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.|
|Registration in the marquee.|
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.|
|Like greyhounds in the traps.|
|One of the many sisters.|
|Follow the leaders|
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.|
|The long and winding road.|
|Martin leading the way.|
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.|
|More (trail) porn for the stash :)|
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.|
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.|
|Birling Gap behind us.|
|Luke leading the way to Eastbourne.|
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?|
|The presentation about to commence as the shadows lengthen.|
|The frothing sea with high tides still lapping the base of the cliffs.|
|Splitting the terraces.|
|The view west.|
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