With my eye mainly on being ready for SDW50 in early April, I was made aware of a new trail marathon race which happened to coincide with a 4.5hr training run on my plan. ‘Twas meant to be! The first of a series of four events, Big Mud is a circular route starting on the edge of Queen Elizabeth Country Park, right next to Butser Hill. Taking in brief sections of the South Downs Way, Monarch’s way and the Meon Valley the route has a total of 1250m of climb, a fair bit of vert for a marathon distance.
The logistics were straightforward, just an hour’s drive from home. I had a slightly early start and headed down on the morning. I was in plenty of time to register, visit the lavs and warm up. It was already a beautiful morning and the forecast was excellent, I was looking forward to getting going. I had dithered a bit about what to wear – just a long-sleeved base layer, or a t-shirt and top, opting for the latter in the end. I was a bit warm from time to time, but was glad of the extra layer when exposed to a stiff breeze up on the downs.
No messing about at the start of the race, the first climb up Butser Hill was straight out of the gate. It actually felt OK on fresh legs. A hardy few ran up, but nearly everyone else walked. I had decided to take my new trekking poles for a practice run. They saw plenty action and got some admiring/jealous glances as I steamed up the hills, 4WD stylie. I had worried about them being an encumbrance when not in use, but they are so light I just ran with them in one hand, not even bothering to collapse them. I didn’t stab anyone, far as I could tell.
With recent stormy weather and heavy rain I think we were all expecting conditions underfoot to be poor, but with a couple of days of sunshine and a drying breeze, the route was nearly all in excellent condition. Sure, there was the occasional gloopy section in a low lying area or going through a farmyard, but nothing to slow us down overly or take too much out of the legs. The weather did not disappoint, with clear blue skies and tremendous views in every direction.
I had 5 hrs in mind as a reasonable target for a training run of this distance, any 2020 era marathon-related thoughts of sub-3.5 rendered ridiculous by the terrain. Race day magic did its usual thing, however, and with a rush of blood to the head I was cruising along nicely on the flats and downs. I skipped through the first aid station at 10km, stopping only long enough to grab a couple of flapjacks. At the half way stage I was at around 2h13mins and thinking that a sub 4.5 hrs might be on. It soon became clear that I had not taken into account the fatigue in my legs from the first half due to the hillage, going a bit quicker than planned, and in particular running hard down the hills. The second half of the race had plenty more hills to offer, in fact having slightly more climb than the first half.
Stepping over stiles became an oft-repeated chore, there seemed to be a lot of them, many like this one at the top of steep hills.
I kept going, ticking off the kilometres. My limited ultra experience tells me that however far away it seems, if you do enough of that, the finish line will eventually come. Despite weary legs, I was mainly having a great time, helped greatly by the fantastic conditions and the far-ranging views this afforded. I took this photo about a quarter of the way up a big hill, with my head level with the top of the church steeple. By the time I got to the top, the entire village of East Meon was far below me.
The final third is a bit of a blur to me now, but the main thing that sticks in my mind was the final hill. I knew I had to climb back up Butser Hill but it was quite a different prospect on battered legs. I lost a couple of minutes when the marked course took us down a different track than the gpx. It might be that this route diversion was mentioned in the inaudible pre-race briefing, but who knows? I stubbornly stuck with the gpx and was treated to a very steep climb up a path in very poor condition which was a bit of a battle, but worth it when presented with a (just about) runnable descent down the other side to the finish line.
I finished in 5h03, the second half taking about 50 minutes longer than the first. This was a fun event, a nice taster for the terrain I can expect at SDW50 in under 6 weeks now. It has definitely been a timely reminder to respect the hills and the whole distance of the race.