Race Blogs

A page where we can record our race experiences, those random thoughts, observations, highs, lows and event recollections from everything from 5K to 50 miles.

Dorset Invader Marathon (18-Jul-2015)
Time: 5:28:09 [Bryan]

After the tricky navigation of last weekends Walk With the Smugglers marathon I was looking forward for another well marked/easy to follow White Star running (WSR) event. Following the Giants Head run I was also looking forward to the mad humour and surreal atmosphere of another WSR run.

On previous visits to Dorset and all points west I’d driven down the night before and stayed local. However not only does this increase the cost of the run by around £100, it also means a drive down on a Friday afternoon which is probably the worst time to be on the roads. For this run I decided to leave early in the morning instead. Ok, so I had to get up at 4am and force porridge down onto a still slumbering stomach, but the roads were empty. I was past Portsmouth in 50 minutes; the last time I drive down on Friday evening it took 80 minutes to get past Chichester!

An hour later I was parked up and registering. The theme of this marathon was the Roman invasion, (there was a Roman military fort close by), and there were already quite a few runners and most of the staff and volunteers sporting Roman military uniform or togas. The infamous “love station” had been renamed as “Aphrodite’s Temple” for this event and there was then bonus of going through it twice. Twice the opportunity to put on weight and sample schnapps and cider!

Milling around at the start it was already getting warm and so decided to swap my t-shirt for a vest (club vest of course!). There was the usual crowd from the 100MC there; a good turn-out in fact as it was someone’s 100th marathon and there’s a tradition of providing cake!

The race director, in full roman attire naturally, herds everyone together and gives another “not to be missed race briefing”. He warns of vicious nettles and nasty stinging biting flying things… again. Briefing done and pictures of all those in fancy dress taken we line up to start. There’s a brief delay while the Roman soldier on horseback (yes, that’s right), roman solder on horseback gets into position. At the whistle, he leads the runners off downhill – a horse in full charge with a Roman Legionnaire on its back leading a pack of runners waving flags, swords and shields – it’s the most surreal race start you’ll ever see, or at least until the next WSR event 🙂

The first hill climb is long but runable and looking around, the hills in general look less severe than Giants Head. The first few miles are on wide bridleways and rock hard field boundaries which seem to be trapping the heat. It’s only 10:00 and very warm; the decision to swap to a vest was the right one.

The route enters a wooded area and there follows some 1-2 miles of running through trees on a narrow footpath. The relatively soft ground and shade, plus the sounds of birds singing and unseen beasties rustling leaves makes for really great running…. unless you’re nervous… or don’t like sudden rabbit holes… or face-high bramble shoots …

Back out onto exposed bridleways and paths it’s not long before the first visit to Aphrodite’s Temple at 7.5 miles. I resist the alcohol, sausages, cakes and biscuits etc. and just go for some refreshing water melon.

100 metres after leaving the aid station I notice some peasant has dropped a ‘used’ gel sachet. In my view, dropping rubbish should mean instant disqualification if spotted; it’s inconsiderate, unnecessary and jeopardises the future of the event. I’m even more wound up on this occasion as on stopping to pick up someone else’s mess my car keys fell out of my back pack and I only just spotted them when glancing down to the ground just before setting off again… ****ing peasant. Rant over.

The next 5 miles include a long undulating road section. Compared to Giants Head, the terrain is gentler, fewer steep ups and downs and more wide bridleways and farm tracks than footpaths. There are crops fields to run through and some rough grassy bits, but overall the terrain is easier.

I reach the 12 mile water stop feeling tired. Maybe I shouldn’t have spent yesterday volunteering at the Horsham Care Home again. It was only installing hand rails, but it was 5 hours digging holes and sawing wood.

The heat is definitely having an effect; it takes an effort to stop eating water melon and head off down along another long road section. It’s with some relief when I turn off the road onto a footpath, up a steep hill and into some trees. I meet up with three Burgess Hill Runners I chatted with in the first couple of miles. One of them has only ever done half marathons before so hats off to her. They’re all doing the Luna-tic run next week and yes, they’re also planning on running the Seven Styles the next day… we’re all mad…

Struggling now; anything resembling uphill is walked. I’m not alone though as not many people are coming past. At least there are the mad WSR signs scattered around the course to keep spirits up e.g. “Blessed are the Cheesemakers”, “Welease Woger”, “Keep Running Weird” etc.

I catch up with another runner. She’s struggling through lack of sleep as she’s been newly presented with a litter of 7 (I think) retriever puppies. Not much sleep plus one puppy is smaller and weaker than the rest and gets pushed off the teats. She’s being bottle fed… aw…..

I struggle into “Aphrodite’s Temple” for the second time at 20 miles. I’ve allowed myself to get dehydrated. Nothing for it but to stop running and recover. I top up with water and walk with two 100MC friends. I’m taking a couple of sips of water every few minutes and we walk for maybe a mile. Feeling better I head off again. It’s amazing how quickly you can recover from dehydration if caught early enough. Last year at Fairlands Valley I left it too late and wasn’t able to recover; there’s definitely a point of no return. Knowing the symptoms and reacting quickly will save time over gamely struggling on.

It’s me now passing runners and I go straight through the final water stop at 24 miles. With three to go I’m feeling fine again and can run the ups as well as the downs. The last mile has a mildly steep hill, followed by a long flat section through trees before a downhill sprint across fields to the finish, hay bales adorned with roman legion flags!

My time of 5:28:09 is 19 seconds quicker than the WSR Giants Head two weeks before, also in Dorset. Consistent running you say. Well not really. Today’s terrain was in truth much easier and on a better day, for me it ought to be a 5:00-5:10 course. Still, who cares… it was just another mad WSR running event and thoroughly enjoyable.

Giants Head Marathon (27-Jun-2015)
Time: 5:28:28 [Bryan]

Read any runner’s blog or Runner’s World feedback about this race and you’ll get a sense this is one of the best trail events in the south of England. It’s certainly different. I signed up purely on the basis of the humour on the White Star Running web site. As I read more and more about the previous year’s races I couldn’t wait to run this one.

With an early..ish start of 08:30 in the tiny village of Sydling St. Nichols near Dorchester, I once again opted to stay the night within an hours drive. Once again though the journey down on Friday evening was horrendous. It was the start of the Goodwood Festival of Speed weekend so I decided to risk the A259 to avoid Arundel and Chichester, coming out on the bypass at the Siddlesham roundabout. However, an accident near one of the Yapton turn-offs resulted in stationary then snail pace traffic for several miles. Having taken 1 hour 20mins I finally leave Chichester. Traffic on the M27 was all flowing ok until just after J3. Another accident and stationary traffic!

I finally arrive in Poole at 7.15 having left around 3:50pm only to be greeted with the news that “the restaurant is fully booked until 9.30pm”. I finally retired to bed with a grumbling full stomach around 11pm. Goodness knows what time I drifted off, but the alarm went off at 05:15.

The journey to Sydling was easy and pleasant enough, except for the bit when I realised I’d left my phone in my room… [sigh – I need to have a belt onto which I can chain my keys, wallet, phone etc. Wait… noooooooo that’s sounding like my dad].

