It was with some trepidation that I went to bed on Saturday evening knowing that my last 2 ultras resulted in a resounding brace of DNFs. I didn't sleep well that evening and woke up less refreshed than I should have. This time I would have my two Dulwich Park Runners training partners Phil and Eric with me. What surprised me is that in all of the time I have run with Eric, we have never run a marathon together. Today was going to be the day that I addressed the small dip in my journey to running Nirvana.
We shot off down to Wadhurst in good time to opt for an early start. I knew the runners start was 10.00am but the excellent organisers of the Kent LDWA event were happy to allow runners to go off early with one eye on the scorching 31 degrees of baking sunshine later that day. At just before 9.00am i checked the temperature and it was already 22 degrees.
Phil had just come back from an excellent run at the Coniston Marathon in the Lake District and although his form has really improved this season, was tired as a consequence of this from our 11 mile run back from Tower Bridge on Thursday. Coupled with this, my 48 miles in the week had me concerned that there was not much in the tank for me, although this was a training run and I wanted to run on heavy legs. We set off at 9.00am along with another runner who we quickly dropped. Down hill out of Wadhurst and into some fairly awesome scenery that I have never had the pleasure of running before. What was even better was I was running with two amazing friends and we were going to blast this course and enjoy ourselves whilst doing so. We headed down into the first of many valleys and into wooded trails. Beautiful.
The course notes for this LDWA were very detailed. The first 13 miles of the course were very technical. There was a point where 3 paragraphs covered just over a mile. There was a lot of stopping, checking, stopping and rechecking. This made for very good sight-seeing but not conducive to a quick marathon. We soon realised that this was essentially an in-and-out-of-valley run with a myriad of streams punctuated by downhill and uphill running. Then we spotted deer, bathing in a lake like some scene from the Masai. 5.5 miles in the first hour led to a cheery welcome at CP1. Biscuits, grapes and juice on offer to replenish hot sweaty runners. Off after just a couple of minutes to perhaps the harder part of the course. The hills were never more than 200ft but they went on, up, down, up, down. Much of the course was overgrown and thighs and knees were punctuated with pinpricks of blood from brambles and smarting from stinging nettles. Each field traverse was through long grass and rutted pathways and a plethora of styles, gates and narrow ginnels slowed us down but rarely dampened our spirits. No more so than a cameo 6.50s down a winding gully by Eric and me. This was the first time I thought that Phil was a bit down.
CP2 was found at 12 miles and in shade with crisps, fruit and biscuits, we refueled before heading down a road stretch. it was nice to switch off the instructions for a moment. Phil had been unusually quiet and within 20 mins, said that he was going to pull at the next CP and take the road back to Wadhurst. We regrouped, slowed our pace and kept the banter high enough to keep spirits up. The course was opening up into fields and the heat beat down upon us. Arriving at CP3, Phil eyed the OS map and plotted a course back. We joined David, who had also DNF'd at the SDW100 last month. He overtook us as we piled into a shop in Mayfield to take on the fastest drained cans of Coke in Kent. We caught up and ran with him for 2 miles, chit-chatting about ultras and enjoying the scenery. Phil and David peeled off and headed for home. Eric and I headed down a dark gully and for about 4 miles, were buzzing along at the best pace of the day. CP4 was just awesome and very needed. Cheery welcome, cherry tomatoes, crisps, coke and cake washed down with a cold wash and a hat full of water to cool now dangerously hot core temperatures and we pootled off for the last 5 miles.
I traveled light for this. Silly me. I'd been map-man for the first 25 miles and then I made 2 mistakes that added just about 2 miles onto our day. Both were in the final 3 paragraphs of the instructions. Both were my fault. I was annoyed with myself as I am the most reliable map/directions person that I know. When I listen to others, things go wrong but rarely do I go wrong. (non-believers now need to read my blog from cover to cover!) " mistakes, one up a hill and the other missing a turn 3/4 of a mile around Bewl Water and I felt like the wind had left my sails. Run-walking the last 2 until we realised that the time was ticking towards 6, yes 6 hours we blasted the last mile uphill to the finish. 5 hours 58 mins. The slowest but hardest marathon I have done in a long time. We met Phil and quaffed a much needed cider at the end. No one overtook us save for the couple who were running the 20 and beat us with our wrong turn at the end. I wonder how we finished in the field after many runners switching to the shorter distance owing to the heat?
The gauge on the car read 33 degrees when we returned. Cider rarely tasted so good.