Marathon 2 of 13 – The Three Forts Challenge

It’s 0700 on Sunday 30th April and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for the Three Forts Challenge.

Those of you who regularly read my blog will already know, I was a bit nervous about this marathon.  The Three Forts Challenge has the tagline of “the tough one”, and this is for good reason.  With over 1000m of elevation over the marathon distance, this was going to be very hilly.  Run amongst the beautiful South Downs, whilst being tough this marathon also had the added bonus of having a cut off time of 6 hours.  Bearing in mind it takes me 5 hours to run a totally flat marathon, I was very concerned I would not make it through the course within the 6 hour time window.

Now the best advice is to always prepare your gear the night before a race and I would strongly recommend that anybody follow this advice.  In my case though, I never ever do, so was scrambling around trying to find all the gear I wanted to take with me.  Having eventually located it all and scoffed down a bowl of porridge, I bid a fond adieu to my wife and kids and headed off to Worthing, where the race would start.

Arriving at the race car park I was faced with the usual group of fellow runners.  All whippet thin, with legs like gnarled tree trunks, my nerves were getting worse not better. I found a space on the grass to sit down and started to organise my race pack.

I was trying something new for this race.  Having had a recommendation from an old golfing buddy turned ultra-runner, I was trying out Tailwind.  You simply add a sachet of tailwind to your water bottle and there is no need to take on any additional food or electrolytes on your run.  No gels, no sandwiches (a personal favourite of mine), no jelly babies.  Nothing.  Having used it on one training run with great success, I was keen to see what it could do during a long race.

Having sorted out my pack, I started upon my pre-race warm up routine when Bushy and Marie showed up.  I knew they were coming to support me and it was great to see them.  Both were very encouraging and said they had ultimate faith in me getting through the race before the 6 hour cut off.  There were going to drive around the course and meet me at various points.  It was brilliant to have some support along.  Especially brilliant that it was Bushy, who was at my side for the vast majority of my Ironman race and without him I would never have finished it.  Shame he was just at the sidelines rather than running with me, but he is joining me later in my 13 in 12 journey for the Midnight Man Marathon, so will look forward to running with him then.

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After a few pre-race photos, it was time for the off.  With the local town crier announcing the start of the race, we were away.  I started a the back (as is my custom), and received hearty cheers from the crowd as we made our way out of the playing field and immediately started to climb up a wide dirt track.  The first climb of the race took us to Cissbury Ring, one of the three Iron Age forts the Three Forts Challenge is named for.  I felt my usual nerves at the start of the race, but quickly calmed down and concentrated on not tripping over as we made our way up single track alongside Hill Barn and Worthing golf courses.  I have played both golf courses, and couldn’t help but think that perhaps I would be better with my 5 iron than my running shoes.  Too late though, the race was on.

As the route continued to climb it opened out a bit, allowing the pack to spread out.  Due to the undulating nature of the route, you could often see way into the distance and I was impressed to see runners already way ahead of me, despite being going only about 20 minutes.  Just before the 5k mark we found ourselves on the top of the first hill next to Cissbury Ring.  There is no fort there, just a circle of trees where the fort used to be, but it was cool to think of an ancient fort being there and I found my mind tracking back to what it must of been like 100’s of years ago.  No road, no power lines, no fences.  Just rolling hillside and probably a lot more trees.

Turning away from Cissbury, we were treated to a beautiful view of Lancing College, with its gothic architecture.  I have always loved how Lancing College looks, but had never seen it from this vantage point.

Lancing College – not taken from the run route!

The course then made its way down into the valley of the River Adur.  This was the first point that Bushy and Marie were going to meet up with me and I knew it was at the 7 mile marker.  To be on track for finishing in less than 6 hours, I would need to be at this point no more than 1hr 30 mins from race start.  Amazingly, as I jogged towards the aide station after the river crossing, I was only at 1hr 5 mins of race time.  25 minutes ahead of schedule.

