South Downs Way 50

If we were to have a bucket list of races, the South Downs Way 50 would be on it.  It’s on our own turf, it’s a Centurion event and the original ultra runners in our club put this race on the map.

The build up has been a lot of back to back runs of around 2 hours and a sequence of marathons on consecutive weekends.  I have to say that both Nick and I were in a pretty good place (apart from the odd wobble).

The race takes you from the Hill Barn Rec in Worthing to join the South Downs Way around Chanctonbury Ring and then over to Eastbourne along the SDW, with a little tour in Eastbourne to find the finish.

There are many hills between the start and the finish.  5700 feet of climb to be precise.

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Race day came round and the sun came out to play.  Not as strong as for the Brighton Marathon on the following day, but strong enough to cause problems (I’m burnt on the back of my legs, but luckily nowhere else).

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The first section of the race up to Chanctonbury takes in Cissbury Ring with 2 long climbs and a lovely long downhill section.  I started eating right from the off.  Nuts, dried fruit, Nakd bars and Tailwind.  I walked the big climbs and made the most of gravity when it was on our side.  I am finding it a little disappointing that the steep, rutted chalk path up to Cissbury Ring has been repaired and made much easier to climb.

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After Chanctonbury, it is almost all downhill to the first aid station at Botolph’s after 11.2 miles.  As with all Centurion aid stations, they are full laden with everything that you could wish for and this year they included Tailwind as well.

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After Botolph’s comes Truleigh Hill.  It’s horrid.  There’s no other way to describe it.  It’s steep and pretty long and then when you get to what you think is the top, it climbs less sharply for about another mile.

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After the Youth Hostel at the top of Truleigh Hill, there is a quick descent into the valley before the climb back up to Devil’s Dyke, where there were a lot of supporters.

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I love Devil’s Dyke.  It’s where I first took my folks out when they visited me after my move to Brighton.  Being from the flat lands of Lincolnshire, it felt so novel to have these hills on the doorstep, and the thrill of being next to the South Downs has never worn off.

My Mum has just got her first smart phone (I’m not sure she knows how to use it), so I’m making the most of being able to send her pictures.  I indulged myself in this selfie and sent it off to her.

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After Devil’s Dyke, there is a lovely descent into Saddlescombe Farm for aid station #2 at 16.6 miles.

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Jon Lavis was out on course taking amazing photographs as usual and managed to catch me trying to get a peanut butter wrap down me.  This thing stuck to the inside of my mouth for the next 10 minutes.  Peanut butter with jam next time.  Rookie error.

So, from Saddlescombe Farm, you climb Newtimber Hill, descend into Pyecombe and then climb through the golf course towards the Jack and Jill windmills, where there were lots of amazing supporters.

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I was now on home turf.  You can see the big yew tree in our front garden from the section between the windmills and Ditchling Beacon.  I know this section to the end very well.  Not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

It was around this point that I started to notice the heat more.  It was early afternoon, so no surprise really.

There are a few ups and downs between the windmills (namely Ditchling Deacon, which is the highest point on the SDW) and the right turn at Black Cap.

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Then it’s downhill all the way……………………to the next climb.  And that next climb is a killer.  It’s not long, but it’s very steep through the woods before the 3rd aid station at Housedean Farm at 26.6 miles.

This is just over half way through and the heat was starting to hurt.  I had planned to have my finishing time start with a ’10’ and I got to half way in exactly 5 hours.  I had time in hand and I was going to need it.  After the Housedean Farm aid station there is a long climb.  It’s long walk.  It’s hard not to get frustrated by it, but there’s no chance of running it and it’s all part of the process.

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The next real landmark is the Yellow Brick Road.  It’s neither yellow or brick, but it’s lovely.  It’s a long downhill towards the next aid station at Southease at 33.9 miles.

At the end of the Yellow Brick Road there is a very steep downhill (not good for achy knees) and a horrible dusty track before the aid station.

Southease aid station is great.  Well manned, lots of supporters.  I even had Philippe apply new sun block for me.

This is the calm before the storm though.  For me, this is the toughest part of the course. Recently friends have described this as the graveyard on the South Downs Way 100 and I can see why.  For me, it’s not just the length and extent of the climb.  It is long and steep in places.  The issue is that it keeps going up to Firle Beacon and then, after you descend into Bo Peep you have to climb back out again.  This section seems to go on for ages.  I think it probably did though to be honest.  Lots of walking.

As you can see from this photo taken by Jon, I wasn’t alone in walking out of Bo Peep.

