I could, of course, pretend that as this was my 12th marathon I found it really easy-peasy and it was just another jaunt across the South Downs. However, that would be a downright lie 'cos it was jolly tough! The wind was supposed to ease off during Saturday night. Instead it blew with a ferocity that kept both of us awake throughout the night. When I did eventually manage to dose off I kept waking up thinking I hadn't heard the alarm go off so that when it did actually sound at 4:55am I was already wide awake. Poor Mike was wide awake too, even though I tried to be as quiet as I could.
When I was ready to go at 5:45am Mike had given up all hope of sleep and had got dressed. He came to open the gates to send me on my way (having done a check on everything I had to take with me). The weather forecast was for strong winds but sunny/overcast later but when I left home it was still blowing a gale and was raining too so I had to take clothes for either scenario. Trouble was, when I arrived at Steyning at 7:30am the sky was still black, it was drizzling and the wind was pretty fierce. I settled on a mid-weight, long-sleeved top and tights with my trusty yellow waistcoat (a favourite 'cos it has 2 massive pockets across the back for holding my camera, phone, keys etc etc) and I tied an extra top around my waist just in case it all went wrong and I had to walk for any length of time - the weather up on the Downs can be very changeable and it is so exposed that its always wise to be prepared).
One of the things I liked about this marathon is that because it is a small field, of 114 runners, they allow the slower runners to start 30 minutes before the rest of the runners. I loved this because as I'm normally at the back I don't get to see many people but during this loads of runners went past me - it's great to see the really fast runners zooming along and gives you a real boost. So, at 8am I started on my journey.
At the foot of the hills we passed this charming church in Washington. This made me start wondering how many other 'Washington's' there are elsewhere in the world (Washington Tyne & Wear and Washington DC were the obvious answers but how many others are there dotted around?).
So here we are again, heads down, arms pumping starting to climb up onto the Downs (pah! that's a misnomer for sure). This was the first of the 'stings', steep climbs to the summit of a hill.
As you can see, the black clouds cleared almost as soon as I set off and it was getting warm. The wind was still very strong though and that kept me cool. I was feeling strong and was well prepared and my lack of sleep was forgotten as the wind blew the cobwebs away.
Around the 4 mile mark AntBliss had set up his camera so there are again lots of photos of me (number 10) wearing exactly the same clothes as last year and featuring my gigantic thighs!
The tracks were varied - rutted cart tracks, single tracks through hummocky grass, wide gullys, slippery chalk paths, tracks through woodland with tree roots to trip you up and flint-covered paths (which really hurt your feet after a while).
The views from the top were glorious and expansive and the photos don't really do it justice. It just makes you feel really small and insignificant. I love being in exposed places like that, especially when you're exposed to the elements so I didn't really mind the wind up on the tops - what I didn't like was running up the hills into the wind. Now that was not fun at all and really sapped my strength. Around the 14 mile mark I had a brain burp and wondered what on earth I was doing, slogging up a hill, tripping over hard flints and being blown all over the place. This could have started to eat away at me and I nearly lost my focus but thankfully Mike phoned and that cheered me up. I managed to give myself a pep talk and get back on track.
Around this time several forumites came past and said hello (One Blue Leg, Waccyracer and Hilly Lane Strider). It's always nice to see a friendly face and each of them did really well (OBL took 51 minutes off her time from last year and HLS finished in 7th position)
Around midday the clouds came over and it became noticeably cooler. I was glad of my long-sleeved top. I was now just plugging away at the miles - walking up any really steep hills to conserve energy and then running along the ridges and the downhill sections. Only the seasoned fell-runners tend to run up all the hills in this sort of race.
There were lots of things to look at - horse riders, dog walkers, mountain bikers, families out for a 'Mother's Day' stroll and farmers busy tending the earth. I loved seeing the sea-gulls following the plough.
This processing plant looked so strange, just sitting in the middle of the fields. It looked like a grain plant which would make sense as some of the fields seemed to have winter wheat growing in them.
Then all of a sudden, or so it seemed, I was at 21 miles and I seemed to be well on track to dip below 6 hours. Excellent! I thought. Then came the final 'sting' and boy did it bite! It was a steep, strength-sapping drag made worse by the fact that I was running into the wind and it was really strong. That went on for 2 miles and then as if by magic the track went downhill and through woodland. Phew, that was a relief. Not a very good photo but you get the gist.
I crossed the finish line in 6:05 by my watch so I thought I'd missed getting under 6 hours.........until the results were published, showing that my actual time was 5:38. How could this be, I wondered? Then I realised I hadn't reset my watch and so when I started the timer it just carried on from my last run. DOH! In fact I had knocked a stonking 57 minutes off my time from last year.
There was no medal or tee shirt at the end of the race. Instead I got this little 'shot' glass engraved with a scorpion (get it? Steyning Stinger). They also provided a wonderful breakfast but I didn't stay for it this year as Mike was cooking me a special meal and I didn't want to spoil it.
So, that's the first marathon of the year done and dusted. 4 more to go.