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.

Brighton Half Marathon 2015

Sunday 22nd of February was the 25th anniversary of the Brighton Half Marathon.  Over 7,500 runners completed the course this year.  I understand that 200 took part in the first one.  Quite amazing really.

This type of mass participation event on concrete is the type of event that I have been avoiding and will avoid in general in the future.

However, the chance to run this event came up and given the recent PB’s in the Dark Star Ultra and at Clair parkrun, I decided that my half marathon best was definitely up for grabs.

The day was perfect for running.  Slightly chilly and next to no wind, which is the best that you can hope for in February in this country.  Luckily, the storm that arrived about 4pm didn’t arrive in the morning.  It would have been a totally different story if that had happened.

16613262425_1247aa6568_k15991069934_23837cd27f_k11009207_10152771119372983_5248078408146909899_n11018871_10152771119287983_3829608822681691401_nThe half marathon PB that was there to be broken was set last October in Bexhill at 1.47. 21.  Conditions weren’t ideal on that day and we had to wade through stones on the promenade, so I was very confident that this time would fall.

The start of the event was very crowded.  You need to be there early to drop your bags and get yourself into the right area. One of the big downsides to this type of event is the start. Many people are in the wrong area and you can’t really get into a rhythm until about 10 minutes in. I was even tripped, which is the first time that has happened for a long while. Luckily there was no damage to me or the person in front who I hit as well.

There was a plan.  Every race has a plan now.  I can’t see the point if not.  5 minutes kilometres would guarantee a PB.  The plan was to stick to 5 minute km’s for the first half of the race and then re-assess at that stage. I would speed up if possible and hang on in there if necessary.  It was tough to slow myself down at times, especially on the downhill section back to the sea life centre.  So I got to the 12 km mark and every km had been between 4.59 and 4.55.  Everything was good, the foundations had been laid, so it was time to kick on and see what happens.  Each km from there to the end was between 4.52 and 4.39.  The quickest km was the last one, which is always pleasing (although it was mainly downhill).

10991595_10152771149077983_4107756152928963160_oI am now a real Strava convert and according to their stats, this was my quickest ever 10 miles and my 3rd fastest 10k ever.

To say that I am pleased is a huge understatement.  I did a very good job of hiding it in these photos, but that’s the fault of my face.  I can’t help it.  I’m loving it inside.

I think that there are a few reasons why this improvement has happened.

On the actual running side of things, I have changed the way that I train.  There is no wasted time.  I do 4 sessions each week.  My own interval session, an interval session with the club, a shorter speed session (Clair parkrun when possible) and a longer weekend session.  Each has a purpose and there are no sessions that involve just dawdling around the village for an hour.  There are some more improvements to be made and I will take care of these over the coming months.

On race day, there is a plan. If you’re going to tackle a race with any sort of confidence and goal, there has to be a plan, a plan that is achievable. When you have made the plan, you need to carry it out and not think that you’re Mo Farah, just because you feel good in the first quarter of the race. The difference in getting a PB and not can often be decided in the last quarter, especially if you go off too quickly.

I am also remaining very much aware of some of the points being drilled into us by the coaches and what I learned in the LiRF course.  The most important being to remaining upright (helium balloon on the head) and make sure that everything is pointing forward and driving forward.

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16405773677_28193755b6_k20150222_112406There were some huge performances from the Burgess Hill Runners team.  More PB’s than not.  This is a real testament to the coaches who have helped to guide and encourage us.

So that’s a perfect start to 2015.  Nearly an hour off my previous Dark Star time.  A new PB at Clair parkrun, which had stood for 18 months and a new half marathon PB.

Next up, the Moyleman Marathon.  A new trail marathon for Sussex.  Really looking forward to this new challenge.

Have fun and keep smiling.

Neil.

(The photos are courtesy of Jon Lavis and Caz Wadey, who braved the cold day to take such fantastic shots of us all. Thank you.)

Dark Star Ultra – 2015

It is impossible to complete a race report for the 2015 Dark Star Ultra Marathon without referring back to 2014.  For those of us who were there it is something that we will probably never forget and we experienced conditions that we hope never to experience ever again.

The end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 have certainly been less ‘floody’ than the previous winter, leaving ground conditions easier than the first running of this event.  More importantly, the weather on the day was almost perfect.  No torrential rain, no 30 mph winds for the 14 miles on the home leg.

