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!

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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.

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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.

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Gloves on! Photo courtesy of Jon Lavis

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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:

 

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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…