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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.