Having said this, it doesn’t make this event easy. Far from it. I would rank it as second on my list of toughest events behind the same event last year. The ground on the river bank on the way out was lumpy and frozen solid, making life tough at times. On the way back the inconsiderate 70 of so runners in front of me decided not to levitate. Instead, they churned up the now soft ground that had warmed up as the temperatures moved above zero.

So, this is the Dark Star event.  Low key (as all Sussex Trail Events are), 95 runners, very friendly and full of runners who prefer off road, mud and the countryside to tarmac and supporters cheering you on.  There is a big range of running abilities.  You certainly don’t have to be quick to take part in any Sussex Trail Events race (although there are cut off times).

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This event is 14 miles north along the banks of the river Adur (over the stiles that they so helpfully put in your way) and up the Downslink path to the old West Grinstead railway station.  This is where we were met by the wonderful Burgess Hill Runners aid station and where we turned around and head back to where we came from.

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My race prep had been rubbish.  I was ill over the majority of Christmas and New Year and my longest run since October had been 13 miles. Far from ideal, but there you go.  I put my positive head on, set some realistic targets and set off.

My club, Burgess Hill Runners was the best represented club and 4 of us were pretty close to begin with.

10410642_10152649534613870_5957705292945416421_n1549449_10152649364628870_1218185757399585996_n10682227_10152649535288870_3172371489338042745_oI was being dragged along too quickly and even though the company was excellent, I decided to slow down. The plan was to get to half way, stop, chat, re-fuel and leave the aid station after 2 and a half hours.  I left the aid station 2 minutes ahead of schedule.  Not bad really.

10690132_10204351281076525_8463328908636640905_n 10952589_10204351674286355_574479322224837426_nThe journey home is much tougher than the journey out.  Obviously, you have 14 miles in your legs already.  The wind, although not too strong, was in your face and there are a lot more stiles on the way back compared to the way out.

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Apart from the plan about my speed, I also stopped at each aid station to eat and drink, as well as doing the same between stations. This may sound obvious, but I have been a culprit of not doing this properly in the past.

I got home in 5 hours 9 minutes and 35 seconds.  That’s 54 minutes quicker than last year.  I think that this is mainly down to the conditions, but also my race plan and determination helped to shave such a huge chunk off my time.  Very pleased with my first outing of the year.

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I can’t recommend these Sussex Trail Events enough.  Organised by runners for runners. They’re great fun, very friendly and a real challenge.

Happy running, Neil.

A huge thank you to Jon Lavis and Helen Pratt for the brilliant photos.

Here is a brilliant video of the day from a fellow runner – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IJjMa7-7_0&feature=youtu.be

Downslink Ultra 2014

When the alarm goes off at 5.30 on a Sunday morning, you know that something special is about to happen.

To be fair, there was no real need for the alarm clock as I’d been awake for a while in anticipation for my longest race so far, the Downslink Ultra, which totals 38 miles from Guildford to Shoreham by Sea on the coast near Brighton.

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The weather forecast had promised near perfect conditions, although I hadn’t expected to have to scrape thick ice off the car before setting off.

The race starts at the church on St Martha’s Hill near Guildford.

We were met by the organisers at the car park, before heading up the hill for registration and then further up the hill to the start.

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The 10 minute uphill walk to the start was well worth it.  This is definitely the most spectacular start to an event I have seen.

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Burgess Hill Runners were the most represented club at the event with 7 of us starting (and finishing) the challenge.

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So, pre-race brief over and photos taken, we set off bang on 9am.

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As you can see from these photos, the start is on sand, as is the first mile or so.

Luckily it is almost impossible to set off too quickly as the downhill section is steep and tricky.

Once you are onto the relatively flat section, and, to be fair, most of the course is either flat or downhill, you can find your rhythm and settle in.

There is a forest section for about 4 miles.  This was really enjoyable as I hadn’t run this section before.  It was very similar terrain to sections of the Farnham Pilgrim.

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From there on, it is almost all flat or downhill.

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The Downslink path is lovely.  For the most part, all you can hear is bird song, the sound of your own trainers and the greetings of the passers by.  The course provides very pleasant surroundings and lots of people out walking their dogs and riding their bikes.  Pretty much perfect if this is your first Marathon plus distance event.

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As you would expect from the Sussex Trail Event team, the aid stations, which were at regular intervals, are very well manned, well stocked and very well organised.  You couldn’t ask for more really.

I am obviously slightly (very) biased, but no aid station was better than the one at the Cat and Canary pub in Henfield at just over 28 miles, which was run by Burgess Hill Runners.  The welcome was warm, the encouragement in abundance and the food excellent.  There were even roast potatoes.  This is just the boost that you need, as many people were entering into unknown territory at that stage.

