Larmer Tree Weekend by White Star Running

The Larmer Tree weekend was one of those big adventures.

We rented a lovely Air B and B cottage in Shaftesbury, about 15 minutes from race HQ.  We went over on Friday night after work and hit the pub to watch the Wales rugby game as soon as we arrived.


The last time Nick and I were here was for the End of the Road Festival about 8 years ago. It was a bit bizarre being here on very different business. We looked like this back then.


The first race of the weekend was the Larmer 10 miles.  The aim was to do a back to back weekend, so that I had tired legs on Sunday for the main event, the marathon.

The alarm was set for 6.30 for an 8.30 race start.  As always, registration is easy and the coffee wonderful.  The weather was misty, which restricted the views sadly, but at least we couldn’t see the tops of the hills that we had to climb.


Andy (Race Director and Mr. White Star Running) gave his usual race brief, you know, ‘don’t die, run a bit, it’s muddy’.


So, we were off, along the road off into the paths, mud and woodland that would be our hosts for the next couple of days.


The first hill is at 6km.  It’s a beauty.


The big hill was followed by a bit of undulation, a bit of flat and a lot of downhill for over 2 miles.


And then it was the next challenge.  A steep hill, followed by a circuit of a lovely valley.


And then it’s flat or downhill all the way home (apart from the climb back to the start)


And that’s it.  10 miles seems to fly by when you’ve been doing a lot of longer races recently.  It was very pleasant as well.

I was meant to be taking it steady, but really loved it and did it a little quicker than expected.  There you go.   1 hour 44 minutes of pure joy.

So it was back to race HQ, where they were serving really lovely food and selling the ever popular WSR merch.  The food was free by the way.


While some of the team were getting a massage we had a stroll around the grounds, remembering where the stages were for the End of the Road Festival.  We bumped into several of these  these little beauties, the symbol of the race weekend.


After that, the world was our lobster.  Home, a quick shower and then a walk around historic Shaftesbury (including Hovis Hill – here is the link to the original advert – Hovis Ad) before heading to the pub for some beer, some food and then home to bed for an early night.


Marathon start time was 8.30am as well.  We already had our numbers.  We had packed the night before, so all we had to do was to load the cars and get ourselves done to race HQ for 8am to get ready.

The marathon is soooooooooooooooo lovely.  Hilly, mud, slippy, slidey, but above all lovely.  Some of it takes in part of the 10 mile course from the previous day.

I changed my usual race plan.  I really held back to start with.  I’m not totally well at the moment and I wanted to check out the pacing for the South Downs Way 50, which is coming up in 4 weeks.

The best way to describe the course is in pictures.  I can’t find the words to say how utterly fantastic it was.  The views at the top of the hills were stunning.  Well worth walking up.  The hills were tough.  They were long and muddy.  Energy sapping and difficult to get any traction on at times.


And this is how up and down it is.


Deciding to take the first half of the race easy meant that I managed to spend a lot of time with Nick (and Karen), which never really happens during races.  It was brilliant.  I do spend time during races wondering how she’s getting on and it was great to be able to see it at first hand.


So, I got to half way in 2 hours 44 mins.  I did the second half in 2 hours 34 minutes, giving a finishing time of 5 hours 18 minutes.  The second half of the course was also more difficult than the first half.  This is exactly what I needed to achieve.  There was definitely something left in the tank and the terrain on the SDW50 will not be a tough as this, although the amount of climbing is the same.

This weekend is a perfect introduction to trail running.  Tough but not too tough.  10 mile, half marathon, 20 mile and marathon options available.  Lovely people, great marshals, lots of fancy dress, incredible location, route impeccably marked (it is impossible to get lost) and the medals are beautiful for those of you who collect pretty bits of metal.


A huge thank you to Andy and the White Star Team.  We will see you again for the Ox.  Thank you to Rob for the fantastic photos as always.  Thank you to the lovely runners.  I’m not a big talker during races, but I really loved the chats.  I especially enjoyed the chat with the Vegan Runner who caught me up while I was saving a worm from being crushed on the trail.  ‘Without worms and bees, we are nothing’ were the words of wisdom that I brought home with me from Wiltshire.

Next up is the South Downs Way 50.  Have fun.


Steyning Stinger Marathon 2017

So, the Steyning Stinger Marathon is the 2nd of 3 consecutive marathon weekends for me.  I’ve been here before, back in 2014 and know the course really well, as it shares sections with many other events.

Knowing the course is one thing, dealing with the weather and the under foot conditions is another.

