Velothon by Sussex Trail Events

The Velothon was the 2015 version of the track marathon organised by Sussex Trail Events.

I had done the Lemmings Track Marathon in 2014, so knew what lay ahead.  However, the Velothon had less laps.  Hurray.  Each lap was longer.  Boo.  Each lap of this 19th century cycling track was 579m, meaning the race was just over 72 laps.

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Running a marathon is about preparation and this was the worst preparation that I have ever had for a race.  In fact, my participation was in some serious doubt in the lead up to race day.  Over the past month or so my anxiety levels have increased day by day.  I have regularly been skipping meals and taking more and more refuge in sleep, which becomes the safest place to be during these periods.  Getting out of bed each morning has been more and more difficult each day.  A corner seemed to be turned a couple of days before the race with a huge amount of help from Nick and a good few tears later I decided that I would give it a go.

So there were 4 of us Burgess Hill Runners at the race.  I was in very good company.  Philippe has completed so many marathons this year, he’s lost count.  Debbie was fresh from a cracking run at Beachy Head and Jamie is, well……..a machine.

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In addition to this, the field of 30+ runners had many seasoned marathon runners, including several 100 Marathon Club members.  Well it is a bit of a crazy event and the weather was not looking good.

We gathered at Preston Park at around 8.20am to get ready and check out the course.  I really was not expecting the course to have such a climb on each lap.  The overall climb (and fall) for the whole race was 534m.  In addition, on 2 of the corners, there was quite a camber.  In my head I was thinking Olympic velodrome.  That would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

So, after a quick race brief (no need for a long one – just run round and round for a while) we were off.

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One of my main mottos in my sport of choice is that I don’t really worry about what other people are doing.  It’s not about them, it’s about me.  Never is that more so than on a track marathon.  I think that the winner probably lapped me 20+ times.  If that troubles you, this probably isn’t the type of event for you.

So the mental and physical battle begins.  And as the event unfolds quite a few spectators come to watch.  This is a really welcome relief.  Some of the parkrunners from the event in Preston Park hung around to watch for a while and more and more Burgess Hill Runners kept appearing.  Amazing people.  It was wet, windy and the weekend and they gave up their time to give us a helping hand.  Amazing.  Especially being able to high five this young lady, who shouted my name lap after lap.

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So what is there to say about the race.  Well, I wanted to do the first half in 2 hours.  Part of the prep for pacing for the Brighton Marathon.  Well, I got there in 1 hour 59 minutes and 15 seconds.  Mission accomplished.  It went downhill from there on.  A mixture of fatigue and the rubbish build up saw to that.  Also, the fact that I’m not ready for a 4 hour marathon yet.  All of my races this year have been off road and hilly and not about times, so this wasn’t a bad attempt.  I walked bit of the last 3 miles, but that’s not of any real importance at the moment.  This pace graph below sums it up really.

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One of the big positives about a track marathon is that you get to visit the aid station and your own personalised drinks and food every lap, or every 579m in this case.

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You also get the encouragement of the race organisers and the spectators each time you pass.  Hats off to the organisers.  It’s obviously easier to organise this event that is trail marathon, but it must be excruciating to watch the runners suffer lap by lap.  I look pretty miserable a lot of the time when I’ve got my race face on.  I can’t imagine what I must have looked like by the end.

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So the end came round and the last few laps were knocked off slowly.  There were only half a dozen runners left on the track when I finished, but it was great to cheer them in, especially this chap who is a constant source of inspiration (and sweaty hugs).

22433954038_f4fbf9dbdd_kSo that’s my running finished for this year.  8 marathons, lots of fun and hard work.  Lots of great countryside, many wonderful new people met and a huge sense of pride and achievement.

The running diary is almost full for next year.  I think that I will be spectating on the Sussex Trail Events races next year rather than running.  If you are thinking of doing any of their races you will not be disappointed.  I promise.

Now to carry out the Brighton Sub 4 plan and to work on getting properly healthy.

Take care and once again a huge thank you to Jon Lavis for these photos.

Neil.

 

Downslink Ultra 2015 by Sussex Trail Events

I’m starting to think that the Sussex Trail Events people have friends in high places.  Nick and I had the week off before the Downslink Ultra this year and it was glorious all week including the day of the race, with the forecast predicting a downturn immediately after the race finished.

This wasn’t all positive, however.  After 2 lovely days out celebrating our wedding anniversary in Brighton and Hove on Monday and Tuesday, I decided to hack away at the out of control hedge at the front of our house on Wednesday.  This is a cardinal sin during the week before a race, resulting in a shooting pain down my back and left leg and a couple of days on the sofa trying to make it better.

So, race day comes.  I’m pretty excited and managed a proper sleep the night before. Nick’s nervous, as it’s the longest she’s been and she’s concerned about spending so much time out running without any hills.  Some people will do anything for an excuse to walk, even if it means finding some hills.

We packed everything the night before, so there was no panic on Sunday morning, just a nice relaxed breakfast before the Lavis family arrived to take us to the start (Jon, Jan and Claire were the tail runners for the day).

It was cold, but sunny and it was nice to be in lovely surroundings and with some familiar faces at St Martha’s Church in the Surrey hills near Guildford.

Registration is quick, easy, organised and relaxed.

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After a few last minute preparations, we headed up the hill from the car park to the very picturesque start area where we received last minute instructions before we head off down the steep hill on the sand, careful not to get any sand in our shoes.