Parking in the village was easy. Unlike many events which don’t have the full backing of the local landowners, this one does and the farmer had cleared the cows out of a large field so runners could park really close to the village centre and race HQ. Obviously he hadn’t cleared the cow pats; I stepped out of the car into a really ripe pile. Taking that as a sign of good fortune I slithered my way to race HQ to collect my number. Organisation was super efficient – no queues or silly proof of identify (Discovery Runs take note].

The time is 7:45 and its already warm; vest only run today methinks, well with shorts as well, obviously… The factor 30, (and block for those pesky moles) is liberally applied and I’m smelling like I should be heading for the beach instead of the hills.

Back at the start I meet up with Sue in time for the mandatory race briefing. Often these are missed as we runners think “heard it all before”. Don’t miss a White Star race briefing! They are delivered with a wicked sense of humour and you never know what’s coming. At this one – there was a marriage proposal, which thankfully was accepted! The loudspeakers were also next to the loos so you could queue and do the necessary and still hear the briefing. How thoughtful was that!

The race was started by a lady on horseback. Armed with a hunting horn, she sent us on our way. I believe she’s the spouse of the infamous naked farmer who has been spotted at previous races. In the nicest possible way, the whole thing is completely mad.

There was a mile or so of flat road before the first walk break (aka steep hill). At the top the views are excellent with rolling hills in all directions. The next few miles are all slowly downhill on wide tracks. In the distance a bell can be heard ringing. Curious as there’s no sign of a church spire. Louder and louder until the source comes into view. It is indeed yet another appearance of the naked farmer in a bathtub ringing a bell on some tower contraption. Some of the women go closer for a peak! You should have an idea now that this race is unique in atmosphere!

The first of many aid stations is well stocked with food, squash, coke and water. Its hot and I’m drinking a lot, but no need to top up the camelbak just yet. The route continues along hill ridges gently climbing all the while; uphill yes, but runable. Coming off the ridge I’m troubled with stomach cramp. Oh no. I’m scouring the route ahead for some trees. Yes! Around a corner there’s a short section alongside a thick copse. Diving into the trees is followed by rapid relief. [post run note: a short stay but long enough to have been bitten on the bum… twice…]

I rejoin having lost maybe 5-10 minutes as I’m now behind people I passed a mile or so ago. Still, I can now stretch out without the risk of an accident. The running is just great. There’s a cooling breeze on the hill tops and a little bit of cloud cover is helping to temper the heat. At one point on the course, a field exposed to the elements, the wind has blown down the direction signs. I count three fallen over. I spot a high viz vest in the distance and head for that. Its a marshal legging it up the hill; I mention the fallen signs but he’s already been told and is on his way to knock the signs back into the ground.

The course is winding through trees, across crop fields and over streams, and of course, up steep hills. Somewhere along this stretch we pass the Cerne Abbas Giant with his equally giant appendage, but I’m running uphill and through trees so there are no views to be jealous of.

Just before the halfway point the track is really narrow and overgrown. The vegetation is triffid like, clutching at legs and arms for what seems miles, but was probably no more than 800 metres or so. Finally out of the jungle and into the half way point. Time for a longish stop to refuel and fill up the near empty Camelbak; well over 1 litre drunk already.

Leaving the checkpoint there’s a long downhill section on a quiet rural road. It seems to go on for at least a couple of miles. “We’re going to pay for this” is my comment to a couple of runners I catch up with. Sure enough another half mile on is the start of a long, long ascent on a hot stony bridleway. I’m running/walking in the shade of a high hedge as the slight breeze is now absent. At the top there’s a short flat ‘contour following’ path before turning down across a crop field and into trees. Out the other side the downhill continues. I’m running fast, but not as fast as a couple of female runners sporting green tutus. Well you would, wouldn’t you…

At the bottom the route flattens out and the bridleway winds its way along the valley bottom. Having legged it down the hill I tuck in behind two runners I’ve caught up with to switch off and save some energy. After the relaxed running, at a turn to go uphill, my ‘pacers’ stop to walk. Hmm. I’m feeling fine so I chop the stride back and keep running. Ok its not fast, but it is faster than those walking. The uphill just keeps on and on, but having got into a rhythm its actually easier to keep the slow jog going. Through a gate and still uphill across a couple of fields and on to another road section. Four hundred metres later I reach the 20 mile checkpoint, also named as the “love station”. 20 miles, really? In most marathons, miles 14-20 is usually where I struggle, both mentally and physically. Today I feel really fresh.

I can’t quite believe it, but this is definitely the “love station” as its offering cider, pink champagne and strawberries as well as the usual sweet and savoury fare. I indulge in a taste of the pink champagne, a handful of peanuts and a couple of jaffa cakes. No need for a drink top up as I’m already on my bottle of flat coke – hydration, caffeine and sugar in each glug!

Out of the checkpoint is a flat bit before the down, up, down up profile continues. One of the ups is walked. Its steep, rutted and anyway I feel the need for a break. I ask a fellow walker for the distance; just coming up to 23 miles was the answer. (I must get into the 21st century one day and buy myself one of these new fangled gizmos). Twenty-three miles, so about 4 to go then.

Revived I set off again and soon spy the back of a Goring Road Runners vest; its Sue and she tells me she was one of the unlucky ones to go wrong where the signs had fallen over. We’re running at the same pace so stick together over the next couple of miles along a really horrible bit of bridleway. There are long sections where a farmer has filled in the ruts with flints presumably taken from the fields. These are not your beach flints with nice rounded edges. Oh no, these are plough struck flints with razor sharp, angular edges. You really don’t want to trip and fall here. I ease back and walk these bits.

Flints out of the way we continue along what is pretty flat bridleway now and through a farm which I recognise as one we passed through on the out-bound loop. Nearly there and we soon hit the final checkpoint at what must have been mile 26.

A couple of undulations across fields later the village of Sydling comes into view down below. I’d heard about the steep downhill finish. I glance at my watch for the first time in the race. Oh no. Its showing about 5:23. I shouldn’t have looked. Instantly I am fixated on getting under 5.30…drawn like a moth to a light. I can’t help myself…

I’m off legging it down the hill; no style, arms waving madly to try and stay upright on rutted grass. At the bottom there are a couple of hundred metres down a track before coming out to cross a road and finish on the village green. 5:28. Job done. Opps, sorry. I forgot about Sue, who finishes just behind in 5:29.

For those who are reasonably local, there’s post race food, an evening barn dance and a lot of drinking. Not for me though. I have to go back to Poole to collect my phone.

The Giants Head marathon is unique. It is a weekend event starting on Saturday for those camping, with hog roasts, dancing, drinking and eating with food a-plenty. Apparently I missed out on just the biggest ice cream cones ever, (if Carlsberg did ice creams etc.). The whole village seems to join in and with bunting everywhere, the weekend has the feel of a qaint English village fete which happens to include a fairly challenging marathon. In fact the atmosphere and friendliness can be summed up by a parting comment I made on driving out of the cow field and through the farm. The famer was attending to a gate and I shouted out “thanks for the parking field”. His reply? “Thanks for coming”!

