Weald Challenge Ultra 2015

Any event that has ‘Challenge’ in the title has to be tough to live up to the billing and this one certainly does.

It comes in 3 forms, half marathon, full marathon and Ultra (50km).  I took on the Ultra, which is the marathon course with an added loop, an added loop which is the hilliest section of the event.

profileIt’s pretty easy to see the extra section that makes up the ultra route. It’s the big bump in the middle.

You’d have to be pretty picky to find anything to moan about when it comes to this event.  A lovely start/finish area in a small village hall with all the facilities you need.  A great route, very varied, mainly off road and as challenging as I have ever seen.  Excellent aid stations with everything you need (although it did look like they were going to run out of water) and finally very well sign posted (although I got lost).

You even get your own personalised number.


About 85% of the course is off road.  Some of it really quite tricky.

After an amusing race brief about the perils of getting lost and the lack of sympathy that would be received by anyone getting lost (offers of navigation courses), we set off to the start line.



The start is on the road near race HQ and you head off downhill for around a mile before turning off onto tracks and fields.


20150524_080911 20150524_082019 20150524_083521 20150524_083636

As you can see, the terrain is very varied and it does undulate from the very beginning. Due to the dry weather, many of the fields that we crossed we pretty rutted as we followed the paths made by the tractors. This not only slowed you down, but it made it tough on the ankles and concentration was definitely needed not to take a tumble.

In the distance of the photo above, you can just about make out a herd of cows.  Well they were waiting for us.  Staring.  They really didn’t do much apart from stand very close to the stile that we had to climb over.

And here they are.  I love cows and they don’t really bother me, but this would have been a problem for some people.


While I think about it, the stiles.  Yes, the stiles.  I heard different people say different things, from 45 to 90, but there are certainly lots of them.  Some small, some high (even with my long legs), some stable, some not so.  They certainly are a pain when you’ve got 20 plus miles in your legs.

Anyway, back to the route.  More changing scenery until you reach the 1st check point.

20150524_090859 20150524_090540 20150524_090533

I said it was lovely, didn’t I?  You head up the Weald Way past the bluebell woods and along the lovely paths through pretty little villages.

Checkpoint 1 was typical of them all.  Very well stocked and very friendly people manning each station.  Sweet, savoury, water, coke and lovely fruit.


The lovely countryside continues to come and the miles continue to pass until you get to the extra loop that turns the marathon into the ultra.

20150524_101908 20150524_093414

Some of these sections were pretty technical as well.  Thin pathways with gorse either side.

So this is where it really starts to get tough.  The climb up to Ashdown Forest and the turn around point is demoralising.  The climb has an elevation gain of 140m over a pretty short distance.

20150524_103749 20150524_105039 When you get on top of the hill, It is open and exposed and it was really heating up.

17859758670_046e5544da_kThis was a real low point for me, so I have now idea how Jon managed to get this photo of my forcing a smile.  At this stage you’re not even half way and overheating.

20150524_110843 20150524_111345

At least you’ve got the lovely views to keep you company, but even the downhill sections are pretty tricky.


This section really hurt the knees and you needed to concentrate on the bumps and the stones in the paths.

And then another big hill. Thanks a lot Weald country. Another very long walk.


This is the view back down from near the top. As you can see, it is long and exposed to the sun.

On the way back we followed the Vanguard Way.


The countryside was no less lovely, but I took less photos.  A natural result of being totally knackered and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.

20150524_12264220150524_143125So you head back to the HQ where the finish is located.  A warm welcome is waiting along with tea, coffee and cakes.


Oh yeah, and a lovely medal.


So, what about my race.  I wanted to go round in 6 hours 30 minutes.  I didn’t.  I would have done so with a few minutes to spare, but getting lost less than a mile from the end put an end to that.  I lost 25 minutes and got home in 6 hours 49 minutes.  I am pretty happy with that, all things considered.

I made 3 huge mistakes in this race.  Mistakes that I should not be making at this stage and having done so many races now.

Firstly, I got my footwear wrong. Not having the cash to have many pairs of shoes, I tend to have 1 pair on the go at once.  Sadly said pair split just over a week ago.  I panic bought a pair that I shouldn’t have bought, as I couldn’t find a direct identical replacement pair. This resulted in blisters and sore feet.  I don’t remember when I last had blisters.

Secondly, I ran with an injury.  It’s stupid, I know.  I’ve never had so many DNF thoughts go through my mind so early in a race.  Compensating for a sore achilles meant that I got aches elsewhere.  I’m too stubborn to stop once I’ve started, but it wasn’t my best decision to start in the first place.