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The plan is not to start off too quickly.  As it happens, it wasn’t possible given the steep downhill and the inevitable bunching caused by the fact that we met a horse on the way down the narrow section about 500 metres in.

The first section is the only part of this course that you could really consider as having any hills, but they are more like inclines.  As planned, I did walk up them though.

After about 4 miles you get onto the Downslink itself and from then on you just follow the signs.  It’s either completely flat, slightly up or slightly down (with the odd proper bit of hill thrown in).

I soon got into a really good rhythm which would get me to the end close to my target time. I completed the first half marathon in 2 hours 15 minutes.  I split this race into thirds. That’s 2 half marathons and then 12 miles and given the inevitable slow down towards the end, the aim is to get the 3 sections to be pretty equal.

Jon was at Rudgwick Station at the half marathon point and I was still looking calm and at this stage well in control.  To be fair, if I wasn’t, there was still a hell of a long way to go and I’d be in trouble.

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So, the second half marathon starts.  The route is more of the same.  The Downslink path doesn’t change much.  It’s punctuated in certain places, especially near Christ’s Hospital on this section where so spend 15 minutes on the road and there is a climb to get back onto the Downlink path.

I had been on my own for some time now.  I had been with a large group up to around the 10 mile mark, but apart from overtaking a few people, it was pretty solitary.  I like that.  It’s just me and the little things ticking round inside me head.

Once back on the path after Christ’s Hospital at the 19 mile mark, there is a lot of downhill. That’s probably how Jon managed to take this picture of me still smiling and looking good at 20 miles.

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Yes, this is a smile.  It’s as close as I get to a smile when me and running meet. I am incredibly joyous on the inside though.

This is where Jon was due to take over from Jan and Claire as tail runner, as they did the first 20 miles.

The second half marathon was a little slower.  I got there in 4 hours 34 minutes.  I must admit, I’m slightly disappointed by that.  I had hoped to run the first 2 half marathons in similar times, but the second one for 4 minutes slower.  Mind you, there was an extra aid station in the second half marathon, so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

I am now back on very familiar territory.  I have run a lot of the last section on many occasions in training and other races.

The next big goal is to get the the aid station at the Cat and Canary at Henfield.  This is a big boost as it is manned by my club, but it was a bit mad when I got there.  It is around the 46 km mark and apart from Jon, I hadn’t really spoken to anyone for about 2 hours.  To be greeted by around 20 people, all so encouraging, helpful and happy to see you was a bit weird.

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I was so grateful for their support and was aware that I wanted to thank everyone for being there, but the main things on my mind were to get the water refilled, Zero tablets in the water, salt tablet down, a bit of food and off again before my legs stopped and the target time disappeared.

There was obviously enough time to pull a stupid face.

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So, just ten or so miles left.  I still felt OK.  Tired, but OK.  My km times were slowing. Whereas up to marathon distance they started with a 6, they now started with a 7.

This is what I was expecting, but I’m so pleased with how the last section went.  I overtook quite a few people.  I didn’t walk (apart from the uphill bits).  Many of the km splits were down towards 7 minutes and one even went below 7 minutes.  It’s amazing what a bit of grit and determination can do, along with the desire to get under the time from last year.

I went through the last aid station very rapidly, just a quick drink and a bite to eat and off for the last 6 km.  This is were the course PB went out of the window.  There was a change to the course from last year, which added over 5 minutes.  The change made total sense in order to avoid crossing a really busy road.  Legs with well over 30 miles in them and a busy road are a recipe for potential disaster.

I kept pushing.  The third and second from last km’s were almost bang on 7 minutes.

I crossed the wooden bridge in Shoreham to get across the River Adur.  Until last week this had been the location of the floral memorial to the victims of the air disaster.  As I crossed the bridge, my thoughts turned to them.  On many occasions during runs like this I remind myself how lucky I am, especially when it’s tough.  I’m fit, healthy, surrounded by loving supportive people and I get the chance to be out in the countryside doing something that I love.  This really came home crossing that bridge.

So, there’s about a kilometer left and I tried to get home under the time from last year, but the uneven flagstones along that stretch made it too tough and I was 40 seconds out.  But there you go, what’s 40 seconds between me and my friend, the Downslink Ultra (especially given that there was an extra loop)?

I got home in 6 hours 55 minutes, which means that the last section of the race was 2 hours 22 minutes.  Slower than the first 2 sections, but very pleasing non the less.

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I am happy to be getting near to the finish line.  Honest.  I’m just very good at not showing it.  Thanks for this picture Sarah and for handing me my medal.

12088068_10153164766118870_4755192543771400870_nThis medal is so precious.  It’s the smallest one I’ve got and I now have 2 of them.

So, I have done a few of these off road marathons now, so I’m getting used to them and learning from previous mistakes.

The positive things to come out of this one are that the feeding and watering worked well. I carried Nakd bar bite size pieces, which I ate regularly and tucked into a bit of savory and sugar at each aid station.  I drink sugary drinks at each aid station and filled up my water bottles including a Zero tablet in each bottle.  I also took a salt tablet at each aid station and I didn’t cramp once.

My pacing was pretty much spot on.  OK, I slowed down towards the end, but that was always going to happen.

The only thing that went wrong was screwing up my back the week before.  Don’t do gardening the week before a race kids.  It’s not the way forward.

