trail running, ultra running

The 2019 Flower of Suffolk

I have been looking forward to the 2019 Flower of Suffolk 18 miler ever since the same Ely Runners crew ran the SVP50!   Charlotte, Emily and Jon are superb running buddies, and I knew that this event would be a laugh as well putting us through some effort as well as exposing us to some gorgeous countryside.

This particular event, laid on on by the Norfolk & Suffolk LDWA (I think this one was more a result of the efforts of the Norfolk LDWA) was a great route, and we opted for the 18 mile option, perhaps just as well given the weather on the day!  There is no way to describe how wet it was, it went from torrential to heavy and back all day: with no breaks.

I am mortified at the error I made in my poor preparation for this event.  It rained for a short while at the Ely Tri Club Ultra the week before, so I packed away and zipped up a wet and perhaps slightly sweaty HIGHER STATE waterproof shell/ jacket, and left it in the boot of my car.  I decided to open it in the car on the way to the Flower of Suffolk:  the aroma was far from pleasant, and way from flower-like.  I am not sure Charlotte, Jon and Emily will ever get over it.  I discovered small patches of mould inside the jacket:  it was not good.  I am ashamed.  Rookie error.

We rocked up at Walberswick Village Hall (on the Suffolk Coast) nice and early, but we were still a few minutes late as poor Jon had had to negotiate the most treacherous of driving conditions; so bad that on the way there we got to the stage where we all felt that the event must have been cancelled.  On arrival, we hurriedly made ourselves known to the friendly organisers, and once given our checkpoint cards, we were away.  I had little choice but to wear the horrid jacket, but we were soon to discover that the weather, and even worse smells would soon neutralise the offence I had caused so far.

The start.

We stood in the porch of the Village Hall for ages, discussing the route, swearing about the rain and setting up watches: I know these were all delay tactics!  None of us could believe the state of the weather; and we all knew it was going to be like this for the duration.  Off we set!

It was hard not to be introspective, to look at the ground just in front of us, and to deny the distance we had to cover in such conditions.  Very early on, I recall commenting to Jon that were it not for the rain, taking a little look round would confirm that it was a gorgeous route.  Jon was not ready for such positivity!  I felt that maybe in some way he blamed me for us all being there in the pouring rain:  it was in fact Emily’s fault this time!

The route took as along the edge of the Dunwich Forest, and for a while just inside it.  The path around and the through the Forest was challenging in that it was undulating, and at times we were just below knee level in water.  The route was not coping with the sudden amount of rain.  After a while, we gave up avoiding the really deep stretches of water, and ran through them: you can’t get wetter than wet!

Dry compared with what was to come.

We had the sea to our left for the first half of the route, and although we only got glimpses of it, when we did, it was amazing!  Loud, rough and scary to see!  At a few points along the route were pig farms, higher up than us and flooding into our path!  This made for interesting and smelly wading at several points!

We had some great chats with staff at the aid stations!  It was raining very heavily at the first check point, with the poor volunteers holding onto the marquee/ tent shelter, as it was threatening to blow away!  At another aid station, we perhaps outstayed our welcome and ate a lot of date balls (amazing); crisps and fruit.  The aid station of the day was being looked after by brilliant people with amazing Norfolk accents, who had prepared home-made jam and butter on brioche: we could not leave it alone! We liberated a lot of the food at this station!

Very brief respite from the rain!

I have tried to identify a ringleader for depths of inappropriateness to which we plummeted ‘conversation-wise’ during this run:  I could point to Charlotte, but I am not sure that would be fair, as we all covered subject matter that shocked one another, and maybe ourselves, but it certainly helped us get through what would have been, on any other day a pretty straightforward 18-miler.  But, due to the very challenging conditions, we were on our feet for a long time and we needed to get each other through it.

Controversial subject matter (and singing 90s House Music to each other) got us through it.  Emily reminded me of ‘Smart E’s Sesame’s Treet (by singing it whilst running through pigs’ slurry).  I love her for this, and for throwing me back to 1992, just for a few moments!

The final stretch!

For me, the stretch at the end was the highlight: we were on the beach, and the sea was crazy!  We all managed a final push back into the Village Hall, to discover the whole floor had been ‘tarped’ and the kitchen as laying on tea as well as beans on toast with grated cheese!  We all ate and drank whilst quietly steaming, before posing for a photo and then using the very small toilets to get changed into dry track suits:  let’s just say Jon and I got to know each other a little better, and we laughed” a LOT!

Wet, full of beans, and happy!

What an amazing, low-key, friendly and well-organised event by the Norfolk & Suffolk LWDA. I do hope Charlotte, Emily and Jon have another stab at this in 2020! I will be; and I almost hope for rain!

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