It had been raining a lot over the past week or so and the always boggy Stinger course didn’t disappoint.  It rained for a lot of the race.  It was torrential at the start and apart from a couple of short breaks, it rain throughout the day.  This was coupled with a serious wind that was coming from the south west.  The organisers said that conditions were worse than they had seen for the event in the 50+ years it has been taking place.

During the first section on top of the South Downs, we were leaning to the left side to stop ourselves from being blown over and then a turn took us straight into the teeth of a biting gale at around 10k.  It was almost not worth trying to run, as walking was almost as quick.


I’m not sure how many distinct climbs the Stinger claims to have, but there are definitely 5 long ones, including the huge climb to Chanctonbury Ring, which does go on forever.

This race seemed to be either head wind, up hill or incredibly slippery under foot at all times and often all 3 at the same time.  There really was no respite at all.


I really felt tired at the start.  The legs were seriously heavy after the race last week.  I have been sleeping badly all week and my head seems to be buzzing a lot.  This, coupled with the rubbish weather at the start, didn’t make me totally happy.  This is all part of the process though.  All part of the mental toughening.

This is the first real climb.  I have got the FFS face on here.  It was chucking it down and that hill does go on forever.

Steyning Stinger 2017 #running #racephoto #sussexsportphotography 08:40:36

The miles actually flew by and things went pretty well.  At half way I was on target to beat my time from 2014, but the second half of the race had some really boggy and slippery sections, especially the totally demoralising circuit round Steep Down – 7km of pure hard work.  Don’t forget the tricky downhill sections either, especially the ones towards the end.  Very steep and very slippery.  At half way I changed my target to 5 hours 15 minutes and kept going really well to get home in 5 hours 7 minutes.


I love the photos at the end of the marathons.  Whether it’s your first or your 101st, it’s still an emotional experience.  Marathons are never to be underestimated, whether they’re flat, city events or hilly, muddy treks through the countryside.  This feeling is just amazing.  Crossing the finish line really is the business.

Steyning Stinger 2017 #running #racephoto #sussexsportphotography 12:50:44Steyning Stinger 2017 #running #racephoto #sussexsportphotography 12:50:47

This event really is brilliant.  The marshals are amazing.  They stand is some of the most remote spots on the SDW in rubbish conditions and do a great job.  The course is fantastic.  You get some of the best views in the area and it is one of the most testing marathons around.  Not only do you have to contend with the hills, but the mud and the weather.


Nice medal too.  Oh, and you get free professional photos as part of this event.


It is a testament to the quality of this event that we now have this as one of our club championship races and runners of all abilities turn out in large numbers (it’s got nothing to do with the free breakfast.  Honest).

And so it’s onto the Larmer Tree races over in Wiltshire.  10 miles on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday.  More hills and more mud.

Have fun, Neil




Heartbreaker Marathon 2017 – The New Forest

The alarm is set for 5am on a Sunday morning, which can mean only one thing.  To be fair, no alarms are needed really.  Our 2 new cats were prowling around from 4am, so I was lying there waiting for 5 o’clock to come around.

Here they are by the way.  Batman and Banksy.  Daft names (we inherited the names), but brilliant cats.  They couldn’t be more different from the 2 old girls that we shared the last 16 years with.


Everything was packed the night before and clothes laid out to wear for the journey, so it was beans on toast, a couple of cups of tea, a quick chat with Nick, before setting off on the 2 hour drive to the New Forest and the Heartbreaker Marathon.

I love days like this.  I love the time on my own.  Setting off before the sun comes up on my own little adventure.

As you enter the New Forest you cross a cattle grid.  That noise gets my heart going.  It always means that I’m heading to somewhere I’m going to like, somewhere remote, somewhere with trees and animals.

It’s a 15 minute drive in the New Forest to Fordingbridge, the home of the Sandy Balls Holiday Village.  The name suggests that you should be greeted by Kenneth Williams or Sid James, but it has to be said that the organisation was definitely not a carry on (sorry, I will have a word with my ‘joke’ writer).  Marshals are everywhere, parking ample, registration quick, site shop well stocked and toilet blocks meaning that there are no queues.


The start is an understated affair and is about a 5 minute walk from the middle of the holiday village.  There was a sudden sound from a hooter and we were off.


The first 3km of the race of very up and down around the perimeter of the holiday village before you exit via the main entrance onto the main road through the National Park.  This goes on for 2km and there is a pavement and a verge to run on.  Not at all dangerous.


After the first 5km you head off the road and it’s trail then for the next 35km.  The first view of the course out in the National Park itself is brilliant.