My post race thoughts are mixed.  I was looking to build to a 50 mile race, probably in 2017.  I am currently very unsure about whether this is the way forward.  Going over marathon distance is very tough.  However, my thoughts on this race are incredibly positive.  The events organised by Sussex Trail Events are fantastic.  Whether it’s your first or your 100th marathon, it doesn’t matter.  These events are relaxed, welcoming and the organisers are great fun to be with.

If you are thinking of stepping up from marathon distance to a real ultra distance, this is perfect for you.

Sadly, I don’t have any of the photos that I took out on the course, as my phone has decided that it’s not happy with the world and the photos have been lost.

If you want to see a little more of the course, check out this video from Stephen Cousins

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_h80FuDYXMc&feature=youtu.be&app=desktop#

All of his videos are brilliant and this is no exception.

All of the photos of the event on this blog are supplied by Jon Lavis and Paula Ridley.  Thank you both very very much.  Thank you to the Lavis family for everything, not just the lift to the start and thank you to all of the Burgess Hill Runners out there on the course and at the aid station.  Being able to give Wayne some cockney abuse at a low point really picked me up.  Thank you to Sussex Trail Event and all of the volunteers for making this happen.

Take care all, Neil.

Bad Cow Marathon – Saturday 22nd August

So the second part of our White Star Running odyssey was the Bad Cow marathon, having completed the Dorset Invader marathon in July.

11217956_10153081439418870_6912259292643195438_nThis was the first ever staging of this event for the White Star team, so it was new to all of us.

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The Bad Cow weekend consisted of a marathon and early evening 10k on Saturday and then a marathon and half marathon on the Sunday.  The course is laps of approximately 5.3km, making the marathon 8 laps.  It’s flatter than other White Star events.  However, it’s not flat.  It’s all relative.  If you’ve done 3 Forts, Steyning Stinger, Beachy Head, Dorset Invader, Giant’s Head and so on, you’ll find it pretty flat.  The total climb is 288m over the 8 laps.

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To make this more of an adventure and a bit of a ‘holiday’, we set off on Friday afternoon through the painful rush hour / New Forest traffic to arrive at around 6pm.  The 2 second pop up tents are set up in around 5 minutes and we pop down to register, get our numbers and have our pre-ordered food.

One of the beauties of these events is that this is all so easy.   15 minutes after setting up the tents we have our numbers, lovely food and a beer in hand.

The food was provided by MYO.  You could pre-order it and there was a range of pasta, gnocchi and burgers.  They were all very nice at £6 each.

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We were fed and watered by 7.30, so we decided to have a walk to the local pub (about a mile away on foot) for a bit more watering.  About 2 minutes into the walk Andy, the Race Director, came up behind us in his car and gave us a lift on his way home.  Now that we a very pleasant and lovely surprise.

So 3 pints later we walked home.  It was pretty much dark and the camp site was filling up.  We went straight off to bed ready for the challenge of the next day.

I got a good old sleep, punctuated only by a sprint across the field to the toilets (Did I not mention that they have real toilets and a shower block?  Well they do, and they were great).   I woke up around 5am and watched the sun come up.  Why wouldn’t you?  It’s a beautiful morning, I don’t get to do that too often and I’m as excited as hell.

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I spent 90 minutes listening to the birds and the local beasties waking up, while tucking into my ample breakfast.

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The real silence is broken about 7am when Andy drove around the campsite with music on full volume and a loud speaker announcing that breakfast was served and it was time to get up.

So, it was time for breakfast number 2.  The MYO team were serving hot food (bacon rolls, sausage baps, crepes, porridge, tea and coffee).  The sun was up, it was getting warmer and we were eating breakfast in the lovely open air while the organisers finished the set up.

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11890953_10153084951168870_2393637013131134424_n 11904637_10153081439458870_3815881476736973181_nThere was then the sudden realisation that it was starting to get really hot and we had a marathon to run.

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I had a quick shower (Did I mention them?  Oh yeah) and got ready.  It’s a 2 minute walk from the campsite to the start/finish where Andy delivers the usual White Star-style race brief.

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There were cows near the start finish area.  Mike the Bull had the look of an animal who knew the race could have been named after him.

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Time for a quick Burgess Hill Runners team photo before we start.

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And we’re off.

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Right from the start it’s pretty obvious that this is not flat and is not going to be easy.   After a short incline you descend through a field with great views of the harbour before the first climb, which is about 200m long, before you descend to the Love Station.

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This is like an Aid Station, but nicer.  It’s one of 2 aid stations on the course, the other being on the start/finish line.

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It’s then along a private road for 350m (downhill), then straight off road through the zig zags, which are a mixture of open heathland and covered wooded areas.

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The campsite and the race HQ keep popping into sight, as we never stray too far away from the centre of events.

You emerge out of this section into an open field before a lovely twisty turny bit that takes you past the spooky tree (it’s a tree that’s been hit by lightning really) and the stone circle before heading up the steepest hill (it’s not that bad and it’s an excuse to walk).

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You head out into the open with a beautiful view of the sea, before the descent down to the start/finish area.

Simple.  Just do that 8 times.

People don’t like laps, but I didn’t get bored of these laps.  It was a nice way to break a marathon down.  I usually split them into parkruns, so the organisers did this for me.  The tough thing was the weather.  It got really hot (unlike Bad Cow Sunday, when it rained).  I don’t go well in the heat.  Luckily the wonderful people from Bingley Harriers set up an impromptu water station about 1.5k from the end of each lap after a couple of laps.  They must have seen that people were starting to wilt.

