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.

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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.

 

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Every so often a view would present itself.

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

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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!?

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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…

 

 

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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!

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!

 

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.

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Round the field no. 1 (photo courtesy of Jon Lavis)
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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.

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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…

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Lancing College trying to look like Hogwarts

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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.

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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!

 

 

London Marathon 2016.

The London Marathon has a certain aura about it. Since I started running in the early 21st century, its reverence in running circles has been huge. Back then, in the south east there weren’t many marathons organised, so the key focus in the running year was London. Even twelve years ago, the chances of you getting a place in the ballot was one in four. Roll forward to now, and it’s one in six, despite another 9000 places being available.

This was to be my second London marathon. My first marathon was in 2006, where I finished a creditable sub 4. Just!

This year was much the same as 2006. Having got a hallowed place through club, I was determined to make the most of the occasion: raise some money for a charity, give a good account of myself for the club and get a PB!

One thing to mention before going on to the day itself. Tapering. If anyone hasn’t told you about tapering, it’s physically easy, but mentally awful. For weeks you’ve been working hard to improve your fitness working to your goal, getting regular doses of endorphins. Then three weeks before you start reducing the work. As the endorphins go down, so does your mood. It affects people in different ways. With me, it’s anxiousness and paranoia. Weird thoughts went into my head in the week up to it, so I was so looking forward to running on Sunday!

Rather than go into a full description of the day, I will reduce it down to a few questions, bullet points, observations, thanks, and recommendations.

Is it the best marathon to run?

Having run only two road marathon courses, all I can say is the atmosphere is tremendous. Its iconic status and elusive place through the ballot makes it a special one to run in. You could argue its route isn’t special, but then it’s difficult to see very much except spectators. But then, running over Tower Bridge is something special, as is running down the mall. No other race can claim that…

How did this year compare to ten years ago?

More crowded! From memory, I don’t remember it being so bunched up for so long ten years ago. I remember having space to move about the bunch, adjust pace as I saw fit ten years ago, as soon as we’d passed the Cutty Sark.This year the field didn’t really spread out until past Tower Bridge.

Good Moments?

  • Getting the train up with my club the Burgess Hill Runners. They kept me relaxed until ready to race.
  • Seeing my first Eltham sign (Sarf Landan born and bred, me!).
  • The joining of the red and blue starters, and the jovial booing between the two streams.
  • Running past Floyd Road turning to the Valley – home of CAFC.
  • Running over Tower Bridge at a fast pace to shake off a bit of muscle fatigue (yes, running faster works!)
  • All of the bands. They were simply awesome whatever they played, and whatever size they were, but especially the steel drum band. Lovely!
  • hitting the Samaritans supporters area at mile 19, and feeling a wave euphoria as a result.
  • running up the ramp at Limehouse and passing a number of runners. The relief of a hill was exquisite!
  • Hearing and seeing Neil Dawson at mile 24 amidst a thousand other voices. Amazing how those moments of clarity drown out all else but the important stuff.
  • hitting the Samaritan supporters area at mile 25 – such a push and a buzz!
  • Turning the corner onto the Mall and pushing that much harder to get to the end.
  • Crossing the line realising I’d achieved a PB!
  • Blubbing with relief and euphoria after getting my (huge!) medal (same as 10 years ago).
  • Looking through the goody bag and realising how much they’d stuffed in it.

 

Bad Moments?

  • knowing after about 8 miles that my right shoe wasn’t on tight enough, and knowing I’d have to deal with blisters later.
  • Miles 7-12 still crowded.
  • Having to resort to mind games to get me to the end.
  • Lucozade gels. Bluurrrgh!
  • Seeing a runner on the side of the road receiving CPR at about mile 24. The runner later died. R.I.P. Captain David Seath. A reminder that there but for the grace of God we go.

Would you do it again?

Hmm – bit too early to say. But then, the ability to get a place will dictate when I will run it again!

Would you recommend it?

in a heartbeat. if you get the chance do it, do it, DO IT! 🙂

How about afterward?

 

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Enjoying a glass of something post run
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Big Medal!

I must say, if you ever get the chance to run London, even if you get in through the ballot, raise money for a charity as well. you will get looked after at the end, which is when you need it. Within ten minutes of finishing, I was in a dressing room in the Playhouse theatre having a shower, before being given a massage. Raising the money is important to them, and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. Plus, they’ll be just as grateful if you have your own place as they won’t have paid for it!