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10262089_10152464600202983_8072978537025873843_n1545149_10152464599027983_4513946326087148363_n The end of the event is by the Adur Outdoor Activity Centre in Shoreham.

One of the beauties of the Sussex Trail Events races is the fact that they are very low key.  They are organised by runners for runners.  The finish personifies this.

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Along with the supporters waiting for their loved ones to arrive, there are just 2 ladies recording the finishing details and the Sussex Trail Events flags.  At least the timers had better conditions than they did for the Dark Star Ultra in January.  Inside the building, however, there are excellent facilities to shower, get changed and a free veggie chilli is provided.

20141005_160307As for my race, it couldn’t have gone better.  I had a target finish time range of between 7 hours 10 minutes and 7 and a half hours.

For the first half marathon I had the company of Philippe, who was competing in his first Ultra event.  We had discussed the absolute necessity to set off slowly.

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We were a little quicker than hoped, but it pretty much worked.  Only 2 of my quickest kilometre splits were in the first 20 kilometres.

Being with someone desperate to slow down and constantly using your watch to achieve this was hugely important.

There was a long downhill section just after the first half marathon and this is where I left Philippe to his own devices.

I actually speeded up in the second half marathon.  I did the first one in 2 hours 23 minutes and the second in 2 hours 19 minutes.  This was almost certainly a little too quick, as the last 10km proved, but I was full of confidence and was fuelling and hydrating really well.

Hydration and fuelling is something that I have always struggled with.  This hit home at the Track Marathon in May.  Even though I passed the aid station every 400m on the Track Marathon, I didn’t eat or drink enough.  On the Downslink, I was encouraged to take my time at the aid stations by the fact that lots of other runners were doing the same thing.  Without a doubt, taking the time to fuel will help later in the race and is essential.

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If I describe the last 10km as having the wheels fall off, I would be doing myself an injustice.  However, they were tough. Only once did I drop below my initial target pace though and that we due stopping at the aid station at Bramber.

I managed to re-assess the situation at the aid station.  I was feeling a bit sick and cramp was trying to get me.  I tried to eat some salty crisps, but had to ditch them and get on with it.

Pretty quickly I hatched a new plan as I could see that I may go below 7 hours.  For every km from Bramber to the end I ran 800m and walked 200m.  The 200m was a treat and this helped to get me through the first 800m and I knew that this would guarantee me getting under 7 hours.

It worked.  I can’t believe it.  I went into the event with a lot of confidence and more self belief that I have had for some time, but I didn’t expect to go sub-7.

20141005_160126So there we go then.  Mission accomplished and some more.

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On the day, it was incredible to have Burgess Hill Runners out on the course and at the aid stations to support.  You have once again proved what an awesome club and an amazing group of people you are.

Finally, the support of Nick on the day and throughout the training has been the best xx.

I hope that this proves that Ultra distance events are definitely within the range of average runners like me.  The sense of achievement is amazing and will never go away.

Finally, to the boys at Sussex Trail Events, you are brilliant.

Thank you.

And finally, this event is so good, it makes you do this…………

10659309_10152461623687983_7575716678715018175_nThe photos are either mine or stolen from Caz Wadey (thank you).

A visit to Bushy parkrun

We had been planning to do this for some time.  Having been immersed in Clair parkrun in Haywards Heath for well over a year now, it was time to visit Bushy Park, the big one, the original.

The great thing was that we had a big group of parkrunning Burgess Hill Runners who joined us as well.

So we all met for a 7am drive up to Bushy Park on a beautiful, if rather chilly, Saturday morning.  75 minutes later, we’re there.

20140823_08391320140823_085140The park is beautiful.  It’s huge.  In fact, the park and the parkrun are so incredibly different from Clair Park.

Bushy parkrun in flat.  Totally flat and it is one lap.  Clair parkrun, as we all know, is over 4 laps and hilly.

The attendance at Bushy Park regularly numbers in the region of 1,000 runners.  There are so many people, they have a mobile PA system to do the event brief.  It makes our event look tiny (not that we’d have it any other way).

10478942_10152371709777983_8556586565254377079_nThe start of the course is probably 15 metres wide as the field spreads out over the first kilometres and the whole event is run over wide open pathways.

The number of volunteers required is amazing.  The finishing funnel is so long.  There were probably as many people volunteering in the funnel as we have at our event in total.

