Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Monday, 23 September 2013

11th August: 54321

When I was growing up a 54321 was a wafery chocolatey biscuit, but these days it's also a marathon organised by Salisbury fire station as a charity fund raiser for them and as such it has grown as the years have progressed into a decent-sized event with a variety of distances on offer to run with very good write-ups on Runners World.

Salisbury is only an hour's drive away from the homestead, so a not too early start got me down to Sarum, centre-piece to Thomas Hardy's master-piece 'Jude the Obscure', ( in good time for the start, although this time I made sure the trainers were the first thing to go in to the van!

The green/ car park with the start/ finish to the right.
Parking on the green outside the fire station with marshals co-ordinating the parking in a well-organised fashion, everyone was gathering for the variety of different distances over which the run is held, with the registration being carried out within the station itself beneath a light drizzling overcast sky. On the way there it had thrown it down with rain, so the hope was for a cool overcast sky for the run, although the forecast was for this at the start and then a roasting-hot mid 20's centigrade midday onwards - so it was a case of wearing the cap for the race and hedging my bets that sunscreen would not be required.

The fire-station hosting the event
This race had a map for the route available for perusal and for people to carry, but I had been advised by those organising and previous runners that it was a well marked-out route, unlike the previous race and there seemed to be plenty of marshals on mountain bikes which seemed like a very good idea for getting out to the various points on the course.

They call it the 54321 because of the features of the route:

5 rivers
4 hills
3 country estates
2 castles
1 cathedral

So in theory they say you can count your way down through the route - although, what counts as a hill to qualify as only being 1 of the 4 is open to interpretation!

My van was parked on the very far edge of the green, so with the changing facilities being limited to pretty much one of the many portaloos I was grateful for the space I had afforded myself with my mobile changing facility! Parked behind me was a battered early 1980's VW camper, which made me kind of envious as I can't wait to get my van fully tricked-out in to one and give myself a bit more luxury for these running trips… Namely a place for cooking a bacon sarnie and a comfortable kip afterwards.

My customary 'milling around at the start' photo.
As the start approached Everyone began to muster by the start line. The timing mechanism for this run was a bit different. I have had ankle bands with dongles, wrist bands with dongles, tape with a chip through laces, but this one was one of the better ideas I have come across: The race number had the chip taped to the back of it, so there was no forgetting or losing it in advance as they gave you the number on the day. I had a chat with a couple of fellow marathoners at the start - both seemed to be a bit nervous about finishing and their times - till I pointed out how slow I normally am and the distinct lack of training I do and their confidence took a leap!

The race started by doing a lap of the green in which the cars were parked and headed off to Old Sarum and the climb to the castle - so one thing ticked off the 54321 list within the first mile or so! With the field being quite bunched at this point and the track being very narrow it was an Indian file walk ascending the hill. As we traipsed upwards we were treated to the spectacle of a plane disgorging its load of sky divers and watch them slowly descend to the earth, which took the mind off the frustratingly slow progress - that and the fact we had to battle our way through some people who decided in their infinite wisdom to descend the path at the same time as several hundred runners were ascending it - you do wonder about some people's common sense!

Indian file up the hill to the castle.
Once up on top it was around the battlements and then down on to the road heading off in to the countryside, with the impression that this is the high point so it's all down-hill from here (yeah right!). The route is essentially a clockwise circuit starting at 12 and, well, you can go figure the rest!

Onto the ramparts.
Skirting the moat.
Out in to the rolling hills and countryside it was, across fields an woodlands, under a viaduct carrying part of Brunel's 'God's Wonderful Railway' with the cloud burning away to reveal the clear skies with rising temperatures into the twenties centigrade.

Underneath the arches.
The detail of the brickwork.
A pleasure I find in these runs through the countryside in new places is you do not know what kind of building you will stumble across next, from ruinous castles to converted station-houses, to this little gem: a wooden swiss-style chalet in the middle of nowhere.

And soon after we rounded a corner onto a track to be confronted by the wonderful sight of Longford Castle.

The approach to Longford Castle
We ran up the driveway to it, with the road straddling the river Avon, to the left the castle

and the right the mill house.

It was a spectacular sight with its ornamental garden that made it seem like a French chateau rather than an English castle (of a Swedish design). As I crossed the river I could see the river was teeming with trout, which shouldn't be too surprising seeing as the river Avon is renowned globally for the quality of its trout fishing.

Coupla fishies!
Jogging past the castle, a couple of South African runners who were equally impressed by the building asked me "what is it?"… I couldn't help myself and said "its a castle", before bursting into laughter and apologising for being flippant!