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So, my race.  As I said, I don’t do heat very well.  I’m a pasty bloke from Lincolnshire.  I much prefer training in February than August.  I’m also not always the cleverest of runners either.  I find it hard to stop at aid stations to ensure that I take on the relevant food and drink through fear of losing time standing still.  I was determined to ensure that I did take the correct precautions this time and I managed it.

My approximate lap splits are as below:

32 mins 20 seconds
32 mins 40 seconds
33 mins 30 seconds
32 mins 40 seconds
34 mins 52 seconds
37 mins 17 seconds
36 mins 40 seconds
39 mins 00 seconds

There is an obvious slow down.  That’s to be expected with the heat and I also stopped at all 3 aid stations for longer periods and on the start/finish line I stopped several times to get my bag and take a hydration tablet.

There was very little in the way of walking and I didn’t slow as much as I could have done.  The goal was to go somewhere between 4.30 and 5 hours, so 4.39 was a real result.

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As a warm up for Downslink, this can only be seen as a success.

At the end of the race we sat in the finishing area to cheer all of the runners in.  The finish area has such a great atmosphere and it is a pleasure to be able to see other runners cross the line.

The moto of White Star Running is ‘Keep Running Rural’.  It could also be ‘Keep Goodie Bags Local’.  Local cider and fudge are included.  Given that there was a Bad Cow marathon on Saturday and Sunday, it would have been easy to make a buff to cover both days, but no, not these people.  That’d would be too easy.  There’s one for Saturday and one for Sunday.  The medal, as you can see, is brilliant.

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It’s a real measure of the care taken by the organisers that they get a flag for each of the countries of their regular runners and put the WSR moto onto it and Philippe was certainly not left out.

11896105_10153081439483870_3879749984858148217_nFinally, you know how great it is to get the link to post marathon photos and then you realise that you can’t really afford to buy one (well that’s how I feel anyway).  Well, none of that here.  I think I saw 5 photographers out on the course.  They upload their photos to a flickr group for everyone to use.  A huge thank you to these volunteers.  You really are the icing on the cake of a brilliantly organised event.

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The photographers really did capture all of the emotions of marathon day, but the one below really is the best.  This is what it means to get there.

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I can’t recommend White Star Running enough if you’re looking for a calm, laid back, low key, trail event. Check these races out for next year.  We will do all of them over the coming few years.  I’m a bit annoyed that some of them clash with events we have already booked for next year, but in 2017 we will plan our running diary around some of the WSR events.

Take care all and thank you so much White Star Running.

Next stop Downslink.

Neil.

 

Dorset Invader Marathon 2015

The people at White Star Running came onto my radar last year.  I think that they were a suggested post on a social media feed, so I clicked ‘like’.

Over the past year I have been following their posts with interest.  One of their events, the Giants Head Marathon won a big award last year and their events tick all of the right boxes.  Fun, rural and low key.

So Nick and I booked up for the Dorset Invader and the Bad Cow Marathons, one in July and the other in August.  We were joined on the Dorset Invader by 2 friends for our running club.

We had been drip fed information and videos about the event over the past few months.  Andy, the Race Director, clearly excited about the event, shared information about the medals, course, camping, goody bags and so on.  It really did look great.  We were really excited.  I really hoped that we were going to be disappointed.

So we left home around 4 on Friday afternoon, crawled through rush hour and arrived in the lovely Dorset countryside in time to set up camp and get down to the barn for tea and a couple of beers.

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On top of the very reasonable entry fee (you get a lot for your money), you can also pay to camp for the weekend and you can buy tea on Friday night and breakfast on Saturday morning.

There is also a disco / get together type thing on Saturday night for those who can still walk / limp and can bear another night of sleeping in a tent.

The food is lovely. We all pre-ordered. There are pasta bakes (veggie options as well) and cottage pie. The bread is local and lovely and the dessert is apple or rhubarb crumble, which again is top notch.

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We washed tea down with a few pints of local beer from the brewery a mile down the road before heading back to the tents to try to get some sleep.

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I did try, but wasn’t too successful. It was supposed to be warm overnight, so why are we all freezing? With us being on a working farm, sunrise brought the cockerel to life, along with the foxes and any other animal that decided to make as much noise as they could. But that’s the countryside. That’s why we go there.

So, it’s 6 o’clock and 90 minutes until the proper breakfast, so I got up, had some smoked tofu and soreen as a breakfast starter and went over to the farm shop area to get my fellow campers a lovely cup of sugary tea.

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We ordered breakfast for 7.30. They serve local bacon baps and porridge. The porridge is the type that sticks to your stomach on the way down. Lovely.

It’s around now that we remembered that we’re here to do a marathon. Best get ready.

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Everyone is up by now. Just to make sure, the Race Director drove around the camp site with a huge amp in the back of the car announcing that it was time to get ready to race.

So, why is this event called the Dorset Invader? Well, the Romans used some of the land that we run through during their conquest. We were told that people would be in fancy dress, but I hadn’t expected anything like this.

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9 o’clock approaches and we all start to make our way up the hill from the camp site to the start line and the full extent of the fancy dress becomes apparent. Many of the marshals and a good few runners have gone to some serious effort.

