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.

Portsmouth Coastal Marathon (22-Dec-2013)
Total Time: 5:12:07 [Bryan]

The omens weren’t good for this final marathon of 2013. The forecast was not great, strong wind and showers, but most worrying was the niggling groin pain that manifested itself after a normal and unremarkable club run a week ago. It wasn’t debilitating, but was noticeable when twisting the hips or over stretching.

So with nagging doubts I set off at 6:15 for Southsea. Driving down initially there was light rain, but soon this changed to a heavy deluge with lightening in the distance over the Portsmouth area… great. It rained on and off all the way down and it was still raining when I registered at 8am, but then the skies cleared. The race HQ was in its usual state of organised chaos with bodies everywhere. There were more runners this year and the HQ was simply not able to cope with the numbers. Finally I find a seat and start getting changed… its clouding over again. Michael and Carol spot me and come over.

I’m procrastinating over what to wear; after too many kit changes I realise there’s only 15 minutes to go and there’s a huge queue for the baggage drop. Looking out the window the more organised runners were already lining up in the pouring rain. Yep, the heavens had opened again.

The bag drop queue is going nowhere. I look at my watch. Could I sprint back to the car? No, stupid idea. Just as I finally hand my bag over, I can see through the window the race has started with runners streaming away along the prom. Good job the race is chip timed! I still need a last minute pit stop so when I finally cross the mats, the main field is away in the distance and there’s just a few of us late comers trying to form a ‘crowd’.

I’d already decided to take the race very steady and just get round. The first few miles go ok, but the lack of miles in the previous two weeks seems to telling with legs very heavy by the time I reach 10 miles and the loop down the old Puffing Billy line. As I’m still about 2 miles from the turn Russ, then Michael then John pass me on their way back. The track is covered in puddles, some quite deep, and weaving around the worst of them isn’t helping the groin. By the time I reach the turn the pain is more prominent every time I try to stretch out, so I have to alter my stride to take shorter steps and I notice I am rolling my hips…. its not going so well today.

On the return the muddy section by the bay is even more churned up and the sliding around is tweaking the groin. Ouch. By the time I reach mile 15 I’m still running, (I haven’t walked a step so far), but I have to stop to take some ibuprofen as the back is now aching and the right knee is painful. The shorter and slower stride had been protecting the groin, but the rest of the body was suffering. At mile 16 everything is seizing up and progress is slower than ever. By the time I reach the beach section the tide is in and I’m directed to the road diversion which loops round the buildings and houses adjacent to the shore. It’s no short cut though. At the 2 miles to go marker I ask a runner with a Garmin his indicated distance. It was 24.8 miles so the diversion looked to have added around half a mile, but as we said, better than ending up short on distance.

The last two miles were a slow plod, head down into the blustery wind. About 200 metres from the finish I hear cries of “well done Bryan” and “nearly there”… It was Michael, Carol and John. They’d waited around in the cold and wind – thanks guys, that was much appreciated.

I cross the line in 5:12:07 which was only 1 minute slower than last year. Given the extra half mile and enforced slow pace, I can only rue what might have been if I was fully fit.

So, 25 marathons completed in 2013 and this was probably one too many, but as Michael had said to me last Thursday, (when I was not sure I’d be fit to run), “I know you, you’ll be there”… and he was right of course.

Endurancelife Coastal Trail – Dorset (07-Dec-2013)
Total Time: 6:38:13 [Bryan]

I entered this Endurancelife Coastal Trail 27.3 mile event on the spur of the moment; one of those “why not – how hard can it be?” moments. Unfortunately, at the time, I did not read the small print. It was only when I checked the event web site a week before the event I noticed (a) it carried an “extreme” difficulty rating and (b) the early start option had been abandoned. Earlier in the week, John didn’t help my confidence any either when at club night he, (I thought jokingly), mentioned hands and knees scrambling up hills…

With registration starting at 7am I stayed the night in Weymouth to avoid a really silly early morning drive down. (By the way, road signs in Weymouth are the pits for anyone ever thinking of driving there. Only my homing pigeon senses got me through the town to the seafront road).

At registration to collect my race number and ‘dibber’ I also register my disappointment at the removal of the early start option (to start with the Ultra runner group 45 mins ahead of the main marathon field). The significance of that was there was a cut-off time to reach checkpoint 2 and also to finish. I spoke to a couple of organisers who both said the cut-off times had been extended, but they didn’t know by how much. Great.

After registering I bumped into a couple I had run with on an LDWA run a couple of months back. He’s an ultra runner; she is doing the marathon, but starting with the ultra runners. They suggested I join them… 4 minutes to go… ok… I rush back to the car only to find my Camelbak had fallen over and I hadn’t secured the filling cap. Water all over the boot. No sneaking in an early start for me…

Resigned to struggle round against the clock, I set off at the designated time and immediately walk. The start is at the foot of the first climb up a series of steps, but apparently pretty tame compared to what was to come! The walking through does at least allow me to have a sensible conversation with some of the other back markers who weren’t sure, but the consensus was the cut off times at CP2 and the finish had been extended by 45 minutes, (meaning CP2 had to be reached by 6hours 30 mins).

At the top, the route headed west and the first testing scrambles, (yeah, thanks John!), up Durdle Door and Swyre Head. Think start of the Beachy Head marathon, but much, much steeper and longer… At the appropriately named “Burning Cliff”, the quads are already complaining and not even done 4 miles yet! Thankfully on reaching Ringstead Bay the path drops gently down to the shore at Osmington Mills where the route heads inland and gently uphill to reach ‘dibber’ checkpoint #1 at 6.3 miles. It’s not often I relish tarmac sections, but the next couple of miles on undulating roads was a welcome relief from the ‘technical’ terrain of the cliff path. The popularity of the coastal path means it’s pretty eroded and rough in parts; narrow and rutted and easy to come a cropper on if not watching every foot fall.

The weather is just about perfect; temperature around 8’C, sunny intervals and virtually no wind. I’m feeling a little warm and over-dressed, but refrain from removing layers as I’ve learnt from experience, it’s better to be warm than risk getting chilled. It’s a bit like dehydration; by the time you feel cold it’s too late.

The route now heads back on a return loop to the start area, but this time following a nice flat ridge set back from the cliff path; the first bit of easier running. After going back through the start/finish area (at roughly 12 miles) the route climbs up behind Lulworth Cove, on the way going through the gates to the Lulworth army ranges, with the warning signs about the danger from unexploded munitions if wandering off the designated paths!

More hill top running before reaching some really steep steps down to follow the cliff edge round to Mupe Bay. In the distance I could see tiny specks walking up a snaking path. On reaching the base of the path I was confronted by an insanely steep set of steps up the “hill”. The rise was greater than 1:1, more like 60 degrees up… truly leg busting stuff. A lot of panting and not much talking, apart from the occasional “will this ever end”? I was grabbing at grass tussocks to get some extra leverage. Average speed was taking a serious tumble and concerns about the uncertain CP2 cut off surfaced again. It must have taken 15-20 minutes to cover 800 metres and reaching the top was just a huge relief. However after just a mile of relatively easy running there was a ridiculously steep descent via lethal granite steps to Arish Mell. I was beginning to prefer the ups at this point as the downs were putting so much pressure on my toes and knees.

Of course at the bottom there was another long climb up to somewhere called ‘Flowers Barrow’. Along here I passed a lady in tears. I stopped of course; her knees had given out and she was in quite bad pain. I offered Ibuprofen and ‘phone a friend’, but she wanted to hobble on to the next water stop which we could see below in the distance where some small specks looked like cars.

As there was nothing could do I left the distraught lady and soon reached the ‘descent’. This was another set of even more insane granite steps down the hill. Actually, these were downright dangerous. One trip and it would be an out of control tumble with the danger of catching your head on the sharp step edges. Even the half marathoners who were still streaming past on the flatter bits were taking it gently. Half way down I thought about the poor lady and hoped she’d make it safely down.

At the bottom and 16.5 miles the route splits with the half marathoners turning off to head back. Me, I’m still heading east for another out and back loop and suddenly I was completely alone; I knew I must be near the back, but it was a little disconcerting to see no-one in front of me and no-one behind me! After a mile or so I am briefly joined by the faster marathon runners coming back towards me after completing their loop to Kimmeridge Bay.

Their shouts of encouragement were most welcome as I was flagging a bit by now and about to start another loop section and be on my own again. There’s just the hint of really light drizzle in the air, but still perfect running weather. Past Hobarrow Bay, then the infamous Kimmeridge ‘nodding donkey’ and the acrid crude petroleum smell before finally reaching the easterly most point of the route at Kimmeridge Bay. I pass a runner here, but my inner smugness is soon dispelled when she tells me she is just “ghosting” the run for her partner who is somewhere behind. She’s carrying his energy bars and snacks – there’s true love and dedication. Well either that or out and out insanity.

From here the route heads inland up the hill escarpment and a ridge where it turns west again and the comforting knowledge I’m at least now heading towards the finish! There’s a nice flat two mile run along the ridge and then down to the deserted village of Tyneham before another long climb up to ‘dibber’ checkpoint 2 on top of Povington Hill. The original cut off time for reaching this point was 5:45. I arrive having been running for 5:36 so I made it regardless of the cut off time. All the pushing on had paid off though at the expense of not taking in the scenery.

For some reason I had it in my head this was at 21 miles, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear it was actually mile 23. Hurrah – quick hug for the checkpoint lady for making my day and I’m on my way with renewed enthusiasm, though I am aware of the last nasty hill at Arish Mell and this time going up it… I catch another runner and we comment on the sudden appearance of a cold wind and some building clouds; I’m glad I left the layers on now.

I actually reach the final hill challenge in good shape, maintaining form and pace and passing another couple of runners. The ascent is painful though; more grabbing at grass to assist the climb. Half way up I pass another runner – it’s his first marathon and his Garmin shows the hill is at exactly 25 miles. He’s done for, but with only 2 and a bit miles to go I tell him he’ll make it no bother – one foot in front of the other and hum a song or count down from 1000 to distract the brain from sending pain signals. I’m not sure he heard…

Finally… the top, and thank goodness the route now follows the ridge line back to Lulworth. No more bonkers climbs and descents; just a gentle downhill for 2 miles, perfect. I pass 5 more runners before finally coming off the hills into the village and back up the main street to the finish.

My time of 6:38:13 was unremarkable, but not too bad when compared to the historical combined average male/female finish time which was, as near as makes no odds, 6 hours. I am told the scenery was spectacular, not that I remember much of it. I seem to have spent most of the run looking just in front of my feet trying to stay upright on the descents and staring at a grass wall on the climbs… and all the while head down trying to ensure I made that cut off at CP2. All in all, it definitely lives up to its “extreme” difficulty rating. It’s not just the 4,910ft of climb, but the severity of the terrain! Also, today the weather was kind; in a south westerly gale and rain it would seriously test the best runners. It probably rates as the hardest marathon distance I have run.

On the way back to the car I bump into my LDWA couple again. He completed the Ultra (33 miles) in a little over 6 hours and she the marathon in just over 7 hours. And their next race? Yup, Portsmouth! To the next one…

Click the image and then you’ll need to scroll back down again to here to see the expanded pictures

Gatliff Challenge 50K (24-Nov-2013)
Total Time: 8:43:00 [Bryan]

This LDWA style event has a reputation for mud, something it has come to pride itself on! Last year it rained so much in the previous two weeks the ground was either waterlogged or under calf deep mud. This year the relatively dry weather meant it was likely to be easier under foot though I did take heed of last year’s late finish and I came armed with a head torch this year.

With no queue for registration and not spotting anyone I knew I set off early, which with clear overnight skies meant a cold start. I dislike feeling trussed up in leggings and base layers; it’s losing that freedom of movement that running brings and seems like you’re running through treacle. However, being oversensitive to the cold, I have little choice.

A couple of miles in there’s a signed diversion from the route description which means we emerge onto a road at a different point. This throws a bunch of faster runners off course as the next sentence in the route description said “turn right on road and after 180 metres turn left on footpath. What they didn’t realise was the diversion brought them out to within 30 metres of the path. If they hadn’t been so quick I could have called them back, but off they went. On these events sometimes it’s a case of “more haste, less speed”… as I too was to discover!

The next happening was on reaching a golf course where the instructions said to cross a bridge. The problem was there were two bridges and in different directions. At one point they were runners all over the fairway in Brownian motion (a chemistry term!)… hilarious to any spectator I would think.

There followed some tricky navigation between 9K and 19K where I took some minor excursions mainly through not paying attention to the instructions, e.g. I read as “At top of hill, by big pine tree and gate, continue through trees for 100 metres”. It wasn’t! I should have gone through the gate… mea culpa.

By now the route is running through AA Milne Country and going through a wooded area which was probably the “100 Acre Wood”. It is splendid trail running… trees, clearings and then more trees before emerging onto the open heath land of the higher areas of Ashdown Forest where checkpoint 2 at the appropriately named “Piglets” car park was located.

After the early cold start, it had warmed up and I’d shed a layer. However the tops of the hills were exposed to the northerly wind and it was distinctly chilly again. The grassy bits were also pretty soggy. Living on the edge of the South Downs its strange to me to find sloping grassy fields which are squishy underfoot!

There was a long out and back section to checkpoint 3 which was disconcerting at the time when you come across runners coming towards you! This checkpoint was the main “refuel” stop and I took time to refill my camelbak and treat myself to tea and an egg & cress sandwich and choccy biscuits. Leaving and retracing the loop it was my turn to explain to runners and walkers they hadn’t gone wrong.

After the earlier golf course meanderings, more going round in circles followed when I missed a sign post I was supposed to turn right at. I wasn’t alone though and was soon joined by two more runners and a walker. Judging by the footprints in the mud, we weren’t the only ones to “miss” the signpost. We accosted a couple of local walkers and they said it was about 50 metres behind us. True enough, there it was, but it was leaning over at a crazy angle and partly hidden in a bush…

Somewhere around 38K there was more going round in circles. I stopped to retrace my steps only to see the two runners I was previously with suddenly reappear. Previously they had shot off after we found the correct path, but like me they’d taken the same wrong route I just had, only they’d gone much further on before doubling back. Then another runner and the same walker re-joined us. With a committee we figured out the right route! By now the light was beginning to fade and any hopes of finishing in daylight had evaporated with about 12k to go and only 50 minutes before it was properly dark.

The stop at checkpoint 5 was minimal; just to record my number and get my route card punched. A couple of long swigs of coke and I was off with some urgency. Despite some spirited running I had to resort to stopping and donning the head torch for the last couple of kilometres.

I finished in 8 hour 43 minutes… which probably included at least 43 minutes of faffing about. Nowhere near as muddy or wet as last year, but the shoes were still caked in mud adding weight for much of the course. All in all though another splendid, but tough Gatliff Challenge.

Beachy Head Marathon (26-Oct-2013)
Total Time: 5:26:41 [Bryan]

This is one of my regular and favourite runs. Chip timed, well organised and marshalled and yes, it’s hard with 3500’ of climb… tougher than the South Downs and Three Forts in my opinion and more prone to the vagaries of the weather. A few years ago the mist and fog along the Seven Sisters was so dense you could not see more than a few metres in front of you. You could hear the sea crashing on the rocks below the cliff edge, but you couldn’t see it – scary stuff. Today it was the strong south westerly wind which was to feature.

