Saturday, 10 October 2015

45km, 25 hills and second place - the 9bar9x9 marathon

I wasn't expecting this to be a particularly special run.  Five hilly laps around the Loseley Estate awaited and the weather was ideal - cool, almost chilly, and calm.

XNRG had put together a 9km loop, with the choice of running 3, 5, 6 or 9 laps.  I chose the sensible 45km distance - the minimum to qualify as a marathon!

The start line
The ultra had set off an hour earlier and I had a chance to see some of the runners passing through the start/finish area.  I lined up near the back of a small field of 54 runners, intending for a slow, steady start, but somehow ended up in 8th place within a minute!  Despite pre-race nerves I felt good as soon as I was running and as we ran downhill, passing the 1km marker, decided that I would go for it.  A few of the leaders missed the signposted turn out of the first field and I thought I was now in 7th, for the first climb, a gentle rise across a grassy field.  That didn't last long as the route turned onto a hard packed track.  That was also quickly over as I turned onto a harder climb, up an enclosed single track, which turned into a nice quick downhill at the top.

I had assumed that the loop would be a single ascent up to the Hogs Back and down again.  Little did I know!  Climb three was the big one.  Another enclosed single track, steeper and longer this time, before squeezing through a hedge for a flying, gentle descent along slippery chalk.  Wheat stalks gave just enough traction to pick up some decent speed here as I enjoyed the view of the foggy value below.

A steep descent followed, taking care to lean back and go easy on my quads here, which paid off later on.  I assumed it was downhill to the end of the lap now, but at the bottom I was immediately climbing again, this time on tarmac and then sand.  Another descent and now surely back to base, but no, the fifth and final climb of the lap!  A real leg wrecker this one, hands on thighs, walking up and then a twisty track through some woods, taking care not to turn an ankle on the even ground

The final kilometre of the lap was across an open field and then into the drinks station for a refill before the final 100 metres and through the finish arch.  Four more laps to go!

I caught up with a couple of guys running together.  They seemed quick and I hung on with them for the second lap, which passed quickly, and only a minute slower than the first.  2km into the second lap and I pulled away, surprised that they didn't keep up.  I was to lap them later as I came in for the finish.  Lap three was tougher, but I was enjoying the hills.  Rapidly alternating up and downhills really gives different muscles a workout and allows other muscles to recover.  This lap was a couple of minutes slower than the last, the hills wearing me down, but I was still feeling strong.

Lap four was the darkest, running mostly on my own, but passing a lot of people from the other distances.  I must have passed a couple of other marathon runners because I was sure I was in fifth place now.  I caught a woman marathon runner near the end of lap four and left her behind at the water station.

I had no idea that I was leading the marathon at the start of lap five, but I felt strong and was trying to put some distance between myself and the lady behind and another marathon runner I could see just behind her.  Everyone took the first climb slowly and I was walking more of it than I liked.  The second climb was fun, just the right gradient to mostly jog up.  But the big climb wrecked my legs and at the top I struggled with calf cramp, repeatedly stopping to stretch.  The lady passed me, soon followed by the other guy.  Now I was annoyed!  Finally the cramp subsided as I descended and I pushed hard to get back into second place (still thinking I was in fifth).

I fought to catch the lady in front for the last three kilometres.  I could see her at first, then less so as the route was twisty through the trees and she seemed a long way ahead as we opened out onto the field for the final kilometre.  But she must have been slowing down and I gave it everything to maintain pace, catching up slightly.  I finally crossed the line 18 seconds behind her and couldn't believe it when they told me I was the second finisher!

I've never been invovled in a race prize giving ceremony before - I received a small glass plaque and a box of 9bars to go with my medal and tshirt.  All in all, a great day out.

Race goodies

Post race recovery with a 9bar
A very enjoyable 87th marathon, 4:20:53 and second place!

After the first two laps, each lap included more walking uphill than the last, and this shows in the lap times:
1 - 48:02
2 - 48:43
3 - 51:15
4 - 54:18
5 - 58:35

Official results.