The second year running that I’ve done this race and it’s the perfect way to start the new year, embracing the cold, the mud and the puddles together with 500 other runners nursing hangovers or still actually pissed from last nights parties.
No such thing holding me back this year though. (Unlike last year when I was still struggling with walking when the gun went off man shouted go.) Its’s the first race in the West Sussex Fun Run League and so attracts a nice mix of competitive and funrunners.
I arrived just in time for a team photo but not quite in time for a decent warm up. In fact, by the time I arrived, the unprecedentedly large turnout meant they’d run out of numbers, mine, 535, was handwritten on torn off notepaper! I took my jacket off and stashed it at the last possible minute and lined up on the front row. Confident? Me? Not really, but I know how congested the climb gets and I wanted good position. If you get caught too far back it’s impossible to pass and it slows to a walk on the steepest section.
After a promise from the organizer that the conditions were perfect, we were off. The lap around the playing fields started to string us out and I was in a decent position as we made our way along the short road before turning left and beginning the long climb up Cissbury Ring. This is where it started to get a bit slippy. Amongst the large puddles and particularly muddy bits, there’s a lot of slippery limestone so you have to be switched on to pick the best line. I’m glad I wasn’t struggling with a hangover!
A quick mental checkup and my breathing was easy, certainly easier than those around me, my stride had shortened to be more efficient going up the hill and my arms were relaxed and low. I went through the first mile in 6:49 which felt ok (a better warmup would have served me well here) and I was amongst runners moving at a similar pace. I pegged a couple of places back and found myself battling with the 2nd place lady (Worthing Harriers) for position. This surprised me somewhat as I often see her running locally and know how quick she is on the roads. She seemed to be struggling on the slippier parts of the course though whereas my inov8 x-talons were finding grip out of nowhere. Mile 2- 7:24.
With this confidence I went past her just before the narrowest and steepest section, Cardiac Hill, every good race has got one and I latched on to a runner from Lancing Eagles. He held me up a bit on the climb as it was too tight to get around, but this also gave me chance to get back in control of my breathing. I was aware that I was being caught from behind now too so as soon as the path opened up I went round and focused on my next targets. Brighton Tri (BT) and a lad from Lewes AC, they were both quite a way ahead but gave me something to focus on. There’s nothing worse in a race than chasing down fresh air.
The top section of the course is tough, a hard left onto a farm track then there’s a descent which is steep enough to require a certain amount of skill to run it well, as well as a certain quality of shoe. BT took a tumble ahead, rolled over twice and somehow landed back on his feet mid-stride, barely missing a beat. I was close enough to check he was ok, he laughed and said yes and he tried to open the gap on me again.
I’d been caught again by someone but was too concerned with watching my footing to see who they were. We flew down another downhill before going through a farmgate onto the last hard climb. This was a well used gate I assume from the depth of mud and whoever it was on my shoulder suddenly laughed and disappeared. I think their shoe had been sucked off in the mud (either that or it had swallowed them whole) but didn’t turn to find out. Mile 3 – 8:32 but this was the hardest mile on the course.
We hit the top of Cissbury Ring and a marshall shouted “2 miles downhill!” Music to my ears. I re-passed the 2nd lady again as she struggled in the mud and I opened up my stride, I was right on BT’s tail and we were working hard on Lewes AC. He was constantly looking back over his shoulder, desperately trying to open a gap on us. Another hard left took us onto a woodland path with the final climb of the day, I think this took BT by surprise as I was finally able to pass him here. Mile 4 – 6:15 great fun!
“Slippy here” shouted a marshall as we rounded a corner and I nearly proved him right. Then 2nd lady came past me, clearly with a strong finish on her mind and this time she’d broken me, not completely but enough for my elastic band mind trick not to work. We came back onto the short road section and I was suddenly passed on both sides by 2 Burgess Hill Runners! WTF? Where had they come from? I knew that we just had to cross the car park then it was a hundred meter sprint across the grass to the finish. I could do this. We zig-zagged through the fence onto the grass and past a fir tree, the first Burgess Hill runner held a large branch back as he went through which sprang back and hit the 2nd runner hard enough to put him off his stride. Mile 5 – 6:54, the course was slightly long!
I kicked hard with 100m to go, taking the 2 teammates by surprise. I was visualizing Mo Farah, all high knees and fast cadence, putting as much power down underneath my body as possible and crossed the line in 36:27. 76 seconds quicker than last year when conditions were much better.
I love this race, so much fun, especially in these conditions. It’s a great feeling coming back from a race covered in mud. And i’m happy to have PB’d the course.
Things I’m going to work on:
Posture. The pictures from the start show I’m probably a bit restricted around the hips. I’ll be starting a yoga strength programme which should help.
Power. I felt I was lacking on the climbs a bit so i’ll be throwing in some max effort hill sprints.
Predatory Instinct: I should have gone past BT much earlier in the race and focussed on the next target.
A good start to 2016. Happy new year everyone!
How’s your start to 2016?
Are you off to a racing start?
Hats off to Goring Road-runners, St Johns Ambulance and all the marshalls for a well organised race.