Another Saturday, another marathon. Now I didn’t plan to run two marathons so closely together. As I explained in my last post, I was just lucky (or unlucky) to win a place on the Kent Roadrunner Marathon, which meant I found myself once again lining up on a sunny Saturday for the gun to fire at the South Downs Marathon. I’m so glad that I did because the South Downs Marathon is a race with views. And with views comes hills but more of that later.
This is not the first time that I’ve run the South Downs Marathon. In fact, I felt like a comeback kid when I completed the South Downs Marathon shortly after my disastrous attempt at running 26.2 miles across London in 2011. Nevertheless, I could have done with a quick refresh of what is one of my toughest races ever. Here’s a recap of what I did/should have remembered about the South Downs Marathon, which is organised by 209events.com.
1. Did remember: to take a drink
Despite there being drink points along the way (around every five miles or so), I remember being so thankful last time that I’d taken my own water mixed with Zero salts. This time I made sure I had a 500ml bottle of the stuff with me and drank it along the way. Yes, my weedy right arm may not have thanked me the next day but it kept me hydrated throughout what proved to be a very sunny marathon.
2. Did remember: to take my camera
One of my biggest regrets from the last time that I ran the South Downs was that I didn’t have my camera/phone on me. Not only are the views from the top of the notorious Buster hill absolutely stunning but there’s plenty to see on the route including sheep and an Avro airplane. (I sound like such a City girl!). So this time I made sure that I had my iPhone to snap away at those all-important moments.
3. Did remember: endurance over speed
They sold it at the start as a marathon with two big hills -yeah right – the entire South Downs Marathon is a rollercoaster of hills, cambers, rocks and mud. There was no way I’d be going flat out in an attempt for a PB time. Due to the uneven terrain, this was a test of endurance rather than speed and so my aim was simply to finish in a reasonable time.
4. Should have remembered: when to walk and when to run
As I said above, the South Downs Marathon is hilly, which meant quite often I had to choose whether to walk up the hill or run. More often than not, I chose the former and looking back now, I’m not sure whether this was the best decision. Yes, I wanted to take it slow but I don’t think I really pushed it to the max. And if cross-country running teaches you anything, it’s how to try and master those hills. I think that I probably could have nailed a few more hills at a faster pace.
5. Should have remembered: to practice on trails
A trail marathon is a completely different experience to a City marathon. Not only is the terrain uneven underfoot, you also have to account for loose stones, slippery areas and the other runners around you. The tracks of the South Downs Marathon are by no means the mud fest that cross-country running is or Tough Mudder (which was happening at the same time elsewhere in the country) but there were areas where you had to watch where you were pacing. I’m sure that the observational skills needed when trail running improve over time. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet developed mine and I managed to stack it at around the 18-mile mark. I picked myself up soon enough and the cut to my knee and hand looked a whole lot worse than it actually was. Next time, however, I’m going to make sure I take my long weekend runs off-road.
6. Should have remembered: to wear sunscreen
And now I have a runner’s tan, which isn’t too pretty. I did cover my face in SPF 50 but my failure to smoother my body in a decent sun cream means I’m now sporting vest-shaped lines on my back and front. Nice!
7. Should have remembered: the last few miles are always a killer
After the killer hill just before mile 20, I remember saying to a guy who was passing me, “Yay, only 10km to go!” I now want to eat my words as the last few miles were in no shape or form flat. At about mile 21, you’re given a bit of a breather (and shade) as you’re running through a wooded area but after that it’s hills, tarmac and what looks like a country park. The worst part of it all is that you know you’re almost there but just waiting for someone to tell you have only 300m to go. I absolutely loved the race but the uncertainty and the hills at the latter stage of the race can be bewildering to say the least.
I may have not have given the South Downs Marathon my all but I certainly enjoyed it for the views. It’s the kind of race where you can really savour the English countryside and don’t need anything such as music to keep you going. I definitely had a Jerusalem moment when I reached the peak of the South Downs and finished in about 4:09 feeling happy and exhilarated. Oh and I received another medal to add to my haul plus a t-shirt and this amazing goody bag of treats.
Have any of you completed any trail runs? Or do you have any advice to share?