time it moved. Great if it was travelling in your direction, but that wasn’t always the case.  I can also say that I have been chased down Southend Pier by Sir John Betjeman!

Of the race, it went by pretty quickly. Darren and I changed positions a lot as one or other of us went to the toilet, or spent more or less time at the aid station (there was only one, but you had access to it ten times!). In addition, as it was an out-and-back, you spent a lot of time cheering on your friends. I knew at least a dozen runners out there, and a few more I recognised from other races, so there was a lot of nodding, smiling and friendly encouragement around the course. These sorts of races bring the best out in people.

My fuelling strategy was simple. Eat something and drink something every loop, and I did. As usual. STE’s stations are well stocked with all the right stuff for me – fruit, Jaffa cakes, savoury stuff (pretzels and cheese & onion rolls), coke and water. I stuck with fruit and the odd savoury snack most of the time, but had a couple of the Jaffa cakes too.

26880772608_37c5e8ed74_z

When it got to the last three loops, I got to a point where I needed to walk to relieve the monotony. Just a bit, though. Every time I reached the turnaround point at the far end of the course, I walked until I saw someone I knew behind me coming the other way, then started running again. The tenth loop was the worst. It was a struggle. But at last, I had ten hairbands around my wrist, and I was on my way out again. It got a little easier at the point. The thought that this was the last one must have pushed me onwards, and on the way back it felt pretty easy, so I pushed on to the finish at a pace faster than the last few laps.

I finished and got my medal, relieved that it was over and that I’d finished in one piece!

39858300565_dd7ee1dd96_z

 

As usual, Jon Lavis was there to take some awesome shots, some of which I included here – they’re the ones with the watermarks! (Reproduced with permission!).

25882032467_d9d79a682f_z

So, the usual questions:

What did I learn from this race?

  • I do have a certain amount of fitness in me that’ll stand me in good stead, even if I haven’t trained as well as I should. I am, after all the Ill Prepared Runner…
  • I hit low points in races. If I can work on those low points and grit my teeth and continue through, I will improve. It’s a psychological rather than physical barrier.

What did I like about the race?

  • It was somewhere I’ve never run before.
  • It was by the river Thames.
  • The views!
  • The train!
  • It’s on a famous pier!
  • The friendliness of the runners and marshals.
  • Low-key.

What didn’t I like about the race?

  • Bit windy. Easterly winds made it colder than I thought it would be. I ran with four layers on for the first couple of loops.
  • That’s about it, really.

Is it a PB course? Potentially.

Is it a Negative Split course? Potentially.

Would I do it again? If they do organise it again, I may well do it. It has the potential to be a PB course, so if I was in the mood and in the right fitness band to have a crack at a PB, I would.

But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely. All STE events are great, well organised, and the team behind the races are great. They put on great races, which are a little unusual.

Is it worth the fee? Yes.

To close, I’ve another two races of theirs to do, and then I will have done the set. This one is up there in the top 3.

So, until next time, stay fit, and live to run another day.

 

Frozen Phoenix 2017

I’d been eyeing up Phoenix races for the best part of a year, without having finally made the plunge, and I doubt I would have done had it not been the 100th marathon of a running friend , Jan Lavis.  It had been meticulously planned, and she’d invited us (my wife Sue and I) to join her for the occasion. Not wanting to miss out, we booked places in September.

So, why hadn’t I done one before? Well, a couple of things: it’s laps or loops; it always seems to be in the same place; I’m not a big one for medals, no matter how big or elaborate they are. However, after running the Velothon a month or so ago, the potential for getting bored with laps was somewhat reduced. That race taught me to plan within a race, and take in those running around me.

On the day, we arrived nice and early, having picked up Karen and Steve on the way. I wasn’t exactly feeling that up for it, mainly due to work related pressures, and wasn’t sure how much I would do.  The race HQ was in the Elmbridge XCEL Leisure Centre, on the outskirts of Walton-on-Thames, near both what remains of the Brooklands racing circuit, and Shepperton Studios.  The Centre is well equipped, changing rooms, toilets, a climbing wall, a pool, and coffee shop.  We picked up our numbers, folded them up small enough to be pinned to our legs (but still big enough to be seen), chatted amongst ourselves, then made our way out to the race briefing.

Rik Vercoe the RD, made it very plain and simple, then went on to give out a number of awards to those running today: 250 marathons in 700 days, 52 in 52, 10 in 10, 100 marathons… you get the picture. There were some true runners out there that day.

So, once the awards were given out, we made our way to the start – a short walk to the Thames Path, just outside The Weir pub. The route was apparently the short loop, that is go west for about 1.6375 miles, until you reach Leon the marshal, then turn back. Four loops gets you to half a marathon, eight a full one. The loop itself is interesting enough. You pass another pub (The Angler), a couple of weirs (which on the day was raging quite heavily – a lot of flood water needed to be got rid of from further upstream), a couple of parks (yes, I checked them out), over a footbridge at Walton Marina (boats for sale, starting at £32k), under the A244 bridge, past Cafe Gino, then return. All the while, you’re by the side of the Thames, with all its birdlife. Ducks, geese, swans, gulls, rooks, moorhens, all joined us on the path at some point. The wind was also in a westerly direction, and quite fierce, so it was a struggle on the first half of every lap.

