Been a while, last years DNF at Chiller caused me a long period of reflection I put a huge amount of time and effort in to the preparation planing of this event and ultimately it was some really bad decisions during the heat of the race that caused me to enter the process of circling the drain which in turn lead to even worse decisions.
This left me aimless, without direction training is never as focused as it could be.
I switched to running and started to build volume I thought I better race had a little search online and found the Hanningfield trail marathon, only issue was it was the following weekend and I didn't know the course. I had a day off on the Thursday before so I ran it in a little over 4 hrs. NOT ideal prep for the race on the Sunday.
Race day arrived I shaved of a chunk of time and considering I wasn't 100% fit OR fresh I was happy to finish 3rd just a few minutes behind Local fast lad Matt Jordan and seasoned ultra runner Nathan Roulson.
St Peters Way Ultra Run in Feb gave me back some mojo and I had a plan I wanted to completed the 40+ miler from Ongar to St Peters Church in Bradwell in under 6hrs and I executed that plan and finished in second place behind Dan Kyne.
Still over halfway through the year and there was nothing BIG in the diary so back to researching what I could fit in and when and the Saltmarsh 75 kept popping up it was an event I had wanted to do back a few years (when the only option was a 38 miler.) but this year it was back and with an option to run the full 76.5 miles in one hit.
I love the idea of the this race it follows the costal path in a tortuous back and forth down the river Crouch from South Woodham Ferrers round the Dengie peninsular back down the river Blackwater before hitting Maldon and then back out again past Heybridge through Tollesbury round a final never ending marsh to Salcott.
So many of my old stomping grounds are present on this race including the finish of St Peters way it provides many memories of distant summers past.
I began running sections of the course during training runs and the route came back to me from previous runs and cycles but one thing was evident was that in its mid summer bloom grass was going to be an issue. Most of the course was fine but there were a few sections where a machete would have made progress quicker. Still it was going to be the same for everyone and I had a better knowledge than most of what was out there on the fringes.
I set my pace pro on Garmin connect on what I though was a reasonable total time began adjusting the miles according to the conditions and quickly added another hour to the eta.
I have joined a local club, the fantastic Little Baddow Ridge Runners, mainly because there kit is orange and purple and I quite like orange! nothing to do with it being a trail club, local to me with a member I already knew... the well known ultra trail runner Ian Braizer.
Quite a few of these guys were running including seasoned SM75'er Colin Harper who has run every event since its inception and was lining up again.
I signed on, I had a goal I kept my volume up but wasn't putting in heavy 20hr weeks like I had for Chiller Enjoyment was key.
Race details came through and I noticed that my St Peters Nemesis Dan Kyne was on the start list and i thought good I'm in a bit better condition I can try and hang on.
skip to the start line met up with the LBRR gang had a chat with old MTB friend Ben Frost and family ( Ben was doing the two day stage race option splitting the race in half.)
Had a chat with Pete Jones the organiser, wife and I discussed how many people were utter nutters for wanting to run so far.
Then we were off, well Colin was off, straight to the front. A small gaggle of us jogged round the first section I then took the lead and immediately forgot to turn right onto the Marsh wall not a great start! We settled in round this section and I had purposefully set a quick time to target for the first 3 miles knowing that the ground was good and that I prefer a hasty start and safe in the knowledge that it should all get a bit sensible at about mile 6.
So I lead the way with Dan and Colin in the next too spots small gaps building. Off out over the railway lines and through a wooded trail back down to the railway lines beating the Marshall to the crossing there, little wave as they were walking up to take position.
Down into Fambridge straight through CP1 and back onto the wall throttled back as planned and hit the first sections of longer grass, Dan caught me and we ran together had a chat about pacing and expectations. Just before Burnham I needed a comfort break so pulled over and Dan strode on. We met again at the next CP in the Marina but he got sorted quickly and headed out while I picked up my frozen water bladder from my drop bag. At the CP was Lindley Chambers ultra event organiser of the SPW Ultra and the now Famous Suffolk BYU here running as first aider in support of Pete and Bev. It was great to see his smiling beard.
Onwards I was feeling good running well within myself it was warming up but my frozen water bladder was keeping my body temperature down however it was loaded with energy drink and this is where my first mistake took place. I don't normally go for energy drink AND gels but for some reason I had decided to load this with a 6% mix and the combo of that and regular gel chugging didn't immediately hit but would cause problems later.
Onto St Peters I could see Dan bobbing away ahead of me on the wall and I had zero intention of catching him I was ahead of schedule by about 6 minutes and still feeling good I didn't want to close the gap, Colin was a mile or so back I had a buffer and i didn't want to take the race on at this stage.
We passed the CP at St Peters I topped up and it was at this point that i just started to notice the reticence for my body to want to consume carbs. So I took Juice and not energy drink. However shortly after my gut decided enough was enough and it wasn't going to play nice with anything I consumed. I have over the years learned and unlearned feeding strategies that I can survive for 6 hours plus events but this was a fairly early issue and I was kicking myself mentally for not sticking with the the tried and tested. I wasn't sick but I did retch a few times so I throttled back a bit and just tried to take in fluid when I was able..
There was a section of long grass around about this time and this really wasn't in my plan so I dropped from about 6 mins ahead of target to 3 still I was happy with that.