I’d picked Jamie up at 6.00am to get there early enough to park reasonably close to the start. Knowing we’d have an hour or so to kill I’d thoughtfully packed cups, a large flask of hot water, milk and…. oh no… where are the tea-bags (&$%£!#).
Still, the weather was looking good, mild and dry with just the chance of an odd shower, but this perfect running weather was deceptive as the start venue was on the leeward side of Beachy Head and sheltered from the wind.

Changed and with thirty minutes to go Jamie and I join a queue for the loos. Ten minutes gone, one person has come out and maybe 10 in front. Five minutes more gone and no-one’s moved. I decide to head back towards the car and the trees…

I make it back with minutes to spare; can’t find Jamie. Lining up for the start towards the back, the field looked bigger this year meaning the inflatable start/finish gate seemed further away! I know this year the walkers had to start with the runners mass start, but I don’t remember seeing them in large numbers in previous years.

The guns goes and anyone familiar with the course will know you run about 50 metres from the start line before the 1:2 assault on the east side of Beachy Head. The mountain goats at the front really did run up it; the sensible masses saved their energy for the later hills.

About 1K in the lone piper was doing his stuff again this year, as were the impatient drivers on the busy A259 crossing. Leaving the not so quietly fuming motorists behind, the route picks up the South Downs Way to first Jevington and then Alfriston. The climb out of Jevington reached the trig point of Windover Hill which today was living up to its name. On the top it was hard to make any headway in a straight line and the drop down into Alfriston, still into the wind, was almost as hard as the climb out! The couple of miles after the checkpoint at 12.2 miles and the turn off the South Downs Way were also hard going, pretty much head on into the wind.

It was a relief to reach the trees and relative shelter before the drop down into the checkpoint at Litlington. This checkpoint was packed with runners relieved to be out wind, but also indulging in current buns, cake, tea or coffee as well as the usual bananas, biscuits and juice.

There’s a short but steep climb on leaving this checkpoint and a few paces up, I felt the dreaded twinge of a groin pain I’d been trying to protect the previous week. It forced a limping gait for most of the climb up the hill and for about a mile afterwards. Unfortunately this was the section with the two sets of wooden steps and the steep steps further aggravated the twinges. I catch up with Jamie here as both sets of steps are in heavily wooded and dark areas and he’s had to slow down.

At the top there’s a steep descent before crossing the A259 again and the additional hill climb before finally reaching the first of the Seven Sisters. Walking much of that first additional hill with some gentle stretching gradually eased the groin and by the time I reached the coast it had all but disappeared. The first hills of the Seven Sisters are so steep and in rapid succession it’s hard to get any rhythm going, either up or down. The terrain is tricky too; rutted, eroded and riddled with rabbit holes. It’s not until you reach Birling Gap where the route flattens a little that there’s the luxury of a mile or so of continuous relatively easy running on proper paths. I reeled in several runners along here which always picks the spirits up.

There are actually more than seven climbs, at least nine by my reckoning as there are some drops and climbs within a “Sister” if that makes any sense! Bad news for any first timers counting the hills…

Passing the old lighthouse to the east of Birling gap means the end is in sight. From here you can see the hotel and radio masts on top of Beachy Head which mark the start of the last mile to the finish which gloriously is all downhill. I was aided on this last climb by some almighty gusts of wind. Spreading my arms and pushing my Camel back to one side to increase my surface area I was quite literally being pushed up hill, albeit a bit out of control.

I don’t remember anyone passing me from Birling Gap and I kept the momentum going all the way to the end passing several more groups of runners and finishing in 5:26:41. By the time I’ve collected my bag from the car Jamie has finished and we meet up again in the changing room.

Nice finishing touches are a free swim followed by a hot meal of jacket potato, sausage & beans then rice and fruit with cake and tea or coffee to finish.

LDWA Founders Challenge Marathon (20-Oct-2013)
Total Time: 6:39:26 [Bryan]

After suffering stomach cramps on several of my last events, my entry into the Founders Challenge was a last minute decision to test a “gel free” run. I knew it was a hard hilly event with the HQ at Peaslake between Guildford and Dorking and the run covering much of the Greensand Way and North Downs Way long distance paths.

Talking of being free of something, the drive up was not exactly stress free. Armed only with a 2003 road atlas to find the race HQ at Peaslake, my navigation skills along the white “one car width” country back roads were abysmal. I literally did go round in circles, twice ending up at the same road junction. This did not bode well for following the instructions later. More by luck than anything else and during a torrential downpour, I finally spotted a road sign to Peaslake.

Arriving later than planned, parking wasn’t stress free either with the car park already full and runners and mountain bikers vying for the few remaining safe spaces on the grass verges.

Parking space bagged, I wander down to the event HQ to register and pick up my route punch card. My name was not on the list… Confusion finally sorted, I was under the name of Brian Barney; it was going to be one of those days…

With the walkers on their way, there was plenty of space to spread out and indulge in several cups of tea with choccy biscuits. The weather had cleared with the early heavy dark clouds lifting and with the temperature around 15’C it was very pleasant when we got started at 10:00.

Five miles in it became clear this was going to be a hard run with some difficult navigation steps. In fact I made several minor off-route excursions in the first 10 miles. At a checkpoint I was encouraged to hear that even the experienced walkers armed with maps were finding the instructions hard to follow and had gone wrong. I ran alongside another runner and his four legged companion, (she looked like Jess!), for much of the first half and at one point we reached a navigational turn near St Martha’s Hill… only to find my downloaded route description was different to his which he’d picked up at the registration desk! I opted to follow my companion’s as it was simpler! A marshal later owned up to quote “a cut and paste” error.

The gel replacements of sesame seed bars, chocolate and Snickers cake bars were going well. I had trained my stomach to expect solid food whilst running a long time ago – so far so good.

It was a “me and my mouth” moment at the mile 17 checkpoint where I turned to a marshal and commented “ it looks like we’re going to get away with it”, meaning the forecast heavy showers were going to hold off..

A few minutes after leaving the checkpoint light rain started. At 18 miles and running through a heavily wooded section it was getting gloomier and gloomier such it was actually hard to see the ground… and then the first few heavy rain drops started… followed by a flash and bang as the storm broke just as I emerged onto an exposed path along the edge of the downs. The rain was coming down in torrents, hard enough to hurt and form instant lakes underfoot. Drenched I reached a railway tunnel where a group of equally bedraggled walkers were sheltering. I hung around for a few minutes, but started to get cold so I pushed on deciding wet was better than wet and cold.

I never really dried out until the finish as much of the trail was running through dripping wooded sections, plus, at one point the route joined a road down into a valley bottom before leaving for footpaths again. In the dip the rain has caused a flash flood and the water was over the road and pavement and must have been at least 15cm (6” in old money) deep….and predictably 4×4 man saw it as a challenge and crashed straight through as I was gingerly stepping along the pavement. Soaked from top to bottom; a wave of water over the shoes by the tidal wave wash and chest down from the spray. The venting of a profusion of colourful old English language warmed me up…

I also learnt that my waterproof folder for carrying the route instructions….wasn’t. Fortunately I had already run the sheets where the rain had obliterated the instructions, (see below), and the last two pages were still readable. I am definitely going to have to look for something better. On the day I was very fortunate as I ran the most of the latter half on my own.

I finished in 6:39 which is a bit longer than normal for a 26 mile LDWA challenge event, but considering the number of route excursions and the tricky underfoot conditions I was happy with the time. I was happier though with the absence of stomach cramps so I guess it finally proved I’d become ‘gel intolerant’.

Water Damage!

Downslink Ultra 38 miles (06-Oct-2013)
Time: 6hrs 21mins 41secs [Russ]

Months ago when I saw this advertised via Tuff Fitty Triathlon Club (The organisers are fellow Tuffs) I thought brilliant, guaranteed entry loads of time to train for the step up to Ultra Distance and what a route to run on The Downs Link. The Wye Valley Marathon was part of my training plan, but that is where my training plan ended. A week before the off I knew I hadn’t run above 26.2 miles and knew that it was time to taper, so I did nothing. No swimming, No running, No weights nothing except eat of course, I had to build my energy levels to stand a chance. Every 2 hours for the next week I ate and hydrated.

Race Day. No nerves at all, I was confident in my ability and very much looking forward to seeing disused stations and track remnants along the route. I had studied the route and knew where the bridges were and what to look out for. I was genuinely excited. Arriving at the start I was bemused to see the panic in others, frantically filling camelbacks and cutting up of fruit and cakes into their rucksacks for consumption on route. Compression socks being positioned along with sleeves and vests being adjusted. Hats, Caps, Gloves, Socks, Supports, Straps, Bandages, Talcum Powder, Vaseline, Water belts, Bottle belts, Ipods, Iphones, MP3’s I stood there in my shorts, Tshirt and number belt with a pocket for my mobile phone and a few jelly babies. I felt so under equipped. No way was I going for a expedition, trek, picnic or getting close to the 10 hour cut-off. I wanted a sub 6-30 min that would be comfortable for my first Ultra Distance. 1 minute to go, errmm oh god I need a wee. Too late we were off to the south coast 38 miles away.

The nutters at the front belted off like it was a 10k, I leisurely started from the back I was in no rush whatsoever, I wanted my first views of Bramley and Wornesh station to be a tranquil one. The first mile was treacherous, downhill over a sand and gravel mix with tree roots and small boulders to boot. The dust being kicked up was in my eyes, streaming eyes cleared to see the guy in front laden like a donkey hit the floor, he so nearly brought me down. I helped him up and made a new friend. A friend I did not want, this route was for me to run alone not with a stranger telling me stories of his previous exploits and child upbringing I wasn’t bothered that he and his Dad restored a VW Beetle. I remembered and needed that wee, I dived into the hedgerow and proceeded to hide from Jackanory.

On my way, the field well and truly strung out I was about 60th and with a group of about 8 runners, once the stories started about Marathons and my next this and that I kicked on I had enough wasn’t in the mood. Sometimes I just want solidarity.

Oi, Mate Oi mate, are you doing the Downslink? Why cant people leave me alone!! Yes I replied. Well you are off course, you better turn back! Oh Christ I had missed a turn, hindsight, I thought it was quiet. I scooted back half a mile and discovered the missed (well signed) turn and continued on route. I had settled into a comfortable pace and soon passed the group I was running with previously, I passed a few more and then nothing for miles, just me and the lovely scenic Downslink.

An avenue of trees carving its way through the countryside from town to village this was fantastic. As I passed under a bridge where the track once stood I stopped and took a moment and imagined a Steamer thundering through whistle sounding, lovely. I was an enthusiast for a day. I chugged on was happy and so comfortable. I love running, the sense of achievement it gives, the places it takes me.

Then it all went pear shaped, up ahead, Jackanory. All my good thoughts and being at one with nature shattered. Hang back or pass? I am passing I decided, then pain, pain pain pain, limped to a stop. Severe pain in my knee, massaged and rubbed. I have never not finished a race and wasn’t going to start now. I struggled on limping and trying to ease the pain was about a mile from Southwater and then it was West Grinstead. With platforms and Carriage still in situ I wanted to get there. I was helped by two runners who plied me with pain killers and advised me to call it a day. Up ahead were platforms it was West Grinstead, there was the signal and the carriage, AND AND could it be yes it was Ken and Christina. So nice and encouraging, perfect timing. I so needed a friendly face and what better than that. I supped Ken’s orange juice and was off once more; pulling out of the station I waved and thanked them both for the support. I had a tear, I so needed that boost. The pain was there but was easing slowly. I pulled my emotional self together and reminded myself it was only another 14 miles

Oh god the pain is immense, knee, ankle throbbing wasn’t good really hurting, so uncomfortable. Then the vision appeared in her familiar grey hat, head looking down and normal gait. Welcomed me with a smile and ran with me until I was cured. She knew I was uncomfortable and in pain, I don’t think I was that warming but knew she understood why. A banana and drink supplied and consumed my very own support team of Ken, Christina and Sue. How lucky was I. Sue my saviour kept me going through the hardest most painful bit, I had to walk for a bit, not because of the pain but because I knew Sue couldn’t keep pace with me. I walked for her, it’s the least I could do. I managed to get her going for a walk / run technique covering a few miles. My pains and ailments had all but gone I was cured, I gave Sue a big cuddle and she wished me luck for the final 10 miles. I was smiling as I waved her back to Henfield.

So comfortable, a nice steady pace had caught and passed a few runners, the 2 runners who gave me pain killers too. In the distance a familiar sight was getting closer The South Downs, was getting close to my home town. Bramber came and went as did Jackanory who was struggling badly. I was flying so comfortable now as I meandered along the River Adur towards the old cement works. I spied Andy and Nuala lovely people from Arunners on the bridge and they gave me hugs and wishes of support. Lancing College, Planes coming into land at Shoreham Airport and the smell of sea air I was home. Crossing the river Adur once again towards my final leg to the finish. Dad Dad were the cries as my daughters and Suzanna came into view. Jamie likes to finish a race with me but Ellie can never be bothered, but today, my first Ultra they both did. A proud Dad crossing the line with a daughter in each hand.

On reflection, I must train harder and sort my knee out. But what an amazing route. In 1965 I would’ve passed through 14 stations, today very little remains but the magic and beauty of the Downslink will always be there.

Thank you, Ken, Christina and Sue. I dedicate my first Ultra to you.

Clarendon Way Marathon (06-Oct-2013)
Time: 5hrs 21min 32sec [Bryan]

I hope I am not alone in having one of those days… I finished the Clarendon Way marathon thinking ‘what am I doing’. Everyone has “bad days at the office” of course, but usually attributable to something tangible. However, today it seemed like I had never run the distance before and I don’t remember ever feeling so grim during a marathon.

I can’t blame anything on the race itself. I’ve run it a couple of times before and today the organisation, route markings, supportive marshals and checkpoints were all better than ever and, with fantastic weather seemingly imported from high summer, the scenery was spectacular.

Things started ok. I picked up Jamie and we got there just about right for me, but a little early for Jamie as I’d (wisely as it turned out) opted to start an hour early with the slow runners and joggers. Hanging around at the start it was a bit nippy, but after starting the sun quickly warmed things up and I’d dispensed with my top layer and gloves after just a mile.

Unlike last year when the early morning mist lingered for much of the early hours of the run hiding the views, today it was a clear blue sky with great views across the hills and valleys. Despite the rain of a few days ago, the going was pretty firm except in the many wooded shady sections which provided welcome cooler and softer running conditions.

Through the first water stop and relay transition point things still ok. Took a gel and plenty of water (it was getting really warm by now) and still running fine. Got chatting to a couple of runners… I asked where from… Littlehampton! Arunners in fact… Still running strongly I leave them behind on one of the hilly bits.

