Tag Archives: marathon

Dark Star

Dark Star Brewing make some fabulous beers. At the moment I’m rather taken with their Cocoa Nut Porter (available from The Beer Boutique, Tunbridge Wells). They also sponsor the River Marathon put on by Sussex Trail Events. Its a 28 mile trail race along the banks of the River Adur, and on the Downs Link path, that passes directly in front of the brewery in Partridge Green.

I ran this race in 2015, and although the profile suggests it should be flat and fast, the fact that it’s January and mostly on the river bank, means its muddy and slow. I was in great shape in 2015, and finished in 3:47, but this year my longest training run has been 18 miles, so i knew it was going to get tough in the last 7 or 8 miles.

I was a little nervous, as this was my first race in over 6 months, and sure enough I made a few basic errors: too much wine the night before, too little breakfast, no pre-race kit photo for social media, starting too fast.

The start is at the Scout hut, and after crossing the river it’s straight onto the path along the bank. I guess they have improved the path since I last ran as the first mile or two were all paved or firm gravel and I was beginning to think I’d made a bad shoe choice. However soon enough the good trails ended, and it became the muddy track I remembered. When I saw a runner slip and slide a few times in his Altra shoes, I knew that the Inov8 Mudclaws were the right choice after all.

The race leader had shot off at a remarkable pace, and even though i was much slower I realised my pace was still too quick, but it felt good at the time. After 10 miles the route finally left the river path and hit the graveled Down Link path a number of people started passing me – i guess they were taking advantage of the better underfoot conditions, but i was happy with my own pace. Out and back routes can be a little dull, but i do like the fact you get to see the entire race spread out. Soon the leader was coming back toward me, chased hard by another and then a steady stream of runners. A mile of so further on, and I ran under the bridge and into the old West Grinstead Station for the turnaround check point and then back the way I had come.

The worst part of the route is  after leaving the Downs Link and rejoining the river bank. For two miles you have to run through the same churned mud that two hundred runners have already turned into a quagmire. However eventually I reached the bridge and crossed over the the other bank for the rest of the run.



By now i’d run 20 miles and was really starting to feel it. I walked for a minute or two while i ate a Nakd Cashew bar, and then started plodding toward the finish. First marathon in months, and i choose one that comes with free bonus miles. I needed a couple more short walk breaks, but finally reached the uneven concrete path and then end was in sight.

After hosing down my legs and shoes, I went into the scout hut for a superb bowl of chili washed down with a Dark Star Lager. I wouldn’t normally chose a lager, but it was very refreshing and was great with the food.

My finish time was 4:27:30 in 25th place


  • 1st   Paul Sargent       3:40:48                           Ellie Morgan        4:14:52
  • 2nd Jonny Burke        3:44:19                           Lorna Spayne      4:17:10
  • 3rd Paul Perry            3:52:28                           Megan Lennox    4:28:44


The race photos were taken by Jon Lavis – thanks for your support on the course.

Resetting race goals

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.


Registration hell!

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.Long_climb_up_Beachy_Head.jpg

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.



Never underestimate a marathon 

With TDS looming large on the horizon and some summer heat finally forecast I decided a long and hot run was overdue and entered the Bewl Water marathon. This is a two lap race around the reservoir and mostly on trails. Obviously it’s nothing like TDS in terms of profile but there are a few hills but more importantly the forecast was for sunshine all day. Knowing it can get pretty hot in the Alps in August I thought this would be good practice to see how I cope with running in the heat. Unfortunately real life sometimes interferes with running, and a crisis at work meant my preparation was not ideal. Late nights in front of the computer, calls with colleagues at all hours etc. so race prep was non existent. After a brief conference call on Saturday morning while eating my breakfast, Sarah reminded me I should be in my running kit ready to leave. Bewl Water is only a short drive from Tunbridge Wells, so I was at the start on time but had to beg for some sun cream as I’d forgotten to bring cream as well as a hat.

The race start – photo by Mark Perkins

After a race briefing from Dave Ross (race director) we were off. No one was in any hurry to get underway and after the initial leader called out “I’ve led a marathon” and dropped back, I found myself alone and in the lead.   My goal was to run a 3:30 race (8 min / mile pace); hard work on trails and in the heat, but not so hard that it would impact my training too much. After running the first 3.5 miles to the aid station, I stopped for some water. I was averaging 7:40 pace, so decided to slow up a little.  There were 37.5 and 50 mile races happening too and those runners hadn’t done a 1 mile loop over the reservoir so I started catching some of them, but soon heard footsteps behind me. When the trail opened out another runner came up alongside me.

I recognised him from previous races (David Thompson), and although we’d never spoken before we soon got chatting. In fact we ran together for the next 2 hours chatting about past and future races. The aid stations were well stocked and I tried some of the racefood bars – like nougat. Tasty and easy to eat without being sticky and sickly. I’ll be adding these to my food bag on my next ultra.

Racefood - well worth trying

Racefood – well worth trying

We ran through the start / finish area and set off on our second lap, still running together and I was feeling fine after 16 miles, but as we came out of the woods and hit the road section and picked up the pace it felt harder than expected. At 18 miles I was feeling really weak and as we hit the hill up to the aid station I had to slow to a walk. I wished David well and muttered something apart catching him up in a minute, but knew that wouldn’t happen.

At the aid station I drank plenty and poured a cup of water over my head, before setting off again, but at a reduced pace. I was searching out every patch of shade, but fortunately much of the run is in the woods. At the final aid station i stopped again for more water, and two more cups went over my head.

With two miles to go I recognised where I was and made an effort to run up the final hill. I’ve had a run of 3rd place finishes recently, so decided I didn’t want to surrender my 2nd place.I couldn’t see or hear anyone behind me, but assumed there may be someone running hard, so pushed myself to the finish.

I finished in 3:31:33 in 2nd place, and picked up a lovely little trophy.

2nd place - my best result

2nd place – my best result

David Thompson was the winner in 3:24:33, so a minute a mile quicker than me over the last 6 miles. I’m not sure why I slowed up so much, but i’m guessing it was a combination of factors: heat, dehydration ( i drank over 2 litres after the race and still didn’t need the toilet for some time), starting too fast, or general fatigue from the training i’ve been doing.

However , when your main focus in 100 mile events, it’s easy to underestimate how tough a marathon can be, and next time I’ll treat the distance with a the respect it deserves.