Three Forts Marathon (03-May-2015)
Time: 5:56:34 [Bryan]

After returning from Devon the day before, I’d set my alarm before collapsing into bed for 08:00, more in hope than expectation. The alarm rings. I gingerly stepped out of bed… right Achilles ok? Check. Calves ok? Check. Quads ok? Check. Can I walk downstairs? Check. I didn’t quite believe it. Yesterdays Salcombe Coastal was one of the hardest marathons I’ve run and I’m not feeling too bad. No excuses then and I hate wasting an entry so an hour or so later I make the 15 minute walk to Hill Barn Rec and find myself milling about the start area with the other runners.

Yet again, it’s another cold, wet and windy day. Where the heck is the warm spring sunshine? I meet up with Reg and Sue. Reg has just come back from a run around Cissbury. “It’s wetter and much windier on the tops of the downs” he says. Great, another run requiring a wind and waterproof top.

I start at the back, the very last runner. Today is going to be all about getting round within the published “expected to finish by time” of six hours. In my mind I can already see a 6:10 to 6:15 finish. After the first 600 metres or so where the route narrows, bunching forces the end-pack field to slow down, stop, speed up, slow down, stop etc, just like a motorway queue. No bad thing in my case; I’m already enjoying the short breaks.

With Cissbury out of the way, there’s an undulating section to the next water stop, (one of our X-Country routes in fact!). The running’s going ok and I catch up with someone I ran much of the CTS-Sussex marathon with earlier in the year and a lady from a Fittleworth Flyers. In rubbish weather its nice to have someone to run with and in the event, the three of us were to run together for much of the race.

Running along the top of the downs and down to the river Adur, is relatively easy, but I am mindful that for the first part of this out and back section to Devils Dyke, the wind is behind me. After crossing the river there’s a long climb back onto the Downs. This uphill section starts with crossing two fields before picking up a tarmac road which goes to the Youth Hostel on top of the hill. This will be a marker of how the legs are holding up. I normally walk the second half of the first field and first half of the second before picking up the running to the Youth Hostel and checkpoint. Hmm. I had to walk all the second field; not enough strength in the quads to deal with the uphill and the ruts and stones. On reaching the road though I am able to pick up the running again albeit “a bit on the slow side”.

After reaching the top and the checkpoint at 8 miles there’s an undulating section along the South Downs way to the turnaround point at Devils Dyke. These are steep undulations and normally require a walk break and today is no exception! Somewhere along here I see Sue going the other way. It is really misty now with visibility down to less than 100 metres. Runners going the other way, having made the turn, shout out “just a few more minutes to the turn”. True enough a couple of minutes later the marshals at the turn point come into view out of the mist.

After the turn it’s into the wind and ‘head down’ running… and cold. I have a merino wool base, top layer and waterproof outer and not feeling over dressed. It’s May for goodness sake; six weeks time and the nights start drawing in again!

I’m still running ok though the hilly bits are increasingly becoming a challenge. The mist is thicker than ever completely obscuring any views out to sea or inland so the mind distraction of the scenery is lost. After the reprise of the long downhill to the river Adur there’s a short flat road section before the long climb back up on to the top of the Downs. I can’t run the first bit, but I’m incentivised to run again when I reach the free range pig farm. The rural smell is not compatible with a delicate stomach so I press on. It’s hard going and walk/run finally sees me reach the flat bridleway on the hill top.

I manage to run all the way to the next water stop on top of Chanctonbury which suddenly appears out of the gloom. Nearly home. Two downhills and two uphills to go. I glance at my watch; 4 hours 35 minutes. On an easy training run, from here to the finish would take around 70 minutes. Its going to be close…

I have to make the most of the downhill from Chanctonbury. I’m completely knackered but the legs keep moving and I actually pass four runners. Going up chicken hill is an extended walk break to just beyond the curves half way up where I manage to get the legs moving again. I reach the last water stop at the foot of Cissbury again and go straight though. Just two miles to go. I can’t run the last hill up Cissbury though. The quads are shot, no strength at all, nothing. Chicken hill killed them. A slow jog down the track on the other side brings me to the last real obstacle – going down ‘cardiac hill’ with its ruts and slippery wet chalk which with tired legs I have to walk otherwise I’m going end up eating hedge.

Now I’ve reached the final mile of either level or gently downhill. Halfway along my legs want to walk; I look at my watch, ten minutes to go – I keep going. Reaching the road I make an effort to do something resembling controlled running and soon turn into the field and the finish. Hurrah, I go through the finish in 5:56:34. I’m not usually that bothered whether there’s a finisher’s medal or not; today there is and I reckon I’ve earned my bling.

Salcombe South West Coastal Path Marathon (02-May-2015)
Time: 6:24:49 [Bryan]

By accident rather than design I ended up completing my first weekend back to back marathons. Last year I was out from running through injury from mid-April to July and so missed the Three Forts. Rather than mope about the house I offered to marshal at a busy road crossing, for which I was offered a free place at this years event. So a few months ago I dropped an email to the organisers asking if the free place was still on offer. I heard nothing back so assumed not.

This year I’m making an effort to try new events and one that caught my eye was the Salcombe Coastal Marathon in South Devon. I really enjoy difficult, technical terrain running; the more rock scrambling the better and this looked good so, with an assumed gap in my running calendar, I entered the event to be held on Saturday May 2nd. With two weeks before the run a letter dropped through the door with my chipped running number for the Three Forts on Sunday May 3rd. Dilemma. Which to run? Run both? I decided to run Salcombe and see how I felt. I wasn’t confident though. Salcombe was going to be hilly, (4,500’ of ascent) and hard on the quads and was going to be followed by a 5 hour leg seizing drive home before grabbing some sleep and up the next day to tackle the Three Forts with its mere 3,450’ of ascent.

I wasn’t going to make this a ‘day event’ by driving down, running and driving back in a day. I’d booked a place to stay overnight so I drove down to Plymouth on Friday afternoon along with a significant proportion of the population on a bank holiday getaway, sharing a lot of time together going nowhere fast. Why must haulage companies schedule to move portacabins on the A31 on a bank holiday Friday? Why were there road works on the A35 with temporary traffic lights devoid of anyone actually working?

The next day there was a short if early journey to the small village of Bantham…which was actually the finish. This was a point to point run (or walk) from Torcross to Bantham and a coach was laid on to bus participants to Torcross. There were two waves; an 8am bus for a 9am start for walkers and slower runners, (which I took) and a second bus at 9am for a 10.00am start for the faster runners.

All week the weather forecast had been pretty dire for the entire day with heavy persistent rain and strong winds predicted for most of the day. In fact the organiser had issued an email with a few days to go adding a waterproof jacket (not Pertex!) to the mandatory kit list, (which already included a hooded waterproof top and trousers both with taped seams, hat, gloves and more). The event was run under the Fell Runners Association rules and categorised as a “Category B-Long fell race” and the mandatory kit list was, well, mandatory. I duly complied by packing waterproof top and leggings, thicker Gortex jacket, two warm base layers, hat, gloves and spare socks. Along with food and water my backpack was bulging and weighed in at a little over 7Kg. [Post run note: I was therefore a little surprised when the fast runners started to come past in t-shirts and shorts and with at best a small bum-bag…]

Waiting for the coach to bus us to the start the weather was cold with heavy drizzle and the heavy backpack seemed to a sensible decision. On the journey over it was clear most people knew each other and members of various south west ‘Hasher’ clubs. My replies of “I’ve driven down from Worthing” was met with moderate surprise.

