42 miles of fine coastal running from Felixstowe to Cattawade along the full length of the Stour & Orwell Walk. Last year it started windy in Felixstowe but quickly it warmed up and then the sun came out. The finish has a pub, what more could you possibly want? - Matt Biggin
After deciding on entering the North Downs 100 mile run this year I promised myself that I would needed some big days out on my feet. This is always a challenge as it takes time away from other areas of my daily life but an opportunity presented itself this past weekend and I am so glad I took it.
Last year a friend of mine started organising some FatAss events around Suffolk and having talk to him the past few weeks I decided to take part in the Suffolk Fat Ass 67k. The route starts in Felixstowe and ends in Cattawade, running along the Stour & Orwell Walk. These events are very low key, no medals, no doctors, no awards and no official aid stations therefore it is a challenge not to be taken lightly.
On the morning of the event I drove to the "Finish Line" (Cattawade) where I was to meet Matt, Mike (Matt's friend who was biking the route) and Tim another runner who was in for the duration so that we could share a taxi to the "Start Line". It was freezing cold with frost on the ground so I opted to keep on my long sleeve top and gloves but had the option of a sleeveless top underneath when things warmed up. The usual running talk manifested itself in the car and it turns out that Tim was like myself using the run today not just for fun but also as part of his build up to his first 100 miler, the Lakeland 100 in July.
Out starting point was near the Felixstowe Ferry Golf club and as we exited the taxi just before 8am it still hadn't warmed up much so I decided to keep on the long sleeves but the view was pretty along the Felixstowe coast. The original plan was to wait for anyone else taking part and start officially at 9am however given how cold it was feeling we didn't feel like waiting long for anybody so we all took a vote as to when we should leave. Mike (on bike) left first followed by us three runners 5 minutes later as we didn't want to be hanging around freezing our butts off. After all this was a FatAss event!
The three of us trotted off at a pace where conversation could flow easily and we moved quickly along the seafront with both a beautiful view of the beach, open sea and hardly a soul about. This was a good start to what would be a fulfilling day out. After about 2 miles of running along the coast we turned 90 degrees and was heading east along a road with us heading towards the "Trimley marshes".
As we ran Matt was saying that although the route was mostly off road there were a few road sections to endure. We headed off road after about 15 minutes and started to gain some height (difficult in this part of the world). We were close to several local woods here including Garden and Salters but never actually ran through them but conditions were very dry and it was the right decision to use my Inov8 x-road shoes.
After about 10km we were we firmly off road and running through an area called "New Fleet" which were effectively ponds and marsh land area. Time had passed pretty quickly with the talking firmly fixed on the day and running experiences but also due to the fact I was running somewhere completely new and I was sucking up the new surroundings. However despite the relaxed pace I was keeping a watchful eye on hydration and fueling today. I brought with me a variety of food including Clif shot bloks, couple of new Clif gels, cheese sandwiches, 9bars. I had the thought of eating something every 45-60 mins and making sure to sip at least every 10-15 mins as it was warming up nicely. One thing I did realise was that I didn't have a map but I was expexting to keep pace with Matt and Tim pretty much all the way however it would would become something I would regret later on for sure if I got left behind.
The route provided a great variety of trail running for the next 10 miles or so, short steep hills, running by the river, through woodland all mostly singletrack, absolutely beautiful. Things had gone very well and we reached the 13 mile mark in a little over 2hrs. The path at this point meant crossing the an A14 road, turning south west for a mile or so before crossing back over the A14 in order to head towards Bridge Wood. Once through the gorgeous forest we headed along the path that took us directly underneath the Orwell bridge towards Landseer Park (16 miles). Fortunately with Matt knowing this route like the back of his hand we were moving through the area without much walking at all. Matt reminded Tim and I that once we passed the Ipswich marina we would reach our first main aid station (supermarket, shops) where you can load up on water, food etc.
After 3hrs 20 mins we reached the shop for a much needed pit stop. I loaded up with a couple of bottles of fresh water as I had run dry. I still had plenty off food left so didn't opt for any chocolate / sweets. I went for a cheese sandwich which tasted great before having a quick leg stretch. The direction of the path turned us south east back down the banks of the Orwell river under the Orwell bridge that we passed earlier. Things were going very smoothly.
We were all still moving along comfortably along passing through Freston Wood which was absolutely stunning with the trail meandering through it before a climbing up 150ft or so to a clearing. According to history Freston is notable as being the location of the last outbreak of bubonic plague although this is much disputed. Apart from that it has a pub called the "Freston Boot" and the "Freston Tower". So not a lot really but it does reflect for me what the day was about, minimalism.
The trail changed from open fields to more forest but somewhere around 24 mile point I started to feel a little wobbly. I let Matt and Tim go ahead while I walked for a minute or so and got some drink and fuel down me. I felt quite low so I walked on for another 3-4 minutes before running on trying to catch the guys. I still didn't feel right but continued on before coming out to another open path area but with no sign of the guys and no clear indication of where the path led!
I took a minute or two looking for trail sign posts (which was a little sticker about 4 inches round) before finally seeing the sign pointing in the direction of a boating area. I trotted along and felt relieved especially as I did not have a map however from what I can remember most of the route up until the 30 mile mark was heading along the Orwell so as long as I kept that on my left I would be fine. I run / walked for about 3 miles and suddenly my mood changed completely and I felt pretty happy to be running and experiencing the day on my own. No offence to Matt or Tim but is what I had wanted to experience.