The Race Director delivers his race brief in the matter we’d expect. Funny, informative and straight to the point.

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There is a slight delay to the start, but what a reason for it !!!! We are waiting for the centurion on horseback to arrive to lead us down the hill and onto the course. What a great touch this is.

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We’re straight out onto the course with lots of different terrain and surfaces. There’s gravel and flint paths, cut corn fields, field edges and country tracks.

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I set off slowly. As always I had a target time in my head. As it was getting increasingly hot and I didn’t really know what was ahead, I took a cautious approach.  I was behind Nick, Philippe and Catherine most of the way until half way, catching up at the incredibly well stocked aid stations, where we were served by very happy people, many in fancy dress.  The ‘Love Station’, which we visited twice, was amazing and they were serving cider.
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The great views keep coming and the temperature keeps rising.

 

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The hills aren’t that bad.  There are hills, but when you compare it to 3 Forts, Moyleman, the Stinger and so on, it’s not so bad.  It far from being flat though.

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There was one hill especially that got me around 26k.  Short and sharp and it really drained my legs.

The course is amazingly well sign posted, with the added bonus of Life of Brian quotes along the way.

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As my split times reflect, I started to struggle around kilometre 35 / 21 miles.  There was a whole section of single track which was overgrown with waist high grass.  This was really draining.  By the time I arrived at the ‘Love Station’ for the second time, I was pretty broken.  I could hardly talk to the aid station staff and had to resort to pointing.  I think that the heat was starting to get to me.

At this stage there were only 5.5 miles to go (only ha ha !!!!) and almost everyone around me was walking, so my run/walks meant that I was still overtaking people and I got a new spring in my step when I recognised a section that we had been through on the way out.

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I loved the field in the picture above for 2 reasons.  Firstly, it was beautiful, with the crops gently swaying in the breeze and secondly the chap at the entrance to the field told me that there were 1 and a half miles left.

After this field there was a downhill forest section which was cool and wonderful.  At the end we were greeted by a lady ringing a cowbell and pointing us down the hill to the finish.

19618901610_02115cfaad_kAnd there is the finish in all it’s glory.

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How I’d been looking forward to seeing it and getting that medal round my neck.  The medal is massive.  The biggest medal I have ever seen.  It weighs loads as well.  The goody bag was also pretty impressive, including some locally made jam.

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So I got home in 5 hours 24 minutes, which is more or less what I had in my head.  I’m really pleased with the pacing and the discipline to start off slowly.  I think that the sun got to me in the end.  One of the things that this race taught me is that it’s not just about the hills when it comes to what makes an event more difficult.  I think that the terrain on this event was the killer.   Lots of rutted fields, slippery fresh cut corn stubble, tree roots, tall grass, gravel paths and brambles across the pathways.  You really had to concentrate to stay on your feet at times.

One of the Roman themed signs said ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’  Well, other than the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, public health and peace, they inspired the theme of this amazing event.

I knew that I was in the right place with the right people early on in my stay.  In the queue for registration one runner was asked if he had any gels with him.  He replied ‘no, but I’ve got a pasty in my back pack’.

This event got everything right.  The location, the food, the atmosphere, the marshals, the medal, the aid stations.  There was a little more road than expected, but some of that was down to a last minute diversion due to a problem with a field (only a max of 10% is on road in any case).

White Star Running you met expectations and went well beyond them. We’ll be back for the Bad Cow Marathon in August and for a couple more White Star events next year.

A massive thank you to the White Star Team, land owners, marshals, cooks, barmen and fellow runners for making this an event to remember.

This was one of the signs near the end.

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I would have gladly paid more.  One thing that you don’t pay for is the photos.  There were volunteers out on the course snapping away.

Can’t wait until my next White Star Dorset experience.

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Take care and tanks again, Neil.

(photos are mine or courtesy of the flickr feeds of Andy Robbins and Mark Way)

Weald Challenge Ultra 2015

Any event that has ‘Challenge’ in the title has to be tough to live up to the billing and this one certainly does.

It comes in 3 forms, half marathon, full marathon and Ultra (50km).  I took on the Ultra, which is the marathon course with an added loop, an added loop which is the hilliest section of the event.

profileIt’s pretty easy to see the extra section that makes up the ultra route. It’s the big bump in the middle.

You’d have to be pretty picky to find anything to moan about when it comes to this event.  A lovely start/finish area in a small village hall with all the facilities you need.  A great route, very varied, mainly off road and as challenging as I have ever seen.  Excellent aid stations with everything you need (although it did look like they were going to run out of water) and finally very well sign posted (although I got lost).

You even get your own personalised number.

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About 85% of the course is off road.  Some of it really quite tricky.

After an amusing race brief about the perils of getting lost and the lack of sympathy that would be received by anyone getting lost (offers of navigation courses), we set off to the start line.

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The start is on the road near race HQ and you head off downhill for around a mile before turning off onto tracks and fields.

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As you can see, the terrain is very varied and it does undulate from the very beginning. Due to the dry weather, many of the fields that we crossed we pretty rutted as we followed the paths made by the tractors. This not only slowed you down, but it made it tough on the ankles and concentration was definitely needed not to take a tumble.

In the distance of the photo above, you can just about make out a herd of cows.  Well they were waiting for us.  Staring.  They really didn’t do much apart from stand very close to the stile that we had to climb over.

And here they are.  I love cows and they don’t really bother me, but this would have been a problem for some people.