After what seemed an age driving along narrow Devon roads the coach finally deposits us at the start at Torcross. It’s a desolate car park right next to the beach and while the heavy drizzle has eased, the sky is threatening and dark, the sea grey and covered in white horses whipped up by a fresh breeze. That wind though is from the south east and as the run is east to west will be behind for most of the route.

The start is low key and staggered as after the short section through the village the coastal path is reached and straight away its narrow and just one person width. Having registered my name and number with the marshal I start my watch, (this is a self-timed event), and leave with a small group of walkers. With the start on the beach, the first climb is reached within minutes. The path weaves its way around gulleys and ridges with steep drops down to the sea on one side and a rock face on the other looking up to the cliff top.

The drizzle has given way to a light mist and the clouds are lifting with hints of blue showing though. I’m hot so dispose of gloves and a mid layer; the doom and gloom forecast of heavy continuous rain and strong winds appears misplaced. At around mile 4 there’s a route choice. The main coastal path swings right over easier ground cutting out a rugged promontory with a lighthouse at the end. Decisions. Easier route or the slightly longer excursion which, according to the route guide, requires some ridge scrambling? No contest and I head down towards the lighthouse. The track to the lighthouse stops by a locked gate. Now where? I back up a few metres to find a vertical rock climb of maybe 20 metres aided by a rickety looking metal hand rail. Another runner joins me, his jaw visibly dropping as he looks up and comments “up there? Really?” We exchange shoulder shrugs and I take the lead climber role, hanging on for dear life to the hand rail…

A few minutes later I’m at the top and looking down (mistake!) to the sea below with the rocky ridge ahead. There’s no path as such and as I stop to take a photo as the other runner carefully makes his way past to the next pile of rock to negotiate. At places It’s scrambling taking care to “maintain three points of contact” with the ground. Two scrambles around and over the ridge outcrops I’m off the ridge and back on something resembling a path. Phew, that was tricky stuff on wet ground and rock, but so exhilarating!

Linking back up with the coastal path again the going is easier but still technical. In places the ’path’ is a jumble of wet rock slabs, more resembling a mountain stream bed than a path. There’s no flat ground or straight sections. The path constantly weaves side to side and up and down the cliff. Descents almost to the beach are welcome but the inevitable climb back up follows. This is just the best running terrain and scenery and it continues for the whole of the first half of the route.

As I approach the halfway point, the weather has closed in. The earlier brightness has given way to thick mist covering the cliff tops and obscuring the views ahead (and down!). Before the midpoint however there was the small issue of crossing the estuary at Salcombe. The crossing had to be made using the ‘one man and his boat’ ferry. The event rules stated that stop watches could be stopped and restarted to take account of waiting for and making the slow journey over. As it happened I arrived at the jetty just after the ferry and with one other runner already on board the boat cast off. Given I hadn’t had to wait and the fact the boat was probably moving at the same speed I could run I left my watch running as after all, it was part of the distance!

Now on the other side, there was a section of undulating road to contend with to head out of the town to the bay where the actual mid-way checkpoint was located. Having registered my intention to go the full distance I continued along the road up a long and steep hill before finally picking up the coastal path again. For a while the path is more like a bridleway, wide and undulating through trees before finally reaching the cliff again. The mist has really closed in now making the air damp; I’m glad I left my waterproof top on.

The first few miles are more of the same, running on a narrow rock-strewn path weaving up and down the cliff. In the distance I can see the path cut into the cliff with a pretty shear drop to the sea. As I approach this bit the path is indeed cut into the cliff and for the first time today there’s a low rock wall on my left (the seaward side) as there’s a long drop down to the sea, maybe 300-400ft straight down. As ‘luck’ would have it, just as I reach this pinch point a group of young hikers come the other way. There’s a sheer drop on one side and a rock wall on the other, inching past we manage to pass. A bit further on the protecting wall on the seaward side gives way to a steel mesh railing as the cut-in path goes round a protruding rock buttress with nothing but fresh air and a huge vertical drop on my left.

The path dropped down to beach level before making the climb up the other side and into the mist again. Now though, instead of zigzagging up and down the cliff face, the coastal path follows a route along the actual cliff top. For a while, the narrow rock path from earlier is replaced with a wide grassy bridleway-width path; much easier terrain if only I could see where I was going in the mist! I had to stop a couple of times to consult the route notes to reassure myself I was still on the right route. Apart from a few sheep, I’d been on my own for long periods after the halfway point.

There followed several more drops down almost to beach level before climbing up into the mist. At one point I can hear the sea on my left and there’s a rock crag appearing out of the mist on my right. Am I running out to sea on another promontory? I can hear voices behind so I take the easy decision to wait! Keep going between the rocks I’m told. Sure enough through the rocks the path descends to another cove where the final checkpoint is.

From here the cliffs are lower and the terrain easier though some short sharp climbs follow. The route gradually gets easier as the hills get lower and the terrain more grassy and the rocky cliff gives way to sand dunes. After running round a golf course and then around a field to another sandy beach I’m looking for the way through the car park and towards the next headland. A runner is coming down the field behind me so I wait for him to get directions. “Which way now” I ask, “I can’t see where the route goes from here”. He spins me round and points to a tent a short distance up the road leading to the beach. “That’s the finish” he says. Really? I was convinced I’d another 4 or 5 miles to go. Feeling a little silly I run up to the finish and was greeted with “you can keep going if you wish”!

I finish in 6:24:49, but this was never about time. It was about running in some of the best scenery and on challenging paths. No medal, no bling, no certificate, no matter. It was without doubt one of the most satisfying runs I have ever done.

My ‘warm down’ run was a one mile steep uphill walk back to my car. That was hard and increasingly wet as the mist had turned back to heavy drizzle again. Back in the car I set about replenishing the carbs ; I’d packed a recovery drink, a long-life rice pot and some energy bars to eat straight away to see me though the long 4hour plus drive home. At this point the jury was still out on whether I’d be in any fit state to tackle the Three Forts the next day.

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London Marathon (26-April-2015)
17th Marathon, 2nd London Marathon and Race number 114th
Time: 3:33:40 [Russ]

A week to go before my 17th Marathon and 2nd London Marathon. Have I learnt anything from the past experiences?………………No!!! I am desperate to get a long run in, my last long run of over 8 miles was weeks ago. In fact 9 weeks to be precise, at the Heartbreaker Marathon. The only way I could fit a long run in was before work so decided to leave my car at work on the Tuesday, cycle home and then run the 10 miles back the next day.

Up early, shorts and T-shirt at the ready, brr its cold. Wish I had my car, my lovely warm car with Radio 2 talking pleasantly to me as I sit in traffic on the A259. What a tough run, sluggish uncomfortable and painful. London marathon in 4 days, the Marathon where I wanted a PB and was going to train for had slipped away. Not much can be done in 4 days.

Hotel booked in the Docklands, Expo Saturday, parked my car near Buckingham Palace about 400metres from the Finish and headed back in race attire to my Hotel for the night. I was calm and soaking up the ever increasing atmosphere of London the day before Marathon day. Slept so well, consumed a hearty breakfast whilst sipping energy drinks and the odd bit of chocolate for the sake of it. I had written off a decent time and wanted to enjoy the occasion and hopefully a sub 4 hour, but with respect to my non-existent marathon training schedule a 4:10 would be accepted.

