Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Saturday, 26 April 2014

23rd March: Sussex

The CTS Sussex was supposed to be the second course I had run as a repeat, with the CTS South Devon the first - but with the enforced course changes at that race, this was to be my first repeated course... Not bad in making it to the 21st marathon before this happened, and it goes without saying that I was looking forward to seeing how far I have come over the last year as a marathon runner… As such in eager anticipation I loaded last year’s run in to my Garmin so I could use it as a course and ’training partner' to measure myself against as I progressed.

Last year’s event was the first time I had managed to get round a marathon route without stopping to collect myself at the aid stations/ check points. This was born of necessity more than anything else for to have stopped during that race would have resulted in hypothermia with the sleet, gales and sub-zero temperatures! Although through that necessity it proved to me it was possible to drag my sorry arse around a course without having to resort to 10 minute breaks at aid stations!

Following my usual stratagem I drove down to the Birling Gap event base for my midnight sleep... In case the place-name rings a bell, Birling Gap has been in the news of late with the inclement winter weather causing a mass erosion of the cliffs and leaving the houses there perched precariously on the edge. Parking the van in the National Trust car park I sheltered it close to a wall on the opposite side to the row of terraced houses that stood silhouetted against the night’s sky, their walls bearing the brunt of the winds.

Speaking of winds, hunkered down in the back in the sleeping bag on top of my air-bed I was rocked to sleep like a babe in a crib with the gusty howls shaking the van around as sleep took a hold of me.

Dawn breaks at sparrow's-fart o'clock over the marquee.
Waking to the symphony of car-doors opening and shutting around me in the first light of morning, a morning with mercifully less wind than had sent me to sleep, I tucked in to some flap-jacks and coffee before walking the half mile to the marquee and register. Last year this trudge was a cold wet muddy one with temperatures at freezing and a driving sleety rain to battle to get there; the grassy path turning into a chocolate-pudding underfoot. This year it was a world of difference: dry with just an early morning chill on the air although the forecast was threatening heavy rain showers in the morning.

Registration in the marquee.
Upon registering in the marquee I went to pick-up another complimentary Endurancelife shirt and found they are now doing some in black as well as the white and the grey that have been available this season - although these were only available in a men’s medium... The two ladies in front of me were debating what size of shirt they should go for before opting on the small and joking about an incentive to lose a bit of weight, so for their amusement I went for a black medium one saying I’m normally a large but I agree with their thinking.

Back at the van all changed and readied I made the decision to wear my jacket with the forecast of inclement weather for the first half of the race, and packed my pockets accordingly as I watched a looming gun-metal grey bank of cloud to the west signifying an ominous looking weather front approaching.

The black flags of the start.
Walking back to the marquee for the safety briefing I was a touch late, missing the start of it. This year with the decent weather and the early morning sunshine it was being held out in the open a little way away at the edge of a thicket, rather than the previous time where everyone huddled like penguins in a marquee that seemed to be sinking in to the mud as the walls and roof flapped in a gale whilst clattering to the sound of the hammering rain!

Like greyhounds in the traps.
All briefed we sauntered over to the start line and awaited the go. As we made small-talk amongst ourselves I found myself chatting with a lady next to me who turned-round and said “I know you off Facebook" - it turned out she had been fretting about the race route on the Coastal Trail Series Facebook page during the week, so in reply to her concerns I had posted my GPX data from last year so she could ascertain the lay of the land a bit better and it was lovely to get a thank-you in person :)

One of the many sisters.
Before we could get too cold standing around, the countdown commenced and we were off along the only flat part of the course: the path back to the car park before hitting the first hill as we climbed up on to the westerly half of the seven sisters.

Follow the leaders
Approaching the first sister I bumped in to Luke Carter, fellow owner of a 7x shirt from last year’s Coastal Trail Series (and like me going for it again this year). At the South Devon marathon he had taken a couple of spills during the race which had put his participation in doubt, but thanks to a successful visit to the quacks for treatment a few days beforehand he felt up to making the start. Aside from the fall and the injury, the South Devon also saw him accidentally run an ultra marathon!.. Luke, like I, had found upon reaching Start Point for the second time that the marshals there had been about as much use as a one legged man in an arse kicking contest and he had unfortunately continued along the path as run before as the marshals just ignored him, which they seemed to do to everyone so it was nothing personal. Unfortunately for Luke he didn't have a couple of old dears in a car gesticulating wildly that he was on the wrong path and set him right as I was lucky enough to have... So off he went to complete 32 miles when he was only expecting 28.

As we continued over the undulating sisters the grey skies turned to hail and rain, pelting down upon us, which after our experience in South Devon was nothing we couldn’t deal with, as at least this time it was falling without a gale-force wind to blow it in to us, just a mere light headwind instead and I was certainly glad I had decided to sport the jacket and take my gloves as I was able to keep dry and warm throughout the bombardment. Soon all the peaks and troughs of the sisters gave way to the long downhill section inland along the estuary and nature reserve with the hail easing-off into just rain as we crossed one of the few roads we would encounter all day.

