Stour Valley Marathon – A View From The Back by Keith Passingham

Amazingly, considering the poor preparation during the lead in to race day, I was really looking forward to my first experience of a trail marathon (technically an ultra as it is advertised as approximately 27 miles). Despite a longest run of 15 miles since Brighton, I wasn’t worried about the distance – as I was told on several occasions “your legs have marathon memory”! I was more worried about too many late nights stuck in front of my laptop (exam marking!) and trying to keep up with Kev and Steve over 27 miles – oh, and getting lost.

It all started last autumn when Caroline and I were talking on a LSR and I mentioned I’d found the SVM and it looked good. We eventually agreed that we’d enter and run it together, enjoying the run, scenery and company. After entering in November, there was no turning back! Over the next few months more Flyers signed up and we linked up with Rochford RC’s Bridgette, who had also entered.

Gear checked Saturday evening – decide to go with hat (forecast sunny) but snood packed too, jelly babies (whole pack), tape, Vaseline, 2 bananas (1 before and 1 after), water, fill backpack water bladder (still not sussed out how to drink through the valve properly), T rather than vest (prevent rubbing on neck/shoulders), waist bag, mobile phone.

Wake early Sunday, porridge for brekkie (out from 9am to possibly 4pm) with normal orange and toast, 2 cuppas to wake me up, then off to pick up Steve. Meet the others at the Weir.

Arriving at Nayland, you realise what a beautiful part of Essex/Suffolk this is. Bump into old friends Dave, John, Lorna and Julian. Pick up numbers, from Paul S, and course instructions. For the uninitiated, see instructions for 3rd to 4th mile below:

TR, SA on LHFE to FC, thru KG, SA thru copse, thru KG, ½ L X F and thru

KG, TR on EP, X ST (low branch ahead), X ST (StEW)to TK, TL. At junction

TL (StEW) X bridge, SA on TK uphill. TR before farm (StEW), after 10m TL, X

ST, SA on EP. X broken ST. In FC, TL X ST (StEW), Keep R thru wood, SA on


……get myself ready and then go to the main briefing (just like parkrun) in the hall.

Group photo taken by man running in flip flops (yes, that’s right, flip flops – there were a few of them).

Group photo taken by man running in flip flops (yes, that’s right, flip flops – there were a few of them).

keith1And then drift over to start line – which was around there somewhere (very low key). Then we’re off. Nice easy pace through the village then up a long, long hill which stretched the field out considerably. I was already being left behind! Caroline waited for me, as did Kev and Steve when we finally reached the top.

Soon Kev and Steve drifted off, never to be seen again until we finished. Caroline and I quickly made the decision to do the “ultra” thing and walk up the hills and run the flat (can’t remember any of those) and downhill sections. Wise decision! During the first few miles, we were able to follow fellow runners so had little reason to use the trail instructions. As the field spread out, we suddenly realised that we needed to start using them, quickly learning the codes and navigating ourselves quite efficiently. It helped having another pair of runners with us, one of whom had the route on her mobile!

We took in the magnificent scenery, stopping to take a few pics and generally really enjoying ourselves. We suddenly came across the first checkpoint, quaffed some water and drinks, helping myself to a few chocolate chip cookies and then we were on our way again. By concentrating on the navigation and taking in the views, the miles flew past.

We reached halfway after crossing a magnificent little bridge to be greeted with “you’re well within the cut-off time”. First objective achieved! More drinks and choc chip cookies. It was here that we were caught by my old friend Dave and his group. We kept in touch with them over the next 7/8 miles.

The views kept amazing us; more pics were taken, much banter going on between the various groups along the way and great conversation with Caroline.

The “big” hill – with new friend Cherie (more later)

The “big” hill – with new friend Cherie (more later)

Oh yes, and more hills! After scaling one, we had to go downhill through a field with cows that had enormous, front facing, curved horns. They were obviously spooked and decided to all run to the other end of the field at a fair lick in front of us. First we froze and then we quickly made for the next kissing gate. Then, of course, back up another hill.

We stopped at another checkpoint for drinks and cookies. Then onwards and upwards (literally). A few miles further on, we came across the unmanned water station in a wood and helped ourselves (I also managed to drench Caroline!). A couple of miles further on, Dave’s little group was a little in front of us and I decided to take another photo. Bad move! We followed the instructions but we were now on our own. I estimated we would finish between about 6.15 and 6.30. At the end of the muddy/rutted track we had run along for about a mile (at approx. mile 23), we came across Cherie trying to work out the trail instructions. We had two choices – turn left, or go straight on. Instructions said turn right! Looked around for a way mark – none to be seen. It said look for houses – saw some in both directions. Which way to go? Group decision, go straight ahead and look for our way mark on left 250m after the houses, as per instructions. Found a track with a different way mark, so went down there. A mile further on and all three of us agreed we were lost and it would take too long to retrace our steps (now worrying about the 7 hour limit! No medal! After all that!).

We tried a few more trails and then came across a Suffolk Wildlife Trust enclosure with a map. Unfortunately, map was no good. Then along came our saviours – a family taking a stroll in the countryside. We explained our predicament and said we had to get back to Nayland. They pointed us in the general direction of the A134, giving us some instructions how to get there (not straightforward).

We eventually came out into a village and looked around for someone to ask for directions to the A134. The only one I saw was about 11 – thankfully, she pointed us in the right direction. This was confirmed by some dog walkers we encountered whilst making our way to the main road.

Having found the A134, which way do we go? Left or right? A signpost indicated right but also told us Nayland was 2 miles away. Nothing for it but to run along a busy, two carriageway, twisty A road, with hedgerows both sides, for 2 miles. Thank heavens for electric orange! Remembering the Highway Code we went single file (me in front, Caroline at the back – both in orange, with Cherie in the middle) on the right, facing oncoming traffic. I must admit, this was a tad scary, especially coming up to right hand blind bends, running in the middle of the road so that drivers would (hopefully) see me.

keith3We passed the 26.2 miles on this section, with a great cheer. Then we spotted the turn off to Nayland and then a couple of runners appearing from a road to our right. Cherie knew where we were now (she ran it last year), so we re-joined the official route – a lovely run along the river.

Almost there. Check watch – within the 7 hour limit. Relief. Up some steps by the bridge and into the town. We spot some orange – Kev and Steve, with Sue (who had come up to see us finish on her motorbike). It really spurred us on for the last little push to the finish.

Great cheers from the other Flyers as we finished, with Paul S giving us our medals. Wow, what a medal!

keith4Collected a goody bag and enjoyed a lovely cuppa or two, and jacket potato with vegetable chilli. Needed that!

Check Garmin 27.59 miles in 6.43. Longest ever run and longest time on my feet. I’m now an ultra-runner!

Will I do it again? Naturally! Caroline and I have already agreed to run it again next year, hopefully without getting lost. A great event, beautiful countryside, good company – what more can you ask for? The race was well organised all the way through from entry to everything about the day.

Back home, I uploaded the Garmin and found out we had gone way off the correct route and ended up in Leavenheath. Never mind, a thoroughly enjoyable day out with great friends – also made a few new friends too.


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