Up memory hill

It was a good run for thinking today.  I didn’t get out in the week so I rose early, had my quadspresso, read another chapter of Richard Askwith’s The Lost Village and then set out around 7.50am into the quiet morning.  I headed down the road and within five minutes, keen to experiment, had chosen my destination.  I would see if I could run to the beacon a more direct route than normal.

So it was out onto Folders Lane, round the muddy footpath past the vineyards and across the road to Ditchling, then down through all the chicken farms to Ditchling itself.  The ground had definitely dried out, but there were still pockets of slurry here and there, which is why my runners are currently soaking in a bucket of water, outside in the sun.

Ditchling is such a beautiful village and my route took me a new way through between the hidden houses and their idyllic gardens.  Thrust back out from this bygone age near the crossroads, I decided to run along the beacon road, since there were still not many people out and about driving.  With Richard Askwith’s prose still humming around my head, I looked afresh at  houses that I normally pass in the car, imagining them newly built when the road was a track and a coach and four was a highlight.


At the base of the beacon, I took the path to the right and instantly the last twenty or so years fell away back to the first time I remember walking up it.  My friend Cliff had decided to do this completely mad thing of joining the Raleigh expedition and needed to raise a fair amount of money through sponsorship.  As far as I remember, he decided to climb the height of Everest by going up Ditchling Beacon; I forget how many times, but quite a number.

With a gang of supporters taking it in turns to keep him company and making sure he was kept fed and watered, he had almost finished by the time I arrived so I thought I would walk up once with him.  It was a really tough climb, as the path goes more or less straight up the scarp slope, but I was so exhilarated on reaching the top that I continued and did the final four or five laps with him.

That day was baking hot, the ground firm and the legs young, but today the steepness of the slope and a thin layer of mud meant that anything other than a walk was out of the question.  Mist covered the top and standing, munching, by the side of the trig point was a white cow… I’m not sure who was more startled!

I was a touch disappointed, as it had still taken me an hour to get there despite seemingly going a faster route, so I determined to try to make up time on the way back.  I only discovered the main bridle-path down the Beacon last year and it’s still a thrill to run down, although today it was slippery enough for me to recall passages from Richard Askwith’s earlier book, Feet in the Clouds about the completely balmy sport of fell running.  This video downthebeacon.mp4 shows my progress although you don’t get a sense of how steep or slippery it is!  And by the sounds of it, the fell runners would call me a wuss for not throwing caution to the wind!

It was round about here that I had a revelation and Richard, if you happen to read this, expect a call from me shortly!  Others, whose interest might be piqued, please wait patiently to see whether it turns into an interesting project.


I took a different path at the base of the beacon and thus ended up running back to Ditchling crossroads, where I turned left, circled around the back of the beautiful church and village pond and headed up a single track road.  At the top of the hill, having seen a property that I would happily aspire to (no, it wasn’t just because of the Aston parked in the drive) I reached the mill that Nick and I passed last weekend.  But rather than repeating our mistake, I took the footpath that headed north which eventually brought me out a good way up the keymer road towards home.

Which was a very good thing because I was already knackered!  I felt like I hobbled my way back past the old houses lining the route home and eventually found myself leaning, panting, against my front door-frame.  The 45 minute return journey reflecting not my speed, but the fact that I’d finally discovered a more direct route. 

Or so I thought.  Actually, the distance each way was almost exactly the same at 5.1 miles, which actually makes me wonder if I was so knackered on returning that I misread my watch by ten minutes.  Otherwise the return leg was at 6.8mph, which it certainly didn’t feel like at the time, even if it does right now!

Windblown eyes

After running on Friday morning and the torrential rain of Saturday night, I didn’t feel a burning desire to go out running yesterday morning.  Which has made me feel slightly guilty, as part of the reason for running is so that I have something to write about.  No run: no blog.