Around the 28 mile mark (5hrs 23mins) I gave my wife a quick call to say hello and check in with the kids especially my youngest daughter as she had suspected chicken pox (wife confirmed it over the phone). I also left Matt a message to say that I was ok despite not having a map. He phoned me back to see how things were going and I was quite happy so it was a quick call in the end although he did pre-warn me that about a mile or so ahead the path had been blocked by gates and that I would need to take a slightly alternate route around Shotely Gate. This news didn't panic me as I would deal with it when it came but it did remind me of the fact that I really should have been prepared. I came to the gates as Matt had stated I would and took a detour going west before finding the path again without a problem. I was feeling confident about how things were going and was getting enough fluid and food down me. I kept reminding myself of where I was and how amazing it was to be out here. Although my pace had slowed a little but during the past few miles I actually begun to feel really strong and felt like I had pressed the reset button both mentally and physically. I reached mile 33 in 6hrs 14 mins feeling that all being well I would be home and dry in a little over 2 hours.
However a series of unfortunate events were about to ensue and all because I did not pay attention to the sign posting and did not have a map to double check the route. Shortly after passing mile 33 with my confidence sky high I didn't take a turn south like I was supposed to and continued along the path I thought was the correct one. Shortly before I reached what I thought was the 34 mile mark Matt rang me to see how I was doing. I looked up at the sign posting but couldn't see any identifiable marks for the path. I realised where I hadn't made the turn I was supposed to but after talking to Matt I decided not to track back (probably the most sensible idea) but turn south on the path I was on in the hope that I would cross the path I needed a mile down the road.
During the next 2 miles I ran through private property, a farm (with some big dogs), a forest with some very disturbing wooden huts which looked like you could hunt game from or humans for that matter. The only thought I had was "GET ONTO THE PATH"! The last two miles had taken me 30 minutes as I just didn't know where I was going but it was exhilirating. When I finally reached a path I just followed it towards the local village up ahead. As I was trotting along I asked a lady with who was out walking some very lively dogs whether I was on the Stour walk. She replied "yes of course you are young man, where are you heading?". After explaining to her briefly what I was doing out here she kindly directed me through the next 1.5 miles. I thanked the lady and moved on ahead still feeling positive about how I had avoided a major issue.
At mile 36 (6hrs 58mins) I ran out of fluid and didn't hesitate to knock on a few doors to ask for a refill but everyone that day must of been out because I tried at least 10 doors and not a soul was in. It was either that or they just panicked when they saw a guy walking towards their house dressed in black with a backpack on! I just took the fact I had no water in my stride and get the job done after all it was only another 6-7 miles to the finish. Unfortunately for me I took another wrong turn south not long after this and was running along the coast again for about a mile before I realised that again my stupidity had led me to believe I was on the right path.
I plodded on for the next couple of miles down the lane feeling a little thirsty but knew that within the hour I would be sipping a cold beer in the pub so I wasn't too bothered. The phone then rang and it was Matt. He explained that he was about 30 mins from the finish. I said to him that I was about probably an hour away or so. He said "Have you reached the beach yet?". The thought went through my mind and suddenly I was a little panicked as there wasn't a beach in sight and I was inland by at least a mile or so! Although I didn't know it at the time I had missed the path about a mile back where it takes a turn south back towards the coast along the beach. I told Matt I would plod on until I came to a path that was heading south. After completing 42 miles I found a path that was heading south (confirmed by my Garmin compass). For the first time that day though I questioned myself about going this way. I had a bad feeling about this and that I was heading down yet another wrong path. I had passed a couple of locals coming down that hill so I thought I would ask them where I was and the best way to where I was heading.
I discovered that I was in Stutton and that I was best of heading towards the main road north until I came to the Brantham Bull pub. I thanked them for their help despite their disbelief about why I was out there and the reasons for that, "fun". Before moving on I spoke to Matt and we agreed that this was probably the best thing to do in the circumstances. I would be able to pick up the remaining mile or so of the route once I crossed the railway line just before Decoy Pond. Ironically when I looked at the map post race if I had continued along the path I doubted myself on I would of have joined the Stour and Orwell path within half a mile!
I plodded down the main road passed the Brantham Bull pub and was heading parallell with the railway track. I took the footbridge across it and headed up into the village of Brantham until I stood standing outside the local church. What the hell was I doing here. I phoned Matt and he told me to trace my route back to the railway line and that he would meet me there on a mountain bike.
When I saw Matt I just smiled and said I couldn't believe how many bonus miles I had added today and that I hadn't had a drink in 11 miles to which his reaction was one of shock but I felt no worse for it to be honest. I plodded forward and finally finished the day after 9hrs 43 mins and covered 48miles instead of the planned 42. It turns out Tim completed the route in 7hrs 40mins and Matt following in after around 30 minutes later. I congratulated them both on a successful day before heading back to the car park. Matt offered me 1.5l which I gladly drank along with my favourite chocolate milk and Clif Builders bar which was pretty good as well.
If you have gotten this far I applaud you especially with the lack of pictures but it was an amazing day and a great experience with so many lessons I will take from it (not just the lack of a map). FatAss running is exactly what it says on the tin just make sure you are prepared for whatever the day will bring. Without doubt you will have an awesome experience one way or the other.