I arrived at Hill Barn Playing fields after my normal Sunday morning 0-5k group run. This served as a nice warm-up without taxing the legs too much, although I probably wouldn’t do it if was a serious target race.
The sun was shining and it was warm enough to strip down to race kit nice and early. I went through my normal warm-up routine and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere around the start-line.
An old family friend of mine, Andy (Wiggy) had come down from the Midlands to run the full, his first marathon and I found him looking nervous amongst the 700 or so people milling around. I reminded him of a 3k fun-run we’d done together, we must have only been about 6 years old. Our Dad’s then went on to do the 5 or 10k race afterwards but we weren’t allowed to do that one. Wiggy didn’t remember any of this and I don’t think it helped settle his nerves!
At 10am the full marathoners were off and the number of people in the field was reduced by half. I had a pre-race chat with Simone and Dom from my Tri Club (Tuff Fitty) and Simon, my wingman from ShoreFit run club. We were all in high spirits and really looking forward to having a nice run on the South Downs.
As we posed for a Tuff Fitty team photo, we suddenly heard the Town Crier ringing his bell and shouting GO! – for a moment we thought we’d missed the start of our race but he was only setting off the Cani-X runners! Phew!
With a few minutes to go, I made my way to the front row of the start line and got ready to go.
Another ring of the Town Criers bell and we were off, I found myself part of a group of 4 runners as we made the first climb up Cissbury Ring. 500ft of ascent later and we’d already put quite a gap on the next group.
We rounded the top and went full throttle into the chalky descent around the back. I’d opted for my retired Adidas Adios 2’s for this race as they’ve got nothing left in them for the roads but I thought they’d be OK on dry trails. Some of the chalk paths were baked as hard as concrete and I was kind of wishing I’d gone for something with a bit more cushioning left in them.
I grabbed a cup of water at the first aid station and failed miserably at getting any more than 2 drops into my mouth.
This section is normally pretty quick, I should be going at sub-7min pace along here quite comfortably……only I’m not. The guys in front of me are moving away and I’ve got a crippling pain trying to fold me in half.
I thought it was a stitch at the time, and I blamed/cursed those water drops a few moments earlier. With hindsight, I recognise that the effort I’d put in going up and down the first hill had given me abdominal cramps, it was nothing to do with the water and it wasn’t a stitch. I slowed my pace and as I tried to get control of my body again I was caught by the next group of runners.
Uphill…..Uphill…..then a bit more Uphill. Another 500ft upwards. Resulting in fine views from Chanctonbury Ring of both the North and South Downs. Managed to negotiate a couple of cattle grids at the top by running straight over them rather than waste time with the National Trust gates. One of the few benefits of size 12 running shoes.
Downhill, in varying degrees. Culminating in a quad-smashing 12% descent. All this sounds wonderful, and it was a great opportunity to get my breath back a bit, but it destroyed my legs just before I hit one of the hardest climbs of the race.
I was passed here by numerous runners, I muttered a “well-done” and felt like an extra weight had been added to my legs with each one that went by. The last climb up Cissbury ring reduced me to walking, although it was probably more efficient than my running at that point.
The bit that I had been dreading the most was the final downhill section. Its a single track chalk trail that I always avoid in training. Its rutted with a deep uneven groove where the rain drains away and you have to zigzag down it, leaping over the chasm, praying that you don’t turn an ankle. A chap in a yellow vest flew past me with the ease of a mountain goat, I honestly don’t know how he could be so sure-footed here, fair play.
I finally emerged onto the playing field where it all began, ankles intact, and mustered up the strongest finish I could manage. I heard my name being called by the commentator. I could see literally 10’s of people clapping and cheering. I crossed the line in 1:42:24. Not bad. (The winners time was 1:27:xx for an indication of how tough the course is – his marathon PB is 2:46)
The mayor put a medal around my neck and I promptly fell over. The medal wasn’t heavy, it wasn’t like an anvil, I just couldn’t stand up anymore.
I looked over at the massage tent and decided to crawl over and get a post-event rub down whilst there was no queue.
My wife and son came and found me on the table, and then we all went and cheered on some of the finishers until the boy got restless.
I wanted to see what my limitations were with this race and to try and get in amongst the leaders. I very quickly found out that I need to do more hill-work, and perhaps some more core-work if I want to put myself near the front here.
I’ll definitely be back to race this one next year and aiming to better my 18th position.
Out of my pre-race goals (see here) I missed both A (Top 3) and B (Top 10), but pleased to not come away injured which was my C goal, should probably make this a general life goal.
I had slight tingling in my feet at the end which I’m attributing to my shoe choice, simply not enough cushioning for hard packed descents. Grip wasn’t an issue though and it was nice to give them a farewell race.
A great race over a beautiful challenging course, with cheerful marshals, well stocked aid stations and excellent post-race facilities. With under 1000 runners across the 2 events, the organisers still lay on free (charitable donation) massage and all the cakes/pastries you can eat as well as a finishers medal. We were blessed with fine weather this year which made it all the more enjoyable.