WEIR
Me sporting my retro running top circa 2005, with Sue, Brigitte and Jan in the background. Passing by The Weir Pub. Photo courtesy of Philippe Ecaille

The day’s race was a 6 hour cutoff, so if you felt like running more, you were more than welcome to do so. How do they work out how many loops you’ve done? They stick a hair scrunchy on your wrist each time you pass the start/finish line, which is also the bag drop tent, and the all-important aid station, which contained all manner of penny sweets and Freddos. I was a little disappointed with the lack of ‘real food’, such as bananas or biscuits, but it wasn’t a problem.

I ran the first half of the race with Sue – she was running the race with a suspected stress fracture of the fibula, and I didn’t want her to race on her own. It was touch and go whether she would have run at all, but she wanted to do it for Jan. It was a case of managing the pain with a run/walk strategy. At four, she’d decided she’d had enough, which was more than both she and I were expecting her to do.

After she dropped, I picked up the pace a little, running at my own pace and going by feel rather than anything else. Three laps went by pretty quickly, with the fourth a struggle into the wind. I walked a little further than I intended to, due to the wind, but picked up pace again on the way back to finish in a little under 4:40. Not bad, considering I’d run the first half in 2:30, and stopped for a toilet break (which involved going back to the Leisure Centre!).

I went back, got changed, and waited for Jan to finish a short time later. She was handed her 100 marathons medal, and her 100 marathon club shirt. Local cake-maker Helen Pratt had also been commissioned to produce a most marvellous cake to commemorate the event. And it was, both marvellous and delicious, in the shape and colour of the 100 marathon club shirt.

26166335_10212318905102146_2900143399875671878_n
The amazing cake, made by Helen Pratt

Not much more to say, except for the usual questions:

What did I learn from this race?

  • The friendship of other runners can drag a little more out of me, no matter what my mood is, going in.
  • Laps aren’t so bad. There’s a little familiarity that allows it to go by a little faster. “only two laps to go, ah this is the last one” etc.

What did I like about the race?

  • It was somewhere I’ve never run before.
  • It was by the river Thames.
  • Bird life.
  • The friendliness of the runners and marshals.
  • Low-key. I came 14th out of the 100 runners who did it.

What didn’t I like about the race?

  • Muddy, and puddly. Wasn’t really deep mud, or huge puddles, I just wasn’t expecting it, to be honest.
  • Aid station could have done with a bit more ‘food’ as well as sweets. But, having it being my first Phoenix race, and knowing what I know now, I’ll just bring my own.
  • That’s about it, really.

Is it a PB course? Potentially.

Is it a Negative Split course? Potentially.

Would I do it again? Not this specific one, but I would certainly do another Phoenix race again at the same venue, and do the long course.

But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.

Is it worth the fee? Yes.

The race itself is very well organised; Rik and his team have been putting these types of races on for a good few years now, and it’s a very well oiled machine, with very few moving parts. They know what runners want, and put it on very well, including a medal the size of which you could eat your dinner off.

So, on to the next race. Happy New Year, and I wish you all the best for 2018, whatever your running aspirations.

 

Velothon 2017

This is an interesting race with an interesting outcome. To say I had things to learn from it is an understatement.

The Velothon. Something to do with bikes, right? Sort of. It’s a track race, but rather using a running track it utilises the facilities of the oldest cycling track in the country – Preston Park Velodrome, just on the outskirts of Brighton. The place was threatened with closure a few years ago on the grounds of safety, but was saved with a grant from British Cycling in 2015.

This is another Sussex Trail Events Race, and the second time they’ve organised it. Looks like it’s a biennial event, although that might change in the future.

So, I entered this race for a few reasons: it’s nearby; it’s a Sussex Trail Event race – they organise things so well, but with a low-key no-nonsense approach; a few others I know were running it; it’s at a velodrome; it’s not the sort of race I would normally do; lastly , to be able to fund the track we ran around and hopefully keep it from closure again.

I had no race plan, other than to complete it in under 4 hours. My training up to it was basically another marathon six weeks previously with some longish runs and tempo work thrown in between.

The entrant list wasn’t huge, only about 50 runners which made things a bit more cozy. They’d limited it to 100 entries, but I guess this sort of running round in circles is a niche event, not to everyone’s liking.  I must admit, I myself have never had an interest in track events, but it was the venue that changed my mind.IMG_1871

IMG_1872
72 and a bit laps – and 73 very similar looking aid stations!

The track itself is 579 metres, definitely not flat, and to complete the verified marathon race distance, you have to run round it 72 times, and another part – about 380 ish metres. The race entrants are chip-timed, so that they can easily count the number of laps you’ve run.

I will spare you the general details of the race, but I spent some time running with Darren Chilcott (long-suffering running buddy of mine) and James Elson, Centurion running race director, excellent running coach, and world class endurance runner himself. He was running this with Darren, in preparation for a 24 hour endurance race later in the year, so wasn’t at all at full beans pace!

I managed to break free after about an hour, as I realised I needed a wee and wanted to bank a half a lap or so to enable me to do this. However, I needn’t have worried as Darren had to do the same thing about 3 laps later!

