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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And this is how up and down it is.

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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.

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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.

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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.

#fuelledbyplants

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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

#fuelledbyplants

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Nice medal too.

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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.

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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

#fuelledbyplants

Country to Capital 2017

2017 is the year of the South Downs Way 100 for Nick and I.  The plans started in January and the taper begins at the end of May.  So we have 5 months of hard work, dedicated to back to back runs, races and core work.

Following the lethargy of the Christmas period, Nick’s injury problems and flu and my tweaked back, it was good to get the plan underway on January 2nd.

Neither of us were really prepared for Country to Capital, especially Nick, who was still suffering from the left over effects of the flu and hacking cough, but when the alarm went off at 4.45 on Saturday morning, it was definitely real.

It was dark outside, the frost was hard and it was eerie being out at that time in the morning when everyone else was still in bed.

The four of us took a taxi to the start in Wendover.  Given the state of Southern Rail, we really couldn’t rely on them getting us there on time.

The HQ for the race is in the Shoulder of Mutton pub opposite the railway station in Wendover.  It was perfect.  We were there early, so got a table and chairs to sit down for an hour to get ready.  They were selling tea and coffee and hot food.  Most importantly, the pub was really warm.  It soon filled up, especially when the crammed train arrived with the last of the runners to register.  The last runners were very quick to register and we were off pretty much on time.  Registration was quick, smooth and pretty impressive, given the time constraints after the arrival of the train.

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The race is chip timed and you have to attach the chip to your wrist and touch the electronic timing pad at each check point to register yourself.

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I really should have paid more attention to the race instructions.  We signed up for it on the recommendation of Philippe, as a great way to properly kick off the training for 2017.  What I didn’t realise was that the route is not marked at all and it is totally self navigated.  The race organisers supplied everyone with a map booklet, but with my new found middle aged short-sightedness, it was useless, as I had no chance reading it.  There was a lovely Irish chap in the pub who had done the race before and was a similar pace to me, so I decided to keep him in sight through the trickiest sections to navigate.

So, at about 9.40, we were off.  Hats, gloves and long bottoms were in order, given the freezing conditions.

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This is the profile for the first 56k of the race.  It looks a bit hilly, but there is nothing to be worried about and as soon as you hit the tow path, it is totally flat right to the finish.

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The first half of the race is lovely.  You go through fields, country lanes and bridal ways.  Initially it was all frozen, which made is so easier to run on.  We were advised to start a little more quickly than usual, as there are queues at the 6 or 7 gates and stiles, but we didn’t and lost probably 15 minutes waiting our turn.

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After the lovely countryside, you get the tow path for almost all of the second half of the race.  I don’t know why, but I had some kind of romantic idea of what the tow path would be like.  I was thinking lovely house boats, nice views of the countryside and maybe some wildlife.  What we got was mainly skanky house boats, industrial estates, blocks of flats, more empty cans of lager and bottles of vodka than you can imagine and rubbish in the water.  This added to the fact that this section was dull.  As flat as  a pancake and slippery in quite a lot of places.

The nicest views that we had were when we first joined the tow path.

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We were really pleased to see the sign saying 13.5 miles to Paddington (where the finish is), which meant that we were leaving the Grand Union canal towards central London.

So, a half marathon later, with the sun almost gone, I got home in 8 hours 16 minutes.

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I’m really surprised by that. I was expecting it to be a lot nearer to 9 hours, but if I hadn’t been held up at the gate/stiles at the start and if I hadn’t taken a detour, my finishing time may have started with a 7.

The learning curve continues and I keep getting things better.  The packing of my back pack was much better.  I had a small dry bag of spare clothes and another of food.  I had smaller bags of food that fitted into the front pockets of my vest, rather than having to reach into the back pockets to get food.  I also had the salt tablets and zero tabs in a more accessible place.  Anything to make life easier.

Now, the weather forecast was for sunshine and low temperatures and a little back wind.  What we actually got was cloud, then drizzle, then rain, then snow.  When it started to rain, I stopped to put the correct clothing on and then repacked properly afterwards.

The tailwind certainly worked.  I had a whole sachet in small Salomon flasks and sipped at them periodically.