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This was a bit of a low point, and Jon managed to catch my mood perfectly.

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From here until the end, I’m a lot happier.  It is 11 miles.  There are 2 huge hills and a tricky descent, but it is the home stretch.

The hills out of the aid stations are tough and the terrain presents you with trip hazards.  The countryside is beautiful and for some reason, I even managed to run about 25% of the climb out of Jevington.

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When you reach the top of the Jevington hill, you have to tackle the tricky descent into Eastbourne.  It is around 2km down.  After about a minute I could hear someone screaming in front of me.  I saw a runner lying across the path.  My initial thoughts were ‘oh god, I hope he’s not badly hurt.’  As I approached, I saw his feet were pointing in the same direction, which is a good sign.  It was cramp.  I lifted his leg, push his foot back, helped him to his feet and he was off.  Phew.

The section along the streets in Eastbourne (about 2km) to the finish went by quickly. Turning the corner onto the track was amazing.  There were lots of supporters.  300m to the finish and my medal was waiting for me, presented by the ultra running legend that is Mimi Anderson.

I popped inside quickly to put some more clothes on and to get a hot drink before coming out to wait for Nick.

And all of a sudden, there she was.  I didn’t even have time to start my coffee.  She’d been between 5 and 10 minutes behind me all the way.  What an amazing performance.  So so proud of her.

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We got there and it was still light.  Both under 11 hours.  And those medals are almost big enough to eat your dinner off.

So, what happened to me?  Well time-wise I did what I wanted to.  I wanted it to start with a ’10’ and it did.  10 hours 43 minutes and 29 seconds to be precise.  If I’m honest with myself, I wanted to be around 10 and a half hours, but there you go.

This shows big improvement on last year.  I finished my first 50, the Endure 50, which was mainly flat in 10 hours 45 minutes.  The Chiltern Wonderland 50, which has a similar amount of climb took me 11 hours 15 minutes, so the SDW50 was an improvement of over 30 minutes.

What did I learn?

I’m not good in the heat.  Well, I knew that already, but this just proved it.  I wasn’t alone. I did manage to keep most of me burn-free apart from the backs of my legs, where I didn’t think to slap the sun block.

I know now that I really have an issue with the climbs to Firle and Bo Peep.  I have got to get over that.  This is going to be one of the challenges for my crew and pacer on the SDW100.  Get me out of Southease and over to Alfriston.

I got cramps in my calves.  Not a big issue.  A stretch every 10 minutes or so sorted it out, but this is the first time in ages that I’ve had cramps.  I took the salt tabs as usual, along with electrolytes.  Maybe it was the heat?  Maybe it was a one off?  At least I was able to resolve it with a simple calf stretch and when it went away it didn’t stop me from running.

I got stomach cramps.  The only thing I did differently to usual was drinking fizzy coke. Maybe that was daft?  No more fizzy coke.  As I was struggling with eating and it was really hot, fizzy coke really did seem like a pleasant way to get energy in.

I’m going to need baby wipes for the 100.  Sticky fingers between aid stations and crew points is really going to get on my nerves.

I also learnt that that wife of mine is a bloody legend (she was a non-runner 5 years ago).  She’s getting better and better. She was only 7 minutes behind me at the end.  Seeing her name above mine on the finish list would please quite a few people for sure and I’m coming round to that idea more and more.  The thing is, I don’t care if she gets home before me on the SDW100.  I just want to see her with that buckle.

Finally, there is a serious realisation that 100 miles is a long way.  No shit Sherlock. Obviously it’s a long way.  Tagging another 50 onto the back of this is really daunting. Both of us spoke about this on Sunday and doubts did surface over whether we’re capable of doing it.  Now that a little time has passed, we have regained a bit of the positivity.  The first 50 will be slower (by around 90 minutes).  We will have crew with us with food and support.  And finally, the only time pressure is 30 hours.  That’s the only thing that matters.

There are lots of thank you’s.  To James and the Centurion Team.  Amazing.  You set the standard that other have to try to match.  The volunteers were incredible.  Even at the early aid stations when lots of people arrived at the same time, you were quick, efficient and always lovely.  Thank you so much.

To the supporters, you were great.  So touched that so many were out on course, especially the Burgess Hill Runners who popped up all over the place.

To my fellow runners, thank you for your company.  Well done to every one of you.

To Nick, thank you for being my training partner and the most important person in the world.  If you ever beat me I’m never speaking to you again 🙂

To the South Downs Way, thank you for being there and being so beautiful.