But I had a cunning plan.  This morning I called up Cliff to see if he wanted to run… maybe do a re-run of the route we ran a week or so back.  Now, if you know Cliff you’ll probably be somewhat amazed at the fact that he wasn’t really keen to run today, no thank-you. 

Over the last ten or twelve years I have employed thousands of freelance staff and one of the things that you quickly get used to is the excuses as to why they cannot turn up on time.  Or at all.  Or even why it is that you can’t see them with your own eyes at the place where they say they are.  People often call me cynical, but I’m rarely surprised by excuses.

Which makes Cliff’s excuse of, and I quote, ‘windswept eyes’ all the more amazing: I’ve just not heard it before: it’s an original. 

Sadly, Cliff is not prone to exaggeration, so if he has windswept eyes, there are probably salt stains extending past his ears and onto to the expanse of his shoulders.  Saxo is probably considering sponsorship, or negotiating extraction rights.  As the reason for the windblown eyes begins to unfold in front of you, I should like you to ponder what Cliff, the man who has climbed the tallest mountains (yes, including Everest) on each of the seven continents, means when he says the weather was ‘so bad’.

The Jurassic Coast Challengeis held on the Dorset coast path and consists of a marathon on Friday, a marathon on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday.  I still remember how I felt after my one flat Berlin marathon, so you’ll excuse me if the prospect of running one the following day and one the day after that does not fill me with desire.  Let alone on a path that is as steep at the path across Beachy Head but twice the height and never-ending.

But for people like Cliff and Pete, numbers one and two on Daren’s fit list, there is no challenge in that.  Oh no!  Fortunately Votwo, the organisers, also cater for crazy people like this by holding a race called the Oner… essentially the opportunity to run all three marathons back to back, through Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

Cliff, Pete and their friend Kevin duly started the Oner at 7pm on Saturday night.  But they had only managed to reach the first checkpoint, some 8 or 9 miles, before the organisers pulled the race.  Cliff said that they were out in the worst part of the storm and that the weather was ‘so bad’ that they were just slipping everywhere in the mud while being inundated with sheets of water.  In the pitch dark. 

Not that that had daunted them.  This is a training run for a serious race (it has it’s own Wikipedia entry!) later in the year and I have no doubt whatsoever that they would have continued, given the chance.  But after a night in the backroom (beer cellar?) of a pub (beer seller?) the race was restarted at 5.30am.  In all, 20 of the original 35 starters decided to continue and whilst the race was shortened to make account for the missing hours, the day was still some 50 miles.

The race last year had 20 entrants in total and the word used by the organisers to denote people who retired is ‘broke’.  Starting a race at half past six in the evening, one can only imagine what ‘breaking’ at 1am or 3am the following morning feels like.  You’ve put six or nine hours into a race and you have to give up.  Gutted!  Only five runners finished.

But this weekend, with Kevin’s wife Lydia in support, our three intrepids (should that be extra-peds?) made surprisingly short work of the serious hills, glorious sunshine and stiff wind, coming in joint 8th or 9th (results not yet available) in 11 hours.

So if Cliff is not keen to run because of windblown eyes, I understand.

Really bad wind

Nessie made a delicious breakfast for Cliff and I this morning, consisting of eggs from the hens in the garden, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, fried bread… and beans.  It was a HUGE plate and they waited patiently while I slowly worked my way through it – Cliff having woofed his down before their three huge dogs (which you can see in this video with After the Ice) spotted that he had food enough for all of them. 

What was odd about it, was that whilst you would expect to have wind after eating a meal like that, we had it before.  In fact, truth be known, Cliff had it much worse than I did.

It was one of those mornings where one look outside gives you sufficient information to call the planned run off.  Alas, I knew that whatever excuse I could devise would not suffice… and certainly not ‘it’s fweezing cold and heaving it down with rain’.  I suspect that even ‘hell hath frozen over and it’s raining frozen fire’ would still elicit a response along the lines of ‘get out there, you wuss’.

