It’s 6:30 on a Saturday morning and I’m making porridge.
Daddy, how do you make Porridge?
I explain the simple recipe.
Yuk… sounds horrible!
There’s little point in arguing with an eight year old boy.
Daddy…. Mummy says you’re stupid.
She says you’ve not done enough training and shouldn’t do this race.
I can’t argue with this viewpoint either. This year has started with injuries. Achilles tendonitis and bursitis in my left ankle have limited my training. I was due to run the Endurance Life CTS Sussex ultra, but all I have managed in training since mid January is a few 6-8 mile runs and a single 13 miler. However the CTS series have shorter races so I decided to be sensible and swap to a shorter race. I swapped to the marathon. So, not very sensible.
I ran this race two years ago, and enjoyed it, but the organisation could have been better. An easy drive to Birling Gap and well managed parking was a good start to the day. However things soon deteriorated.
There was a 50 minute queue to register, and subsequently the race start had to be delayed by 20 minutes. Quite why we had to queue in single file I have no idea. There were race officials standing idle waiting while runners were snaking round the tent in a roped off funnel.
After a thorough and lengthy race briefing we walked the couple of hundred meters to the start and were sent on our way. It was chilly, dry and breezy at the start, but as I ran up to the first summit of the Seven Sisters I caught the full force of the wind coming off the sea. It was blowing a gale. Seven hard climbs to hike up, seven blasts from the wind as I tried to find shelter behind taller runners, and seven steep descents to batter my toes. It was a relief to reach the Cuckmere Haven and turn inland to escape the wind.
The first five miles took 51 minutes – slower than I’d hoped for, but aware of my limited fitness, I was trying to keep to an easy effort and still have some strength in my legs for the final third. The route heads up the river valley through the first checkpoint at Litlington to Alfriston and then uphill, following the South Downs Way for a short stretch, before turning left, to run around the hillside and under the Long Man of Wilmington. After a short steep climb back up to the hill top, the path heads south and back towards Westdean and CP2. I paused briefly to get some water. The checkpoints are very basic: water, bananas and biscuits, but I knew what to expect, so had my own snacks and gels.
From Westdean it’s back through Friston forest towards East Dean before turning south and back to Birling Gap. The wind was still blowing strongly, but at least it was at my back as I started the long climb up past Belle Tout and then up to Beachy Head itself.
In the Beachy Head Marathon the path takes the inland route before dropping down to the finish, but the CTS race turns right and drops down a ridiculously steep path before taking the coastal path to Dukes Drive. CP3 is here by the kiosk, and another biscuit and more water and I was on my way for the last five miles. From here the route heads back to the west, and after the slow climb up the hill, at the road crossing I was fully exposed to the winds again. A long straight, and rather uninspiring mile and a half battling the wind, but at least I was still running, and not being overtaken.
At this point you come depressingly close to the finish, and can clearly see the Endurance Life feather flags, but my garmin told me I’d only run 23.8 miles, and sure enough the route turned away from the finish and back up another long slow climb. After crossing the Beachy Head Rd a final time I was at last on the home straight. However I was now running into the wind again, and almost forced to stop by its ferocity.
I finished in 4:32:00, setting a new marathon PW (personal worst) in the progress.
Despite the whinging tone of this blog, I enjoyed much of the running. It was great to be out in the countryside on a long run again. I walked the steep climbs, and even a couple of the steep descents, but after 26 miles I was running comfortably, with no pain. More to the point, two days after the event there is no Achilles pain. There is more muscle soreness than usual, but after so little training, that’s to be expected. I’m now looking forward to the South Downs Way 50 and Grand Union Canal race with more optimism than I could manage a couple of weeks ago.
The SDW50 is only three weeks away, so my fitness will not have improved massively, and I’ll have to start with a similar race plan – slow and steady- and try and enjoy it, but it should be great fun to run a Centurion race again, and good training for GUCR.