A few days ago two papers published in Nature suggested that the Anthropocene (The Age of Man) epoch began in 1610. This is the latest in a number proposals as to when this period of the Earth’s history that begins when human activities have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems started. I can be much more certain when my ‘Age of Running’ began. It was at 09.00 on 1st March 2013, and in Sacher Park, near the south-east corner of The Knesset in Jerusalem. There I started the Jerusalem Half Marathon, the beginning of regular, often monthly, half then full marathons. 2 hours and 5 min later I was certain there would be many more races, but NOT in Jerusalem again. The hills on the half marathon were bad enough, why would I want even more on the full distance.
Wind forward just over 2 years and there I was, together with more than 1000 others, on the starting line for the 5th annual Jerusalem Marathon. I really had no choice in the matter, a tough hilly course was much more preferable than waiting until the Autumn for the next possible ‘J’ marathon, and this would have ended up adding an extra year to my project. I did have four months after Istanbul to prepare for it, so plenty of hill runs, both on road and the North Downs Way plus the 30 miles Winter Tanners in early January should have prepared me for this challenge.
I never find marathon expos particularly exciting places, I don’t buy anything there as I take everything I need for the race with me; there aren’t usually stands with details of other races that I haven’t heard of (but I did praise the Düsseldorf marathon at their stand) and rarely are there useful/any freebies. But I do like the whole buzz of being at them, mingling with like-minded people (ie runners!) and seeing if I spot anyone in the t-shirt of a race I have done to to start up a conversation (I always wear the one of my most recent marathon). I did almost get filmed as I followed the Ethiopian and Kenyan teams into the expo, there runners, not surprisingly, filled to top places in both the men’s and women’s events. I next saw them before the start where they were keeping loose and warm in the elite area wearing gold thermal blankets and then as they ran down from Mt Scopus as we were on the way up. But what I did like about the expo was that the pasta party was included in the race entry ($55 = £37) and they provided a gluten free option. (As a comparison Edinburgh charge £22 for their carbs and comedy event, and the race is £44). There was an extensive range of carbs (pasta, rice, bread) with many possible sauces, fruit vegetables and desserts (unfortunately none of these were gluten free) and a band. Because of the early race start the 22.00 close seemed a bit excessive.
The walk from my apartment took about 20 minutes, As I crossed Jaffa Road there was no one else in sight and the trams were not running because of the race but on Beit Ya’akov two other people, clearly runners, were in view; as usual for these early start marathons the only people around are other runners or race marshals/officials/police. As I joined more major roads the numbers increased and I did not have to worry about navigating to the changing area/bag drop. As this was in the shade, and quite cold, I sat around undercover in the changing area until about 6.45 before the ‘compulsory’ toilet visit and then walk few 100m walk round to the start.
I was in the B starting pen, but there were no real controls or checks as to who was there although there was an actual barrier before the A/elites area where there was a lot of empty space. We set off at 7am with bright sun and a clear blue sky, a bit of a concern as to what it might be like hours later (fortunately cloud appeared then). I was near the front of my stating pen and I knew the 3:45 pacers were very close behind and I had it in mind to try and stay with them. In fact it wasn’t until the 10k mark that they moved past me, just before the corner where I knew my wife would be waiting (assuming she hadn’t gone back to bed after I had left the apartment at 5.45am; she hadn’t).
It wasn’t too difficult for me to increase my pace ever so slightly and stay with them. In fact I was with them for more than the next 20k, the group tended to move ahead of me up the hills but I easily caught them going down.
After running past the Old City we made our way up Mt Scopus, the highest part of the course with stunning views out towards the Dead Sea, although like me most didn’t stop to look. The half-way mark, where Marion was waiting, came just before we entered the Old City via Jaffa Gate for a short distance before leaving at Zion Gate. Then it was up Mt Zion, another considerable climb.
