Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Salomon South Downs Marathon - Race Report

It was two years ago at the Salomon South Downs Marathon that I entered my first ever marathon - and what a shock to the system that was. Suffice to say, I should have been awarded 10 out of 10 for "best crash at 18 mile mark". In short, too much confidence in my abilities mixed with a total lack of experience in trail or marathon running lead to bad pacing, poor nutrition and a mild dose of dehydration. A great introduction to marathon running then.

The SDM is certainly not a forgiving course, if you don’t get your game right. I remember 2 years ago hitting CP 3 absolutely exhausted, desperate for water, picking up some water at the aid station, looking at it and then throwing it away! To say I was dazed and confused at that point is a bit of an understatement... In short, I crashed a beauty and waddled around the course at around the 3 hour 32 mark. Not a great experience for a first marathon and something I needed to rectify in 2011.

This time around I knew what to expect and had a few more miles in my legs from training. I have now run plenty of marathons and ultra marathons so I had no excuses this time around. I also made a conscious effort to taper in the last week for this event. 

The SDM is organised by 2:09 Events (http://www.209events.com/) which is owned by Mike Gratton – the guy who won the London Marathon in a time of 2:09 in 1983 (hence the name). The course basically follows a part of the South Downs Way on a point to point route starting from Slindon College in Arundel and takes you to the finish line at Queen Elizabeth Park which is in the Petersfield area. As far as trail marathons go, this is a good, tough trail which rivals some of the best the UK has to offer. Runners are treated with some great views and some very long hills acting as a gentle reminder that we are on the South Downs!

The hill profile can be seen here:

The marathon gets going in 3 different stages depending on expected finish time. Only those who leave in the final phase (expected to finish within 4 hours) are able to 'compete' in the race. I am never that keen waiting about at the start line as my nerves tend to build up. But this event offers a great atmosphere with tea, coffee and croissants at the start line - this took my mind right off the impending start time.

Its always interesting looking around at other competitors. Sometimes it can be difficult not to look at someone and think ‘he looks fast’ and so on. However, I have learnt from experience that I am almost always wrong!

I bumped into Ian Berry and we had a quick chat. Ian mentioned he is doing something crazy like 4 marathons in 24 hours or similar! He also pointed out that Alan Murchison was running today who was a strong runner and he would be a useful guy to run with.

Anyway, a croissant and cup of tea later,  I am standing at the start line trying to recall what went wrong 2 years earlier - the first thing that immediately came to mind was hitting the pace far too hard at the start in order to stay in the leading group - a mistake I paid for later in the race. Well, after a short countdown, we were off, and true to form I totally ignored my thoughts on this and went off hard and fast pushing to the front of the crowd. We broke out into about 4 runners setting a very good pace around the college field. The pace was more suitable for a 1500m than a trail marathon?

The first mile or so is on road - but with road comes speed. I was already running at a speed I was a little uncomfortable with and was concerned that I would try and maintain this speed on the trail. I needed to remain focused, relax and take it easy, otherwise I was destined to make exactly the same mistakes as last time.

After a couple of miles in we started to hit the incline which will take us up to the top of the Downs. I am trying to maintain the same speed as the runner next to me who is running hard but steady. He also seems to be able to tackle the hills with ease and therefore starts to take a small lead.

On the first incline my breathing is erratic and I am a little concerned that I’m going to burn out at such an early stage! It was probably the pace up the hill which was an initial shock to the body and at such an early stage in the race. It usually takes me a mile or 2 to actually get into the swing of things and warm up. Hitting the incline in such a short distance probably didn't help with the heart rate or breathing...

I could also see Alan catching up on me at this stage – The hill was really taking it out of me. Once at the top of the first climb it is then a gentle downhill which is perfect. I can use this gentle downhill to pick up the pace and make up for the time lost on the uphill. This was a great opportunity to maintain a good pace and yet be comfortable enough to settle into things and get on with the job.

A quick sip of some water from the first feeding station and I was running just behind the leader at a fair pace. It would be like this for several miles where we would pace each other taking turns on the lead. We got into a pattern of the lead guy taking a lead on the hills and sometime having 30-40 metres gain, with me then making up the distance on the down hills and flat.

I felt good, strong and sure that I could maintain a 6.30mm pace for the rest of the event. I made a point of keeping the 'lead guy' reasonably close and used him to maintain a steady pace. The miles flew by and we ran past the 1st CP straight into a climb. Again, the lead runner would make a reasonable gain on the hills but I stayed focused and took my time on the hill, if I tried to maintain his speed on the hills, I would most certainly burn up later or get a bad case of cramp. I knew I would make up for any time lost on the hills on the even or downhill.