At the 7 mile marker

Emptying a package of Tailwind into my water bottle and filling it up from the aide station, I exchanged a few words with Bushy and Marie about how good I was feeling and how much I was enjoying the race and then I was off.  Bushy kindly pointed out to me “the hill is that way”, gesturing towards the next challenge, the climb up to Devils Dyke.

I genuinely felt great at this point.  I was consuming 500ml of water with Tailwind in it per hour and was bang on this schedule.  I had died not to look at my heart rate whilst running this race and just run “on feel”.  This is something that Tufty (triathlon coach who I owe a lot of my Ironman success to) had encouraged me to do on occasion.  Don’t be slave to the gadgets, just run based on feel.  If you feel good, keep going.  If it gets tough, slow down a bit.  Just keep going.  I had been following this mantra and the race was unfolding nicely.  That being said it was a long way to go still.  The Three Forts Challenge is actually 1 mile longer than a normal marathon (27.2 miles rather than 26.2) so at the 7 mile marker I was only 1/4 distance into the race.

Making my way across a main road I was then on a steep single track towards Devils Dyke.  Walking up this single track, it flattened out a bit into a field which then turned into a road.  This road was fairly steep and most people around me were walking up it.  I fell into step; however I felt good, so almost immediately decided to run.  Starting running, I was overtaking a few people.  This hill was relentless, going on and on and on and on, but I kept running and kept on overtaking others.  I really was feeling strong.  Far stronger than I expected to.   I kept on sipping at my Tailwind and just kept on running.  We then reached an undulating section, where I was confronted with a runner coming the other way.  This was the race leader, who had already reached Devils Dyke (the race turning point) and was on his way back.  I made mental note that this was after 1hr 40 minutes of running.  I wanted to see what time it would be when I was at the same race point on the way back.

After the undulating section there was more climbing across fields where I managed to keep on running and quickly found myself at the turn around point, where once again, Bushy and Marie were waiting.  They both commented about how good I looked.  I must admit I felt great.  No need to get anything from the aide station (due to the Tailwind) so I had a quick cup of water from a very friendly race marshall, bid Bushy and Marie farewell and was back off the way I had come.

Devils Dyke turnaround point

I knew that Bushy and Marie would make their way back to the River Adur aide station to see me again, so I decided to try and beat them back.  Other than the undulating big, it was almost entirely downhill and I wanted to try and run hard down this section.  Making my way back towards the downhill, I noted the point where I had seen the first placed runner and I was 40 minutes behind him.  “Not bad”, I thought to myself, though tis was less than halfway.  Reaching the downhill I picked up my run pace and flew down the hill, again overtaking many fellow runners.

Picking my way down the final section of single track, my quads were on fire from running downhill for so long, but as I got to the aide station I was very happy to see I had beaten Bushy and Marie there.  They had probably been for a coffee and a bacon sandwich in that period of time, so there was no real victory, but I had been quicker than they expected me to be which I was pleased about.

At this point in the race the route does not follow the same route we had run out, and diverts off into unknown territory.  Finding yet more rolling hills, I once again was overtaking people on the uphill.  Approaching 3 hours of running, I still felt great and was beyond the half way point.  I decided to give Cat a ring at this point just to say hello and let her know I was getting on OK.  I phoned her at the 26km point.  I had been running for 3 hours at this point and had 18km to go.  It was great to chat with her and she was delighted to hear that I was getting on well.  After a quick chat, it was back on with the running.

Climbing again, at around the 28km mark my hip flexors started to really hurt me.  This is common on my long runs and I knew I just had to keep going and it would hopefully pass.  There were very few runners around me at this point.  The race had really spread out and I seemed to be mostly on my own as I wound my way uphill, past a pig farm and onto yet more rolling Sussex hills.  The route of the race is simply beautiful.  I am lucky enough to have been brought up and lived the majority of my life close to the South Downs.  Despite this, I am consistently overwhelmed by their beauty, and today was no different.

During this point in the race I was reflecting back to some chats I had had with other runners earlier on.  People had noticed my Chestnut Tree House vest and asked me if I was fundraising for them.  I mention my 13 in 12 challenge, which was met by all who had asked me with equal praise and admiration.  To all of you who may be reading this who chatted with me about my fundraising, it was great to get your support out on the course and lovely to meet you.

