I started this week by writing a full report about the South Downs which I ran last weekend. As the week went by not only did the report get bigger and bigger but the desire to tell the story changed. As I looked back what stood out was the memory of running down a path through a wood, nobody else around at all, just myself and the trees. It felt fantastic, and so this piece has changed a bit. Now I am writing about how this marathon restored my faith in my ability to run distances after the torture of Halstead.
Halstead was a hard marathon. I pretty much felt every step and it is the only marathon to date which made me think about never doing another. One thing I learned was that even though I have a reasonable pace I do not have the endurance to get a good marathon time, which is why I started training with a heart rate monitor. So at South Downs I had a plan, I was going to run a 26.2 mile training run, staying within HR zone 2 for the whole way.
The South Downs was the 100th marathon of a friend who I had met through running, and one of the things that made me nervous was the prospect of being drawn into his celebrations. I spied his entourage heading toward the coaches that would take us to the start. This was the first time I have ever run a point to point and the whole thing reminded me of a school trip, with the over excited ‘naughty’ kids at the back. When we all spilled off at the start there was still about an hour to go, so I hung with the rebels while they joked, took photos, and discovered a couple of Alpacas in a field. As we made our way down to the start line however I moved toward the back, clipped on my HR monitor and fired up the Garmin.
The marathon itself was run over some really pleasant wide trails over four peaks, which meant there were 3 incredibly steep hills to climb, and 4 very pleasant downhill stretches. To say the scenery was beautiful is an understatement, and when there were no large vistas the trail meandered through woodland. It started in the grounds of a country house near Chichester and ended at the Queen Elizabeth Country park by the A3, and every step of the way you were surrounded by nature.
Most of the time I was alone, even if there were other runners nearby I did not really know anyone, and on those occasions where I did bump into somebody I could talk to my strict HR training meant that I could not stay at a matched pace. In fact the whole HR thing was liberating, I could not push to hard at the beginning and by the end I still had plenty left to give. The most fascinating and educational observation about pacing came in the following way. I was passed by so many people at the start I thought for a while I might be bringing up the rear, but by mile 15 I was reeling people in again, and during the last 10 miles I pretty much did all the passing. The only exception was a young lady who I met at about mile 22 going up the final hill before a long descent. We chatted until the final mile where she went off into the distance. Even though I had the energy and it was hard to see her go I stuck to my monitored pace all the way to the end. My one regret, I wish I had asked her name, but we may meet again at another race though I don’t think it will be the South Downs.
I needed this race just to change my perspective and make me feel good about my distance running again. I enjoyed it, the solitude, the views, and the fact that I felt I could have carried on at the end. On top of that was the smug hope that all this distance with the HR monitor will enable me to bring my time down on target races. All in all a job well done. Of course the other side of this was seeing somebody who I met on my first marathon reach the magic 100. The support he got from his family and the 100 clubbers was great. Not everybody can run a marathon, even less a hundred. Something anyone should be proud of!