Normally at this time of year, runners in the West Sussex area are gearing up for the Three Forts Challenge, which incorporates both a 28 mile trail race and a half marathon over the South Downs past Chanctonbury Ring, Cissbury Ring and Devils Dyke. I filmed it last year in horrendous conditions and you can watch that video here. So why had we chosen to run the Wickham Whistler? Given that Richard and I would be running the Transvulcania Ultra in La Palma less than a week later, it seemed foolish to climb over 3000ft of elevation and wreck our legs. So we opted for this altogether more sedate challenge.
The Wickham Whistler
The Wickham Whistler is a pretty darn flat run. It’s a new event organised by On The Whistle and involves running along a section of the old Meon Valley Railway line, which was closed to passengers in 1955 and is now The Meon Valley Trail (MVT). The route would be approximately 5.5km out and back. Four laps would make a half marathon and eight a marathon. Anything over 8 laps and you’d have done an Ultra!
It’s not too far from Worthing along the A27 to Hampshire and Richard and I arrived at race HQ in good time on a beautiful sunny morning on the last day in April. We had decided that we would not see out the full six hours but that we would complete the marathon distance and call it a day. We really can’t be going too crazy a week before Transvulcania! We met Keirnan the Race Director at the start who delivered a parkrun style race briefing, thanking the parish council for allowing us to run, without a hint of irony. There were plenty of runners and friends whom we recognised from other runs and some usual suspects. In honour of the trains which used to ply this route, the race was started with a whistle. Each runner would signify they had finished by ringing a big old school bell. What the Wickham Whistler race needs for next time is a big train bell hanging from the gazebo with a clanger on a rope or a steam whistle and we pull the cord to finish!
Bluebells and Sunshine
Richard headed off at breakneck speed at the start. He never takes it easy like I do. Kudos to him for going for it every time. I on the other hand, had a plan. I would run at gentle pace, relaxed and steady and finish in 4 hours. The first two laps whizzed by and it was so beautiful. The morning sun glinting through the trees illuminating the bluebells. Totally stunning. The river in the valley below, the silence only broken by birdsong. Awesome. This is what trail running is all about. There were no big views over the hills today. This was a close, enclosed run in the woods. The track was pretty dry most of the way and almost totally flat.
Where’s all the Fudge gone?
The weather remained fine for most of the run. We did have a spot of rain at one point but I would say the sun was out for 85% of the time. I didn’t really eat very much through the whole race. I had a few cups of juice, a jaffa cake, a handful of crisps and a chunk of fudge and that was it over the whole 8 laps. The fudge was in fact the highlight of the day for most of us and it disappeared very quickly!! I mean, well done on the organisation, the scenery and the camaraderie of the Wickham Whistler, but the fudge wins hands down I’m afraid. I have docked On The Whistle one point for no Coke-a-Cola, but I like to think they were thinking of my teeth and preventing the onset of diabetes. Coke is bad kids. Don’t do it. In the words of Zammo, just say no.
I met up with Richard at the start/finish/aid station and set off with him for his final and my penultimate lap. My legs felt so heavy and tired! It makes me feel all the more impressed with guys like Steve Edwards who go week after week to marathons and knock out sub 3:30 every time. Perhaps the more you do it the easier it becomes but I certainly couldn’t have run a fast marathon today. Quite early on we had realised that the distance was actually going to be much further than 26.2. Richard was first to finish the 8 lap course, which turned out to be over 28 miles. I trudged round my final lap. I got to the turn point at the far end of the course and my watch read 42km which is the marathon distance. So I think each half lap must have been about 2.7km. Not that this is a problem at all. If it was a road marathon like London or Manchester (ahem) then yes, we’d be up in arms. But in a fun, friendly event like the Wickham Whistler, it doesn’t matter one jot to be honest.
I had planned to finish the marathon distance in 4 hours which is pretty much what I did and then jogged back to the start and rang the bell to finish in 4 hours 18 minutes. I found it tough, especially seeing as it was a flat run in lovely weather and I wasn’t going particularly fast. I’ll admit that I am not a huge fan of timed events. I like to know that we’re all doing a specific distance and who’s in the lead and how far I’ve got to go etc. I also am not a fan of events where you have a marathon and a half marathon and a 10k all joining up together on the same course at the same time. My tiny brain gets very confused! This of course is mindless nit-picking and I can see that it’s great that if some people just want to do 5k they can, or they can do a half or a full or go on to try and do as many miles as possible within the time limit. Everyone gets the same medal (a beautiful green steam train in this case!), there are no egos and everyone is a winner. I totally get that.
What a lovely day out though. It was lovely to run with so many friendly faces, many of whom came up to say hello and many others I recognised who I waved to as we traversed the laps in the sunshine. Thank you to On The Whistle, Keirnan and his team for organising a splendid event. I wish them every success with future races. Thanks too to Roger Thomasson who mentions me in his blog, which you can read here. If you have enjoyed this Wickham Whistler race report and video please do give it a Facebook ‘like’ or a Google +1 or a retweet, whatever your social media preference is and do share the video round!! Thanks for reading!
Photos courtesy of Richard Shlovogt and Mark Cameron. I neglected to take any at all!!