After a long week, I decided in favour of a further night in my own bed as opposed to driving down to South Devon Friday evening and sleeping in the back of the car before the South Devon marathon. Oli and I set off at 4am down to South Devon and made remarkably good time (under 4 hours) giving us plenty of time to get ready for the race. We had been listening out intently to weather reports on the way down, and having passed through several storms on our way there we were not optimistic the weather would hold out for the duration of the race. Forecast was for a pretty major weather system to hit the coast at about midday. With the race starting at 9 and the course record standing at 3 hours 40ish, although brimming with optimism of a strong run based on my form at Pilgrim challenge a couple of weeks before, I wrapped up warm and expected a tough finish.
My trail shoes were in a state of disrepair following the Pilgrim Challenge, and my attempts to patch up the damage with electrical tape didn’t inspire confidence in the other Tri Londoners at the start line with the final comment from Andrea being ‘How long do you honestly expect that tape to last?!’ Now although I believe that question may have been largely rhetorical, for Andrea’s benefit, the answer is 8 minutes.
The start of the run I took very steadily, and found myself running with some of those I recognised from the Portland marathon. I wanted to ‘run my own race’ but the competitive side of me definitely remembered those that had finished in front of me previously and I certainly made a note of that there and then. The paths out to Salcombe were narrow and muddy, offering seldom opportunity to overtake. I decided to conserve my energy and just sit on the back of a group of around 4 runners until the terrain changed.
The scenery was stunning, and the weather much better than expected. In fact I found myself overheating a little, but with the winter we have had, I think I quite enjoyed being a little warm for once.
I had decided to start the race listening to my ipod. Having never done it before I thought I’d try it, and I wasn’t disappointed. Whilst it certainly detracts in some aspects from being ‘in touch with your environment’ you are in, which for some is what running is all about, I found that at times, when you find a rhythm and are listening to a song you really like, it can spur you on even further. With a helicopter making close passes filming the race all the way along the coastal path to Salcombe I was feeling fresh and having a great time.
After a checkpoint at the turnaround in Salcombe, there was a road section for a few miles. Trying to keep a steady pace, those around me started to pull away on the faster section, however as we once again hit a long descent onto muddy paths, I pulled back the gap and then moved passed those I had previously been running with. Wanting to capitalize on this gap, I pushed on through the next checkpoint, taking the food and water on the move instead of my customary stop and graze.
The run was tough, and the last 7 miles felt like it went on for ages (it probably did), with hills coming thick and fast. I was really trying to keep my average pace up, but the hills were so steep I was reduced to a walk for many of the ascents. The last 2.5 miles from the final checkpoint were however back along the coast, and dead flat. Except for the ‘steps’. Oli had previously mentioned the steps in the car on the way down and I hadn’t really been paying attention but they didn’t disappoint. From the last checkpoint I had taken on a little more water and really decided to dig in. I could see about 3 or 4 runners ahead of me, and wanted to pick them all off. Passing them all slowly but surely I was sure I couldn’t have much more than a mile to go, when out of nowhere, a set of seriously steep steps and narrow path appears. Having been pushing hard, this put me straight the red and really hurt. Fortunately after the peak of the hill you can see the finish and as always this brings a final surge to take you home.
I had finished in 27th place in 4:48. I was pretty pleased with this, since it was not only an improvement on 66th and 4:59 from Portland, (on a supposedly tougher course) but I had really started to feel like I had got the pacing right this time.
Best of all the weather had held out and Oli had managed 5th place in 4:13. So after a bit of a stretch a bite to eat at the cottage with some other tri londoners, Oli and I then head back to London , a journey that took 5 hours this time!