I stretched out on my bed and flicked on the coverage of the London marathon on BBC. The music, the famous music brought tears to my eyes and knowing once again I was to be part of this magnificent event brought a few little butterflies to my stomach. It looked horrid at the start with wind and rain coming down, Greenwich Park looked deserted apart from the man in a Pink dress who was being interviewed. I decided to relax a bit more and stretched back for another 30 minutes.

Time to make my 8 minute journey to Greenwich, I left the hotel which was at mile 18 enroute. The barriers were up and people were already amassing in support of their friends and loved ones. Greenwich station was expectedly packed with the normal Rhinos, Bottle of Beers and Bananas mixed in with the toilets, dinosaurs and other costumes. You have to admire these nutters. I walked past the ‘Cool Runnings’ bobsleigh team and an Evil Kineval both of which I had never seen before and was very impressed. However this was shattered a few minutes later when I saw another Evil Kineval weeing up a tree!!!

Blue Start, Pen 3 was full up with 10 minutes to go, I wasn’t bothered for today I was enjoying the occasion and decided to start from the back of my pen. The elites were being announced and decided to get ready. We walked around the roundabout and there was the start. Emotions always run high, but this is so special. I fought back the lump in my throat as I saw a guy with an Epilepsy Action vest and ‘In Memory of my Princess’ on the back above a picture of a girl about 5 years old.

We were off, the cheers and noise generated is immense, I knew this would be consistent through virtually the whole course. I was so looking forward to Cutty Sark about 6 miles as this was closed off in 2011 when I ran London the first time. The mile alerts on my Garmin were too quick, I wanted a sub 4 and knew it was too be tough due to my lack of training. Mile 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 too fast and each time I thought I slowed but obviously I hadn’t. Cutty Sark was fantastic people 10 deep all around. A guy in front shouted High Five and ran the edge hitting hundreds of hands to cheers and jubilation of the support. I was going to try that…later.

The chatter of runners slowly dies as people start to focus and pain kicks in, people drop off, people limp off, people stop, people walk. Me, I was happy I felt comfortable but knew I had started quick and was going to pay for my exuberance around Canary Wharf. The miles were ticking off well, I maintain my pace and felt good as we turned the corner and BOOM Tower Bridge and noise, people colours, music. You cannot help but smile and wave. I know…. High Five entered my head!!! I drifted to the left, to the edge and shouted High Five, the cheers were great as I put my hand out and was greeted by scores of hands coming out to urge me on. The boost you get takes away the aches and spurs you on.

Docklands and the first bit of pain enters the dreaded knee. I put my head down focused on the blue marks on the road which indicate the marked 26.2mile route and pushed on. The pain eases and miles tick by Mile 16, 17, 18 only 8 to go. I feel good I am on for a decent time here. Once Mile 20 is met and with only 10K to go I am going to push, I am going for a quicker steady finish. Runners all around are suffering and suffering badly. People are pulling out and stopping, so many walkers now. A guy stops dead in front of me and walks straight into my path without looking. Nothing I could do but hit him shoulder to shoulder I win, I shout sorry but in my head I say ‘cock’.

You know you are nearly there as you immerge from the tunnel and are on the embankment. The crowds here are again 10 deep on both sides with screams of delight and cheers. I was desperate to get away from ‘Alex’ as I have put up with ‘Go ON Alex’, Come on Alex’ ‘Nearly there Alex’. I looked around to see Alex, what is the attraction of bloody Alex. I was expecting a Buzz Lightyear costume or similar but no…..Alex was one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen, she came alongside me and I glimpsed at this perfectly formed runner. Mile 24 and she looked like she stepped out of a beauty salon. She was in front for a bit and I tried to pick fault in this amazing person. Perfectly toned and stunning, not a bead of sweat and travelling well. I thought, obviously doesn’t try hard enough! And quickly passed this amazing girl. I bet she snores or something.

Big Ben getting closer London Eye to my left, lets quicken. Parliament, Westminster, Birdcage Walk lets quicken. I am there I am nearly there I must be 3:40 or something similar I was flying. Buckingham Palace right in front of me, the clock, the finish clock 3:33:30, 3:33:31, 3:33:32 oh god what a marathon, what an amazing day. The finish line, its all over its finished. I didn’t want to finish, I wanted more I wanted to carry on. I wanted to be on the Downslink with Lancing College in view.

The goody bag bulging, the weighty medal around my neck I headed away from the crowds. I was content so content. I was beaming what a truly marvellous day. But how on earth had I managed 3:33:40 with hardly no training. Was it the fact that I hadn’t trained? Was it because I set off with no ‘high’ expectations? The mysteries of Marathon running. Maybe it was just my day.

My official time 3:33:40 my second quickest Marathon.

Spitfire 20 (20M) (29-March-2015)
Total Time : 3:01:53 [Sue]

OMG – I am one 10 mile lap down with another lap to go and I cannot remember any sane or good reason why I decided to sign up to race today. I was oblivious to the fact that I was going to be running around the Top Gear race track but I am definitely informed now – it is almost 3 miles of open unsheltered hell. The wind is fierce and rain cold and driving. The first lap was not too bad – adjusting to the cold within the first mile and the wind was strong but ok. It may have helped that on the first lap of the track we were all pretty much bunched together which offered shelter. Now, at the half way point with all the 10 milers peeling off to the right and the 20 milers strung out, it is hideous. It is also very clear that the finish is going to be into the wind, which is growing stronger by the minute.

Once off the airstrip the route is nice enough – a peaceful village and some pretty country lanes. It is a lot hillier than I expected, but being a two lap race I am prepared on the second lap for what’s in store. It is also all road and pavement – after Hastings half last week, all road and pavement as well, I am now starting to miss the muddy fields that are the usual race track for us GRR’s – all good training for a road marathon though!

The event is very well supported with laden food stops and encouraging marshals braving the wind and rain. The stops do become a little hazard zone themselves as plastic cups are flying all over the place – I seriously do not envy the clear up after wards. The lanes are also strewn with twigs and branches so eyes are barely lifting off the floor to look around – too many stumbling and tripping points for my liking. I am clumsy at the best of times. I have tagged onto a guy in bright orange trainers who is running at a good pace – am pacing happily behind him until he starts spitting all over the place – I decide not to risk the wind blowing it back at me and pass him quickly – gross!!

My recent race strategy is targeting – always have a target – catch and pass and then move on to the next target. It helps keep my pace and takes my mind off any aches and pains that may be developing! However, stick some hills in front of me and it becomes a game of tag with the same target – I pass them going down – they pass me going up – I have got to get better at running up hills! I finally pass my target again on the downhill and push on leaving her well behind me on the flat – I catch up with the next runner/target, he is wearing weird white covers over his trainers – it looks like he’s wearing moon boots – I run alongside him for a while but the boots/trainers are just too much of a distraction – I speed up to pass him and it is not long before he tails off, as I round the bend up ahead I notice that he has dropped to a walk – maybe his shoes are as heavy as they look?!

