Monday, May 3, 2010

Over the hills and far away

With a weather forecast for torrential rain and winds this year's Three Forts Marathon was never going to be an easy run. Not that it's an easy option anyway as with over 3540ft of climbs it's a test not only of the legs but of mental stamina too. Add to that the fact that I've already the 2 marathons in as many weeks and you get the picture!

When I left home at 7:30am it was drizzling but the further west I drove, the heavier the rain to the point that I got drenched walking from the car to collect my number at the start. The thing is that once you get wet you know you can't get any wetter and just have to get your head down and get on with it.

It was nice to see a good crowd at the start and there seemed to be more people than last time I ran it in 2008. I started right at the back so I could settle into my own pace and not worry about other people. The slopes were going to be treacherous under foot as the combination of rain, slippery chalk and loose flints meant that I really had to concentrate hard so I didn't lose my footing. There really isn't much to say about the run as the scenery was mostly obscured by cloud and rain so I just had to focus and trudge along steadfastly. My legs felt absolutely fine and I had no aches and pains so I was very pleased.

On the way up to Devil's Dyke I passed 12 people so I knew I wasn't last. This part of the course was an out-and-back stretch so I got to see all the faster runners coming down the hill as I plodded upwards. I shouted hello and well done to them and most of them reciprocated which was nice. Trail and Fell runners are a friendly bunch.

It was somewhere close to the halfway point at 14 miles (this marathon is an extra mile coming in at just over 27 miles rather than the usual 26.2) that I lost my concentration momentarily on a downward stretch and found myself falling fowards. I knew instinctively that I'd have to put my hands down to stop my face hitting the ground but I didn't really think about which other bits of me would hit the deck. Then splat, ouch, I was face down in the grit and flint! I thought that the slippery chalky bits would be my downfall, not the flinty, gritty bits.

So I assessed the situation - my gloves were completely shredded and I could see my hands were bleeding, my number had ripped off my jacket and was being blown against a wire fence nearby (I grabbed it before it could escape), there was mud all over my jacket, shorts and my legs and there was some blood on my left knee. Hmmmmm. I looked around but of course I knew there was no-one nearby as the people behind me were at least a mile behind and the next aid station was about 3 miles away.

I cleaned the grit out of my hands as best I could using the water from my bottle (good job I don't use a sports drink!), tied my sopping wet hanky around my left hand which was bleeding the most and had a jolly good cry. I think that if anyone had come along at that point I probably would have given up and pulled out. Thankfully nobody did come along so after a few minutes of self-pity I managed to get my mind back in gear and started off again.

At the next checkpoint I saw some friendly faces including Pete (aka Mr Finknottle from the RW forum) and the marshalls topped up my water bottle and gave me chocolate biscuits to speed me on my way. Sometimes a choccy biccy can really make things seem better! Then I just had to dig deep and churn out the remaining miles. At one point the rain and wind combined made me so cold that I really couldn't feel my fingers and I did get a bit worried as hypothermia can be big problem up on the South Downs in these sort of conditions. I tried wiggling my fingers to no avail so then started to circle my arms around in windmill fashion and shook them to get the circulation going again. Eventually the feeling came back which was a massive relief.

As I approached Chanctonbury Ring the wind was blowing really strongly and a thread of cloud was being forced over the top of the hill ahead of me. It looked as if someone was having a bonfire! When I ran through the cloud I felt the temperature drop even further. Up ahead was what remained of an aid station but it seemed as if most of it had been blown away.

I must say that the marshalls were absolute stars for standing out there for hour after hour in such gruelling conditions as it must have been very cold and miserable for them. Without their dedication we runners wouldn't be able to run our marathons.

The last few miles are a blur really, except for the final 1.5 miles which were all downhill so I thought I'd be able to up the pace a bit.


It may have been downhill but it was so claggy and slippery that I really had to watch my step. I did manage to cross the finish line bang on 6 hours which was the cut-off time and I had a lovely reception from the marshalls. I collected my medal and immediately headed off to the first aid tent to get my hands cleaned up.

The crew of the St John's Ambulance were lovely and they told me that they'd had 15 cases of hypothermia and many more people coming in with assorted cuts from slipping as I had. I headed for home, with both hands dressed in bandage but feeling very proud that I'd managed it and I have to say I am amazed that my legs felt so fresh and strong. I did have my doubts about running 3 marathons on consecutive weekends but it just shows what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.

The next morning the bruises started to appear - this one on my left arm is really quite sore. I have a lump and a friction bruise above my left knee, my tummy and ribs feel bruised as I landed flat on my front (I thought all that fat I carry on my front would have cushioned the impact but apparently not!) and there is grazing under my left knee.

I still feel great though.

Now, what's next?............................................

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