Southend Pier Marathon

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

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

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The world’s longest pleasure pier – Southend!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shoulders…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So, the usual questions:

What did I learn from this race?

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

What did I like about the race?

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

What didn’t I like about the race?

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

Is it a PB course? Potentially.

Is it a Negative Split course? Potentially.

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

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

Is it worth the fee? Yes.

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

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

 

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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!

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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