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While I think about it, the stiles.  Yes, the stiles.  I heard different people say different things, from 45 to 90, but there are certainly lots of them.  Some small, some high (even with my long legs), some stable, some not so.  They certainly are a pain when you’ve got 20 plus miles in your legs.

Anyway, back to the route.  More changing scenery until you reach the 1st check point.

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I said it was lovely, didn’t I?  You head up the Weald Way past the bluebell woods and along the lovely paths through pretty little villages.

Checkpoint 1 was typical of them all.  Very well stocked and very friendly people manning each station.  Sweet, savoury, water, coke and lovely fruit.

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The lovely countryside continues to come and the miles continue to pass until you get to the extra loop that turns the marathon into the ultra.

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Some of these sections were pretty technical as well.  Thin pathways with gorse either side.

So this is where it really starts to get tough.  The climb up to Ashdown Forest and the turn around point is demoralising.  The climb has an elevation gain of 140m over a pretty short distance.

20150524_103749 20150524_105039 When you get on top of the hill, It is open and exposed and it was really heating up.

17859758670_046e5544da_kThis was a real low point for me, so I have now idea how Jon managed to get this photo of my forcing a smile.  At this stage you’re not even half way and overheating.

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At least you’ve got the lovely views to keep you company, but even the downhill sections are pretty tricky.

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This section really hurt the knees and you needed to concentrate on the bumps and the stones in the paths.

And then another big hill. Thanks a lot Weald country. Another very long walk.

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This is the view back down from near the top. As you can see, it is long and exposed to the sun.

On the way back we followed the Vanguard Way.

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The countryside was no less lovely, but I took less photos.  A natural result of being totally knackered and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.

20150524_12264220150524_143125So you head back to the HQ where the finish is located.  A warm welcome is waiting along with tea, coffee and cakes.

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Oh yeah, and a lovely medal.

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So, what about my race.  I wanted to go round in 6 hours 30 minutes.  I didn’t.  I would have done so with a few minutes to spare, but getting lost less than a mile from the end put an end to that.  I lost 25 minutes and got home in 6 hours 49 minutes.  I am pretty happy with that, all things considered.

I made 3 huge mistakes in this race.  Mistakes that I should not be making at this stage and having done so many races now.

Firstly, I got my footwear wrong. Not having the cash to have many pairs of shoes, I tend to have 1 pair on the go at once.  Sadly said pair split just over a week ago.  I panic bought a pair that I shouldn’t have bought, as I couldn’t find a direct identical replacement pair. This resulted in blisters and sore feet.  I don’t remember when I last had blisters.

Secondly, I ran with an injury.  It’s stupid, I know.  I’ve never had so many DNF thoughts go through my mind so early in a race.  Compensating for a sore achilles meant that I got aches elsewhere.  I’m too stubborn to stop once I’ve started, but it wasn’t my best decision to start in the first place.

Finally, getting lost is a bad idea.  3 separate groups got lost at the same place within about 10 minutes of each other.  We all ended up on a path together after realising that we had come to a dead end.  We retraced our tracks to find the last arrow/hazard tape.  There was a turn left sign on a stile we had gone over.  None of us thought it was there went we went over the stile.  We would have had to almost touch it while going over the stile. Had one of the locals been mischievous? Who knows?

Anyway, a few lessons for the future, but I’m really pleased with how this went and how my mental toughness got me through some really early low periods.

I would seriously recommend this event, whether it be the half, full or ultra.  I will probably not do the ultra again, as I want to pick and choose the ‘big’ events that I do and try not to repeat them.  However, I will certainly look at the High Weald Challenge, the sister event of the Weald Challenge.  If it’s anything like this race, it’s well worth doing.

A huge thank you to the organisers and the volunteers. You should be very proud of this event.

Take care and happy running.

I am now definitely going to give my body a rest for a while.

Neil.

Photos are mine and courtesy of the amazing Jon Lavis

Green Belt Relay 2015

So I’m sitting at home on Monday morning reflecting on the 2 days of the Green Belt Relay 2015.

I am British, so my first thoughts focus on the rain that is currently hitting the patio doors and the wind that is shaking the trees in the garden. The weather was also like this last Thursday. However, the 3 days sandwiched in the middle were a joy, so a huge thank you whoever booked the lovely weekend weather.

I also sit here with a huge sense of relief. The plan worked, everyone got home safe, none of our runners got hurt or injured (apart from the odd twinge here and there) and everyone got to the start of their 2 stages on time and often with quite a bit of time to spare.

So this is the Green Belt Relay in a nut shell. You take 30 teams with 11 runners in each team and they circumnavigate the area of green land that surrounds London. It sounds easy on paper, but in practice it is a feat of organisation beyond belief. I spend some of my time getting 120 people each week around the 5km at Clair parkrun. The work involved in safely getting over 300 runners around 220 miles each running 2 stages over the 2 days is something else. I have total respect for Peter Kennedy and his dedicated team for making this happen. The list of work that they do is immense. Too long to go into, but just imagine having to mark out a 220 mile route with arrow signs and sawdust. It is all done with a lovely smile, a sense of humour and seemingly very calmly.

The event is also self-marshalled, so there is obviously a huge debt of thanks to be said to the other teams who help to keep us all safe, encouraged and watered along the course.

