This will be the 2nd year of the Dark Star Ultra (28.2 mile) for Sussex Trail Events. Almost all of the 100 entrants will be running today.

The event is held at the Shoreham Scout Hut on the recreation ground by the River Adur. 

The route, like last year starts along the Downslink footpath, following the river bank, passing through Bramber, Partridge Green then turning back once at 14.1 miles by the disused West Grinstead Railway Station, on the Downslink route. 

Today is my first event this year and at the Dark Star Ultra. 

The weather has been very cold and wet for the first few weeks of 2015, and today is a chilly start, but dry and very calm winds. The heavy rain has held off the past week, but still mud is thick and heavy in places along the river.

Myself, Darren, Steve, Trey, Shawn, Leonie, Nick, Caitlin
Photo courtesy of John Fitzgerald

I park the car and catch up with Treymayne Dill Cowdry on the way into the Shoreham scout hut. He is feeling well and just starting to pick up his training once again after a slight injury. It's always good to see a familiar and friendly face at local events. 

Once inside to bag drop and registration. Numbers are in alphabetical order, so I am number 2. 

I make my way into the main hall and see friends Steve, Tina, John, Nick, Darren, Caitlin and eventually Shawn a little later. 

Steve has bib number 1, which is pretty cool. 

Everyone is in good spirits and seem very at ease and calm, talking running, training and plans for the year ahead...

Ultra runner John Fitzgerald is doing his great supporting role today and saving his legs, since he ran the Country to Capital last week.

Ultra Beards

I catch up with Chris Ette (one of the organisers) about the summer schedule ahead for him and for Sussex Trail Events. I see the lovely Rachel Gee, from Gosport runners (who I met at Spitfire Scramble last summer). She is one of the volunteers today and we catch up for a moment. 

Ultra runner Shawn Timmons, Nick Jones and Steve Amiet

Race brief from Jay, Chris and Danny giving final instructions for the route, conditions and what to look out for. Then we head on downstairs and out to the starting area. 

We will head out over the bridge then pick up the Downslink route on the right side of the River Adur for the first leg.

I wish Trey, Steve, Shawn and Nick the best and will see them out on the course.

A quick countdown then we all head off running down the road to the bridge. I can see Trey tearing off ahead following Paul Sargent who is the one in the lead for now.

Runners at the start

It doesn't take long to settle into a comfortable pace and I stay around an average of 7:45 min/mile, whilst it is flat and smooth. 

No signs of slippy mud as yet. The terrain is still hard in places. It is still very cold and the ground is frosty with ice patches that have yet to thaw... 

The markers lead us off the Downslink Footpath and back along the river bank, following the river up towards the South Downs Way. 

Trey is just a speck in front

After climbing over styles and through gates, following the river bank, eventually we reach Bramber and the bridge at the high street. The front pack of runners have spread out and I can see Trey closer now in the distance. 

We pass a group of supporters by the pub who are cheering and calling out my name. Once closer I see it is volunteer Rachel. 

Shortly after Bramber the winding river takes us to the first check point. A small gazebo tent and refreshments are plentiful here. I just have a cup of water, thanking the team before heading out again.

The further up the river we run and away form the seafront, the air is less brisk and the frost on the ground is much less. The mud is getting softer and the chances of slipping is high....

I really doubt, with all the miles and the ultra races the past six months, that my Brooks Pure-Grit have any decent hold left in them. We shall see...

After 10 miles the river meets the Downslink Footpath and we follow this until heading on the road, briefly through Partridge Green. 

Another aid station is here, then it is over the road and down the track by the bridge. The Downslink uses a disused railway path that is hidden under bridges and trees. Scenic and very flat. 

I start feeling like I can pick up my pace and catch up with Trey. He is looking strong and doing well. He was wondering when I would show up...

Finding my strong

At about 12 miles along the Downslink I can see the first runner heading back towards me. He sprints passed at a lightning pace, followed shortly after by Paul Sargent. The third, then fourth runners are not that much further behind.

I can see the aid station and turnaround point up ahead at West Grinstead Station (disused station). I check my Garmin and see I have run just over 14 miles. 

I see Danny the race director and chat for a moment whilst drinking some water. I take one of my S!Cap salt capsules before thanking everyone and heading back the way I came.