20140823_092508They have 5 scanning stations, making the queue to be scanned no longer that the queue at Clair Park.

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The job of sorting the tokens is obviously a huge one and without real organisation, would take an age.

20140823_092759_Richtone(HDR)The differences between our event and Bushy Park are clear for everyone to see.

More importantly though, the similarities are pretty stark too.

As we arrived in the park, we were pointed in the right direction for the start by a very friendly lady wearing a 250 club t-shirt.

When we got to the start, the welcome was warm and the same lady who pointed us towards the start line offered to let us store our bags and spare clothes in her car.

There is the same sense of anticipation before the start of the event, knowing that the next 16 to 50 minutes were going to be painful.

The volunteers were friendly and encouraging, which something that we pride ourselves on at Clair.

There is the usual huge age and ability range.  There were 33 minutes 56 seconds between the first and last finishers.  The age different between the youngest and the older runner was around 75 years.  The oldest runner, Madge Bradsell, completed her 308th parkrun.  She completed the course in just over 39 minutes by the way.  Amazing.

There are 2 places to grab a coffee after the event, giving you the chance to catch up with friends and talk about the run.

It was a very special day for one of our young Burgess Hill Runners.  3 months ago it was impossible to think that Georgia would be completing her 10th parkrun in a field of 920 runners.

Despite taking a fall on her way to the event this morning and hurting her knee, she did it.

20140823_093447_Richtone(HDR)20140823_094008_Richtone(HDR)And we ate cake to celebrate the morning.  It would be rude not to.

10616256_10152371709407983_5231016744160284616_nIt is always great to spend time with our junior runners and Beth proved that this morning.  I can’t imagine that I would have taken an event of such a size in my stride at her age.  Her boundless energy and enthusiasm are always a joy to share.

20140823_093838_Richtone(HDR)Finally, to round it off for me, I battered my 5k PB.  23 minutes 33 seconds.  A good 20 seconds off my previous best.

So there it is.  Our visit to Bushy parkrun.  Thank you all you BHR and Nic Bowker for sharing it with me.  Thank you Bushy Park for being so brilliant (and we saw some deer on the way out).

Take care and have fun, Neil.

The Lemmings Track Marathon 2014

26 miles, 106 laps of a 400 metre track.  That’s the Lemmings Marathon in a nut shell.

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Rubbish idea, don’t you think?  It’ll be as dull as dishwater.

Well that’s where you’re wrong. 

As runners, we’re always out for a new challenge and that’s exactly what the Lemmings marathon is.

Mentally it’s very tough.  Apart from the fact that the scenery is repeated over and over again, I found counting down from 106 to be draining.  I measure my runs in kilometres, but mentally counting down from 106 seemed much more daunting than 42 kilometres.

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Apart from the usual strains that a marathon puts on the body, this one uses the same muscles all of the time.  As there are no hills, there is no respite of going up or downhill.

That’s what makes this so tough.

There are many things that make this event as good as it is.

First of all, the majority of the runners are in the same boat as you.  They have never done a track marathon before and are doing this out of curiosity.  I did look up a few times at the start and think that it must have looked a bit crazy if you didn’t know what was going on.

There is more of a chance of mixing with fellow runners, as you pass and are passed on so many occasions.  You actually get the chance to share the event with the front runners, as they are never more than 100m or so away from you.

You are also never more than 400m of running away from the aid station or your kit bag.  In true Sussex Trail Events style, the aid station was stocked with the usual goodies.

20140816_084119The Sussex Trail Events team also came up with a fantastic idea for the end of the race.  As the runners approached the start of the last lap, they sounded a cow bell and the runner finishing turned around and ran the last lap in the opposite direction.  Not only did this give the runners the chance to say well done, it seemed like a huge boost for those still out on the course.

10609259_10152358665462983_1892393021_nFor the spectators and the organisers, it was also a pretty unique experience.  You only usually see the runners at the start, the end and maybe at one stage during the marathon.  Seeing the runners every 400m throws up its own challenges.  You need to work out when people need encouragement and when they really don’t want to hear from you.  You also get to see them going through the bad patches which are normally hidden from view out on the course.

So, if you’re looking for a challenge this really is something that you should look at when it makes a re-appearance in 2015.  Ideas have been floated for a 6 or 12 hour challenge.  Whatever it is, I will certainly give it serious consideration.

Thank you to the supporters, the runners that I met and the organisers for all of the support and encouragement.

2013Perfect timing in the Downslink training cycle and this has certainly given me the confidence that I can achieve that goal.