Leaving it all behind.
Running along the side of some fields I bumped into a gent called Andy who had driven up from Soton to run the race. Andy's a little older than me and has got in to the running malarky with his girlfriend Sunny, who is one of the quicker female marathoners on the XC circuit, and also a personal trainer so is good at keeping him motivated! The two of them race all over the UK and Europe, with these events being a great way to see different parts of the UK (and beyond) up close. Andy is on his way back from injury and has definitely got the marathon bug, with him being in the late teens by numbers. It turned-out that he was in the Fairlands Valley a few weeks before and like me thought it was a bit of a joke; a poorly organised route that was an exercise in compass-less orienteering and guess-work. He has been marathoning for just over a year himself and enjoys the challenge of putting his body through them and meeting a bunch of like-minded masochists. As we jogged and chatted he recommended a book to me: Running Crazy by Helen Summer it features interviews with members of the 100 Marathon club, including a few I've chatted with on the various races and Andy was very taken by it saying it is truly inspirational reading all about those who are truly remarkable in their marathon running endeavours. That blue and yellow jersey and the honour of wearing it is now teasing me having gone into double figures myself! So I've stuck it on my Amazon list as something to buy and hopefully get a read of sometime when I have spare time - if ever! After a while I dropped Andy and carried on ploughing my own furrow through the heat and the farmland.

After one of the aid stations the route afforded the opportunity for some respite from the sun with a run through a thousand year old yew forest. The trees are naturally at their full height with their age, which is not anything near gigantic, but they just expand outwards to a massive girth with many over several hundred years in age. On entering we were told to follow the string and to keep the cord on our left, so we were able to jog through on the marked-path under the low canopy shading us from the oppressive heat in a very pleasant way. It was all very still and the fine carpet on the woodland floor of shed needles muffled our steps, so the whole atmosphere was one of silence, stillness and very other-worldy. It was almost like venturing through something you would expect to see in one of the Lord of the Rings films.

Follow the cord round the seriously old trees.
The dappled sunshine.
Soon enough we were on our way back on the last section of the run, heading on to the roads as we wended our way back into the town centre. These last few miles were getting a bit tough with the sun beating down. As I began to flag I was caught-up by Andy and we resumed our chatting for the next mile or so before I could no longer maintain his pace and had to let him gallop off in to the distance.

My target for the race, as the South Downs before it, was for a sub 5 hour time. The hill after the final water-station there had done-for me then with the heat and the sunshine causing me to feel like I was burning-up and my heartbeat racing out of control necessitating in total stoppage twice to calm and cool down. The final exposed sun-baked tarmac section here as we headed onwards over the streets of the outskirts of Salisbury just sapped my energy from me, causing me to run-walk and realise that my goal would not be achievable, although a pb was still doable, so my goal was re-set for this secondary target… I also decided to let it slip by as with Reykjavik coming-up in a mere 2 weeks time, that race is a nailed-on cert to beat the 5h barrier, so no point in pushing too hard here to narrowly miss it and doing myself a mischief that impedes my performance in a couple of weeks.

Soon the route took us right in to the heart of Salisbury and a run through the grounds and past the cathedral, the owner of the tallest spire in the country.

The 'inspiring' cthedral
Upon passing this wonderful building we were off through the town-centre itself, over the cobbled pedestrianised heart - and being helped by passers-by saying that the sign telling us to turn left at a junction had been tampered with and we were to continue straight on. Around a corner we picked-up the river and followed the path of this until we made it back to the green and the finish-line.

Through the old town
The cobbled high-street
Follow the water back to the finish.
I crossed the line with a new pb for a marathon, although outside the 5 hours, but hey, running a pb is always a great achievement, especially in the sapping heat of the second half of the race… After collecting my medal it was off to the van and a cool-down. I looked at scrambling down the bank of the river to cool-off in there, but the river-bed was just silt, so would not have been pleasant, so using the van as a shade I settled down behind it and opened my scotch-eggs ready for my post-race protein boost. No sooner had I settled down and drunk some water, then the head of a hulking-great husky appeared around the side of the open van door and grabbed my scotch-egg, followed by a second head and some very excited woofing. As it happened I saw the owner of the huskies, of which there were 4, appear beyond the side of the door. He realised what had happened and was very apologetic, disciplining the thieving hound and offering to buy me some more scotch eggs… I told him not to worry as dogs will be dogs - living with 3 myself I know what they are like with food even when it is guarded sometimes! He seemed mortified that the dogs had done this, apologised again, then told them they were going home, and off they went from whence they came.

My drink finished, I went to drive home thinking I would be able to munch on my opened bag of jelly-babies en-route, only to find they had melted into one gelatinous mass whilst I was running… At least this is a problem I won't be having in Iceland!

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