Back to Sussex and its time for the Brooks Sussex Cross Country League. The first fixture was on Sunday at Goodwood racecourse. This is my favourite of the four races as it takes in some nice woodland tracks rather than just skirting around fields.
As always, when the gun went, everyone flew off the line in the manner of Usain Bolt. Myself included. This meant that I had a cracking first mile and then faded badly. However, I did manage to achieve the honour of first Tuff home which was cool. And I also set a new PB, smashing almost 2 minutes off my time from 2 years ago, finishing in 32:58.
The quality of the field in these races is impressive; I averaged 7:13 per mile and only finished in 104th place. I’ve got work to do to keep up with some of these guys.
The X-Talons were brilliant for this race, definitely better than my New Balance would have been, and just as good as a spike.
Without a doubt – the best (and hardest) race I have ever been a part of.
It’s taken 2 weeks for my legs to forgive me, and I only managed 12 miles of it.
I arrived in Castleton just before 8am, there was frost in the fields and a thick fog in the Hope Valley. I was starting to think I’d brought the wrong kit with me as I only had shorts & a vest. I could see huge green/brown mounds obstructing the horizon ahead of me, and I burst out laughing, on my own. These were real hills. Not like the ones we have in the south. These were the kind of hills you climb, not walk. The realization of what today was going to involve hit me and I knew I was out of my depth here.
I went and signed in and took a walk up the first hill towards Mam Tor – a sign here told me the name Mam Tor means The Problem. (The Problem being its too bloody steep!)
I went through a few warm up drills to loosen my legs up a bit and went and joined the rest of the runners at the start line.
The lovely chap with the moustache and the pistol got us underway and off we went. After about 400m of a gradual incline we headed off road and up Mam Tor. This was the part I’d been dreading – half a mile of bear-crawling up a mountain. It didn’t disappoint either. Every time I looked up it looked like we were still to come to the steepest bit. My Inov-8 Xtalon 212’s were brilliant here, not a single slip, they bit into the ground which was a mix of wet grass, loose earth and deep bracken. Worth every penny.
The air was filled with panting, swearing and heavy breathing and somewhere in the distance I heard the gun go off again which meant the womens race had started.
I arrived at the top and immediately got into a stride, choosing the grass over the wet stone path along the ridge. I was pleased with myself, I thought I’d conquered the hardest part of the course and that from here on in it was going to be easy…..how wrong could I have been.
It was up here somewhere that there was a Brass Band playing, I think they were at the top of another climb that it was impossible to run up, it had stone stairs carved into it that sapped the energy from your legs as you pushed yourself up each giant step.
Somewhere else on the course a lone bugler played the theme from Rocky to help get you across the difficult terrain.
After 4 miles, the first scoreboard appeared. I felt like I’d covered at least twice that distance already but I was happy to see I was in 126th position. This meant that barring disaster I should make it through the 1st checkpoint in Bamford easily.
Shortly after this the course dropped into the woods and we ran along some of the most beautiful single track trails I’ve ever come across. Concentration was absolutely key, as some of the footing was pretty technical. Loose rocks and uneven ground on fast descents meant that I was pleased to get to the bottom in one piece sometimes.
As we approached Bamford we came alongside Ladybower reservoir which was spectacular, and it made for some particularly interesting running as we crossed narrow bridges and hopped over huge stepping stones.
A mile or so later and I was sailing through the first checkpoint, my eyes tend to water a bit when running so I’m not sure what position I went through in. I saw a drinks station and grabbed a water and a 50/50 redbull/water. This may have been a mistake as I got quite a nasty stitch about 10 minutes after and had to ease right off for a few minutes.
I’d heard that the first stage was by far the hardest and was looking forward to some relief in stage 2. However, the first half was all uphill (and we’re talking between 10 & 30% here) and my lack of training in the last few weeks was beginning to show.
The scoreboard came up and I was in 136th position, with only 125 to get through at the next cutoff in Hope. As I rounded a corner I could see about 20 runners within catching distance going up the next hill and I started to count back thinking I could pick them off.
As we got to the top of the hill I could see the next 2 miles down into Hope, descending down a rocky single track pathway, along a field and a short road but all downhill.
