Chiltern Wonderland 50 – Centurion Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun, Neil.

#fuelledbyplants

The Lunar-tic Marathon 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil.

#fuelledbyplants

 

 

 

 

 

The Endure 1250 – 50 mile race

The Endure 1250 was to be my first 50 mile race.  The furthest I had been before was 38 miles on the Downslink Ultra, so this was going to be a test and hopefully a stepping stone to something bigger next year.

The Ensure 1250 encompasses 3 different races, 50km, 50 miles and 12 hours. You can run solo or in teams as a relay.  Each lap is 5 miles, so my race was 10 laps.  Just to make life more difficult (as if it needed to be) the race started at 7pm, meaning that by the time I’d finish, I would have been over 24 hours without sleeping.

I’m not really that worried about races with many laps.  I did the Velothon last year, which is a 78 lap marathon and the Lemmings Marathon the year before, which is 106 laps of a 400 metre track.  Lapped events just pose a different challenge from point to point races.

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My first impressions on arrival were very positive.  It was very relaxed, friendly and low key.  Registration took 2 minutes.  There were lots of people lazing around 2 hours before kick off.  There was the smell of bar b q in the air and it was almost like a mini festival rather than a race.

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I parked 20 yards from the start finish straight.  This was perfect.  I could have my own food, drink and other supplies within touching distance at the end of every lap.  I couldn’t have asked for more.

With 2 hours to kill, I prepared everything.  Food, change of clothes, music and first aid gear.  I learned from the London to Brighton race that you have to know where everything is in the dark, as it’s difficult and frustrating to try to find things mid-race.

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So, we set off at just gone 7pm in bright sunshine and really warm temperatures.

I ran with my phone on the second lap to take photos of the course.  The first 1.5km are on grass.  It’s pretty rutted in places and there is also a camber in places.  It’s pretty pleasant and there was a flock of geese watching us.

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There was then around 1km on a single lane tarmac road, which was slightly downhill. This was a pick me up on every lap.

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After that you encountered the most difficult section.  2km of ruts across a couple of fields and along a section of the Thames river bank, which didn’t look too used to me.

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You then run through Beale Park with its statues of animals before heading off road again and through a wooded area back to the finish line.

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There are a few things to you need to be aware of if you’re doing this event for the first time.

Firstly. there is water and energy bars available out of the course and at the start/finish line. However, you don’t get the usual mini banquet that you get at Centurion or Sussex Trail Events races.  This isn’t an issue, as you can set up your own aid station on the start/finish straight.  However, it could be an issue if you turn up without food.  There is, however, a food area that you could buy items from if you wanted to leave the course to buy something.

Secondly, starting a race at that time of the day is tough.  By the time you’re 20 miles in, your body starts to tell you that it wants to go to sleep.  This makes concentrating on the rutted trail sections event more difficult.  I definitely underestimated how the lack of sleep would affect me.

Thirdly, if you’re scared of the dark, this may not be for you.  I am surprised by how I coped, but there were a few occasions when I was on the Thames bank when I thought that there was no-one in front of me and no-one behind, especially when the 50km race had finished around 4am.  Evidently it’s very safe, it’s just the stupid irrational fear of the dark.  Maybe I have beaten it now.  Woo hoo.

I was really pleased with my performance.  My lap times were as below:

Lap 1 – 51.45
Lap 2 – 54.45
Lap 3 – 56.26
Lap 4 – 59.00
Lap 5 – 1.02.40
Lap 6 – 1.11.09
Lap 7 – 1.09.39
Lap 8 – 1.13.46
Lap 9 – 1.12.35
Lap 10 – 1.13.17
Total time – 10.45.02

I had 3 plans.  Plan A – 10 hours.  Plan B – 11 hours.  Plan C – Get round.

So I got well under Plan B.  By the time I got to half way, it was evident that Plan A was not going to happen.  It was too hot and I underestimated how tough it would be to cover the rutted off road section only with the aid of a head torch.

I am over the moon with the times for laps 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.  There is hardly drop off in the lap times between laps 6 and 10 and the total distance covered was 25 miles.  I did the sensible thing and slowed down to meet the amended target of Plan B.

