In just a few short years the South Downs Marathon and Marathon Relay have become classics on the Trail Running calendar - which is not surprising when you look at the fantastic scenery on the route.  I am using today as a training run as I have my next ultra in just two weeks' time.   

The start of the race is just outside Chichester at Slindon College where the route heads on out towards the downs then onto off road tracks featuring very steep inclines and descents. Finally the trail reaches the finish further north west at Queen Elizabeth Park. 

07:20: After a very early alarm call at 4:30 and over an hour's drive to the finish line, myself and Andy head for the shuttle bus to the start at Slindon College. Parking is limited at the starting point so this set up works for the organiser 2:09 Events. 

The sun is shining and temps should reach 18C. The wind however is another thing. The finish is deep into the valley, so it has quite a punch, cooling the air.

Runners Ange, Andy, Keith, Joanne and Sue

After a smooth journey of 40 minutes or so, we reach our destination and have a good 45 minutes to kill so we catch up with other Bosh runners Keith and Ange Elshaw and Joanne. This area of the Downs is their running playground, so they know the sections of the route very well. Ange is taking part in the relay, whilst we will all be running the full marathon. 

I am reminded of how scenic the sights will be and I may want to walk some hills as the sharp spike in elevation is impossible to run.

09:30:  We head down the field to the start area, where many colourful runners chat and joke in the morning sun. I have added a tee under my vest but removed the jacket. The wind still has a chill. 

I have decided on my New Balance Minimus shoes for the unfamiliar terrain. The weather has been so dry and this route has chalk and rocks, so I am not brave enough to try out the running sandals. I also have a UltrAspire 16oz handheld which I am carrying for the first time in a race, containing my electrolyte salts. It is light enough with a secure comfortable grip featuring an easy twist spout and fastening strap to adjust the mesh hand grip. 

Miles 1-10 (pace/mile)
7:20 7:31 7:20 9:00 7:24 8:01 7:24 8:30 8:25 7:37

After the sound from the air horn we start by a run around the college field, before heading on out of the grounds and up a lane. Reaching the shady woods, deep into the fields and  then steady uphill. Although a slow climb this is one of many hills to come today. 

Stunning scenery over the Downs

The terrain is dry with hard mud, chalk and limestone below. Already it's tiresome to navigate my steps without toe bashing stones. The sky is bright blue with the sun shining bright. Conditions would be perfect if the wind was lighter and the gusts just blow stronger. 

I hold back with my pacing, using my energy wisely on the climbs, slowing to a jog and power walk where it is really steep. I have already tripped over a tree stump then manage to just catch my fall as I stumble once more. 

Further up, the first relay runners change over in a nearby field and I stop to hydrate with some water. The track leads into a road sandwich by hedges. This hill looks at least a mile straight up! 

After slowing to a plod, I use my hamstring muscles to settle into the climb. Once level I can see the view from 360 degrees around me. It is stunning with rolling hills of yellow and green to be seen for miles.

Miles 11-20
7:52 7:29 7:11 10:00 8:08 9:11 8:04 12:00 7:55 10:22

Another water stop and relay change over. I give a thumbs up to the many supporters and volunteers when passing through the chip mat area. The marshals guide us in the right direction.

I sip my electrolytes and so far am managing okay without any other fuel. Still feeling strong at this point.

Taking a breather to look at the view

Miles 21-27
8:41 8:14 8:46 9:33 8:52 7:46 7:45

The route is flatter and slightly undulating in these sections. Many more trees shade the shingle track. Over styles and then across a road, we head steepily back uphill towards Queen Elizabeth Park. 

I pass picnic areas and families enjoying BBQ's. With just a few miles left to go my feet are tired and sore from the rocky tracks. I still manage to pick up my pace, back through a wood and into the park then back onto the road where we caught the coach. Then it's over and into the field for the final stretch to the finish. 

Perfect setting for the finish

I can see the big blue inflatable finish. I race as fast as my legs will take me to the sound of music and people cheering. I look at the clock and see it is the half marathon time. My watch tells me 3:39:21 when I pass under the finish. 

Steep climbs of over 5,000ft

I come in 35th for my age category and 37th overall from 494 runners.

Another medal, another marathon



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