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.