Finally, getting lost is a bad idea.  3 separate groups got lost at the same place within about 10 minutes of each other.  We all ended up on a path together after realising that we had come to a dead end.  We retraced our tracks to find the last arrow/hazard tape.  There was a turn left sign on a stile we had gone over.  None of us thought it was there went we went over the stile.  We would have had to almost touch it while going over the stile. Had one of the locals been mischievous? Who knows?

Anyway, a few lessons for the future, but I’m really pleased with how this went and how my mental toughness got me through some really early low periods.

I would seriously recommend this event, whether it be the half, full or ultra.  I will probably not do the ultra again, as I want to pick and choose the ‘big’ events that I do and try not to repeat them.  However, I will certainly look at the High Weald Challenge, the sister event of the Weald Challenge.  If it’s anything like this race, it’s well worth doing.

A huge thank you to the organisers and the volunteers. You should be very proud of this event.

Take care and happy running.

I am now definitely going to give my body a rest for a while.


Photos are mine and courtesy of the amazing Jon Lavis

Green Belt Relay 2015

So I’m sitting at home on Monday morning reflecting on the 2 days of the Green Belt Relay 2015.

I am British, so my first thoughts focus on the rain that is currently hitting the patio doors and the wind that is shaking the trees in the garden. The weather was also like this last Thursday. However, the 3 days sandwiched in the middle were a joy, so a huge thank you whoever booked the lovely weekend weather.

I also sit here with a huge sense of relief. The plan worked, everyone got home safe, none of our runners got hurt or injured (apart from the odd twinge here and there) and everyone got to the start of their 2 stages on time and often with quite a bit of time to spare.

So this is the Green Belt Relay in a nut shell. You take 30 teams with 11 runners in each team and they circumnavigate the area of green land that surrounds London. It sounds easy on paper, but in practice it is a feat of organisation beyond belief. I spend some of my time getting 120 people each week around the 5km at Clair parkrun. The work involved in safely getting over 300 runners around 220 miles each running 2 stages over the 2 days is something else. I have total respect for Peter Kennedy and his dedicated team for making this happen. The list of work that they do is immense. Too long to go into, but just imagine having to mark out a 220 mile route with arrow signs and sawdust. It is all done with a lovely smile, a sense of humour and seemingly very calmly.

The event is also self-marshalled, so there is obviously a huge debt of thanks to be said to the other teams who help to keep us all safe, encouraged and watered along the course.

So, onto Burgess Hill Runners. We had 2 teams this year. We only had 1 team last year, but the response was so good this year, we decided to double the number of participants. The greatest compliment that we can give to the GBR organising team is that all 11 runners from last year came back this year.


The make-up of the teams was different this year. Many of the first timers this year were some of our quicker runners, which meant that they were allocated the tougher legs. The plan was that this would make it easier to get between stages on time. It worked. Almost seamlessly as far as I can see.

The start of the event was at Hampton Court Palace as always, although not inside the grounds of the Palace, as they wanted to charge a stupid sum of money to do so. It was great to have club chairman Mark Craigs run the first leg. Huge amounts of work go into that role and the honour of running the first leg was naturally his, along with first timer Steve Bird.

20150516_082313 20150516_082341

Having seen Mark and Steve off, this is where the fun begins. It’s over 10 hours until the end of the first day and we have to get our 22 runners to the start of 11 stages, picking them up at the end of their stage, before moving onto the next one. 2 minibuses and 2 cars make sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time.

My minibus headed off along the Thames to Staines where Nick and Philippe were due to start the 2nd leg of the day, a lovely flat one of 9.6 miles.




Having seen them off, we make the short drive to the end of their stage, where we find John and Lee about to start stage 3 in the most beautiful of locations on a small green area at the side of the Thames and next to a beautiful little church.  By now the sun was start to heat up. Great news for those who had run already, not so good for those who had yet to do so.

20150516_102758 20150516_102920 20150516_102927 20150516_103950

And no sooner had Lee and John set off on stage 3, the runners started to arrive behind us finishing stage 2. Nick and Philippe arrived together big smiles on their faces.

20150516_111234So it’s straight into the van and off to the start off leg 5 where the 2 speediest runners in our van for the day are going to tackle one of the most difficult stages of the event.

20150516_12461520150516_12495120150516_125144With Joe and Jonathan on their way, we headed over the park to see Jon and Andy finish the previous leg, another difficulty 10 run.  This stage is very hilly and finishes in a street where there is a church hall that was serving tea, cakes and sandwiches for us.

20150516_130728Jon was the highest BHR finisher ever at the GBR in 5th place and he was followed in by Andy.

20150516_132612A great run by both of them and Jon got his well deserved cake at the end.

