Well, I hadn't long done the London marathon and I was quite disappointed with my training, weight gain and poor time. This was exactly the kick up the ass that I needed. Ever since, I have been feeling more motivated to run harder, more often and to lose some weight. Let's do another marathon. Yay!
(Me taking a Relfie at the start (running selfie)
I worked out the public transport and times and this was only possible as the race was on a Saturday. I wish there were more races on a Saturday. This means I can get public transport there and I have a day of recovery before returning to work, plus a few beers ;)
6am taxi to train station. 6.33 train to Havant. 6.37 train to Littlehampton. Walk to Littlehampton marina café for the start. Got there with about 40 minutes to spare. Got my race number and changed, then chatted to a few other runners. A few 100 mile running t-shirts which I find a bit intimidating sometimes. Makes me feel unsure of my ability on these trail races for some reason.
(Lovely café with a free fried breakfast and drink when we finish)
A bit about the event:
The race is organised by "Sussex trail events". They do some quite quirky little races. Check out their website and enter a race. They only allow 100 runners in this event and you must carry water with you. There are aid/water/food stations at miles 7ish, halfway and mile 20ish. The route follows the river Arun from Littlehampton marina to Arundel and then onto Amberley before reaching the South Downs way. You get to a checkpoint and turn around and come all the way back. I had a nice chat to the race director as well. A very enthusiastic, happy and proud guy. And you can see why because this was a brilliant event and I would love to do it again. Very supportive, friendly and chatty marshals. Which I love. Can get a bit lonely out there sometimes in your own world of pain ;)
(Start of the race)
The race director gave his talk with lots of laughs in there. We were told there was a market on in Arundel and we would have to run through it. This, I thought was even more awesome. I heard there were 104 runners and 1 dog. The dog was made to start at the back though. Fair enough I guess. We were off and I felt well prepared. I had downloaded the GPX file to my watch so I knew where to go if I got lost. Although, I wasn't sure how to view it whilst in race mode. I wanted to see the miles and time go by more importantly. I had also written down directions on the bits which didn't follow the river like Arundel and Amberley and the South Downs. I had water bottles, Vaseline, toilet paper, a rain mac, cake and my phone for taking photos.
(The river Arun and Arundel castle in the distance)
Started off nice and slow and trying to get into a comfortable pace. The ground was quite hard going underfoot though. There were quite a few divots and within half a mile there was no avoiding the stinging nettles. Just run faster! No logic there whatsoever..lol. Obviously, everything we were encountering now we would again on our return journey but in a much more tired and weary state.
(It was the first marathon for that guy on the left. He sure picked a tough one!)
The views were stunning and I was taking lots of photos and bird watching. We were right near the Arundel nature reserve so I was in my element. I could hear my favourite bird song of the Cetti's warbler. It's a really loud and angry sounding rant. Love it! I could also hear a few Sedge warblers about my the reeds too. Arundel castle was getting closer and closer and then we came into Arundel and there were marshals to direct us in the right direction. There was also red and white reflective tape all over the place and orange spray painted arrows. This was awesome and gave me confidence if I ever wasn't sure if I was going the right way.
Me and another runner got to the market and weren't sure where to go and we had the locals directing us through the market and people were watching us and clapping. I joked to the other guy that I was feeling a bit like Anneka Rice on Treasure hunt. It was nice to see all these people after being on the lonely trails. Being only a 100 runners, the field can spread out quite a lot and you may not see someone for a while. So seeing all these people clapping gave me a rush of excitement.
(More beautiful scenery)
Ok, I was taking quite a few photos. I had a rough plan in my head. I would take photos for the first half of the race and try and run 8 to 8.30's (minute miles) and then race the second half maybe.
After running through a pub's beer garden we were now into some woodland with a few muddy puddles but they were avoidable with a few leaps here and there. It was so nice to have all this varied terrain. Sad to admit that I still love tarmac though and would run a lot faster and effortlessly on it. (Apart from the uphill which I walked).
(Running up that hill. Not me though)
The sun was now out which I wasn't expecting at all. I had no suntan lotion or hat, just a rain mac! Typical me really. There was a nice breeze though and I had my water bottles so that I could squirt water onto my head to cool me down a bit. As we headed to Amberley there were a few stiles to climb over. I was running with this guy for a while who said he had walked some of the course a few weeks ago as he didn't want to get lost on the day. I was in good company :) I slipped on one of the stiles but was okay and then I accidently broke one with my elephant like weight. The guy was nice enough to point out that it was probably just rotten though. We then started our first gradual climb through a field. We then saw the guy's girlfriend or support crew? She tells us that we are in 14th and 15th place. This now makes me want to race the event and then I tell myself to not be so stupid. I want to enjoy this race, not put myself through a lot of pain.