There is certainly a question over footwear for this race.  There is an argument for both trail and road shoes.  I ran in road shoes and was slipping and sliding through certain sections.  I benefited at the end with the extra cushioning.

So, the race itself.  I’ve got mixed emotions.  I’m glad I did it and would recommend doing it as part of a training programme.  I wouldn’t do it again though.  I now know that I don’t like self navigation events.  I thought that the aid stations were basic, but maybe I’m spoiled by the offerings at the Centurion, STE and White Star events.  It would be really nice to have hot drinks at a couple of the aid stations at this time of the year as well.  The veggie sausages at one of the aid stations were a really good touch.  There was no shelter at the aid stations and nowhere to sit.  In an ultra it is good to be able to sit down to change clothes and tend to any foot issues.  The only option was wet walls or a very soggy floor.  The other thing I don’t understand is being told at the penultimate aid station that there was 13 miles to go.  Evidently that was not the case as we had passed the 13.5 miles to Paddington sign some time back.  It was a lot closer to 10 miles.  If you’re working to a goal time or just knackered, this could really hit your morale.  The volunteers were all fantastic, smiley (in some horrid weather) and helpful.  We can never say thank you enough to these people who make these events happen.

Finally, you get a lovely long sleeved non-technical t-shirt and a really nice medal.

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Thank you, Go Beyond.  2017 had got off to a really good start.

Take care and have fun,

Neil.

#fuelledbyplants

Bovington Marathon 2016

So, it was time for the Bovington Marathon.  The last of the White Star Running events for this year, the inaugural event at this location and my second marathon in 2 weeks.

During the week leading up to the race, Andy (Race Director) was posting the usual videos of the venue and the course. On this occasion we were treated to the warnings of the water obstacles as well as a glimpse of the wonderful countryside.

Somehow, WSR managed to get permission to use the Ministry of Defence tank training site in Dorset, home county for most of their races.

Our weekend started with a parkrun (an attempt to get Nick to her 50th parkrun around her 50th birthday), followed by a 2 and a half hour drive over to Dorset and the Premier Inn in Poole.

By 5.30, the 7 Burgess Hill Runners who were running the half and the full marathon the following day had started their alternative Christmas Party, as this race fell on the same weekend as the real party back home.  Probably not the best prep in the world, especially as we were still in the pub at 10.30.

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So, 6 hours sleep later, it was time to get up.  It was still dark outside and my body was asking why I’d had 6 pints of local ale the night before.

Time for a bit of make up and we were off on the 30 minute drive to the start.

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It was really foggy outside, which meant that it was really cold, adding to our reluctance to summon the energy and the will to leave the warmth of the car.

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We had no idea what to expect from the course as it was the inaugural event, although mud, hills, tank tracks and shin high water obstacles were inevitable and it certainly didn’t disappoint on any of those fronts.

It was possibly the most complicated course layout I have ever seen, but the hills didn’t offer huge amounts to fear (don’t think that makes it easy – mud makes up for hills).

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At 9am, we’re off, but not before the race brief and safety announcements.  This is the first and last race brief where I will hear them say ‘if you see anything that looks like a grenade, don’t pick it up as it probably is a grenade’.  Followed by ‘have fun – don’t die’.

The first couple of miles are pretty flat and then you come across the first water hazard.

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There were 2 options.  Queue and go round the edge or straight through the middle.  No prizes for guessing which one I took.  Splish splosh.

It is then pretty much uphill until the 10k mark.

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I really wasn’t expecting it to be this lovely.  The forest was amazing and the fog was perfect for taking lovely pictures.  I was just lost in my own little world of loveliness.

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Once the hill is finished, you hit the tank tracks and the open spaces with the tanks roam in their natural environment.  This is tough.  It’s muddy with close, gentle undulations.

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The terrain is also very varied with open sections of muddy trail, stony, sandy pathways and heath land.

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Of course, there is also the odd tank shattered around here and there.  This is a MOD training site after all.

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So this is me at the end.  Being the tree hugger than I am, I was very pleased to see the ‘Make Cakes Not War’ sign.  This being WSR, the medal is huge and very impressive.