24466962648_e7f356cea9_o
James, Darren and me. (photo courtesy of Jon Lavis)

Not much else eventful happened for the rest of the race, other than the fact that I had a bit of a downer at about mile 22, when I just had to walk a couple of times during three laps. I picked up the pace again. When I reached 25 miles, I asked the time-keeper how many laps I’d done.

“69!” he shouted back.

This presented me with a problem. How many laps do I need to do? I had to ask Jay McArdle the RD how many laps the race was – I’d forgotten! Was it 72 or 73?

It was 72. Two left! I had the energy left to do 2 laps, no problem. So I went, ran them, the last corner up to the top of the banking, which gave me a downhill needs to finish at a sprint!

I looked down and turned off my watch. I finished in 3:43:57. Hang on?! 3:43:57? That’s my second fastest marathon isn’t it? It was! My emotions were all over the place at this moment – as they usually are after a race! But should I be happy that I’d just run that fast? Should I be annoyed that I was that close to a PB and not realised it?  At the time the over-riding thoughts were “If only I’d not walked! If only I’d not needed a wee! If only, if only…”

38340846241_05a4a0d2f3_o
How fast?!?

As I write this a day later, with the benefit of hindsight, reflection and discussion, I’ve come to this conclusion: I ran a damn good race, which could have been better with a little more preparation and self-belief. I didn’t really think I could have run that well before the race, and if someone had told me I was at PB potential, I wouldn’t have believed them anyway. I was happy with a sub 4.

Jan Lavis, friend and local running coach has a saying: “There is more in you than you think!” It’s about time I started believing it! I missed a PB by 9 seconds!

So onto the usual questions and a couple of others:

What did I learn from this race?

  • Self belief is a huge deal breaker.
  • Don’t give up! A couple of walking points can be the difference between a good race, and a PB race.
  • Multi-lap races aren’t that bad. You get into a rhythm, which for me was three ‘treadmills’ of eating (40 min intervals), drinking (15 mins), and the all-important SCap o’clock! And working out early on that you’re doing 3 minute laps made the calculations that much easier.
  • Know your marathon PB, even if you don’t think it’s achievable for the race you’re doing. It might spur you on to bigger and better things!

What did I like about the race?

  • Nearby
  • Good parking.
  • Sussex Trail Events put on a good spread at the aid station.

What didn’t I like about the race?

  • Surprisingly, not much. I coped with the monotony quite well, and it seemed to be over quite quickly!
  • The banking on the final corner. Having a tight IT band on the right leg made this somewhat less enjoyable!
  • Missing out on a  PB!!!

Is it a PB course? Of course!

Is it a Negative Split course? Yes! But you’ve got to plan for that!

Would I do it again? Probably not

Why? I’ve done it now; time to do something else.

But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.

Is it worth the fee? Yes.  Definitely! All the STE races are!

To summarise, this was one of the lessons learnt races (aren’t they all), which I need to digest and move on from. To paraphrase Jake from the Stephen King Dark Tower books…

” Go then, there are other races than this…”

Clarendon Marathon 2017

This was meant to be my late summer race, but my indecision got the better of me over the summer, and couldn’t find anything that fit in between my last race and the two holidays I had booked, and I don’t think one could really call the 1st October summer.

I’d heard good things about the race from friends who’d run it previously, and it fitted with what I was looking for in a race. Hills, countryside, new area to run in? Tick, tick, tick, let’s go!

I can say the lead up to this race is typical for me in that I didn’t plan that well (hence the name of the blog!). Last long run was over a month prior, with a relaxing holiday in between. In addition I’d spent the night before feeling a little unwell – not exactly sure why, although we’d spent the evening in a local pub (The White Horse in Ampfield – I recommend!); only had one beer, and a good portioned, three course dinner. I was probably full up on rich food. Not good for my digestion…  …but I got up on the morning feeling okay-ish, expecting rain and so dressed for the planned weather.

The race starts at Wyvern College in Laverstock village on the outskirts of Salisbury. From the starting field you can just about see the spire. The facilities at the start are very well laid out, and the team of volunteers very helpful. Tea and coffee van at the start, as well as a bank of portaloos, and a gymnasium to keep warm in and take team photos, it would seem.

The race is made up of three disciplines and start times. If you’re planning to take longer than 5 hours you start at 9:30, quicker than that then it’s 10:30, and you start with the relay racers (teams of four). For half marathoners, you start halfway along in the village of Broughton, a couple of hours later.

The race started after a few announcements, including the whole entrants and spectators singing Happy Birthday to one of the runners. Klaxon sounded and we were off at 10:30.

IMG_1808
The Start – forbidding Sky

The first mile saw us through and out the village, past the Duck Inn, and off into the wilderness. At about one mile in, the race stalled as we reached the first pinch point – cart track down to single-file path. As we waited, I asked a runner next to me what the wait was.

“It’s a bottle-neck – the track goes to single-file here, but it widens a little later to get past people”, she replied. She looked at my rain-jacket and said, “you’re not going to need that today”.

The race then took on a familiar pattern – narrow paths through fields and woods, braking out every so often into cart tracks through the Clarendon estate.

 

IMG_1809

Every so often a view would present itself.