Next section was Bradwell to St Lawrence I always enjoy this bit with the beaches near the power station I was going ok considering.
I skipped the CP at Bradwell waterside I had water and gels and couldn't take any more on anyway so it was a pointless stop.
The section into Steeple is hazy but on the road in Michael and Amanda Travers were waiting, totally unexpected and such a nice thing to come across. Into the CP I remember Pete and I think Bev being there to help me and I said just water again for the bladder top up and this time no juice which would prove to be a good choice.
Onto the St peters way route for what I knew was going to be one of the toughest sections, the grass hell between Maylandsea and Maldon id recced this and run it on an out and back from the prom id adjusted my pace plan to account but with 40+ miles of running I was way way off what was achievable and my small margin being ahead of pace was eaten immediately as I hit the ankle grabbing stuff. I strode it out for pretty much the whole section. This had a positive in that it allowed me to recover some and settle my stomach but I was now behind schedule.
Same problems for everyone and the elation of arriving at the crossing of Northey island road and the knowledge that the next 10+ miles was all good running lifted me. Stomach was settled and I was sticking to plain water and gels.
Maldon prom pace up and high fives from the Marshall family, thanks Iain.
CP at the prom I had shoes here but my feet were fine so opted for just water into the bladder and grabbed a handful of Gels thanks to the guys at this CP I pretty much did nothing they even got the air out of the bladder to stop the sloshing.
Onto the causeway and down into the industrial area where I find Andy Jopson waiting and he jogs alongside me, really struggling with pace at this point I'm not finding running slower that 10 mm comfortable but unable to keep that pace I switched to alternating walk/run. We spot Dan as we round the headland towards the the lock at Heybridge basin. Andy stayed alongside me to Blackwater sailing club where I found the Iain and the boys again! quick chat and a fist bump with Andy plus the update that Dan had only just run through passing the next sailing club up river just a few minutes I thought.
I'm riding the knife edge here my energy is solely dependant on my carb intake and that's dependant on my pace so I'm waxing and waning through periods of good (run) and bad (striding) past the caravan parks at Mill Beach and Micheal and Amanda are on the sea wall with more shouts of well done keep going.
Pace plan was out the window id hoped to be doing 9:30 miles here on the tarmac I was nowhere close but oddly I didn't care I actually felt ok just mildly frustrated that my legs wouldn't move. Dan had a scorcher on this section and upped his lead, he later told me that this was the one part of the course he knew so was confident to get his head down and push on he was now pulling out towards a 20 minute lead.
Onto the mighty Hangar section and into the CP at the sailing club, water into the bladder and Coke into a spare squishy bottle, I'm a fan of coke when the going is rough and it was a treat 500ml downed and it didn't cause me any GI issues total winner.
Round the marshes leading in to Tollesbury and more grass! I kept pushing. the lead into Tollesbury took forever Dans lead was stabilising and I had a big gap over Colin I relaxed a bit through the village Hall for the penultimate CP was cool to actually run through the hall and out the back not sure what I picked up here maybe just water and I think it was Bev on duty we had a chat she said I was looking good and I was still thinking clearly odd because I remember the clarity I had but the memory is Hazy! Short hop to the final CP just 2 miles further on and in this section I was feeling great and I ran the whole section. Final CP was just a lonely trestle table with a single bottle of Coke atop (there was a whole stash of stuff underneath.) it was a fresh bottle so i filled my squishy as best as I could with fizzy coke! onto the Salcott Marsh peninsular 6 to go easy right...
This was the section that felt the loneliest, the dark was coming and I knew other than Dan and a few supporters there was nothing but the finish in front and everyone and everything behind.
70 miles in, 24 miles further than id ever run before the first couple of miles of this section were ok as I found lines but then the grass grew around me and lead into the section I'm now calling the triffids. Ian Crozier and I had recced some of this area but we had not done this specific bit having decided that we had seen enough. Man did we miss some stuff!
Mildly delirious and in the fading light the weeds were above my head I could hear the mosquitos buzzing there was a path through but ankles were grabbed with every stride I tried to run at one point and my feet got caught on two consecutive strides I nearly went down. Walk you Idiot do not turn an ankle now. slowest mile of the race at 18 minutes.
The twilight was amazing though with lights twinkling in the distance, disorientated I could not work out where the finish was. Head torch came out id wanted to get in before dark but I saw sense. Garmin was on mapping, pace and data irrelevant the counter for distance to go the only number on the screen 2 miles, going was improving.
Nearly there I could hear shouting and thinking that this was people at the finish I let out a WOOP WOOP, I got one back. it wasn't the finish! Light heading towards me, runner Question "are you 28?" "yes" "Well done only 2k to go."
Off the wall towards the village, house lit up on the left, through the gate up the road right into the hall, Wifey waiting, hugs, joy. 76.5 miles in 14 hours and 12 minutes an hour and 12 minutes past my guess, I apologised to Anna for being late.
Dan had finished 25 mins up and was waiting on the bench outside but in his green finish T I didn't recognise him straight away, congratulations all round. Great run we both agreed that the course was brutal.
Pete made me a cuppa. Happy place. I had chased the sun the sun had won. I didn't care what an epic race.