I made sure that I ate and drank sensibly.  I had at least a banana, a Nakd bar and a gel on each lap and used both Salamon water bottles with Zero tabs in.  There was never a hint that cramp was going to set in.

I wrote this on my hand and looked at it regularly.

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It may seem a little silly, but I have been saying this to myself on recent races when the going has got tough and I proved to myself that I am strong, both mentally and physically. Without a doubt, I was boosted by the sun coming up on the last 2 laps.  I was still run/walking on the last laps and I was overtaking people (not that that’s that important).

A nice tip that I have learned from crewing on long races over the past 18 months is to change clothes and brush your teeth during the race.  I did this at half way and it was a real pick up.

I may have celebrated a little too much as a went over the line, but this meant a lot to me. I was so happy that I forgot to get my medal and had to go back to get it.

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So, my verdict is a big positive for this event.  I would recommend it for sure and will probably go back next year and do the Endure 24 (the longer version of this one).  This event is £35 to enter and ticks most of the important boxes, including a lovely medal.

A huge thank you to the organisers and the volunteers, especially the marshals.  They were out there all night and it probably wasn’t huge amounts of fun at times.  They were always enthusiastic and encouraging (and dancing on occasions).  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

So, the 50 has been done.   Thoughts have already turned to a 100 at some stage.  We will have to wait and see about that one.  I don’t think I’m physically capable in the current shape I’m in.  Things may change though……..

 

Green Belt Relay 2016

So this was the 3rd Green Belt Relay that we have taken part in.  This could become a habit.  In fact, it already has.  Last week I received emails from a couple of our runners counting down the number of sleeps until the weekend.  People really have taken this event to their hearts.

After 4 months of preparation, the weekend was upon us.  3 teams, 33 runners, 2 reserves and one dedicated driver were ready to go.

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My preparation hadn’t been good.  My stomach issues have got in the way of pretty much everything since March.  I wasn’t even sure that I was fit enough to get through 2 stages totaling 22 miles over 2 days.  Things got a lot more ‘interesting’ last week when Ernie was attacked by a fox.  Ernie is the stray cat who is living in the shelter we built for him in our garden.  We couldn’t risk him being outside for a while, so I spent over a week cat sitting him in either the spare room or the living room, keeping him away from our elderly, rather poorly house cat.  The result of this was about 3 or 4 hours sleep per night and this doesn’t make me a happy boy.  Sometimes it’s hard to be an animal loving tree hugger.

Anyway, back to the Green Belt Relay.  Have I ever mentioned how totally amazing this race is?  If the answer to that question is ‘no’ then you haven’t been listening.

In short, it is a relay around London’s Green Belt in teams of 11 running 1 stage per day over 2 days, with each stage being between around 6 and 14 miles.

It’s an early start on the Saturday.  The 3 teams met up at 6.15am in Burgess Hill to get to Hampton Court Palace for the 8.30 start.

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Hampton Court Palace was as lovely as ever and we’re there in plenty of time for our 3 runners on the first stage to get ready.

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And they’re off bang on 8.30am and the fun begins.  We head off to the end of stage 1 to meet our runners and the other 2 vans head off to their relevant stages to get our runners safely to the start of the 11 stages on day 1.

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My stage on day 1 was stage 7, from St. Albans, through Hatfield, finishing just south of Welwyn Garden City.  A lot of the stage was on the Alban Way.  It is a tarmac path which is protected from the roads around by trees and bushes. This is a lovely part of the race, but far from being the most picturesque of stages, which says a lot for the other 21 legs.

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I really quite enjoyed it.  I set off a little too quickly, but that’s nothing new.  I slowed down a little towards the end, but that was more a choice than a necessity, given that this was only day 1.  This is a pretty easy stage and the route markings were very easy to follow.

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Our path crossed with our other 2 vans throughout the day as the start and the end of stages are in the same place.  This is great as you get to swap stories about what has happened and you get to encourage people in at the end of their stage and cheer people off at the start of theirs.

It is a little unfair to pick out highlights, but there were a couple of special moments on day 1.  Seeing 3 Green Belt first timers and pretty new members of the club off at the start was great to see.  Seeing Nick, Gary and Helen come in at the end of the Epping Forest stage was great.  I really want to do that leg one day.  Glyn’s finish at the end of stage 4 was one of the best I have ever seen.

