Race Report – Three Forts Half Marathon

The Three Forts Half Marathon

Pre-race

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!

team tuff
Me, Sim and Dom

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.

Mile 1-2
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.

Mile 3
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.

Mile 4-7
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.

Mile 8-10
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.

Miles 11-13.1
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)

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Post Race

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.

Reflections

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.

Final word

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.

Highly Recommended!

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New Balance MT110AK : Review

A few years ago I fell in love with trail running. Within 15 minutes of stepping out my front door I could be slogging it up Cissbury Ring or chasing deer through Angmering Park Estate. I started getting out onto the South Downs, exploring the paths and hills…..I was hooked.

Unfortunately, I was also ill-equipped. You see, I was in my road shoes. A pair of Asics GT1000’s. These were my marathon training, cushioned, chunky, well-stacked concrete creepers. Designed to take the impact out of running, reducing the effect of poor technique on the knees. NOT designed for mud, stones, uneven surfaces, tree roots, or even grass.

So as I was triumphantly returning from the top of Cissbury Ring, I turned my ankle on the chalky downhill path. I wasn’t running slowly either and I ended up sprawled out on the floor another 5 or 10 meters further down. I managed to get myself home almost delirious with pain, and after a trip to the hospital it turned out I’d broken my ankle (I’d also been chased by a badger and got myself lost down streets I knew like the back of my hand)

So after a full recovery, I eventually turned to getting back out on the trails again, but this time, I knew I wanted a proper trail shoe, something responsive, low to the ground, tough yet still cheap.

And that’s when I struck gold with these bad boys! New Balance MT110AK‘s. For any fans of Christopher McDougalls Born To Run, I believe the MT stands for Micah True, and to add further pedigree, they were designed for Anton Krupicka, the legendary ultra trail runner. He don’t wear much but he wears these shoes!

New Balance MT110AK
New Balance MT110AK

I’ve put about 300 miles on these so far and they’re still going strong, so I thought it was about time I put a few words up about them in case it helps anyone.

If you’re reading this then there’s a fair chance you’re in the market for some new shoes so I’m going to give you an idea of what I’ve put these through, and a few reasons why you should buy them. As well as a few reasons that might put you off.

Where I Run

I run on the South Downs, which means a lot of slippery chalky paths, very uneven where the water cuts into it on its way downhill. The paths are often littered with loose stones, big ones, small ones, sharp ones, smooth ones. I also run a lot in the forest at Angmering, the ground here during wet months is VERY muddy. We’re talking shin deep puddles that you can’t go round, and mud in places where you didn’t know you had places. Its the kind of place mountain bikers love. When its dry here, the ground hardens up and becomes quite uneven.

I deal with steep uphill & downhill sections and the occasional tarmac path or road. Although I try and stay off these as much as I can, sometimes I have to run along roads to get to my desired trail.

What are they good at?

On the trail they feel like an extension of my own foot. I’m confident and surefooted when I wear them, the rockplate underneath keeps the sharp stones and roots at bay whilst the little nobbles grip the hard surfaces brilliantly. The minimalist design also ensures your proprioceptors are firing (which in English means: the muscles around your ankle and foot are getting messages from the floor quickly) and I’ve never felt unstable or unbalanced in these.

I’m a firm believer that minimal shoes on the trails are the key to being a more robust runner. The less support in the shoe, the stronger your leg becomes, the stronger a runner you become. Its as simple as that. These shoes have got a 4mm heel to toe drop which keep you in touch with the trail, when it tries to jump up and bite you the shoes are responsive enough to let you know in an instant so you can readjust your position.

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I run sockless in the MT110’s and I’ve never suffered for it. The synthetic mesh upper feels soft on the inside, and the water that gets in drains out through holes in the sole. The mesh is also easy to clean and pretty tough.

So what aren’t they good at?

Mud. Specifically wet mud. The lugs aren’t big enough to bite into it and I found my whole foot sliding along at times. Its the price you pay for having a lower profile shoe though, a trade off.
Personally I’m happy with this as they feel so responsive on harder ground and on soft mud that I’ll happily slide about a bit on the wet stuff.

They’re also uncomfortable on tarmac. They’re a minimal trail shoe so as soon as you hit the road your legs know about it. I’m a forefoot striker and I can get away with it for short distances but heel strikers wouldn’t last 10 meters. You’ll also find the lugs wear down extremely quickly running on roads so you’ll want to avoid this.

I’ve also seen it mentioned elsewhere about a slight curve in the last of the shoe, this pushes the outside toes up, causing your arch to fall in a bit. This is not a problem as soon as your on the trails and your foot feels like its in the perfect position. But when you first slip them on and wander about on a hard surface you can really feel it.

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I’ve gone up a full size in these and they feel perfect, there’s loads of room in the toebox for your feet to spread out whilst the upper hugs the midfoot and heel quite snugly .

So it comes down to the one question that makes or breaks the review:

Would I buy the New Balance MT110AK again?

Yes.

I’ll do most of my trail running over the summer in these but I’m not sure yet if these will be the shoe for the Red Bull Steeplechase, I’m not convinced they’ll have the grip for it.