To this end I’d like to thank the fundraisers at the Samaritans who looked after me after the race, and who helped during the build up to the event with emailed tips for training and fundraising.

http://www.samaritans.org/support-us

Anything Else?

I had five Plans. Plan A: 3:30 result. Plan B: 3:30 something finish. Plan C: Beat my PB. Plan D to finish. Plan E. DNF. According to official results, I achieved plan C, however, according to my Strava feed I ran 26.61 miles. A marathon is 26.21875 miles. I reached 26.21875 miles in less than 03 hrs 40, so plan B was achieved! sort of…

I think that covers the main points. The day is quite special, emotional, tough, exciting,tiring,humbling, but left me feeling so very exhilarated, even through the pain and exhaustion. If you feel so inclined, you can still donate to the Samaritans on the link below.

https://www.justgiving.com/Baillie-BHR-VLM2016

I’d also like to thanks Jan Lavis for giving me help and a few pointers on my training plan. Without her help, I doubt I would have achieved what I did.

Many thanks, and happy running!

 

 

 

 

 

High Weald Challenge

So, the backstory to entering this, my fourth attempt at an ultra was….

…my lovely wife, whom I’d run the Beachy Head marathon with the previous year wanted to run another trail marathon. Friends had also signed up, to run the marathon and/or walk the half. However, the organisers, Trail Running Sussex, when staging a similar array of races earlier in the year suffered a number of sabotage attacks the night before the race, resulting in the routes being impossible to complete if following the signs.  Reluctantly, race director Stuart Mills saw no alternative but to put on one race – the ultra – as a self-navigator.

In preparation for this, we spent two weekends reccying the route. Interestingly, the route was a kind of figure of eight, which allowed us to split the route into two nice-length runs, the first one from Forest Row, the second from Groombridge. The first one we used the map booklet from the website, and we got lost, a few times. The second loop from Groombridge was a little easier, as we loaded the route into the watch. Much better!

Therefore, having done the preparation, my wife had to pull out, due to illness, so I was forced to consider whether to run it at all. In the end I decided to run it. One reason was, it was the first time this race had been run. I’d missed out on the first Downslink Ultra two years ago due to injury, and had been disappointed not to have run it. The other was, well, it’s another ultra to tick off, I’d done (some) training for it. The last thing to convince me was from Stuart Mills’ email the day before mentioning dropping at aid stations with transport back to the start. Well, if I fail to finish, I thought, at least I can get back to my car!

The day started early, leaving home at 6:45am. The first race since I don’t know when, that I had to wake up to darkness, and temperature of 6 deg C.  It got down to 4 deg C when I arrived! Timing though, was perfect. I arrived shortly before 7:30, found a car parking space in the designated field, and rushed round to register. My race number 114 was there, with my name on it! Another first!

There was just enough time to grab a cup of tea before we were herded off to the temporary bank of portaloos for the briefing. Stuart introduced himself, and gave us some friendly words of encouragement. He joked the race record was 4:12 set by himself, and that if the winner didn’t beat that time, he would be keeping the prize for himself.

We then walked to the race start a few hundred yards away in the centre of Groombridge village. A couple of minutes of preparation, and then horn sounded. We were off!

IMG_1263The route takes you south out of the village, onto fields and woods round the edge of Lye Green, through the beautiful grounds of Buckhurst Park, and into Withyham, where the first (and fourth) checkpoint was. There was a herd mentality at one point where around 30 of us, all following the runner in front ended up running the wrong way for a couple of hundred yards. Tip for anyone running a self-navigate race: Never assume the runner in front knows where they’re going! It was a short detour of maybe a 100 yards, but all taken with good humour.

A quick change of clothing at Checkpoint 1 from winter gear to summer gear as the temp started to rise in the sunny conditions, and we were off up the hill and onto Ashdown Forest. This was a  hard slog of almost 3.5 miles of nearly constant uphill. However, the views at the top were amazing. There wasn’t much time to enjoy them as we then had a wonderful downhill stretch of similar length down to Pooh bridge. I didn’t stop for a game of Pooh sticks…

The second aid station appeared at the top of the hill past the bridge, so I filled up on cheese biscuits, flapjacks and melon pieces before moving on. The next section I wasn’t looking forward to, mainly because during the reccying we’d got it hideously wrong, and ended up just trying to get back to Forest Row through the forest on some dubious paths laid down possibly by some deer… This time, however, the watch kept me on the straight and narrow, until I reached Royal Ashdown Golf course. This was the second error of the race caused by me (yes I know) following the runner in front! I realised he’d gone wrong, but thought he had some local knowledge. It turned out he didn’t, so I doubled back (again only about 100 yards), and went the “proper route”. We weren’t the only ones to go wrong, as a group of 5 runners joined us on the proper path from a side path about 5 minutes later.