IMG_1810

Then we would be on our way, through the woods and along tracks to a new village.

IMG_1812

IMG_1813

The skies threatened, but that was about it. I got about 10 miles in when I thought my fellow runner was right – no rain today, at least not enough to require a rain jacket. I took it off and wrapped it round my waste.

The route is well signposted, and well marshalled. There are at least 12 aid stations, with water, juice, jelly babies at all (or so it seemed), with the stations after half-way offering bananas, home-made flapjacks (some with dates! Yum!) and fruit loaf (not malt loaf!). In between you would regularly find a marshal at a turn, or just in the middle of nowhere!?

Clarendon Marathon and Half Marathon 2017 #halfmarathon #Sussexsportphotography 12:57:42
Pro photo by Sussex Sport Photography – Official photographers of the day. Bought and paid for

Getting through halfway at Broughton, the scenery didn’t change that much. We went through woods, up hills, and over a lovely river or two. I lost count.

IMG_1814IMG_1815IMG_1816

After this, we went down a steep hill into the lovely village of King’s Somborne, and beyond that a long drag up the hill towards Farley Mount. This was particularly slow due to the fact that it was a single-track path, which included some of the 09:30 starters complete with backpacks holding up the traffic. But, it gave me time to check the view (by which time it had started to mizzle).

IMG_1818

By the time I’d reached the top, I was struggling. I basically ran-walked the rest of the way to the finish, mainly through what seemed like muddier and muddier woodland tracks. Eventually we turned a corner, and were told by a marshal it was just another 400 metres to the end.

Clarendon Marathon and Half Marathon 2017 #halfmarathon #Sussexsportphotography 14:54:33
The relief of finishing! (photo by Sussex Sport Photography)

The finish is at another school – King’s School on the western end of Winchester. I was given my medal by a scout, and ushered over to drink more water. In addition to water and medal, you get a nice green marathon t-shirt (which doesn’t mention ‘finisher’ on it at all).

So, the usual sorts of questions:

What did I learn from this race?

  • I could have trained a bit more. A 3 hour pootle around the South downs 5 weeks before isn’t enough. But then, it is my 2nd fastest trail marathon to date. So, can’t really complain.
  • I should have checked the weather a bit more. I probably wouldn’t have struggled if I wore the right gear.
  • I should have brought some S Caps with me. Sweating in a rain-jacket for the first half wasn’t helpful. But then, if I was wearing the right gear, would I have needed them?

What did I like about the race?

  • It was somewhere I’ve never run before.
  • It was hilly
  • It reminded me of other races I’d done – NDW50, Fittleworth, Beachy Head…
  • Friendly if sometimes a little overwhelming marshalling
  • The mile count-down. In some respects good (near the end), but in other respects not (at the beginning). 4 miles to go is easier to take than 25 miles to go, if you know what I mean. But it’s in my list of likes!

What didn’t I like about the race?

  • Muddy! Probably added a few minutes to my time. Well, that’s my excuse !
  • Not a dislike, really, but I would have preferred more hills (I love hills, me!), and a few more views.

Is it a PB course? Er, probably not.

Is it a Negative Split course? I’m not sure – possibly?

Would I do it again? Probably not

Why? I’ve done it now; time to do something else.

But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.

Is it worth the fee? Yes.  The race itself is very well organised, and the marshalling top-notch with one or two exceptions. When you’re 20 odd miles in, you don’t want someone joking with you about taking a short cut; but there’s always someone at right-angles with the rest of the world (and that’s usually me!). I think some people would feel a little cheated about the size of the medal; if you’re a bling chaser I would think hard about doing this one, but for me, as they only live in a drawer in my house, I’m not that bothered.

http://www.clarendon-marathon.co.uk

Anyway, on to the next race. See you on the trails…

 

 

Mouth-to-Mouth 2016

It’s always nice to do a new race, and Mouth-to-Mouth was another new Sussex Trail Event that the boys had added to their portfolio for 2016. It was the final race of quartet  marathon distance races, the medals of which join together in a nice ultra-medal.

Held at the beginning of December, this was a race I’d been considering, and only decided to do about six weeks before. After reccying the last half dozen miles or so before the day I knew I’d made a good choice.

The race started at many of the other Sussex Trail Event starts – Shoreham-by-Sea. There was the usual race briefing, followed by the gathering by the start next to the Adur River. The first Mouth…IMG_1056

The weather was looking kind – not too cold, no rain planned, and the ground wasn’t too muddy. We had to endure the dreaded slabs on the west side of the river next to the airport on the way out – so nice to get them over and done with at the beginning of a race for once!

30571946014_a93529304f_z
Running with friends, Neil D, and Michael (HHH) – photo courtesy of Jon Lavis

I settled down into a nice relaxed pace, running with fellow BHR runner Neil Dawson, and spent the first half of the race talking previous races, views of the downs, farming,  and anything else that cropped up. Anything really, to keep us off the thought of running! Before long, we were at the foot of the Downs, ready to turn west towards Chanctonbury. Up the hill we went, past the pig farm.