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So, with the running over on day 1, we headed off to the hotel in Brentwood.  The check in could have been slicker (although checking in 36 people at once was never going to be that smooth).  Before you knew it, we had beer in hand and were off for a curry, 5 minutes down the road.  The food was excellent again and catering for that many people at 10pm is not easy.  They serve Quorn piece curries.  It’s veggie heaven.  Give that restaurant a medal.

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With 5 hours sleep, we’re off again.  Jaded and a bit sick with nerves, we head off to the wonderful Thorndon Park to drop off our first runners of the day for a 9am start.  Pictured below, Jonathan treated his body more like a temple than I did.

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My favourite start/finish location of the whole event is the end of 15 / start of 16 at Lullingstone Park.  I just love it.  The end of stage 15 is beautiful and I have very fond memories of running stage 16 in 2014.

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My stage on day 2 was 19.  We had wanted to run up Box Hill and during the planning we allocated ourselves the stage called Box Hill.  It turns out that this is the stage that starts at the top of Box Hill.  A school boy error for sure, but it certainly didn’t make things any easier.

Stage 19 is amazing.  Difficult. Really tough, but totally amazing.

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You run steep downhill for about 2km and then steep up for about 4km.  After that, it is up and down for the rest of the stage.  It takes you through Denbie’s vineyard and through some amazing countryside.  Several sections are on the North Downs Way.  It is totally different from the South Downs Way.  There is a lot of tree cover and there are a lot of technical sections.  I loved the forest trails.  They were technical with tree roots to avoid and the uphill and downhill sections were short, so it was constantly changing.

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I’m so lucky that I accidentally allocated this stage to myself.  I can think of lots of people who would love to do it next year.

We dropped our last runners off at the start of the final stage and headed to the finish where everyone was gathering to welcome the runners crossing the line on the glory leg.

We did it in style as well.  We were last over the line with all 3 runners hand in hand.

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I always find the end of races a bit emotional.  This was especially so.  We’d got around the course safely and all of the vans were still intact.  I feel a lot of responsibility on this event and the most important thing for me is that everyone is safe.  After that, everything is a bonus.  Luckily there were lots of bonuses.  Club course records, great atmosphere in the vans, amazing countryside, Helen went under cut off for the first time and I wasn’t ill.

And we won a trophy.  The Most Supportive Team.  I’m so proud of this.  We are never going to be the quickest people out there.  That’s not really the point of why we spend time together in fields at the weekend.  It’s all about enjoyable and supporting each other.  So I got the chance to lift the Wissahickon Trophy.  Oh yeah.

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It’s hard to imagine what goes into staging this event.  Organising the marshals (this is a self-marshaled event) is a huge task in itself.  How on earth do you mark out 220 miles of course close enough to the event so that idiots get as little chance as possible to move the markings and signs?  How do you handle a tree falling down on the day of the race, making the route impassible?  The answer is with a huge amount of organisation, dedication and pride in knowing that this event is just the best.

The last 3 years have given me and Burgess Hill Runners that chance to test ourselves against some great countryside, to get to know each other better and to forget about the troubles of life for a  whole weekend and immerse ourselves in the wonder that is the Green Belt Relay.  For that, we will always be indebted to Peter, the Stragglers and everyone who makes this happen.

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We already have new people asking if they can come along next year.  Will it see 4 teams of Burgess Hill Runners taking part?  That is a question for another day.

In the meantime, it’s off to the Hampshire Hoppit Marathon for me in June.

Take care, Neil.

 

3 Forts Half Marathon

This was my first 3 Forts Half Marathon.  In fact it was my first hilly trail half.  I have done the 3 Forts Marathon twice, so knew what it was all about and this year just fancied doing the Half.

That was a pretty good choice, given the recent illness, as I would not have enjoyed the extra 14 miles.

They call this event ‘The Tough One’ and there is no doubt why.  This is the elevation graph for the Half.  The 27 mile race is certainly no less up and down.

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So, 3 Forts.  It’s low key.  Around 400 doing the Marathon (well 27 miles actually) and the same number doing the Half.  The Marathon starts 30 minutes before the Half, which works perfectly with the narrow paths in the first 2 miles.