So, onto Burgess Hill Runners. We had 2 teams this year. We only had 1 team last year, but the response was so good this year, we decided to double the number of participants. The greatest compliment that we can give to the GBR organising team is that all 11 runners from last year came back this year.

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The make-up of the teams was different this year. Many of the first timers this year were some of our quicker runners, which meant that they were allocated the tougher legs. The plan was that this would make it easier to get between stages on time. It worked. Almost seamlessly as far as I can see.

The start of the event was at Hampton Court Palace as always, although not inside the grounds of the Palace, as they wanted to charge a stupid sum of money to do so. It was great to have club chairman Mark Craigs run the first leg. Huge amounts of work go into that role and the honour of running the first leg was naturally his, along with first timer Steve Bird.

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Having seen Mark and Steve off, this is where the fun begins. It’s over 10 hours until the end of the first day and we have to get our 22 runners to the start of 11 stages, picking them up at the end of their stage, before moving onto the next one. 2 minibuses and 2 cars make sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time.

My minibus headed off along the Thames to Staines where Nick and Philippe were due to start the 2nd leg of the day, a lovely flat one of 9.6 miles.

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Having seen them off, we make the short drive to the end of their stage, where we find John and Lee about to start stage 3 in the most beautiful of locations on a small green area at the side of the Thames and next to a beautiful little church.  By now the sun was start to heat up. Great news for those who had run already, not so good for those who had yet to do so.

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And no sooner had Lee and John set off on stage 3, the runners started to arrive behind us finishing stage 2. Nick and Philippe arrived together big smiles on their faces.

20150516_111234So it’s straight into the van and off to the start off leg 5 where the 2 speediest runners in our van for the day are going to tackle one of the most difficult stages of the event.

20150516_12461520150516_12495120150516_125144With Joe and Jonathan on their way, we headed over the park to see Jon and Andy finish the previous leg, another difficulty 10 run.  This stage is very hilly and finishes in a street where there is a church hall that was serving tea, cakes and sandwiches for us.

20150516_130728Jon was the highest BHR finisher ever at the GBR in 5th place and he was followed in by Andy.

20150516_132612A great run by both of them and Jon got his well deserved cake at the end.

20150516_131853As you can see, they were greeted by the BHR supporters who were out in force.

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It was quickly time to move off to the end of stage 5 to meet Joe and Jonathan.

What a beautiful setting for the end of a stage in the village of Chipperfield.

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Jonathan came in 15th and Joe 18th, both very creditable results, given the quality of the runners on this leg and the fact that Joe got a bit lost.

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We then moved on swiftly to stage 8, where Jay and I were going to tackle the 10.2 mile course.

This stage is lovely. Over 2 miles of downhill trail, a small section through Hertford town, past the castle, then all the way to the end on the tow path of the River Lea past lots of lovely boats and houses.

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I didn’t run well. I wasn’t really expecting to, but really enjoyed the stage.

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There was a lovely welcome at the end of the stage and after a quick stretch of the troublesome achilles and a nice drink, we set off to drop Steve and Kim off at the start of stage 11, the last leg of the day.

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We were also due to marshal on this leg, which was really good fun, guiding runners across a road and giving them some water.

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So with everyone safely across the road and watered, we headed to the end of the stage to collect Steve and Kim, before heading off to the hotel in Brentwood.

It was around 9pm when we got to the hotel and we were the last to arrive.  So it was straight to the room, quick shower, a couple of swift beers, before heading off for a curry.

The hotel was a huge improvement on last year (quieter, better service and ideal location), as was the restaurant (very friendly, very quick service, given that 25 of us arrived at 10.30pm and the food was lovely).

So, we got to bed at just gone midnight.  The first stage of day 2 was due to begin at 8am, so sleep was going to be of a premium.  So what we didn’t need was someone ringing me at 3.15am, leaving a message to meet me as soon as possible in the usual layby in Birmingham ???????  My head started to focus on the upcoming events of day 2, so I didn’t get much more sleep, resulting in this.

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Tired boy. So, after a bar of Soreen (one of the nicest things that man has ever created), Jay and I were ‘ready’ for the off.

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I had decided to take my time on the second day, although there was little choice really.  We started off at the back and we stay there with only a couple of runners behind us.

This leg was 10.9 miles and undulating.  It started on lovely country roads, not everyone’s cup of tea, given that the roads were open to traffic. We had to go through the town of Hutton, which was, well, pretty ‘towny’, but then we head out onto 3 miles of trails and fields, the things that make us happy.

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The end of this stage is in Thorndon Park, which is a lovely place.  Wooded and shaded, which is exactly what we needed.

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Having dropped Lee and John off at the start of stage 15, we headed to Lullingstone Park where stage 15 finishes and 16 starts.  Before Lee and John arrived, we saw Jon and Andy off on the tricky stage 16.

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20150517_113436Back over the car park we could hear the first finishers on stage 15 arriving in, so it was time to make our way over to the lovely finishing area.

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Lee and John were soon in, finishing 19th and 22nd in really impressive times.

20150517_11550220150517_115811And as is now BHR tradition, John went into the water.

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Next stop Merstham, where we dropped Catherine and Linda off to tackle Boxhill. We had to leave them before the start as we had to marshal a very dangerous road crossing.

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This is a really tough stage, so tough it even reduced Linda to some poor language, which is hardly ever heard off and totally out of character.

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Next we’re off to the start of leg 21 and the end of leg 20.

