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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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…

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Month 2- February Training

The month started out tough. A week of two speed-work sessions, and the longest long run so far this year, on hilly terrain.

Speed work 1 consisted of half an hour of fartleks of differing varieties, interspersed with a half-hearted assault on the Strava segment known as “The Mackie Avenue Hill Sprint”.

Speed work 2 (a day later) was at Lewes track, and I had us (yes, I was coaching again) working our way up the gears. 4 laps @ 1/2 marathon pace, 3 laps at 10k pace, 2 laps at 5k pace, and one lap as fast you can manage – all with an active 1 lap recovery.

Recovery run a day later, then a rest day, then a 30 minute tempo run on Saturday.

Weekend was finished off with a two-hour Hill work, taking in Buncton Lane! I managed just over 16 miles in 2 hours and 20 minutes, and was definitely ready for an easier week!

The ‘easy week’ wasn’t quite so easy. By Thursday my legs still felt pretty roughed up from a tempo run and a club run, but managed a PB at Hove Parkrun, beating my Preston Park PB from a year ago by 7 seconds. Sunday’s long run was a little shorter than last week, but came with a twist; it was a fast finish. I ran 75% of the time at 75% of my 5k pace. It was meant to be 65%, but I struggled to go that slow (yes, I know!). The final 25% was meant to be at my marathon pace, again I was a tad faster than I should have. Felt good at the time, but felt a little achy in my feet afterward.

Week three started with a tempo run at 30secs under Marathon pace, followed by a tough club session in the cold and wet doing 600m efforts with moving recovery. I had to miss my Thursday run for a  night out (shame!), so finished off the weekend with a steady run on Saturday at MR pace followed by two hours of marathon running with 90sec pick-ups at 10k pace.

At this point it feels as though my recovery times need to get longer, but it feels like I can’t slow down! Week four’s Tuesday ‘easy run’ was more at half-marathon pace. However, Wednesday’s coaching session with club had us hill training. We had a number of the faster runners with us that evening, and they seemed to drag me along at a pace I wouldn’t have normally gone at, but I was pleased I was able to keep up – for a while at least – and at the pace I’d managed at the end considering part of the session was five sprints uphill with a walk back down!

Saturday was a good tempo run at slightly better than half-marathon pace, followed by an aborted long run on Sunday. A niggling calf threatened to cramp on me, so I didn’t want to risk it. This is the first ‘refusal’ since my training plan started, so I can’t complain.

This leaves me with eight weeks to go, one of which will be spent on holiday. Plenty of time to push on training to reach my goal.  However, as said before, although I’d like my London result to start 3:30 something, it all depends how I feel in the weeks up to it, and more importantly how I feel on the day. It isn’t the be all and end all. To paraphrase Jake in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, “There are other races than this”

Happy running all!

 

 

 

New Year, New Challenges

As we turn a new year, I feel it right to review last year, before putting into writing whatever plans I have for 2016.

I think it fair to say that 2015 was a year of unplanned abject failure. Okay, yes, I did run two ultras, but they were interspersed with injury, sporadic training, and a general feeling of under-achievement.

I can hear what you’re thinking – “if you haven’t planned anything, you haven’t failed”. Yes, you’re correct, but the things I did plan didn’t pan out as expected, in a disappointing way.

So, to go through what I did in 2015:

Dark Star Marathon – 28 miles in January. Ran in just under six hours. Not fast by any means. Unplanned, and un-trained, so that’s a tick!

South Downs Way 50 – April. Bailed at 6 miles, due to calf problem. Injury appeared three weeks before the race.

High Weald Challenge – September. 31 mile race. Completed in a time I wasn’t exactly happy with, but then again I didn’t plan a race time, so it was to finish, so again, I should be happy. Shortly after though, the calf injury returned.

Downslink Relay – 13.3 miles (Legs one and two) in December. Completed in 1:50:00-ish. Tick!

So the pattern of the year after January was: train for a race, get injured, get nervous about upping the training after injury for fear of repeating injury, finally start training again, do a race, get injured shortly afterward.

So, what have I learnt this year? Three things:

  1. Have a Plan. If you want to do something, it’s important to have a plan. The plan needs to be specific, and considered in accordance with the outcome you want to achieve. Running three times a week isn’t a plan, unless the plan is to run three times a week.
  2. Ignorance is Not Bliss. As with above, if you don’t know what you’re running for, it’s potentially junk miles, and potentially damaging to your plan. Know what’s right and wrong. Find out more.
  3. Learn from your Mistakes. You can learn much more about yourself from missed achievements than doing everything correct. But be sure to learn from the mistakes you’ve made.

I could go on, but I think those are the main ones.

So I begin 2016 with a renewed sense of purpose – at the last Club meet of the year, we had our annual ballot for the guaranteed London Marathon places for the club.  Each year VLM provide the club with a number of places which are open to those club members with rejection letters/emails – i.e. you had to be in the ballot to qualify.

This was the first time I’d entered the ballot in ten years. I’d entered after a particularly inspiring view of the 2015 edition of the race, but received the rejection pack from VLM in October, complete with reject running top(!). It was a complete surprise when my name came out of the hat!

So, over Christmas, I got thinking about the task ahead. What’s the plan? What’s the target? What outcome am I searching for?

Going from recent training and races, it got me thinking that, injuries aside, I’d done some pretty fast times – a sub 21 minute 5k in winter, a sub 1:50 off-road half-marathon. Could I beat my Marathon PB, achieved in 2011 in Brighton? If I could do it, it would need better training.

