It's easy to forget with all our foreign adventures to deserts, mountains and Greek industrial sites that the UK can offer some pretty spectacular eye candy for the trail runner. The Dorking area and the North Downs way offers some amazing scenery and is used for lots and lots of runs throughout the year. Add to that the kind of race organisation that Dr Robert and his team are famous for, and the most beautifully cool, dry and cloudless autumn day and you know you are in for a treat.
I did the Greensands marathon last year and loved it even though I found it hard. Harder than I'd normally find such things. It was 4 weeks after the Spartathlon and I had done Beachy Head marathon the day before. I was a mess and realised that I had rushed back into it too soon. Though I struggled I really did enjoy the race and it was deservedly given the award of "best new race in the UK" by runners world. I was really looking forward to this, only 3 weeks after the Spartathlon this time though I had not run a marathon the day before.
It started with a disappointment. I am always pleased when the numbers are given out alphabetically as I get to sport the number 1 and pretend that I am any good at this kind of thing. Every now and then some bastard called Aaron A Aardvarkson gets in there and reduces me to number 2 "Yeah - You look like a number 2". However it appears that this time I was beaten unfairly, like I was in the ONER by TIM Adams. What version of the alphabet were they working on? Anyhoo, I knew better than to let such heartbreaks get to me. I knew that I had to rise back up from this crippling set back and show the world that I can stare in the face of adversity and triumph. Only by focusing on the prospect of a great run could I break out of my hazy torpor and back out through the violent maelstrom of negative feeling of such a blatent disregard for alphabetic harmony. Or perhaps I could just trip Tim up?
There seemed to be twice as many starters this year, about 200. We all sang/shouted/snorted/butchered Jerusalem before the start of the race. I'd like to think that the race director does this to help expand our lungs and prepare us for what is up ahead. I suspect that his real motivation is to make us all look and sound like a bunch of tits. As with all of his races it starts with a ridiculous uphill where you are forced to run because it's at the start and you'd look like an idiot if you walked. Up a big grassy hill then into the woods, out of breath after 800m but ready for a great few hours.
I ran most of this with Dan De Belder who was without walking poles this time. Both of us are more than happy to walk up a hill but there is an unwritten rule in this kind of thing, you can't be the first to do it. There were some challenging inclines and we ran slowly up them, in parts slower than if we'd actually walked but because there were people around and they were still all running we knew we could not possibly buck the trend. There is an unwritten rule in hill running where you can't be the first in a group of people to start walking. Either wait for someone else to start walking or wait till you can't been seen. I continued to wheeze up the hills like a fat asthmatic.
I was really using this as a test to see how much I am over the Spartathlon. I knew I was still feeling it but doing a run like this let me find out what still hurts and how much. If this were another time of the year I'd like to give it a proper blast. It is amazing to run on, the variety of surfaces is great. Mostly very hard trail with some of that lovely pine needle covered track that feels like running on carpet. There is even some sand, and just a few miles of road. It had not rained of a few days so the course was perfect. There were marshalls at all the tricky points such that I only went the wrong way once.
My legs were sore quite early on and felt sapped of energy for the second half but this is the kind of race that you can enjoy even if you walked it. It's an out and back of 13 miles which is great because you see all the runners ahead of you and then all those behind. I tried to take lots of photos along the way and they describe the race better than I can in words. I managed to get reasonable photos of the 10 or so Serpies who were running, most of them enjoying it.
Boring notes for self (do not read) - I felt quite tight throughout the race, in my groin and achillies as usual. This does not usually bother me as I know that it will all loosen up after about 30 miles, but I didn't have that luxury here. Around half way both my knees felt the runners knee soreness that ended up crippling me in the Highland Fling and nearly throwing my year out but they calmed down later on. I think I am getting over the runners knee and Roberto seems to be working his magic with his torture tool. By the end I just lacked energy which is fairly normal as I had not eaten anything during the race.
The marshalls like to have fun with you here, telling you that it is all down hill from here. Apart from the dozen or so hills that I remembered. Every time I do a run like this I end up chatting to someone who says this is their first marathon. I don't know if they would ever do a road marathon but I can only imagine the let down if they did after doing something like this.
I had no time pressure this year like I did last time. Last year I had to finish under 5 hours to catch a plane to Dublin to run their marathon the next day. I ended up being quite relaxed throughout and finishing in 4.27, a little bit quicker than last year. After the race we got a really nice long sleeve top with all our names on the back (mine 2nd on the list but I am so over that). Thrown into the entry fee (which is quite high but really worth it) is a fried breakfast (yes at around 3pm) and a swim in the school pool. Gemma, James, Ian, Lucy and I had a great game of water polo basketball in between crippling bouts of cramp. Note to self not to attempt deep water swimming after running a marathon.
And that's it really. Really nice marathon, definitely one to do next year and so far so good with the Spartathlon recovery. Nothing more now for 3 weeks, unless you count those silly little 8k things.