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

 

Chiltern Wonderland 50 – Centurion Running

Centurion Running events have taken on iconic status in the Dawson household over the past few years.  Firstly, because the ultra pioneers in our club (Jan, Paul, Darren and Philippe to name just a few) had all completed a Centurion event and secondly, the South Downs Way 50 and 100 are run over the national trail that we love so much.

Nick has volunteered at the SDW 50 and 100 and we have supported, taken photos and crewed on the both events.

So, everything pointed towards doing the SDW50 and 100 in 2017.  However, the Chiltern Wonderland 50 popped up beforehand, with the chance of completing the inaugural event through some wonderful countryside.

Training had gone well.  A few marathons, including a back to back weekend and the stomach has been quiet for some time now.  In the run up to the race I wasn’t my usual ‘excited like a kid in a sweet shop’ self, which meant that I was sleeping better and eating well, which was all very positive.  The weather in the lead up to the race was incredible.  In the space of 3 days, we had gone from 35 degrees baking heat to flooding after torrential downpours.  Race day was perfect, much cooler, cloudy and only a little drizzle.

We stayed in Reading overnight at a Premier Inn to leave a 20 minute drive to the start.  Compulsory kit check, number collection and bag drop were quick.  We had time for a few last minute kit adjustments before the race brief and the short walk to the start.

My plan was to get to the half way check point (25.8 miles) in 5 hours and then do the second half in around 6 hours with 11 hours being the ultimate goal.  It’s pretty difficult to know exactly what to plan given that you don’t know the course and it was the inaugural event.

So, off we go.  The first 6km are mostly along the Thames and relatively flat.  The aim at this stage is to go as slow as I can.  It’s definitely a marathon (well nearly 2), not a sprint.

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There are a few things that I am trying to put right with my game plan and one of them came up pretty early.  It was cool at the start, so I set off with a base layer on.  5 miles in, I was boiling.  I was faced with a decision.  Stop and take it off and lose 3 minutes or so, or wait until the first check point at 10 miles and get increasingly hot, sweat lots more and potentially cause issues later in the race.  It’s not rocket science, but previously I would have waited until the aid station.  These issues may seem minor, but getting over the hurdle of fixing a problem and forgetting about losing a bit of time is really important when you’re going to be on your feet for 11 hours + (or up to 30 hours on a 100 miler).  Similar issue to Nick refusing to stop to remove a stone from her shoe on the recent Lunar-tic marathon.  I did stop and remove the base layer.

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The first hill comes at 6km.  It is about 700m long and is around 12%.  A little warm up for what lies ahead.  The bumps in the road continue, as does the beautiful countryside, including the lovely Crowsley Park and Pissen Wood.

I developed a problem early on in the race.  Much too early.  At around 10 miles I started to get cramps in my right calf.  I seldom cramp and I certainly don’t get cramps this early.  With 40 miles to go there were 2 really important things to do.  Firstly, don’t panic and let it worry me or get me down.  Secondly, deal with it and try to make it go away.  I stopped every 5 minutes or so to stretch it out and I kept up the intake of water, salt tablets and electrolytes.  This lasted for about 90 minutes, but it slowly eased.

The calf cramps were replaced with ‘washing machine stomach’.  It’s the only way to describe it.  Gurgling belly and increasingly worrying wind.  I was running and chatting with a young lady at the time.  I apologised to begin with, but then gave up on that, offering a blanket apology for my arse noises.

I knew that there were some serious hills in the middle of the race.  There were 5 really testing sections, 4 leading up to the aid station at half way and 1 afterwards.  Below are the profile maps.  There are 2, as I used 2 watches.

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The first one is 2km long and the gradient between 5% and 15% through Warburg Nature Reserve.  The second one goes through Stonor Park for 2km with a total climb of more than 100m.  The third one is shorter at about 500m, but the gradient gets up to 25% at times to Cobstone Mill (location for filming for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1967).  The fourth one goes through Twigside Bottom and leads up to the aid station and is another 2km with gradients up around 14% towards the end.  The final hill of the 5 was another 100m climb.

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The aid station at Ibstone was very welcome for 2 reasons.  First of all, it was just over half way.  The countdown had begun.  Secondly, the second half of the course was easier than the first half (easier not easy).

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I reached the half way aid station at 5 hours 17 minutes.  That was 17 minutes slower than hoped, but good going, given the hills.