Forest Row’s Aid station (no. 3) saw us back in civilisation after 17 miles. I still felt pretty good. No problems, no niggles, no real tiredness. The path out north was quite a small path which took you onto the hills north overlooking the valley of the River Medway, and eventually back down into Hartfield.

It was at this point I was starting to feel things ache, although not at a level that was going to stop me. I was running at that point with a few runners from Eastbourne, and we passed the time with a chat and me guiding them along the right route. We got back to aid station at Withyham and took stock.

The path goes on.

The next section was a lovely flat route back along the Medway valley eastward.  It stayed relatively flat until we reached the railway line where we went under the bridge and up the hill toward the A264 road. A run/walk was very much in operation then, with fellow runners few and far between. I ran this bit with a runner from Burgess Hill whose previous marathon and ultra experience consisted of the Brighton Marathon the previous year, and had only taken up running around three years previously. He was still going strong, and eventually dropped me after the next aid station.

Hills

Once we’d crossed the A264 we were running across the fields toward Fordcombe. This part I found the most tedious, as at that point, after running uphill for a mile or so, and I knew it would be another 3 miles before the next aid station; I was flagging mentally. We crossed the main road through Fordcombe,  and carried on through the road, and onto the path to the fifth and final aid station. I needed quite a while there to gather my thoughts, and move on. Langton GreenWhat followed was a mile or so of deep wooded area west of Speldhurst and Langton Green, with a climb out into fields across back to Groombridge. I was at this point ‘running’ with an ultra runner from Horsham Joggers, Graham. A season ultra runner who has run a good few 100 milers had run a marathon the day before. It was good be able to pass the time mentally with him, as I suspect I wouldn’t have finished if left to my own devices. A few niggles had really slowed me down, including a strange pain around the knee when I lifted up my legs. This made the final drop down into Groombridge sheer pain after running 30 miles. Downhill, on tarmac, ’twas a cruel twist at the end of the route. But in the end we crossed the road through a small gate and back into the grounds of the Place. Graham left me to finish his race at his own pace in front while I toiled to the finish in 6:50:44, tired, but satisfied. Stuart handed me over the medal, mug and bottle ofwater which was gratefully received.

Groombrige1jpg (1)  Stop the watch, stop the watch!

Now in use daily!
Now in use daily!

So, to summarise, Stuart Mills and his team of marshals (mainly from Crowborough runners) put on a great race with stunning scenery which I’d like to say I enjoyed from start to finish. Well, I did, sort of. Just wished I’d run it a bit faster, and without so many niggles. But ultimately that’s my problem! Well done Stuart – keep up the good work!

FAQs below:

What do you get for your troubles? A medal, an earthenware mug (very nice!), and a bottle of water. Oh, and a 25% off entry fee to Groombridge Place.

Amenities: Portaloos, changing facilities, and tea/coffee/cake stand at the start/finish, with five well equipped aid stations.

Aid Stations: Well equipped, there was nothing missing to my mind – fruit, savoury, sweet, water, coke, all there! Very friendly and helpful team at each station.

Photos: Nothing official, but links to some Flickr albums and personal videos.

Best Bit:  Too numerous to mention. Running through Ashdown Forest, and over Pooh Bridge?

Worst Bit: Between the A264 and Fordcombe.

Would I do it again? Yes!

Finishing photos courtesy of Stuart Mills.

How to do it all wrong and still achieve.

They say the key to a good story is a good opening line. That wasn’t it…

I can’t say the preparation to my second ultra race was filled with a meticulous training plan, coupled with sensible dietary preparations, as there’s not that much you can do in less than 24 hours.

The opportunity to do the race arose, so I took it after much encouragement from friends from running club. What’s the worst that could happen? I don’t finish. No big deal considering the lack of training. So I got together all the things I needed for the morning and had an early night. Well, early-ish. a couple of drinks to wish a friend happy birthday, then bed.

We arrived at the Shoreham sea scouts’ hut with plenty of time. We, meaning running buddy and this morning’s chauffeur Darren, and Stephanie from club. Darren is a seasoned ultra-runner, and after a previous year filled with injury was using this race as a springboard to better things this year. Stephanie had won her place at our club ballot, and was also planning other ultra races this year.