IMG_1058

We continued on up the hill, right at the road, and continued to follow the South Downs Way. Past Chanctonbury Ring…IMG_1059

…and down into Washington. Neil and I managed to lose each other after we both had a comfort break on opposing sides of the path, and a quick flurry of text messages revealed that he’d carried on assuming I was ahead, while I waited for him! I had to catch him up!

The next few miles included that nasty hill out of Washington – short and sharp –  followed by the lovely descent from Kithurst Hill down into Amberley.

31250691182_beafbd197d_z
Gloves on! Photo courtesy of Jon Lavis

IMG_1064

The race then joined the Arun river, where the rest of the race is run on one or other side of the bank.

IMG_1069.jpgI managed to catch Neil as we ran through the woods south of Amberley, as we reached the bridge. It’s a lovely, over-engineered bridge in the middle of nowhere, which bounces as you run over it. A bit unnerving for some, but I quite enjoyed it!IMG_1071

From then on, it was the race to the end. The views down the Arun are quite beautiful on a sunny day, and the race day this year was very kind to us. We saw Arundel Castle in all its glory.

IMG_1072

A quick scoot through Arundel town itself, and we were back onto the openness of the Arun estuary, making our way to Littlehampton Marina. Be warned, the river meanders quite a bit, so you may think you’re nearer the end than you are at times as you seemingly make snaking turns from left to right; and to cap it all off, once through Arundel, you seemed to be running into the wind, no matter which direction you seemed to be going!

And finally, the bridge was reached – under we went, through the car park, and the finish line. Made it, Mouth-to-Mouth!

Once again, the Sussex Trail Event team has produced a lovely, challenging and picturesque route, worthy of anyone’s time and trouble. The cup of tea at the end, as always the perfect finish to a race.

So, the usual questions:

Would I recommend? Yes!

Would I run it again? Yes!

Is it worth the fee? Absolutely!

Is it a PB course? Nope!

Is it a negative split course? Yes, it could be.

Any downsides to it? Not really, all I’d say is reccy those last few miles so you know what to expect – they’ll mess with your mind if you don’t!

Until next time… thanks for reading, and enjoy your running!

Thirteen The Hard Way

Thirteen the Hard Way. A good name for a race, I thought as I signed my name up for it. That, and the Steve Roberts designed advertising, depicting a particularly characterful sheep!

13THW was another of the Sussex Trail Events races, and was a new event for 2016. Two more reasons for me to run the race. STE races are always well thought out, but still low-key and well organised, and I think there’s a little kudos to be able to say “oh yeah, I ran the first edition of that race”…

The other reason for running it was – it started a mile from home! No worrying about parking, getting a lift etc., just roll out of bed, put the shoes on and amble over. Maybe some clothes too.

On the day we awoke to a wonderful sunny day. A touch of wind, but warm. This was late August, and we’d had a summer. The last remnants were still around, so as I left my house at 7:30, it was already 18-20 degrees C. I managed to help a few runners (in cars) to the start, justifying my refusal to accept a lift from one of them. Well, I wanted a warm up anyway.

The route is a basic there and back – from the field at base of the downs next to the Tank Tracks, we run up the fabled tank tracks, turn left when you hit the South Downs Way, pass the Ditchling Beacon, and continue along the top of the escarpment until we reach the Black Cap gate. Turn right (south) at this point, and continue following the South Downs Way all the way to Housedean Farm. A quick stop (or not) at the aid station, and back the way you come, ending at the bottom of the Tank-tracks.

My race went well; I started near the back as is normal practice for me. Starting near the back means I pace myself at the start and don’t rush off too fast. Also gives me the psychology of passing people later on, thinking I’m a speedy boy…

And so, out of the start field, turn left towards Clayton, and then left again up the Tank-tracks.  I’ve done them many times before. It’s a bit like Ditchling Beacon for cyclists – it’s a local challenge to run up them non-stop. So I kept my cool and relaxed up the first third. The path is quite narrow for the first part, until you get out of the woods, then it opens a little. At that point there were a few people walking, so I continued my progress up the hill, slowly passing people.

29230332186_0c151203d8_z
Photos courtesy of Jon Lavis

I had no idea where I was in the race when I reached the top, as I was really just concentrating on getting to the top, but as I got there I felt pretty good, all things considered. It was a warm day, and this route had virtually no shade. I pushed on, knowing there was a water stop at the top of the Beacon about a mile and a half away.

I took on water, and then settled into the route: Street Hill Farm, followed by Black Cap, then turn right and shortly later left into a lovely downhill towards Housedean. Halfway down I started wondering again where I was in the race. No-one had passed me since hitting the top of the Downs, and I hadn’t passed anyone either. We were fairly well spaced out, and as I knew it was a there-and-back, I knew I’d be able to check my position based on the number of runners running towards me.

It wasn’t until we were near the woods that Paul Sargent passed me. Local legend, and race leader, he had the usual smile on his face, and looked strong. I started to count – two, three, four, five… by the time I reached the bottom of the hill, and the aid station at Housedean, I’d counted eleven runners. Wow! I was at the sharp end! Jay McCardle, one of the RDs gave me some encouragement; a work colleague (his cousin) was also running the race, and I’d passed him on the way up the Tank Tracks. “Go on! You can do ‘im” grinned Jay as I set off back up the hill.