By my watch I reached the half way checkpoint 3 minutes quicker than last year, but it was obvious the wheels were about to fall off. I was really aching and seemed to have no strength in my legs at all. I was getting transient lower back pain too and I’ve never had that before. Took another gel and trudged off from the checkpoint. That second gel proved a bad move…

In some of my recent runs I’ve felt stomach cramps about 15 minutes after taking my second or third gel. Today was the same, but much worse. These were the “bent double” cramps that all but stopped me in my tracks. Soon I was looking for a gap in the hedge rows and some privacy as the inevitable outcome was brewing.

Sure enough, as things become more desperate, I vaulted a gate adjacent to a field corner and ran towards some trees only to find the “cover” behind the trees was in full view of a farm house. An even quicker run back to the hedgerow corner was needed along with the hope that all the runners now streaming past did not look behind them over the gate…
Stomach pains sorted, I rejoin the passing runners, but I’m only managing a slow shuffle. Possibly psychological now, but every muscle and sinew in my legs seemed to be complaining plus a sharp pain in my left groin and more stabbing pains in both sides of my lower back. Contrast that to two weeks ago where during and at the end of the Sussex Stride, I felt strong and in control and with no pain or aches at all.

I continue with my slow plod as any attempt to stretch out is greeted with a “body says no”. I did try my alternative energy sources along the way, (sesame seed bars and plain chocolate), and also jelly beans at the checkpoints, but they all induced yet more stomach grumblings so I gave up on eating. I’d forgotten to bring any pain killers too, so along with lack of calories and hence energy, that was it really – a slow shuffle all the way to the finish. Personally I think the second half of the Clarendon is harder than the first, but today that was no kind of excuse. To put it into colloquial speak, “today I was rubbish”.

It was such a nice day along what should have been an enjoyable route. I finished in 5:21:32, about 10 minutes slower than last year and about 25 minutes slower than my quickest time for the course which was set in a wet and windy year. I am now really worried about Beachy Head and whether this is now to be the pattern of things to come. I’m also going to have to quickly find an alternative to gels if the ‘wall’ is to be avoided in the future.

Sussex Stride 51 Mile (21-Sep-2013)
Time: 13hrs 40min [Bryan]

Well- this turned out to be quite an experience.

This is the longest LDWA challenge event I have undertaken and a tough one to boot. The route takes in much of the South Downs Way, the Seven Sisters and just about every hill in the area between Woodingdean, Lewes and East Dean, managing over 6,000 feet of climb in the process.

I was hoping for under 14 hours, but to be honest it was just about finishing and hoping the right ankle ache, which was bad all day Friday after Thursday’s training run, would hold up.

The event was full with 150 entrants; I’m guessing roughly split 50 runners and 100 walkers. The venue was Longhill School in between Rottingdean and Woodingdean and an area I know very well. In fact I knew all the paths and terrain across the whole 51 mile route except two relatively short sections, which would be a problem later as it happened.

We started at 10am… and the hares at the front went off like it was a 10 mile jaunt. I positioned myself at the back of the runners and started the first climb (after just 600m!) uphill to the radio masts at the top of Woodingdean (646’). From here of course, there follows a long downhill stretch to cross the A27, then another climb up to Blackcap (676’) before the long descent to the village of Offam just to the North of Lewes and Checkpoint 1 at 10 miles.

On leaving the checkpoint there followed a flat section, (the only one on the route as it happened), near the river Ouse and into Lewes town centre and its bemused shoppers. A short but really steep climb next, up alongside Lewes golf club, (250’) before heading into a secluded valley. I briefly join three other runners. Two of them are experienced ultra runners, having done several 100 milers and the gruelling Marathon Des Sables. Both say they love these LDWA challenge events as there are no time pressures,(today there is a 20 hour cut off which allows for walkers to average 3 mile an hour and take reasonable food breaks at the checkpoints).

Climbing up and out of the valley, the route goes over the fields around Mount Caburn (490’) and then descends to Glynde and checkpoint 2 at 15 miles. It’s been overcast all day, but I am drinking a lot. At the checkpoint I refill my Camelbak having drunk 2 litres already. Conscious too about salt loss when out and sweating for such a long time, I take some quiche, salted biscuits and a packet of crisps. I also take a gel, but on resuming within 15 minutes I am feeling slightly nauseous. Either the gel is incompatible with salt or my stomach has decided this is a no-gel day. Either way I take no more gels.

My shoulders are sore by now. The Camelbak is the fullest it’s ever been. In addition to the water, I have more food than usual, phone, maps, two spare tops, spare socks, a waterproof, a head torch and a spare head torch. Being all skin and bone, the skin on my left shoulder blade is red raw already. I use one of the spare tops as ‘packing’ under the left strap which eases the pain. My right ankle is also aching now, no pain, just a dull ache. It seems fine in a forwards/backwards motion, but any rocking from side to side sets it off. Not good on all the rough uneven ground.

Having dropped down into Glynde, there’s the long haul up to Firle beacon at 711’. This is a quad busting climb that would test anyone. I am now using every hill walk break to eat a sesame seed bar to keep energy levels up. Running along the South Downs Way I become aware of a pain in a toe on my right foot. A quick check reveals a blister so I change into my spare pair of socks and apply a generous dollop of petroleum jelly in the hope that’ll prevent it getting worse. On the plus side it’s distracting from the ankle ache!

After a couple of miles along the top of the downs in increasingly drizzly weather, (waterproof now donned), there’s the long descent into the village of Alfriston and checkpoint 3 at 21.5 miles. I stop for tea and malt loaf here. For me, this isn’t a splash and dash run; I’ve spent a good 10-15 minutes at each checkpoint so far.

The pattern of the run resumes with a long slog back up to the top of the downs above the Long Man (700’), three miles of South Downs way running before descending into Jevington and the climb out the other side to Willingdon Hill (660’).
From here the route turns off the South Downs Way and heads south towards East Dean. It’s mostly flat then downhill, but into the wind and drizzle which makes for hard running. Along here I bump into Scott Gair who used to run for us. He doesn’t run for a club these days.

At checkpoint 4 in East Dean, (28.9 miles), everyone is encouraged to take hot food. I opt for ravioli on toast followed by crisps and tea. Camelbak is topped up again; another litre drunk. In one of the LDWA runs I do, this is the end of a 28 mile run, but today only just over half way. Still, no negative thoughts at all… nothing. I must have spent 30 minutes here before heading out and walking to the first hill. The walking is helping the food to settle. It’s a relatively gentle climb of just 295’ up over to the Hamlet of Crowlink before heading down to the cliff tops and the Seven Sisters.

The weather has really closed in now on the coast, thick driving mist and a stiff south westerly. Pretty grim. It was a relief to head inland by Cuckmere Haven and leave the switch back hills and mist behind. Following the Beachy Head marathon course in reverse the route takes in the two sets of steps and two steep 100’ climbs before dropping down into Litlington and checkpoint 5 at 34 miles.

After another stop for tea, crisps and a sesame seed bar I head out into the increasing gloom. It’s only 6.25pm, but the overcast sky means it’s going to get dark early. After crossing the river there’s another long climb, (330’), before taking an overgrown side path which is obviously little used. By now the gloom and enclosed path means I have to stop to set up my head torch. Torch on and it’s immediately apparent this is going to be tricky. The mist, now much more obvious, is sweeping across sideways and scattering the light producing a hypnotic sparkler like effect (ah the 60’s…). I am also immediately attacked by suicidal moths.

Anyway…. down in the valley the mist has gone and I make checkpoint 6 at Norton, (39 miles), in good spirits. I make a note of the time, 7.38pm. From here though, it’s unknown territory since the longest previous run was 40 miles. Apart from the down hills when the blister on my toe is pressed on or any violent twists of the ankle, the body is holding together remarkable well.

Apart from the moth hazard, night navigation so far had not been too bad. I had been looking forward to the night running. Its so different; very quiet, eerie in fact with much more of a sense of insulation from the outside world… just you, your breathing and your heartbeat. On familiar paths I leave checkpoint 6 with another runner and we head off towards Firle Beacon for the second time today. Having climbed no more than 100 feet along a heavily wooded path, we emerge into thick mist… a pea-souper.

My head torch is rated to throw a beam 90 metres ahead, but right now in the pitch black the mist reflected the head torch light such than you honestly could not see more than 6 feet in front of you. The route description said “at four way junction continue ahead on path across field at 360’ In 600 yards at post at top of hill…”. Now I know this path, but it had been completely ploughed away by the farmer. Without a compass it would have been impossible to find your way in the mist. Following the bearing we reached the other side emerging just a few feet from “the post”.

Continuing on I realise just how disorientating trying to navigate across fields in the dark and mist is. You have no reference points and trying to judge distances is really hard. I knew the path actually crossed a couple of fields with a descent in between before continuing up hill. It was only when we felt the ground falling away under our feet did I realise exactly where we were. Climbing again, the mist is thicker and heavier than ever meaning I have to dispense with my glasses… now it’s really hard to see!

At the ridge top, (Beddingham Hill 630’), close to the radio masts, we have to make a left turn. This is the first section of the whole route that is new to me. The description said “Turn left onto South Downs Way and continue ahead. In 1100yds at gate continue ahead. Follow faint meandering grassy path as it descends initially 280’ then 200’.”

This was impossible! In the mist, there was no chance of finding anything other than a heavily used or sunken path. As the description also mentioned following a fence on the left. We eventually found such a fence… and on our left. However it ended in corner with no gate. Turning along the fence line the way was barred with thickets. After 10 minutes pouring over maps and going round and round we decided to follow the fence back up the field to the gate and then use the compass to basically zig-zag across the field until we picked something resembling a “faint meandering path”. We did manage to find some sheep, each spotted only by two green spooky points of light, their eyes reflecting the head torch beam. Finally after about 30 minutes of traipsing though wet tussocks, we spot an area of flatter grass in the torch beams. Still not knowing if this was the right path, we followed it downhill and the increasingly loud noise from the road we should eventually cross was reassuring.

Finally the mist thins as we descend and we can see the road and the bridge. Over the road, railway and river and finally into checkpoint 7, (44.5 miles) at Southease. I crack up and go for a bacon buttie and tea…

The mist troubles were not over though. Leaving Southease there’s a short undulating section to reach Rodmell and then the long climb up to the South Downs Way again (300’). This the second section I have never run and predictably its back into the thick swirling mist. We are joined by another runner. Crossing the South Downs Way we head into fields where the route description says “Ahead on a faint grassy track… on 240’ … then 260’)”. Well, after failing to find the faint path we cross several wet fields until we reach a fence where there wasn’t supposed to be one. Consensus was to follow fence to the right as that was in the right general direction. Finally we find a gate, but was it the right gate? In another 250yds there was supposed to be another gate and a wide chalky track. Joy of joys… another gate.

Now I know exactly where I am despite the absence of any reference points. Along the chalky track and then a left turn downhill to the farm and the hay barns I used to play in as a kid. A group of us would sneak into the barns, climb the hay bales to the very top and just sit there for hours… days of innocence…

From the farm there’s another long climb back into the mist, but this time I know exactly where I am by the pattern of bushes and thickets to each side of the path. I’m still full of running and leave the other two behind. At the top (410’) I find the road which I know leads to a pumping station in the valley below.

The other way the road goes downhill into Rottingdean for about a mile then picks up the main road back to the school. Running down the road I suddenly become aware of soreness and chaffing in the nether regions. Its really sore and its obviously caused by the shorts inner mesh “support”. Nothing for it… shorts descend to half mast … and dignity maintained by the waterproof jacket.

The slight sting in the tail is a low slow climb along the main road to the school entrance. No bother though and run it strongly. I finish at 11:40pm for an elapsed time of 13 hours 40 minutes.

That last 12 miles took just about 4 hours… an indication of how much time was lost going round and round in the mist.

The overall time was just within the time I’d hoped for, but then I deliberately took time at each checkpoint to feed and hydrate properly and that paid off. At no point did I feel tired or unable to run (except the steep bits). After a few minutes “chilling” I tackled fried egg on toast and a mug of tea. It might be midnight, but it hit the spot.

Getting changed, I realise the ankle ache has worn off already, but I have a blister the size of Wales on my toe.

Green Chain Marathon (15-Sep-2013)
Time: 6hrs 02min 17sec [Bryan]

The Green Chain Marathon is hosted by New Eltham Joggers, Ryan’s former running club. [By the way Ryan, they all say “Hi” and several comments from the ladies of “such a nice lad”!].

It seems though as if this was to be the last running of the race which is a shame as the organisers and marshals are such a friendly bunch. Being a relatively small field, (75 runners this year which was one of the larger fields), means the HQ facilities aren’t stretched, with plenty of changing room space and no queues for the loos.

As a town based run it’s quite different too. It’s surprising just how many green and wooded spaces there are in that part of SE London. There’s around 40% road running, the rest being off road paths, tracks and woodland paths which makes it a pleasant MT race. It’s not flat however; apart from the 3 miles or so alongside the Thames, it’s fairly undulating with some surprisingly hilly bits in the woods.

When we set off, the weather is calm and sunny, the proverbial calm before the storm if the forecasts were to be believed. I’m running with a group of 5 others including a 100MC member (John… a V70!) whom I’ve run with previously and he’s telling me this is his 4th marathon in 8 days… Suddenly the slight stiffness from yesterdays Seven Styles seems insignificant and pathetic!

It’s mostly flat or downhill for the first 7 miles as the route descends to the Thames, going through three woods populated with screeching green parakeets, then ruined Abbeys, estates with horses and ponies grazing and various ponds and lakes.

The section along the Thames towpath can be a bit tedious if there’s nothing happening on the river and even if it is, if the wind is blowing from the south or west like today, there’s a distinct pong from the sewerage works adjacent to the towpath. Good steady running though and soon our little running group of 6 is just myself and John.

Leaving the Thames the route heads back to Abbeywood and completes the first of the rough figure of eight loops, retracing a small section back to Bostall Heath. From here it’s up Shooters Hill and back into Oxleas Wood. This was one of the more challenging bits briefly rejoining the outward route and the yellow direction arrows could be misinterpreted if not paying attention and looking out for the additional tape and orange spray paint arrows on the ground. Actually, the route was well marked this year and pretty easy to follow without reference to the route description.

Somewhere in the latter stages we are going round a park with what looks like an organised park run for toddlers and parents. Good to see the kids away from games consoles and the TV. They all have running numbers and look the part. We feel like interlopers running along with them… “Look mummy, some big runners”. Actually it’s a slow jog/walk/jog at this point as the hills and particularly the numerous steps have taken their toll on John’s calf muscles… hardly surprising really! The weather is turning now; threatening dark clouds and windy and I’ve had to resort to a pair of gloves… autumn has definitely arrived.

After leaving the last wood (Elmstead Wood) and the last checkpoint (at 25 miles) the route follows residential streets back to the finish. I always forget how long this last bit seems, but then I remember it’s not an accurate 26.2. The stated distance is 26.7, but several garmins last year were apparently reporting distances between 27 and 28 miles.

We finish in 6.02 having taken it very easy in the latter stages and I’m feeling really fresh. The threatened rain held off apart from a short light shower in the last mile. Five minutes after leaving the heavy rain duly arrives and I feel for any runners still out on the course.

It’s a shame if it is the last planned running of the event. It’s a nice low key run, well organised, plenty of drinks and well stocked checkpoints and a varied and interesting course. Looking at the results though, there were just 56 finishers so I can see how the effort involved might be questioned.