To stare 10,000 yards in to the distance.
Across the road it was a climb over pasture then we followed an undulating trail under the shelter of the woodland and some more fields. Even with the cover of the trees you could tell that the rain was finally easing-off, so gloves could be removed, jackets unzipped a little to cool down as keeping the rain out was no longer a pre-requisite.

The long and winding road.
At this point I dropped Luke and continued on running with a gent by the name of Martin who had just caught us up… Martin is an ultra runner veteran of such events of the Marathon des Sables, Comrades and a fair few other races that crop-up on the bucket-list of must of us trail runners that are aspiring to go and prove ourselves completely certifiable as LSS would say!.. It was a good chance to pick the brain of a mid-field finisher of the MdS as Moose is planning an attempt at it in the next couple of years, so to gain info to pass on to him would always be a good thing.

Martin leading the way.
Chatting away as we crossed the fields we arrived at the first check-point, where I dibbed-in and grabbed a handful of jelly babies - all sticky as they had begun to melt from being caught in the rain, and continued up the road along the course… As I turned a corner a black car drove past in front of me and I saw a familiar face that I certainly had not expected to see, and the breaks were slammed-on bringing the car to a halt.

Back in the Winter Gut-Buster I had bumped in to a face from half a life ago in the form of Tania who was running the race with her husband Jay. At the time she had informed me she was planning on running the CTS South Devon half marathon with Jay supporting her and he would be running the CTS Sussex with her as support… And there she was driving past me!

Saying hello I told Tania that she had missed Jay as he was in front, which she didn’t believe at first as he had not been doing too much training through picking up a lurgy and was sure he would have been slower!.. All this way to catch her hubby at the checkpoint and she had missed him! Saying a goodbye I carried on running, and within a couple of hundred yards I saw a kind of familiar figure taking his waterproof jacket off and stuffing it in his back-pack: Jay! As I ran past I told him that Tania had just arrived at the checkpoint as I had gone through, and he couldn’t believe that she had missed him by a matter of a minute or two!

Within a few minutes Jay had made the time up on me and disappeared off in to the distance as I made my way across a relatively flat section of open fields by a flood plain, before making the turn around on to the most northerly stretch of the course and skirting around the feet of the Long Man of Wilmington as he stares out across the valley.

The Long Man standing guard on the hillside with his staff in his hands.
After the long man there was the long ascent on to the top of the course at Windover Hill. At this point I found myself being dropped by Martin and I was once more all by myself with the cooling breeze, the sun out shining down on me and the beautiful surroundings; proper trail-porn scenery stretching for miles - what as trail runners is what we all run for, and well worth the lung-bursting calf-zapping ascents.

More (trail) porn for the stash :)
After a mile or so on the ridge we began the long descent to checkpoint 2, a good speedy run through the forest rangers’ wide woodland access ways. At one point I found the route completely blocked by a tree felled in the winter’s storms, the roots exposing the pure-white chalk of the rock beneath it, so I had to scramble up an embankment to get round nature’s obstacle.

The checkpoint was at the very bottom of the hill with a dog-leg to the right which you had to climb-up after the check-in. On the ascent out I took the time to look at my Garmin to see how I was stacking-up against my previous run and it told me I was about 7 minutes in front. Great! I thought as I scoffed a breakfast bar and took on board some fluids.

No dramas just llamas on the trail.
Walking up the hill I found myself joined by another couple of runners, chatting merrily away to each other in French, so just to have a bit of fun I introduced myself to them in my best broken French and had a bit of a chat with them, albeit a bit basic as I am pretty out of practice, but it was amusing to see the surprise, in a very welcome way, that they were running in a race in another country and there was someone chatting with them in their own tongue. It turned out Les deux hommes Francaise habite a Paris et le <<CTS Sussex>> sont leur premiere temp du courir un distance du 42km en Angleterre par <<trail>> est ils pense que le terrain est très jolie et aussi tress dur!

And soon they were off in to the distance as I carried on my fuelling traipsing up the hill and through the woodland to emerge in Friston where we crossed the first road we had seen since we had come off the 7 Sisters. Parked on the traffic island as we crossed the road was Tania who waved and cheered me onwards, which was a terrific boost to the spirits, and also meant that Jay couldn’t be too far ahead of me, so my timing should be fairly alright and my confidence in my timing increased.

Following the 10k'ers.
At this point we joined the runners on the 10k route on its way back to Birling Gap, who as our routes merged were about a third in to their race and already I could tell I was towards the back of their field, although I was able to pass a few of them - and some seemed to be fairly impressed that they were being passed by someone who already had around 15 miles under their belt! The thing with joining a fairly fresh field of 10k runners is its a double-edged sword in that you feel you can use them as pace-makers, but it can cost you dearly if you up your pace too far to keep up with them, as after all they are getting round just a quarter of the distance you are, and consequently end up burning yourself out way by going too hard too soon in to the race. In an attempt to avoid this pitfall I had to reign myself in and stay slow and steady till we reached Birling Gap once more and the easterly section of the Seven Sisters with its fiendish long ascents.