(The climbing continues just after Amberley)
We cross a fairly fast road and the uphill continues. I see a sign for the South downs way but I thought we were already on it for some reason. I walk up these hills to save energy but it's good to know that I will be running back down them on my return. The scenery changes again as we finally get onto the South Downs way. This really climbs alot. There is a nice 600ft ascent here! It is stunning though. So I continue walking, taking photos and saying hello to the few walkers that I pass. I also see a Red kite flying over head. I am trying to watch him hover above me but need to concentrate on my footing as the ground is still uneven. I felt my ankle nearly tweak a couple of times but luckily all was good. I was expecting to see the lead running coming past me by now but that didn't happen until mile 12. Although I didn't realise the halfway point would be about 13.7 miles.
(Climbing the SDW)
I was so glad to reach the checkpoint. The volunteers were so chirpy and friendly. They were my best friends :) I ate some mini sausages, a couple of savoury eggs and pretzels while I refilled my water bottles. They told me I was in the top 20 still, this made me happy. I told myself that I would try and stay in the top 20 too. That would be a great achievement for me.
Now the good bit could begin! There was a fair bit of downhill for the next mile. Although, I didn't want to trash my quads going too hard and fast. It turns out that some of the hills were too steep for me to run down anyway and I had to adopt a sideways fell running type style to get down at a good pace. Also, you had to concentrate on putting your feet in the right places. It was lots of fun.
I then saw a yellowhammer (Bright yellow bird). It was closest I had ever been to one and it was just perched there singing away as if I was not even there. I thought about taking out the phone again but someone behind was catching me. I was racing now, remember!
(I was glad to be heading back)
At least I knew where I was going now. Nothing ever looks the same when you run it in the opposite direction though. I remember learning running routes when I started running but could only run them in one direction because I would get lost trying to run them in reverse even though it should have been the same route. Anyway... I ran back across the weird suspension bridge that I forgot to mention earlier. Just like the race director had said "It is so springy that when you run over it on your own it feels like there are 1000 people on it at the same time". This felt a lot weirder on the way back as the legs had now done a lot more miles. I was staring to pass a few people at miles 18 and onwards. People were starting to look tired but I was feeling pretty good and strong.
( The beauty of this course never ends)
After 20 or so miles though, I noticed my pace had slowed and I was now running 9 minute miles. The sun was now beating down upon me. I was pouring more water over my head but needed to save enough to drink as well. Mile 22 and that was it, I was struggling. I even started to walk. The legs were fine though but I was having a hard time breathing. I later spoke to a runner in the café who said I had been suffering from heat exhaustion. I couldn't run further than a quarter of a mile. I would stop and then get a bit dizzy and feel sick. I would walk for a while and runners were now catching me up. All who passed asked if I was okay. I was okay but just needed to take it easy for the last 4 miles. It was going to be a long 4 miles. I didn't want to end up in the back of an ambulance again like I did on the 50k at Salisbury where my breathing became very shallow and I was sunburnt and shivering,
( May as well take more photos)
Okay, I was in a bad place both physically and mentally but I needed to stay positive and think straight. I knew the route was going to be at least 27 miles and I knew that once I was getting stung by the nettles again that I would of have half a mile to go. I managed to run with two runners for a little while. It was great to have the company and take my mind off any negative thoughts or feelings. One guy told me a story about when he did the Gran union Canal race. (It's a 145 mile race if ya didn't know). He see he'd done 140 miles and then just sat around drinking Red stripe with a load of Rastafarians. He said he wasn't sure why he did but think he just wanted to be with people at the time as it takes you away from the thoughts and feelings when you are suffering, I liked that story :)
(Good to have pacers at these events)
I was glad to be running through the stinging nettles again. I was actually looking forward to it. I was hoping it would take my mind off the now aching legs. Would the pain of the stings take away the other pain? Well, I was about to find out! Nope, I now having itching burning legs and achy tired legs all at the same time..lol. It made me laugh though. I was now running through a car park and the end was in sight. I had to keep running now. The crowds were cheering me in. I now felt nothing apart from pure emotion of elation. I wasn't even going to finish under 4 hours but I really didn't care. All that pain and suffering on the last 4 miles was quickly replaced with a sense of achievement, joy, relief and a nice lie down on the grass.
(No sub 4 but still 18th place!)
20-30 minutes passed and I felt ready to order my breakfast and two cans of diet coke. The lady in the café gave me the coke for me but told me not to tell anyone. Whoops! I enjoyed the fried breakfast sat on the balcony and chatting to other runners and spectators about their experiences of the day. This truly was a great race. Just a shame that I was so ill prepared for the heat that I wasn't expecting. I would definitely do this race again and again. Can't remember how much I paid to do this race but it was a bargain and a proper running experience. Shook hands with the race director and thanked as many volunteers as I could before heading home with a headful of great memories.