Monday, 7 December 2009

Doyen of the Downs - Race Report

The end of an epic year of running was met with a couplet of outstanding races, the Gatliffe which I have already reported on and my most recent, the Doyen of the Down 30 mile run.

The day started at the ridiculous hour of 4.15 am and I wrenched myself from my bed leaving my wife and cat softly sleeping, by the time they would be rousing next I would be 10-11 miles into my run.

Getting dressed and making my final checks on my kit I had a quick cup of coffee and then went out into the early morning which was gusty with curtains of rain blustering in to make me soaked before even reaching the safety of the car.

I went off to collect George, Brian and Michael from their houses and drove off to Arundel, West Sussex, the weather did not clear up for the majority of the 85 mile drive. As usual the journey was filled with banter, light teasing and at one point one of my passengers was abandoned at a petrol station for taking too long using the toilet....who has ever heard of an ultrarunner using a toilet, that is why we have trees!!!

Arriving at Arundel Football Club the serious matter of catching up with our long distance running friends and then getting the rest of our kit on, greasing up and making final decisions on what to carry. We were quickly informed that the course had been changed for safety reasons as the recent heavy rains had caused the marshes to rise by 3 feet and it had been re-routed along some roads and then onto the marsh and River Arun paths (more of those later)

Stepping out at 7.55 am it was the last chance to say good luck as we awaited the start, at 8.00 am we all strided out towards what was to prove to be a hard, muddy, wet and thoroughly tough run.

I felt great for the first 5 miles keeping a great pace as we trundled along the River Arun and then onto Monarch's Way a seemingly harmless section of off road path which soon took us into the Upper Wepham Wood, it is here that we were to experience what the recent heavy rains had done to the local trails. We we met with rain sodden muddy paths with 20 foot long potholes filled to the top with rain water, the recently fallen autumnal leaves making going tough as my feet stuck to the mud with every step.

At Checkpoint 1 we were given a glass of water and sent on our way, rain still falling in sheets but still a feeling of camaraderie between us as we went off road again to continue on along Monarch's Way and our first real ascent through the mud and puddles. I have been trying to think of a good description of the mud in places and have gone with "mud with the consistency of Grandma's cake mix", gloopy, stinky and energy sapping. This was not helped by my ripped trail shoes which had now decided to untie their laces every so often.

Checkpoint 2 loomed in the middle of a woodland trail (mile 10) and it soon came apparent that when a checkpoint was located it meant that immediately after it there would be a massive hill. Grabbing a banana and a handful of chocolate biscuits (cookies) I climbed the hill, my legs now beginning to feel the ravages of the previous week's run so I dug in things were not good when I was overtaken by George, Brian and Michael who looked pretty fresh.

Through the next 5 miles my mood went very dark and I was aware that my friend Ian was waiting at Checkpoint 3 to cheer us along and I went through tht horrible conversation of whether I should give up, one voice saying "No, think of the guilt and regret you will feel, how will you face your friends" the other saying "Yes, there is a hot cup of tea at the end". By now the field had thinned out and I was by myeslf, the voices getting louder and my mood darkening. There in the distance at Storrington was Checkpoint 3.

Checkpoint 3 loomed and as I entered the park gate I was approached by a marshall who had informed me that Ian had left with our friend Tom who was injured....there was my lift gone, I was at the point of no return and it was then a lovely lady runner smiled at me and said "it's tough isn't it? I can't wait to get home, come on" She must have realised I was feeling down so we ran for about 1/2 a mile before I strided ahead, that was all I needed, a little help to get me out of the duldrums. The voices gone, I battled on through muddy path after muddy path, through rain sodden fields until the first of the diversions were reached and we were put on a 1.5 mile road section where my pace upped and I was able to catch up and start going through the field of runners. It is here where we met the most ridiculous section of running I have seen which was a muddy quagmire of a field that reached over my shoes, causing me to slip sideways, backwards and finally on my arse.

By now I could feel my legs weakening and I hadn't even reached the ascent at 20 miles that took us from 70 feet above sea level to 500 feet within 1.5 miles, not the greatest ascent but at this point in the run and in the conditions it felt like Mount Everest all around me I could see fellow competitors walking and stumbling. Finally I saw the trig point of Highden Hill and the turn off that would take off the mud paths to a chalk one that would lead us on a 2.5 mile long descent. To the final Checkpoint 4.

At Checkpoint 4 I was able to grab a banana, and another handful of biscuits and I carried on with the thought of "only" 5 miles to go, by now I was in terrible pain in my foot where the integrity of the shoe was lost caused by the tear but I rearranged the socks, tightened the laces for the last time and battled on along the edge of the River Arun when at last I arrived at the Black Rabbit Pub, last year this meant a short run along the road for 1/2 mile to home but then I saw a new diversion that was 2 miles along the River Arun footpath, more mud, more water, more pain, the castle beckoning me but never seemed to get closer.

At last I saw the football club but was aghast when I realised I had to clamber over a wire fence to get to the finish line, one last hurdle and home.

So that was my run, a hard run which was made worse by the mud and rain but still a brilliant experience followed by a hot shower and a visit to the pub for a few pints, a hot meal and to share our war stories.

My favourite quote of the day was when I heard a couple talking:

Woman " They must have to be terribly fit to do it"

Man "More like F&%king mad if you ask me"

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding effort mate. It was a hell of a run and such hard work. That ploughed field will stick in my memory for a long time.

    I actually managed to get lost at one point with a bunch of other guys. I reckon that we did an extra mile scouting around fields trying to find the course again.

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