Wye Valley Marathon (08-Sep-2013)
Time: 4Hours 1min 5sec [Russ]

I left Sussex the day before and decided to enter the ‘Shortest Distance’ with no motorways on my SatNav. It totalled 158 miles to my destination of Gloucester where I would stay the night at Premier Inn being stared by Lenny Henry. Anyway I put full faith in SatNav and would go wherever it told me. My first concern was when I was directed from A27 towards Lavant Village Hall (The start of Trundle), the second concern was when I was on a road so narrow I had to pull up onto a hedgerow in order for a cyclist to pass. However the worst was yet to come, at one point I was so ‘rural’ there was no SatNav reception and the trusty directions just stopped. I needed back up so discovered a Petrol Filling Station (I think it was a Petrol filling station). Out popped the proprietor and grunted some unrecognisable noises at me (was I in Wales already?) I managed to communicate and purchased some standard Diesel from him, he seemed amazed at my Silver Wheeled Chariot and the lack of horses pulling it. I made a hasty exit and continued on my adventure. Spectacular scenery and quaint villages passed and was at peace with the human race once again. SatNav sparked into action and was nearing my destination in amazingly quick time considering I had followed numerous Farm machinery and Cattle on the country roads. Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire really are beautiful counties.

Premier Inn, Lenny Henry, X Factor, Strictly and some noodles. I was sprawled across my bed with TV on, munching noodles watching excellent mainstream television, I was happy. Until that is when Louie Walsh starts crying I always get a lump in my throat. Running attire readied, Jelly Babies prepped, time for an early night…….30 mins later the feeling that someone was watching me. Lights on, Lenny Henry had to be turned around, sleep time. Why put a cardboard cut out of Lenny Henry in a room?

7am alarm call, breakfast of eggs and brown bread washed down with lukewarm beans, a hearty start to my Marathon day. A question then entered my head and I still cannot answer it. Why do I no longer feel nerves prior to race? Nerves are good they push you harder and make your sense of achievement greater, but I just don’t get them anymore. I miss them.

Arriving at the start an hour before kick off, I was determined to find Jamie amongst the runners, it is always nice to see a familiar face. I went for a short amble in order to breathe some life in my heavy legs, I coasted by the Start/Finish but no sign of Jamie. Back to the car to make sure socks had no creases and free from foreign bodies that would irritate my delicate trotters in a few miles. Popped a few Jelly Babies and slurped some trusty Lucozade. Off to the Start 20 mins to go.

Found Jamie, had a nice chat and before we knew it the announcement of 1 minute to go was blurted out. We wished each other the best of luck said our goodbyes and we were off. The usual hustle and bustle with clipping of heels, elbows and glancing blows were evident as Relay runners and Half Marathoners were vying for position early on. I was placed about 40th and settled into my rhythm nice and early behind a heavy breather from Malvern runners, the niggling knee let out a mighty yelp and was forced to pull to the side and stop. Frantically stretching and massaging to ease the pain, doubts of completion entered my head. I wouldn’t even reach mile 2 marker. I set off slow after losing a few minutes and got through the pain it began to ease and relief set it. I settled back into my Marathon pace and attack some hills with gusto passing numerous runners. I was determined to find my heavy breather from Malvern. The field was now stretched at Mile 6 with Relay runners changing and sprinting off, first lap of the woods complete and what a truly nice run this was becoming. My steady progress whipped through the mile markers and faster approaching the midway point where I knew the Halfers would be ending and the true field would be known. As I passed the cheering crowds and Start / Finish area once again, I spied Mr Malvern up ahead in his Red and Green vest. My target, I increased my pace slightly and was soon alongside. He was breathing so heavily it sounded painful. I spoke of him being my target and my sore knee and how happy I was to see him. He acknowledged but didn’t seem the talkative type, his breathing was beginning to get on my nerves. I bid him farewell and increased pace once again just to get away from him. It is strange what one thinks about when running, but some weird and wonderful thoughts were being thrown around my head.

Mile 16 water station, was in desperate need as a headache had started and signs of dehydration, I asked politely for 2 bottles and they were both fully consumed. We were now running alongside the River Wye having navigated a rope suspension bridge, the views really were breath taking. Kayaks and Canoes on the river, Fisherman gesticulating at them brought a smile to my face. What is the point of fishing? The tow path narrowed and rutted ground was evident with low over hanging branches, this was now danger zone and required concentration, I did not fancy a roll in the nettles or a dip in the Wye. The noise of a Mountain Biker caught my attention, on this narrow path I wasn’t giving an inch. I puffed up my chest and swung my arms, I was not stopping. Luckily he did and let me pass wishing me luck and some water, some people are so nice. I felt a bit guilty of my previous actions and wished I let him pass now.

Approaching Mile 20 feeling some pain, knowing the hard bit is to come especially with the uphill finish of a couple of miles. I then realised I hadn’t seen another runner for a good 45 mins in fact Mr Malvern was the last. I reached the bridge and turned for home, this is the only road stretch it was nice to run on flat solid ground for a bit. Increasing pain setting in my lower back and calves, if I stop at this point it will be a travesty as I know once you walk, you walk and you walk. Got to get through the pain, I kept glancing at the beautiful valley I was in and trying to recall some Welsh from my school days, anything to get my mind off the pain. Gritting my teeth and thinking of anything but legs, back and mile markers I promised I would walk the next hill as a reward for my efforts. Mile 21 and 22 passed, looking across the river I could see numerous runners going for the bridge I had just been over. Looking forward a cluster of Marathoners I had to get them, I sped up, idiot. What was I doing half a mile ago I was near walking now I am going quicker? But the pain eases and so caught and passed the cluster. Then bosh, the hill. Back into the woods nearing home pain all over just 1.5 miles to go, but my goodness no one could run up that. It was so steep it had steps cut into it. It warranted a stair lift. I knew I was close to sub 4hr and originally planned a 4hr30 so was extremely happy, this last bit was hideous and so was forced to walk. I rounded a corner near the suspension foot bridge I crossed all those miles ago only to see Marathoners crossing it. Much admiration to slower runners, to run for 6,7,8 hours cannot be easy. I started a small trot up hill and decided I would not walk again no matter what, after all there was only 1 mile left uphill. There were still Marathoners going the other way with miles and miles to combat and I was moaning over a little hill, come on. End in sight and a downhill section to Finish. Yes Yes Yes, pace quickens and steam over on 4hrs 1min 5 secs. Straight away, my thoughts turn to THE hill, why did I walk it? Cost me a sub 4hr.

I was greeted by the 2:09 team with water, goody bag, Tshirt and congratulations. My 5th Marathon completed and my second quickest ever. A massive feeling of pride and achievement ensued. This always brings some emotion out in me as I realise how lucky I am.

Into the car, SatNav set to ‘Fastest’ and motorways ‘On’, matter of time before leg cramps set in. I promise I will stretch better and look after my dodgy knees, one day the poor things are just going to give up and say ‘No more’. Can’t wait for my Ultra now though, poor knees

LDWA White Cliffs Ultra(08-Sep-2013)
Time: 7Hours 16min [Bryan]

This was a new LDWA event for me this year. It starts at St. Margaret’s-at-Cliffe just to the east of Dover. From Worthing it’s a choice of M23/M25/M26/M20 or the more scenic A259 coast road. At the last minute I decided to stay the night at the Premiere Inn near Ramsgate so with no time pressure, I chose the scenic route. Not a good choice as it took me just over three hours. It seemed every purple rinse Doris was on the road in their Nissan Micras driving at a snails pace…in front of me. At times like this I miss the old Scooby. Into third, floor it, and past with a thunderous roar in a second or two… Childish maybe, but satisfying, oh yes…

A hazard of long drives when over hydrated is the need for pit stops en-route. Busting, I found a deserted lay-by and pulled in. Unbelievable, mid-stream another darn car draws in a stops in front of me. Luckily he’s a like minded soul and makes for the side of his car. On leaving I see my puddle is by far the larger…

Arriving at the Premiere Inn I checked out the room for card board cut outs… unlike Russ I had no grinning Lenny Henry staring at me. I did have the noisiest room in the building though; there was some kind of fan in the ducting above the ceiling making a real racket.

The “Table Table” restaurant attached to the Premiere Inn was heaving; I wonder which “blue sky” thinking marketing suit came up with that original name… and how much it cost. It looked like the world and his wife were dining out. I was advised it was a 30-40 minute wait for a restaurant area table, or, I could get served straight away by eating at one of the bar tables. Beer and food duly ordered I browse on my phone.

I dislike the eating out associated with such overnight stays. With the White Cliffs event being so small, (maybe 50 walkers and runners at most), and some way away, there were no other runners dining alone to gate crash on, so I’m “Billy no mates” receiving sympathetic looks and probably private thoughts of “ha ha, loser”.

I wait and wait and wait and am soon browsed-out so after fifty minutes, (I’m fairly patient!), I enquire where my order was. Apparently it was sent to another table… and accepted by someone. A hazard of dining alone is no one to safeguard your seat if you have to get up. Returning I find a couple of squatters at my table. After a few seconds of staring each other out, they leave “in a bit of a huff”. Anyway, food plus free beer arrived within 10 minutes.

Getting back to my room which was above the reception area and opposite the entrance to the restaurant, the blackout style curtains hopelessly lost the battle to keep out the Colditz style arc lighting. There were also thirty channels of twaddle on the TV so I took my Prog Rock magazine out of its plain brown paper bag for some light reading before turning in.

Despite noise and light I must have slept some as I awoke to my phone clanging in my ear. As it was only 40 minutes to the venue there was time for a leisurely shower and my runner’s breakfast (porridge and bananas).

When I arrived at 09.00 the walkers have already set off and I spot a couple of runners making an early start. Seems once the walkers were on their way and 45 minutes or so had elapsed, runners could set off whenever ready rather than wait around for the official 10:30 start time.

I set off at around 9.50 on my own and despite the gloomy weather forecast it was a clear blue sky and warming up nicely. The route quickly arrived at the cliff top and headed east towards Dover. The path was remarkably close to the cliff edge (!) but that afforded great views of the shore and across to France, which seemed much closer than 22 miles away. My phone beeps with a new message; it’s a welcome message from Vodafone France!

After a mile or so the route heads down into Dover and runs along the Prom, requiring running round puzzled dog walkers, before heading into the town and then climbing up and around the old fort. Eventually the North Downs Way is picked up at the cliff path edge again to the west of Dover. The next four miles are along the cliff tops and where the path seems even closer to the edge… not great for sufferers of vertigo! It‘s now really pleasant running; relaxed breathing, easy paths, blue sky and warm, but with a cooling breeze off the sea. These are the days you feel alive and at one…

I had been running with a couple who I’d caught up just before Dover, but they were flagging on the undulations so I pressed on. Just before hitting Folkestone, the route headed inland for the second checkpoint. From here the route follows a rural loop across fields and footpaths, through woods and back to the outskirts of Dover again. It was along this section where the “overgrown footpaths” warning on the route instructions applied. One path was so indistinct it could easily have been just a rabbit run. The nettles and brambles were chest high and with shorts I emerged from the ‘path’ with legs stinging. Paths across fields were gone too in many cases, ploughed away and my compass was needed to confirm the headings.

Somewhere along here I had caught up with another group of three runners one of which was an experienced 50 and 100 miler and he was running at his “100 mile” pace. I jogged along with them for some time to gauge the speed.

I only made one major “excursion” losing maybe 15 minutes or so after back tracking. I lost my place in the route description and continued heading on a path up and across the top of a hill, missing the sentence with the phrase “immediately before gap in hedge, turn right”. Mea culpa.

Unfortunately the three runners I had been tagging along with had steamed off ahead and were hopelessly out of earshot for me to drag them back as soon as I’d worked out where we’d gone wrong.

After the last checkpoint at about 26 miles, the route wandered through more woods and across fields before reaching the coast again at Kingsdown. From here it followed the White Cliffs Country Trail south along the cliff top including the long uphill climb past the Dover Patrol War memorial. I was determined to run the entire hill, probably the same length and steepness as “chicken hill”, to gauge how much was left in the legs. Serious running now for the first time today; no time to stop for pictures. Passed with flying colours and my running shadow for the last couple of miles was left in my wake.

From the top the route picked up the back roads on the outskirts of St. Margaret’s-at-Cliffe and on to the finish.

Being a LDWA event, hot food was on offer; sausage or bacon roll (or both together!) with fried onions and salad and as much tea or coffee and cake/biscuits that you could eat.

My time was 7 hours 16 minutes. Not a great time for an orienteering style 30 miler, but today I just wanted to enjoy the scenery and weather and pace myself for the Sussex Stride in a couple of weeks and to make sure I was well within myself at the end. Which I was… I don’t think I’ve ever finished an event feeling so strong and fresh. Another 21 miles? Bring it on…

Thames Meander Marathon (24-Aug-2013)
Time: 4Hours 57min [Bryan]

The weather forecast was predicting rain all day. The map the night before was just blue across most of the south of the country… Drawing the curtains at 5.30 revealed an overcast sky, but at least it was dry. I’d had ‘tummy trouble’ the evening before and my hopes this had cleared up were soon dashed. After seriously abusing my bathroom I head off.

Arriving at the start venue at Marymount School near Kingston upon Thames a light drizzle had started, but hardly enough to notice. Organisation was excellent again; quick registration and plenty of space for changing and chatting. Nice chip timing on the numbers too, very discrete. Some bib chips seem to reuse packaging discarded from a new TV or fridge. Worryingly, yet another bathroom dash was necessary before heading out…

Standing around waiting for the start I can’t help notice the average age seems to be half mine. There did seem to be more half marathoners this year, but even so; I take a few more paces to the back…

Setting off, the first 800 metres or so are along a road within the private estate. Last year the field of runners spread across the road upset 4×4 man on his way to the golf club. This year, it was the turn of taxi-man, (cousin of white van man) who seemed to think that by sounding his horn he could drive at normal speed against the flow through the pack of runners.

There wasn’t much tolerance being shown by drivers at the first two road crossings either. Much sounding of horns and general arm waving… whatever…

After Richmond park and the field with the cows (yes in London), the Thames tow path is reached which is followed all the way to Putney Bridge. There’s quite a bit of ‘traffic’ on the path with plenty of local runners and soon the half marathoners coming back towards me having made their turn after a couple of miles at one of the water stations. After that station it’s much quieter and apart from the locals I’m on my own. The drizzle is a little heavier now, but quite pleasant and not enough to really wet you.

I stop to remove debris from my shoe. Nothing much drops out so “re-shoe” and set off again, but something is still there. Stop again, vigorous shaking and a tiny bit of bark drops out. Off again, but something is still pricking my toes. Stop again and remove sock this time…ah… there’s the problem. A blackened toe nail has finally given up and fallen off. Re-sock, re-shoe and set off for the third time…bliss.

It’s not long before the front runners start coming back. As I see Putney bridge about a mile away the trickle of returning runners becomes a steady stream and the numerous nods and “keep it going” always raises spirits. Nearer the bridge I hear the ‘melodious’ chants from football fans. Getting closer I see there are two floating ‘beer barges’ of Arsenal fans doing their best to consume their weight in alcohol before making their way to the Fulham ground just across the river. The Mets finest are there in numbers with riot vans parked discretely in side streets.

