Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 14 July 2013

9th June: South Downs

Today saw the closest of the marathons to where I live: The South Downs. The race takes place in the national park (from which the race takes its name) in the manner of a point to point. You arrive at the finish in Queen Elizabeth Country Park and are bussed to the start at Slindon College and you run 'home'.

My neighbour Pini was running in the race as well, so I offered to give him a lift down with me in my van, which I finally have back from the garage (2 months after it went in) as it turns out I'd been sold a lemon :( The van affords decent comfort and space in the cabin for the journey and the plan for it is to be self-converted into a camper for use on the weekend marathons and summer camping expeditions. I'm still to get beyond the planning stage through not being able to get my hands on it, but as it stands can be used as a changing room on wheels!

Driving back from the garage on the Friday night I returned to the village too late for the petrol stations to be open. With the warning light on for the fuel lit for an empty tank and the dial being firmly on zero I knew it would be an early start to Saturday with a dash to the nearest 24hr garage to put some juice in the lemon.

We needed to be parked at Queen Elizabeth Country Park a few miles north of Portsmouth and on one of the event coaches to Slindon College before 8am, so to be able to be organised and get there in time I set the alarm for 5am.

Springing in to action I jumped in the van, with my bike in the back and an empty 5L fuel can in case of running-out en-route. The nearest 24 hour garage is about 6 miles off, so I figured that in a worst case scenario I would have enough time to cycle to get 5L of fuel, cycle back, pour it in and drive to get more, drive home and still have time to leave for the race at the decided hour of 6:30.

Fortunately I made it to the garage without incident, put the fuel in and drove-off after paying… Looking down at the fuel gauge it still had the light on and was reading absolute zero… So off to the garage it will have to go for more repairs which will have meant that I would have spent as much on repairs as I did buying it!

Pini knocked on my door at 6:30 and we clambered in and drove off on the uneventful 30 mile journey to the finish line and a half mile walk to a waiting bus and embarcation for the half hour journey.

Upon arrival we walked into Slindon college and milled around with everyone else awaiting the start. Under the sun it was quite pleasant but there was quite a chilly wind blowing across the site which made it uncomfortable.

The college building.
Fortunately we noticed there was a step wall down to another tier of the grounds looking towards the start which formed an excellent wind-block, so we hopped over this and sheltered whilst we awaited the start.
Looking back over the wall.
Whilst queuing for the toilets I noticed Jagjit, the guy who was parked next to me at the CTS Flete race and finished just after me in the race, so I went over and had a chat with him and wished him all the best… It turns out he's entered the 54321 and the Fairlands Valley Challenge as well, although since booking he's off to India for the month of August so will have to bail from the 54321.

I had a good chat with a couple of other runners, one of whom was one of the many 100 marathon club members who were running the race. They were all sporting their blue and yellow tops and seemed to know each other very well as a consequence of just being around the same events as each other so often.

The relay marathon about to start.
After watching the start of the relay it was time for us all to work our way down to the start and commence our race. It was a massed start and wishing Pini the best I watched him scamper off into the distance.
Pini all smiles ready for the get-go.
All geared-up for the long-haul.
The start was once around the 400m track, then up the hill passing the school and out the front gate, along the road and on to the country paths working our way on to the South Downs Way. For the first couple of miles I was chatting with one gent who was wearing his son's Royal Marines tech tee that he had just worn the previous week in the regimental field-gun race. He was rightly very proud of his son's achievement as that race requires a squad of men dismantling a Victorian artillery piece, carrying it over an assault course, reassembling it and firing it to stop the clock!

Farm track running.
On to the Downs and we were out from any woodland shelter and exposed to the heat of the cloudless sky. After taking a tumble over one of the stones sticking out of the chalky path and barking my elbow drawing blood, topping the hill I made it to CP1 without incident and took the hairpin left on to the next section, running along the ridge of the Downs. The views up here were quite beautiful: rolling hills and fields stretching out for miles on both sides, although with the sun beating down it was quite oppressive due to the trail itself. Underfoot it is the chalk rock of the Downs, so the sun just reflects off it quite spectacularly leading to plenty of glare and thankfulness for wearing sunnies.

The long glaring chalk path.
The run to the second checkpoint included a long fast descent over a metalled road to a farm. This was an easy stretch to run, although you could see the mahoosive hill that awaited us on the other side of the checkpoint at the end of this descent. At this point I caught up with a guy who was wearing the same camel bak as me and on his first marathon. and an XC one at that. He had set himself a pace target for 5 hours and was looking good for it. He had his wife and kids waiting for him at the finish line so he knew he had a motivation to finish… The look of pride on his children's faces as they watched their dad cross the finish line and become a marathoner.

Great views as you run the ridge.
Viewing for miles off into the distance.
Between the second and third checkpoints there was one stretch that lead through some woodlands before dog-legging up on to a field that we ran up to and around the edge of. Just as I approached this I could see one of the 100 marathon club runners carry straight on instead of turning up hill and on to the field. About half a mile later the same runner appeared from the right out of the woods and in to the field having missed out all the gradient of the climb on to the field and the uneven run across it. He then proceeded to cut the corner of the field rather than do the 2 sides of a triangle from the point that he joined it. It made me wonder that whilst he may have started and finished more than 100 marathons to wear the club jersey, how many of them have been finished 'short' of the official distance?.. At the end of the day you're only cheating yourself in matters like this as you have not run the true distance.
The final ridge run looking down on the village of Buriton.
More ridge running followed until we reached the final checkpoint. Mentally I had set myself a time of sub 5 hours to improve on my pb and prove to myself that I really could get in under that marker on a marathon. At this point I was still on track to hit this after a lot of hard running. At the final checkpoint took on some water and attempted to run up the steep hill in front of me, and that's where the wheels fell off. The sun was beating down with no shelter. I could feel my heart beating like it wanted to explode out of my chest, and no amount of water over my head was seeming to cool my temperature… I had to slowly walk-stop-walk to the summit as I could feel all my banked time evaporating before me. Eventually there was some shade after the summit and I could resume running again, but I soon found I was spent when I encountered the next hill and all hope of busting the 5 hours flew away… Resetting my goal to one of just finishing as soon as I could as there was only 5 miles left, I reconciled it with myself that I run this distance for fun with no problems so finishing is a given, the trick is just to get to the finish line.

Slowly but surely, feeling every one of the short, sharp hills that made the rest of the route I managed to drag my sorry arse to the finish line. Eventually I found myself by the cafe where we had embarked on the buses earlier so the end was only a mile off back where the van was parked.

After a detour around some hedges I found myself in the field with the finish a couple of hundred metres in front of me so I mustered all I could to get to the finish line. Crossing I gratefully accepted the finishers goody-bag and the event tee, grabbed a bottle of water and collapsed in the shade in the empty half of the baggage gazebo.

Taking off my trainers, socks and ankle protectors to cool down I lay back to cool, drinking the water. A couple of minutes later I spotted Pini wandering along so called out to him. Beaming from ear to ear he came and joined me along with his partner Vics who had very kindly obtained for me a printout of my time.

A beaming Pini.
The reason for Pini's smiles were his amazing time for the race. He had finished 8th in his age group and 20th overall - a fantastic performance. Just as well I had given him the van keys, as I knew he would finish well before me, so he could chill-out and change in the back. He had torn-up the course in 3:25:02 putting my paltry time of nearly 2 hours longer into a kind of perspective!.. Although I did have the solace of knowing I have set a new pb for the distance. Sub 5 hours will have to wait for the next race (or the one after, or the one after that depending on how crap I am!) onwards and upwards and all that.