The race climbed on and on up to Chanctonbury, the final of the three Iron Age forts and the highest point I the race.  Reaching this was a great milestone and forcing myself to keep going had meant that I had pushed through my hip flexor pain and was once again feeling strong.  I had kept up the regiment of Tailwind (one sachet in 500ml of water per hour) and I must admit that it seemed to be working an absolute charm.  Having reached the top of Chanctonbury, it was downhill for a while, then we had to climb once again up to Cissbury Ring before dropping back dow to the finish.

At the 4 hour mark it had started to rain a bit.  I didn’t mind.  The fresh rain had that amazing smell that you get when it first starts raining.  It wasn’t raining hard and I was enjoying the run so it took nothing away from the experience.  Reaching the low point before the climb back to Cissbury, I was making my way along a farm side track where I saw Bushy and Marie huddling under an umbrella.  This was totally unexpected as I thought I would see them again at the the finish.  I stopped for a quick chat.  As you can see from the photo, I look a bit the worse for wear, though I felt great.  Hip Flexors were playing up a bit, but otherwise I was in very good spirits.


Saying goodbye to Bushy and Marie for the final time before the finish, I knew that I had only 8km to go.  Once final climb and then it was mostly downhill to the finish.  The climb up to Cissbury was steep and as usual I was walking it.  It started to level off a bit and I started to run.  My legs felt good.  I was passing other runners again.  This never happens to me, and especially not after being on my feet for over 4 hours.  “This Tailwind really is magic stuff”, I was thinking to myself as I rounded the back of Cissbury and knew I had about 4-5km to go.

Unbelievably, I decided to run hard for this final stretch.  My body felt willing and I had a chance of coming in at around the 5 hour mark which would be brilliant.

Running through the final undulating sections I eventually found myself on the single track past the golf courses towards the finish.  Due to being within 2km of home, there were other runners around me who were also pushing themselves.  I kicked hard and managed to pull away from them.  All of them.  I was flying as I went down the final hill, turned into the playing fields and crossed the line.

5hours and 5 minutes according to my watch.  Far beyond my wildest expectations and also only 3 minutes off a marathon PB (set on a totally flat Brighton Marathon course).  Hang on a minute.  The Three Forts Challenge is 1 mile longer than a normal marathon.  Looking back at the data from my running watch, I was through the marathon distance in 4hrs 55 minutes.  So that is officially a marathon personal best on a super hilly course. I will take that any day of the week.

Finding Bushy and Marie straight after the race, I was simply delighted with my run.  I loved every second of the Three Forts Challenge.  The Tailwind I used for nutrition was excellent.  The course was superb, all the marshals and volunteers were outstanding.  My fellow competitors were friendly and supportive.  All in all a brilliant event in simply stunning surroundings.  I will definitely be running this one again.

5hours and 5 mins of effort and I am done – and very happy.

One final thought from me before I sign off this blog post.  For the first time ever, the first time in my life, I finally feel like a proper runner.  I was able to enjoy and entire race.  I got my nutrition right, my hydration right, my gear right and as a result I loved every second of this race.  It may seem strange to some, but I had never thought of myself as a decent runner before this race.

There may be a bit more at play than this, and I am indebted to a college at work and his NLP (Neuro-Lingustic Programming) skills, but I will leave this for another blog post.

So I will sign off here.  One very happy runner.




Marathon number 2 of 13 is in a few days time, and I am having a PANIC!

On Sunday 30th April I am running the Three Forts Challenge, a 27.2 mile off road marathon.  The second of the thirteen marathons I have planned over the next twelve months.  This is going to be a hilly one people!

3 forts ascent profile

From the title of this blog post, you would be right in thinking that I am a bit nervous about this race.  This assumption would be perfectly valid.  In fact, I had an anxiety dream about not finishing the race last night.