I counted about 8 runners ahead of me...

Trey is in tow, just behind me and keeps up the pace. We are going a steady 7:15min/mile at the moment. 

I spot Caitlin as she approaches, looking very fresh and strong, then soon after I see Darren. 

Few miles down the track I see Shawn looking good and enjoying himself. Steve comes by and we high five each other. He looks slightly worn. I hope he is ok.

Once back at Partridge Green aid station,  16.5 miles in I see Rachel again shouting lots of kind words. Nick is here having refreshments and Chris Ette checks how I am and if I need anything...

I just have water and am feeling good enough without the need of any fuel yet. The bulletproof coffee and MCT oil is still keeping me in a fat burning state.

I thank the team and head back along the Downslink. The turning for the river bank comes by soon enough and is far more muddy now all the runners have been hurdling up here...

The other side of the river is more muddy
(photo Nick Jones)

My usual 7:15-7:35min/mile pace has dropped to a plod and an average of about 9:00min/mile.

Within just a mile my legs and ankles start to fatigue quickly and I can feel every strain on my muscles as if gravity has doubled. I slip and slide and have great difficulty in keeping my balance. 

I run along the thick grass where possible to remove some of the heavy mud that is clumping to my feet...

After 3hrs into the route I have reached 22.5 miles and have just under 6 miles to go. Which is not so far, but it is when your body and legs are getting tired and mud is really slowing down...

At Bramber bridge I slip and catch myself on some branches, I laugh to myself how hideous this must look. 

New trail grippy shoes are definitely required now...

Just as I cross the road over the bridge, Trey catches up with me and seems to be holding his balance far better than I can.. He is having a good race and feels good looking strong. He soon passes and soon is just a small speck in the distance. 

Feeling worn for the last 8 miles

I take sips of my Olive oil I carry and another S!Cap. In the hope it may help give me some more kick...

I usually have a sugar trickle at this stage into a long run, a jelly baby or wine gum would do, but at the aid station I completely forget to look for any and just have some water. 

Barefoot runner Mark is here supporting the runners coming in. He gave up wearing his trainers so is standing in the mud barefoot. We chat briefly and comment how well Caitlin is doing for her first ultra race. She is catching up behind me fast...

I thank Mark and head on down the muddy bank to try and pick up my pace some more.

26.2 Miles... 
The marathon distance reached and just two more to go, until reaching the finish back at the scout hut. 

This side of the river bank is far more technical underfoot. Lumpy grass, pot holes, plenty of mud and uneven pavement slabs is pretty much enough my tired legs can take whilst skidding all over the place. 

It doesn't help that I have slight indigestion and feels like a stitch is starting. I try to think what I eat before I left home. The only difference was a teaspoon of MCT oil with my Bulletproof coffee. I have found if I haven't had a dose in a while it can sometimes give stomach distress. Which is a shame as the energy it provides is always so good when running.....

Noted for next time to just use my regular pre-race fuel of coffee with coconut oil and butter...

Just as I approach the old wooden bridge, feeling strained and ready to get to the finish, I can hear cheering and see a few supporters jumping and clapping ahead of me. This must be the last aid station as the race notes listed a final stop right towards the last few miles... 

Once closer I recognise local running friend Stella supporting and shouting from the top of her lungs..... in true Bosh style.

I thank her when passing and thumbs up the best I can but must look so worn out by now! 

It's not an aid station as I thought it was and the route is signed back across the river bank, heading closer towards the finish.

28.2 Miles
For what feels like forever, then eventually I see the sussex trail flags of the finish and the playground by the scout hut. I can see supporters and then John, Tina and Steve cheering me into the finish...

After 3:57:25 I come in 7th position overall. 

Not my best trail time especially for a flat route, but with the very muddy conditions it made it an excellent training run for the first event of 2015.

I have learnt plenty from running this today. 

Sadly Steve didn't make it and called it a day after 17 miles. He knee has been playing up again. 

Soon enough Caitlin comes along to finish as the first lady in...

Later with some hot veggie chilli I catch up with Treymayne, who came in 6th today. 

I can't hang around for long as I have to go to work the late shift. So sadly do not get to see Darren, Shawn and Nick come into the finish later on. 

Compression tights remain on underneath my uniform! 

7th Place 3:57:25

Ultra Luke

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