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I think that this was probably the best trail marathon that I have run this year, maybe ever.  Not a negative split, but not far off.  The last 3km were in the top 10 quickest km’s of the whole race, which means that I got the pacing right and there was still something left at the end.  I finished in 4 hours 47 minutes.

I did suffer from number 2 toilet problems again.  3rd race in a row.  Not too bad, but still enough to want to sort it out.  These 3 races have been the first 3 that I have used Tailwind on, but maybe it had something to do with the spicy bean burger and the gallon of ale I had on Saturday night.

Again I fuelled on Nakd bars, mixed dried fruit and Torq jels (jels added on this race), as well as Tailwind.  Oh, and the vegan cake at 2 of the aid stations.  Mmmmmmmmmm.

From the comments on social media, it appears that everyone had a great day.  A few people got lost (as did I), but it doesn’t matter.  You don’t win awards like this without doing something right and WSR do pretty much everything right.  Trail marathons are about seeing the countryside, pushing yourself, meeting people and having fun.  Bovington delivered on all fronts.

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So that’s the end of my running year, apart from a couple of parkruns and a few steps closer to my 100 t-shirt.

This year has seen another big step forward.  I completed my first two 50 mile races, including my first Centurion race.  There were another 7 marathons, including back to back marathons at Bad Cow.  Sussex Trail Events and White Star Running have formed the back bone of these events, mainly because they’re the daddies and they make me happy.

A huge amount of thanks go to everyone who has made 2016 so brilliant.  All of the coaches and fellow club mates who have advised, encouraged and pushed me along the way.  To Philippe for being just awesome and being the best company throughout many of the races this year.  To Jon Lavis (at Sussex Trail Events races) and Rob Hannam (at the White Star Events) for taking such great photos and helping to build a memory bank, as well as helping to make a much more interesting blog.  And to Nick for being herself in all her amazingness and inspiring me to go quicker so that she doesn’t beat me.  The 2 photos below are my favorites of the 100’s taken from this year.

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Next year sees the first challenge early on in January with Country to Capital, then the SDW50, Ox50 and SDW100, with several marathons scattered around in between.

Still hoping my knees don’t give up soon.

Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year and please be kind to animals.

Neil.

#fuelledbyplants

Mouth 2 Mouth Marathon 2016

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It is a long old walk (or run if you’re not human).

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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.

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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.

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At 25k you get another aid station and a long descent to meet the Arun River, which is our guide back to Littlehampton.

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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.

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At around 34.5km Arundel Castle came into view and about 10 minutes later, you could see it in all its glory.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Beachy Head Marathon 2016

‘Fresh’ from a weekend of crewing and pacing for Philippe on the Autumn 100, we thought that it was time to knuckle down, get back to some hard work in preparation for next year with just the Bovington Marathon left in December.

I checked my emails last week and found the final race instructions for the Beachy Head Marathon.  Having avoided running it for several years through fear of putting unnecessary pressure on my knees, I had actually entered it back in February, but had forgotten about it.

My first experience of the Beachy Head Marathon was a rainy day 7 years ago.  We went biking in our lovely camper van.  We saw people running up towards the 7 Sisters and I remember commenting that it was totally mental to be doing that and in such rubbish weather.  At that stage we were still living in Brighton, hadn’t met up with the folk at Burgess Hill Runners and trail running was a totally alien concept.

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Sadly, this weekend is remembered for the day that our camper van turned from this.

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into this.

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So, 7 years later and 23 marathons later, the alarm went off at 5.30am and we set off for the Beachy Head Marathon and to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t seem quite as mental any more.

The Beachy Head Marathon is famed for how tough it is. If you look at the profile of the race, it’s hardly surprising.

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I was actually surprised by how runnable and fair most of it is. Yes, there are very long uphill sections, but when you are of my level, you walk up them. You accept that and move on. The issue comes when you can’t run the downhills because they are too steep. For the most part, this is not the case with Beachy. In fact, I was surprised with how much was actually runnable, either slightly uphill or pleasantly downhill.

The first km is VERY uphill. We had spent about 20 minutes queuing for the limited toilets and started at the back of the field. I think that this cost me around 5 minutes (not that it matters greatly), as it was so crowded on the way up the steep incline and the flatter sections that followed.