My work in pacing a friend in the SDW100 a couple of months earlier certainly paid off at this point. It’s a particularly stiff hill coming back out of Housedean, and I was able to pass a couple of runners, while I power-walked up the hill. It was good to see my local club runners out there as we passed each other and gave encouragement.

The hill up to Black Cap was tough that day. Hot weather was to take its toll on people. Three of us traded places as we went up that hill. Although I’ve run it all many times, today was just too hot, and there was no real breeze in the valley. I had to walk, and so did the runners around me. I felt the signs of over-heating and took heed, rationing out my water as I went.

As we got to the top of the downs again, what little breeze there was helped cool me down, and I was able to start running again. We went through the Beacon, took on more water, and pushed the pace up a little more. I managed to drop one of the other runners for good, and felt good, knowing what was ahead.

29230708426_c216a93d98_z

I got to the top of the tracks feeling good, just the hill to go. Halfway down I was met by the sight of someone on the ground surrounded by one of our club runners, and a couple of other friends. “It’s Paul!”, he said to me as I ran past. I carried on to the bottom, grabbed a medal and a cup of water then made my way back up. Apparently, Paul had been leading the whole race, and found climbing out of bushes by a couple of walkers, cut up and a little delirious. A couple of friends who were there to spectate saw him and rushed to his aid. Air ambulance then appeared, and he was whisked off to hospital for tests.

He’s fine now and made a full recovery, winning races again, and generally being an inspiration to us runners at club. But I haven’t really thanked him for dropping out and give me my first top ten race finish 🙂  Thank you Paul!

So, the usual questions:

Would I recommend? Yes!

Would I run it again? Yes!

Is it worth the fee? Absolutely!

Is it a PB course? Nope!

Is it a negative split course? Not at all!

Any downsides to it? None for me. I love the area, and love the route. And not because it’s near home. (Well, maybe a bit…)

Until next time…

28977346480_9e776ca483_z

ps. all photos courtesy of Jon Lavis – local runner and brilliant photographer. Thanks Jon!

 

North Downs Way 50 – 2017

The lead up to this race wasn’t exactly perfect. Having gone 100% injury free in 2016, which included a number of marathons and a top ten finish to a half marathon, I was looking forward to my training build plan for this race only to fall foul of the cold weather, and ended up spending most of February and half of March laid up. I therefore had ten weeks to train up.

I spent a good few weekends testing the terrain and reccying the route, which I must say is beautiful: stunning views across the Surrey hills, and a number of monuments and places of interest on the way too. I finished off my training plan with my first 3 Forts marathon two weeks previous to the big event, with a sub 5 hour finish.  3 Forts gave me the confidence to believe that I could go the distance.

The race starts in Farnham, Surrey at a school near to the railway station. The Centurion team and their band of willing volunteers do a very good job of ensuring you have your mandatory kit with you, so don’t go thinking mandatory means anything other than that. They’ve disqualified people for not having it. James did his usual succinct and amusing race briefing, and then sent us on our way to the race start.

It was a short walk from race HQ to the start, inauspiciously set on the side of the A31 Farnham by-pass.  A few moments of quiet contemplation, and then we were off. The first few miles are very much an indication of what to expect later, but with a distinct lack of elevation change!  I wanted to ensure I didn’t go off too fast, and had started fairly near the back of the race group – a standard practice for me. In addition Darren, my partner in crime and more experienced ultra runner, also kept me in check. We did the whole race together.

IMG_1359

The race is essentially split into two (rough) halves. Halfway is at the top of Box Hill. The first half contains a lot of views like the one above and below:IMG_1361

IMG_1364

The second half contains a lot more climbing, so we were keen not to over-cook the first half with nothing left available in the second.

FullSizeRender
Puttenham aid station. Photo by Stuart March Photography (http://www.stuartmarchphotography.co.uk)

We reached Guildford in good time, and were met with a wonderful view of the ‘unofficial’ bacon sarny barge of Allan Rumbles. The barge is well known in Centurion Running folklore, and was a welcome chance to refuel. I felt privileged to have been served! However, I wasn’t sure if they dressed like this every year!

IMG_1366

The route so far had been pretty kind, and it was about to get a little ‘interesting’.  The first of a few tougher climbs was around the corner- Martha’s Hill. I’d been there a few times, but only to start races, not run through. We walked it well, and were met with the wonderful views at the top.

IMG_1368

IMG_1369
The photos don’t really do the views justice!

Quarter distance done. We carried on through woods, and enjoyed a quick stop at Newlands Corner aid station. Take on water, eat as much as you can in 2 minutes. Mainly fruit and chocolate!

The next section was pretty quick, as it floated nicely through the top of the downs, through woods to the top of Denbies wine estate. From the top, it’s a wonderful two-mile stretch of down-hill looping through the grounds. I couldn’t help myself from letting my legs do what they wanted through there.

At the bottom you navigate the A24 by way of an under-pass, to rejoin the NDW at the stepping stones crossing the river Mole.

I must admit to being a little trepidatious about these stepping stones. I had concerns that I would be so shot at this point that I’d struggle not to fall in. I needn’t have worried. There’s an aid station just before, so again we filled up on goodies, and waited our turn to cross. Yes, it’s a public footpath, and we had to wait a few minutes while “hobble-de-hoys” coming the other way made their way across. To be fair, I’m guessing they’d been waiting on their side for a while, letting runners across!