2.8km gets you to the water station and this is where the 3 out and back loops start.  They are undulating, but all on very easy trails.  It is the Fritham-Frogham cycle track.  Most of it is open, although there are certain sections that head through the wooded areas.


The half marathon started an hour later than the marathon, so there were soon a lot of runners out there.  I didn’t mind the first 2 laps as we saw lots of other runners and I like the encouragement that we give each other.  However, the last lap was tough and I did start to find it a little dull.  There were just the slower marathon runners left out there.  The wind got up, it started to rain and it got tough.  A lot of the course is open to the elements and the head wind was straight into your face.

I had set out to complete the race in somewhere between 4 hour 35 minutes and 4 hours 45. I wanted to do this with even 10km splits and I wasn’t far out:

1st 10k – 1 hour 6 minutes
2nd 10k – 1 hour 3 minutes
3rd 10k – 1 hour 2 minutes
4th 10k – 1 hour 8 minutes (this is where it got tough and the conditions changed)

I finished in 4 hours 39 minutes with a very quick last kilometre.  All in all, a pretty successful day on a demanding course (although not as demanding as the Steyning Stinger and the WSR Larmer marathons that are heading my way very quickly).


Check out the new Suunto watch, by the way.  Very nice.

The organisation of the event was excellent, the marshals lovely and attentive.  The aid stations were limited with just water and ‘energy drink’, which I think was probably Tailwind.  I think that there were some sweets as well.

The course is good and challenging although potentially a little dull towards the end.

This race would be an excellent introduction to trail half and full marathons for a newcomer.  Would I do it again – probably not.  There are a lot of new races that I want to do.  Both of these points are irrelevant as I heard that the event is probably not going to be held again, which is a really pity.


Nice medal too.


On a side note, it’s around 3 months until the SDW100 and the preparations continue.

I read an article/interview recently with Robbie Britton, and I found the whole thing pretty fascinating.  This is one passage of real interest.

Some of these guys have been doing it (running Ultras) for 10 years and they’re just hammering their head against a wall for 10 years. You have these crazy conversations:

“What’s your nutrition plan like?” – “Oh, I don’t worry, I just go and smash it.”

“How do you pace?” – “I don’t, I just got out and run as hard as I can for as long as I can.”

“How is that working out?” – “Oh, I’m still running the same times as I was 10 years ago. But I’m experienced…”

No, you’re not experienced You’re a fucking moron who’s been doing the same thing for 10 years.

It reminds me of the interview with Shane Warne, where he said that Monty Panesar hasn’t play 33 test matches, he’s played the same one 33 times.

So, I’m trying to make sure that I iron out as many potential mistakes as possible for the 50 and 100 mile races this year.  I’m listening to my mentors and working things out for myself and I think I’m getting there.  Here are a few of the things I think I’m getting right or at least improving.

Pack everything the night before

If you are getting up when it’s still dark, make sure that you have packed everything the night before, so that you can pick up your bag and leave.  Also, have the clothes that you are going to wear for the journey laid out ready.  Make sure that you have the correct clothing with you, so that you can make the appropriate choice of clothing when you arrive at the event.  A list of items to take is useful.

Pack your hydration vest sensibly and eat well.

I have learned that having as much as possible as accessible as possible is really important.  My food is now going into smaller bags that fit into the front pockets of my S Lab vest.  I had a bag of dried fruit and Nakd bites for each hour.  The spare empty flexible bottles of Tailwind go into the back on the pack to be filled up when necessary.


Have a plan and stick to it

There’s no point of thinking that you feel great after 25% of the race and you accelerating away at 7 miles.  You will crash and burn and the last quarter of the race will be tough. Assess the conditions and the course, set yourself a sensible range of goals for the day according to your training, ultimate goal and upcoming races.  I have a good range of goals for the SDW100 and there is a plan in place.

Choose the correct races

I entered the Heartbreaker Marathon before Christmas.  However, the possibility of doing the Multistory Car Park marathon came up on the same day.  I love spending time with the Sussex Trail Event team and the runners who are at all of their events, but I came to the conclusion that 71 times up and down a car park was not sensible.  It didn’t tie in with the ‘A’ race and it could easily have pushed my unhappy back a little too far.

Don’t be afraid to amend your training plan

I put a lot of miles in in January and my body didn’t thank me for it.  I had a plan through until the end of May and I have decided to throttle the overall mileage back.  In order to finish the SDW100, I have to make it to the start line in one piece.

Also, missing a short period of your training will not hurt you.  Continuing to train with an injury may well do so.

So, it’s on to the Steyning Stinger next week for a lot of walking up hills.

Take care, Neil