Over recent times, Stu Nicholas has become rather adept at running marathons and with 5 wins in his last 5 marathons, it would appear he has even gotten used to winning them. That doesn’t mean to say they’re all going to be plain sailing for him though and, as he lined up for marathon number 39, he was perhaps benighted of the toils and torment he was about to go through over the next 4 hours.
The task ahead was to complete the 28.2 mile trail route up one side of the River Adur and down the other in the first race of the Sussex Trail Events River Marathon Series, the Dark Star River Marathon.
Whilst it may look simple enough on paper, it was anything but in practice, with the thick and seemingly endless mud on the river banks making it a battle every single step of the way. In fact, Stu said it felt like he was running through an estuary and described it as “akin to wading through treacle”.
It was the first multi-terrain race aside from cross country that Stu had done for years and he had forgotten how little cushioning trail shoes have in comparison to road runners.
Ploughing through the mud is extremely tough going in any race but when you’ve got 28.2 miles of it to get through, that throws it into an entirely different stratasphere. Stu found himself ankle deep in mud for at least 23 of those miles.
For the vast majority if the race, Stu was in 2nd place. At the turnaround point on mile 14, he was still feeling strong so began to reel in the guy who was leading. He got pretty close at one stage, even managing a quick high five, but he was never able to quite catch up.
Unfortunately, it may just have been his incessent will to win that proved to be his undoing on this occasion. At mile 23, the wheels fell off, forcing Stu to employ a strategy of walking a quarter of the mile and then running three quarters. He doesn’t like walking but it simply had to be done. It was the only way could conceivably get to the finish without being dead on his feet!
For the last 5 miles, Stu persevered with his walk/run strategy, determined to make it the end. He did get caught and overtaken by two of the other competitors but he made it to the line, completing the race in a still very impressive time of 3 hours 54 minutes and 9 seconds.
Considering what he’d been through in the latter stages of the race, that was a hell of an achievement. He finished up in 4th place out of the 170 who completed the course.
There were also 53 runners who started the race but were unable to make it the end, which gives some impression of how incredibly tough it was out there.
The race was won by Paul Sargent of Burgess Hill Runners in a time of 3 hours 48 minutes and 48 seconds. Jonny Burke of Goring RRC was 2nd in 3:44:19 and Paul Perry of Serpentine came in 3rd in a time of 3:52:28. The first lady over the line was Lorna Spayne, who came in 17th in a time of 4:17:10.
Ordinarily, Stu would expect to complete most of his marathons in under 3 hours, but to get through one as tough as this one was in under 4 hours was still an outstanding achievement.
Needless to say, he was aching a bit in the aftermath but as the soarness in the joints eases off, no doubt he’ll look back on this race with, not necessarily fond memories, but a sense of pride and some semblance of satisfaction in what he achieved.
It’s also brought him one step closer to his target of having completed 50 marathons; a milestone he is hoping to reach by the end of the year.