I’d not entered this race before, but had heard that it was well organised and a great route over the south downs, so was really looking forward to it.
When I left the house the sun was shining in a pale blue sky, and I had to scrape the ice off the windscreen. The car’s thermometer was telling me it was freezing outside all the way down to Steyning, so I decided two layers plus hat and gloves would be the best option. If it was windy on the hill tops it could be hard work and slow going.
After picking up my number, and dropping off a bag of clean kit for after the race I hung around chatting to a few people. The marathon has a mass start at 8:30, but also allows walkers and slower runners to start earlier, and they start the race clock at 07:30. Just before the start I headed outside and joined the other runners in the start pen. We waited for the clock to slowly tick up from 0:58:00, 0:59:00 and then on the hour set off. Stuart Mills rapidly shot off in the lead, and I settled down into what should be a comfortable pace in about 10th place. The first couple of miles were flat but muddy, so I was sliding around a bit and wondering if I should have worn my mudclaws. I had a brief chat with Eddie Sutton as she ran alongside me for a bit, but she had to stop to retie her laces so I carried on. Ewan Dunlop had been warned me that the first big climb was after 4 miles, as we left Washington and climbed up to the South Downs Way. I vaguely remembered this from two years ago, but on the Centurion SDW100 we were running in the other direction. It was a tough climb, and I was starting to get warm, but as I got to the top it was cold again so the gloves stayed on.
The next two miles were all downhill, so I tried to pick up the pace and fly over the downs. Up here it was the usual grass paths and flinty trail, so a better fit my my footwear and I was making good progress.
There were regular checkpoints offering water and snacks, so I had chosen to carry very little: two gels, my phone and a jacket in case of emergencies. This seemed to work well, as although I was working hard, the cool weather meant I wasn’t sweating much and not getting dehydrated.
Stunning views from the hill tops are a regular feature on this route and more than once I was tempted to stop and take pictures, but this was supposed to be hard effort, not an easy training run. After 10 miles I ran passed Chanctonbury Ring, which I remember well from SDW, but then the route heads south and takes a loop around Cissbury Ring and the Worthing golf course, with some beautiful views to the channel beyond.
There is another two mile loop around Steep Down, and on the way back you see other runners heading up the trail as you fly down. By now with 20+ miles run I was starting to struggle. Earlier I had run all but the steepest / most slippery sections but now I needed more and more walk breaks. I’m not sure if this means I need to increase my training effort on hills, or rest more before races, but I was hurting at this point.
At about 23 miles Eddie caught me, and instead of breezing passed, she slowed for a moment and encouraged me to get running and follow her up the final climb. Together we made it to the top and then pushed each other along the final couple of miles. A 7:19 final mile shows the benefit of having some one to run with at the end of a tough race.
The provisional results have been published but look at little odd. They have me in 8th and Eddie in 9th, but she crossed the line in front of me as shown here Results:
After the race, the organisers had laid on a full cooked breakfast for all competitiors. I needed to get home for lunch with my wife and children, so skipped the meal, but was very impressed with the race medal.