CENTR-17-NDW50-Aid3-BoxHillStepStones-253
Stuart, the event’s official photographer was on hand to capture the event! It doesn’t look like I was walking across gingerly does it?!?

Immediately after the crossing you have a short time to gather your thoughts before you start the next challenge: Box Hill.

It’s half a mile of steps – average 20% incline. No way to run it, at all. But the views at the top were immense!

The next few miles were spent running through woods, along the side of roads, getting us to the next hill tester – Reigate Hill. From memory of reccying it, I remembered it going on for much longer than it actually did! The views from the top again are stunning, and there are a few monuments around here – Reigate Fort, The Inglis Memorial, B17 plane crash site, pill boxes… and then the Reigate Hill National Trust car park. This was an official aid station, but also had a cafe nearby. During reccying we had a very welcome cup of tea there, so we did the same today. Tea is my saviour in races like this, and I ordered the biggest cup they had. Very good value – £1.50 for a half pint of tea!

From Reigate Hill we went downhill and then through Gatton Park school, mildly regretting I’d bought the larger cup of tea(!). Out the other side of the school and we were then running through Reigate Hill Golf Club, and over the M25 and A23 at Merstham.

IMG_1376
St Katherine’s Church, Merstham at a quarter past three! Clock was on time!

Past the church, under the M23, and we were met with this view:

 

IMG_1377

This was another of the hills. This one wasn’t too bad. Not too steep, and not too long, but you knew you’d done it when you’d got to the top.

We ran through some more woods (it’s a woody route!)

IMG_1378
Looking back to where we came

…and came to the next aid station. More refilling. My joke about booking a table with a view didn’t really go down too well… …and then Darren was pushing us out the other side of the aid station and onwards through more woods, and across the A22.

We noticed another runner join the route at this point from the wrong direction. From the speed he shot off ahead of us we wondered just how far off-course he’d gone – within half a mile he was gone, and we never saw him again.

IMG_1380
Typical terrain between miles 40 and 45

The next few miles were again through the woods (natch!), with the wonderful smell of wild garlic filling our nostrils.

IMG_1381

At Gangers Hill, we were met with more steps – down this time – for no apparent reason.

IMG_1382

We were met at the bottom of these stairs by amateur photographer extraordinaire and consummate crew to the stars, Jon Lavis. He gave us a few words of encouragement before we carried on.  The next few miles were spent along the edges of fields at the bottom of the escarpment. I had a concern at the back of my mind that at some point we would have to go back uphill, as I’d checked the final 6 miles and knew that it started at the top of the escarpment.

At this point we were wondering whether or not a sub 11 hour finish time was on the cards. We continued to push the pace to see if it was possible. Every time we slowed to a walk we’d give ourselves a few minutes then one or the other would say, “Come on, we can do this”, and we’d pick up the pace again.

The concern I had a few miles back didn’t go away, and was proved right – we hit Pitchfont Lane (and the highest point of the course) not having reccied this bit. It was a grind! Man, was it a grind! but we were met at the top with the final aid station. They had tea! I gratefully took a sugary cup.

So, we were 7 miles from the end at this point, and just over 9 1/2 hours in. The next couple of miles would tell us whether we were in shape for a sub 11 hour race. We reached Park Wood Golf club at Tatsfield at 10 hours. 6 miles to go? sub 11 wasn’t possible. We then took it easy. No point killing yourself if you can’t reach the goal.

IMG_1383

The rest of the race was spent running by the edge of fields (like the one above).

through more woods, and round the edge of fields, and we were almost there – I’d been warned that we’d see the finish line long before we got there, and it was true. Across the field, like a mirage the finish gantry was sitting across the fields looking inviting. But I knew we had to keep going to the end of the field, turn left down the lane, and into the village to reach it.  We steadied our resolve, gave ourselves a talking to, and kept moving forward. At last, we reached the road to the village, and our pace picked up. It was downhill, to the end, into the village, turn left, left again, slight incline (you notice uphills a bit more at 50 miles in!), and crossed the line.

CENTR-17-NDW50-FINISH-580.jpg
Official Finishers’ medal and a smile on my face. This photo is another reason to do this race. Stuart is a brilliant photographer (Photo by Stuart March Photography)

So, that was that. My first 50 miler completed. How did I feel?

Well, not as bad physically as I thought I would. I’m writing this a week on, and can remember thinking on the Monday after the race that it wasn’t the worst race I’ve done. All I had to show for it (which I didn’t I might add!) were a couple of blisters. The rest of me felt remarkably unscathed by the whole event. Having done a couple of ultras in recent years of shorter distances with less elevation, I remember feeling a lot worse after those than this one.

What have  I learnt from this experience? What can I say I did well?