Enjoy yourselves. Neil.

Weald Marathon and Ultra

This week has been a bit of a recovery week after the Green Belt Relay.

I ran the Trundle Hill 10k on Wednesday as part of the West Sussex Fun Run League. This type of race isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it. It’s pretty much 3 miles up and 3 miles down with the odd flattish bit added in.

This is one of the flattish bits

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This is one of the midweek races that is difficult to get to after work, so I just wanted to turn up and score some points for the team.

It turns out that I ran pretty well.  The course is just over 10k and I went round in just over 54 minutes.  There’s a competitor in there that won’t let me ‘just take part’.

10362574_10152188783877983_3873742148220295954_nI managed to muster a half decent finish as well.

1798591_10152188797882983_5328042181750729330_nSo it was a volunteering and supporting weekend really.  Clair parkrun on Saturday (116 runners, keeping up our 100+ streak) and then to support friends on the Weald Marathon and Ultra.

This event is a half marathon, full marathon and 50km Ultra.  It takes in a long section of the Vanguard Way.

10262160_10152135892788870_5615551402701127217_nIt’s lovely.  It’s a tough one, on trails and there is still quite a bit of mud out there.

10373834_10152135911778870_1410388809736187525_n10403240_10152136058093870_8404685102683323312_nWe ended up running about 12 miles accompanying Jay and Caz on their first ever marathon.

1966843_10152136049083870_3420061827188769755_nThis event is definitely on the calendar for next year.

Another nail in the coffin of doing another road marathon.

Not only did we get to run a section of the course, but while waiting for the BHR runners to come in, we got some timely and sage advice from Coach Lavis, our Ultra specialist.

It’s 20 weeks until the Downslink Ultra.  I need a training plan with no races added in for no reason.  This is now the only goal and everything else must be done with that in mind.

So today has been spent researching a training plan, which I have got to the bottom of.  There’s going to be a lot of long Saturday and Sunday runs over the next 4 months, starting from now…….

Have fun and take care.  Happy running.

 

The Green Belt Relay 2014

For those of you who don’t know what the Green Belt Relay is, here is a quick synopsis.

It is a race around the Green Belt that surrounds London with teams of 11 runners, each running 2 stages over 2 days, with a total distance travelled of 220 miles.  This year there were 33 teams.

10353582_10202698102188086_19016499223464344_nWe set off from Burgess Hill in 3 vans at 6.30 on Saturday morning.  I was seriously nervous.  I’d done all of the planning to get the 3 vans and 11 runners, plus support crew to each of the stages on time.  As this was the first year we had taken part, I had no idea if it would work. My nerves were not helped by the fact that I put a quarter of a tank of unleaded into a diesel van on the way to the start and I then proceeded to drive for a couple of minutes with the hand brake on.  I only realised when we saw the black smoke and the van filled with a horrible burning smell.

Anyway, we got the Hampton Court Palace on time.  The grandest place I have ever begun a race by some distance.  It was already getting hot and I had 12.7 miles ahead of me.  I don’t do well in the heat.

10310978_10202698109988281_6310574872973060717_n10390919_10152226440037655_7723856900896655611_nThat’s me on the far side.  It’s the closest to winning the event that we got 😉

10339766_10202698035746425_5337830567801192565_nSo, we gathered round for the pre-race brief and before I knew it, we were off.  A guide runner escorted us across Hampton Court Bridge and then the race begin on the tow path on the other side.

stage 1This should have been a lot easier than it was.  It suddenly dawned on me that I was one of the slowest runners.  By a distance as well.  Stupidly I set off too quickly as I was concerned about getting lost.  This was one of the easier stages though.  It was flat and simple to navigate.  The only difficulty was the heat, the length, my preparations and the fact that I set off way too quickly.

The tow path was amazing.  So may great views.  No photos sadly.  There were 4 runners in my van and I didn’t want to hold the team up by taking photos, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say how lovely it was (or check it out on the Green Belt Way website).

The heat really got to me and I struggled and my pace dropped.  I finished towards the back of the field in 1 hour 56 minutes for 12.4 miles.  I didn’t cover myself in glory with the speed of my run, but it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

As I was running, stages 2 and 3 also got under way.  Our other 2 vans took those runners to the start of the relevant stages.  There were several occasions over the weekend on the longer stages where we had 3 runners on the course at the same time.

Here are some nice pictures of the other members of the team strutting their stuff.

