Hill repeats from hell in the Devil’s Buttcrack

I’ve found a new way of torturing myself: a two mile circuit that follows the northern rim of Devil’s Dyke (a 100 metre deep gorge near Brighton) before looping back up its middle. The other day I did three loops. I’ll be increasing the repetitions and revisiting every week (see this week’s plan below) between now and June’s Marathon des Cote (MdC).

They’re hill repeats from hell: a 500ft descent in a mile (give or take) followed by 500ft up in a mile. That’s an average gradient of one in 10 for two miles. That’s steep for me. The final push to the top of the dyke feels like it’s one in three. I nearly slipped in a giant dog turd when I got to the top of it last week. So I’ve named this loop the Devil’s Buttcrack.

Hill repeats from hell in the Devil’s Buttcrack

Hill repeats from hell in the Devil's Buttcrack

It doesn’t look very hellish, of course. Last time I did it was on a glorious spring day, all bluebells and primroses, a light breeze and warm sunshine. Then there was me huffing and puffing past the picnicking families and dog walkers with a grimace on my face and sweat pouring down me. It was great (for me at least, less so for anyone who witnessed it).

I’m not a masochist, honest. This is a way of lessening the torture in store for me in June, when I will try to run the entire 186 miles of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in three days in the MdC, and then in September, in the Snowdonia Ultra 100, a 100 mile race up, down and around the tallest mountain in Wales. I’m doing all this for charities T1International, JDRF and Diabetes UK (why not donate here?).

The Buttcrack has taught me a few things already. First, the downhills hurt as much as the uphills, just in a different way

The Buttcrack has taught me a few things already. First, the downhills hurt as much as the uphills, just in a different way. Going up, it’s about battling to get enough air in your lungs. I power hike the final push to the summit, long stride, hands on thighs, heart threatening to burst out of my rib cage. Downhill kills the knees and quads. I shorten my stride and squeeze my core and lean in to the descent to avoid straining my lower back and lessen the pounding my legs take. It seems to work. But it isn’t pretty.

I don’t think these are the only ways to make hill repeats easier. Since January, I’ve been using a Power Breathe – a gizmo that’s supposed to help increase lung capacity – and I’m sure that’s helping me get up those slopes (see a video I did on that here; the sequel is long overdue). Proper trail shoes also help. At the moment I’m wearing La Sportiva Mutants – the grips on them are like crocodile teeth and really help me dig into the hills.

I’m also starting to come round to the idea of using trekking poles. Granted, I’ll look like even more of a prick grunting past the picnickers with a couple of sticks in my hands, but I’m sure they’ll help ease some of that pressure on my knees and thighs as I run down the hills and help me push up them a bit more easily on the ascents. Will let you know how I get on with them!

Find out where to find the Devil’s Buttcrack on Strava! And why not follow me on it too? 

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