Arun River Marathon 2018

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The Arun River Marathon, Strava Map

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.

Happy? yes.

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.
  • Low-key.

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!

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Velothon 2017

This is an interesting race with an interesting outcome. To say I had things to learn from it is an understatement.

The Velothon. Something to do with bikes, right? Sort of. It’s a track race, but rather using a running track it utilises the facilities of the oldest cycling track in the country – Preston Park Velodrome, just on the outskirts of Brighton. The place was threatened with closure a few years ago on the grounds of safety, but was saved with a grant from British Cycling in 2015.

This is another Sussex Trail Events Race, and the second time they’ve organised it. Looks like it’s a biennial event, although that might change in the future.

So, I entered this race for a few reasons: it’s nearby; it’s a Sussex Trail Event race – they organise things so well, but with a low-key no-nonsense approach; a few others I know were running it; it’s at a velodrome; it’s not the sort of race I would normally do; lastly , to be able to fund the track we ran around and hopefully keep it from closure again.

I had no race plan, other than to complete it in under 4 hours. My training up to it was basically another marathon six weeks previously with some longish runs and tempo work thrown in between.

The entrant list wasn’t huge, only about 50 runners which made things a bit more cozy. They’d limited it to 100 entries, but I guess this sort of running round in circles is a niche event, not to everyone’s liking.  I must admit, I myself have never had an interest in track events, but it was the venue that changed my mind.IMG_1871

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72 and a bit laps – and 73 very similar looking aid stations!

The track itself is 579 metres, definitely not flat, and to complete the verified marathon race distance, you have to run round it 72 times, and another part – about 380 ish metres. The race entrants are chip-timed, so that they can easily count the number of laps you’ve run.

I will spare you the general details of the race, but I spent some time running with Darren Chilcott (long-suffering running buddy of mine) and James Elson, Centurion running race director, excellent running coach, and world class endurance runner himself. He was running this with Darren, in preparation for a 24 hour endurance race later in the year, so wasn’t at all at full beans pace!

I managed to break free after about an hour, as I realised I needed a wee and wanted to bank a half a lap or so to enable me to do this. However, I needn’t have worried as Darren had to do the same thing about 3 laps later!

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James, Darren and me. (photo courtesy of Jon Lavis)

Not much else eventful happened for the rest of the race, other than the fact that I had a bit of a downer at about mile 22, when I just had to walk a couple of times during three laps. I picked up the pace again. When I reached 25 miles, I asked the time-keeper how many laps I’d done.

“69!” he shouted back.

This presented me with a problem. How many laps do I need to do? I had to ask Jay McArdle the RD how many laps the race was – I’d forgotten! Was it 72 or 73?

It was 72. Two left! I had the energy left to do 2 laps, no problem. So I went, ran them, the last corner up to the top of the banking, which gave me a downhill needs to finish at a sprint!

I looked down and turned off my watch. I finished in 3:43:57. Hang on?! 3:43:57? That’s my second fastest marathon isn’t it? It was! My emotions were all over the place at this moment – as they usually are after a race! But should I be happy that I’d just run that fast? Should I be annoyed that I was that close to a PB and not realised it?  At the time the over-riding thoughts were “If only I’d not walked! If only I’d not needed a wee! If only, if only…”

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How fast?!?

As I write this a day later, with the benefit of hindsight, reflection and discussion, I’ve come to this conclusion: I ran a damn good race, which could have been better with a little more preparation and self-belief. I didn’t really think I could have run that well before the race, and if someone had told me I was at PB potential, I wouldn’t have believed them anyway. I was happy with a sub 4.

Jan Lavis, friend and local running coach has a saying: “There is more in you than you think!” It’s about time I started believing it! I missed a PB by 9 seconds!

So onto the usual questions and a couple of others:

What did I learn from this race?

  • Self belief is a huge deal breaker.
  • Don’t give up! A couple of walking points can be the difference between a good race, and a PB race.
  • Multi-lap races aren’t that bad. You get into a rhythm, which for me was three ‘treadmills’ of eating (40 min intervals), drinking (15 mins), and the all-important SCap o’clock! And working out early on that you’re doing 3 minute laps made the calculations that much easier.
  • Know your marathon PB, even if you don’t think it’s achievable for the race you’re doing. It might spur you on to bigger and better things!

What did I like about the race?

  • Nearby
  • Good parking.
  • Sussex Trail Events put on a good spread at the aid station.

What didn’t I like about the race?

  • Surprisingly, not much. I coped with the monotony quite well, and it seemed to be over quite quickly!
  • The banking on the final corner. Having a tight IT band on the right leg made this somewhat less enjoyable!
  • Missing out on a  PB!!!

Is it a PB course? Of course!

Is it a Negative Split course? Yes! But you’ve got to plan for that!

Would I do it again? Probably not

Why? I’ve done it now; time to do something else.

But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.

Is it worth the fee? Yes.  Definitely! All the STE races are!

To summarise, this was one of the lessons learnt races (aren’t they all), which I need to digest and move on from. To paraphrase Jake from the Stephen King Dark Tower books…

” Go then, there are other races than this…”