I had gone in to the Saffron Trail with a mild ankle injury that only felt slightly bruised. The race, although starting badly turned out great. The downside being that a mild injury was now a serious injury. I had bad sharp pain on the medial side of my left ankle. I took a week off after the Saffron Trail to recover then went out for an 8 mile run, the ankle was agony and I had to keep stopping. Another 10 days off, icing and massaging then a 4 mile tester, still no good. Then we had a family week away to Tunisia, no running but some gentle exercise in the swimming pool. On return I had 3 days until the start of the SVP 100 race. I was injured and unfit, common sense would scream to most people to take a DNS and nurse the injury. Myself on the other hand thought I would give it a go, the worst outcome being a DNF. I would personally give it a try and clock up 1 mile than stay at home wondering “What if?” and clocking zero.
Newmarket is not that far from where I live but having to get the train I decided to go up the evening before so I could make the 7am start and give myself a good chance of being able to get my train home from Manningtree. Thanks to Rich Cranswick for pointing out a spot out of the way to stick the tent up and only 5 minutes from the start. After arriving in town I made my way to the White Lion pub where registrations and kit check were taking place. Thankfully all of my kit was in order, I took down race race director Matthew Hearne’s number in case of emergency. There were only a few other runners about and it was fairly early in the evening. It was about 19.30 so I decided to have a pint before heading up the road to pitch my tent. A couple of locals asked what was going on, I told them and in conversation all of the usual clichés spilled out about being “crazy”, “mad” and asking “why?”. We’ve heard it all before and although you can give reasons you can’t make people understand. Around 20.30 I headed off to get some sleep. My first navigation error and the race hadn’t even started yet! I was heading the wrong way to the camping spot and by time I made a u turn it was after 21.00 and the light was fading. Tent up. Ear plugs in. Kit ready. Sleep.
At 5am my alarm went off and I couldn’t believe how cold I felt! I think my body was still on Tunisian 100F temperature setting! Although the sky was bright and fairly cloudless there must have been a small shower overnight as the tent was wet so I was expecting the first part of the route to be slippery. After getting ready and packing away Rich Cranswick was also camped nearby with some lightweight kit he was trying out. We chatted together while making our way to the start. I was feeling quite apprehensive, I had the injury strong in my mind and I didn’t know the route at all. I knew a couple of acquaintances would be about for the run, Naomi Newton Fisher who was running and Gin Lawson Craig who was helping at checkpoint 3. I couldn’t remember if Naomi was starting at 7am or the later 9am start so just kept an eye out for her. A few nerve induced toilet trips later I spotted Naomi and introduced myself and had a chat. 06.45am, time for the race brief and a walk to the start area. A quick group photo and at 7am we were away on the Stour Valley Path!
A pretty straight forward first section along a footpath heading South out of town until turning left on to the Devil’s Dyke. The Dyke was damp and slippery and had loads of tree roots to skip around and over. despite this I had settled in to a small group of about 7 people and we were running at a steady 6mph or so. About 4 miles in and the first navigation error happened. We had missed the first right hand turn off the Dyke. After a chat we looked at our position on the map and after an extra .5 of a mile we were back on track again passing Stetchworth. The group began to split a little and I was pretty much on my own, mistake number 2 of the day! The Stour Valley Path has yellow markers along it’s route. The SVP route guide in my opinion is dire and the detail awful. I took a right turn that also had a yellow marker and seemed to end up absolutely no where with 2 other runners who had followed my turn. Damn! What to do? go back?, head the way I thought the map said? I decided to follow a road. This brought me to a signpost that helped me locate my actual position and where I needed to be. I back tracked along the road until coming back in to contact with the route. It cost me 30 minutes! I could really have done without that. I was under time pressure as well. My last train home from Manningtree was 22.02. I had to finish by 21.30 at the latest, 14 1/2 hours. More than possible…if I wasn’t injured AND kept making mistakes. Feeling pissed off already I pushed on to the first checkpoint at Great Thurlow. I arrived at around 09.15am, 21 minutes inside my set schedule. Not bad considering making 2 mistakes.
Having learned from the Saffron Trail I waste too much time at checkpoints I had a drink, something to eat and was away again with some time in hand. Psychologically The SVP is good in that each leg gets progressively shorter. The first is 12 miles and then 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, and 5 miles. The weather was warming up as I headed out on the next leg to Clare. I had to take some painkillers to cope with the ankle, but considering my lack of fitness my energy was good and I was keeping myself in the race. This leg passed without any fus or mistakes. I was approaching mile 23 and wasn’t using any energy gels just jelly babies and fruit pastilles. I was due in at no later than 12.05pm..it was 11.45am, still on target. I seem to crave sweet tea or coffee on long runs and was hoping CP2 had some. CP1 had none but CP2 were good enough to help out with a tea. Some more food, more first bladder refill and I continued onto leg 3 to Long Melford. Things started to get tougher! This was a really hilly section. The up hills killed my ankle and the downhills were now sending pain through my knees. More pain killers. I had the incentive to crack on to CP3 to meet another acquaintance Gin Lawson Craig. We follow each others running exploits online and she is an inspirational runner. I was hurting badly, I knew the day probably wouldn’t work out so I was preparing to throw in the towel at CP3. I was joined by another runner and we pretty much stayed together on the run into Long Melford which helped take my mind off the pain. I could see Gin ahead at CP3 and almost collapsed on the poor woman as we greeted each other. 33 miles in I arrived at about 14.15, my target time was 14.18 so my time in hand had slipped and I was on the edge. I took a good time out. I had a chat with Gin’s friend Lisa, a visit to the toilet, more food, drink and evaluated things. Gin pretty much told me to carry on. I got my kit back on and headed out on leg 4.
I felt like shit! About 2 miles into leg 4 I almost turned around to go back tp CP3. I didn’t, I kept going. I was struggling badly and now doing more walking than running, the overall pace was suffering. Along leg 4 you pass the town of Sudbury, I made another mistake. Another 30 minutes lost. I was now well and truly fucked off! I hated the SVP route guide and should have gone with an Ordnance Survey map. I couldn’t use my .GPX file as my phone battery is ruined and has been draining in as little as 2 hours. I back tracked and got on route…again. That mistake killed my chance of holding up the necessary pace. Somewhere along this point I came across Paul, he was having a really bad time himself suffering periodically with cramp. I stayed with him knowing my race was dead incase he needed some help. We both forged on as best as possible. Paul did some math and worked out he was still just, only just by a few minutes, inside the cut off time. That put me in the same place but my issue was getting my train home which put me 1 hour behind time. Paul dug in and put in an awesome effort leaving me behind. We battled on to CP 4 at Lamarsh. Just approaching Lamarsh I was caught by another runner. It was the sweeper for that section clearing up the back runners. There were 2 runners behind me. Another 1/2 mile and I arrived at checkpoint 4 Lamarsh at 17.40. I was 1 hour and 20 minutes behind my own set schedule so even if I felt fit I would have missed my train home. I was now in pain and the pain killers had stopped helping. 42 miles in and it was time to call it a day.
The SVP route is fantastic and I would consider it for next year. I can take some positives out of this race as well in that I had no sickness at all, I used no gels and the compression shorts fixed the chaffing problem I had during the Saffron Trail. Some things I would do differently next year are that with the Saffron Trail I recced about 90 % of the course in advance, wrote my own route notes and spent about 6 weeks on google maps trying to memorise the route. With the SVP I dod none of these. I’m sure that a little more homework would pay dividends.
Thanks to everyone who I crossed paths with, all the volunteers at the checkpoints and to Matthew Hearne for a great race.