A last minute sign up, to put off going Christmas shopping saw my husband and I travelling an hour or so out of Hastings to run the Downland Devil 9 run put on by the Worthing Striders running club.
This run is 9 miles cross country on farmland at Church Farm, that is not usually open to the public. The terrain is hilly, very hilly, the tough uphill sections made up for by some fantastic downhill running.
The race started you straight up the side of a hill to kick off the 9 miles of trails over the farmland, you then proceeded to run up and down several more hills, some with a fairly gentle gradient, and others that reduced most people (including me) to a walk, these uphill sections were well rewarded with some nice flat sections and some downhill sections that really allowed you to get up some speed.
For the first 4 miles or so I seemed to be struggling a bit with cramp, but after that subsided I started to really enjoy myself, hubby however found his knee giving up, so between us we probably made up one fully functioning runner. We stuck together though, well, until the very final decent downhill to the finish where I took off and zoomed down to the finish to collect my race mementos, which turned out to be a Worthing Striders drawstring bag containing a Downlands Devil 9 mug.
This was a great run that was challenging but fun to complete and I would certainly give it a go again in future years.
Early on a cold Saturday morning in February I found myself donning my race kit and heading out the door to once again face the hills of Pippingford Park. I had been asked by a lovely lady from RPCC to run a race with her, and I agreed to sign up to the 10 mile option of the Eliminator race. Unfortunately the lady I was supposed to be running with picked up an injury and couldn’t race, but there was a still a reasonable sized group of RPCCers making the trip to run either 5 or 10 miles.
The Eliminator race is a trail run with only natural obstacles, there was a 5 or 10 mile option on the Saturday, and a full marathon option on the Sunday. Having raced a few times at Pippingford before I knew this was going to be very hilly and testing terrain, and not your average 10 mile run (not that I often pop out for a 10 mile jog!) It was very cold waiting at the top of the hill, and I was very grateful for my dry robe and Dirty Dozen bobble hat. We were there really early and hung around drinking tea and watching the kids race (and taking a few selfies – since that’s what we do). Eventually though it was time to get ready to race, the dry robes were reluctantly removed and we headed to get warmed up.
We set off down a hill, before swiftly being taken up the other side of the valley, then after what felt like a long and slow slog to the top of the hill it was through the first bit of icy water, with shards of ice floating around and hidden logs submerged below the surface.
As the race wound up and down killer hills I found myself “playing tag” with a few people that I knew, so although running by myself I never felt on my own. As we splashed through yet another section of water I noticed that my friend Graeme Harrison was behind we, with a photographer up ahead so we grabbed a quick hug in the water for a photo before carrying on.
Every so often I would come across a marshal or spectator that I knew and the encouraging shouts (and high five from Mark Leinster) helped keep my running, as well as Graeme, Dave Cartwright and Ben Sallows who were all running near me for most of the race for a kind word.
As the mile markers slowly trickled passed, with more and more hills to navigate, some which almost had me crawling, trees to clamber over, weave round and crawl under, water to wade through and an amusing moment when I climbed over a gate, following the person in front of me, when it swung open with me sat on top of it, I was feeling tired and a few little injury niggles started to make themselves felt.
As we reached the final mile, the course was mostly through a wooded section that reduced running to a slow jog as you tried to navigate safely, and it felt like the longest mile in the world. Eventually you came across a marker saying 10 miles, this was the most demoralising marker in the world, I was only supposed to be running 10 miles, how much further was it going to be? Thankfully not much!
They were not going to make it easy to finish though, with a long slog up a hill to reach the finish line, I found myself walking most of this, despite my best efforts telling myself to run. Then Graeme was beside me again urging me to give a strong finish, and together we ran the final stretch of the hill to the finish line to collect our medals.
The Eliminator was one tough race, the cold and terrain taking their toll as you ran. It felt like a massive achievement to complete it, and I have so much awe and respect for the people who went out the next day to run the full marathon distance.