Birling Gap behind us.
Climbing up out of Birling Gap I was caught by Luke and we ran together over Beachy Head to Eastbourne, chatting about normal runners things such as goals and plans for future events, nutrition, clothing as well as throwing some football in to the mix with Luke being a West Ham fan and myself Farnborough - despite the gulf in ability between the 2 teams of 6 divisions, they have faced-off competitively in the FA Cup back in the early nineties where we famously held them to a draw before losing in the last minute of a replay.

Luke leading the way to Eastbourne.
As we reached the edge of Eastbourne and the turn for home, Luke left me in his wake on the climb up on to the ridge as I just could not keep-up with the pace - my calf is still not 100% and really aches when I put it through these ascents, so it was just me and my iPod for the last few miles back to the finish… My Garmin telling me I was now over 10 minutes ahead of myself.

Keeping a steady pace to try and gain as much time as possible on the run-in I remembered not to be suckered in to the false belief of finishing too soon seeing as you head off on a 2 mile detour once tantalisingly in sight of the finish, so this year at least I was mentally prepared and slurped down a gel to give me an energy boost to get over the line… One of only 2 gels I consumed on the run. I am trying to move away from taking too many of them and replacing them with eating breakfast bars on the run to get my energy from ‘proper’ food, and just use gels for boosts when needed.

Only the one?
Crossing the line there were still plenty of runners around to cheer us late ones in and the presentation for the winners was just about to take place. After collecting my medal I made my way out of the funnel, where I saw Tania and Jay with their young lad Dylan. Jay had finished about 15 minutes in front of me and like all of us who had made it over the line was buzzing with having achieved another marathon finish… Its always great to see a friendly face or two at the finish of a race :)

The presentation about to commence as the shadows lengthen.
Back at the van after a slow walk back from the finish, a change, a recovery shake and a couple of scotch eggs scoffed, I took a closer look at the houses balanced on the edge of the cliff. The furthest one is not quite falling in to the sea but is approaching it with inches left to go. As a consequence they are slowly demolishing it by detaching it from its neighbour first - carefully removing the first couple of foot of house out from the party wall from top to bottom before they knock the rest down without damaging the remainder of the structure which will be able to withstand however many more years of battering from the sea. With the battering seen by Birling Gap, access from off the cliff down on to the beach has also been blocked-off - which is no bad thing at present seeing as the waves were lapping-up to the foot of the cliffs with the still high tide!

The frothing sea with high tides still lapping the base of the cliffs.
Splitting the terraces.
The view west.
Being a local with a good knowledge of where to go, at the finish Luke had mentioned stopping in Tiger pub in East Dean for a beer afterwards, so I joined him there for a pint. The pub was pretty full of people who had been out running with their families and all in various stages of aching and seizing-up, although all really buzzing from what they had achieved. Having said this I must admit it was amusing watching some people attempting to stand after a long period of time sitting down with their muscles beginning to stiffen! On the way there I heard the latest scores from the footy and the celebration Chelsea handed Arsene Wenger on his 1,000th game as manager of Arsenal - a 6-0 shellacking, and when discussing this with others at the pub, it was pretty much a universal disbelief at such an outrageous scoreline!

When in a pub for a post-race beer I always go for a local ale that’s on tap and today I settled on a pint of Long Blonde from the Longman Brewery which was quite apt as we ran past from where it takes its name and also with Tania being a good 6ft tall I suppose she also qualifies as a ‘Long Blonde’... After enjoying my beer and wishing Luke all the best at the forthcoming Exmoor CTS Marathon I made the drive home.

Well that’s all fine, but how did I stack-up against last year I bet those of you who have snoozed their way thus far into this post are wondering… Having diligently run around the route every now and again keeping tabs on where I was in relation to my 'training partner' of last year’s effort, on crossing the line I was pleased to see that by the Garmin I was some 14 and a bit minutes up on my finishing time from last year… Fantastic I thought, having not really had to push myself around and still feeling like there was a bit left in the tank.

Chuffed to bits I wasted no time after the drive home to upload the GPX data onto the Garmin website - to discover I was in fact 27 seconds slower, yes 27 full seconds slower than last year - effing watch. End of experiment - from now on I’m just going to keep on running and making sure I keep the average pace up as the miles tick past rather than relying on the ‘training partner’ that allegedly shows your progress against previous runnings of the same course, yet somehow manages to misplace 14 effing minutes. Still you live and learn, and the next race is very different: pancake flat and concrete along the promenade in Blackpool.

Whilst running amongst company for the majority of the race, I only had the iPod on shuffle for the last few miles back along the ridge from Eastbourne, and the eclectic mix thrown my way this time was:

Eugene's Lament - Beastie Boys

Just One Dance - Caro Emerald
Roll Over Beethoven - ELO
The Looker - Gene
My Hero (Acoustic) - Foo Fighters

Tempo 116.7 - Brian Jonestown Massacre
If Lovin you is Wrong - Faithless
Oh Jean - The Proclaimers

Have a Nice Day - Stereophonics
Asymptomatic Eschaton - The Shamen
Country Sad Ballad Man - Blur
Prophets of Rage - Public Enemy

Indigo Is Blue - Catherine Wheel

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