This is not due to the distance, or due to the hills. It is due to the cut off time.  I did not check this when I booked; however upon reviewing the race website over the weekend I noticed that the race must be completed in 6 hours.  That is 27.2 miles (or 43.5km) of tough hilly off road racing in 6 hours.  Bearing in mind that it took me over 5 hours to complete the totally flat Brighton Marathon just 3 weeks ago, and you can start to see why I am feeling nervous.

Over the weekend I met up with my friend Tom, who is running the Race to the King (my 53 mile June Ultra-marathon) with me.  We went out for a 3 hour run on the South Downs, starting and ending in Amberley.  The terrain is extremely similar to what I will face at the marathon.   The Three Forts Challenge has 1050 metres of elevation spread across the race distance.  On Sunday, we covered 22.7km in 3 hours, with 554m of elevation.


Using simple mathematics (thank you Mr Hyden and GCSE Maths), we can work out that if I match the exact same pace I managed on Sunday at the Three Forts Challenge in 6 days time, I will cover 45.4 km in 6 hours (allowing for 1108 metres elevation).

So the race itself  is 43.5km in 6 hours with 1050 metres of elevation, and I am theoretically capable of 45.4km in 6 hours with 1108 elevation.  Easy, right?  Nothing to worry about.  I will be back with plenty of time to spare (well at least 10 minutes).

Except sadly there is plenty to worry about.  I will need to stop at aide stations and get water and perhaps some food.  Though this will not take long, it will eat into my time.  As will the inevitability that I will not be able to maintain the same pace I would run for 3 hours over 6 hours.  This is twice the distance, twice the hills and twice the time on my feet.  Alas, I am more confident of returning from the race on Sunday with a DNF (Did Not Finish), than a medal.

This will mean two things.  One, I will need to fit in another marathon over the next 12 months to make sure I hit my challenge of 13 marathons in 12 months.  Two, the realisation of how far away I am from being able to run 53 miles non-stop (on the exact same type of terrain), will hit me like a tonne of bricks.

That’s it for this blog post.  Very cheery I am sure you will agree.  I am going to finish my glass of wine, watch a bit of TV and then go to bed.  Perhaps overnight I will metamorphosize into Scott Jurek, or Charlie Engle, or one of my other ultra-running heroes?  Or perhaps I will turn into somebody who simply doesn’t bite off more than he can chew and knows his limits.

Whilst both of these outcomes is equally unlikely as the other one, what I do know is that the human body is capable of some remarkable things when it is pushed.  The Three Forts Challenge will push me, probably right to the edge, but one thing is for certain.  If I don’t make the 6 hour cut off time, it will not be through a lack of effort!




QE Spring Half Marathon – race report

It is 6.30am on Sunday 26th March and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for the QE Spring Half Marathon, run by Second Wind Running.

Well I say my alarm has just gone off.  This is not entirely accurate.  I have a 4 year old who gets up at somewhere between 6am and 6.30am every day, so no need for an alarm really 🙂

I was looking forward to this race.  Despite my training going nowhere near to plan due to injury and illness, I was feeling fairly fit and this hilly half marathon is a preparation run for Brighton Marathon in a few weeks time.  No need to try and rush round, just turn up, complete the race uninjured and move on.

This race had been entered due to my friends Mike and Neil both signing up and persuading me to do so.  Since then, they have both had to withdraw from the race due to injury, leaving me to it.  No real drama, as they both run WAY faster than I do so would only have seen them at the start, and then again at the end.  They would have been looking all lithe and fit and well rested as I hauled myself over the line hours after they have finished.  So really a blessing in disguise I was going on my own, as I wouldn’t have to suffer that.  🙂

Queen Elizabeth (QE) Country Park is just up the road from where I live in Portsmouth.  Nestled along the absolutely stunning South Downs Way, QE allows access to miles of mountain bike and running tracks, and is just about as nicer place as you could ever want to run.  All except for one minor point.  It is hilly.  Very hilly!

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One of the stunning views on the South Downs Way

Now I am not somebody who balks at hills.  In fact I quite enjoy a hill.  Those that are too steep for me to run up I simply walk up, meaning I get a well earned rest and can then fly down he other side of the hill like a mountain goat running away from a snow leopard.  At least that is the idea anyway.  Plus my ultra marathon that I have booked in June is along the South Downs Way, which means that any hill practice I get in now will hold me in good stead for that race.

