There is only one word in the race calendar that conjurers up thoughts of chaos and maelstrom and that is 'Gatliff'. Billed as a 50km race, it in my every attempt has never been 50km and has always thrown up the most bizarre conditions of either mud or cold and always far too much water. The route changes every year and the instructions (the race is a self navigate route with no map, based on Bletchley code-breaking instructions that are never as good as LDWA events in terms of ambiguity and randomness) never fail to throw up serious question marks on whether the organisers had purchased crystal meth off Methodist Bank Chairmen. Having said, it is a must in the race calendar and any time inside 9 hours is considered respectable, 8 hours good and anything less, well, that is sterling work on the day!
So I ran this today with my good running buddy Sue, who incidentally ran the first ultra with me in 2008. Fresh off the back of Dublin marathon she was ready for a beasting session. Fresh off the back of Founders and a hangover from the running club quiz night where we came in last place (fix) we set off on a cold but clear Kent morning. There were some very familar faces at the start but also a few notable absences; Ewan D who was nursing an injury, Dave Immune who has traded spikes for bikes and Jezza who was on Winter 100 duties. That being, the first few miles were punctuated only by the need to walk for a while as Sue had some heart palpatations which required looking after. Both of us had partaken in cider and wine related activities on Saturday eve so this was going to be a bimble and a laugh and a chance to catch up and have a good long run. The mud was the talk of the day though. It was thick, gloopy and absolutely everywhere.
CP1 at Holtye was further than the billed 9.6km, without a foot wrong was more than 11.6km which meant that we were outside of Imperial and Metric and on Gatliff measurements. Seemingly exact measurements were way off and seemingly vague were frightfully accurate. We passed a walker at 16 miles where we needed to check the directions as they were not making sense. "I know where I am going as I wrote the damned thing!" He retorted, and I promptly called him a BUGGER! CP1 to 2 was a longer stretch and with a reasonable clip, we manufactured a decent run. That said, it was interspersed by leg-gouging gorse and some very dubious pathways that turned into 'route 1'. There was more stop-starting as we huffed and puffed over the instructions but we were not as misfortunate as some who had gone way way off-piste. Scenery was gorgeous and the new route up over the Ashdown Forest was unforgivingly hilly but with vistas and 'big sky' was awesome.
This was at the top of the Ashdown Forest at 730ft high
Up to CP2 at 'Piglet' car park and a chance to rehydrate and then crack on. The Ashdown Forest is naturally a well drained area so running was quicker but as soon as we got to '100 acre wood' (Pooh fans will be well aware) we were ensconced in thick beastly calf deep mud of the very stick variety. This first 'half' to CP3 was definitely the most challenging. The terrain and mud were really slowing us down, but also giving us the chance to chat to Chris from Croydon and Dave from Brixton who had run 10 marathons in the last 10 weeks. Lively! So the next miles were grinded out and with the mud and hills the CP at Hartfield was very welcome. Sue had the need to take on food and fluid so we made the most of it, but ended staying 23 mins at the hot food CP! It was time to get a move on. We blasted out through mud......more mud......and a bit more....
.....and even more
We were able to get some quality miles in and the second half certainly was quicker than the first. We bumped into Matt Biggin prior to CP4 and ran together for a while. I have a drop in sugar and confidence for miles 27-30 so a little slower to CP5 until I could recuperate with tea, crisps, biscuits and cola bottles. Then it was about blasting the last 9km. We did. During this time we overtook about 20 runners. Speed was of the essence as we wanted to go sub 8. Now sub 8 sounds like a 50 miler and not a 50k, but the conditions and about 200 styles today was not going to be a quick time. Slip-sliding around we blasted out some miles and with the finish in sight, knocked out some awesome miles. 7.50 for the round and well inside the 9.30 that Sue did last year and a really good run. Gatliff is never a race to be underestimated. Marathon #45. Done.