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The next time we will see the Centurion team is while crewing and pacing for Philippe at the TP100 in a few weeks.  After that’s it’s the start line for the big one.

In the meantime, have fun and take care.

Neil.

please be kind to all animals #fuelledbyplants

(photos courtesy of Jon Lavis, Centurion Running and Stuart March)

Steyning Stinger Marathon 2017

So, the Steyning Stinger Marathon is the 2nd of 3 consecutive marathon weekends for me.  I’ve been here before, back in 2014 and know the course really well, as it shares sections with many other events.

Knowing the course is one thing, dealing with the weather and the under foot conditions is another.

It had been raining a lot over the past week or so and the always boggy Stinger course didn’t disappoint.  It rained for a lot of the race.  It was torrential at the start and apart from a couple of short breaks, it rain throughout the day.  This was coupled with a serious wind that was coming from the south west.  The organisers said that conditions were worse than they had seen for the event in the 50+ years it has been taking place.

During the first section on top of the South Downs, we were leaning to the left side to stop ourselves from being blown over and then a turn took us straight into the teeth of a biting gale at around 10k.  It was almost not worth trying to run, as walking was almost as quick.

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I’m not sure how many distinct climbs the Stinger claims to have, but there are definitely 5 long ones, including the huge climb to Chanctonbury Ring, which does go on forever.
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This race seemed to be either head wind, up hill or incredibly slippery under foot at all times and often all 3 at the same time.  There really was no respite at all.

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I really felt tired at the start.  The legs were seriously heavy after the race last week.  I have been sleeping badly all week and my head seems to be buzzing a lot.  This, coupled with the rubbish weather at the start, didn’t make me totally happy.  This is all part of the process though.  All part of the mental toughening.

This is the first real climb.  I have got the FFS face on here.  It was chucking it down and that hill does go on forever.

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The miles actually flew by and things went pretty well.  At half way I was on target to beat my time from 2014, but the second half of the race had some really boggy and slippery sections, especially the totally demoralising circuit round Steep Down – 7km of pure hard work.  Don’t forget the tricky downhill sections either, especially the ones towards the end.  Very steep and very slippery.  At half way I changed my target to 5 hours 15 minutes and kept going really well to get home in 5 hours 7 minutes.

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I love the photos at the end of the marathons.  Whether it’s your first or your 101st, it’s still an emotional experience.  Marathons are never to be underestimated, whether they’re flat, city events or hilly, muddy treks through the countryside.  This feeling is just amazing.  Crossing the finish line really is the business.

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This event really is brilliant.  The marshals are amazing.  They stand is some of the most remote spots on the SDW in rubbish conditions and do a great job.  The course is fantastic.  You get some of the best views in the area and it is one of the most testing marathons around.  Not only do you have to contend with the hills, but the mud and the weather.

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Nice medal too.  Oh, and you get free professional photos as part of this event.

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It is a testament to the quality of this event that we now have this as one of our club championship races and runners of all abilities turn out in large numbers (it’s got nothing to do with the free breakfast.  Honest).

And so it’s onto the Larmer Tree races over in Wiltshire.  10 miles on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday.  More hills and more mud.

Have fun, Neil

#fuelledbyplants

 

 

Mouth 2 Mouth Marathon 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care and stay healthy, Neil.

The Moyleman Marathon 2015

So Sunday 15th March finally came round and it is the day of the first running of the Moyleman Marathon, a trail marathon starting and finishing in Lewes and taking in many of the wonderful trails and hills of the surrounding area.

A huge amount of work must have gone in to get everything in place for race day and we were all ready to go.

The event is called the Moyleman, after a local runner Chris Moyle who loved running the hills of this area and sadly died a few years ago.  It was really quite fitting that Camilla Moyle, Chris’ sister ran the race and she wore the number 1.

Registration for the event took place in Wallands school hall in Lewes.  An excellent place for registration with all of the facilities you needed, including tea, coffee and cake.

11009939_10152747053838870_709814355214473888_nThere were 4 Burgess Hill Runner taking part.  We now have a good representation at all local trail events.

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The start is a short walk from the school hall and the bottom of the hill that leads up to Black Cap.  The race brief took place there, excellently delivered by the Race Director, who quite correctly described the hills as ‘a bit of a bastard’.

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So, we’re off bang on time at 10am.  Now this is where the first dilemma came.  My rule for hilly trail marathons is walk the hills, run the flat and the down hills.  However, the first 3.5km are uphill.  The total ascent was 140m.  Not bad to start with.  Everyone ran up the hill to Black Cap. This certainly wasn’t in my plan, but it wouldn’t have felt right to have walked that section.  I would have been alone if I had.