I ate well in the aid station, filled up with water and electrolyte tabs again and headed off uphill, through another wooded section before I had to quickly disappear into the woods and evacuate my ‘washing machine’ stomach.  I have never had this issue before.  Violent diarrhoea in the middle of nowhere is not funny.  But there we go, another thing successfully dealt with.  Onwards and upwards.

The second half of the race was easier, but certainly not easy.  There were several sections where up hills lead steeply into wooded areas, which became increasingly tough as the legs got more tired and the light began to fail.

Concentration levels had to increase as the conditions became more difficult.  There were sections with serious camber, steep down hills and one area that passed through a badger set with large and slightly hidden holes.  Towards the end, we ran through woods in the dark.  The head torch helped, but it is still tough to concentrate on the way ahead, flint on the floor, ruts/tree roots in the path and moveable objects like dead branches and brambles.

There were a lot more gradual down hills in the second half of the race.  They were very welcome as the body began to tire.   Slowly but surely, the miles were ticked off and we arrived back in Goring, where we had started.  With about half a mile to go, there were several groups of people cheering us on and the finish line was in sight.

I finished in 11 hours 15 minutes, so the second half was quicker than planned.  I was 15 minutes outside the A target time.  I don’t really care though.  This was a fantastic learning curve and a wonderful experience.

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So, apart from being an experience in itself, the CW50 is part of the learning process, which will hopefully culminate in the SDW100 next year.  So, what did I learn?

Unexpected things can go wrong.  Early cramps and dodgy runny poo have never happened before, but I dealt with them and got on with it.  When you’re out for 11 to 30 hours, a lot can go wrong, but there is a lot of time for it to get better as well.  Don’t panic and deal with it logically.

I love jam sandwiches.  Well, I love jam sandwiches in the second half of a 50 mile race.  I will probably not touch them again until the next race, but it’s good to know.  Food is still an issue.  I was still eating well even at the last aid station.  However, who knows what’s going to happen from 50 to 100 miles.  Maybe jam (and peanut butter?) sandwiches are the way forward.

I certainly can pace properly.  I keep getting it right, which is the huge improvement that I have made this year.  I was pretty close to the target times for both halves of the race and I started off slowly.

Organising your kit makes things so much easier.  We bought some small waterproof bags.  I carried 2 with me on the race.  One kept my spare kit dry (jacket, change of top and spare socks) and the other had my medical supplies and food in.  I also had another which didn’t go with me on the race.  That had all health and sanitary products in that I didn’t need during the race.  This is a simple small win, but knowing where everything is means that you are more relaxed and you don’t forget anything important.

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Centurion stage fantastic races.  There is a different feel to other trail races I have done recently, although having just done a relay carrying a squeaky rubber chicken, that’s not a surprise.  They are very professional and nothing is left to chance.  You can’t when people are out on course for so long.  The marking out on the course was perfect.  I got lost once and only lost about 5 minutes (don’t pay more attention to your mobile phone than the arrow signs).  If anyone is looking for a tough 50 mile trail event next year, you will not be disappointed if you have a go at this.

Finally, it has become even more evident that 100 miles is a very long way and we have a lot of work to do to get to the level required to complete that distance.  In the 24 hours after the race, both Nick and I expressed doubts about our ability to complete the SDW100.  I am sure that we are not alone in going through this immediately after a tough day on the trails.  However, that has now passed and the 9 month plan is now being written, races being booked and goals being set.

I would like to thank James and the Centurion Team for all of their hard work.  Everything was perfect.  My first Centurion event lived up to everything that I had hoped it would be.  Can’t wait for next year.  Special thanks to the young man at the final aid station for giving us all extra power with his sign.

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Next is the Bovington Marathon with White Star Running in December (unless I can find another in the meantime).

Have fun, Neil.

#fuelledbyplants

13 The Hard Way and The East Farm Frolic

Another weekend of back to back races beckoned and something bad happened.

We had to say goodbye to Ernie.  He only came into our lives under a year ago.  We gave him food, warm shelter, a cushion and laps to sit and dribble on, regular brushes and all the love we could.  In return, he gave us love and lots of fun.

Making the decision that he was too ill to carry on was tough and having him peacefully die on my knee was equally as hard.

There’s a bit of a hole in our lives now.  Bye bye mate.