20140517_15272610407012_10202697976784951_5368449167174159554_n10378529_10202698004745650_5016063969116671230_n10363266_10202697827101209_8812061909930037236_n10341644_10202697950584296_5256523599015358387_n10292537_10202697910063283_8602180346329766628_nThe rest of my day was spent getting the other 3 runners in my van to the start of their stages.

Jay’s leg was a long tough one and the sun was blazing down by that stage.  Sun block was definitely the order of the day.

1010076_10152120713823870_8812153680425254078_n10255278_10152124462463870_7062844774972783544_nNick was next.  It was a struggle for her and she was just happy to get over the line, which she did in a pretty creditable time as well.  Here she is at the finish line.  She definitely is a legend, who makes her husband very proud of her.

10366299_10152124462718870_9125473157249461584_n10366019_10152121109428870_111449975160846336_nThe final runner of the day from our van was Steph.  She had a tough leg through Epping Forest.  This is her at the end.  She was pretty keen to speak to whoever chose her for stage 10.

10307244_10152124463068870_6876096411499867330_n10307183_10152226456182655_2555637662073432650_nIt was a long day. The last leg didn’t finish until around 8.30 and we then had to get to Romford, check into the Travelodge and get to the restaurant that we had booked.

We didn’t sit down to eat until 10.30, but it was a great way to round off the day.  A couple of beers and a curry and an insight into the nightlife of Romford.

Day 2 started early.  The first leg of the second day began at 8am, so the first van left the hotel at 7am.

Jay ran the first leg in my van on day 2.

10363610_10152124465513870_1039295697001475293_nMy leg on day 2 (stage 16) could not have been more different from day 1.  The map and instructions describe this leg as ‘not only the toughest leg, but also a complex one, and runners in the past have gone a long, long way wrong.’  Also, there are 360 metres of climbs, a huge climb at half way and it felt hotter than the previous day.  I also had over 12 miles in my legs from the previous day and 3 nights of 5 hours sleep.

Is there any wonder I looked terrified at the pre-race brief?

10325332_10152226459382655_3482985161696893327_nThere was a huge difference on this day.  I was going to run my own race, enjoy the countryside and tackle the map reading.

As expected, straight from the start, everyone ran away from me.  After 2 miles, the only time I saw other runners was when they’d gone wrong and had temporarily promoted me from last place.  It didn’t matter.  This was my race for me to enjoy.

Again, there are no photos.  It was too tough for that and I did want to do myself justice, which I did.  13.3 very hilly miles in 2 hours 20 minutes.

10320567_10152124531478870_2518803791539814284_nstage 2This is one of my best performances ever.  It may not seem like it from the outside, but after a pretty emotional week, lots of driving and little sleep, I think I stormed it, even though I finished some distance behind the rest of the field.

The marshals were amazing.  Just incredible.  When there was a marshal station at the top of a hill, the marshals walked to the bottom to give me a drink to help me up the hill, before giving me another drink at the top to help me on my way.

The race ajudicator, David Clarke followed me on his bike for a lot of the road section, advising me on the route and giving me encouragement.

On one of the road sections the Accenture team were going to the finish to collect one of their runners when they stopped to give me a bottle of water.

That sums up the level of camaraderie and support at the whole event.

The difficulties that everyone faced with the heat are summed up perfectly by Karen’s means of cooling down at the end of her stage on day 2.

10361969_10202698113988381_5448446266724305864_nWe also had to marshal a stage on each day.  Many of the marshalling points were manned by the other teams.  It’s a great way to get the marshalling done and a lovely way to give something back to the event.

10363840_10202698105588171_457132791717122768_n10176176_10152122387758870_5933165096338083585_nIt wasn’t all about the running either.  We all had chance to sit down, take in some of the lovely sunshine and relax, while waiting for runners to arrive at the end of their stage.

10402832_10202697855021907_4619345121550202122_n10329012_10202697997225462_1137165301886653503_n1964777_10202697881742575_575907504359134641_nAnd here are some of the lovely sights that we saw

1782068_10202697841341565_1430761811150564112_n10380769_10153254127428306_8570800317559472485_n10389666_10202698103308114_6094368874014937412_n20140518_144634So after 2 days and 220 miles and a total of 36 hours 31 minutes and 20 seconds of running, Linda, our runner on the last leg arrived at the finish on the banks of the Thames in Kingston.

10295785_10152124466458870_6051735378543856311_n10329289_10152124466668870_378032525721490237_nWe’d finished.  Not only had we managed to complete the distance, with every runner completing their leg, we’d managed to get every runner to the start each leg on time (or nearly on time).