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They send you your chip timing race number in the post or you pick it up on the day.  It’s easy.  Bag drop takes 30 seconds and they ask for a donation to their charity.  There is hot food and drink available.  Toilets, shelter, a group warm up.  You know, pretty much everything that you need.

The race heads out of the field at Hill Barn Rec in Worthing, up a road for 200 yards (this is the only section of road that you see – you come down the same section on the way back) and then you’re on trails.  Oh yeah.  Trails.  Thank god for that.  Bye-bye tarmac.  A summer of trails, grass and hills beckon.

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It is 3.2km straight up to Cissbury Ring.  It flattens out in a couple of places, but it is nothing more than a small respite.  Anyone at my pace will walk up here (if they have any sense).

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What goes up must come down.  That’s what happens from 3.2k to 5.3k.  You pass the first aid station and enjoy the freedom to stretch your legs.

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This section is very empowering and great fun.  Best make the most of it.  What goes down must go up, especially when the high point of the race is Chanctonbury Ring.

From 5.3km to 10.8km the elevation varies from steep uphill to slightly uphill, with the odd short section of rolling ups and downs.

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And this is the view back down the hill.

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The views are just fantastic.  One of the good things about walking up the hills is that you get the chance to take in the countryside.

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And the hills keep coming until you reach the highest point of the race at Chanctonbury Ring.  By the way, don’t expect that to be the end of the hills.

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From there, you have 3k of decent.  It’s lovely.  It can be a little tough on the knees and quads, but most of it has a gradient that is gentle enough for you to run it comfortably.

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And then comes the first sting in the tail.  Well to be honest, it’s the first of 2 stings in the tail.

There are 2km of ascent and it’s pretty steep in places.  I was wondering if I’d be able to run sections of it, given that I was only doing the Half and I’d had to walk it on the Marathon.  No chance.  I had to walk most of it.

You then have around 2km of descent and flat until you meet Cissbury Ring again.  Once you have walked over it (no way at this stage am I thinking about running up here) it’s downhill all the way.  You are now retracing your steps to the start.

So that’s it.  The 3 Forts Half.  My race was good.  I wasn’t ill.  That’s the most important part.  I had a time of 2 hours 10 in my head and went just under 2 hours 13.  That’s good.  Time is almost an irrelevance on events like this.

I pride myself on being able to pace myself well.  This can apply to hilly events as well as flat road races.  It’s just a different way of doing it.  I was as quick on the downhill sections at the end as I was at the start.  There was still something left in the tank.  For someone with my ability, walking up the hills and running the flat and downhill works perfectly.

If anyone wants to run this race next year, I’d highly recommend it.  It’s very well organised.  The timing is done by chip.  They have cake at the end.  The marshals are lovely.  The course is tremendous.  Not easy at all, but flat is dull.  For the medal hunters out there, the lump of metal is nice as well.

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That’s it, I think I’ll search out some similar Half Marathons in the future.

Take care, Green Belt Relay, here we come.

 

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.

 

South Downs Way 100 – Crewing and pacing

I have followed the Centurion events over the past few years.  It’s always been a temptation to take part.  Nick and I went up to support at mile 60 on the North Downs Way 100 last year and I have followed the times of people I know on the very impressive live updates website.

This weekend our involvement took on a greater significance.  Nick and I were to crew and pace for first time 100 miler and Burgess Hill Runners very own Philippe Ecaille.

So, here’s the deal.  We meet him at half way (well 51 miles in if we’re going to be totally accurate) and then Nick does the 21 miles to Ditchling Beacon, then I take over for the 28 miles to the end.  We would also meet Philippe and the pacer at 7 crew stations between half way and the finish.

I have only been writing about my races.  The reason why I write is to remind me how things went, to look back fondly on achievements and also to help others when they decide if a race is suitable for them or not.

This is obviously totally different. The day (and night) (then day again) was all about Philippe and helping to get him to the finish line and to get him the sub 30 hours finishers buckle.

On the surface, the job of crewing for a runner looks easy.

  1. Get in car
  2. Drive car to checkpoint
  3. Get relevant stuff out of car
  4. Repeat

Well it soon became obvious that it’s much more than that.