20150516_131853As you can see, they were greeted by the BHR supporters who were out in force.


It was quickly time to move off to the end of stage 5 to meet Joe and Jonathan.

What a beautiful setting for the end of a stage in the village of Chipperfield.


Jonathan came in 15th and Joe 18th, both very creditable results, given the quality of the runners on this leg and the fact that Joe got a bit lost.

20150516_144015 20150516_143655

We then moved on swiftly to stage 8, where Jay and I were going to tackle the 10.2 mile course.

This stage is lovely. Over 2 miles of downhill trail, a small section through Hertford town, past the castle, then all the way to the end on the tow path of the River Lea past lots of lovely boats and houses.


I didn’t run well. I wasn’t really expecting to, but really enjoyed the stage.


There was a lovely welcome at the end of the stage and after a quick stretch of the troublesome achilles and a nice drink, we set off to drop Steve and Kim off at the start of stage 11, the last leg of the day.


We were also due to marshal on this leg, which was really good fun, guiding runners across a road and giving them some water.

20150516_190614 20150516_190802


So with everyone safely across the road and watered, we headed to the end of the stage to collect Steve and Kim, before heading off to the hotel in Brentwood.

It was around 9pm when we got to the hotel and we were the last to arrive.  So it was straight to the room, quick shower, a couple of swift beers, before heading off for a curry.

The hotel was a huge improvement on last year (quieter, better service and ideal location), as was the restaurant (very friendly, very quick service, given that 25 of us arrived at 10.30pm and the food was lovely).

So, we got to bed at just gone midnight.  The first stage of day 2 was due to begin at 8am, so sleep was going to be of a premium.  So what we didn’t need was someone ringing me at 3.15am, leaving a message to meet me as soon as possible in the usual layby in Birmingham ???????  My head started to focus on the upcoming events of day 2, so I didn’t get much more sleep, resulting in this.


Tired boy. So, after a bar of Soreen (one of the nicest things that man has ever created), Jay and I were ‘ready’ for the off.


I had decided to take my time on the second day, although there was little choice really.  We started off at the back and we stay there with only a couple of runners behind us.

This leg was 10.9 miles and undulating.  It started on lovely country roads, not everyone’s cup of tea, given that the roads were open to traffic. We had to go through the town of Hutton, which was, well, pretty ‘towny’, but then we head out onto 3 miles of trails and fields, the things that make us happy.


20150517_090216 20150517_090235 20150517_090242

The end of this stage is in Thorndon Park, which is a lovely place.  Wooded and shaded, which is exactly what we needed.


Having dropped Lee and John off at the start of stage 15, we headed to Lullingstone Park where stage 15 finishes and 16 starts.  Before Lee and John arrived, we saw Jon and Andy off on the tricky stage 16.


20150517_113436Back over the car park we could hear the first finishers on stage 15 arriving in, so it was time to make our way over to the lovely finishing area.


Lee and John were soon in, finishing 19th and 22nd in really impressive times.

20150517_11550220150517_115811And as is now BHR tradition, John went into the water.


Next stop Merstham, where we dropped Catherine and Linda off to tackle Boxhill. We had to leave them before the start as we had to marshal a very dangerous road crossing.

11155098_1092880624062485_9186827736769478407_o 1655727_1092880697395811_5183825770832445761_o

This is a really tough stage, so tough it even reduced Linda to some poor language, which is hardly ever heard off and totally out of character.


Next we’re off to the start of leg 21 and the end of leg 20.

We drop Helen and Gary off for a lovely trot along the Thames.


The next hour provided me with my 2 favourite moments of the weekend.

Firstly, as we were approaching the end of the day, we had a lot of BHR supporters at the end of stage 20 to see Steve and Kim in.  They are not our quickest runners, but the effort, determination and the smiles on their faces encouraged everyone to make lots of noise.

10986974_1092734394077108_1570150909876253973_n 11245793_1092734367410444_1140236689870367179_n

Then, as Gary and Helen were approaching the end of stage 21, we saw that Gary was about 100 metres in front of Helen. He stopped, went back for her and then they went over the line together.


So with Helen and Gary in the van, we head off to the finish to see the runners coming in.

Paul and Kevin made it in and both teams had successfully completed the course.


To cap the day off, it was announced that we had won the ‘Most Supportive Team’ award.  We know that we’re never going to be at the top of the leader board, but one of the most amazing things about our group of people is the way that we offer support to our runners and other clubs. We always have most people supporting at the end of the Fun Run League races, there’s always a BHR out on the route of marathons taking photos in all weathers and our club really does help to make Clair parkrun the friendly place that it is.

