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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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…”

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!

How to do it all wrong and still achieve.

They say the key to a good story is a good opening line. That wasn’t it…

I can’t say the preparation to my second ultra race was filled with a meticulous training plan, coupled with sensible dietary preparations, as there’s not that much you can do in less than 24 hours.

The opportunity to do the race arose, so I took it after much encouragement from friends from running club. What’s the worst that could happen? I don’t finish. No big deal considering the lack of training. So I got together all the things I needed for the morning and had an early night. Well, early-ish. a couple of drinks to wish a friend happy birthday, then bed.

We arrived at the Shoreham sea scouts’ hut with plenty of time. We, meaning running buddy and this morning’s chauffeur Darren, and Stephanie from club. Darren is a seasoned ultra-runner, and after a previous year filled with injury was using this race as a springboard to better things this year. Stephanie had won her place at our club ballot, and was also planning other ultra races this year.

The event was the Dark Star Marathon, which was put on by Sussex Trail Events. They’re new to event management – only a couple of years young, but you wouldn’t know it. Very well organised, and very encouraging to all runners, and keen to ensure the event is completed with limited impact on the environment as possible. Dropping litter is instant disqualification, for example.

This year’s race forecast was cold and relatively calm, with the route hugging the river Adur on one side to Henfield,up to Partridge Green (home of Dark Star brewery, hence the name of the race), and on to West Grinstead by way of the Downslink Ultra before coming back down, crossing over the river and returning on the opposite bank.

My breakfast consisted of a cup of tea 20 minutes before the start of the race. Not unusual for me. A lot of my training runs on a Sunday morning normally involve running on empty. A couple of photos with the rest of the runners from our club (all pics on this blog courtesy of Jon Lavis!), followed by a listen to Jay the race director with some final instructions, and then we were out into the cold of the morning, and the race.

16179388907_f940e3166d_zApart from the first half a mile or so where we ran behind the rope tackle buildings in Shoreham, we spent a good 60% of our time running on mud. Luckily the cold weather that greeted us in the morning meant that at least on the way up it was frozen mud and quite holding, although a little ‘sharp’ on the feet in places.

The first aid station was a welcome sight, with hot cross buns, water, bananas… real food! I greedily scoffed a bun whilst chatting with the crew. While I wasn’t exactly hungry or thirsty, I knew to take on sustenance sooner rather than later. And then off again. Darren by this time had pulled ahead by quite a distance, and we would only see him again at the turn around point. This left Steph and I to soldier on.  I made sure I looked around and enjoyed the scenery and the company, partly to keep my mind off running.

Although I’ve run the Downs Link many times, it seemingly wasn’t enough to remind me how far I had to go before we got to our next aid station at Partridge Green at 11 miles. Just before we reached it, the lead runner passed us on his way back – us with 10 miles done, him with 10 miles left!  Go Paul Sargent, one of our club members! Again I made sure to fill up at the aid station. Conscious of previous cramp issues in other races, i elected to go for some salty crisps to help prevent a recurrence.  And then again we were off heading our way up to West Grinstead.

The turnaround point at West Grinstead also featured the best aid station in four counties that day. I know this as it was manned by our very own running club. It was quite a spread, which included home-made flapjacks, crisps, buns of many descriptions, and tea! There is nothing so good as a cup of tea mid-race. Superb! Steve Roberts, the aid station ‘manager’ and ultra runner too, had the nous to bring some salt, which I sprinkled liberally on to one of my pieces of flapjack. Stay away cramp!

16179666097_eb557decee_z I won’t bore you with the details back, suffice to say the pace slowed as we turned into the wind, and coupled with a rise in the temperature meant the going underfoot got steadily stickier.

The great thing about races like these is the camaraderie in the pack. Everyone was very friendly, and happy to chat whilst running.

We were again grateful to see the aid station just north of Bramber, and Steph went on ahead while I hoovered up more of the food. It would be a shame to let it go to waste…

We got to Bramber and met Karen from club, who was offering additional support for Steph to reach the end. Karen was extremely supportive, her boundless energy seeming to rub off on us.

16339582036_64015b69de_zSlowly but surely the meanderings of the river brought us closer and closer to Lancing College, its large chapel a landmark seen for many miles up-river reminding us of the distance left to run. We passed it eventually and carried on under the A27 viaduct to reach the final struggle of concrete slabbed stretch by the side of Shoreham airport.  After running all that way this was a major struggle.

The reason was that these slabs are not laid flat, they’re always ever so slightly (and some not so slightly) sloping, with most of them seemingly at a camber that threatened to kick off my calf cramps. Luckily I survived the minor obstacle course, and was able to finish with a flourish, in just under 6 hours. A few of the club had stuck around to see the last of their team home, and it was great to see them at the end, as always.

The post race vegetarian chilli and pitta bread was gratefully received, along with the cup of tea offered gratis by the organisers.

The organisers also provided a swag bag containing with a Dark Star water bottle (nice colour scheme – will go well with the bike!), and a bottle of their finest ale. Additionally, there was a 33shake natural energy gel. Something to use on the next race perhaps…

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postscript – the race place I was given was from a fine man, whose wife sadly died on the day of the race after a battle with cancer. I dedicate this blog to Philippe and to the memory of Sheila.