I’ve spent the past week looking through many websites, asking the advice of more learned coaches, and have a training plan which I hope will get me a PB. It seems the Ill Prepared Runner may be learning something…

Beyond April, I’ve pencilled in Beachy Head Marathon again (always a favourite – the runners equivalent of Field Of Dreams in my opinion), a cycling holiday in September, and maybe two other marathons – possibly  in June and December.

Time to make it happen…

 

 

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.

Marathon Weekend. Sort of

This week has been interesting. It’s been a week since I took the plunge and decided to get a place on the SDW50. Why? Well, I’m still not sure. As one of my running buddies said, “it’ll be a laugh!”.

My plan for this year (formulated in the autumn, but still too late to get a place) was to do the NDW50. Living 2 miles away from it as I do meant that I run a lot of the South Downs Way, so I thought it might be nice to run the North Downs instead. However, by the time I’d finished prevaricating I was much too late to get a race place. The waiting list was also full.

What I didn’t realise was that the guys and gals at Centurion try to accommodate as many runners as possible, so by mid February, they’d managed to clear the waiting list, and had some places left to spare. I thought about for a moment or two, listened to the haranguing from a few running buddies, asked permission from my better half, and thought what the hell. So I’m in!

I’ve been sort of following a training plan inadvertently anyway. Darren has been dragging me around the South Downs for the past month as part of his own SDW100 training plan (which coincidentally includes the SDW50), so I guess I’ve been following a training plan to get me ready anyway.

This weekend was different though. While he had a race to do (Steyning Stinger – 26 miles of Downs and mud!), I had nothing. With SDW50 in mind, I decided I would run the first half (almost!) of the route, then head for home when I thought a marathon distance was in the bag.

But before this, Saturday morning saw us at the Preston Park Parkrun giving our speed legs a test. This is the first park run I’ve done since 2013, partly because I’m not that fast, partly because it seems a faff to get up on a Saturday to get up to run only 5kms. But, as I was curious to see what I could do, I went.

The weather could have been better, but was good enough. Wind assisted us on the back-straight, and the drizzle kept us cool (I actually didn’t warm up until the 3rd lap!) enough to give me and Darren a PB each. Both of us knocked around 20 seconds off, a 2% improvement!!!

On Sunday morning I parked off a side road near to Hill Barn recreation ground at a little before 8:00am under clear skies, having had the barest of breakfasts – a hot Ribena, a few grapes and a few cashews. I came prepared with two packets of crisps, two Nakd bars, a Soreen bar, and two woefully small bottles filled with salted water.

The route out of Worthing was quite straightforward, if a little ad-hoc: I had pretty much determined the route the day before as a rough guide but left it to memory rather than taking a map or plugging a route into my Garmin. I’d also worked out my route was a little shy of 24 miles, so I was hoping to ‘get lost’ a little on the way to increase the distance.

I started following the route for the WSFRL Hangover race until I remembered I could do it in reverse until I got to Cissbury ring, so cut a left as soon as the route presented itself. When I reached the ring itself, I headed north into the unknown. For the next two miles or so, it was new territory.

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This bit went reasonably okay. My map-memory was pretty good, until I reached the end of a left-turn which ended on a road which I didn’t remember on the map. Luckily another runner appeared up the road, and he helped me on my way, down to the A24 and back up to meet the South Downs Way just near Chanctonbury Ring.

It was just before there that I joined the Stinger route for part of the way (miles 8-11 I think), where I chatted with the Sussex Sport Photographer for a bit, and an ultra runner who was running the race for an arthritis charity. He himself had arthritis, and had only the year before completed the SDW100 himself. Big respect!

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I stopped at Chanctonbury to quickly take a shot of the breathtaking view looking north-east from the escarpment.

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And followed the route down towards the Adur.

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I’ve run the path above two or three times in the past month, and today’s view was stunning. Once at the Adur, I took advantage of the water tap to fill my bottles (and my belly!) with ice-cool water, and carried on.

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The rest of the run went fairly well until I reached mile 16. At this time, a few niggles had started to appear, reminding me of their presence every once in a while. In addition I’d been doing some calculations, and realised I’d be doing only about 22 miles. So, my mind was listening to my body, and the mental gremlins were asking me why I was doing this, putting doubts into my mind as to whether I could pull off a complete 50 mile run, when a 20 mile run was looking unlikely.

By the time I’d reached Newtimber Hill (which I might add is a lot shorter than I remembered), it seemed as though some of the niggles had giving up shouting, and the gremlins had gone off to rethink their strategy. I’d realised that if I could add a little loop once I’d got off the downs I could get myself to a possible marathon distance, so that became the plan.

When the time to make the choice came, I took the right-hand turn up to the top of the Tank tracks and the Bostall rather than heading left to the Jack & Jill Windmills. I got to the left-turn for the Bostall and headed down.

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Instead of going straight home, I took a wiggly route through Clayton, and back into Hassocks via the Cinder path, and back home round the back of Mackie Ave.

Quite a morning’s run in the end culminating in an enjoyable run.

Part of the learning process for me was:

  1. It’s a little tougher on your own. Running with someone really does help to keep out the demons.
  2. It’s interesting to see how little you can fuel your runs with, but I think a bigger water bottle for next time is a good idea!
  3.  Maybe review the salt tablet idea for the race.

Over and out, until next time!

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