Dark Star River Marathon

This was my first race organised by Sussex Trail Events, and I was very impressed. It was well organised and friendly, and i’ll definitely be back for more of their events.

The race itself is a flat route, starting in Shoreham by Sea and heading north along the bank of the River Adur for about 10 miles before turning onto the Downs Link path. You follow this for 4 miles, before turning round at a CP and heading back the way you came to the river. On the way back down the river you follow the east bank for a mile, back over the path now churned up by 150 runners, before crossing the river at a foot bridge and following the path on the other bank back to Shoreham. It’s a total distance of 28 miles, so a little long for a ‘marathon’, but great practice for some of the longer events i’ll run later in the year. In pre-race communications the guys at Sussex Trail Events had promised a mudfest, and they certainly delivered!

It was grey and drizzling as I drove down to Shoreham for the 9am start, but by the time the race started the rain had stopped, so i rolled my jacket into a waist pack. If the rain came back, i knew I might need it as much of the route is very exposed to rain and wind coming off the sea. I had recognised a few runners at the start (Stuart Mills – who went on to win, and Tom Sawyer), and was soon chatting to some others as we ran the first few miles. The path by the river was very muddy in places and quite slippery. One runner took a tumble just in front of me, but was up and running again quickly. I was glad I had chosen my Mudclaws as I had no trouble with grip, apart from on a couple of treacherous wooden styles.

Slowly the field spread out, and not long after the first CP at mile 5, I found myself running in a small group of three in 4th or 5th place. We were running at a steady 7:50 – 8:00 minute per mile pace, which felt comfortable enough. Where the route leaves the river and follows the Downs Link path, the running gets a lot easier. This path follows a disused railway line, so is a flat and mostly graveled path. Much easier than the mud, and the pace naturally picked up. I ran through Partridge Green (home of the Dark Star Brewing Co) and stopped briefly at CP2. A little later on I saw Stuart Mills heading back towards me. I had covered just over 13.5 miles so guessed he must be a  mile in front of me. A quick count of the other runners confirmed I was in fifth as I made the turn. I could then see the runners behind as I headed back towards Shoreham.

I tried to take advantage of the easy running on the Downs Link as I knew the river path would be hard work, and did manage a few quicker miles, but the fourth placed runner was still out of sight as I crossed the River Adur and turned onto the path. This was the worst part of the race. 19 miles of running in my legs, a head wind and a churned up muddy trail under foot reduced my speed a lot.

Training has been going well this year, but I had just completed a tough training block and had no rest coming into this race. I knew my legs would feel heavy after 20 miles, but kept reminding myself that everyone would be tired at this point, and i can run all day…

Five minutes later I saw another runner ahead on the trail, and very soon I had caught up. I was busy with some mental arithmetic at this point, trying to work out what finishing time I would get if i could keep an average 8 min/mile pace. These sums can take ages when i’m tired, and distract me for at least a couple of miles. Eventually I figured out a 3:45 finish might be possible if i could keep going at a steady pace.

The final CP was at mile 23, and I paused for another drink and to thank the volunteers. It wasn’t a great day to be hanging around for hours to help keep 150 muddy runners moving, but they were doing a great job, that i’m sure we all appreciated.

I hadn’t expected to see anyone else, but before long i saw another runner up ahead, and that spurred me on. 3rd place is so much better than 4th even though the podium at most races is more a concept than a physical thing. Passing him with about two miles to go, I concentrated on running form and trying to stay strong all the way to the finish.

Eventually the line was in sight, and I could finally relax. Third place in 3:47:39, and a massive medal.

There were hot showers at the finish, and then a very welcome bowl of chili, washed down with a glass of Dark Star’s Hophead ale.


Thanks to Sarah Sawyer for the photo – much better than a selfie!

Thanks to Jon Lavis for the photos below, and the encouragement during the event.

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