When you set your alarm call for 5.15am you know it’s going to be a long day but more importantly you know you’ve committed yourself to a challenging day. What’s life without challenges ….. boring !!
Running along the South Downs Way guarantees you amazing views of the countryside that haven’t changed a great deal for decades. Time stands still on the Downs and that’s why trail runners love it, what you can’t avoid are the hills. Some 3,000 feet of elevation awaited us. This will be my second marathon in three weeks after the great Dorchester marathon.
With Slindon college being our starting point 209 Events had organised coaches to drive us from the finish at Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) to the start. I boarded our coach with Fran and Rachel from Fareham Crusaders who also ran the Dorchester marathon three weeks previously. I offered a few thoughts from running the race in 2015 and as we arrived there were menacing clouds above the college.
We quickly bumped into Hayley from Gosport Road runners and Emma Bird from Pompey Joggers. Emma has reached the dizzy hights of a 100 mile run and Hayley has been accumulations a few marathons recently. Completing the line up was Mark Highland who I’d met for the first time last week.
Hayley’s GRR yellow kit was a contrast to the black clouds above the college 🙂
The first task of the day is to work your way up onto the top of the Downs, this combines four miles and nearly 500 feet of climbing. I spotted both Hayley and Emma ahead of me on the initial country lane but as we started the climb they eased away. The contrasting open field tracks and oppressive humid woods meant for an interesting introduction to the day.
I’ve learned that if you need to walk three miles into a marathon it doesn’t mean you’ve failed it means you are spreading out your energy.
Once onto the Downs the familiar chalky trail with flint stones poking out at random intervals meant you do need to keep half an eye on where you’re running as well as marvelling at the views for miles.
Talking of views the South Downs don’t need arrows to signpost a hill, you quite simply can’t miss them. This beauty just kept giving and giving at around 7 & half miles.
I couldn’t resist stopping for a second to take this photo. Runners disappearing over the horizon as far as the eye can see. The camera may not show the gradient quite so well but this is another 300 feet or so. Hill two on the profile below.
With ten miles fast approaching my drinks strategy of 500ml an hour was going well due to the humidity as much as the sunshine. The half way drinks station offers a bitter sweet mixture of refilling your drinks and the prospect of the third big hill in the distance. I took this photo a little too early but the trail ahead winds its way up the lighter green fields towards the horizon that isn’t forested.
Setting off on this third hill I knew half of it was tarmac and the remainder harder going rougher trail. Course knowledge can be invaluable on these occasions. I made the most of the tarmac and used fast walking where appropriate.
At this point I think its worth pointing out that walking can actually be quite constructive. I eat my energy bar and collected my thoughts as to what remained, as well as the pace I’d need to finish under five hours.
The next section between 17.5 and 20 miles has a steep grassy hill followed by a shorter chalk hill that’s very rough underfoot. These 2 1/2 miles would go a long way to what my final average time was. These are hills where everyone around you is walking, everyone is grimacing and there’s very little talking. A fast walk can be quite effective and I overtook a few runners.
Leaving the 20 mile National Trust Harting Down feed station I had again used the walk to calculate what I’d needed to do on the undulating smaller “cheeky” hills that remained. Timing wise I was ahead of schedule and there was still the bonus of the last mile being largely downhill.
The last 6,5,4,3 miles did hurt but I was gaining in confidence and emotion because 2015’s 4.58 looked very achievable. At mile 25 we reached the glorious downhill into QECP !!
I crossed the line in 4 hours 52 minutes which I was very pleased with. My SKINS socks had done me proud on my first marathon wearing them. For a full write up on SKINS take a look on the menu of my blog.
Marathons are a metaphor for life …. it’s testing, you are in it for the long haul but ultimately you get out of it what you put in. Thank you 209 Events for an emotional, hard and rewarding experience.
Thanks to Emma who cheered me in after her amazing 4.19 time and to Nick from Alton Sports who I also chatted to after the finish. A huge well done to Mark with his fabulous 3.43 and Hayley with 4.37 . Equally well done to Fran and Rachel for their heroic 5.48’s on a tough course were on the brave actually entered never mind finished.
It was all smiles after my second marathon in three weeks. Running off road is scenic, exhilarating and challenging but most of all it’s so rewarding. The sense of achievement to take on mother nature and come out smiling is what its all about.
And finally ……….. free race photos are always a bonus !!
Happy trail running, I run off road, we run off road 🙂