I had chatted to someone who had studied the course well before going to the start, a sting in the tail at 38k was mentioned, and it didn’t disappoint! The almost km long hill gradually increased in steepness, finishing at 10%; and of course what went up had to go down and at times it was too steep, with a more than 12% downward gradient at one point, to run as quickly as I would have liked. And the final 1.4k was also upwards, again reaching a gradient of more than 10% before a short tunnel brought the finishing line into sight. I did keep going, not walking a single step.
Marion was there as I crossed the line and I saw the 3:52:36 it had taken to complete the 42.2k (as has become usual I don’t look at my watch at all during the race, so didn’t have a real idea what my time was going to be). I had secretly hoped to break 4 hours but had no real expectation of doing this. So to end up just 1 minutes outside my Istanbul pb really was my modern miracle, proving that the hills work I had concentrated on during the 4 months since that previous marathon had worked.
So I now have another very bright marathon technical top, a substantial medal and my 4th sub 4 hour result.
But I also have a bit of a problem. At the finish of every other marathon I have been 100% certain (without the intervention of unforeseen circumstances) where the next one will be. But I already have a foreseen circumstance for my next. I have the registration, flights and accommodation booked for Kharkov in mid-April. For those of you that don’t know, it is in eastern Ukraine, very close to the Russian boarder nearly 300k of north Donetsk. You see the problem. Krakow is a week later,which might seem a good, very sensible alternative but brings ‘rules’ problems for my project.
Just before my last marathon in Istanbul I decided that as it would be almost 4 months before my next I decided needed a run in between them that wasn’t just training. Of course it couldn’t be a marathon or my A to Z project would be spoilt, and I wanted more than a half. Searching around I came across this run/race/walk. I had no previous knowledge of it (nor had my immediate running family) nor of the Long Distance Walkers’ Association (LDWA) who organise it. The Winter Tanners seemed to fit my requirements perfectly, a run that would be challenging yet not too daunting (I had toyed with the idea of Country to Capital but accepted that 45 miles was just too far…at present). It was close to home, would give me hills, tick the ‘ultra’ box I felt I should do and the timing was exactly half-way between two marathons. As one who is used to paying sometimes high entry fees for road marathons, the LDWA events are a welcomed money saver. This would have cost non-LDWA members £20 but after paying the annual membership of £13 it was just £4.
After getting used to road marathons, I was very apprehensive as the day approached. I had no real idea what to expect. Of course time on ultras doesn’t matter (but I did want to finish before it got dark). Weather could be the real problem, two years previously it had to be postponed because snow prevented marshals from reaching checkpoints. A week before this year’s race storms were forecast to cross the country, and it could have been very difficult. However when the day arrived we could not have wished for better conditions, sunny with clear blue skies, little wind and reasonable temperatures.
Having followed my ultra-running daughter Cat at many races I was looking forward to being able to run and eat, but with my gluten free requirements I knew there wouldn’t be a lot available for me. So I made sure I had supplies with me (“he’s got enough food to feed a small country” tweeted my daughter). In the end I ate very little of what I had taken, just a few squares of Waitrose caramel crispy bites. I did grab a handful for jelly babies at the first checkpoint, nachos at the second and a couple of pieces of banana at the third. I was also carrying a bottle with electrolyte and 2 small chocolate milks but only drank a couple of mouthfuls of one of the later. I did have the lemon squash at the first 2 checkpoints and coffee at the third. Also I had none of the gels I would usually have for marathons.
The big difference between this and any other race I have done was the ‘self navigation’. When dropping into the Run to Live shop in Leatherhead a couple of days before the race (I had gone over just to see how easy the instructions were to follow) they did confirm there was no signage on the course, it really was necessary to follow the detailed instructions. This is an example of them for just the first 1.7 miles.
