Mouth 2 Mouth Marathon 2016

It’s December, it’s a bright frosty Saturday morning and it’s time for the Mouth to Mouth Marathon.

This is the last Sussex Trail Events race of the year, the inaugural Mouth to Mouth race and the 4th and final in the river marathon series for 2016.

The concept and the route are pretty simple. 6 flat kilomemtres up the river Adur from Shoreham by Sea, a 7.5km climb up to the top of the South Downs, a 4km descent back down, a 2.5km climb back up, 5.5km of undulations on the South Downs Way, a 3.5km descent to join the river Adur, then all the way to Littlehampton Marina following the river via Arundel on the flat.

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The start time is 9am, so we arrived at 8.15, giving us plenty of time to check in, which is a quick, easy and well organised as with all Sussex Trail Events races and get the final preparations over with before heading outside for the customary informal and amusing race brief.

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The race starts on the west side of the river before you cross the wooden bridge after ¾ of a mile and head north along the Downslink path before crossing back over Botolph’s Bridge, through Botolph’s village, where the climb up onto the South Downs begins. For anyone who has run the Downslink Ultra, I can assure you that the uneven paving slabs are easier after 2 minutes than after 38 miles.

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The start of the climb marks the start of my first long walk and is the location for the first well laden aid station. I love this part of the Downs. The first section goes through a tree lined path and at this time of the year, the path is covered with leaves.

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The climb continues past the pig farm to the top of the Downs. I obviously have mixed feelings about seeing the pigs. I love seeing them playing and messing around in the mud. Knowing their fate makes it a sadder place to be. I guess that if we’re going to insist on killing them, they do have a good time in the open while they’re alive and at least they’re not in a factory farm.

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The views as we head over to Chantonbury Ring are beautiful and the sun kept shining.  Chanctonbury Ring marks the top of the first long climb, giving us the chance to make up some time on the way down to Washington.

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At 16.5km you pass through Washington village, get a top up from the 2nd aid station and then head up on the long climb back to the top of the South Downs Way.  Oh yeah, and there were 2 donkeys. Donkeys are brilliant.  Just look at them.  Aaahhhhhh donkeys.

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

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For anyone who has done the Steyning Stinger, this is one of the lovely climbs on that event too.

The climb and the walk are well worth it to get back onto the SDW and the lovely isolation that awaits.

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Apart from the odd runner and a few walkers, the only other person I saw was the remarkable Jon Lavis, who yet again was out of the course, providing us with some outstanding photos.  Thanks again.

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

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As the legs started to feel the strain a little (I think I probably enjoyed the downhill section a little too much), the temperature dropped, the clouds rolled in and the wind increased.  As the river meandered towards the coast, the wind became more and more of an annoyance and things weren’t quite so pleasant.

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

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After a quick road section through Arundel you join back on the river bank for the 7km to the finish line in Littlehampton Marina.

After the ups and downs earlier in the race, you’d expect the flat last section to be easy.  Never underestimate a flat rutted river bank.

And there you are, that is the Mouth to Mouth Marathon.  And this is me with my medal.  It’s a cracker as well.

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I had no idea what to aim for with this race.  In reality, it is part of the build up to the Country to Capital in January.  As the race developed, I decided upon a target of 5 hours to keep me on task.  Given that I crossed the line in 4.59.26, that wasn’t a bad estimate.  It is 27/5 miles by the way, not actual marathon distance.

My race went very well.  I paced it well apart from being slightly too quick around the 17-18 mile downhill section.  I fuelled on Tailwind (2 sachets) and a bag of mini Nakd bites with raisins and sultanas, as well as the sweet and savoury offerings at the aid stations (mainly bananas and tortilla chips).

There is still a lot of work to do, but with experience comes more knowledge.  That knowledge now includes knowing how tough some of the hills will be between miles 45 and 50 on the South Downs Way 100.

On days like yesterday, I am reminded of one of the reasons why we run.  There has been some pretty rubbish news out there recently and I have been feeling the walls closing in at times.  The freedom of running and spending time with the trail running crowd is a fantastic way to release the pressure valve and remember how good it is to be alive, fit and healthy.

So, my verdict on the race.  The Sussex Trail Events team get the big things right.  By this I mean safety, having a nice route, making a challenging course, marking the course well, providing the right food at aid stations.  But it’s also the little things.  Knowing your name when you’ve done a few of their events, giving you a big smile when they see you, making you feel at ease and welcome before the race starts and having cups at the end with a little message on them.

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While chatting to a lady on the way to Chantonbury, Andrew and I were asked why they don’t really advertise these races.  The answer was there’s no need, they always fill up anyway and I think that says it all.

Thank you Jay, Chris, Danny and all of the volunteers.  If the other runners had half as much fun as I did, they’ll be back for more of the river marathon series next year.

For me it’s on to the Bovington Marathon next Sunday and that’s it for 2016.

Take care and stay healthy, Neil.

Beachy Head Marathon 2016

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

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

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

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

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into this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The views looked like this,

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rather than this (a photo I prepared earlier).

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Lovely view of the SDW100 near Jevington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun, Neil

#fuelledbyplants

 

Chiltern Wonderland 50 – Centurion Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun, Neil.

#fuelledbyplants

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.