The cows were scary and I took a wrong turn so ended up running 52k. Apart from that it was fantastic race, great route with stunning scenery, and the coffee and cake at the finish made my day.
I arrived for registration at 7:15 and collected my number. Stuart Mills (RD) has a relaxed attitude and his ethos for this race is all about having fun and introducing runners to his local trails. As a result the atmosphere is friendly and calm, with no pre-race stress.
After chatting to a few friends who were running as well, we were all soon walking down to the start line and at 8:00 Stuart set us off. The first mile is on road and mostly downhill, but even so the pace was crazy. When we turned onto the trail I was running with the lead group and the pace was at least 6:40 min/mile, so I decided to back off as we crossed the first couple of fields.
Soon we were strung out and the lead group were out of sight, and I was relaxing into a steady pace when I heard shouting from just ahead. The guy in front had crossed a stile and been met by at least 80 cows advancing in formation towards him. I joined him, but I think we both decided that waiting for more support would be wise. Besides, I didn’t want to be the slowest runner in the field with a herd of ferocious fresians. Soon another half dozen people arrived and between us we managed to force a way through and ran round the edge of the field to the next gate. I hope the other runners behind survived… Those cows looked as grumpy as hungover parents on a Sunday morning. Our enthusiastic arrival had woken them and the next intruders into their space were going to get their full fury.
The next few miles were uneventful and CP1 and 2 passed easily. I was enjoying the scenery and glorious sunshine, and maintaining a steady 8 min/ mile pace. The 6 miles from CP2 to CP3 are the hardest as the route climbs up to Ashdown Forest. At the halfway point it turns back to the south on the Vanguard Way, running through King’s Standing Clump.
I’d been aiming for a 4:15 finish time, and was on track at 20 miles, but my legs were getting heavy and sluggish. After 24 miles I had to walk, and this time it had nothing to do with the gradient. I walked for a few minutes before running again but at a slower pace. Two or three runner came passed me, but whereas I normally fight to hold on to a place in the last third of a race, today I was too tired. At CP4 I was feeling a little better, and the soaking administered by the volunteer who emptied a bucket of water over me helped too. I knew there was only 5 miles to go. Shortly after I was passed by a couple of guys doing the marathon, and their words of encouragement were a real boost.
Straight through the final checkpoint and only 3 miles to go. I was following a few runners from the half marathon now, when suddenly they stopped and said we were going the wrong way. Getting lost at any point is frustrating but taking a wrong turn with only 2 miles to go really hurt, but we turned round and headed back to the last track we had crossed.
When we finally got back on track we pushed on down the final trails until we hit the road. I knew if I pushed hard from here I might break 4:30:00 and so raced up the road and into the school to the finish line ( 9th place 4:29:39 ).
Every finisher gets a hand made mug as well as there medal, and I was soon in the school hall filling mine with coffee and helping myself to a couple of pieces of the excellent cake.
Although the race hadn’t gone to plan, I was still 5 minutes faster than last year, and had managed to get over the line in under 4:30:00. I had a feeling that I was pushing my luck racing only three weeks after a 100 mile race, so I guess I’m lucky I survived with out picking up an injury. I now have two months to get stronger for the hills of the Lakeland 50, then TDS.
Photos courtesy of Jon Lavis and Stuart Mills.