10156009_10202698404075633_7068467517217346913_nThis is all of us under the finish line.  Smiles all round.

What an amazing event.  I’m so proud of what we achieved.  We’re not the quickest, but we gave it everything we had, certainly went outside our comfort zones and came out the other side with some great memories and a great sense of satisfaction.

1010077_10202698405515669_1265122446434787656_nThank you to all of the Burgess Hill Runners for sharing this with me.  Thank you to the Stragglers and everyone who organised and marshalled this event.  It really does put getting 130 people around Clair parkrun into perspective.

This is a very tough event.  Don’t ever doubt that.  It’s tough to run and it’s tough to get your team around the course.  It is definitely worth every bit of the effort it took.

Have fun and take care,

Neil.

10378004_10152123484878870_6652970454268006511_nPhotos courtesy of Paula Ridley and Helen Pratt.

Downslink here we come…….

Well this weekend I entered the Downslink Ultra. It is a 38 mile race from St Marthas Hill, Surrey to Shoreham- by-Sea, West Sussex using the Downs Link footpath and bridleway.

It’s not a big step, it’s a huge leap.  This time last year I didn’t think I would even do another marathon, so this is a real surprise.  If I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it.

There are going to be a lot of things to learn over the next 5 months, and a lot of miles to put in.

We spectated at the event last year.  In fact Nick was an excellent spectator.  If she doesn’t decide to run it, then the beer may have to wait until the end this year, as I may well need a crew.

1557636_10152951475623306_194982307_nThere are a couple more events that I want to enter this year, but they will have to wait until after pay day.

It was Easter this weekend, so after spending Thursday night on preparations for the Green Belt Relay, we headed out on Friday morning to Alfriston and a section of the South Downs Way that I haven’t seen before.

There are a couple of car parks in Alfriston and from there you can head off in several directions.

This is the direction that we took – http://connect.garmin.com/jsPlayer/482139372

20140418_110838We headed into the village centre and found the SDW sign.

20140418_111604For about 2km, it is as flat as a pancake along the banks of the river Cuckmere.

20140418_11204220140418_113010_Richtone(HDR)You then climb through Litlington village on road to start with, then off road.  The climb lasts for about 5 minutes as we had to walk some of it and it is followed by a sharp descent into Friston Forest.

At 3.5km you meet the first set of steps.

20140418_114906_Richtone(HDR)

 After these steps, you head through Friston Forest and find yourself faced with another set of steps, only this time quite a lot longer.

20140418_114045_Richtone(HDR)Climbing these steps is definitely well worth the work.  You have to walk them, unless you’re not built like the average person.  This is what you see.

20140418_115202_Richtone(HDR)20140418_115244_Richtone(HDR)

From here we crossed the road and followed the meander of the river down to the beach, where we turned round and headed back from where we came.

20140418_120556_Richtone(HDR)It’s not a long run.  It’s around 14km, just under 9 miles.  However, there are plenty of paths in Friston Forest where you can add extra distance to the run.  It is wonderful though and sums up the SDW perfectly for me.

Easter Monday always sees the Lewes 10k.  This is one of my favourite events even though I always find the run itself pretty tough.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/484811551

The race has it’s centre at the Lewes track.  There are 3 events for children and then the 10k for the adults, so it’s a real family affair.

10013618_10152127749907983_2001507788181096358_n 10178124_10152127749267983_8355876993720111184_n 10302644_10152127746322983_8885192913538207086_nAnd to say that BHR were out in force is an understatement and this was not all of us.

10172861_10152127764677983_7811209914445159286_nThe 10k race starts with half a lap of the track, followed by 1.5km on tarmac, then it’s off road for about the next 6.5km.  The off road section is mainly track, which is good to run on.  The only difficult section is uphill across a field at around 6km and a field which is always boggy straight afterwards.  There are also a couple of bottlenecks, so you will lose upto a minute at these sections.  This is one of the reasons not to expect a PB on this course.

The organisation and the atmosphere at this event are excellent, although there seems to have been an issue with the results this year.

This was the first race that I ran with BHR almost exacly 3 years ago and is always a very pleasant way to spend Easter Monday.

Happy running everyone.

(all Lewes 10k photos courtesy of Caz Wadey – thank you as always)

Volunteer, Run, Support

This is what I did this weekend.  My body is telling me that it was great fun, incredibly rewarding and very tiring.