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Having passed Black Cap, we turned left and headed down to the A27 for 6km, almost all of which was downhill.  This section was quick, but it was time to make the most of the slow descent to the A27 crossing, where we met the first aid station.

The second climb came at 9km and was 2km long with 130m of elevation gain.  I walked it all.  We weren’t even a quarter of the way through and I knew that there were bigger fish to fry later in the race.

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After a short descent of 3km, we found ourselves in a valley.  I had never been in this part of the South Downs before and it is totally stunning.  No signs of life apart from a few idiots seeing how quickly they could complete 26 miles.

10450529_10152747054568870_6177186716960879396_nThe 3rd climb soon came into view and again I started to walk.  At this stage I had some food for the first time.  The on board food for today was date, walnut, brazil nut and chai seed balls.  I know that they look like something that a dung beetle has made, but they are tasty and beat gels hands down.

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The 3rd climb is 3.5km long and just over 100m of elevation gain.  At the top we are greeted by the folks at the 2nd aid station.  This was the most remote station as well.  It a pretty good job that the forecast bad weather didn’t come in, or these marshals would have frozen.

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At this aid, you turn left and head down what is known as the yellow brick road, which is downhill almost all of the way to the half way point at Southease.

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The next 7km are almost all uphill.  The much of it totally unrunnable (not sure that’s a word, but you know what I mean), even if I’d wanted to.  The first section is especially steep.  Just when you thought that the uphill had finish, you went over the crest of a hill and there was another hill coming up.
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10307180_10152748871523870_848150457216854819_nYou reach the most easterly point at 28.5km and I knew that the most difficult part was over.  Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

The section that brings you off the South Downs Way is very steep, on concrete and thigh busting.  I even met a runner going down backwards to save his knees and thighs.  The bottom of the hill is the 30km point and another aid station with water and jelly babies.

I found the next section pretty easy.  It’s 8km, mainly downhill.  I got into a rhythm and made up some time.  It was at this point that I was sure of making my 5 hour target.  In fact, I was heading for nearer 4 and a half hours (although I hadn’t taken into account what was waiting at mile 23).  This section was in the shadow of the South Downs Way to the north side and I really enjoyed looking over my left shoulder at the great views.

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As we closed in on Glynde village at the last 3 miles, we had to cross a very rutted field.  It was totally dry and this played havoc with tired calves and ankles.  Better than if it had been wet though.

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So we head through Glynde village, past the marshal who points us right into a field and there it is.  The hill.  At this stage?  Really?  You’re having a laugh.  So, I set off walking up the hill to where I thought it ended, where there was a gate and a hedge.  Oh how I was wrong, that was probably half way up the hill.  Through the gate it continued and you really could not tell how long it went on for.  It was only just over a kilometre, but there was 130m of elevation gain.

11015856_10152747055978870_1877141769352725027_nThis is the view back from the hedge and below is the view up.

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The views from the top were stunning.  Hang on a minute.  I thought that was the last climb, but oh no.  You head down into the valley (some of which is too steep to run), before the last climb (it had to be the last climb surely).  It was only about 700m, but still enough at 25 miles.

So, we could now see Lewes and we headed down the steep hill into the town.  The finish took us along the main shopping area where people either clapped or looked at you like you were a bit weird.  It was a great place to finish.  A quick right turn and we were in the yard of Harvey’s Brewery.

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That was it.  4 hours 50 minutes and 25 seconds.  Having crossed the line you get your medal and a voucher for a pint of ale and some food.  Massages were also available.

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Given my time, you can probably guess that things went well, even though the course was tougher than I’d expected.  The plan worked and my legs worked.  I fuelled along the route and took my time when I needed to.  Mental strength played a bit part in this race.  At no stage did I even start to talk myself into negative thoughts.

So what about the race?  Well, think of the Brighton, London or any other mass participation run event and now think of exactly the opposite.  Well that’s Moyleman.  Hilly, beautiful, lonely (it was for me, but I like that), relentless and brutal in places.

This is a tremendous addition to the Sussex trail running calendar.  It sits very well with the Steyning Stinger, 3 Forts, Beachy Head and the wonderful events organised by the people at Sussex Trail Events.

Here is the link to the route from my gps – https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/720375846

Thank you all for this.  Top organisation, perfectly sign posted and tremendously well marshaled.  A brilliant tribute to someone who loved those hills.

Can’t wait for next year.  I’m sure that there will be plenty of interest as word spreads.

Take care all and keep running.

Neil.