Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 14 February 2016

25th October: CTS Suffolk

As a completist I have been looking forward to the chance of running the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series Suffolk marathon. This is the only recurring race on their calendar that I have yet to experience, so when this year’s schedule fell favourably I jumped at the chance to book in.

Looking out to sea on the beach at Dunwich.
Suffolk is a place I have never been to, so I was already interested to see what it looks like in this part of the country - aside from the obvious ’flat'! With the nature of the terrain this is one of the fastest trail marathon routes on the calendar, plus it is one of the few marathons where you run below sea level!

The event base is Dunwich which for those of you who watch the BBC series 'Springwatch' is next to the RSPB Minsmere reserve where they film it.

Following my normal pattern I arrived at the event base around midnight, parked-up for the night and on waking I sauntered-off to register.

The registration marquee and the start and finish line were in the grounds of a ruined medieval monastery: You walk in through the still-standing gateway in the perimeter wall and beyond this there's little more remaining beyond a solitary wall of one building in the middle of what is now a field!

Being briefed.
All registered, breakfasted and changed I perched on a haystack in the field for the briefing which was straightforward with no real issues to watch out for and in no-time we were off and running on the course: A figure of 8 with the northerly loop first then the southerly, both in an anti-clockwise direction.

I knew it would be flat and fast so I planned to go as hard as I could for the first half and see what happened beyond then. Pushing myself I was making good pace, running through scrub, over boardwalks and on dykes as we hugged the coastline, before heading inland and over more boardwalks as we traversed a swampy woodland.

Straddling a dyke.
Trying to avoid the mistakes of the past I ensured I began to eat from the 2 hour mark, scoffing a nutria-grain bar to keep my energy levels topped-up, with the plan to have one on the hour from hereon and a gel on every half-hour.

Following my plan, whilst traipsing through a CP just over 2.5 hours into the race I necked a gel - one of the same home-made batch as the last one and carried onwards… All was fine for about another 10 minutes, when at this point I began to have a weird floating sensation, an almost outer-body like feeling. The feeling was similar to the kind I intentionally experienced on a regular basis as part of my mis-spent youth, but back then it was not in the midst of a marathon where I need to be continually moving forwards as fast as I can muster and concentrating on my surroundings!

As well as the ‘floatyness’ I was getting really bad stomach cramps - it felt like my stomach was turning itself inside out - much the same as on the last marathon, but this was far worse - although back then I had a stomach full of liquid, so this must have diluted everything and lessened its effects… It dawned on me that there was a common factor here… both experiences had occurred after consuming one of my own gels - I must have wrongly measured the amount of caffeine that went in it by a LARGE amount!

The thing was, I’m halfway through a marathon so its just as far to go if you continue or drop-out - so there was one option: carry-on and attempt to fight my way through this trippy poisoning, ride-out the storm so-as-to-speak. The problem was the cramps were so uncomfortable, it felt like I wanted to honk my guts with every step, and to do so would surely have brought a relief, but nothing was happening. I forced myself to eat and drink some more so as to dilute what was going-on in an attempt to beat it.

My running was reduced to run a half, walk a half just to keep me ticking-over and get myself to the finish line and the discomfort was certainly stopping me from enduring my surroundings.

Just beyond the twenty mile mark we passed the perimeter fence of the Sizewell nuclear power station, skirting the north of the buildings that towered ominously above us, the hum of the plant audible as we went past.

Looking back on Sizewell.
Once past the the power plant we hit the beach and the flat 4 mile stretch to the next check-point. The beach and its fine shingle and sand was incredibly hard-going for traction, so for the most part I ended-up speed walking this section as it was just as fast as jogging and used up less energy.

The coastal path here overlooked the Minsmere reserve, where we could see across to the cabin where the presenters of Springwatch base themselves for their broadcasts. The bird-watchers were out in force, the path being full of plenty of people out with telescopes, binoculars and telescopes who seemed bemused by all of us runners heading along the path towards them.

After the final check point it was a brief couple of miles inland where I had recovered my equilibrium enough to be able to run the last couple of miles and cross the finish line in a distinctly uninspiring time!

The course was certainly flat, fast and very different from the other CTS routes I have been around. With the ground being so flat, there are not many great vistas to be seen - sure the place is quiet and tranquil, but it lacks the rugged beauty of the other courses, so not one for hunters of ‘trail porn’ but one for those who want to run a fast trail ultra/ marathon/ half/ 10k.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

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