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A weekend away was really what the doctor ordered.

We started with the inaugural 13 The Hard Way.  This is a trail half marathon organised by Sussex Trail Events (one of my 2 favourite race organisers) on our doorstep.

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As you can see from the profile below, it’s pretty easy to guess where the name comes from.  This definitely rivals the 3 Forts Half for the crown of toughest half in the county.  104 metres of climb in the first kilometre.

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After the first climb, it is up and down all the way to the 7km point along the wonderful South Downs Way.

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Then it is downhill all the way to the turn around point, apart from a ‘little bump’ when you are almost at the turn around aid station.

The climb back out when you start to retrace your steps is brutal.  It is about 4km in total and really tough in the heat.

Even when you get back up on to the main wide area of the South Downs Way, you’re not out of the woods.  It’s still up and down all the way back to the steep final downhill section (which I walked).

As with all Sussex Trail Events races, this is welcoming, low key and a great way to spend the morning.  I know this part of the the SDW like the back of my hand, so nothing was a surprise.

I heard one lady saying that it was her first ever trail run.  She was either very brave or didn’t read the race description properly.

Burgess Hill Runners made up a considerable portion of the field, including a couple of first time half marathon runners.  It’s very impressive to take this one on for your first half marathon.

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As soon as we finished, it was back home, quick shower and the surprisingly short drive over to Dorset for the 12 hour East Farm Frolic from White Star Running (the other of my favourite 2 race organisers), which was due to start at 8am the following day.

BHR had 5 teams of 4 plus a large amount of small people in tow.  We had a large group of campers and once set up, it was time to pop to the main race tent for some hydration.

The race was laps of 6km-ish and the idea was to do as many as you could in 12 hours as a team of 4, 3, 2 or as a solo runner.

The course was up and down, through some woods, over some fields, down some tracks, up some tracks and back to the start line.

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With the usual sense of WSR fun, the baton was a squeaky rubber chicken, which had to be carried at all times.  And there was a chicken baton change over point.

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I managed 6 laps, which was just over 37km.  Another lap would have made a marathon, but the exertions of the past few weeks, the beer from the night before and the temptation of clean clothes, a shower (the best portable shower in history), a beer and a chat got the better of me and I stopped.

I was lucky enough to do the last lap with Gary, one of the most improved runners in the club and a top chap.

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The winner did 69 miles.  Amazing.  Almost as incredible is the medal.  Wow.

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What summed up the weekend and really shows what White Star is all about was Monday morning and the Folic Chaos race.

We had never done a Chaos Race, as we have always left after the race.  The Chaos Race is a bit of fun for everyone over a short distance and any profits go to charity.  The proceeds of this race went to MNDA.  It is £6 to enter and the medal (yes, there’s a medal) was tremendous.

We gathered for a dance warm up, then we removed our shoes, put one in each of the large refuge sacks at the finish line and watched them disappear off up the hills where they were deposited on the floor in 2 different places.

The idea is that you run up the hill, find your shoes, run back down the hill and complete a 4km circuit, including a visit to the Love Station, before heading back to the start and collecting your lovely medal.

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We walked a lot of it, nursing a bit of a hangover, and giving the kids a helping hand up the hills.  This was probably my favourite part of the weekend.  The kids got a chance to experience a race and an aid station and they got a great medal.

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A huge thank you to Rob (at the Frolic) and Jon and John (at the Hard Half) for the great photos.  Thank you for Jay, Chris, Danny and Steve at STE and Andy & his team at WSR.  If Carling made weekends and all that.

Now for 3 weeks of taper before my biggest test so far, the Chiltern Wonderland 50.

Take care, Neil.

#fuelledbyplants

 

 

 

Bad Cow Marathon Weekend

So, the Bad Cow weekend arrived and we headed back to Holton Lee in Dorset, where we had run the Bad Cow Saturday marathon last year. We love Dorset, but we had agreed not to do the same event 2 years running.

We broke this promise for 2 reasons.  Firstly, it’s White Star.  We love White Star.  They’re cool, as are their races.  Secondly, with the Chiltern Wonderland 50 fast approaching, this seemed like a good last big training weekend with a marathon on Saturday and Sunday.

It’s 100 mile drive from Sussex, which took me 4 hours.  Lovely Friday rush hour.  When I got there, Nick and the rest of the Burgess Hill Runners campers were there along with Nick’s Dad and his wife.