So it was that I found myself running with Cliff on this weather-filled day.  He really is SO fit (as Daren’s fitness table shows) and it won’t surprise you to hear that he ran up the steep hill behind their house (25 minutes bottom to top) directly into the strongest Northerly wind I have run in this winter.  Strangely, I neither ran up the hill nor directly into the wind… instead I ran (pretty much flat out) two feet behind him whilst watching the seemingly almost flat ground spew out from under his feet.

When we turned to the East towards Firle Beacon at the top of the hill, I finally emerged from Cliff’s lea and the full force of the wind hit me.  It was so strong that it was actually difficult to breathe and when it started to hail, ten minutes later, it was like needles stinging the side of my face.  My gloved hands were starting to freeze, but I knew that if I stopped it would only prolong the agony, so the only option was to keep on pressing forward. 

As we approached the top of Firle Beacon, the full force of the wind was augmented by driving rain: the combination meant that I could see nothing out of my watery up-wind left eye!  Momentarily I was transported back in time to kayak trips in my ‘teens & early twenties when the wind and rain always seemed to unleash their full force as we crossed an area of open water… despite the feeling of total wretchedness and despair, the only option was to press on.  One paddle stroke forward, one to correct the heading as the wind caught the bow and seemingly a third stroke forward to get back to where you started.

Cliff’s run rate is right on the edge of my capability and I was really pleased to have managed to stay with him, even if I had slip-streamed him for the really difficult bit and now felt like up-chucking!  But from here on in it was mostly downhill with the wind in our rear quarter.  Slowly I managed to fill and empty my lungs more fully, while my frozen hands became more painful as the warm blood returned and eventually the pain subsided.

The sun came out and the run down was a delight in the little valleys where the temperature felt like a summers day.  Bizarrely, on one last little uphill section, I could feel the intense heat of the material of my longs on my legs… something that I cannot recall having experienced before.

And before I knew it, we were back, showered and eating breakfast: the pain of the hill receding into my failing memory whilst the rain came down once again outside. 

I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure that we ran around 7.6 miles in just under one hour 10 minutes which is 6.5mph.  This is a staggeringly fast speed bearing in mind that we climbed 776 feet and had to cope with a roaring headwind.  And for the avoidance of any doubt, this was nothing to do with Nessie’s beans.

Dirty dancin’


Kurt was really pleased to see my old trainers caked in mud yesterday, so I thought I’d get right at it with the new ones.  It wasn’t splish-splosh out there but I did find enough mud to take the edge off the sparkly bits!  As I started out, I wondered whether the combination of a mid-week training session, allied to new runners and Kurt’s encouraging comments about my running (you know how I feel about the power of the mind!) would make a difference to my speed and/or endurance.

I don’t think I would have kept up with Cliff’s whippet-like starting pace, but I still started quickly like last Sunday.  I slowed a little from time to time, but unlike last week I didn’t run out of steam – overall, I felt pretty good.  I also felt just warm enough with my new under-layer and an old Rono long-sleeve on top and longs below… and sporting my new beanie, of course!

My route this morning took in the Royal Oak, the corner of Wivelsfield Green, Hundred Acre Lane, Wellhouse Lane (with its large group of perambulators, though none with spare tea-cakes for me to scoff!), the water tower and back along the railway.  I made it 7.5 miles overall and the time was…

…65 minutes, which means an increase from last weeks 6.77mph to 6.92mph.  I was hoping that it would have been faster, but never mind.  I have a run scheduled with Nick on Wednesday and if he doesn’t knacker me out I might go for a run the with Burgess Hill Runners again that night.  It would be great to break 7mph net Sunday.

Kurt suggested that I enter Barns Green half marathon on 28th October, saying that it’s a lovely run through beautiful countryside… Kim is yet to be persuaded, but Dai said he might sign up, so are there any other takers?  Hey Nick!  You must live round the corner, so no excuses there… unless you want to get the teacakes in afterwards!