It’s December, it’s a bright frosty Saturday morning and it’s time for the Mouth to Mouth Marathon.
This is the last Sussex Trail Events race of the year, the inaugural Mouth to Mouth race and the 4th and final in the river marathon series for 2016.
The concept and the route are pretty simple. 6 flat kilomemtres up the river Adur from Shoreham by Sea, a 7.5km climb up to the top of the South Downs, a 4km descent back down, a 2.5km climb back up, 5.5km of undulations on the South Downs Way, a 3.5km descent to join the river Adur, then all the way to Littlehampton Marina following the river via Arundel on the flat.
The start time is 9am, so we arrived at 8.15, giving us plenty of time to check in, which is a quick, easy and well organised as with all Sussex Trail Events races and get the final preparations over with before heading outside for the customary informal and amusing race brief.
The race starts on the west side of the river before you cross the wooden bridge after ¾ of a mile and head north along the Downslink path before crossing back over Botolph’s Bridge, through Botolph’s village, where the climb up onto the South Downs begins. For anyone who has run the Downslink Ultra, I can assure you that the uneven paving slabs are easier after 2 minutes than after 38 miles.
The start of the climb marks the start of my first long walk and is the location for the first well laden aid station. I love this part of the Downs. The first section goes through a tree lined path and at this time of the year, the path is covered with leaves.
The climb continues past the pig farm to the top of the Downs. I obviously have mixed feelings about seeing the pigs. I love seeing them playing and messing around in the mud. Knowing their fate makes it a sadder place to be. I guess that if we’re going to insist on killing them, they do have a good time in the open while they’re alive and at least they’re not in a factory farm.
The views as we head over to Chantonbury Ring are beautiful and the sun kept shining. Chanctonbury Ring marks the top of the first long climb, giving us the chance to make up some time on the way down to Washington.
At 16.5km you pass through Washington village, get a top up from the 2nd aid station and then head up on the long climb back to the top of the South Downs Way. Oh yeah, and there were 2 donkeys. Donkeys are brilliant. Just look at them. Aaahhhhhh donkeys.
It is a long old walk (or run if you’re not human).
For anyone who has done the Steyning Stinger, this is one of the lovely climbs on that event too.
The climb and the walk are well worth it to get back onto the SDW and the lovely isolation that awaits.
Apart from the odd runner and a few walkers, the only other person I saw was the remarkable Jon Lavis, who yet again was out of the course, providing us with some outstanding photos. Thanks again.
At 25k you get another aid station and a long descent to meet the Arun River, which is our guide back to Littlehampton.
As the legs started to feel the strain a little (I think I probably enjoyed the downhill section a little too much), the temperature dropped, the clouds rolled in and the wind increased. As the river meandered towards the coast, the wind became more and more of an annoyance and things weren’t quite so pleasant.
At around 34.5km Arundel Castle came into view and about 10 minutes later, you could see it in all its glory.
After a quick road section through Arundel you join back on the river bank for the 7km to the finish line in Littlehampton Marina.
After the ups and downs earlier in the race, you’d expect the flat last section to be easy. Never underestimate a flat rutted river bank.
And there you are, that is the Mouth to Mouth Marathon. And this is me with my medal. It’s a cracker as well.
I had no idea what to aim for with this race. In reality, it is part of the build up to the Country to Capital in January. As the race developed, I decided upon a target of 5 hours to keep me on task. Given that I crossed the line in 4.59.26, that wasn’t a bad estimate. It is 27/5 miles by the way, not actual marathon distance.
My race went very well. I paced it well apart from being slightly too quick around the 17-18 mile downhill section. I fuelled on Tailwind (2 sachets) and a bag of mini Nakd bites with raisins and sultanas, as well as the sweet and savoury offerings at the aid stations (mainly bananas and tortilla chips).
There is still a lot of work to do, but with experience comes more knowledge. That knowledge now includes knowing how tough some of the hills will be between miles 45 and 50 on the South Downs Way 100.
On days like yesterday, I am reminded of one of the reasons why we run. There has been some pretty rubbish news out there recently and I have been feeling the walls closing in at times. The freedom of running and spending time with the trail running crowd is a fantastic way to release the pressure valve and remember how good it is to be alive, fit and healthy.
So, my verdict on the race. The Sussex Trail Events team get the big things right. By this I mean safety, having a nice route, making a challenging course, marking the course well, providing the right food at aid stations. But it’s also the little things. Knowing your name when you’ve done a few of their events, giving you a big smile when they see you, making you feel at ease and welcome before the race starts and having cups at the end with a little message on them.
While chatting to a lady on the way to Chantonbury, Andrew and I were asked why they don’t really advertise these races. The answer was there’s no need, they always fill up anyway and I think that says it all.
Thank you Jay, Chris, Danny and all of the volunteers. If the other runners had half as much fun as I did, they’ll be back for more of the river marathon series next year.
For me it’s on to the Bovington Marathon next Sunday and that’s it for 2016.
Take care and stay healthy, Neil.