Arriving at race HQ at around 9.15am for a 10.15am race start, I quickly registered and set about the tedious business of trying to pin my race number onto my vest.  Luckily, I had the ever cheerful Dave Ludlam to talk to.  Dave is a fellow member of Portsmouth Triathletes, and also a fellow blogger.  His blog is well worth a read if you fancy it.  You can find it here.  I always enjoy talking to Dave and we were discussing his race schedule for this year, my race schedule and various other bits and bobs as I got prepared for the race.

Soon enough the race brief was upon us and we filed over to the race start.  I had never run this race before, so didn’t know what to expect (other than hills), so the plan was to start slow and see how I got on.  This plan worked perfectly, as soon after the start Dave and others were powering up the first switch-back style hill, as I slowly trundled along towards the back.

Once we submitted the first hill we were in the woods at QE, winding through well worn paths and out away from the park.  The run was essentially either uphill, or downhill with very few flat sections.  I was concentrating on just keeping it steady.  Not worrying about the pace on my watch, just nice and steady.

After a few kilometres I caught up with Dave.  We had a brief chat on how we were getting on before getting to yet another uphill, where I slowly moved away from him.  I was feeling good at this point in the race and wanted to maintain a nice solid pace.  On we climbed through another switchback and out into the sunshine at the top of the hill.

2017-03-26 09.19.00
There are worse race carparks around!

The scenery around QE park, the Downs and the Meon Valley is simply stunning.  On a warm morning in March there is nowhere better.  Each turn presented another stunning view and I felt very privileged to be able to run in such a beautiful place.  As we continued onwards I glanced down at my GPS watch, which seemed to be stuck, saying I had only run 2.79km.  Oh well, I wasn’t planning on using it much anyway, so would just keep going.

Soon we were through the first aide station (at the 4.5 mile mark), manned by some cheerful volunteers.  I was running with my race pack on (that I will use for all my marathons this year) so had water with me.  There was no need to top up the bottle, so I just kept going.  We were running through some great single track at this point and I had settled in with a group of runners who all seemed a similar speed to me.  There was pink top lady, green jacket man and another lady with some very colourful trousers on.  We would all take turns overtaking each other, but essentially seemed locked together.  It is funny how this tends to happen in races.  I never plan to stick with certain people, it just seems to naturally occur.

As the race wound on and I was feeling good.  After 1 hour of running I had no idea how far I had gone (cause of the watch), but I felt really strong.  The sun was beating down on me, but my legs felt great, my breathing was easy and I was running well.

Onwards and onwards, uphill then down again, I continued.  At the second aide station (at the 9 mile mark) I stopped to top up my water bottle.  It was really quite hot and my water consumption rate had risen.  Luckily, I had run enough races to tell when I needed to drink more and had adapted my water intake accordingly.  I had also taken a couple of energy gels by now to keep the energy levels topped up.  These are great but sometimes give me a bit of a stomach ache.  This would prove to be the case shortly.

As I approached around 2 hours of running I started to flag.  We were out in the open.  The wind was blowing and the sun was strong.  I was running out of beans.  Hardly surprising on the amount of training I had done, but never the less it was a problem.  I decided to take my final energy gel, even through I had taken the previous one only 20 minutes before.  Usually I have to leave it at least 30-40 minutes or I am guaranteed stomach ache; however this was not a luxury I had. I needed the energy boost.  No sooner had I taken it than I got stomach cramp.  I knew this would happen, so just kept on running.  Concentrating on my breathing I got the cramp to pass, lifted my head up and got on with the race.

Shortly after this I was overtaken by a very fast runner.  He was running the full marathon distance, which was two laps of the same course I was completing one lap of.  Bearing in mind I had only been going for 2 hours, he was on for a very fast marathon time, as I couldn’t of been that far from the finish at this point.  Impressive running indeed.