Crossing the bridge I reach the half way turn in about 2.19, about the same time as last year. Re-crossing the bridge was tricky trying to go against the flow making their way to the football ground. In the end I crossed fingers and stepped into the road and ran in the cycle lane. Turning onto the road next to the river, the two barges are now starting to disgorge their occupants so I make a quick dash past the gangway to avoid the crush.

Back on the tow path its head down to work hard through miles 14-20 which I always find the toughest. The light drizzle has been getting steadily heavier and in an instant, the heavens opened. Proper rain now, sheeting down, and the once dry ground is now covered in deep puddles and running water. I am soaked in seconds, but worse than that is the stinging eyes as the sweat off my forehead gets washed into my eyes. The stinging continues for 30 minutes or more making dodging the puddles hard work to the extent I give up and of course immediately find the one that’s about 8” deep.

Suddenly I am racked with stomach cramps. This might be a trail marathon, buts it’s not rural and there’s precious little cover. It’s painful enough to halve my already slow pace. Mercifully after 10 minutes or so, the cramps subside.

Going through one of the water stations the crisps are soggy and the jelly beans dissolving, but I am assured the dry varieties are still available! I decline as by now I’m on my flat coke fix. Towards the end of the tow path section it tipped down with rain last year too and I’m soon running under bridges with people huddled around taking shelter…a déjà vu moment.

Leaving the Thames I head back into Richmond Park, past the tree where I stopped to help a runner and call an ambulance last year. I remember it’s about 40 minutes from here to the finish. With the extended stop last year I finished in 5.25. It’s now 4.20 and I’d really like to get under the 5 hours.

The rain has eased and I find another gear, through the park, up the long hill and onto the road to the finish. I finish in 4.57:43.

Getting home I make a cup of tea and discover a possible cause of the stomach trouble – the milk is off. The teabag was floating on a mat of curdled milk which I failed to spot with my bleary early morning eyes at the start of the day

Salisbury 5-4-3-2-1 50K Ultra (11Aug-2013)
Time: 6 hrs 22min [Bryan]

The Salisbury 5-4-3-2-1 is a well established event for walkers and runners over distances from 10K to 50K in the countryside around Salisbury. The event name is derived from the route taking in 5 rivers, 4 hills, 3 large country estates, 2 castles and 1 cathedral.

I chose the 50K distance not for any masochistic reasons, but to exorcise the demons from last year where I didn’t carry enough water and despite the frequent water stations suffered from dehydration at about the 18 mile mark.

I picked up Jamie at 6:15 and we headed off to Salisbury. The venue was Salisbury fire station and the event raises funds for the Fire Fighters Charity. The organisation and facilities at the start are excellent, putting many larger higher profile events to shame.

The weather forecast was for a warm and sunny day which for a moment looked a bit dodgy as there were several showers during registration. They soon passed though and it was pleasantly warm waiting for the start. My start was 09:00, but Jamie doing the 42K had to wait another 30 minutes. I bumped into a 100MC acquaintance at the start, Rita Williams, and we positioned ourselves at the back of the pack.

The 50k route initially follows the 10K route up to and round the hill fort of Old Sarum, (hill #1), where it picks up and follows the marathon course. The route then skirts round the edge of Salisbury following relatively quiet residential roads before hitting the trails again. Actually, the mix of alternating trail and quiet country or private estate roads makes pleasant running. It means you can switch off and grind out the miles on the tarmac saving the concentration for the more technical terrain of hard rutted fields, (of which there were plenty), and woods with tree roots and rabbit holes.

Leaving Salisbury behind we head off onto the Clarendon Way for a short distance before turning off onto country bridleways and lanes to go up and over Kings Manor hill, (hill #2), to reach the checkpoint at Alderbury, (about 22K). It’s getting warm now and I make a kit change from T-shirt to vest. The running is going ok, though I know Rita has at least one more gear over me.

A couple of kms later we pass through the checkpoint at Longford castle and begin the steady climb through stubble fields up to the checkpoint at the top of Clearbury Ring, (hill #3). It’s at about 28k so over halfway now and things are still going ok, helped by a long downhill and then undulating section before another climb (hill #4) up to the checkpoint just before entering the amazing ancient yew tree forest.

Leaving the yew trees, there follows a nice long downhill section on a country lane giving an opportunity to stretch out a little. Just after turning off the lane we meet a group of walkers huddled over a runner who apparently passed out and just come round. Rita gives recovery advice and we set off to alert the marshals at the next checkpoint which is only a few minutes away.

At the checkpoint we pass on the message and the marshal is on the phone trying to give the grid reference. Unfortunately he is reading off the coordinates the wrong way round (Northings first then Eastings) and comes up with 259110 – which if my map reading is right is Stoney Cross in the New Forest! Having advised it’s actually 110259 we move on.

After the previous long downhill, there follows the inevitable long slow walk/run slog up to the race course (hill #5). From the top it’s mostly downhill to the checkpoint at Wilton, (around 43K). I didn’t check accurately, but we must have gone through the marathon distance in about 5hr 12min or so. I’m feeling pretty tired now and getting hot. I’ve drunk plenty but legs are getting heavy. I get a “come on” from Rita to keep it going. I am struggling with the heat; my heart rate can’t go much above 128 and running through the enclosed village streets and on tarmac is really telling on me. I’m getting plenty of nagging encouragement though and finally we reach the water meadows on the outskirts of Salisbury.

As we hit Salisbury proper I’m able to pick the pace up a little. Going past the Cathedral is always welcome as it’s only about 1 mile to go from here. As last year, we’re getting lots of odd glances from people as we dodge kids, pushchairs and dawdling shoppers.

Crossing the line we finish in 6:22.48 which for me was 46 minutes quicker than last year, entirely due it has to be said to the encouragement and patience of my running partner for the day.

Jamie’s all showered, changed and waiting having finished his 42K an hour earlier in a time of 5.01:10 which is an excellent time for what is quite a tough course and on a hot day too. The only down side to these ‘away days’ is the long drive back with stiff aching legs. Two hours later it was a struggle to get out of the car!

Heart of the Weald Challenge Marathon (14-Jul-2013)
Time: 8hr 16min [Bryan]

Short version: Hot and hilly. The end.

Longer version: Another splendid LDWA event along some of the most obscure and secretive paths in East Sussex! It started from Wadhurst, home of the Bewl 15, and the route was around the Crowborough, Heathfield, Mayfield area, which anyone who has run the Sussex Marathon will know, is mighty hilly. Beautiful countryside though through private estates and on a couple of occasions, people’s back gardens!

A small ‘running buddy’ group was formed within the first few miles, picking up one runner who was fed up taking the wrong route! Multiple eyes on the route instructions usually helps, (though not always, see later).

With the thermometer hovering around 30’C this was always going to be a slow run and hills that would normally be run were walked to conserve energy… not a day for heroics. The first checkpoint at 5.6 miles took 1hour 33 mins…. After that not much attention was paid to the time. I refilled my Camelbak; I had drunk close to 1 litre already.

There was an uncomfortable section through a field with cows and their young calves. I mentioned cows were unpredictable when they had young with them. As we got closer the cows became increasingly agitated and instead of backing off as we approached they came towards us. Then someone piped up that the cows were the least of our problems. One of the “cows” was sporting a large pair of horns….Runners and cows ended up in the same corner. Not sure who was herding who, but we made our escape through a gate.

By checkpoint 2 it was around 1.30pm and now searing hot and humid in the sunshine and one of the group was struggling in the heat and thinking about dropping out, but having been together as a group for over 3 hours and around half way, we all agreed to take it easy and keep together. The route did contain a lot of wooded shady sections bringing some respite from the sun. Incredibly some of the wooded paths were still wet and muddy. Goodness knows what the paths would have been like earlier in the year

Along the way there was an extra water station which brought a smile to our faces. At the top of another long hill the route went through a farm and we came across a small table with glasses of water and juice and a hand written “help yourself” note. As we were taking some sips, a little girl came rushing out of the farm house with a jug of iced water. Bless her; the mothering force was strong in this one…

In contrast, at the point in the route description which said “Care Climb over barbed wire gate (illegal)”, we met the farmer who put the barbed wire there. One of our group called out ‘Good afternoon’ and he turned his back on us. When we reached the gate we received a verbal battering about people leaving the gate open twice in the preceding weeks and his sheep escaping. Seemingly it had just happened again and he’d only just rounded the sheep up. The barbed wire gate is now locked as well as he’d just installed a cycle lock on it.

Moving on to more pleasant things… at one checkpoint (4 I think) at 17miles the marshals had brought iced water and J-cloths for mopping fevered brows and necks. Sooooo cooling and welcome.

With the time slipping by we reached Bewl Water and made sure we turned in the right direction to avoid the long detour! Trouble is we enjoyed running by the reservoir so much we missed the turn off the path and up the hill to the finish! It was only when the reservoir came back into view again we realised we were running away from the finish around the other side the water. Some weary back tracking followed and the realisation of an added 30 minutes or so.

Finally finishing in 8hours 16 minutes was a personal worst. That was tempered though by a really nice run through superb scenery, challenging terrain and the camaraderie of the group I ran with. Despite being out in the sun for such a long time I felt fine. Having smothered myself in factor 30 and drunk over 5 litres of water the effects of the heat were kept at bay.

Herts Hobble Marathon (23-Jun-2013)
Time: 6hr 08min [Bryan]

It’s a long way and a tedious M25 journey, but the Herts Hobble fills a gap in my running diary and has been a ‘June regular’ of mine for the last couple of years.

I was apprehensive though. The day before was the harder than expected Downland Dash and the first time I had run in 12 days. The Achilles I had aggravated at the South Downs Marathon two weeks ago was proving reluctant to heal to the extent I had resorted to acupuncture, ‘kino’ tape, some gel heel inserts as well as proper rest this time. The ‘Dash’ was supposed to be a gentle 5M test using a different pair of trail shoes. However as soon as the race hooter sounds I can’t help myself and push on from the off! I definitely felt it on the way round and the soreness returned after the finish.

So it was with some trepidation I set out not knowing how it was going to hold up when tackling 27 miles. On arrival at the race HQ in Bramfield, the weather can’t seem to decide. There’s a stiff wind blowing and overcast skies with a forecast of some heavy showers leading to the usual “what to wear” decisions. At the start briefing, the organiser is telling us it’s a new route…and there are some last minute changes to the printed route description we were all carrying. When reaching the third amendment most people have switched off accepting they’ll be going wrong and back-tracking!

I set off at an easy pace with some friends from the 100MC, but the first few miles didn’t bode well. One lady took a nasty tumble on a gravel track and grazed her face, arms and legs. Along with others, there were several stops for “is this really the right way” when faced with turn directions. They clearly weren’t as we ended up passing the same group of runners at least three times. However that was nothing compared to one group who had run for over 2 miles before turning back. Luckily for us we met them coming back only about 200 metres from where we should have turned. The instructions were: “TL and AH to junc with Birch Green RD, where X RD and AH on pavement”. What was meant though was “TL and AH to junc with Birch Green RD, where TR, X RD and AH on pavement”. Spot the key difference – the point being there were pavements in both directions!

There were some pretty scary road sections between the bridleways and paths. These seemed to be along stretches with numerous blind corners or on fast straights. At the risk of stereotyping, while car drivers slowed down and ensured a wide berth, white van man came deliberately close to one runner sounding his horn and venting some unprintable curse.

On the plus side, there was more sun than cloud now and quite warm actually. My Achilles was holding up well too, with less discomfort so far than on the previous day’s 5 miler. That said, the going was hard for some reason and on passing thirteen miles there was more than one comment of “only half way – seems like longer”. The ground was rock hard and rutted even across the grassy fields so that may have been a factor, along with the standard 5-10 minutes scoffing food at the checkpoints. The last of which was adjacent to a cricket pavilion where there was a match in play. The food and water tables had been placed out of the wind up against the pavilion… right in front of the window behind which the scorers were trying to do their stuff. They were not happy chappies, doing a fine impression of grumpy old men. Still fair enough and the tables were moved…

The stiffest climbs seemed to be in the last 6 miles and the hope of getting under 6 hours was fading fast. Still, personally I look for the 23 mile mark as no matter how hard it has been up to then, that for me is the start of the run in and I relax. In this last section there were a couple of loops in the route which resulted in going back along the same paths only in the opposite direction, which was strangely disorientating… the last one being within sight of the finish venue!

Having finished in 6 hours 8 minutes, I’m feeling mighty relieved the Achilles held up. Was it the rest, the tape or the acupuncture or combination of all three? Who knows…?

As a postscript I can add that on the following day it was less sore than at any time during the last two weeks.

South Downs Marathon (08-Jun-2013)
Time: 5hr 07min 26sec [Bryan]

The 2.09 Events organised South Downs Marathon is one of my favourites. It’s tough yes with some 5700+ feet of climbing, but hugely enjoyable with a friendly and supportive bunch of runners. The alarm goes off at 4.45am, but at least at this time of year its daylight!

Having breakfasted and thrown all my gear into the back of the car I leave to pick up Jamie at 5.50 and then Reg at 6.00. I “don’t do” hassle and rushing around so we’d already agreed to get to the car park at Queen Elizabeth park early in time for the first coach back to Slindon College.

Getting out of the car at 7am at the QE Park it may be full sunshine, but we are met by an icy north east blast… it was really cold prompting a swift walk to the coaches to take us back to the start.

The start venue at Slindon is reasonably organised though if the weather had been wet there wouldn’t have been anywhere to keep dry. There was tea/coffee plus bacon butties on offer which Reg couldn’t resist. I opted for tea plus the standard pre-race munchy – a boring banana. It was warming up and pleasant enough sitting out of the wind, but the tops of the trees were still getting bent all over the place so the wind was not relenting in the slightest.

With under 10 minutes to go I decide I can’t hang onto my security blanket (aka kit bag) any longer and head off to put it onto the lorry only to find another 100 insecure souls leaving it to the last minute to deposit their bags. The announcer gave the three minute warning as I’m handing my bag over. I exchanged “good lucks” with Reg, Jamie, Maggie and Russ before diving into the bushes one last time. Oh to have the flushing ability of a 20 year old as I hear the 10 second countdown whilst I’m still contemplating life…

Just making it to the back of the start line pack in time, we’re off. There’s an easy start with a steep downhill and then flat kilometre or so before starting the first climb which is deceptive, as the incline gradually increases until its more energy efficient to walk/run for a bit. I hear comments about “walking already?”, but my experience tells me minutes lost here is tens of minutes gained later on. The track then flattens out, but it’s still not at the top though; there are more undulations before reaching the first water station at Glatting Beacon (5 Miles).

From here the route gently climbs to follow the South Downs way and immediately passes through some fields with sheep, where the gates are open. Last year they were shut; I hope the farmer had intended them to be left open! The views from the top are spectacular (for the South of England!) and its very pleasant running though the ground is rock hard.

