Friday, 13 May 2011

Birthday Trail Run: 26.3miles

What a journey, not just today, but the last 12-months.
This time last year I turned 37 and with more than just a hint of impending midlife-crisis signed up for the Brighton Marathon. Seemed fitting to therefore mark my 38th birthday with a nice long run. 

And what a run it was...26.3miles of trail running in 5:52:14, flying solo, all on me own, with nothing but sun-tan lotion, vaseline, compeed, deep heat, toilet roll (why?), a book (for train), gillet, spare T-Shirt, 2 drinks, 2 ham sandwiches, 3 gels, a Cliff Bar, and wallet for about "adventurous"! Not exactly blistering pace, but hey this was an off-the-cuff marathon, and a trail one at that.
Wanted to take advantage of local trails here in Sussex, and having signed up for Trail-Blaze, I decided to test myself on the South Downs Way rather than the usual road running. This trail running malarkey is bloody hard work though... gods those hills were knackering, but what a beautiful setting on a glorious late Spring day.

Sea was an azure blue, hills were a vivid green, fields full of buttercups, really quite breathtaking. Having been dumbfounded on the train by a bunch of teenagers arguing over whether everything below London is in fact East of London and that is why Eastbourne is called "East"bourne because its in the East of England, the concept of South seemed to completely pass all of them by, the run started with a monster climb up from Eastbourne and along the rolling Downs to Beachy Head.  

Before I got under way however I had to finish my prep, which meant hiding round the back of a cafe at the foot of the first hill full of happy smiling pensioners enjoying a cuppa who I didn't think would appreciate watching me vas my bum-crack...couldn't miss the first Trail-Blaze checkpoint and away I went...
...after Beachy Head it was along the Seven Sister. Oh my god, the steepness was ridiculous, running down them was actually quite frightening in places, and by golly was I glad when the last one was behind me...
...they might have been sisters, but I bet they were a right bunch of bitches! 

Having left the heartbreaking ups and downs of the sisters, the trail headed inland up through a crop of woodland and through a couple of delightful picture-book villages. Managed to get lost in a forest, got myself back on track, but rather than making up time I then got blocked at a path gate by a very large lip-rolling horse, who was giving me the equine equivalent of the "piss off Ginger" look. Couldn't get him to move for love nor money (not that I was going to spare any of him/her) and had to resort to climbing over the fence so that I then landed right behind what looked like an extremely powerful pair of hind-legs and rock-hard looking hooves...sure I remember reading that's not the best place to find yourself. 

Still I was lightening fast and away across the field before he knew what was happening, down into another quaint village and then along a river bank to the lovely town of Alfriston, running through the Cookmere Valley and past the Chalk Horse on the hillside...
...'twas about 10miles to Alfriston, but then the wind picked up (and didn't let up for rest of the run, 16-miles of headwind aint fun) and the skies turned more than a tad grey. Plodded along to Southease, which was fairly dull, but by this point I'd slipped beyond "ooh, isn't the countryside lovely", into thinking "bloody hell these hills are a bugger" so called on the motivational wonder of Martin and Tom at MarathonTalk, which if nothing else gave me the chance to try my knew Sennheiser Sport headphones. 2 episodes of MT made the next 3hours and 16-miles far more bearable. 

Had wondered before start about bailing at Southease and getting train home, but was relieved to see it was once an hour and that I'd just missed it, so nought to do but keep running/plodding. Final leg back towards Brighton was easier terrain, but was feeling pretty tired by now. One highlight being passing through the Meridian Line, enabling me to stand with one leg in the Western Hemisphere and the other in the Eastern Hemisphere - cool!

Suddenly turned a corner, came over a rise and saw an urban mass in front of me which gave me a great lift, the end was in sight and with it a Trail-Blaze "Orange" band to distinguish a "Hard" level run. Get in! Jogged down the hill into a farmyard, inquired whether the farm down the road was Housedean Farm and was met with a look of bewilderment. Repeated myself and said, "you know just before you get into Falmer" gesturing towards the houses beyond...

..."That's not Falmer love, that's Saltdean!"


What a wally! Obviously got lost somewhere, not sure where, but was miles out of the way. Oh well, while an Orange band would be nice, it would clash terribly with my Ginger hair, and today was much more about the challenge of running a marathon solo - knowing I could do it is what mattered, the band will wait. 

Ran through Saltdean smiling at my cock-up, hit the seafront and ran a final mile or so to nearby Rottingdean bringing up the marathon difference (all but final 2miles on trails) and the joy of Coke and a Mars. 

Couldn't be arsed to wait for a bus, jumped in a taxi to meet my friend in the pub for a triumphant birthday pint, then home to family for birthday cake and presents.  
Awesome day!

Since my debut at the Brighton Marathon, I've been itching to go the distance again, yes I know this was not competitive, but the Great God Garmin tracked it and I'm claiming it.  Feels great to have run the distance again, needed to prove a point to myself, not sure what or why, but... 

Today was not about time, pace or anything else, it was just a personal challenge...could I wake-up, head out solo and run a marathon distance, with the added complication of pulling that off over trails. (Although, I was thinking it'd be cool to pull that off in sub-6hrs this morning)

Very chuffed, a very enjoyable day...and I guess now I need to do it again without getting lost and bag that clashing Orange band. Not many family and friends can understand why, but what a belting way to spend my birthday!

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