South Downs Trail Marathon : 26.2 miles of Hills & countryside – all the good stuff !!

My alarm clock went off at 5.30 am and the start of a long and enjoyable day was made that much better with overcast skies and cooler temperatures, than of late. Paul Coates, Dave Fuller, Lucy Peazold and myself were soon on route to Queen Elizabeth Country park, which was to double up as both the car park and marathon finish. The first item on our agenda was to catch a bus to the start at Slindon College, so off we went with our fellow runners, “All aboard the marathon bus !!”

sdw1Paul Coates, Lucy P, Dave Fuller and me.

As we left the grounds of Slindon College Paul quickly disappeared into the distance while the 3 of us got into our stride along some narrow lanes that then started to gradually climb from a mile or so in and with only the exception of a short flat section the gradual climb carried on until mile four. It’s not too often that you see people walking in the first 3 or 4 miles but with 3,300 feet of climbing in total the tactics of, when to walk and when to run, would come into play. I ran most of the first 4 miles and was pleased to reach Glatting Beacon at 5 and the first drinks station.

Part of the enjoyment of today was running through areas I’ve seen photos/videos of while looking into the South Downs Way (SDW) generally. The fact that you have to run up numerous hills means two things to look forward to, the views at the top and the downhill that follows. Strangely the up hills seemed to outweigh the downs but the miles of lush green countryside, the cooling wind on the higher ground and the relief of the descents are all part of the package.

sdw4   sdw5sdw6    Classic SDW !!

The SDW is a mixture of obvious chalky lanes, less obvious tracks through fields and grassy trails across the top of the Downs, they all have one thing in common, it’s beautiful up there. Dave kindly took these photos for me as him and Lucy were on more of a training run ready for the 100K Race to the Stones in 3 weeks. Concentration is another feature of running off road, you have to keep your wits about you so as not to stumble and also keep an eye out for mountain bikers too. By half way I was at 2 hours 19 minutes so a sub 5 hours was on the cards.

With the A286 crossed this meant Cocking Downs and yet more steep lanes and tracks that also included “quick marching” when running was beyond me !! The sun had come out by know so it was “cap” time and water over your head 🙂 I do remember thinking how a hard day would have been so much harder if the sun had been beating down. The next prospect in store was Harting Down and it’s two big hills on the way to 20 miles. With hardly a spectator in sight this marathon does rely on your inner motivation, however, the cheers as I, and I’m sure everyone else, went through the 20 mile feed station were much appreciated.

sdw7The chalk track off to the left diagonally

This was probably the toughest hill of the day, what with it coming late on. Punishing is a word that comes to mind and to be honest it was hard to walk it never mind run. However, the sense of relief at the top was huge and the 20 mile feed station was also a god send. The last 6 miles are undulating lanes that I have run before and that really does help with the mental challenge of those remaining miles. Your training comes into play, your will power does too and the sense that you are achieving something not everyone is capable of, in short I love pushing my limits 🙂

With the last short hill conquered and the final mile being downhill, “what bliss” !! I approached the finish on 4 hours and 56 minutes, so it was time to “grit your teeth and push for home time”

sdw9 sdw10“All or nothing to get under 5 hours”

Kate Bush once sang “And if I only could, I’d make a deal with God, And I’d get him to  swap our places, Be running up that road, Be running up that hill, with no problems”. Personally I wouldn’t have swopped running up those hills with anyone today. 329th place out of 500 and 4-58-38 meant sub 5 hours and my marathon mojo back. Well done to Paul who was 105th in 4-11 and Dave & Lucy who has it turned out were very close behind me.

“Oh I do like to run beside the SeaSide” : 10 mile taper run

Todays “irunoffroad” was a trip to the coast, Hill Head more specifically, which is just around the corner from Lee On Solent and Stokes Bay. With views of the Solent and the Isle of White the 10 mile run promised to be visually enjoyable. On arrival the wind was blowing and the clouds were gathering overhead. The sight of an IOW ferry reminded me that it was Festival weekend and my start time of 8.30am meant the SDW100 runners had been going for 2 1/2 hours, inland.

With the marathon next Saturday it was unfortunate that neither Dave Fuller or Paul Coates could make this run but I look forward to meeting up for the race. The wind was behind me when I set off so immediately I was pondering that the return 5 miles would be harder. As I ran past the beach huts and along the seafront I was treated to kite surfers, wind surfers and a couple of brave swimmers all out enjoying the sea.

Lee On Solent will have a Parkrun as of the 4th July so they too will have sea views to enjoy. I ran inland for a mile or so in order to reach Stokes Bay which is next along the coast. The famous Bayside café, home to the swimmers of the Tri Club and Absolute Running came into sight, as well as the finish line for AR’s Golden mile. The “tide was high”, as Blondie would say, and combined with the wind this meant I caught some spray just to remind me I was coastal running.

I passed the Coastguard and yacht club buildings and with the Coastal Defences Fort in sight I was at half way. The pace of 8 min 45 sec was a little quicker than planned but fine, however, as soon as I rounded the fort it was clear the return leg would be a different “kettle of fish”. Head down and against the wind I was running probably the most exposed section now and just to underline it a dog walker chipped in with “Go on son, give it some”. I was already enjoying the challenge and his comment did make me laugh.

The sun came out as I approached LOS and I could taste the salt on my forehead from the sea breeze as well as smell the chips from the beach shack snack bar. I was pleasantly surprised with an 8 min 55 sec average time but it does go to show all those hills really do help on the flat. With an easy week in store today was an ideal warm down ready for my next marathon. Whenever I run by the sea I’m always reminded of a vinyl record shop that was called “A sides & B sides by the seaside” 🙂 Photo 1 : Hill Head/Lee on Solent, Photo 2 : Stokes Bay


7 Hill reps of Portchester Lane & 1,900 feet of elevation

Today’s run was all about packing in as much elevation as possible into a relatively short space of time. I had set myself 2 hours as a target and knew where I was going after last weeks hills. Portchester Lane was my chosen hill, if you click on the link at the beginning of this sentence it takes you to Google Maps Street view, hide the images at the bottom of the page and click up and down the Lane to your heart’s content. Equally for a profile click on  Portchester Lane Strava as another guide. “Yes” !! I have worked out how to name the Links 🙂

One quick note, the Lane is meant to be “Access Only” but if you ever run/cycle it keep your eyes open for traffic, that said, I watched a grey squirrel bounding up the Lane ahead of me that showed no fear of any cars.

The Lane’s 270 feet of elevation starts with a steady climb that levels out and then kicks up hard, followed by another good section up to the junction. When you are running slower it’s surprising what you notice, butterflies and bees but not necessarily pot holes (watch the video). Hills aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but as I turned to approach my 7th time I tried to record the sense of achievement and pleasure I had gained from the experience. My compression socks worked well and I had no signs of cramp.

So 2 hours in the sunshine and the best part of 1,900 feet run in less than 10 miles (even if it was on tarmac) with a classic 1 mile warm up/down through the fields meant I finished at peace with the world and completely relaxed, in only a way that us runners would understand.

The beauty of running for longer distances in the countryside is I’m less worried about pace, I can just stop, pause my watch, and take some video footage 🙂

P.S. My Fareham Crusaders hoody came yesterday …. My Club, my passion, my running 🙂