Making it back into the woods I recognised where we were.  I often run the Parkrun at QE and we were at the bottom of the biggest hill that the Parkrun runs down.  Turning right to head up that hill, I knew what a beast it was.  The pink top lady from before was still with me, and she took the lead up the hill.  We both had to walk in places.  Boy was it steep.  About half way up I gritted my teeth and decided I would just run.  I knew how far we had to go to the top of th hill (about 150 metres), and knew once I was at the top there wouldn’t be much more of the course left.  Powering up the hill, I left pink top lady behind.  I was breathing heavily, but summited the hill without stopping.

Turning left, I knew I was on the final descent to the race finish.  Picking up the pace on the downhill section I felt great.  I was going to finish in less than 2hrs and 30 mins (which was my target).  Not only that, I had run a good race.  My hydration was good, my nutrition plan mostly worked and I had not got injured.
Down the final hill and across the line I was done.  2hrs and 22 minutes.  Not bad.  Most encouraging was that after the race results came out I finished 103rd out of 198 runners.  No more finishing last for me.  Perhaps I might make a go of this running thing after all.




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Happily finished wth my bunny medal

Training with a cold – what are my options?

So I have a cold.  I’m a bit achey.  My nose if running like mad. I am sneezing a bit.  My throat hurts.  It isn’t life threatening.  It is not “man flu”.  It’s just a cold.

“WHO CARES” I can hear you shouting at your screens before promptly closing down my blog and going back to Facebook.  Well please stick with me readers, I do have a point.

You don’t need to spend a huge amount of time on Google before you discover that there is a wealth of information out there on exercising with a cold, and nobody can really make up their mind if it is a good idea or not.  Most say “listen to your body”.  Well if I listened to my body all the time I would be lying on the sofa eating Doritos.  I’m not sure my body knows what it’s on about sometimes.


So if I am not going to listen to my body, what am I going to do.  Listen to my head?  Well my head says that I should allow myself time to recover.  All well and good, but I do have a 21 mile cross country to run in only 13 days time (Meon Valley Plod – run by Portsmouth Joggers), so my head also says that I should be forgetting about this cold and getting my trainers on.

Of course, the flip side of putting my trainers on and getting out there is that I might take longer to recover from my cold if I go out training.  If that is the case, I am risking not getting over the cold in the pre-requisite 13 days and then having to run 21 off road, muddy, likely chilly miles with a cold.  This doesn’t sound very good either.

So what is the solution to all this?  Well really it is a simple one.  What you should do is procrastinate.  Fill up your time with other stuff (like writing your blog, doing some meditation, looking on Wiggle etc) and that way by the time you get around to running it will be too late and you won’t be able to go.

All I need to do is follow this simple method for the next 13 days straight and I will be in perfect fettle for the Meon Valley Plod.




PS – Want to learn how to be a master procrastinator.  I absolutely love this article and it explains it a lot better than I can.

PPS – Please click below to share my blog.  I will love you forever if you do!


Race report – Hellrunner Hell Down South

It’s 0700 hours on Saturday 14th January and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for the Hell Down South Hellrunner.

For the uninitiated, the Hellrunner series is either 10 or 12 miles of extreme cross country running.  Featuring the “Bog of Doom” and the “Hills of Hell”, the run markets itself as “Tougher than a Tough Mudder”.

Why oh why would anybody ever sign up to this sort of madness?  Well in my case, my friends Bushy and River and others have done this and it has always been on my list, so as soon as my friend Mark from work asked if I wanted to join in I jumped at the chance.   To coin my usual catchphrase, how hard can it be?


Running late

brooks-hell-runner-logoThe Hellrunner was on Longmoor Army Base, which is only about 20 minutes from my
house.  We had been warned by the race organisers that it would take a while to get into the car parking, so I left with what I thought was plenty of time.  Sadly it took a bit longer than I expected to get from the motorway into the venue.  I was in phoning Mark (who was better organised and already there) and he was reporting back that the start was delayed by 10-15 mins.  Luckily, I was not the only one who had underestimated how long it would take to get in. This meant that our wave was due to start at 10.15

Parking my car and checking the time it was 11 minutes past 10.  I had been directed to park quite some distance from the race start, so I grabbed my gear and started to run towards the start.  Over a motorway bridge then through a field I stopped for a quick wee in a portaloo and met Mark outside the bag drop just as the 11.15 wave started running.  Dumping the bag at the bag drop,  Mark shouted to me that we could still go if we were quick, so I tied my shoes a bit tighter and together we ran to the start and we were off.