I got through the technical bit just fine, even picked a couple of runners off here, but the downhill got steeper and steeper and my quads got more and more upset with me. At this point I knew I was going no further. My legs were screaming at me to stop and as we hit the road, a marshall told us to keep off the verges and stay on the road. All I wanted to do was run on soft grass, the studs on my shoes were hurting my feet, my quads were on fire and the verge was just sitting there looking all soft and inviting.
I walked a few steps and someone came past me with words of encouragement which was enough to pick me back up. A few minutes later there were spectators cheering us on so I knew we were closing in on the checkpoint. We ran down a couple of streets I nthe village of Hope before bounding up a couple of steps behind a café and under the Red Bull inflatable. The counter was stuck on 126 and there were a few people sat down looking exhausted. I was directed over to the goody bags where I threw on my Hoody and downed some Red Bull.
I was absolutely spent, I could not have run another step. No other race has ever left me feeling like this physically. But boy had I enjoyed it.
We boarded the coach that was waiting for us and made the short drive back to Castleton where a Hero’s lunch was waiting for us at The Castle pub. All the Hog Roast you could eat, all the burgers you could eat, and all the beer/lager/cider you could drink. (Unfortunately I was driving)
But before I made it there I was joined by the man I’d raised money to say thank you to. Ray and part of his family (Caroline, Lucy & Sean) had made the trip up from Birmingham with bottles of fizz, they’d just missed me at the start, but had seen us going up Mam Tor. Then they’d hung around the finish waiting for me to get back. We shared a drink and a chat until I felt human again.
So all in all, I made it through 12 hideously enjoyable miles and raised £1150.01 for cancer research. Not bad.
I hear its not coming back for 2015 but I’ll definitely be back for it in 2016, better trained and aiming for Edale.
I’ve bought some new shoes for the race, Inov-8 X-Talon 212’s. After a lot of searching and reading through reviews it was between these and the 190’s. I decided these would be a bit more robust and as they’re quite expensive I’d like them to last a while.
I’ve tried them out on The Downs and they make short work of steep hills. I’m impressed.
I’m hoping to use these for XC after the Steeplechase but unless it starts to get really muddy up on the downs I can’t see myself using these more than 5 or 6 times a year. There’s always the West Sussex Fun Run League to enter come January, I might get some more races out of them yet!
I’ve found some amazing trails up behind Chanctonbury Ring. Single track Mountain Bike trails that you can fling yourself down with childlike abandon. Jumping over logs and skipping over tree roots whilst barely maintaining control on the steep descents.
This is what running feels like in my dreams.
There’s also some damn steep climbs, I’ve found a long hard graft that I’m aiming to run all the way up one day (I’ve only managed halfway so far before walking) and I’ve gone off-track and found a long 49% climb. I can’t even stand on this let alone run, moving upwards involves a bear-crawl.
Unfortunately, my training for the Steeplechase took a huge setback (6 weeks out of action) after I picked up a stress fracture on my 4th metatarsal. A combination of too many hills and too many miles too quickly. I got over-excited and wanted to run the mountain bike trails all the time, which unfortunately involved a long run to get there. I stupidly thought I’d be OK doing that when I should have built up more slowly.
I think that’s top 30 well out the window. I’ll be happy to get to the 2nd checkpoint now.
I’ve watched all the videos, and I’ve seen all the pictures and I’ve decided that this race looks hard enough to warrant asking people for money.
I’m using this opportunity to say Thanks to a family friend, Ray Golder. In 1988, he was out running with my Dad who collapsed & died having suffered a heart attack. Ray did everything he could and stayed with him until the end. I was fortunate enough to meet up with Ray last year and chat with him for the first time as an adult. He described that day as the worst day of his life.
So this is my chance to say Thank you Ray – for everything you did on that day. For making sure my Dad did not die alone. I’m running this race for you.
Unfortunately, Ray has cancer. So I’m raising money for his chosen charity – Cancer Research. My target is £1000 – and that’s ambitious for me.
Here’s the link to the justgiving page – the full story is on there.
If it pulls at your heartstrings, please make a donation. We can beat cancer.