Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Marathon 54 of 60 - the ultra one

Yes, I know it's only 3 days since the last one and my poor feet were still a bit sore from pounding the concrete at Samphire Hoe but I couldn't resist this one. Trail marathons will always be my favourites and although they are by nature rather hilly they just don't mash your legs in the way road marathons do.

So what is an ultra marathon? Technically it is anything longer than the normal marathon distance of 26.2 miles and in this case it was 31 miles (50k). Now other the The Three Forts Challenge, which is just over 27 miles and I have done several times, I haven't done an ultra since my 50th birthday challenge back in 2007 (here & here) but I was quite confident that I'd get round OK (albeit slowly of course!).

The event was held at Groombridge Place near Tunbridge Wells and it was so close to home it would have been rude not to do it. Last time Mike and I visited there we had a wonderful time in the grounds and woods as they had giant swings in the Enchanted Forest and prehistoric creatures peeping out of the undergrowth and giant spiders' webs up in the trees which was the work of Ivan Hicks whose designs are always great fun.

Race HQ was situated close to the entrance with car parking and portaloos nearby. It was jolly cold first thing but soon turned into a glorious day; sunny, but not too hot, with a gentle breeze.

I collected my number and went back to the car to get changed. I'd brought both road shoes and trail shoes but it was obvious that it was a day for trail shoes because the ground was quite wet underfoot.

I thought it was a good idea to have a contact telephone number on our race numbers in case of emergency

Prior to the event I'd looked at the race instructions and they scared the life out of me as the route wasn't all marked and used bits of 3 different waymarked routes. I had visions of getting hopelessly lost and had to steady my nerves with a few glasses of red wine the evening before!

However, the Race Director, Stuart, had produced very detailed written instructions in an A5 booklet which I downloaded and that, coupled with the use of my GPS watch helped keep me on the right track (except for when my GPS shut itself off at mile 25 or thereabouts as the battery was getting low (note to self - investigate a new GPS watch with a long battery life asap!!!). More on that later. You can view the different booklets available in the 'routes' section of the race website. Stuart and team had gone to a lot of trouble to give us runners a fighting chance of staying on the right route for which we were very grateful.

Prior to the start Stuart, himself a speedy ultra-runner, gave instructions and one that made me chuckle was what to do if you wanted to drop out which was something like "man-up and just get on with it!"

The race started just outside the grounds and we were climbing upwards immediately. I usually take loads of photos during my marathons but I restricted them this time as I didn't want to miss the cut-off so most of them were taken on the move as I took walk breaks. Of course I regretted this decision as we passed a brilliant display of scarecrows early on- there was one with a horse and rider colliding with a hedge and I must see if anyone else took a photo of that. 

Aah, thank you Dave:

Ellan gets in on the act

There were several people I knew running it and they were running with Kate who was completing her 100th marathon. Normally I wouldn't be able to stay anywhere near their group as they are much faster than me but they were stopping to take loads of group photos which coupled with the numerous stiles en-route meant that I caught up with them occasionally. They were known as the 'Sahota' or 'party bus' and they had a fun time all the way round.

Kate, complete with balloons, & DavidC who I have to thank (and I really do mean that David!) for making me aware of this fab event.

For the first couple of miles I just followed the crowd without checking the instructions thoroughly until we crossed a bridge and the leaders went straight ahead but I thought we should be bearing right around the edge of the field. I squelched through a boggy section behind them whilst trying to read the instructions. 

Then DavidC realised that we were heading the wrong way and to correct it we had to squelch through an even boggier section. Oh the joys of running 31 miles with squelchy shoes and socks! After that I started to check each section before blindly following the crowd.

The High Weald is an 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty' (AONB) with many ancient routeways and we were following bits of 3 specific routes, the High Weald Landscape Trail, Vanguard Way & Wealdway, which were clearly signposted. When our route varied there were either chalk marks on the road or tape/arrows beside the path. For those of you not familiar with the word, 'weald' it means 'forest' as this whole area was once a vast forest.

We ran across grassy fields….

….fields of stubble….

….up trails where you had to be careful not to lose your footing on loose rocks, whilst in the wooded areas you had to mind your step on the tree roots which of course gets harder when your legs are tired as you don't always lift your feet high enough (or is that just me?!)….