We drop Helen and Gary off for a lovely trot along the Thames.

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The next hour provided me with my 2 favourite moments of the weekend.

Firstly, as we were approaching the end of the day, we had a lot of BHR supporters at the end of stage 20 to see Steve and Kim in.  They are not our quickest runners, but the effort, determination and the smiles on their faces encouraged everyone to make lots of noise.

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Then, as Gary and Helen were approaching the end of stage 21, we saw that Gary was about 100 metres in front of Helen. He stopped, went back for her and then they went over the line together.

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So with Helen and Gary in the van, we head off to the finish to see the runners coming in.

Paul and Kevin made it in and both teams had successfully completed the course.

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To cap the day off, it was announced that we had won the ‘Most Supportive Team’ award.  We know that we’re never going to be at the top of the leader board, but one of the most amazing things about our group of people is the way that we offer support to our runners and other clubs. We always have most people supporting at the end of the Fun Run League races, there’s always a BHR out on the route of marathons taking photos in all weathers and our club really does help to make Clair parkrun the friendly place that it is.

We were also incredibly lucky to have 3 volunteer drivers in Paula, Alan and Steve, who did a great job in getting us from one place to another. Hopefully they will be back in a running capacity next year.

So that’s it for another year.  It only remains to say thank you one last time to Peter and his team. Good luck in everything that you and the Stragglers do over the next 12 months and see you again same time same place next year.

Happy running folks and I’m going to rest my poorly Achilles for a while.

Take care, Neil.

3 Forts Challenge 2015

Be careful what you wish for.

This is the phrase that currently springs to mind. For the 3 Forts Challenge last year I really struggled in the heat, so was really hoping for cooler weather. Well that exactly what we got. There was the promise of rain at the start with a bit of wind, but it was a lot more unpleasant than that.

The 3 Forts Challenge is a tough course at the best of times, but there was an added sting yesterday.

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The rain stopped before we started, as predicted by the forecasters, so we set off for the 27 hilly miles in the dry.

The first 2 miles are all uphill.  Some of it you can run, some you can’t.  Walking is sometimes the only option, especially as the chalky path is pretty narrow.

20150503_101450_Richtone(HDR)20150503_101231_Richtone(HDR)20150503_100936From these photos, you get an idea of what was waiting for us at the top of the hill, as the mist is there for all to see.

At the top of the first hill, you turn right, past the first check point and from there to the River Adur crossing, it’s either downhill, flat or short inclines that on the whole are not too challenging.

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The aid station at Botolphs Bridge, the Adur crossing marks the start of the real pain.

The first climb to the aid station at the Youth Hostel is 200m of elevation gain in 2 miles.

At first it’s impossible to run, but it does level out with just over a mile of gradual incline.  It is at this stage that the sea mist and the wind really seemed to increase and it felt pretty uncomfortable.  Although mainly a side wind, it was slightly behind us at that stage.

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Once on the top and half way over to Devil’s Dyke, the visibility dropped and my thoughts started to turn to the fact that we had to turn round and head back into the wind.

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The section from the Youth Hostel to the Dyke and back didn’t actually seem so bad this year.  There were probably a couple of reason for this.  I set off more slowly than last year and I knew what was coming at mile 16, which makes this section seem a little less of a worry.

I was around 50 metres away from the aid station at the turn around point when it actually came into view, such was the mist. The wind was blowing it around in front of us as well, making it pretty unpleasant.

So, we turn around, back to the River Adur, with all of the ups and downs in reverse.

Mile 16 is where it starts to get interesting. I say interesting, I mean really really tough. It is more or less 5 miles to Chanctonbury Ring.  It’s mainly uphill.  Some of it steep, some not so steep, but at this stage and with the wind, everything felt pretty steep.

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At this stage lots of people were either walking or walk/running. I had a target time in my head and knew the pace I needed to get to Chanctonbury at to make the time. So it was walk/run for me for 5 miles.

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Loved seeing the little piglets roaming free at the pig farm on the way up.  It was the only positive of the bad weather.  No flies and no smell, which made this section unpleasant last year.

So, the end of the climb was near, but I couldn’t see the top.  This is why.

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I was about 30m from the aid station and the trees when they popped into view.

So it was downhill from here. Apart from the uphill bit.  There were 2 uphill bits.  1 was much longer than I remember it.  It was a mile long with 100m elevation gain at 23 miles.  Ouch.  Everyone was walking.

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 Although I look a little worse for wear in these photos, I was still running most of it and actually felt better than last year.

After the last short sharp hill at 25 miles, it’s downhill all the way on the slippery rutted chalk path that we had gone up about 5 hours earlier.

I got home in 5 hours 5 minutes and 35 seconds, which is 6 and a half minutes off my time from last year.

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This event is brilliant.  Small enough to be the type of event that attracts me. Big enough to offer good aid stations and excellent organisation. A course that is tough enough to push you as far as you can go, but not enough to totally break you.

That’s 2 years running that I’ve completed the event and will probably look for a different challenge this time next year.  However, this is one that I’d encourage anyone to do. It is also available in half marathon format, for those not wanting to do the full 27 miles.

The Achilles held up pretty well and all in all it was a very successful day.

A huge thank you to Jon Lavis for being out on the course taking photos on such a horrible day.

A massive thank you to all of the organisers and volunteers for making this event what it is.

Have fun and take care. Green Belt Relay is next for me.

Neil.