I love Lewes. It’s a small town with a huge personality – and a marathon. A marathon which, since moving to the town 3 and half years ago I’ve always been too scared to do. I’m not very good at running in the Downs; I rarely get out to train on them as I’ve zero sense of direction and don’t really like getting muddy. But I figured that I probably needed some practice before taking on the South Downs Way 50 in – gulp – 2 weekends’ time.
It was a really treat on Sunday morning to wake up at a normal hour, in my own bed and enjoy a leisurely breakfast in my pyjamas, before walking the mile up to Wallands primary school, where the race starts. After a week of wild winds and rain, it was a relief to see some blue sky, and the fence not rattling, and I started to feel pretty excited about having a day out in the hills.
The organisers have kept the event pretty small – this year had 193 full distance finishers and 46 relay teams – but the school hall was packed with people in all manner of running attire, which was a relief to see. I had no idea what to wear, and was trying out my hydration pack for the first time… it’s been a while since I’ve felt like such a race newbie! I happily found my magic chiropractor’s partner, Wendy, straightaway, and we compared notes on how little training we felt we’d done, and how we’d really rather be running with a doggo for company. After a briefing from the race director, which was mostly telling us to just have a good time and remember the pizza and beer at the end, we were lead out onto Landport Bottom for the start. At 10am sharp, we were off, to cheers from those in the know, and bewildered looks from most other people on a quiet Sunday morning walk.
The route is great. It’s a 26.2 mile loop of the glorious South Downs, but it is hilly. Very hilly! I have slowly got used to making peace with not trying to run up the longest hills, and so was happy running when I could, careering down the down bits, and plodding up the up bits. The race thinned out quite quickly as you might expect, but there was always someone to chat to, moan to and appreciate the views with. There’s a great part of the race along a stretch known as the ‘yellow brick road’, which is concrete (happily for the feet) and has amazing views across Sussex, including the wonderful Newhaven incinerator. It was downhill most of the way to the half way point at Southease, where the crowds were out in force. It was really great to have some cheers after miles of solitude – a definite boost! My only gripe with the whole event was here though… you had to go into the YHA to use the toilet… which was up some stairs, and a bit of detour from the run. However, it did make for a very pleasant experience: good quality loo roll, proper soap, a dryer etc.
After halfway, it was straight up again, and it was a bit demoralising being overtaken all over the place by spritely people just starting out on the second half of the relay. Through the beautiful village of Firle we went, and even though it was mostly downhill, this was when the wind really started to feel strong and against you. I started to struggle a bit, and had to walk on a couple of the flat sections, and was being overtaken by stronger runners. I also knew what was coming up (a mega hill called Mount Caburn), and I really had to get my head back into the moment and just keep moving forward. Through Glynde, and there she was. The climb of all climbs, at mile 23 (I think!), just when you want to have nearly a mile of uphill… I walked as fast as I could, but was overtaken by numerous dogs and people on a Sunday morning stroll. Finally, after what felt like forever and ever, it was a steep downhill and a final uphill push to the end, where Lewes comes into view and you know you’re nearly there. The final section is a steep road downhill, and I don’t think my quads knew *what* was going on, but rounding the corner and seeing Mark waiting was the best thing ever.
This race had my emotions all over the place. My Granny died a couple of weeks ago and I’d seen my Grandma in the week, and she’s really unwell and suddenly very old (she’s 98). I had been away for work when Granny died, and so had had to push down everything I was feeling and just get on with doing my job. I’d been really up and down since I got back – crying and then being OK – but having so much time to think about both my grandmothers and how much they have done for me and how much they have made me me, brought everything to the surface, and I had a couple of big tears on my own as I ran, and again when I saw a pal who was volunteering and gave me a hug and some jelly babies. Seeing Bez waiting meant a really big cry, and I wanted to just stop with him – with 200 metres to go (I know). I love running for how it lets you think, and this was just the kind of race I needed for how I have been feeling. I think if I’d done a big city race, full of people all the time everywhere, I would have been in pieces constantly, and been really overwhelmed.
The finish of the Moyleman is excellent. Every finisher runs through a chute of proud Lewesians and supporters and gets a big handshake ‘well done’. There’s no medal, but an engraved pint glass and a voucher for a pizza and a pint of Harvey’s. In Harvey’s Yard, there’s post-run massage and my friend Hannah’s van, which I can attest does excellent oat milk lattes and energy balls.
I can’t recommend the Moyleman enough, and am so lucky to have such a great race on my doorstep. The organisation is flawless and the volunteers are second to none: its cold enough running up on the Downs at times, so they are real heroes for standing out there cheering us on our way. If you like a challenge and trail running, it’s definitely one to add to the calendar. If you like dogs, it’s also good: I stroked four dogs mid-race. I know.