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!

 

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.