Not exactly the race start I had hoped for, and I jovially commented to Mark that I was sure that Mo Farah did a bit more warming up for his races than just turn up and go for it.  I had really wanted to do a proper warm up as the trail was all off road and very hilly and I wanted to make sure that my body was ready for the challenge.  Still too late for that now.  I was off and running in my first ever Hellrunner.


Catching up the pack

Mark is a great runner and he set the initial pace as we set off over the uneven terrain, pocked with deep muddy puddles with jagged ice floating on the top.  Soon we caught up with the tail end of the runners from our start time and started to overtake a few.  The course was up and down steep sandy banks, and wound few beautiful heathland.  There were a few deep gullys we had to run through, jumping into the black ooze then climbing up the other side.  Despite having cold feet I was loving this sort of running.  I never get much of a chance to run true cross country like this and it was definitely up my street.

As usual the GPS on my watch let me down and started to tell me we had done a lot less distance than I knew we had run, but instinctively I knew we had covered the first mile in a good time and were both carving our way through the pack nicely.  It felt good to be overtaking other people (as usually I am the one being overtaken) and I was enjoying Mark’s company and chatting with the other runners.  Most encouragingly was I felt good. It was great to be out running my first race of the year and as this is such a huge year of running for me, even better to have it underway.


Twist and CRACK

Somewhere between mile 1 and 2 there was a short uphill followed by a brief winding technical section though a wooded area.  This section was fairly narrow and there were quite a few runners around still so we had to pick our way through carefully.  Turning right to follow the group my left foot went into a hole that I hadn’t seen, my ankle rolled forward and I heard and felt a double crack in my left ankle.  I immediately stopped, my ankle searing with pain.  Uttering some sort of expletive, I grabbed a tree and stood on one leg breathing heavily trying to recover from the sudden shock.  Mark had stopped next to me and was asking me how I was, encouraging me to try and put some weight on my ankle.  Gingerly I put my ankle down and it was not good.  The pain was intense as I put my weight through it and I was cursing my bad luck.  Never the less, standing around was achieving nothing.  Even if I  was going to be forced out of the race through injury there was no chance of being collected by the marshall in the middle of a wood.  We had only one choice, keep going.

Limping forward at a slow walk I was in considerable pain, but I have had twisted ankles many times playing football and knew that you could sometimes walk it off.  After a minute of walking I sped up into a very slow jog, but each step was genuine agony.  Mark turned to me and said “there is no way you are quitting.  I will carry you over the line if I have to, but we are finishing this” and I absolutely agreed with him.  There was not a single thought in my mind about stopping.  I am an Ironman for god sakes.  If I can complete one of the hardest races in the world, I can definitely run 8 or so miles on a twisted ankle.

Slowly speeding up we continued forward.  After a mile or so more Mark confessed in me that he was struggling with his left knee, so we were hardly fighting fit but we kept on going.  For me, downhills were absolute agony.  For Mark, it was the opposite.  He was OK going down but struggled up the hills.  As this course was almost 100% hills we were making slow progress, but we were still moving forwards.


Enjoying the run

Despite my ankle pain and Mark struggling with his knee, we were enjoying the run.  The scenery was breathtaking at times and the course so varied that you never knew what was round the corner.  Hills so steep you were on all fours to get up them, then down the other side grabbing trees and shrubs to slow your descent, the race was brilliant.  We knew we had both the Hills of Hell and the Bog of Doom to come, but to be honest soaking my ankle in a freezing cold bog seemed like a great option to me.

Soon we arrived at the first bog, which is not the Bog of Doom but might as well have been.  Entering into it, the silt was incredibly deep, the water absolutely freezing and there were sunken logs to get your feet stuck under.  Wading through it was not easy, but together Mark and I made our way through.  I thought I had lost Mark at one point as he almost submerged beneath the murky down brown water, but he recovered, I pulled him up and we went on.

