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Three Forts Challenge: hills, cake and a sulky dog

by kirsty
Monday 2nd May 2016
The Three Forts Challenge is one of those very special races. There’s nothing ordinary about this marathon. Three Forts laughs in the face of the traditional 26.2m distance, opting for 27.2m instead. Three Forts has a pretty impressive 10 aid stations, full to the brim with biscuits and enthusiasm. And Three Forts has hills, lots of hills. 
I first ran this race back in 2011 and I remember it being a roasting hot day. This year it had been a crazy mix of sun, sleet, hail and rain in the run-up to the race so it was difficult to know whether to wear a t-shirt or don full winter kit. Fortunately it turned out to be a lovely sunny day, though still on the chilly side, so it was perfect running weather. 
3 Forts dog
Sulking dog

It’s a fairly small race (400 people in the marathon and about the same number in the half) so the start is a laid-back affair. They let some competitors with dogs go off ahead of the main field. My dog, who was there spectating (I wouldn’t say this to his face but he’s a bit old to be running that far with me these days), took offence at not being included in this and headed to the registration tent. He actually headed in via a flap at the back of the tent and it’s entirely likely that it was because somebody in there was eating a bacon sandwich. However, it was explained to him that it was too late to register, he was put back on the lead to prevent further mischief and I headed to the start line, leaving him to sulk. 

Off we went and the race started with a 2 mile climb. It was quite narrow so it was fairly slow going with so many runners but that also meant that you couldn’t stop and walk as that would mean that a couple of hundred people behind you would have to walk too! Test number one complete, we then descended most of that height in the next mile and that set the theme for the day. 

3 Forts start

The race takes in three ancient hill forts (no great surprise, given the name) along the South Downs Way. There are 4 big bumps on the route - Cissbury Ring, Devil’s Dyke, Chanctonbury Ring, then Cissbury Ring again - and there’s a long out and back stretch from the river Adur out to Devil’s Dyke Road. The ups and downs aren’t too bad and they’re mostly runnable (until you’re quite tired). Mentally it was quite easy to concentrate on running from aid station to aid station as they were so frequent, it broke it up really well and the helpers were really encouraging and enthusiastic. The marshals were fantastic too and bits that must have been a total nightmare, such as the busy road crossing at the A283, were brilliantly handled and organised. 
I know that out-and-back courses divide opinion but this one is only out-and-back in bits and the scenery is so stunning that you couldn’t not enjoy it. Plus, you got to see lots of other runners and shout words of encouragement. When I reached the turnaround point I spotted somebody in a UTMB 2015 t-shirt so I caught up with them for a chat as I was out there last year too. It turned out Debbie had run the UTMB with a friend of mine, which pretty much sums up the small, friendly world of trail running! We had a great chat during the second half of the race, geeking out over past races and future ones that are ‘on the list’. Running and chatting with somebody really helped the second half of the race pass quickly and took my mind off my increasing tiredness. 

3 Forts finish

After a painful descent down that rutted 2 mile track that we ran up at the start, on tired legs and sore feet, the end was in sight. Like all serious athletes I headed straight for the cake tent and the Three Forts team really excelled here. There were at least 15 different types of cake and it was free to runners. The perfect end to the perfect race. And reunited with my dog, I shared a bit of my natural energy bar with him (he spends a lot of time sniffing these out in my backpack at home - he can detect one from 100m) and all was forgiven. 

Photos by Pete Aylward

About The Author

Kirsty Reade

I’d describe myself as borderline obsessed with running, racing, reading about running, and watching others run so hopefully I’m fairly typical of Run247’s visitors. I tend to do longer races, particularly off-road marathons and ultras, but am pretty much a fan of any distance. I'm passionate about helping runners of all levels to improve through running communities I'm involved in, such as Underground Ultra and Free Range Runners. 


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