This is another of the Sussex Trail Events races – the second in the year, but the final one of the group of four marathons they put on. Putting the four nice medals together from each of the four races forms one huge one. Finishing this race meant I’d done them all.
So, the race, the Arun River Marathon. It starts and finishes at Littlehampton Marina. In my mind, it’s a four quarter route. First quarter takes you out of the marina on narrow paths along the meandering Arun river on top of the levee until you reach Arundel town, through the other side and to the first aid station at the Black Rabbit pub.
The second quarter is another couple of miles along the river, then over the bridge at South Stoke through a wooded section to the bouncy bridge (love that bridge), up over the hill to North Stoke, back through some more woods, to rejoin the river up to Amberley. From there you cross back over the river, join the South Downs Way and go up the hill to Kithurst.
The third and fourth quarters are a the second and first quarters in reverse. It’s a little like half the Mouth-to-Mouth, back and forth. With a 600 feet climb at 10 miles in, it’s not a race that’s got PB written all over it!
As with most of the STE races, they’re low-key, well organised, and well received. Less than 100 runners for this edition, but a high quality field. Paul Sargent was there for example, hoping for a sub 3hr result. He almost did it, too!
So, the race started at 9, and my plan was this: get to the start of the hill in 1:40, then take it from there. It was 10 miles to the bottom of the hill, so 10 minute mile-ing to the hill, walk/run the hill, then see what’s left when I get to the bottom.
The conditions were pretty good to start; overcast and cool. However the weather was due to get warmer, and although it was cool, as soon as we started running there was a noticeable humidity. The first quarter went pretty quick, mentally. As usual I started near the back, mainly because I was chatting with Jim Graham during the race brief (he finished third), so I had a few moments of sitting behind groups of runners waiting to find a suitable place to pass. Not all bad, though. It meant that I wasn’t going off too fast at the start, plus there’s a certain psychological boost to passing people.
I had a slight mishap when coming out of Arundel. Due to path repairs along the river, we were pointed along the Mill road towards the Black Rabbit, then sent back onto the riverbank just before the Arundel Wetland Centre. John Fitz was there at the end of the detour to point us the way. It was in the woods here that I came a cropper, catching a flint on the narrow path which sent me sprawling into the undergrowth. Luckily I had the presence and time to be able to fall in such a way that landed on one side and then rolled. I was able to get up brush myself down, tell other runners not to fuss and get on with it. I figured the experience gave me a bit of an adrenaline boost, as I was off again feeling a little more lively. “Pick up your feet!” became my motto from then on!
I reached the Black Rabbit in under an hour, which was a little ahead of schedule. Real wife Sue and ‘running husband’ Darren were there manning the aid station along with Chris Ette, which as usual was well stocked with stuff worth eating. Quick change of kit (top layer removed), a few grabbed foodstuffs and I was off again.
The second quarter went on without much of a problem. The runners had strung out a bit at this point, but there were a few runners bunched together across the path, which again was quite good to get a few minutes of relaxed running behind them. Once we’d got to the bouncy bridge the route goes up a small hill in a field which allowed me to pass the group. It was then a short downhill on road to the next wooded section, right-hand turn at the end and back onto the levee to Amberley. So far, so good.
At Amberley we cross the road and turn right just before the railway bridge, and follow the path back onto the levee. A few more steps, and you’re on the South Downs Way going east. Ish. Round the fields you go until you get to the road you just crossed in Amberley and then you reach the bottom of the uphill section.
So, I wanted to reach the base within 1:40. I looked at my watch at the bottom and was pleased to find I’d reached the base at 1:37. Feeling good, I pushed my way up the hill, walking a little but mainly running as much as I could.
Halfway up I was met by the lead runner, the one and only Paul Sargent, who was looking comfortable – well, he was running downhill. I was half expecting to be caught a lot sooner, so took a lot of encouragement from that! It was a good few minutes before the second place runner came past – good job, Paul!
I reached the turnaround point in just over 2 hours. At the aid station were the Amiets Steve and Tina, with Zoe and Dan. I made sure my number was noted, filled up my water bottle, grabbed more foodstuffs and turned back around. The climb out of Kithurst wasn’t too bad, but the temperature was definitely going up. I made sure I took sips from the water every few minutes on the way back.
The downhill was great fun, quite fast. I had a moment of good fortune when Rachel McCarthy saw me coming towards a gate while she was going through and held it open for me! I was very grateful, but continued on my way down the hill, legs free-wheeling until I reached the road again. We had a bit of a wait for a gap in the traffic, but we were on our way again soon enough.
The route back from road into Arundel went without incident, although I knew I was getting slower as I went further, and at every gate and stile I had to climb over I used as a small ‘stretch’ to put my legs into a different position than just running. The heat was surely getting to me, but I continued to drink from the Camelbak as I went along.
As I got back to the Black Rabbit Sue Chris and Darren were there manning the aid stations, so I spent a couple of minutes refilling an refuelling, and then was off to the end.
The rest of the run was a run-jog-walk on what should have been familiar territory, however it doesn’t always seem that way. When you’re running along the levee towards Littlehampton it seems as though you never seem to be going in the right direction to get there! I’d also told myself (like I do when going up the Beacon by bike) that there’s always another meander you’ve forgotten about! On this occasion, however, I’d got it wrong, but in a good way. The bridge of the A259 over the Arun river, under which the race goes appeared sooner than expected, and with relief I ran into the marina car park and to the are finish in just under 4:15.
So, the usual questions:
What did I learn from this race?
- I can go fast. Having done the Southend Pier Marathon race a couple of months ago, and employing that as a springboard to continued fitness and improvement, this was proof.
- Self-belief is a crucial factor in achieving things. Sometimes it’s within, but sometimes it’s from an outside source. This time it was a comment from a friend who’d told me the night before that I was running well, and that I was capable of a good race. That was enough for me!
- Although I did run well, and hard, I think a little too much in the first half put paid to any heroics in the second.
What did I like about the race?
- It was hilly. The views!
- STE events always have good food at the aid stations.
- Did I mention the views?
- The bridge!
- The friendliness of the runners and marshals.
What didn’t I like about the race?
- Bit hot? The temperature rose as the day went on, hitting about 24 deg C in the end. Not really a complaint about the race itself, more the unpredictable weather we have in the UK
- That’s about it, really.
Is it a PB course? Not really.
Is it a Negative Split course? Potentially, so long as you don’t go too mad in the first half!
Would I do it again? Yes. Eventually. I enjoyed it, but for me I want to try others out there before I run it again. But I will at some point, I’m sure.
But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely. All STE events are great, well organised, and the team behind the races really like to put on races that are a little unusual but very welcoming.
Is it worth the fee? Yes.
To close, this was a nice race which was well organised, and well received. Chatting with other runners at the end, it’s like one big happy family at these races. I’ve one more race of theirs to do (above half-marathon distance) and then that will be the set done. That is, of course until they devise another race…
Note: No pictures this time. I was too busy running it! And Jon Lavis had a weekend off for once from taking photos!