The race seems to pass relatively quickly and before I know it I am at mile 18 and know there is one more hill to get up and over, I check my watch – my target of a sub 3 hours is within reach, only just, but definitely within reach. I push on up the hill – calves are burning now and I am passed by a guy puffing as much as I am – I fall in behind him and try to match his pace. Then it’s the flat round and back onto the airstrip. It’s like hitting a solid wall – nearly bringing me to a standstill. I risk a glance up and immediately my eyes start watering as the wind hits them – the guy ahead of me looks like he’s running on the spot and I am in no doubt that I probably look exactly the same. A few hardy supporters and race finishers along the strip shout out ‘Just keep your head down and push on!’ It’s exhausting work and seems to take forever to cross the finish line. Grrrrrrr 3:01:53 so close – now if the wind had been behind me…………………………

On a final note – one of the loveliest things I found with this race is that the race director was on the finish line and as I crossed to finish he approached to shake my hand and congratulate me. He did this to the guy before me and the guy after me and I believe every finisher. A wonderful touch that I really appreciated at the end of a tough race, along with the free chocolate and marvellous bling of course 

LDWA South Downs Challenge Marathon (28M) (29-Apr2015)
Total Time : 6:50:00 [Bryan]

The Beaufort scale description of a force 8 gale reads: “Breaks twigs off trees; generally impedes progress”. At times today the wind was such that it “generally prevented progress”…

On the drive over to East Dean I used the A27 from Worthing to Brighton and turned off just before Glynde to head for the coast road. Glynde was the halfway point for today’s run and at the foot of the downs below Firle Beacon… if only you could see it. The tops of the South Downs were shrouded in heavy mist and low cloud and the monotone grey was belying the wind strength as there weren’t any features in the mist to judge speed.

I arrived at the start at East Dean just as the main pack of walkers was leaving; it looked a small field. When registering I asked if many people had not turned up. Around 50 was the reply which represented about a third of the advance entries. Mind you, there were a few sturdy souls who actually registered on the day!

I set off at 10:00 with the small group of runners, maybe 15-20 and am soon on my own at the back. No worries though as I pretty much know the whole route by heart and even with the later start I still have 9 hours to complete.

East Dean is in the lee of the downs and so relatively sheltered from the wind. It wasn’t until reaching the top of the first hill that the true wind strength became apparent. Running along the flat hill top was comparable to ‘hill work’. It was going to be a hard run…

On reaching the cliff edge (the Seven Sisters) the sea was as grey as the sky and a mass of white horses; the salt spray coated my glasses in seconds which were consigned to the back pack. Progress at the top of each ‘Sister’ was hard going which, with the steep uphills and tricky descents, meant no real rhythm was maintained until the point where the route headed inland down to the Cuckmere Valley. At last out of the worst of the wind and on crossing into Friston Forest I’m warm enough to discard the windproof shell.

Down the two flights of steps and on into Litlington where the route follows the river bank for 800 metres; progress is steady but slow. Now there’s a long but runable climb up onto the Downs again before turning off and heading down a valley into the first checkpoint at Norton (9.6M). Before the descent I don the wind jacket again as the route is straight into the teeth of the strengthening wind.

After the checkpoint there’s the final flat section of the route. Its short and sheltered and soon gives way to the first long climb up to Firle Beacon. The wind is coming from the side now, (maybe 8 o’clock), and more of a hindrance then help. The gusts are pushing me across the path and I’m keeping well to the left away from the barbed wire fences.

At the top there’s a rapid descent down into checkpoint 2 at Glynde (14.2M). It’s an extended stop as I decide to change my socks. I caught the weather forecast just before I left in the morning and there was rain expected from midday onwards, hence I had started the day with waterproof socks. To be honest I don’t find them that comfortable; there’s a seam right across the toes so I swapped them for my favourite ergonomic trail socks. I also had a change of gloves; the mist was heavier than I thought and the first pair was now wet through. (I’d come prepared for the worst, at least rain-wise: three pairs of socks, four pairs of gloves and a spare mid-layer).

I left Glynde at about 13:30 and starting the climb back up to Firle Beacon again. The wind seemed to be getting even stronger. There was a stretch of maybe two hundred metres next to a hedge line with tall trees. The bridleway is strewn with twigs and each gust is greeted with groans from the trees. I make a concerted effort to pass this section quickly.

After the steep lung busting climb back onto the South Downs Way the gale is now really howling. Straight line progress is impossible and I’m constantly being blown 2 or 3 metres to my left. Having been a keen boat fisherman a lifetime ago I can make a reasonable guess as to wind strength. Force 5 was the most we’d ever go out in. The was, I reckon, a steady force 8 gusting to force 9-10 at each of the valley heads which funnel the wind up and over the tops of the downs. [Post run note: the meteorological data indicated the strongest winds were between 13:00 and 15:00, just as I hit the top of the downs again].

The hood on my jacket is flapping so hard and loud I’m anxious about getting ‘rock concert’ ringing in my ears for the rest of the week! Then there were a couple of gates to be negotiated which opened towards me. At one, it took all my strength to pull the gate open enough to get behind it and push it fully open to let a couple of walkers behind me come through.

After three miles of being side-swiped by the gale, it’s a huge relief to drop down into Alfriston. My fingers were cold, but stopping on top of the downs would probably have resulted in me losing the contents of my backpack. Now out of the wind I swap gloves again, two pairs this time; waterproof outers with merino wool liners…bliss.

Checkpoint three (21.2M) is just after Alfriston and located on higher ground. I felt really sorry for the marshals here. Not only were they having to cope with being buffeted by the gale, they were also downwind of a particularly ripe manure heap.

After the checkpoint there’s another climb up to the top of the Downs again and another battering ensues. Thankfully it’s a shorter leg along the very top and I’m soon dropping down into Jevington and relief from the gale again.

The climb out of Jevington is long and slow. Because of the lie of the land the wind is bearable, but the bit I have been dreading is about to follow. At the top the route turns off the South Downs Way and heads back towards the coast, almost straight on into the gale. I walk the first hundred metres, but the thought of taking over an hour to do the last 2 and a bit miles is enough to spur a slow jog.

About half way along either there’s shelter from a nearby ridge or the wind is abating. Spirits lift and I’m able to lift the pace and maintain some sort of rhythm. I finish 6 hours 50 minutes, some 30 minutes slower than in previous years, but given the testing conditions I’m not too disappointed.

Portland Coastal Marathon (15-Feb-2015)
Total Time : 5:54:10 [Bryan]

I’ve been running the same old runs for the last five years or more so this year I’m going to try out some new ones even if it means travelling that bit further. This run was the Portland Coastal marathon. To be honest though it wasn’t a completely new run. Several years ago the EnduranceLife team staged a run around Portland Bill consisting of two clockwise laps incorporating two half mile stretches running along Chesil Beach.

This event was staged by the Bustinskin bunch who organise triathlons as well as individual cycling, swimming, running events. Their take on the marathon course was to run the first lap clockwise, then at the halfway point turn around and run the second leg anti-clockwise. Importantly it didn’t include the dreaded bit along the pebbles of Chesil Bank.

I thought I’d give myself an easy start to the day by staying at the Premiere Inn in Weymouth. However, staying at the hotel with its thin walls and echoey corridors on Valentines night wasn’t the smartest decision I’ve ever made. I must have got some sleep as I woke with a start at 6.30am.