My tent was already erect and all I had to do was to open a beer and get my vegan pizza from the on-site caterers (MYO – very good you know).

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It was pretty cold on Friday night and we soon headed off to bed pretty early ready for an early start on Saturday.  I didn’t sleep well (surprise surprise).  6 foot 2” light sleeper inside pop up tent while the wind is blowing a gale and it’s chucking it down outside.  Recipe for 3 hours kip.

So, I got up.  The first person on the camp site to emerge from their shelter.  If only there were a prize for this.  I’d win at every race where we camp.  Breakfast was good.  The stomach wasn’t playing up (yet) and slowly but surely the camp site came to life (assisted by Andy, the race director driving round the field with music on full blast).

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9am and it’s time to go.  The 2 marathons are on the same course, but are run in different directions on each day.   There is also a 10k race at 6pm on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday morning for those who don’t fancy taking on 26-ish miles.

The race is 8 laps of varied terrain and flora/trees and so on.  This is the flattest of the White Star events with only 2 sections that I would call hills.

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There is always a sense of fun at WSR races, but I think that they outdid themselves this time.  There’s always fancy dress and there’s always an incredibly relaxed and jovial atmosphere.  The runners are always very friendly.  There is always a ‘Love Station’ as well, which is the feature aid station on WSR events.  For the Bad Cow Marathons you pass it 8 times and it was a joy.  It was ABBA themed.  Music playing all day.  There was singing, dancing and booze.  It really was quite amazing.  I don’t know how they kept it up all day.  They did also have a lovely selection of the usual aid station food and drink.

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So, for my races.  I knew that I should have taken day 1 easy, but that would be too easy.  Something inside me was saying to go for a time.  So I did.  Well, a time for me, but it’s all relative.  These races are chip times, so you have accurate lap split times.  One day I decided to set off around 6 minute km pace.  This would give me my second quickest marathon ever and would batter my trail marathon record.  The splits are below (each lap is 5.3km).

Lap 1 – 31.17
Lap 2 – 30.55
Lap 3 – 30.56
Lap 4 – 30.22
Lap 5 – 31.07
Lap 6 – 33.10
Lap 7 – 38.33
Lap 8 – 38.57

I’m getting pretty good at running even splits, although I ran out of gas on the last 2 laps.  There was a lot more run/walking involved, but a finishing time of 4 hours 25 minutes and 7 seconds.  That’s my third quickest marathon ever and quickest trail marathon by a distance.

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At the end of day 1, I must admit that I was pretty reticent about doing the same thing the next day (but in the opposite direction).  It turns out that there was nothing to fear.  In fact, day 2 was much more fun.  I ran with Nick and Philippe for the first 3 laps.  We took lots of photos and had a real laugh.

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I set out at 5 hour 25 minute pace (an hour slower than the previous day seemed like a good arbitrary target).  My pacing on day 2 was spot on.

Lap 1 – 39.40
Lap 2 – 39.02
Lap 3 – 38.38
Lap 4 – 39.41
Lap 5 – 38.11
Lap 6 – 38.15
Lap 7 – 37.12
Lap 8 – 36.12

That’s 5 hours 6 minutes and 51 seconds.

Almost constant until the last 2 laps when I speeded up.  I felt strong and really loved day 2.  Very unexpected.

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I fuelled on baby food, tomatoes, crisps and fruit.  I took a salt tablet every hour and used Zero electrolyte tablets in my drinks.

As far as confidence boosts for my second 50 miler go, this could not have been better.

So, what did I learn from this weekend:

  1. Pacing is king. Choose a pace that you feel you’re going to be comfortable at and keep to it.  Even if you’re feeling good at 10k, 15k or 20k, don’t speed up.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Literally.
  2. If you wear a head torch in bed and there is a moth in your tent, it will constantly fly into your head until you turn the torch off.
  3. Learn from the professionals. Having read about the meticulous preparation of the Team GB cycling squad and how they take their own pillows with them everywhere they go, to aid with better sleep, I decided to take my own pillows with me.  This was clearly a step up from rolling up my bulky clothing to fashion a pillow, which is what I did at Giant’s Head.
  4. Philippe is forgetting how to speak French.
  5. Get smaller bags to pack different types of things in, rather than putting everything in one big bag. This will make it easier to find things.  In conjunction with this, get everything ready the night before the race rather than rolling up, cracking open a beer and saying ‘I’ll do it in the morning’.
  6. The weather always sounds worse inside a tent than it actually is outside.
  7. Runners are brilliant. Volunteers, photographers, fellow runners.    Just amazing.  This community is the business.  It doesn’t matter how quick or slow you are.  Everyone cheers.  Everyone encourages you along.  Big hugs to you all.
  8. ABBA can make you happy. I know that the circumstances were slightly strange, but ABBA actually made me happy.  My only regret is that I didn’t get the chance to sing ‘Knowing Me Knowing You, Aha’ in an Alan Partridge style at the aid station.
  9. Hokas are sooooooooooooooooooo comfortable. I ran the first half of day 2 in my normal Adidas road shoe, but changed back to my Hokas for the last 3 laps.  My first ever pair and I love them.

So, that’s the Bad Cow by White Star running.  In a nut shell, great race, lovely place, wonderful people, amazing medals, free photos (yes free photos – free – yes free, and they’re really good.  A huge thank you to Rob Hannam for these) and the best aid station on the planet.  There is only one thing I’d suggest as an improvement for this event and that is the flavour of the crisps in the goods bag.  Would have loved veggie friendly crisps. You can tell that your £30-ish has been well spent when that’s how deep you have to scrape the barrel for something you’d like to change.

Thank you Andy, the Race Director.  Just amazing.  You set the standard.

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Thank you all of the White Star crew, thank you to all of the volunteers, thank you to my wonderful fellow runners and finally, thank you to my Burgess Hill Runner friends for being in the best running club there is.

So, what’s next.  Oh yes, East Farm Frolic.  See you next week White Star people.

Take care, Neil.

#fuelledbyplants

The Lunar-tic Marathon 2016

Another week and another race that starts in the light goes into the night.  That’s the Lunar-tic marathon from Sussex Trail Events.

The course is flat, but don’t let that make you think that this is easy.  Maybe the fact that the Endure 1250 was only a week earlier made my legs a little heavier, but this race is not to be underestimated.

The race starts at 8pm.  Registration is quick and easy, as it always is with STE.  Plenty of time for a photo with the rest of the Burgess Hill Runners team before kick off.

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The race starts with a couple of laps of the field at the Adur Outdoor Activities Centre before you head out onto the course itself for 3 laps before returning to the finish which is near by the start line.

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My plan was to hang back for a while and keep running for as long as possible.  Waling was going to be inevitable at some stage.

We have done a lot of events around this part of Sussex.  The Downslink Ultra, The Darkstar Marathon and the BHR Downslink relay all take in this area of the River Adur.  It is easy to become bored and blasé about it, but it really is lovely.

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This river has a place in my heart as it is a tidal river with mud flats, which reminds me so much of home.

It was important to make the most of being able to see the sights on the first lap, as the second and third were in darkness.

The laps were up the east side of the river, over the bridge at Bramber, down the west side of the river and then over the wooden bridge in Shoreham, which was the sight of the floral memorial for the air crash victims.

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I had planned to go round in around 4.45, but this was very ambitious, given the tired legs, the terrain, which I found tough again and the fact that it was at night.  I began to slow down at around 16 miles, when it became obvious that 5 hours + was on the cards.

This was good for 2 reasons.  First of all, with longer distances on the horizon, I’m happy to get used to run/walking and secondly for the first time ever, I finished a race with Nick.

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I was slightly in front at the last checkpoint when I heard her voice, so I decided to wait.  We kept each other going over the last 7km.

This could, should or might have been the race for Nick to come home in front of me (she did by a couple of seconds to be fair).  Who knows what would have happened if we’d actually raced for the last hour.  I thought that she was dragging me along, but it seems that the feeling was mutual.  It’s only a matter of time though.  She was so stubborn towards the end, she kept going and going.  So impressed to see it first hand.

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And this is one of my favourite racing photos ever.  I’m so lucky to be able to do this and to share it with Nick.  Happy days.

A huge thank you to Jon for the wonderful photos and to Jay, Danny and Chris for another lovely race.

Next on the list is the Hard Half (also from Sussex Trail Events) and the East Farm Frolic on the same weekend.

Have fun and keep moving.  One foot in front of the other.

Neil.

#fuelledbyplants