Mark just recovering and avoiding a full dunking


Out of the first bog

Soon we emerged out of the first bog together and on we went.  It was very cold, and the bog had really taken it out of Mark who actually seemed out of breath for the first time in the race.  In fact, I think this is the first time I have ever seem Mark out of breath.  He really is super fit, but the bog had taken it’s toll.  Never the less, we had at least 4 miles to go, still had the Hills of Hell and the Bog of Doom and were both carrying injury, so we needed to get on with it.


Devil’s Disco and Hills of Hell

Jogging further on we soon saw a group of cheerleaders dressed all in white and a big tent pumping out dance music.  This was the Devil’s Disco, and as we ran through the tent and grabbed some water and some sort of energy shot I realised we were getting closer to the finish.  Following the tent came a serious downhill, which I really struggled with.  Getting to the bottom my ankle was screaming at me.  I had to take a moment to compose myself.  Surely we didn’t have that much further to go and these Hills of Hell couldn’t be that bad.

Continuing on we climbed more hills and down the other side, ran more single track and just kept on going.  Then we were finally there, the Hills of Hell.  These are essentially a group of extremely steep trails up and down the same couple of hills.  You would slip and slide down one, only to turn 180 degrees on a switchback and go straight back up the same hill on a slightly different trail.  I could tell that Mark was struggling a bit at this point, as every time we got to yet another hill he would say “not another one”.  Luckily I could sense there was an element of comedy in his voice and knew that deep down he was enjoying himself, despite how hard he was finding the race.

Due to my ankle injury slowing me down, I actually felt OK.  Actually I felt good.  I didn’t feel tired or fatigued in any way, just had a very hurty ankle.  I knew how bad my ankle was when we started down a hill and Mark said to me “bloody hell James, your ankle looks terrible”.  I hadn’t been looking at it.  All I could manage in reply was “it feels terrible too”.  We laughed and then carried on.


Bog of Doom and done

Cresting yet another of the Hills of Hell, we were told by the marshall that it was the last one, and all we had left was a quick downhill, the Bog of Doom and we were done.  On we ran and we could see the bog, hear the music pumping out and see the crowd.  Tentatively sliding myself into the bog, I was quickly chest deep in very cold water.  Wading through, I was overtaking people.  Joking with Mark that I had found my forte in cross country, I pushed forward.  Waving at the spectators and high fiving the marshall I felt the usual boost that you do at the end of any race.  Despite having to complete the vast majority of the course on a very dodgy ankle I had done it.

I was delighted for Mark as well, who was clearly suffering with his knee despite not complaining about it.  I knew how much he had been feeling it at the end of the race and was pleased we had made it through together.

Exiting the Bog of Doom we were done.  A quick downhill and then over the line.  It had taken us 2hrs and 30 minutes to cover the 10 miles of the course.  2hrs 30 minutes of hard graft.

Across the line and we were finished the Hellrunner Hell Down South

Collecting my bag and then limping over to Mark’s car we discussed the event and how we felt.  Remarkably I felt absolutely fine.  Other than the ankle, I felt as if I could just turn around and do the whole thing again.  Perhaps I am a bit fitter than I give myself credit for, or just so pig headed that I won’t quit.  Either way it gets results.

2017-01-14-13-00-27Arriving at Mark’s car I had a look at my ankle for the first time and was shocked to see a huge swelling on the ankle bone.  You can hopefully see this in the picture.  Having completed the race the adrenaline was dying down and my ankle was really starting to hurt.

Mark was good enough to drive me back to my car and I drove home.  Consulting with my wife, I decided to visit the hospital in the morning and see what they thought.

Diagnosis has been given that it is a sprained ankle and I should keep off it for 6 weeks. This will seriously dent my training for 2017, but I don’t really care.

I loved the Hellrunner, loved running it with Mark and will definitely be back next year.

Will keep you all updated as to how the recovery goes.




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