It was a privileged to then watch as my other friends finished the race, all having given their all and completed the tough course. With lots of hugs at the finish, and then finally heading back home for the longest bath I’ve ever taken to get warm again.
As we enter May it’s time to take on a few more challenges. This month I have three lined up, the first of which being Grim Series Beast in the East.
This race came to my attention through RPCC who posted about it on Facebook, suggesting an “RPCC takeover”, It doesn’t take much to persuade me to do a race so I signed up straight away.
Beast in the East is a 10km trail run based at Canada Heights, Swanley, which takes you round a motocross course (twice) as well as a run though some woods. Their website says that you will plough through mud, sand and hills, and also warns that you will get muddy and wet.
With a large number of RPCCers doing the race, there was a great atmosphere to start as we waited for the off. The sun was shining and it was shaping up to be a good day.
The race kicked off at 10:30am and after a ten second countdown everyone surged over the line, the course almost straight away took you up a steep hill that we had previously driven up to park, across the top of the field where we had parked the cars and then onto the motocross course. You could see the front runners powering up the hills, but unfortunately I very quickly began to tire and slow down. I had been struggling with a cold all week (I even lost my voice completely at one point) and this really affected my ability to run.
The motocross course was brutal, huge muddy hills that were almost as difficult to run down as they were to run up, and I’m ashamed to say that I did a lot of walking on the ups, rather than running them.
Once you had managed to navigate the motocross circuit it was back off across the car park, for a stretch of trail running through a field, then a token set of tires to hop through before heading into the woods.
The run through the woods and fields was fairly pleasant, although there were still some more hills to navigate. I had expected that this section might include some rivers or streams to wade through but I was disappointed in this. After this stretch you begin to wind your way back to the dreaded motocross circuit for a second time.
As I ran round, feeling very unfit and out of breath I just kept telling myself “it’s for charity, you are doing this for Sooz” (My friend who is the inspiration for this year of challenges and who sadly lost her cancer battle in March). I really didn’t want to do those hills again, but I pushed on, still walking more often than I would have liked and by now my shoe had started to rub and in all honesty I was feeling pretty miserable.
After covering a section of the course we were diverted into some water – finally! This was by far my favourite part of the race and I had no hesitation jumping into the muddy water, the bottom of which was very squelchy deep mud that was difficult to wade through, then up out of the water and under a cargo net, now I was nice and muddy, which didn’t make the running any easier, but felt more like the races I’ve grown used to!
Just when you thought that must be it, it was back onto the motocross circuit for a few more ups and downs, before a stretch back across towards the finish, once I saw that finish line I put in one final effort for a sprint finish, probably the fastest I ran the whole race in fact.
Once I crossed the line, I was give my event Tee and grabbed my DryRobe. My whole body felt like it hurt, my knees were aching and my heal was throbbing from a blister, I was really glad to be finished.
It is always lovely to do the races with so many people from RPCC, the support is fantastic and everyone did such a good job, it’s a real privilege to run and train with these guys. Getting cheered on when you are tired really helps to push you on.
Once home I wanted to know my race time, unfortunately though when the results were published I was missing, along with a lot of other people who raced. There had been a glitch with the timing systems so no time was recorded, using the photo of me finishing though I was able to use the numbers of the guys ahead and behind me to work out I finished in 1h9mins and would have been in the top 50 girls. I’m quite pleased with this time as the 10km trail run I did in Januaray was not as tough as this one, and I did that in 1h15 so despite feeling ill I beat my previous 10km trail PB, and you have to be happy with that.
I didn’t enjoy this race as much as some others, but I think that was more to do with feeling I hadn’t done my best, than anything wrong with the race itself. For me, I would rather do the obstacle races than just running, and I would have liked more water.
On a final note I would just like to “big-up” the DryRobe, although pricey it’s a fantastic bit of kit for anyone who runs in these kinds of races, I was warm after finishing despite being wet and hanging around for a while before I got changed, and they are big enough to get changed inside of too. I definitely recommend them. Now time to gear up for my next race, next weekend!