“Find the level of intolerance you can tolerate and stay there.”
It’s been ages since I’ve written running. My time being consumed with Rob Cowlin who I co-host a slapstick tin pot running podcast with has just finished its first series and has quickly spiraled out of control. Pictures of people wearing podcast merchandise at races I’ve never even heard of, a global listener-ship after 15 weeks, our own Race with Phoenix Running scheduled for December complete with branded medal and the occasional heckle at a marathon from a listener who recognises my face is an insanely strange and embarrassing experience that I’m still trying to adapt to.
Further work with my new(ish) running club the Mole Valley Runners is also allowing me to give something back to the running community through leading group runs around the Surrey hills each week! It’s great listening to all standards of runners chat through their next challenge or goals they are working towards and occasionally being able to give some reasonable suggestions or encouragement to help them on their way.
The reason I return to getting something down on paper again is because I feel compelled to by those boys at Sussex Trail Events (STE) after hosting the Downslink Ultra last weekend!
This is a 38 mile point to point race running the entire Downslink trail from St Martha’s Church near Guildford to Shoreham-by-Sea.
I managed to drive through the torrential rain and down to Shoreham (the finish to dump the car) just before 7am. A quick catch up with race director Jay and some nonsense about running 100 miles on a treadmill (which I think should be parked right there) before being loaded onto the coach, only to be taken 40 miles back up the road from where I had just come from.
It’s not nuts to me anymore – this is usual behaviour for a Sunday morning. The coach was buzzing (much like some seasoned sky divers in the plane before the jump) and it wasn’t long before running CV’s and stories were being swapped between the runners. The coach driver overhearing everything and probably insanely bemused and tiring quickly of what he was hearing made the start line at St Martha’s in good time. 30minutes quicker than his time last year he was keen to mention.
The race brief given by Danny outside the church was simple. Look after each other, don’t litter and only two places where people could go wrong. In hindsight this was one of those rare ultras where I had not collected a few bonus miles getting lost. With that said this definitely IS a viable option for a first ultra. I hear so many races advertise themselves as a good first ultra. This claim is rarely true!
When the Vicar set us off I approached the race with a steady pace as I wanted to try out running the same speed for the entire duration. Finding the level of intolerance I could tolerate for the duration. I was to use this one as a tempo run for some longer distances I have looming in the future. It paid off as I never really seemed to tire, slowly passing others in the later stages who had gone out too fast and paid the price for doing so.
Two smug moments were rewarded to me by adopting this tempo strategy. One, passing a chap on his arse around 28miles who a few hours before got me completely soaked by submerging his hasty shoe in a puddle whilst taking me at pace. “I’ll be seeing you later” I thought, wishing him a happy blow out in my mind.
Secondly, another chap who literally budged me out the way in some sort of rush on a narrow trail section so he could pass and get on with his race. I didn’t understand this at all. There were plenty of other opportunities where a more polite overtake could have been executed. Fortunately for me he was another character I met with again and passed at the same pace I had maintained throughout the race whilst he was clearly struggling. Redemption, justice, whatever. There are certainly lessons to learn from pacing races and sticking to it!
The race had lots to keep me amused for the 5hr30minutes I was out on the trail. A catch up at the start with newly-wed, expecting father to be and running hero Paul Sargent who is a STE regular and frequent winner of most their races. Stephen Cousins from film my run was there videoing a live link for the race who I bumped into at a few aid stations and former inmate from the Prison Marathon Michael Burke who beat me to first place was dishing out the coke at the first aid station. “Why aren’t you running this?” I asked. Michael had a good excuse. A 90mile footrace out in Poland the following week was an acceptable answer for me not to lay into him any further.
The trail itself is basic. It is pretty, but its similarity throughout the 38 miles can be frustrating. I wasn’t fussed though. STE have laid down much more mentally challenging and less scenic races than the Downslink that I actually welcomed this route. It’s no frills, simple navigation and support from STE does, in my opinion make this a very credible and respectable first ultra.
The value for money on this one was second to none. For around £50 I got a race entry, bus transfer from the finish to the start, SWAG, free photos from their new resident photographer Eliot Weatherill (many thanks) and homemade chili at the finish. I have done similar races recently where this sort of fee would be unheard of.
STE is an event company organised by runners for runners and its things like this that make the group stand out from the every expanding choice of races on offer from lesser companies who do not hold the experience that these boys do in hosting a solid event. There is a somewhat gritty, rugged and tough persona that I get from STE events. Their races on the whole are usually more challenging than your average but the STE team’s passion and willingness for everyone to succeed is evident and certainly sampled all the way down the Downslink with every marshal, aid station and support. Couldn’t fault it. Well done (AGAIN!) chaps. Would I recommend? What do you think!