SDW & Staunton Way, “way” too much fun !!

As Paul Coates, Howard Stinton and myself chatted in the car there was a definite air of excitement and expectation which could only mean one thing, we’d met up for a long countryside run. The plan was 18 miles and 2,100 feet to start from the Sustainability Centre. Our 8am departure was met with quite low lying fog and as we were on top of the Downs the wind meant early morning egloves.

Howard set off at quite a spritely pace (his Ironman training is obviously going well) on the 4 mile South Downs Way (SDW) trails that led to Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP). The tracks wide puddles were a good indication of the conditions to come. As we descended from the top of Butser Hill you couldn’t see QECP, half a mile away, but the wet springy grass underfoot did need our attention, so we concentrated on that rather than the view !!

Once at the QE park run it was great to see a number of Fareham Crusaders, some running and some marshalling. I had a chat with Phil Hobby from Peak Health who was also adding extra miles and in no time we were off. Simon Hanson and Robert Morgan (new trail shoes) were to join us on our second batch of extra miles after the 5K. The park run itself was considerably heavier going than last week and as such a good test for us, while still being achievable for everyone. The forested 5K was an enjoyable two lap course of muddy trails. Results wise 4th Simon, 15th Paul, 19th Rob, 26th Phil, 46th Howard, 56th me, 78th Paula Williams, 79th Gary Galliford. Marshals, Sarah Beattie & Tracey Morrison. Well done all.

So, Paul, Simon, Rob, Howard and I set off on the next 6 3/4 mile leg of our run. Our first task was the climb out of QECP along the SDW, so soon after the hilly park run. I’d mapped that the park run had 450 feet and this loop 850 feet of “great” elevation ascents. The trail is firm underfoot here so good progress was made. My first surprise for everyone was a left hand turn onto a steep trail with a number of tree roots that leaves the SDW, now when I said it was a 100 feet, that was the elevation and not the distance so I did get some abuse at the top !! The wide forested track that followed led to an open field with no crops and compacted soil as well as a gradual drop down to New Barn Lane. It was here I realise I had a bleeding nose that had come from nowhere, but we pressed on.

Now, with any “offroad” running a downhill is naturally followed by an uphill, this was in the shape of a tarmac country lane moving onto a narrow chalk/muddy lane. As we passed through Chalton everyone was in good spirits and “enjoying” the terrain I’d mapped out and that none of them knew. We joined the Staunton Way for a long gradual climb back towards QECP that went on for ever !! We all had to dig in along this section and the fact that the fog had hidden the style and woods we were aiming for made it more of an unknown. After gels, drinks and some more “thanks” for the route choice, we were off again and joined the lower trail from the earlier park run which was now considerably more churned up after the 100+ runners from the hour before !!

Today was Rob’s first experience of a longer muddy off road and the first time I’d run with Simon, we shook hands with them and they both said they’d be back for more. So we “just” had Butser Hill and the last 4 miles left. Butser is about a 400 feet climb so this was done in combinations of running and quick walking, I have to say it was hard work and after reaching the top all three of us were thankful to of made it to 15 miles. The remaining miles were steady and satisfying in the knowledge that we’d done all the hard work. The chat and banter came back and it was all smiles by the time we’d had a cuppa at the centre and I’d also had a ginger beer for some added sugar !!

My Saucony Peregrine shoes that I got for Xmas were really comfortable and dealt very well with the conditions. Paul kindly took lots of photos and videos today and I’ve compiled the best of them into a video diary with music. All in all thanks to Paul and Howard for a great mornings running that also involved lots of like minded “off road” runners. It’s great to be out in the countryside with friends 🙂