From the pavilion entrance, facing the football pitch, TR twice to pass the pavilion on R & tennis/netball courts on L. At fence corner TL to keep courts on L. In 20Y TR on tarmac path thru treeline then TL along tarmac FP. When tarmac ends TR on XTK (FiPo HAWKS HILL). In 275Y ahd over railway & waterworks drive, & cont ahd across grassy area (shortcutting BW). Join TK from L & swing R uphill. At top of field FL & keep ahd to go thru gap in hedge & TL on BW. In 650Y cross busy RD (A246) WITH GREAT CARE & along drive opp which immed turns R past gate. In 75Y FR to pass small grass triangle on L. Cross concrete drive & tarmac pathway to cont ahd on BW with hedge on R. In 950Y pass brick barn on L & in 40Y ahd over XTK.
Runners were not supposed to start before 8.30 (looking at last year’s results many did start at exactly this time), which was my aim. But there was no official starting gun/klaxon, you just wonder up, present you card to be scanned and begin running. There was no runners waiting when I arrived at the start, so off I went. Cat started running with me, not as part of the race, just to keep me company for a while, take a few photos and do bit of gentle running before Country to Capital next week. Navigation wasn’t a problem before the checkpoint at 7.9 miles, there were always walkers or early departure runners ahead. Cat only ran to this point and my son Ed, who had decided use my run to do a day’s hill work on his bike, was waiting there. I started navigating, when I was ‘alone’ after this point, and was concerned on a couple of occasions when I had runners behind me but not visible in front, in case a took a wrong route, I didn’t want to be responsible for leading others astray. Before navigation became hard I caught up with a group of runners containing Tara Williams. I didn’t know of this doyen of the LDWA but it soon became clear that she was known to (almost) everyone else. Famed for walking every single step of the SDW100 in 2012 in 26:37 and her Harley Davidson passion, because it was my first LDWA event she allowed me a navigation ‘free pass’ so I could concentrate on watching where I was actually putting my feet rather than wondering if they were going in the right direction. Thank you Tara, one day I look forward to being like you!
The second checkpoint at 17 miles came and went, again Ed was waiting for me. The terrain of this first half hadn’t been too difficult, there had been some very muddy stretches and of course some hills but nothing as precipitous as the ones in the second half. The first was 26k in, after turning off Moon Hall Road Ewhurst where the gradient 21.6% and then over the Abinger Roughs at 37k where we hit 26.2%. Fortunately Tara was caring of those in her charge, and readily walked allowing us to keep with her (but she can walk bloody fast) and so not get lost. As the miles ticked by I was more aware that Dave Ross, who I knew was starting after me, surprisingly hadn’t yet passed us. This was a special event for Dave, his 100th ultra and despite his penchant for taking the odd wrong turn I really had expected him to have steamed past before the 38k when he did appear. Bizarrely it was just after this point that we found difficulty with the directions, we certainly did not find the ‘right fork’ only a ‘right turn’. Again Tara knew the trails/tracks so rather than carrying straight onto checkpoint 3 and arriving from the wrong direction, in order that we didn’t miss out on the ‘correct’ elevation we went down and along and up Steers Field to the checkpoint.
Hot tea/coffee and bananas/dates were available at the 25.7 mile mark, then it was the simple and quite fast homeward stretch, passing Tanners Hatch, the YMCA hostel after which the race is named. However my body seemed to know when I was over the 26.2 mile stage, because as soon as we had finished quite a fastish slightly downhill section and began a walking ascent my Adductor Magnus cramped. I did lose contact with the group as I modified my walking style, high steps with the offending leg worked and I was ready to run for the rest of the course and catch up the others. Towards the finish we were travelling back along the route we had started on 6 hours earlier. At the busy A246 I was ready and able to sprint when there was a small gap between the fast moving cars then it was downhill to touch in and finish at the pavilion, and my first ultra was over.
And what did I think? The whole experience was brilliant, running through the countryside that I have lived so close to for 30 years yet never really appreciated. The terrain was fun, the views stunning and everyone I met so friendly; and with the easy pace chatting was easy. I will certainly be running more ultras (wish I had an entry to one day of The Pilgrims), and look forward to increasing my distances.
Distance: 49.1 km
Official time: 6:26
Position: 45/209 starters/200 finishers/but how many of these ran rather than walked?)
Moving time (Strava) 5:59:57)