First of all, you can’t miss your runner.  The implications are terrible.  The runner will miss out on what they need and the mental effect of not seeing you would be pretty bad.  So, taking this into account, we arrive at Chantry Post (51 miles) about 2 hours before Philippe arrives.  Well, you can’t be too careful can you?  We were a bit too early and he was a little slower than we’d expect.  So, what to do for 2 hours?  Cheer the runners through, talk to other crew and supporters and eat, that’s what.

The scene at mile 51 is bizarre.  It’s lovely for a start.  It’s an isolated car park and that’s it.  There is a great view west from the car park and you can see runners coming down from around a mile away.

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It’s a bizarre experience. It’s over half way. That’s a great thing. But there’s still 49 miles left. That’s not so good. Some people look ok, some are not so good. Some people can hardly muster the energy to thank you for the support. It’s not great that there’s an uphill section out of the car park, which does nothing for their sense of humour.

I can only equate the state of the runners to mile 23 of a mass participation marathon. There is a huge range of physical and mental states.  Some fine, big smiles, some forcing smiles, some talk, some don’t and some look like they’re already on the march of the dead. The difference between this and mile 23 of the Brighton Marathon, for example, is that they’ve still got 2 back to back marathons to go.

So our man arrives. He’s a bit behind schedule, but he’d suffered with the heat early on and had a few blisters. We had been pretty concerned for him, but he was happy to see us and was keen to move on.

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So, off they went towards Botolphs and I jumped into the car onto the next crewing area.  It’s 9 miles for the runners and a 15 minute driver for me.  He’s going at around 17 minute miles and he’s got to change clothes at the bag drop at Washington, so I’ve got nearly 3 hours to kill. Luckily, there’s a game of football on the radio, fellow crew to talk to, runners to cheer on and food to eat.

The view from Botolphs village back toward Chanctonbury Ring is lovely, especially at dusk.

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They arrive at 61 miles and he looks no different from 10 miles ago.  That’s good.  He’s eating well and drinking as well.  They don’t hang about and head off towards Truleigh Hill.  That’s going to be a tester.

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Next stop Devil’s Dyke. It’s only 5 more miles for the runners, but they’re tough. The sun is going down and the temperature is starting to drop.

The view back from Devil’s Dyke is fantastic and as the sun goes down we could see the head lamps of the runners winding their way towards us.  I had started to get to know some of the crews who were there and we’d actually run quite a few of the same races, so time actually flew by.

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They were out there somewhere. Each time a set of headlamps got close, each of the crews were hoping that it was their runner.

And finally mine arrived.

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It was now getting really cold and I was glad that I made the last minute decision to throw in lots of really warm clothes.

They hardly stopped at Devil’s Dyke. Straight over the road, down the hill, over Newtimber Hill, through Pyecombe, past the Jack and Jill windmills and over to Ditchling Beacon (the highest point on the South Downs Way), where I was waiting to take over the pacing duties.

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I don’t like the dark, by the way. When I was younger, my mates used to walk me home from the pub. It’s got a bit better, but I’m still not comfortable with it.  I was looking forward to getting out there and conquering this fear. Luckily, I had stopped at a petrol station on the way to make sure that everything was were it should be in the car, as it was so dark up there.

They arrived at around 1 am.  I had expected to be away from there earlier, but the schedule had changed.  So, as my time crewing came to an end, my time as pacer began.

I was a bit nervous about it.  How do I deal with it?  Will I talk too much?  I usually do.  Will I just babble on like a nervous teenager on a first date?  Well, it appears that I did, for a start at least, but there you go.  That’s no worse than pointing your head lamp into the eyes of the runners.  Oh yeah, I did that as well (but only to start with).

The plan was to walk all the way from here. I had to get my head round that to start with. It was going to be pushing 10 hours, but the most important thing was that sub 30 hour medal.  That’s all that mattered now.

So off we went.  Nick had a 30 minute drive and we were going to take around 4 hours to get to Southease, which was the next crew station.

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I have to say that I really loved this. There is an amazing sense of liberation of being out in the countryside in the middle of the night with next to no-one around.  We went through fields of sheep and cows who were fast asleep. Well, they were until we woke them up (the mixture of my voice and shining headlamps into their faces saw to that).

It’s a bizarre feeling running or walking in the dark.  Even though we know the area well, the hills felt less steep in the dark and it was also really easy to get disorientated.