Once we hit the top of the second large incline we fall back into a good pace running past the guys who left in the first and second phases. The lead guy seemed reasonably quiet and polite, weaving in and out of the other runners. I didn’t leave anything to chance and shouted "coming through" in the hope that these guys would step aside and let me past. Not only did these guys make an effort of getting out the way for us, but they also gave us some encouragement along the way.

It’s not long before we pass the second CP hitting another hill and a load of runners. In fact the crowd gets so dense that I lose site of the guy ahead. Its then I see his green singlet and red shorts and he has made some headway on me. I take advantage of a reasonably long downhill section and push at a very hard pace (I am not sure I would have got up if I fell over), and by the time we hit the bottom of the decent we were shoulder to shoulder again.

Perhaps it’s not very sportsman like to talk during a race but I tried to make conversation with this guy only to receive absolute silence. I put this down to him being in the 'zone' and perhaps me being a little ignorant of the rules of racing! The surprise came at about the 16 / 17 mile mark, I could see that this guy had stopped. Apparently it was cramp. Asking if he was ok, I pushed on as I was sure Alan wasn’t far behind us. 

It wasn't long before this guy had presumably ironed out the cramp and was speeding past me yet again. We battled again for another mile or two and then he stopped again. I took the opportunity to push hard to make up some distance between us. I didn't see him again and I'm not entirely sure he finished the race, which is a shame.

Coming up to the 20 mile mark, I was on my own. It was important that I focused on maintaining the 6.30/6.40mm pace. The last 10k of this course is still very tough and can cause some serious damage to your time, if you let it! I had also lost the guy I was racing with who did a great job of setting the pace. However, without knowing where the others were, I was not about to take any chances, so I made the best I could from the final CP taking in water, electrolytes and a gel.

The final 4-5 miles is undulating with 1 sharp ascent before hitting some reasonable easy terrain taking us into Queen Elizabeth Park. I had a bit of a bad patch around 22 / 23 miles, which I think probably cost me the sub. 2:50 time I was looking for but its all part of the game and you need to run as well in the last miles as you do in the first...

Although the last mile or so is reasonably flat it was tougher than I originally thought. My legs had been through some climbing and descending for some 25miles or so, and I asked them for a final push into the park at a fair pace.  To be honest, I didn't have too many issues in the final section with the exception of cramp at about 150 metres before the finish line!

I am reasonably happy with the consistency of my splits which were as follows:

First 10 Miles: 6.31mm
Second 10 Miles: 6:44mm
Last 10k: 6:40

All in all a great day. What is so great about this is that I get to do what I love doing, and get a free pair of Salomon XR trainers for the pleasure!

The final finish results were as follows:

1st  - Daniel Doherty - 2:52:31
2nd  - Alan Murchison - 3:02: 33
3rd Rob Watts – 3:08:29
4th - Will Clark - 3:12:21
5th  - Jon Cracknell – 3:12:31  

Reasonably good training for the World Trail Championship next month. I am off to recce the route in Connemara this Saturday with some Irish team mates, so really looking forward to that. 

And finally congratulations to Anjali for completing her first ever trail 5k. I am a very proud husband! :)


  1. Nice report Dan. Great running and well done to the mrs too. Hopefully see you Saturday for the recce

  2. Hi Dan

    Well done on your win last weekend in the South Downs marathon. A pretty quick time, being quicker that my winning times of 2:54 for 2008 and 2010, although not quite as quick as my winning time for 2007 of 2:51. (I didn't run the race in 2009).

    I guess this means that we should have a good battle over at Connemara. I look forward to meeting you in person and also collecting some data on how trail marathon times can predict ultra trail performances.

    All the best with your final three weeks preparation.


  3. Congrats on the win! It's so odd that there are 2:09 marathoners whose names aren't widely known; locally we have Steve Hoag who ran a 2:10 to finish second at the Boston Marathon (early 1980's) who's barely known even here.

  4. Nice one Dan keep up the good work, all that training is paying dividends!

    Good luck with the WTC next month

  5. Hi Warwick - thanks matey. Do you fancy a long run next weekend (25th)? Let me know. I hope training is going well.

    Steve - I agree its shocking, especially given that many elite marathon runners in the UK today are struggling to break 2.10 and these guys managed to keep a full time job locked down at the same time!

  6. I'm busy next weekend, 45 miles of Cornish coastline to tackle! I'm up for going out in a few weeks or after the WTC (can't remember when that is) I'll hopefully be in training for the Ridgeway if next weekend goes to plan.... best of luck in Ireland