  • nutrition – I ate well. I don’t mean I had organic, or were fine dined with roast pheasant etc., I mean at each aid station I ate something. Not too much, but enough to keep my stomach busy.
  • Hydration – similarly I ran with a Camelbak (actually it was Decathlon) and I took sips literally every 3-4 minutes.
  • Salt – S-Caps. Every hour on the hour, it was S-Cap o’clock. I’m certain this regime helped every bit as much as the previous two.
  • No need to worry. What happens, happens. 38 miles was the furthest race I’d done before this one, so once we’d reached 38 miles (and every mile after Darren congratulated me for achieving my longest run), I took stock of how I felt, and I knew it was in the bag.
  • There’s no such thing as the perfect race. And there’s no such thing as the perfect training plan. Go with the flow, listen to your body, and it’ll tell you if it’s not right.

And what would I recommend to people considering this race?

Do it! It’s a lovely route, full of surprises, but make sure you don’t go off too fast at the beginning, as it’ll bite you at the other end. The Centurion team look after you, and the medal, t-shirt, and official photos are all top-notch. To me, Centurion races set a standard to which all others attempt to live up to, in terms of professionalism.

I would also recommend  you reccy the route. Not necessarily all, but definitely from Box Hill to the end.

I am now seriously looking forward to doing another. Watch this space…

 

LUNAR-TIC Marathon 2016

LUNAR-TIC marathon is one of four marathon-length races put on by the Sussex Trail Events team. This was the second marathon race of theirs that I’d run after doing their Dark Star in 2015.  The team put together a good bunch of interesting races, which, for this year have interlocking medals to make one huge lump of medallion-ness to show off to your mates.

I decided to run this race, in part because it sounded a bit bonkers, in part because I fancied doing another marathon, and in part because running buddy Darren goaded me into it. He’s good like that.

The race is essentially three loops up and down the Adur river from Shoreham to Bramber and back (up one side and down the other), finishing on the dreaded concrete blocks on the west-side of the Adur. Starting at 8pm, the race is done more in darkness than in daylight. It’s flat, apart from the odd bit of ‘climbing’ up to or down from the 6 foot levee either side of the river. Nothing strenuous! Well, apart from it being a marathon…

We arrived in good time, and in good weather. Not too warm, but still warm enough. The usual race brief was a little briefer than normal, as Jay was not available, so it was left to Chris to do the honours. A few dos and don’ts out the way, and we were off, along with 86 others, doing the couple of laps around the field, and then out across the Norfolk Bridge and up the east-side of the Adur for the first time.

28477314976_46629f238d_k
Round the field no. 1 (photo courtesy of Jon Lavis)
27892586334_7d5f5d1984_k
Field trip no. 2 – (photo courtesy of Jon Lavis)

This was the first loop, and I was determined to get as much done in daylight as possible, making sure I knew what to expect at each point. I suspect that meant I went off a little too fast – finishing the first lap in about an hour and 25.  But still had time to take a few photos, and partake of the food at the aid station at Bramber (the furthest point of the loop) and again at the wooden footbridge in Shoreham. The sunset was brilliant, and we were able to gauge ourselves against friends running it on the other side of the bank.

img_0409img_0411img_0413img_0414

28404382722_f184fb7e64_k
Crossing the bridge for the first time (image courtesy of Jon Lavis – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jel183 )

We crossed the footbridge for the first time with the light starting to fade. My pace continued roughly the same, although I knew at some point I’d probably slow down. Not knowing where you’re putting your feet can slow you, and I didn’t really want to finish the night turning an ankle (or worse). More photos…

img_0415

img_0416
Lancing College trying to look like Hogwarts

img_0417

img_0418
The nice thing about the route – seeing other runners on the other side!

We had part of riverbank shared with another race – a walking race, which didn’t really slow us down. It was for about a mile or so, and both walkers and runners got on extremely well; cordial and obliging when it was time to give way to each other.

At the end of the second loop, I was starting to feel it a bit. In what way? Tum was a little churn-ey, which I think was down to a lack of fluids, and I suspect down to my choice of foods. I’d decided to go with Tailwind for fluids which had served me well in some other races I’d done recently; however those races hadn’t included any real food accompaniment. The STE boys like to put on a spread, and I’m always partial to a bit of teacake! So, the teacake, Tailwind and heat conspired to give my digestive tract a bit of a going over.  Luckily, nothing happened, other than the fact that I had to slow down a little!

The third loop was a bit of a trial – head torches were on, and we had to check our footing. img_0419We did have the moon to guide us, but nevertheless at certain points I didn’t want to risk running, having remembered how the terrain was on the previous two laps. This made my last lap a little (actually a lot) slower than the other two loops.

I ran most of the race with Darren (a great running companion and sounding board for my particular brand of talking rubbish!), but then we both traded places during the third loop when each of us had our demons to vanquish, including the dreaded concrete slabs after running 25 miles! We ended up finishing within a couple of minutes of each other. And! I managed not to get calf-cramps going over the slabs for the first time!!!

On the whole the race was brilliant and lived up to expectations: well organised, a novel twist, lovely scenery, awesome marshalling, well-stocked aid stations, and a unique finishers medal.

img_0420

Would I recommend? Yes!

Would I run it again? Yes!

Is it worth the fee? Absolutely!

Is it worth staying up for? Yes!

Is it worth buying a headtorch for? Yes!

Any downsides to it? Not at all! (just don’t mention concrete slabs to me!)

My advice? Check their website for next year’s race. They don’t advertise because they don’t need to – the places fill up quick!