The event was the Dark Star Marathon, which was put on by Sussex Trail Events. They’re new to event management – only a couple of years young, but you wouldn’t know it. Very well organised, and very encouraging to all runners, and keen to ensure the event is completed with limited impact on the environment as possible. Dropping litter is instant disqualification, for example.

This year’s race forecast was cold and relatively calm, with the route hugging the river Adur on one side to Henfield,up to Partridge Green (home of Dark Star brewery, hence the name of the race), and on to West Grinstead by way of the Downslink Ultra before coming back down, crossing over the river and returning on the opposite bank.

My breakfast consisted of a cup of tea 20 minutes before the start of the race. Not unusual for me. A lot of my training runs on a Sunday morning normally involve running on empty. A couple of photos with the rest of the runners from our club (all pics on this blog courtesy of Jon Lavis!), followed by a listen to Jay the race director with some final instructions, and then we were out into the cold of the morning, and the race.

16179388907_f940e3166d_zApart from the first half a mile or so where we ran behind the rope tackle buildings in Shoreham, we spent a good 60% of our time running on mud. Luckily the cold weather that greeted us in the morning meant that at least on the way up it was frozen mud and quite holding, although a little ‘sharp’ on the feet in places.

The first aid station was a welcome sight, with hot cross buns, water, bananas… real food! I greedily scoffed a bun whilst chatting with the crew. While I wasn’t exactly hungry or thirsty, I knew to take on sustenance sooner rather than later. And then off again. Darren by this time had pulled ahead by quite a distance, and we would only see him again at the turn around point. This left Steph and I to soldier on.  I made sure I looked around and enjoyed the scenery and the company, partly to keep my mind off running.

Although I’ve run the Downs Link many times, it seemingly wasn’t enough to remind me how far I had to go before we got to our next aid station at Partridge Green at 11 miles. Just before we reached it, the lead runner passed us on his way back – us with 10 miles done, him with 10 miles left!  Go Paul Sargent, one of our club members! Again I made sure to fill up at the aid station. Conscious of previous cramp issues in other races, i elected to go for some salty crisps to help prevent a recurrence.  And then again we were off heading our way up to West Grinstead.

The turnaround point at West Grinstead also featured the best aid station in four counties that day. I know this as it was manned by our very own running club. It was quite a spread, which included home-made flapjacks, crisps, buns of many descriptions, and tea! There is nothing so good as a cup of tea mid-race. Superb! Steve Roberts, the aid station ‘manager’ and ultra runner too, had the nous to bring some salt, which I sprinkled liberally on to one of my pieces of flapjack. Stay away cramp!

16179666097_eb557decee_z I won’t bore you with the details back, suffice to say the pace slowed as we turned into the wind, and coupled with a rise in the temperature meant the going underfoot got steadily stickier.

The great thing about races like these is the camaraderie in the pack. Everyone was very friendly, and happy to chat whilst running.

We were again grateful to see the aid station just north of Bramber, and Steph went on ahead while I hoovered up more of the food. It would be a shame to let it go to waste…

We got to Bramber and met Karen from club, who was offering additional support for Steph to reach the end. Karen was extremely supportive, her boundless energy seeming to rub off on us.

16339582036_64015b69de_zSlowly but surely the meanderings of the river brought us closer and closer to Lancing College, its large chapel a landmark seen for many miles up-river reminding us of the distance left to run. We passed it eventually and carried on under the A27 viaduct to reach the final struggle of concrete slabbed stretch by the side of Shoreham airport.  After running all that way this was a major struggle.

The reason was that these slabs are not laid flat, they’re always ever so slightly (and some not so slightly) sloping, with most of them seemingly at a camber that threatened to kick off my calf cramps. Luckily I survived the minor obstacle course, and was able to finish with a flourish, in just under 6 hours. A few of the club had stuck around to see the last of their team home, and it was great to see them at the end, as always.

The post race vegetarian chilli and pitta bread was gratefully received, along with the cup of tea offered gratis by the organisers.

The organisers also provided a swag bag containing with a Dark Star water bottle (nice colour scheme – will go well with the bike!), and a bottle of their finest ale. Additionally, there was a 33shake natural energy gel. Something to use on the next race perhaps…

16365498365_7b3c512812_z

postscript – the race place I was given was from a fine man, whose wife sadly died on the day of the race after a battle with cancer. I dedicate this blog to Philippe and to the memory of Sheila.