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!

 

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!

 

 

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…

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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.