It’s not long before a nagging injury I’ve been carrying for a week or so makes a show on this first flat section. Probably induced by some new lower-heel trail shoes, my Achilles tendon has been aching for a few days, especially first thing in the morning and despite ice, compression and elevation it hasn’t gone away and it starts to become increasingly noticeable. I guess leaving out the ‘rest’ in that standard ‘r.i.c.e’ formula wasn’t the brightest idea…

I try to blank out the ache and make the most of the scenery before the steep descent down to CP1 at about 7miles. After the long climb out of CP1, the terrain is still fairly easy running though there are plenty of ‘ankle-turning’ ruts and tree roots to watch out for. It’s still quite windy too, though being behind us makes the top of the downs running just right, but the wooded sections and valley bottoms really warm. Along with others I stopped to help two fallers along this section. One slipped on a large stone and fell awkwardly on his shoulder; the second tripped on a tree root in one of the shady wooded sections. My thoughts turned to Jamie and hoping he was coping with the rough terrain and the difficult light conditions…

Achilles is really aching now and getting hard to apply any pressure so I can’t push-on on any of the “ups” and the “downs” are becoming just as painful. Just before CP2 (13 miles) I am slowing up and runners streaming past and I’m starting to wonder if this is to be my first “DNF”. If I’d listened to my body I should have dropped out here. Instead I am probably too obstinate for my own good and so kept going, although mostly walking up the endless climb from CP2 back up to the top of the downs again.

On the top I manage to get going again albeit with a strange lolloping gait trying to protect my right ankle. Then at around 18 miles the pain gave way to an ache and then the ache gradually eased, such that as I approach CP3 at 20 miles, (Harting Down), the Achilles didn’t feel too bad at all, so I sailed through the CP in an attempt to claw back some time. However that time gained was soon lost as I stopped with others to check on another faller about 800m from the CP.

I always forget how hard the last 10K is. The first 20 miles are a series of climbs, level running then steep descents to cross the roads. The last 10K though is continuous undulations; you’re either going up or going down and it’s definitely a case of head down to grind out the miles. However, the earlier ‘walk breaks’ up the hills and enforced slow pace paid off here as I must have past 20-30 runners as I reached the last water station at around 24 miles.

From here adrenaline takes over as its only 2 miles to go and after a steep climb from the water station it’s all downhill save for some undulations on the approach to the Queen Elizabeth Park followed by a cruel, slightly uphill finish straight into that stiff headwind, making any spirited rush for the line impossible, (in my case anyway).

I finish in 5.07:26 which is two minutes quicker than last year and my quickest for the course but, as usual it seems, there’s a slight feeling of disappointment. This time I am ruing the missed opportunity of an even faster time caused by the dodgy Achilles.

Resting at the finish, the Achilles pain reappears and I’m getting nervous about the 5K Hove Park run tomorrow. It’s going to be a struggle…

Marlborough Downs 33M Challenge (12-May-2013)
Time: 7hr 08min 46sec [Bryan]

In previous years I have ‘hotelled’ it and stayed local to Marlborough, but in an effort to save the pennies I decided to drive up in the morning. Good news pennies saved; bad news 4am alarm call to leave at 5am for the two and a bit hours drive. Still at least the roads were empty.

The facilities at the venue are excellent so as soon as I’ve registered I sit in the coffee area with a mug of tea and finish of a couple of near black bananas, (I hate the texture of “normal” bananas and can only eat them when they’ve gone all squishy).

Earlier in the week, the forecast was for a mainly sunny and dry morning with rain arriving later in the day. As Sunday approached each successive forecast brought the rain forward such that today it was due to arrive at around 2pm. With a 9am start and a finish time of just over 7 hours last year I was resigned to getting wet.

This year there was only the 33 mile option. In previous years there has been a 20 mile option as well and which runners/walkers on the 33 mile were directed to if not making the one checkpoint (CP3) with its rigid cut off time. I don’t know if that put some people off, but as I looked around the room during the pre-race briefing, while the room was full, the participant age looked distinctly young and I overheard talk of 4 to 5 hour finish times expected.

With the race underway it only takes about 20 minutes and I’m way behind the pack with just a handful of runners behind me. The first checkpoint comes quickly (2.2M) at the entrance to the forest with its carpets of bluebells. Last year with the crazy hot April the flowers were way past their best; this year they were just coming out of bud leaving that heavy sweet scent in the air. The wooded section is about 2 miles long and last year was a mud fest making attempts to “push on” futile. Much drier this year and really pleasant running until the bluebells gave way to carpets of wild garlic…

At 5 miles, the route leaves the trees and climbs up to the top of the downs…. and into the wind. Basically we are heading due west and into the teeth of the force 4-5 SW wind… and although cloudy with sunny breaks I can already see darker clouds on the far horizon. It’s actually pretty hard going and I’m driven on by the pressure of making the checkpoint with the cut off time.

CP2 is at 6.4 miles and its taken 82 minutes. No time to chat with marshals. From here the route climbs up onto the downs and runs adjacent to the Wansdyke, (a Saxon linear boundary bank and ditch earth work apparently), for 3 miles to CP with its 2 hours 20 minutes cut off. I make it with 15 minutes to spare… which I am surprised at since it’s taken me 5 minutes longer than last year despite the lack of mud and my sense I have run far more of the hills than last year.

Cut off safely negotiated, it’s back to the Wandsdyke, literally, as for 1.5 miles the route runs along the top of the bank which is narrow (30cm!), hard, rutted, ankle turning path… and it’s still straight into the headwind. Its relief to make a turn off the Wansdyke onto farm tracks to head down towards the canal which leads into the outskirts of Devizes.

At the canal, I swap the wind for 3 miles of (for me) mindless running along the tow path so head down to grind out the miles. The route leaves the canal at CP4 (15.2 miles) and heads North..ish to make a brutal climb up to farm tracks across a featureless plain to CP5 (18.7 miles). Its 13:30 and I feel the first drops of rain so the forecast was spot on unfortunately. Having taken gels at previous checkpoints I opt for an energy bar instead as I tackle the steep hill immediately after the CP. After going up there’s the inevitable down and along increasingly wet paths to CP6 at 21.1 miles. By now it’s pretty miserable in the wind and rain and I really feel for the marshals having to hang around for us back markers.

Still the running is still going ok, though there does follow a long “walk break” up to the Cherhill monument and round the white horse. From here though, it is all downhill or flat before reaching CP7 at 25.4 miles. This checkpoint provides hot tea and shelter in a barn; it takes some will power not to take a long break here.

Last year I really suffered between CP7 and 8, but this year I felt fine and ran all of the 4 undulating miles to CP8 at 29.1 miles. The poor marshals here were desperately exposed to the wind and now heavy rain, but they remained remarkably cheery offering lots of encouragement. It’s mostly flat or downhill now all the way to the finish so I keep it going and finish in 7.08:46.

I had to do a double take on my watch as I know I ran the last 10 miles much much stronger than last year, but I end up taking nearly 2 minutes longer overall. It had to be down to the strong headwind in the first 10 miles or so… or perhaps less palatable, getting another year older [sighs].

Three Forts Marathon (05-May-2013)
Time: 5hr 15min 14sec [Bryan]

This race just has to be on my calendar with the venue being just a 5 minute bike ride away. So instead of the usual alarm call at 6am or earlier, today it was a leisurely rise at 8am, pre-race breakfast of porridge and toast and still plenty of time for “ablutions” in the comfort of my own bathroom…

The weather too was looking good. The last two years the event has been jinxed by the curse of the British Bank Holiday. Last year especially the weather was atrocious with wind, horizontal drizzle and mud. Today it was forecast to be dry with light winds, sunny spells and temperature of 12-14’C. Also, having run on the Downs during the week, the ground was bone dry, perhaps a little too hard.

Arriving at 9:15 I collected my number and chip though again, like the Endurancelife Sussex CTS, almost everyone seemed to have an A-L surname. The people behind the M-Z surname queue were out touting for business! Looking around the field there seemed to be better facilities this year. The registration tent was a much bigger marquee with separate queues for the full, half, and relay events and even a queue for people wishing to swap between the full or half. There were also maybe a dozen or more massage stations being set up ready for the finish.

Reg creeps up on me as I’m scanning the route map to check roughly where the mile points are. I actually have a pretty good idea, but it’s one of those pre-race rituals I go though! I then spot Jamie, who’s gone for it and entered the full marathon too 🙂

I also spot several fellow back of the pack runners from the New Forest and Sussex earlier this year and standing at the back waiting for the start, we’re straining to hear the starter’s announcements….something about the chip mats…

Anyway, we’re off and I make doubly sure to centrally step on both mats. Up the Hangover 5 path and ‘Cardiac Hill’ to the first checkpoint and water station at Cissbury where it’s clear it’s going to be a warm run with hardly a breath of wind. From here the route turns east along undulating tracks before picking up the South Downs Way and a lovely long sweeping downhill section through Coombe Farm with views of the sea and the Downs. After crossing the river and going through checkpoint two there is the one dodgy road crossing. It’s not controlled by marshals and despite the “caution runners in the road” warning signs the traffic is fast and heavy, requiring a prayer and sprint to make it across the road.

From here it’s a long slog up to the South Downs Way running along the ridge line through checkpoint three by the YMCA and then an undulating 2 miles or so to the second fort at Devils Dyke where the route doubles back. As I’m still heading towards Devils Dyke the front runners are coming back the other way (including Reg), but despite their speed and pushing hard, there are plenty of “well dones” and “keep it going” to keep me running up the “undulations”. Just before the turn at Devils Dyke, I see Jamie already heading back.

Retracing the route back towards the river, the sunny periods have given way to full on sun so the slight cooling westerly breeze in my face is very welcome, making the uphills seem less steep. Back at the same dodgy road crossing, the traffic is now even heavier and faster sprint required. Having made it across I hear a car horn as a bunch of runners encroach onto someone’s road…

Here I see Jamie (making a detour for a comfort break?!). The next three miles (~15-18) I always think of as the hardest. From the river valley it’s another long slog along the South Downs Way up to the crest of the Downs again. This year it didn’t seem so bad, despite the addition of a newly established pig farm either side of the SDW, providing hearty country smells to stimulate the nasal senses.

At last the top of the Downs is reached and the hardest parts are all behind. The ring of trees around Chanctonbury is visible in the distance and it’s a case of head down and grind out the next two flat miles before a short climb up to the checkpoint.

Running down from Chanctonbury I chat with a couple of runners who, knowing I am from the area, ask how this compares to the Salomon South Downs and Steyning Stinger, especially the Stinger with which the Three Forts shares some of the course. In honesty, they are all pretty similar in difficulty in my view. So much depends on the underfoot conditions and the “on the day” weather… my slowest and fastest times for all three are pretty similar.

After the descent from Chantonbury there is one last longish climb up “chicken hill”, run-able on club runs and my weekend runs, but definitely not today at roughly mile 24, at least not the steeper first half. Then downhill to go over Cissbury again (so really 4 forts then!) retracing the route back to the finish where Ken and Christina were there to cheer me through the finish funnel (thanks guys!).

Jamie comes in a few minutes later having made a new friend in the latter half (copy of the picture please for the web site please Jamie if you’re sent one!)

All in all a very enjoyable run and with legs still good enough to manage the short cycle ride, I’m back home within 30 minutes of crossing the finish line!

London Marathon (21-Apr-2012)
Time: 4hr 45min [Bryan]

The omens weren’t good for this race; I developed a sore throat on the Friday and woke up on Saturday with a headache and blocked nose. Great.

I left for London around midday Saturday to give me plenty of time to register at the Expo and then find the hotel I’d booked a room for the night to make Sunday morning less stressful. Stress levels rose a little however when reading the board at Worthing Station that there were no trains between Brighton and Littlehampton on Sunday due to the dreaded engineering works…

I won’t bore with a description of the course as I’m sure its familiar to most. Two things though stuck in my mind afterwards.

One, how wrong the weather forecast was on the day and two, how punishing road marathons are on aging knees.
The night before, the weather forecast was giving a temperature of 5’C at 7am, 9’C at 10am and a maximum of 12’C in the afternoon. With that information I went armed with two thick throw-away tee-shirts and a bin liner. Sitting in the sunshine at 9am on Blackheath it was already warm enough to be sitting in my running gear and using the bin liner as a ground sheet to lie back and soak up the rays.

The loo queues at the start were their usual enormous length though the open air but shielded male and female urinals were fast moving and a great idea. Brighton could do with providing those next year.

In the blue start pen it’s warm and those with extra layers are quickly dispensing with them. Perhaps it was more organised that last time I ran the race, but it didn’t seem to take long to reach the start line (10 minutes maybe).

An hour into the race and it was decidedly warm and even with a small Camelbak I was taking about ½ bottle of water from just about every water station right through to the end. Still pace was steady and comparable to Brighton last week. At 10miles I saw the first casualty in tears and nearer the end a couple of people collapsed and being attended to. Same at the finish with paramedics treating two runners; there were also people bringing up water, all sure signs of dehydration. I’m guessing, but there’s a strong chance some were first timers and having done all their training in the cold and wet the first really warm day, (must have been around 16’-18’C), caught them out unfortunately.

The second observation was that running back to back road marathons was not such a bright idea when mostly I run off road. At Brighton and my knees were pretty aching towards the end and for a couple of days afterwards. I forgot just how punishing, (relatively), tarmac is compared to grass and nice soft mud. Today, by the time I entered Docklands around mile 15 my knees, the balls of my feet, heels and Achilles were all aching. By mile 21 my lower back had joined the list of disapproving body parts… It would have been nice for another 4:30 something, but that was never going to happen today and I finished in 4:45:47. Still, I can take a crumb of comfort from the fact it was two minutes quicker than my time from 2004!

I have a third observation too. I have never been tripped or elbowed so much in any previous race. It wasn’t just towards the end when runners were tired; it started in the first mile. There wasn’t much respect being paid to other runners by a small minority. It was just good fortune I didn’t take a tumble. If I run it again I’m going to take classes in “defensive use of elbows”…
No Weeing
       Finally, this image in the VLM final instructions brought a smile…

Brighton Marathon (14-Apr-2012)
Time: 4hr 32min [Bryan]

Well, the day finally arrived. I never set out to run 100 marathons. It sort of crept up on me three years ago once I’d completed over 40 and I realised the old body was still capable of holding together. So mid-way through last year I started to work out where my 100th might fall and it had to be Brighton. Not only was it my nearest big city marathon it was also where I spent (or misspent) my youth having grown up in and around the town. There’s something comforting about knowing ever street of the route…

It wasn’t just my 100th either. There were two other of us so called 100 Marathon club “wannabes” reaching the same milestone, Doug Mac Taggart and Kaja Kosla. Doug had previously kindly invited me to join him and Kaja for his post run celebrations and joint presentations by Roger Biggs, the 100 Marathon Club chairman.

I have run all previous Brighton Marathons and each year it has become bigger and better and incredibly lucky with the weather. Today was no exception. The previous day’s rain had turned the start area in Preston Park into a bit of a quagmire, but the running conditions were perfect with a temperature of around 12’c, light cloud and a gentle southerly breeze.