We were also incredibly lucky to have 3 volunteer drivers in Paula, Alan and Steve, who did a great job in getting us from one place to another. Hopefully they will be back in a running capacity next year.

So that’s it for another year.  It only remains to say thank you one last time to Peter and his team. Good luck in everything that you and the Stragglers do over the next 12 months and see you again same time same place next year.

Happy running folks and I’m going to rest my poorly Achilles for a while.

Take care, Neil.

3 Forts Challenge 2015

Be careful what you wish for.

This is the phrase that currently springs to mind. For the 3 Forts Challenge last year I really struggled in the heat, so was really hoping for cooler weather. Well that exactly what we got. There was the promise of rain at the start with a bit of wind, but it was a lot more unpleasant than that.

The 3 Forts Challenge is a tough course at the best of times, but there was an added sting yesterday.


The rain stopped before we started, as predicted by the forecasters, so we set off for the 27 hilly miles in the dry.

The first 2 miles are all uphill.  Some of it you can run, some you can’t.  Walking is sometimes the only option, especially as the chalky path is pretty narrow.

20150503_101450_Richtone(HDR)20150503_101231_Richtone(HDR)20150503_100936From these photos, you get an idea of what was waiting for us at the top of the hill, as the mist is there for all to see.

At the top of the first hill, you turn right, past the first check point and from there to the River Adur crossing, it’s either downhill, flat or short inclines that on the whole are not too challenging.


20150503_102618_Richtone(HDR) 20150503_103326_Richtone(HDR) 20150503_105229_Richtone(HDR)

The aid station at Botolphs Bridge, the Adur crossing marks the start of the real pain.

The first climb to the aid station at the Youth Hostel is 200m of elevation gain in 2 miles.

At first it’s impossible to run, but it does level out with just over a mile of gradual incline.  It is at this stage that the sea mist and the wind really seemed to increase and it felt pretty uncomfortable.  Although mainly a side wind, it was slightly behind us at that stage.


Once on the top and half way over to Devil’s Dyke, the visibility dropped and my thoughts started to turn to the fact that we had to turn round and head back into the wind.

20150503_121600_Richtone(HDR) 20150503_113015_Richtone(HDR)

The section from the Youth Hostel to the Dyke and back didn’t actually seem so bad this year.  There were probably a couple of reason for this.  I set off more slowly than last year and I knew what was coming at mile 16, which makes this section seem a little less of a worry.

I was around 50 metres away from the aid station at the turn around point when it actually came into view, such was the mist. The wind was blowing it around in front of us as well, making it pretty unpleasant.

So, we turn around, back to the River Adur, with all of the ups and downs in reverse.

Mile 16 is where it starts to get interesting. I say interesting, I mean really really tough. It is more or less 5 miles to Chanctonbury Ring.  It’s mainly uphill.  Some of it steep, some not so steep, but at this stage and with the wind, everything felt pretty steep.

20150503_131228_Richtone(HDR) 20150503_132006_Richtone(HDR)

At this stage lots of people were either walking or walk/running. I had a target time in my head and knew the pace I needed to get to Chanctonbury at to make the time. So it was walk/run for me for 5 miles.


Loved seeing the little piglets roaming free at the pig farm on the way up.  It was the only positive of the bad weather.  No flies and no smell, which made this section unpleasant last year.

So, the end of the climb was near, but I couldn’t see the top.  This is why.


I was about 30m from the aid station and the trees when they popped into view.

So it was downhill from here. Apart from the uphill bit.  There were 2 uphill bits.  1 was much longer than I remember it.  It was a mile long with 100m elevation gain at 23 miles.  Ouch.  Everyone was walking.

17167955438_90126671c7_o 17168184330_160c64567b_o

 Although I look a little worse for wear in these photos, I was still running most of it and actually felt better than last year.

After the last short sharp hill at 25 miles, it’s downhill all the way on the slippery rutted chalk path that we had gone up about 5 hours earlier.

I got home in 5 hours 5 minutes and 35 seconds, which is 6 and a half minutes off my time from last year.


This event is brilliant.  Small enough to be the type of event that attracts me. Big enough to offer good aid stations and excellent organisation. A course that is tough enough to push you as far as you can go, but not enough to totally break you.

That’s 2 years running that I’ve completed the event and will probably look for a different challenge this time next year.  However, this is one that I’d encourage anyone to do. It is also available in half marathon format, for those not wanting to do the full 27 miles.

The Achilles held up pretty well and all in all it was a very successful day.

A huge thank you to Jon Lavis for being out on the course taking photos on such a horrible day.

A massive thank you to all of the organisers and volunteers for making this event what it is.

Have fun and take care. Green Belt Relay is next for me.