Just a short 15 minutes drive to the race HQ at the Sailing Academy found me parked up and ready to go at 09:00. Its a small field, maybe 70 runners or so. The skies were clear and the sun up, but there was a cool breeze coming off Weymouth Bay so several layers were required.

Probably no more than half a mile in came the first steep climb. No sense in expending too much energy early on; an early walk break. I started at the back and am around 200 metres behind the next runner. I may be walking, but over the years I reckon I’ve developed the rhythm and stride to walk faster than I can run up steep hills. By the top I’ve made the ground up and joined the rest of the back markers.

I remembered from last time the first couple of miles were uninspiring, but soon, after the first checkpoint, the route plummets down steep, slippery limestone slab steps to the Coastal Path below. At the bottom, the path is wide and flat….and warm. Sheltered from the sea breeze its still and really pleasant. Off comes the outer windproof jacket.

The path is on a platform with a cliff on the right and cliff on the left dropping down to the rocks and deep blue sea below. The wide path continues for a mile or so before coming to a long flight of steep concrete steps down to a small cove below. I made a mental note that these step would be going UP at around mile 22 on the return leg.

The steps on the other side were limestone slabs winding up to the platform again between upper cliffs and the sea below. The wide, easy running path was gone though replaced with a narrow and more technical trail as the path became boulder strewn and weaved in and out of rocky outcrops. It would have been difficult to see where the path actually went were it not for the yellow arrows sprayed on the rocks. Its great running though; something different from grassy paths and bridleways. Must admit to stopping frequently to take pictures… which made me last again!

There’s a short climb up the ‘upper’ cliff to the road above and a few hundred metres of flat grass running before returning to the rocky coastal path. The route is still weaving in and out of rock outcrops though the ground is a little easier though progress is still slow. Soon Portland Bill lighthouse appears in the distance where the second checkpoint is at about 6 miles. Each checkpoint has coke (though not flat!) as well as water and jelly beans.

I’m remembering the course quite well. The next couple of miles are uphill, though very runable before returning to the cliff path again, this time on the west of the island and very close to the cliff edge with a near vertical drop of 200-300 feet down to the rocks and sea below.

It’s still warm and the early morning breeze has gone. The sea is calm and Chesil Beach and Weymouth are visible in the distance. The path twists and turns through small ‘canyons’ and gulleys. There are a couple of deviations away from the coastal path, presumably to avoid rock falls. The deviations call for some rock scrambling!

The coastal path comes to an end at the top of a steep, I mean really steep descent to the town below. As I am gingerly making my way down, one of the half marathon runners comes hurtling down; if he had fallen it would have been ugly…

Through the town and onto the part of the course I’d been dreading. A roughly 1 mile run alongside the road to the bridge at the far end of the road causeway, under the road and back up the other side to the half way and turn point. Noisy and unpleasant after the silence and spectacular scenery on the other side of the island. I go though halfway in 2 hours 50 minutes. Oh dear, the six hour cut off is looking ominous.

The race director had said the 6 hours was discretionary, especially after it was originally seven hours, but the organisers put the start back an hour to allow a longer lie in after Valentines evening. Still, I hate finishing after the stated cut off time, even if times would be recorded in the results if finishing after this time.

Back along the dreary road section, through the town and up the steep climb. I’ve picked a few places up and am no longer the back marker and looking behind at the top, there’s no-one in sight now behind me. Being the reverse course now there’s a long gradual drop down to the lighthouse, picking off two more runners as I go.

It’s nice to be back on the coastal path again and the route’s easier to follow the second time around, even though I’m coming at it from the other direction. The short road section is easily run and pace maintained until I get to those concrete steps. Yup, as hard as I thought they’d be. At the top the route picks up the wide path, now slightly downhill and I’m able to pick the pace up again. Three more runners passed.

Up the steep climb to the final checkpoint. About two and a half miles to go and 40 minutes to the 6 hour limit. Head down and up the last uphill section passing another runner. Going quite well now, well enough for a marshal to yell out “slow down on the steps”. Down the slippery grassy slope to the road, turn left to reach a roundabout.

For the first time on the whole route the signage lets me down. No arrows. Is it left, right or straight on? I have no idea. I turn right and 300 metres later it’s looking like a dead end. Damn. I turn around and head back and flag down a car to ask directions to the sailing academy. Back to the roundabout and turn right they said.

Its mile 25 and a bit and I’m under 10 minute mile pace. At the roundabout I meet two more runners. They’d turned left and gone around 400 metres before doubling back. Ten minutes to go. I up the pace again and finish in 5:54:10. A close shave and would have been easier save for the last minute excursion. I was pleased though I had plenty left in the legs when called upon.

A nice run, the coastal path section makes it worthwhile and well organised apart from the last minute deviation, though I (and others) could have been tired and simply missed the signs.

Wait – did I really just complete a run without any incidents?

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Punchbowl 30Mile Marathon (08-Feb-2015)
Total Time : 7:27:08 [Bryan]

After losing bits of my car’s under-body protection at the Surrey Tops event back in September, this was always going to have to be an early start to bag a place in the village rather than try and park on the ridiculously high grass verge.

The alarm went at 04:30. The day didn’t start well. In the middle of bathroom duties a nose bleed… I didn’t feel it at first, only when I noticed the sink going pink did I wipe my nose with the back of my hand. Bright red and the bleeding didn’t stop for maybe 15 minutes.

Luckily I’d got everything ready the night before and I wasn’t set back too much, so 06:45am saw me parked up and lying in the back of my car on a sleeping bag listening to the dawn chorus which was loud; I was surrounded by tall trees and bushes. The flask of tea seemingly went straight through me so having been forced to ‘step outside’ I decided it was time to change and make my way to the HQ. I got there just as the walkers were leaving so the hall contained just a handful of other early start runners.

Many exchanges of nods and waves going on as it’s the same faces at these events; the same driven runners many of them running marathons or longer on consecutive days. I know or at least recognise most of the other early start runner. After gulping down another mug of tea, its now 07:50, fully light and time to leave.

This year, like last, we are running the course “the other way round” which I think I prefer since if the weather’s bad and the ground waterlogged you get the worst ground conditions out of the way early on. Only good in the wet though if you carry spare dry socks!

No such worries today. The weather’s good with a temperature of around 6’C, dry, still and cloudy though there are patches of blue appearing already. Ten minutes in and I feel a trickle down my nose. Thinking its just ‘runny’, a footballers nose-clear results in a spray of blood. Marvellous – there’s always something these days – it really would be nice to have a non-eventful run.

I walk for 10 minutes and its still bleeding so I stop completely and pinch hard. Then I resort to rolling up bits of wet-wipes and stuffing them up the nostril. That seemed to work so I start running again. Passing a group of walkers I cover my nose by pretending to rub it.

These first few miles are through woods and trees and very pleasant running even more so once I discarded the nose ‘plug’. After the trees comes a long stretch across open heathland on sandy soil (the horrid bit when its wet and windy) across THURSLEY COMMON. It really is like trying run on soft beach sand in places.