No excuses then… except I don’t like turning up at the start with just a small bag. My car is packed with every conceivable piece of kit, choice of shoes and other “on the day essentials”. As in previous years I cycled to Worthing station, carrying just my baggage lorry bag, and caught the train over. Apart from my shoes I was wearing my kit just to be sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. I’d had the kit out on the table at home for days, chopping and changing my mind umpteen times, especially which socks. It’s amazing how the socks that felt comfortable last run feel like they are full of boulders the next time you put them on! Still the nagging doubts though – have I brought enough gels, is my choice of top right, will I need gloves (I suffer with cold hands), should I have brought my Camelbak etc. I’d stuffed so much in my bum-bag with my vest over the top I looked like 12 weeks…

At the start I’m in the green pen, right at the back and to be honest a bit nervous. Despite all the previous races and training, on the day there are still a lot of things that can go horribly wrong so I’m feeling pressure for the first time in a long while. Worryingly I am behind the man with a large tiger on his back, (I remember him from last year), Noddy in his car, a giant green telephone, several gorillas and a large shoe! That said, it’s where I prefer to be; not only does it force a slow measured start, physiologically it’s better to pass runners than have them streaming past you in the early stages of the race.

With the race underway, I spot Sarah and Sis and exchange ‘good lucks’. The first 5 miles through the town and along the seafront go quite quickly with plenty of spectator support until reaching the out and back section along the cliff top road to Ovingdean and back, including the only real hill on the course; a three hundred metre undulation to the edge of Rottingdean before making the turn back towards Brighton.

Back in Brighton the support is great again and I go through the halfway point in 2:10 by my watch. The route then makes a turn off the seafront up Grand Avenue for the out and back loop through the streets of Hove taking in miles 14 to 18 and which scenery-wise is almost as uninspiring as what is to come later.

On the way back towards Grand Avenue I hear a loud (very loud!) “come on Bryan” ahead of me. It’s Michael offering words of encouragement and support. Down Grand Avenue I hear another shout and turn to see Christina waving. It’s actually hard to discern voices as with my name on my charity vest, it’s a constant cheer of “C’mon Bryan” which really gives a lift. It’s with some relief I arrive back on the seafront and make the turn towards the harbour.

At mile 19 I meet my son and daughter and future son-in-law (!) and stop to lose the tee-shirt under my charity vest (the sun had now come out and it was getting much warmer) and exchange my bum-bag with gels for a bottle of flat coke. As I had predicted I was feeling “gelled-out” by this stage and a change of taste was needed.

The 3-4 mile harbour loop is what it is. Uninspiring and where a lot of people lose heart. Given the terrain around Brighton it’s hard to know how to cut this loop out without introducing more hills somewhere else. Still I came out of it at mile 23 to get back on the prom again and with the pier and the finish point in the distance, spirits are lifted though the pace is dropping.

The support from here to the finish was as good as any other city marathon and I include London in that. The route was lined with spectators and various charity supporters all going completely bonkers. That all said I was slowing all the while and finished in 4.32.52 some 9 minutes quicker than last year, but on crossing the line and finishing my 100th my feeling of relief was tempered with a slight feeling of disappointment in missing a sub 4.30 by 3 minutes…

Race wise, if I have any criticism of the arrangements its insufficient water stations. I hadn’t trained with Gatorade so gave those a miss and despite drinking 500ml before the start and taking a water pouch at every water station an ‘end of race water test’ showed I was slightly dehydrated probably causing the slow up at 23 miles. Also it was mayhem in the finish area. Improvements had been made moving the charity and receiving areas to the beach, but spectators still crowed round the exit funnel and blocked the exits and routes back towards town. It’s hard to maintain composure when you have tired sore feet constantly being stood on or run over by buggies….

I met up with ‘the family’ and made my way to the pub booked by Doug. Even this takes 20 minutes from the point where we are directly opposite it as the marshals are not allowing any crossing of the course.

After some champagne and chips (!), Roger made the presentations to Doug, Kaja and myself of that precious vest… oh and a nice commemorative medal thingy…

So, one milestone reached. The next 100 begins next Sunday with London!

And yes – I did manage to cycle home!

LDWA South Downs Marathon (07-Apr-2012)
Time: 6hr 3min [Bryan]

This “South Downs Marathon” is a standard LDWA format event starting and finishing at East Dean near Eastbourne. It’s only around 50 minutes from Worthing so represented a leisurely ‘rise’ and drive over, especially as I had already decided to set off with the runner’s mass start at 10:00am. Normally I would set off soon after the walkers, but as they left at 09:00 I thought I give it an extra hour to warm up. Although the weather had perked up considerably from previous weekends, hazy sun and just a light easterly breeze, it was a bit nippy first thing.

The route is around 28 miles and from East Dean heads down to the coast and the Seven Sisters and then turns west to the Cuckmere valley, through Friston Forest and Litlington following the same course as the EnduranceLife marathon two weeks ago. From there it heads inland to Glynde via Firle beacon incorporating two long climbs. After the halfway point at Glynde the route heads back to the foot of the downs before climbing the escarpment up a near 1:2 path, (on the OS map, it’s so steep the 5 metre contour lines are just about touching!). From the top the route picks up the South Downs Way, passing Alfriston and then through Jevington before turning back to the coast and the finish. On leaving both Alfriston and Jevington there are two more mile-long climbs… pretty tough in the last 10 miles.

I’d set of with the other runners, but within a mile they were already distant specks on the horizon. Quickly left with my own thoughts, running along the cliff tops I was trying to think back to when the last “pleasant weather” run was…Portsmouth Coastal in December I think. Since then it has been three months of biting cold wind or rain or both.

Just after leaving Friston Forest I spied a runner ahead of me lurking by a style. He asked in a “not from these shores” dialect if I was running the LDWA event. He had lost touch with the bunch of runners he had been with and didn’t have a copy of the route description… It turned out this was his first marathon and all his training had been done on a treadmill with the longest stint being about 25k. Courageous might be the kindest comment as this event includes a reported 4000+ feet of climbs.

He kept with me up the first long slog and down to the first checkpoint at 9.6M, but he fell back on the second long climb up to Firle beacon. Luckily I had just passed a bunch of walkers so I wasn’t going to abandon him in the middle of nowhere.

At checkpoint 2 at 14 miles it was a splash and dash to check hydration and also a change of insoles. I had transferred some thick cushioned insoles from an old pair of Brooks Beast road shoes to my NB road shoes. In those, they fitted fine and were still extremely comfortable so I thought I’d try them in the new NB trail shoes I was wearing. Unfortunately there must be less room in the toe box as my toes were rubbing on the uppers and had got quite sore on the descent to the checkpoint.

Toes now happy and smiling having been plastered in Vaseline, I made my way through the village of Firle and the steep climb back to the South Downs Way. The route followed the SDW east for around 3 miles before heading down to the outskirts of Alfriston. Another “comfort break” revealed I was not drinking enough. It could only have been around five miles, but in that short time I had become slightly dehydrated…. and which explained my drop in pace such that another runner I had been trailing and fixing on had pulled away into the distance.

Corrective action was needed so pace dropped further with small regular sips of water which was ok as this coincided with the long climb out of Alfriston which involved much walking anyway. The body does have remarkable recovery powers though and within 30 minutes I had picked up again and caught my target on the final long 1 mile haul up out of Jevington. From there we played “leader tag” on the final 3 miles to the finish both finishing in 6hrs 3 mins.

For me that was 15 minutes slower than last year, but with the slight hydration hiccup and insole change I was ok with the time.

Roll on Brighton, the big one, and I’m already feeling nervous!

EnduranceLife Sussex Coastal Marathon (23-Mar-2013)
Time: 5.45.42 [Bryan]

This race is part of the EnduranceLife Coastal Trail Series which are scenic and challenging runs mostly around the coastal paths of the West Country and Wales. The Sussex stage was introduced three years ago and being on my doorstep is one I have done each year. On offer are a 10K, half marathon, marathon and ultra. The venue was at Birling Gap in East Sussex and for the marathon is a rough figure of eight course with the first 6 miles or so running part of the Beachy Head marathon course, only in reverse.

The weather during the drive over was appalling; heavy rain and the outside temperature gauge reading 3’C. The race venue was about ¼ of a mile from the race parking and although the heavy rain had given way to a light drizzle there was nothing ‘light’ about the wind. It was absolutely freezing walking into a biting force 5-6 Easterly… I was cold, wet and knackered before I’d even registered and on arrival at 7.30 the main registration marquee was already quagmire, inside and out, which didn’t bode well for the course conditions.

These races have a large following of European runners, most of who seemed to have surnames between ‘A’ and ‘I’ and at the head of my registration queue. That would have been ok but for the fact that several of them weren’t on the list of registered runners causing mayhem. I heard mutterings from the back of the queue about certain national habits with beach towels and sun-loungers…

Anyway, after 15 minutes I finally got my race number and ‘dibber’. There were two checkpoints and the finish where you were required to ‘dib-in’ to record your time. Some bloggers call these archaic compared to chip timing, but if it helps keep the costs down, (and these are relatively expensive events), I’m all in favour. Actually I’m in favour of all timing mechanisms which record progress through a race, especially so after seeing a runner at the Steyning Stinger take a short cut missing out a 4 mile loop just minutes after leaving a checkpoint.

There are cut off times for these EnduranceLife races and in the early days there was only the one mass start for each distance putting pressure on us more ‘senior’ runners, as the cut off times were rigorously enforced. These days however, they offer the slower marathon runners (>6hours) an early start option to start with the ultra runners, giving an extra 45 minutes to reach the cut off checkpoint.

I duly set off with the early starters heading west and with the drizzle stopped and the wind behind conditions didn’t feel too bad. In fact with more layers than your average onion I was pretty toasty. Running over the Seven Sisters meant slow running downhill and even slower running uphill for the first three miles before reaching a long downhill section to enter Friston Forest for the first time. It was pretty muddy here and there were a surprising number of people struggling with road shoes.

Checkpoint 1 in Litlington offered the basics; water, jelly beans and custard creams. It’s then you realise how spoilt we are at LDWA events where there’s usually a sumptuous spread of sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, rice, soup, tea and coffee! (A 100MC member once commented to me that the LDWA events are the only ones where you put weight on during the run!)

From checkpoint 1 there was a short section alongside the river Cuckmere before a long climb heading up on to the downs again and then along a muddy rutted path following the contour line for maybe a mile or so. After a final really steep climb to the top of the downs the easterly wind was again buffeting runners and I was now glad of my multiple layers. As a reward for that effort, the next 3 miles were flat or downhill back into Friston Forest again and out of the wind, but into the mud… lots of mud.

At the half way point at checkpoint 2 in the middle of Friston Forest, the marshal said “you’ve done the hardest part”. Rubbish I thought, knowing what was to come. And I was right – after several miles of undulations the route headed back to the cliff tops at Birling gap and made the turn east head-on into the wind and the Seven Sisters ‘undulations” again, culminating in the climb up to Beachy head where it was hard to make any forward headway… From the top there was a steep descent, far too steep to run on a slippery grass and mud surface, (a runner fell here last year and had to be heli-lifted to hospital). Still in the wind it was another mile or so to the final checkpoint, actually at the same place as the start of the Beachy Head marathon for those that know it. And those that do will know the long climb back up to the ridge before another easy one to two mile gentle downhill and sight of the finish line. Cruelly though, with the finish only about 800m away in plain sight the route makes a sharp 90’ turn away for a final two mile loop across fields to the cliff path again before finally heading back to the finish.

At the finish, you hand in your “dibber” and you get an instant print out of your finish time and position in the whole field. Mine read “you are currently 90th out of 91 finishers”… Still, an improvement on last year when it read “you are currently 65th out of 65 finishers” 🙂

Last year, people were sitting out on the grass sunbathing and watching the runners come in. Not today, everyone was huddled in the marquee clasping cups of tea and scraping off layers of mud.

I see from the results I finished in 5.45 and ended up with a position of 110 out of 156 finishers. My time was 9 minutes slower than last year, but given the mud and wind I’m pretty happy with that.

New Forest Running Festival 50K Ultra (10-Mar-2013)
Time: 6.21.32 [Bryan]

With registration starting at 7.30 and being an hour and three quarters away, I treated myself to a night in a Premier Inn in Highcliffe. They’re predictable and reasonably comfortable; my only complaint was the stud in the room above rocking the walls and ceiling and interrupting my “match of the day” viewing. Mercifully there was a rapid conclusion…

After the luxury of a lie in until 6am, I left just after 7 looking forward for a hassle free drive. All was going well until I turned off the main road. The race venue was on a campsite in the middle of nowhere reached by single track roads. On one of these I encountered the most obstinate group of ponies in the world. There were about two dozen of them standing right across the road. I got out shoved one out the way and just as I got back in the car, another took its place. It became an insane game and I swear it was deliberate. During this time another car drew up behind. Did anyone get out and help? No – the occupants were very content with rolling around in laughter at my futile attempts to move the ponies on. This went on for over 5 minutes before my cajoling and shoving eventually led to a gap large enough to drive through.

Being a campsite there was the luxury of a loo block with plenty of stalls and no queuing. Plenty of showers too for the finish. There was basic catering and just a couple of event tents with clothing and food. Post race massages available for £10 for 15 minutes.

The event was publicised as a Running Festival over the weekend of 9th/10th March and organised by a group called “NakedStrength”. It was not as adventurous as the nametag implied since unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your “physique” and ability to withstand the cold it was a fully clothed event… definitely the latter in my case…

In fairness to the organisers there were a good number of race choices. On Saturday there were Ladies only 5M (23 entries), a 10K (123), a 10M (78) and Ladies only Half Marathon (37). On Sunday it was the turn of the open Half Marathon (81), 20M (107) and the 50K (58 entries and 50 finishers).

Looking at the finish results none of the races were that well supported. The high entry cost and last year’s Runner’s World comments may have been factors.

So to the race. The 50K was a three lap course – the first of ~11m and two of ~10mile with three water stations on each loop. I’m not a fan of repeating lap courses, but with the Winter Tanners cancelled and the goal of Brighton being my 100th, this was a last minute replacement. It was true multi-terrain and definitely undulating, but nothing too steep.

The start onto the main course loop was adjusted at the last minute due to a large cow slurry lake across the farm track just after the start gantry. Having smelt it, I fully supported the route change! The race started at 09:00 with the 20miler (doing two laps) starting 30 minutes later. Consequently after being at the back for the field for the first 8 miles or so, it was nice to have some company and generous support from the passing 20mile runners.

After the rain of the previous 2 days there were some big puddles especially along a roughly 3 mile section comprising of muddy tracks and paths. The rest of each loop was much easier running being either firm forest gravel tracks or tarmac roads. The muddy 3 miles were also adjacent to the A31 and the constant deafening roar of the traffic, which for us on the 50K meant enduring it three times. It was also the coldest section being exposed to the biting North East wind.

It was a relief to make the turn away from the noise and then after a mile or so, take the tranquil track through one of the large wooded enclosures where there was also respite from the wind. After leaving the enclosure there was a short road section back to the start to begin the next loop. On lap two I was still being passed by the slower 20 miles runners, but as I passed the start to begin lap three I was on my own again.