….through scrub….

….with fabulous views across the High Weald….

---I'm the blob at the back running behind a couple of marathon heavyweights (not in bulk!). First we have Dave who was completing his 610th marathon, followed by Gil who is nearly up to his 600th….

….along one of many ridges….

….to see more spectacular views like this….

Then down into another part of the Ashdown Forest which anyone who loves Winnie the Pooh knows is where Pooh and Piglet played Poohsticks.

The famous bridge

I didn't play Poohsticks as it was no fun without Mike there but I was lucky that Philip spotted me and offered to take a photo using my camera for my blog. Thanks Philip!

A mini Pooh playing in a tree nearby

A treasured memory

'Mole End', the perfect name for this lovely house nearby. I wonder how many people have taken this same photo.

More fields to cross and lovely views

Part of the route went alongside the Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club and there's a glorious photo of part of it on Stuart's website. Just scroll down to the 'Route' section.

There were 5 checkpoints that we had to visit to record our number and I managed to stay within view of the party bus until somewhere between 4 & 5.

The party bus continues but I think I lost them shortly after this photo as I stopped to tie my shoe laces and never caught up with them again.

What I haven't mentioned so far are the stiles. Oh my goodness there were so many of them - stepover ones, v-shaped ones you squeezed through, great big high ones you had to scale, wobbly ones, some with nails sticking up and then the much more leg-friendly kissing gates

As I reached mile 25 Mike phoned to see how I was getting on so I took a walk break and had a nice chat which lifted my spirits. Then the GPS on my watch decided it didn't have enough power left and switched itself off and so I had to rely entirely upon the written instructions. I was doing OK until the bit up Fordcombe Lane when I couldn't find the next waymarker and had a moment of panic.

Thankfully Jo caught up with me and between us we worked out where to go. We ran/walked the last few miles and chatted which was nice and crossed the finish line together. As we approached the finish line we got a big cheer from the Sahota crew and he teased me shouting "marathon 54 of 100!" at me as he's trying to convince me to go for 100 marathons so I can join the 100 marathon club (I'm just not sure about that though as I really don't feel worthy of it as I'm such a back-of-pack plodder).

We missed the official cut-off time by 6 minutes to finish in 8:06:30 but that didn't matter as we still got our medal and lovely mug (thanks Stuart):


The mug was put to good use straight away as they were serving coffee. It's such a lovely memento and I probably won't use it again but will display it in my office with my other assorted trophies.

All the 100 club members were gathered around for the presentation to Kate and I stood back and watched but Paul very kindly shouted for me to go and join them (steady on Mr T*****, you were far too sweet that day and could damage your reputation if you carry on like that!!!). He then completely destroyed his reputation for being a hard man when he gave a lovely speech about Kate and how she's turned her life around to achieve such a massive milestone.

We all watched, cameras at the ready

Dee adopted a serious photographer's pose to get the best shots!

Paul invited Janet, who has completed 300+ marathons, to present Kate with her medal and special vest

Do you think she was excited?!!!

The traditional post-vest pose

But there was another presentation for Ellan who completed her 100th marathon several weeks ago if I remember correctly but didn't join the club then. Now she's another legend having completed the Brathay Windermere 10 in 10 (that's 10 marathons in 10 days!) twice and been first lady each time.

Ellan's running vest attracted a lot of attention en-route

Paul was in fine fettle again and presented Ellan with a carton of Yakult (a probiotic dairy product), not for reasons of health but because of her nickname 'Yak' which is how you pronounce the first part of her surname!

She too was presented with 100 club vest but this time it was newly-appointed member Kate who presented it….

 ….whilst Paul struck a pose!

I'm certainly standing next to giants here - I wonder how many marathons they've run between them?!

That certainly was a grand day out. Many thanks to everyone who made it such a lovely day and to Dee, Philip, Dave & Stuart for the photos.

The next morning I felt surprisingly good when I did my traditional post-marathon run of just over 3 miles to stretch my legs out. My next marathon is a hilly route on country lanes in a couple of weeks with Beachy Head (my favourite trail marathon) soon after.

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