I hadn't really intended to race this weekend for various reasons but in the end I decided Id bite the bullet and do three forts, it was only a few hours out of the weekend and the South Downs are without doubt my favourite place to run in England. After the Shakespeare Marathon last weekend my 10th marathon/ ultra this calender year, I ran regularly throughout the week and rested all day Saturday which was pretty lazy but probably accidentally gave me the perfect taper for this race....
Three Forts is a 27 mile trail race advertised as The Tough One with mixed terrain and climbs of over 3500ft. I ran it last year in 3 hours 52 finishing 17th as part of my build up to Old Dominion 100. It meant I knew the course well which proved to be invaluable given that the marking was a bit loose at times. The weather was absolutely atrocious. The website has since published the following: 'Two thirds of May's rainfall fell on May 1st and 2nd - We know, most of it fell on the marathon course!' It was pretty much horizontal at the start. The gun went and I took it quite quickly without going crazy, the first 2 miles go straight uphill to the downs and I ran at what felt like quite an easy pace up that incline, checking behind me at the 2 mile marker to find that I was already ahead of the 2nd placed runner by around 30 seconds, with a long line of competitors snaking back down the hill. I hammered through the first aid station and cruised down a long rocky and slippery downhill before I began the second big ascent. When I reached the top there a marshall directed me straight onwards and I checked behind to see that i already had about a one minute lead with three guys all closely positioned together behind me. After 7 miles the course crosses a main road going into Brighton before the long initially sharp but then more gradual ascent which leads all the way to Devils Dyke, the old Fort. The first 400 yards of this section are insanely steep. I've run the route from there up to the Fort around 10 - 15 times in training and only I rarely run the whole thing. I again checked behind and there was no-one to be seen so I decided to power hike the top 100 yards to conserve some energy, before it opened out on to the road and I began to run again. Devils Dyke is the turn around point and I reached the 11 mile marker there still in the lead.
I turned at the summit and began to open up as I head back downhill. Now I had a chance to see how close for sure the guys were behind me. I made it back to the initial gate into the fort before crossing paths with a guy running in 2nd and then 2 guys together in 3rd and 4th. I estimated I had a 90 second lead. I absolutely battered the next 4 miles back through the halfway point and down to the road which was at the 7/15 mile point. In that section i passed all the other marathon runners and got lots of words of encouragement.
I made it back across the road and up the third climb back up to the top of the downs, about 800ft ascent. I was now putting the hammer down as hard as I could without toppling over the edge. The weather closed in again at the top of climb 3 and there were sheets of rain and fog sweeping across the aid station at the summit. It must have been an horrendous day for the marshalls and volunteers so I made sure I thanked them all for staying out. My course knowledge was absolutely crucial here as I knew exactly where I could open up the gas and go 100% vs those sections I knew I needed to save a bit for being that there were still some climbs to go over although much lower in size. I came into the final aid station at mile 25 with two to go, a 300 yard climb followed by a fast and slippery ascent over the last 1.8 miles into the finish area. I went as hard as I could and couldn't see anyone behind me so I knew that I had it in the bag. The finish was small compared to the previous year due to the torrential wind and rain but it still felt great to cross the line. I got handed a trophy, had a photo with his holiness the local mayor and ran straight into the outbuilding knowing that I was going to be freezing in minutes stood still outside.
In the end I ran the course in 3 hours 13, 39 minutes quicker than the previous year. It felt like there was a smaller group of runners out there than the previous year but there were still 159 finishers. Im sure the weather had something to do with it but last years winning time had been 3 23 so I felt vindicated that I really had run well. The 2nd placed runner ended up coming in 22 minutes after me so I had put a massive amount of time into the field during the 2nd half of the race. Almost unbelievable actually now i look at it.... www.threefortsmarathon.org.uk/results.asp
Im putting this one down to improvement in fitness. Ive still got 8 weeks to work at that before Badwater so happy days I just hope I don't get injured between now and then!!!!!!!!!!