On this third and final lap, I manage to keep running albeit at a slow pace. About three miles in is the first water station of the loop where the forlorn and lonely figure of a marshal wandering up and down to keep warm is found. With no customers for some time I take a few minutes to chat before heading off towards the muddy heath section for the last time. The tracks are pretty churned up by now and if anything there was more traffic and more noise. The wind was also a little stronger… I was actually relieved to reach the road and the long hill up to water station 3 at the entrance to the wooded enclosure.

Along this stretch of road I had my only “closure encounter” not with a car, but with a group of forest ponies clearly on a death or glory mission to stampede across the road come what may. It was right in front of me and very unnerving actually following an even closer encounter with a much bigger horse last year, which because we were running through HIS field, singled me out from a group of runners as the focus of his displeasure.

On reaching the water station however I found that the strengthening wind had “taken out” the checkpoint tent and the marshals had just packed up and were leaving. Luckily it was only about three miles from the finish and I was carrying my own supplies anyway. You’ve got to feel for the marshals in these conditions. I’d been running for about 6hours and not feeling too cold. The poor marshals were standing around in it which had to be worse.

I finished to the deafening sound of… silence… As I passed the finish area at the start of my final lap I could hear the 20mile finishers being announced as they went over the chip mats. When I finished, the few organisers that were left were in a huddle with their backs to me drinking coffee. It was only the beeps from the mats that alerted them to my presence. I was duly handed my “medal”. The word “medal” is a little misleading. It was a wooden affair and looked like something a five year old had made with their first carpentry set. I think the kindest description would be “different”.

While a lot of the runners seemed to be in the adjacent pub, I settled for a large coffee and, amazingly, a warm shower. Normally when I finish races the showers are running cold. Just before leaving I went back to the finish area to get a print out of my time – 6:21:32.

Steyning Stinger Marathon (03-Mar-2013)
Time: 5:33:17 [Bryan]

This had to be one of my least prepared runs. I arrived at the venue with no watch, no phone and no windproof running gloves. I had also forgotten to sterilise my Camelbak… the last time I did that it, it resulted in stomach cramps and subsequent dashes to the shrubbery during the run.

The weather at least had got its act together; a much better day than last year. Dry and cloudy, but with a brisk and cold north east wind.

At the school race headquarters I’m one of the first to check-in and I’m directed to the notice board to look at the revised route. Duly noted I get changed for an early start. As I’m a “back of the pack” plodder I always take advantage of the ‘start when you like’ option to get some of the day back and not keep the marshals hanging around too long…

Today unfortunately, being an early starter meant I was one of those misdirected by the first marshal. I was directed off the route shown on the notice board and sent into a field to follow the new finish route only in reverse. The marshal explained there was a “do” on at Wiston House and they didn’t want runners coming along the road and through the grounds. I assumed there had been a last minute change so felt no need to question him at the time. However after about 800 metres or so and on reaching the foot of the downs I realised I just had to be off route. The absence of signs should have been a giveaway much earlier, but very early I had switched into autopilot mode. After a bit of off-track scrambling through a thicket, up and over two barbed wire fences and two fields I spied the farm to the West of Wiston house and eventually picked up the right trail again. Maybe 5-10 minutes lost? Ho hum…

Back on the familiar track it’s along through the woods, down the hill and over the style to come off the downs and navigate the mini-bog in the field before reaching checkpoint 1. After CP1 the first Sting beckons. One of the event photographers was in his usual sadistic position ¾ of the way up the hill. It’ll be a nice picture of the downs in the background; the wheezing, bent double figure in the foreground will spoil it somewhat. Of course, 10 milliseconds after passing the photographer I took a walk break, as you do!

All was going well until I reached CP 2 at 10 miles. I took a gel, but it wasn’t sitting well. Today my stomach was just not right and feeling uncomfortably high in my throat. On the plus side I was at least running with company now as the first of the mass start runners started coming past.

It’s a long uphill slog from CP2 up to CP3 in its new position a little further to the East of Chanctonbury. It’s all familiar territory as much of the Stinger route (and Three Forts) is included in my long weekend runs. I know just about every stone, rut and puddle which is sort of comforting. I also know all the paths in the area… and where they go (see later). Today however, the paths and tracks had all dried out. All the mud and standing water had disappeared leaving the ground very hard with unforgiving ankle turning ruts.

For those liking ‘rural smells’, the couple of miles from Chanctonbury to Cissbury must have been a delight as the fields to the East had been sprayed with pig manure the previous week and was still ‘honking’ a bit. Nothing like last weekend though when it had me just about retching.

After Cissbury/CP4 there’s the approximately 4 mile loop around and through the golf courses and back to CP4 which for me is especially hard as from the right-angle turn left to go across the golf course, it’s only about 800m to my house!

By now the fragile stomach and lack of gels was beginning to tell and consequently I seriously ran out of steam at CP5 at about 18 miles and struggled round the Steep Down loop through to about mile 21, when I felt a little better and confident enough to start sipping my bottle of flat coke. That instant pick-me-up saw me through the last 5 miles.

The final two of which were the revised route and having psyched myself up when flying down the last hill off the South Downs Way that it was downhill all the way to the finish, it came as a surprise to be directed left and uphill again. There was much muttering going on around me from other runners as there followed about 600 metres of ‘undulations’. Still, not far to go really and with a tow from a couple of runners I joined, I finished feeling fine. Good enough in fact to demolish the free cooked English breakfast provided to the finishers.

The earlier fragile stomach hadn’t allowed a good time. I finished in 5:33:17 which was a few minutes quicker that last year, but that was run in appalling conditions. For sure it would have been a little quicker without the “excursion” at the start.

Overall – a tough but enjoyable run on the South Downs. Shame about the misdirection at the start for some of us, but I wouldn’t let that put anyone off from running it in the future. Organisation is usually slick and the course well marked. From experience, my only advice would be to not under-estimate the weather on the downs in early March. Today was cold with a keen wind and the fast runners in shorts and vests probably got away with it. Last year in the appalling wind and rain (which turned to sleet during the day) some of the runners in minimal kit were withdrawn by marshals for their own safety as some finishers were suffering with hyperthermia.

One final and disappointing observation. The early starter misdirection led one runner, who had been complaining to me at checkpoint 2 about the mistake, to take “corrective action”. Just before the left turn up to Chanctonbury he continued straight on past the “Not this way” sign to take a slighter shorter, less difficult route up to the South Downs Way. It didn’t save him any time as we arrived at CP3 at the same time. Later however at Cissbury, instead of taking the long loop around the golf courses, he took a path leading over the top of Cissbury ring itself and presumably back to CP4 which he’d just left. I didn’t see him again.

Brighton Half Marathon (17-Feb-2013)
Time: 3:09:04 [Claire]

Up at five for the 6:33 train to Brighton, arrived at the start line around 7:30 the sun is shining the sky is blue so it’s all good… worked out where everything was I needed to visit and then had a pre-race massage to help a recovering injury I picked up a couple of weeks ago on a long run then dumped my bag and I was ready. I positioned myself right at the back of 12 and a half thousand people to avoid the hassles I had with my last big race and was the last person to cross the start line at just over 9 minutes past 9.

At mile 3 my watch said just over 31 minutes which is actually faster than my 5k PB so I eased the pace down a bit and reached 10k 1:18 feeling rather good and pleased with my pace with quite a lot of people behind me, at mile 8 disaster struck with my watch saying 1:48 my knee gave out and I had to switch to a run walk strategy with gradually more walking than running and somebody was kind enough to help me until mile 11 when my knee was totally shot and I had to be treated by a paramedic, but I wouldn’t allow him to call someone to collect me not with only 2 miles to go so off I hobbled. I tried to run but couldn’t, my knee gave out every single time, but I wasn’t quitting and just before mile 12 some who had already finished came back to help me get to the finish. It was the hardest thing because I was in agony and could hardly walk by the time I got there.

I’m glad I did it and managed to finish but I am totally gutted that my knee gave out because I was looking at quite a reasonable time at least for me anyway… when I did eventually finish my chip time was a dismal 3:09:04

Punchbowl Marathon (10-Feb-2013)
Time: 7hr 18min [Bryan]

And so a new year’s calendar of marathon runs begins… With the Winter Tanners Marathon cancelled in January due to the snow, this was my first in 2013, the last one being the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon on 23rd December. I get pretty restless, (or grumpy depending on your point of view), unless I’m running one every couple of weeks…

It might be a new year, but not much else seems to have changed. Drawing the curtains at 04:30 revealed it was dark (obviously!) and raining. Having arrived late last year, the early start was necessary to get a parking space on the grass verge that didn’t risk losing various bits of bumper and trim. The weather forecast was looking grim; rain on and off, but getting more persistent and harder in the afternoon.

With that in mind, I set off running just after 08.00am in the hope of missing the worst of it. The Punchbowl is a LDWA 30 mile “follow the route instructions” format and is a really nice run which takes in some killer hills, (some ‘aided’ with steps around 18” tall), mostly in the first half. Not that I could see any scenery; rain on glasses and hot breath meant I was totally steamed up. Not ideal trying to miss stones, puddles and thick, really thick mud so I dispensed with the glasses early on meaning I couldn’t see anything until I had stepped on or in it anyway…

Despite the rain, I’m too warm and at the first checkpoint (4M), I decide to take a layer off. The checkpoint’s in a barn and as I remove my top layers down to my skin I am steaming like a rugby player on a cold evening. To a barrage of derisory wolf whistles and comments about it being too cold to be worth removing anything else, I quickly redress and make a slightly flustered exit.

Still the running is going well and the instructions clear and easy to follow so no wrong turns so far. The Devils Punchbowl was as picturesque as ever with the highest rims shrouded in mist. With all the rain and the early start walkers, the paths are getting muddier and muddier and with worn out trail shoes the limited grip means a lot of sliding… and walking through the really deep mud. This though is a nice section through trees and heath land with the mud gradually giving way to a more sandy soil as I climb up Kettlebury Hill. From the top the route follows a sandy ridge with (on a clear day) nice views across the heath on either side. Descending from the ridge I approach Hankley Common Golf Course where it’s like running in sand dunes the sand is so deep and yellow.

I reach checkpoint 2 at 12.8M in good spirits and indulge in a longish stop for tea and Jaffa cakes. I also make my first ‘glove change’ of the day with pair #1 soaked through and my fingers already suffering. The 20 and 30 mile routes also split here with the ’20 miler’s going off in a different direction. I take some comfort that a bunch of runners who came quickly past me earlier are “only” doing the 20 mile route.

The next climb is Crooksbury Hill and at the top I’m asked to take a picture of a couple of other runners. It’s only a short stop, just a few minutes and only about 2 miles from the last checkpoint, but in that short time I am feeling cold – the temperature is dropping…and it’s still raining. The descent down is steep, muddy and wet with yet another path doubling up as a stream. Surprisingly my feet weren’t feeling too cold despite being soaked after just a mile or so. Miles 15 to 17 seemed to go by quite quickly with some tricky navigation, in that there were frequent changes of paths and directions and you really had to concentrate on your place in the route instructions.

Checkpoint 3 was at 19.7 miles where I only stayed long enough to check in, change into glove pair #2 and grab a few mouthfuls of tea and some chocolate biscuits. I remembered sitting down here last year for 10 or 15 minutes and finding it really hard to get going again… These well stocked checkpoints are all well and good, but require a different discipline to the “grab of a cup of water as you run through the checkpoint” on road and most other organised races.

The shorter stay has made a difference and I tackle the first three long fields with renewed energy from somewhere. However, while the first half may have been hillier, the second half was muddier and wetter. The rain was getting heavier and a stiff cold wind was now blowing. Most paths were completely waterlogged and along this section I took a fall, slipping on a narrow muddy path. My right foot slipped out and I ungainly plunged to the ground on my hands and knees and then, still having some forward momentum, in slow motion I tipped forward so my head ended up in the mud and water. That forced an early change of gloves into my final and much thinner pair.

For the next two miles the route alternated through woods and open fields until I saw in the route description I was approaching the River Wey. I remembered that even in dry years, the section along the river bank was always muddy and wet. I was right to be apprehensive; there was a 50m section of calf deep mud and with fences either side, so no escape. It was here I caught up with a couple of female runners one of whom declared she was not going to attempt to run through it. Her companion was still up for pressing on so I joined her in complaining about the conditions. There was hallucinatory talk about hot baths and tea, partly due to the still falling temperature and heavier rain.

While we are running through another sodden field a runner is coming towards us. It’s a friend of my running companion, come to give her morale support through the last 10 miles or so. There’s a real friend, especially given the conditions! She’s armed with jelly babies too!

The section across the MOD training area was as bleak as ever and as the paths had been improved, last year’s board walk section was omitted from the route. It was still pretty wet though and slightly uphill and we arrive at CP4 at 25.6M feeling pretty low.

Its very quiet; a couple more runners check-in behind us; no-ones talking. I’m really cold now. I can’t feel my feet and my last pair of gloves are soaked. In desperation I use a pair of socks as substitute mittens. (I had been foolishly carrying these in the thought I would be able to change into them and keep my feet dry). I looked stupid, but I was way past caring. These were the one dry item in my Camelbak. The layers I had taken off much earlier were soaked through as I had not wrapped them in a waterproof bag. Standing still I am shivering and my feet and hands starting to hurt now… My running companion is also suffering. She’s putting on an extra layer, but is then unable to zip her rain jacket up again. Her fingers aren’t working and coordination is all shot – a sign of mild hyperthermia.

The next three miles was and always is a slog. Its sandy, waterlogged ground and all three of us can no longer be bothered to try and find a way round the puddles. A runner we pass says the weather is “character building”; maybe, but the conditions are now truly miserable and we just want it to end.

After another heath path section I’m gradually pulling away from the other two and take the decision to keep moving. I come on to an undulating section just before the route crosses the A3, not too far to go now. Spirits rise slightly and I pass another runner on a rare run-able downhill road. After this comes a section of winding paths through woodland and I am having trouble following the instructions. Not because they are confusing, but because I’m not taking the information in. I have to re-read them several times. It’s another sign of mild hyperthermia. Not surprising as I’ve been running in the rain and cold now for approaching 7 hours.

Soon though I reach a wooded enclosure I recognise and with the knowledge it’s less than 2 miles to go I keep a steady pace going and pass a couple of other bedraggled runners. I complete the last couple of miles or so in about 20 minutes, not bad considering.

In the village hall it’s an overwhelming relief to get into dry clothes. However, despite the warm clothes, a cup of tea and beans on toast, I’m shivering…. It takes about 20 minutes for my core temperature to get back to normal for the shivering to stop completely.

During this time the lady I was running with for a time comes in and she’s really suffering. Her friend has to help her change; someone gives her a foil blanket and she’s sat down next to the radiator. Another lady is almost in tears her fingers are hurting so much.

Such a hard run and a first in several ways. The first event for me where it has rained non-stop from start to finish. The first time I have suffered mild hyperthermia. Last year’s Steyning Stinger was run in similar appalling conditions, but today I was out in it for two hours longer.

Character building? Maybe. Really testing in atrocious conditions; definitely. Still – I came through it with a couple of lessons learnt. I am going to buy some truly waterproof socks and gloves (Sealskinz brand look the biz). Also a waterproof liner for my Camelbak to keep the contents dry!

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