After the nose bleed false start its going well. The field is spread out and I’m mostly running on my own. Ten miles in sees the first checkpoint. I decline another mug of tea and break open the snacks I’m carrying. It takes discipline not to gorge on the spread laid out at the LDWA checkpoints. I do take a couple of handfuls of peanuts though, and my first salt capsule.

The next few miles are again through alternating fields and woods; really nice running especially now the sun has broken through. Through thick woodland then the vista opens out at the top of Crooksbury Hill. It is a brilliant view across the North Downs and it even feels warm in the milky shine. A group of us stop for a photo opportunity and to take on some food (aka chocolate!).

The route plunges down the other side reaching the River Wey. Last year the route here was flooded with knee deep wading required. This year its bone dry along the road, one of very few ‘metalled’ surfaces today. Checkpoint #2 soon reached in good time (there’s a cut off here and if the time isn’t made, you have to switch to the shorter 20mile route).

I got chatting to one of the walkers at the checkpoint but he left fairly promptly while I stayed for a mug of tea and a couple of sandwiches. I caught him up at the golf course where last time I took the wrong route and was accosted by some irate golfers. Not wishing to push my luck again I decided to walk with him for a bit. Soon that ‘bit’ had turned into a mile or more. Strange how small talk can occupy so much time! That said, much of the bridleway through the golf course was on deep sand and running would have been hard going.

Soon we reach a tedious section along Kettlebury Ridge which is 1.3 miles of trudging along a tree lined bridleway, the trees shielding any views so its a case of staring at your shoes and grinding the mile out. I just want this bit over so I make my farewells with my walker chum and head off. At the end, just to add to the hard work there’s a stiff climb up to Kettlebury Hill. With that section out of the way, there’s a short downhill bit and then another long trudge, maybe 1.5 miles up to the summit of the Devils Punchbowl. Its a popular walking spot and with the fine weather a lot of weaving between walkers, mountain bikes and kids is called for.

Having reached the summit there’s nice long sweeping path around the head of the valley before sloping down to the final checkpoint. There was one tricky bit which required more walking; the path was extremely stony, ankle turning material and with tired legs and muscles not worth the risk of running.

Checkpoint 3 was at 26 miles; yippee only 4 miles to go. What a long 4 miles! I passed several groups and all said the same thing – how can it keep going on! It was probably a mix of the terrain and route since there were multiple gates, styles and steps interspersed with short uphill or downhill sections meaning any kind of rhythm was impossible. Still I finish in good spirits if not a good time. Seven hours, 27 minutes was 9 minutes slower than last year, but then I had the gushing nose to start with and a good long social chat for at least a mile.

Dark Star River Marathon (25-Jan-2015)
Total Time : 6:28:50 [Bryan]

I’m picking up the virtual pen again after a rubbish 2014 and equally depressing start to 2015. 2014 was a year to forget. After the knee breakdown at Brighton there was an enforced three month hiatus followed by 2 months of miserable running. All seemed to be going well again in September and October, but then the wheels fell off again and I had to miss more events before a sod it moment and a last minute entry to a run on the 28th December. It didn’t go well… The abdominal pain was ever present.

The Winter Tanners 30 ultra on the 11th January with John went ok, but then we walked the first 8 miles, walked and jogged the down hills for the next 12 miles or so. We only attempted to keep the running going on the latter miles so it was hardly a taxing run but I still finished feeling wacked with nothing left in the tank. The lack of miles in the previous two months showed; the following morning was a challenge getting out of bed and as for the stairs…

So to the Dark Star River marathon on the 25th January. I’d already contacted the organisers asking how strict they were with the 6.5 cut off as I knew I was going to be close or just over. No worries they said, we’ll wait up…

The night before an email was sent out about a “double booking” of the car park at Shoreham by the Run Brighton group who’d informally arranged a run of up to 100 runners starting at 8am. The Dark Star entrants (with a start time of 9am) were advised to get there early. I did – I picked Jamie up at about 6:40 and arrived in the dark at about 7am to a completely empty car park. Could have had an extra 45 minutes in bed.

Registration was quick and easy with only around 100 runners so Jamie and I headed back to the car and with the heater on and a flask of tea – all was good. While getting changed, I drank the best part of a bottle of Lucozade Sport to top up the hydration. Given the problems I’d experienced in the past with such isotonic sugary drinks I still don’t know why I did that – and I was to regret it later. It was the first of two stupid errors. At the mandatory race briefing I bumped into a long time running buddy Rita Williams and after the formalities we took our place at the back of the small pack.

It was a cold start, but with a frost still in the ground the mud was nice and hard which together with a slight tailwind, meant the first few miles went quickly by. Through checkpoint one ok, (with Jaffa cakes and Coke, mmm), but at checkpoint 2 I reached for my salt capsules. Ah, yes, they would be in the cupboard at home. Dumb error #2. I started taking these during the latter half of 2014 and in the absence of electrolytic salts these definitely seemed to help me stay hydrated and avoid feeling nauseous in the last 6-10 miles.

Now the mind games start. I’m running away from the coast right, so it must be uphill. Now my legs start to feel tired and my stomach uneasy. It’s a bit of a plod and I make half way in 2:48 and the good news there’s no sign of the sweeper (a lady from Burgess Hill Runners).

Topped up with a flapjack, jaffa cakes, mini-mars bar and coke I start the homeward leg. I’m still running with Rita and also Liz from Worthing Striders who go on just in front of me. Then another runner who was at the turn-around jogs up from behind and runs with me. In talking I mention although I’m probably last at least there’s no sign of the sweeper. He replies “I’m the sweeper on the return leg”. My tiredness reaches new heights.

Soon we encounter the “up” sweeper coming the other way. She’d been held up helping someone retire safely. On finding I’m at the back she turns around to come back with me. Oh great…two sweepers… no pressure then.

I’m dropping back from Rita and Liz and the frozen mud on the outbound leg has now fully defrosted leaving a claggy brown blancmange churned and re-churned by a thousand cattle hooves and runners with grippy trail shoes. With only ‘light trail’ shoes, (my wide feet don’t fit your mudclaws etc), I’m sliding all over the place and the knees, especially the right knee are really suffering, in fact I’m actually making faster progress by walking through the mud and its less stressful on my increasingly fragile stomach.

About half way back (maybe around 20 miles), the nausea gets the better of me and its time to relieve my stomach of its contents. I make some excuse to my dynamic sweeper duo who were nattering away and dive into the bushes. Its five hours since I drank the Lucozade sport but that’s all I brought up; it has been sitting in the pit of my stomach sloshing about all that time without being absorbed or passed through into the gut. I curse again about being so dumb to have drunk it.

Feeling much better I pass the sweepers again and plod along through the mud. Amazingly I actually catch and pass someone in the last mile. I finish in 6:28:50 on my watch, 70seconds inside the cut off time. I apologise to the poor marshals and time keepers at the end; they must have been frozen waiting for me to drag my sorry rear over the line. One marshal makes light of it saying actually it was perfect pacing. I think not…

I find Jamie who’d been waiting for 45 minutes and forgo the hot food and drink – its not fair on him to have to hang around any longer. Similarly, unless things pick up for me, I’ll have to think seriously about entering next year; its not fair on the marshals or organisers.

Past race ‘experiences’ are on the on the race archive page


May 2017



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