In order, marshalling at Clair pakrun, 14 miles along the South Downs Way, then lots of clapping, cheering and laughing at the London Marathon.

trypticI was tucked away at the top of the downhill section to marshal on Saturday at parkrun.  It’s a really good spot as you see people before they head off down the hill, although there is a spell for a few minutes when you don’t see anyone until the quick boys come past on the second lap.

On Saturday, it was great to announce the parkrunner of the month for March.  The winner, Sue, was there on day one and typifies what parkrun means to us. She comes down with her family, friends and neighbours and is always smiling.  She’s getting quicker as well and removed a huge chunk from her PB on pacer day.

I am currently in that bizarre space between recovering from one marathon and preparing for the next one.  It is 3 weeks until 3 Forts. I’m not really sure what to do.  I’ve never been in this position before with 2 marathons in quick succession.  I don’t really know what to do, but I think that my legs told me on Saturday.

Jay and I took the train over to Shoreham and ran home.  This takes in part of the 3 Forts course and I really love this part of the South Downs.  I know it very well from my cycling days.

http://connect.garmin.com/jsPlayer/480102358

SDW with JayAs well happen at the 3 Forts, we walked up the hills and ran the flat and downhill.

It was a bit of a struggle to get over Newtimber and the downhill sections are pretty steep, which is not the best way for my knees to spend the afternoon.  We did, however, make it back home in just over 2 and a half hours, which is the pace that I am going to be aiming for at 3 Forts.

It’s pretty easy to see from these photos why it is so great to make the effort to get up onto the South Downs Way.

10176002_10152052713948870_2040554537413339855_n1512449_10152052715343870_5976631921960673036_n10169233_10152052715903870_8481679623874353493_n 10259815_10152052716533870_542809171765658726_nSunday was London Marathon day.  I was more excited about supporting in London, than running in Brighton.  A lot more relaxed as well.

We got a really early train up and there were still lots of spaces at the barriers a couple of hundred metres from Tower Bridge.  Perfect.

10150525_10152056568983870_2457589160389092157_n10169308_10152054474513870_7659699769772001314_n10152581_10152054477933870_8913362640678586277_nAnd the parkrun meagephone even had a day out.

The first athletes who came through were the para-athletes.  It was pretty awesome to see these people.  Partially sighted or blind runners with their guides and amputees all went through.  It’s quite humbling and amazing to see how people overcome adversity.

1517529_10152054473723870_1631592760488459157_n10177861_10152054473523870_8544618290293146915_n10150518_10152054473128870_481376892090664372_nFinally, we saw Richard Whitehead.  This chap touched the hearts of many people during the Olympics and the place went crazy as he ran past.  It must have been such a buzz for him, as I imagine that was the reception he got most of the way round.

10172623_10152054474858870_5946735370797703889_nThe ladies soon came through at a fair rate of knots, followed closely behind by the men, including Mr Farah..

10250232_10152054474173870_6371328723228009484_n1006089_10152054475158870_8858036540090337016_nAnd then came the very impressive club runners and the masses.

10259935_10152054476018870_1692973975754862344_n1613984_10152054475503870_2087654854679487562_nWe watched all of our club runners come through and then headed off on the long walk over Tower Bridge, along the river to mile 25 miles.  It’s a long walk, but worth it.  It was still possible to get to the barriers to cheer people on.

The noise on the Embankment was at a different level.  It was the cheering point for many of the charities and the volume increased each time a specific charity’s runner went past.

This is where people need the help and they got it.

10176204_10152054478538870_4904806607836249576_n10006946_10152054479378870_8002352559975809149_n10154245_10152054478563870_5338783034525163681_n10178140_10152054479008870_2319659398545009841_n1781928_10152054478933870_5431676588939989938_n10246436_10152054479138870_1975636437013883556_n10250164_10152054479648870_152317070625188737_n10245579_10152054480238870_5231820463874588388_n1491692_10152054480423870_2912327495231922885_n10167934_10152054480648870_2227124048735896155_n10013585_10152054480088870_2378244714454393288_nIf ever there was any doubt in my mind about getting up very early on a Sunday morning, when I could have done with staying in bed, then I think that these photos prove that going to London was the best idea I have had for some time.

Well done to everyone for doing this, runners and supporters.  Well done all those BHR people who reached some amazing personal goals.  The most incredible performance came from Helen Pratt.  2 marathons in 2 weeks and the smile on her face on Sunday was just amazing.

IMG_7728

So, it was time for a quick beer at the lovely Blackfriars Station before heading home after the most incredibly rewarding and tiring weekend for some time.

1623594_10152054186743870_7105244098990267101_n