Navigation was really easy.  There was only one section where we were concerned.  We hadn’t seen any of the reassuring haz tape for a while and the half a dozen of us who were all close to each other had a bit of a moment.  It was a worry for me and I’d only done 10 miles.  Getting lost and having to retrace your steps at 80 miles + would be a disaster.

I offered to run off and check for the next sign that we were on the right course to save the runners legs.  We were fine.  Phew.  I think that the runners around us thought I was mental.  I was holding the gate open for all of them then running back to the front of the group to be with Philippe.  Only when I mentioned that I wasn’t actually in the race did the penny drop.

The sun started to come up.  Well, actually, the first sign of the new day was the call of the skylarks.  They were up well before sunrise.  They were quite amazing.

We didn’t get the sunrise I was hoping for, as it was cloudy, but slowly and surely it got brighter.  I could feel Philippe’s mood improve with the arrival of the sun, which was great. This, along with the sound of the sky larks drowning out Philippe’s periodic soggy farts, made the world a better place.

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At this stage Philippe was really struggling with the downhills.  We were much quicker up the hills, but were still on track for sub-30 with 20 minute miles.

Before the next aid station at Southease there was a really steep descent.  It was about half a mile, but our speed dropped dramatically as Philippe painfully made his way down the hill, mainly zig zagging so that he wasn’t heading vertically downwards.

Seeing Southease was great. This is the view as you approach the aid station. We know that hill well. It’s a bastard.

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The aid station is bizarre.  There’s runners asleep on deck chairs.  I can’t imagine falling asleep on a run, whatever the distance.  I don’t know if these people got out of this aid station, but they all looked pretty content to be unconscious.  Talking of unconsciousness, Nick had managed to get a couple of hours sleep and was up and ready for us, full of enthusiasm, which is exactly what we needed.

It’s more or less a 200m climb up to Firle Beacon. It’s tough, but at 84 miles, it’s amazingly tough.

I let Philippe go before me and I stayed to have a few minutes with Nick before I left.  He was nearly at the top of the really steep bit when I caught him.  I was so impressed.  I had never doubted that he’d get to the end, but this proved it beyond all doubt.  He was powering up those hills.

So we go past Firle Beacon and onto Bo Peep.  Nick was at both locations with a smile and some encouragement.

Philippe was looking strong, although in a bit of pain.  I must admit that I was starting to hurt a bit.  I’d been walking for over 7 hours and my back was starting to feel it.

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Bo Peep is the last time we’ll see Nick before the end.  Her crewing duties are over.

We head through Alfriston and Jevington. They are 2 beautiful villages and I haven’t run around that area before.  It’s all new territory for me.  And what wonderful territory it is.

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It’s really hilly, but he’s loving going up the hills, so we’re making great progress.

But then there’s the sting in the tail (well the first of 2 stings in the tail).

Firstly you have to come off the South Downs Way. This comes in the form of a thin chalk path which is steep enough to be uncomfortable on an afternoon walk.  To put this at mile 98 is just cruel.  We got to the bottom. My athlete winced all the way down. It has to be said that he didn’t moan though. To be fair, he hardly moaned at all. Not sure I would have been the same.

So, sting number 2.  You have to get to the running track where the finish is, which is via a mile and a half lap of the Eastbourne ring road.  They’ve got a make the distance up to 100 miles and I guess that the fact that we were walking made it seem longer.

So there we are, we enter the track.  Nick’s there waiting for us and we do the lap of honor together.

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He got home well under the 30 hour mark and our job as crew, pacers and support was done.

I’ve only known Philippe for around 18 months, but had grown to have lots of respect for him.  The way that he tackled the SDW100 and the heavy training schedule through some tough times is a mark of how strong he is.  Top work man.  Total respect.

There’s one more question that I’ve been asking myself for the past 12 months or so.  Will I do a 100 mile race?  At the moment, the answer is ‘no’.  However, I would love to do a Centurion race.  These people a brilliant.  So it’s either the SDW50 or NDW50 for me at some stage.

In short, crewing and pacing on this type of event is brilliant.  It’s not easy at all.  I’m broken today.  Totally shatter and really aching.  I can’t imagine how the runners are.

Take care folks.  Next for me, the Dorset Invader Marathon.

Much love, Neil.

 

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