South Downs Relay 2016 – The Review

June09/ 2016

The sun rose just after 4.30am on Saturday 4th June. I snarled at my alarm clock as it roused me from my shallow sleep and looked at the curtains to see the first hint of light peeping through. The mighty group yawn of 5 other brave runners and a very patient driver, somehow linked through several months of discussion, route practices and anticipation permeated the foggy air that bright morning with enough force to pierce my consciousness.

I felt them stir.
The team were nearly assembled.
I could hear the psychic roar of:

Pete Lane
Scott Chinchin
Andy Selman
Ben Aiton
Keith Jones
Steve Jones

This could only mean one thing. It was South Downs Relay day.

When we assembled one team member short at Steyning at 5.30am, I realised the noise I heard from Steve must have actually been a psychic snore. Having arrived home at 2am after a late flight back from holiday the night before, he had slept through his alarm, but a quick call later, he was dressed and we were on the road.

We arrived at Beachy Head at 6.30am, checked in and picked up our commemorative t-shirts. We had just enough time to admire the beautiful blue sea contrasting with the grass and chalky cliffs over the Seven Sisters, before I kicked off our campaign at 7am, struggling to keep up with the ambitious 6 minute mile pace adopted by the herd of eager 1st leg runners. A camera drone buzzed overhead, following us through the remains of the clearing mist.

Six and a bit miles later, I emerged a sweaty mess at Seven Sisters Country Park. My grimace turned to a smile as I saw the rest of the team waiting at the end, cheering and I handed the baton to Steve, who tore off up the hill to start leg 2. 1 down, 17 to go!

Steve and Andy, seasoned SDR runners worked through legs 2 and 3 from Exceat via Bo Peep to Itford Farm. Ben was running the SDR for the first time, subbed in just 1 week before the race due to Adrian Scott’s unfortunate last minute achilles injury, so hadn’t had time to recce his legs. He set off at a cracking pace, clutching a laminated map of the South Downs Way. An hour later, we all waited with baited breath at a layby on the A27 for him to appear. As our tension grew, he appeared with a grazed knee from a trip, but most importantly, a wide smile on his face. Scott ran to the Ditchling Beacon at a cracking pace to finish our first legs. After negotiating around 34 miles of the South Downs Way between us, we refuelled like athletic pros on pasta, Jaffa Cakes and Jelly Babies in preparation for the remaining 66 miles.

Our second legs went by efficiently – Saddlescombe via Devil’s Dyke to the A283, up to Washington, then Springhead Hill, Houghton Lane, culminating in Littleton Farm. We shook off the heat, to tick off mile after mile of stunning green rolling hills, pigs, sheep and horses whizzed by.  This wasn’t so hard. 2 of the 3 legs complete, another 30 miles: we were almost home. Keith’s wife Angie joined us as we passed through Steyning, to provide navigation assistance, much needed encouragement and excellent sticky date cake.

Except that the 3rd leg is the hardest. Our bodies had seized up, ignoring the fact that we still needed to cover over 30 miles between us. I was the first to start my 3rd leg – a tough 7 miles from Hill Barn to Harting Hill with some steep hills. At one point, on a particularly steep hill, with 3 miles to go, I thought I was done. My legs stopped working, forcing me walk. A minute or so later, despite my walking pace, I passed a red-faced runner whose legs had given up altogether, to the extent that he had resorted to leaning on a walker to make it! Somehow this poor chap’s plight gave me the energy I needed to switch back to a run to complete my leg. With relief I handed the baton to Steve and wobbled into the van, changing out of my now rather horrific running top for the last time that day.

A little later, Steve appeared: sweaty, but victorious at Queen Elisabeth park, passing to Andy, who hotfooted it to the Sustainability Centre, appearing relatively fresh as he bounded to the finish. Pete had a hard stint up the incredibly scenic Old Winchester Hill and was suitably worn out when he clambered through the long grass to the end. Scott shot into the distance so fast that we were worried we wouldn’t have enough time to finish our well-deserved pints at the pub in the middle of leg 17. Fortunately our thirst got us through them in time to ferry Ben to the last changover at Holden Farm where he triumphantly romped through the last 5.5 miles via the oddly named Cheesefoot Head to Chilcomb, to cross the line in a blaze of glory before the sun set.

13 hours and 49 minutes after we started, our 100 mile journey was finally complete. We watched the sun fade as the race organisers, Richard and Jonathan announced the prizes. The fact we ended up 24th of the 32 competing A-teams was of little importance to us as we sat in a state of contented brokenness, transported safely home through the darkness by our excellent driver and navigator.

The psychic link transmitted another quieter yawn between us, then at last   faded away, for another year at least, as the cooling black of the night washed over our weary bodies.

Photo 04-06-2016, 06 57 19Photo 04-06-2016, 19 44 51Photo 04-06-2016, 21 23 59

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