Race Review: The Moyleman

A weekend of snow and sub-zero temperatures saw road races cancelled all over the UK.  But that didn’t stop this off-road marathon and relay half marathon from taking place on the trails above Lewes ending at Harvey’s Brewery…

One by one, the races due to take part over the weekend fell victim to the snow, ice and windchill and I was expecting – and truth be told, hoping – the same would happen for this off-road trail race that has only been going for the last four years. But it wasn’t cancelled and I’m so glad because this trail race, despite it’s hills and the brutal weather is now firmly on my repeat race list for next year and is definitely a destination race worth travelling for.

The route of the full marathon takes in five high points around the historic county town of Lewes – Black Cap, Kingston Ridge, Firle Beacon and Mount Caburn which command stunning views over the Weald and south to the English Channel, and passes sites association with the Bloomsbury set, including Charleston Farmhouse and Monk’s House in Rodmell.

An excited, if apprehensive crowd of runners greeted me as I went to Race HQ in a local school hall on the outskirts of Lewes; most runners were wrapped up as if about to head out on an Arctic expedition but with good reason, as reports were of 25 mph winds with a wind chill factor of minus 25 and with at least two thirds of the 350 runners taking on the full marathon over tough, hilly terrain, safety was of importance. What’s great about this laid-back friendly event which was set up in memory of local runner, Chris Moyle (a percentage of the race profits go to the nearby Matlet’s Hospice) is that it attracts a mixture of runners from serious club athletes set on racing to recreational runners as well as runners who take part with their dog.

After a quick race brief, a cheer for the marshals we all filed out of the school to a cold, snow covered part of the Downs and fifteen minutes after the marathon runners were set off, the rest of us were off, tracing the footprints in the snow of the runners how had been before. Fearing the windchill, I was triple layered and of course, absolutely baking as I ran up the hill to meet the South Downs Way where the first of the stunning views across the snow covered Downs greeted me. From here, it headed west along the top before dropping down hill where I soon began to pass some of the marathon runners.

Friends had told me about their horrifying training runs on the route a few weeks back when it was thick of gloopy mud and so the cold weather was actually in our favour because it had frozen most of the ground making it easier to run on. A punishing climb back up to the next ridge was rewarded with another swift downhill through the Castle Hill area on the South Downs, past a field full of baby lambs sheltering from the cold near their mothers and into one of the harshest hills on this first half of the route, Swanborough Hill, a long, snaking hill of a chalk path that winds up to the top of the ridge overlooking Lewes. No chance to catch your breath because at the top the route turned into the full force of the wind which at times threatened to push me backwards and freeze my cheeks. Ten minutes further on, an amazing group of marshals were braving the top of the ridge to man a water station, where it was so cold and windy, i threw half of it on me instead of drinking it.

With my Buff pulled up to eye level, I pushed on (after taking a quick picture which nearly saw me lose my fingers to frostbite) eager to run faster just to get off the ridge. A fast downhill via a tarmac laid road which is known as the Yellow Brick road and a turn left, taking us through a valley and out of the wind before the finish line of the first  half of this relay finished at the YHA in Southease , which was packed with supporters and a brilliant place for spectators to watch and for runners to finish with a warm cafe, toilets and even a shower.

Thankfully, my relay partner, Jan, had been dropped off by a partner so while other runners had to wait for a rail replacement bus back to Lewes (thanks Southern Rail!), I was able to pop straight into a warm car and head back to the finish line at Harvey’s Brewery. And what a fantastic finish, over the cobbled stones of Lewes High Street before turning right through the arches straight into Harvey’s Brewery, where you are greeted with a free Moyleman’s glass with a token for a free beer and free food, in this case an individual, handmade hot pizza which was absolutely delicious.

This race may be small, but their organisation in terms of communication in advance of the weather, not to mention the number of marshals they had out on course, was amazing. Every part of the route is brilliantly signposted and every turn staffed by smiling volunteers, despite the freezing conditions.

I’ve finished races all over the world but I think Harvey’s Brewery with a beer and pizza even beats Lake Garda’s prosecco finish. It just needs to be a bit warmer.

This is a tough, brutal course (word from my relay partner, Jan is that she loved it but she had five miles of wind!) but it is absolutely brilliant and not to be missed. It was part of our Girls Run the World Get Together Races for 2018 and will be again for 2019, so what are you waiting for? Join us down South for this one in 2019.

 

The Good

  • plenty of toilets for the numbers – no queues (hurrah!)
  • amazing marshals
  • best finish line
  • incredible pizza (like, seriously impressive!)

The Bad

  • The windchill but actually, the weather just made this one of those ‘I’ll never forget that race when…’ kind of times…

The Ugly

  • Those hills …although, I kind of like them

For details of next year’s event visit http://themoyleman.com. For details of our other Get Together Events for 2018 and Run Away International trips click the links.

