In Sussex there are two opportunities, at bank holiday weekends, to run three races in three days. The harder challenge occurs in the spring, when the foolhardy may run the East Grinstead and Haywards Heath 10 mile races, and finish off with the Burgess Hill 10k. The three together make a marathon, more or less.
I, on the other hand, chose the less challenging August treble, consisting of the Alfriston Water Meadows Fun Run, a little over 5k off-road, the Newick Will Page 10k and the King’s Head Canter, a 5k, a total mileage of a modest 12.69. Nevertheless, given my aversion to road running and to running on consecutive days, I approached the races with caution.
The Alfriston race, part of the village’s festival, starts and ends on the Tye, and runs along the side of the Cuckmere. Though short, about 5.4km, it is not without its challenges: rutted paths, cows and their by-product, stiles and annoyed ramblers who did not appreciate having to wait to climb the stiles. In small fields, slower runners like me feel exposed, but I could see, as the leaders returned along the opposite bank, exciting duels between the first, second, third and fourth runners, all Seaford Striders. Ben Martin, a junior won, with Gareth Hutchinson in second place and Paul Heywood in third. The menacing clouds above us produced only a drop or two of rain, and we returned to a prize-giving interrupted only once by the Eastbourne Scottish Pipe Band.
The Newick Will Page 10k is a bigger event, run on country lanes around the village, beginning and ending at their sports field. The first half is broadly downhill, so the laws that govern the universe dictate that the second half must be uphill, and the final kilometre is particularly hard. When I ran it before, the pain was enhanced by being able to hear the loudspeakers calling the finishers home long before I was anywhere near the finish. This year, perhaps because of a cricket match that was to be held on the field later on, the loudspeakers were silent, so that particular mental torture was denied me.
Finishing the Newick 10k, photo by Tony Humphries
Finally, in heavy rain, there was today’s King’s Head Canter, a new race for me. It begins in Chiddingly, the village where Picasso used to come to stay and finishes at East Hoathly, at the King’s Head where the 1648 brewery, named after the year when we executed Charles Stuart, that man of blood, is based. The brewery sponsors the race and generously gives every finisher a pint or soft drink if they prefer. The race poses a logistical problem, solved by leaving one’s car either at the start, and then walking back over the fields to Chiddingly after the race, or leaving it at the finish and walking across fields before the race. I chose the latter course, and confidently set off on what I thought was the path. I was followed by other runners, a mother and her two daughters, deceived by my air of knowing where I was going. I had to admit that I had taken a wrong turning, and we retraced our footsteps, but though I was sure I now knew the correct path, they unaccountably preferred to drive to the start rather than trust my way finding again.
Waling two miles across wet fields is not recommended, if one wants to start a subsequent running race dry-shod. We assembled for the start and were off. I found a good pace and stuck to it and, much to my astonishment, found I was overtaking other runners. There were a few downhills but no corresponding ascents and I was pleased to finish in, by my watch, 27:51. I await the official results. Then I joined the damp queue for my free pint: I chose the lightest beer on offer, Hop Pocket. It lived up to its name.