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The next 4km undulate until you reach the highest point on the course, over 120m above where you started. This is followed by nearly 1.5km of easy downhill. The profile maps are very misleading on the Beachy Head marathon. This section really looks too steep to run, but is certainly isn’t. You’ve got to be careful though. You run through leaves on the floor, there are loose stones everywhere and tree roots that claimed a good few victims. This is the case on many sections of the race.

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The next 2 climbs/walks and 2 runs that ensue are lovely. The views would have been amazing, if it wasn’t for the weather. While perfect for running, it was pretty rubbish for sightseeing.

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The views looked like this,

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rather than this (a photo I prepared earlier).

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Lovely view of the SDW100 near Jevington

15km you arrive in Alfriston, a small village which typifies this part of Sussex. It is a great place to spectate and the supporters offer a nice boost.

After Alfriston there is a 3.5km climb before a very nice 7km descent into Litlington, giving a great chance to make up some time lost on the ascent.

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It is after Litlington where the smaller, killer hills kick in.

This includes a section through Friston Forest.  I spent a lot of time biking in Friston Forest and Cuckmere Haven when I first moved to Brighton and this is one of the reasons I fell in love with the Sussex countryside.  It is always a pleasure to go back and run there, even though it involves 2 sets of stairs and because it includes one of the best views of Cuckmere Haven.

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As you drop down into Cuckmere Haven, the 7 Sisters and the other related hills come into sight.  I was about to become one of the those nutters I’d seen 7 years earlier, but by now, the weather had cleared and we got the views that allowed the area to show itself off in all it’s beauty.

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I was still capable of running some of the uphill sections at this stage, which gave me the confidence to attack the Sisters.  I was overtaking people regularly.  I was even told by one of the 100 Marathon Club runners that I looked ‘as fresh as a daisy’.  Not sure about that, but I’ll take it.

This is 4km of clamber/crawl/walk uphill and run down when the severity of the descent allows it.

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After Birling Gap, there is a lot of slight undulation until you get to the huge hill that is gifted to you by the trail gods at 38km.  That’s a 1 mile walk until you reach the top and start the descent into the finish.

I had picked Oli Jones up on the Sisters, so had the pleasure of his company for the last 90 minutes or so.  He was one of the many people who choose this as their first ever marathon.

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And that was it, after a slow walk down the hill we’d gone up just after 9am, the Beachy Head marathon was done and dusted.

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5 hours 13 minutes.  Pretty pleased with that.  I had 5.15 to 5.30 in my head. I felt strong most of the way.  This was more about learning for next year.

For the first time I used Tailwind.  I used it diluted in a little water, so highly concentrated, as per my cheese eating ultra mentor on the A100.  That seems to work.  No funny stomach and easy to get down.  I also ate little Nakd bites.  They are so small you don’t even have to chew them.

So, thoughts on the race.  I can’t think of a better, more fulfilling challenge than tackling the 7 Sisters at 19 miles of a marathon.  The pure joy of knowing you’ve beaten it is fantastic.  The countryside is amazing and the organisation top notch.  Number collection and bag drop were very easy.  I didn’t have a great experience with toilet queues.  The volunteers were brilliant.

This is probably a very personal view point, but I found the course really crowded, even after several miles.  This is certainly the busiest trail event I have ever done.  I’m not used to that.  I prefer the smaller numbers of the Sussex Trail Event, White Star and Centurion races.  With these larger races, there’s also less chance of me winning my game of race number bingo, as I need 35 or 39 for a run of 4 consecutive numbers.

I was disappointed by the aid stations.  Several of them only offered chocolate, biscuits and cold drinks.  I don’t think that there was anything salty/savory and the only vegan offering was banana.  Maybe this was in the race instructions, but it’s a good job that I carried enough food with me.  For one of the more expensive events in the area, I thought that this could be improved upon.

On a similar theme, even though I’m not someone who is massive on what the medal looks like, it definitely appears that the medal has been downgraded since Nick did this race in 2014.

In short, this is an icon of an event and any trail marathon runner needs to add this to their diary at least once.

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Well done to the organisers and the volunteers.  What a fantastic day out.

Have fun, Neil

#fuelledbyplants