 

Race Review: Angkor Wat Half Marathon

Paris, London, Berlin, Mumbai, Istanbul are all impressive cities to run a race in. But none have offered the spellbinding magic of running around the 12th century ruins of Angkor Wat, the former centre of the Khmer Empire

I arrived in Siem Reap, the town on the outskirts of the Angkor Archeological Park a few days before the race to acclimatize to the humidity and heat. Although it is held in Cambodia’s cool season, temperatures can still reach 87 F with over 80% humidity. On the plus side, it meant I wasn’t shivering on the start line.

By the time I arrived at 5am, following a 15 minute moto ride, a covered cart with cushioned bench seats pulled by a motorcycle, the start was buzzing with runners from all over the world some running the half marathon and others the 10 km. Now in it’s 20th year, the Angkor Wat International half Marathon attracts up to 10,000 runners from all over the world with its start and finish in front of Angkor Wat.

Checking in my bag, I made my way to the starting pen and watched as the rising sun etched the iconic silhouette of Angkor Wat against a reddening sky. Milling around were expats from Europe and US who had flown in for a short visit from jobs elsewhere in Asia, along with holiday makers like myself, who had included the race as part of their travel itinerary with the country now opening up to tourism beyond just the capital, Phnom Penh and the temples.

Once the sun had risen everyone was keen to get going but if there’s one thing that you have to remain sanguine about in Cambodia, it is that time is a fluid concept. Thirty minutes later than the advertised 6am, I crossed the start line.

The first 8km followed an out and back route along the approach road to the archeological park, tracing the 190m wide moat that surrounds Angkor Wat. At 10km, I began to pass the Cambodian wheelchair racers who had begun the race earlier, which served as a stark reminder about more recent history. Torn apart by the rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, Cambodia was also heavily land-mined and has over 25,000 amputees, the highest ratio per capita in the world. A proportion of the race profits go to help those affected.

With the sun overhead, everyone was grateful for the shade cast by trees and for the supporters. Some were tourists cheering friends and family but there were just as many Cambodian children all eager to high five the runners. Water stations were plentiful and I poured as much over my head as I drank.

The Angkor Archeological Park is over 400 square kilometres and contains much more than Angkor Wat. The race passed the magnificent entrance to Ta Prohm, four enigmatic faces believed to be of King Jayavarman VII who built the temple. It is a particularly popular site as it was used in the filming of Tomb Raider. I was torn between wanting to explore while it was quiet and the desire to finish the run before it got hotter.

Although the route does not take you into any of the temples, you do get the chance to run under Victory Gate, one of the gateways to the ancient town of Angkor Thom. Not that I felt victorious with 7kms to go as I ran towards it down the approach road flanked on either side by carved figurines, thousands of years old and some exhibiting bullet holes as a result of fighting between the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge.

Running out of the shade into the open at The Terrace of the Elephants was like running into an oven. The 350 m long stone platform features carved elephants and was originally used to view victorious returning armies by the King. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed at the echoes of the many people who had trodden these same roads thousands of years before my own feet had pounded past.

The final stretch was more difficult as our race merged with the 10km (which had started 30 minutes later) as many participants were walking four or five abreast. Thankfully, the finish was not far off and when I heard the cheering supporters and Angkor Wat came into view, I managed a final sprint to finish in a sweaty heap.

After collecting my medal and a banana, I walked out of the finish area to be offered a beer and fresh coconuts by the many industrious hawkers but I declined both in favour of returning to my hotel and a cool swimming pool.

Most of the runners at the Angkor Wat Half Marathon are expats and tourists and so this race doesn’t offer the same experience of meeting runners from different countries like those I’ve done in India and Turkey. But it more than makes up for this in the extraordinary opportunity you get to run through ancient Khmer ruins. Combine this with a country that is fast becoming one of the hottest new travel destinations and it’s a holiday race that is well worth putting on your bucket list.

For details of the next Angkor International Half Marathon visit http://www.angkormarathon.org

The Good

Seeing the sun rise over Angkor Wat on the start line of the race is going to take some beating.
Lots of water and marshals.
Very useful race bag contents (see below).
The Bad

Poor race bag pick up at registration. The bags had to be assembled as you registered slowing up the volunteers and leading to big queues.
Thirty minute delay in the start time.
The Ugly

It was hot, hot, hot! And humid. That’s not anyone’s fault but you may want to consider this if you’re not a fan of the heat. I am, and I still wilted.
The Race Bag: Hoard or Haul?

Good race t-shirt, very useful sun visor and a traditional Khmer scarf were great. The race bling was a bit of a disappointment though.

Verdict: Hoard

 

Race Info Essentials

How to get there: Fly via Bangkok to Siem Reap with airlines such as Singapore Airways.

Stay: Siem Reap is 7km away and offers affordable boutique guesthouses. Avoid the busy Pub Street and opt for places by the river or the boutique http://sokkhak-boutique resort.com.

Recover: You can get foot massages for as little as one dollar but try a reputable hotel for a good quality sports massage.

Celebrate: Re-cover with lemongrass chicken or Cambodian Amok curry and a celebratory cocktail at the Chanrey Tree, a favourite of David Beckham when he was in Cambodia. http://chanreytree.com

(This review is from December 2015).