Daniel bought me two marathon entries for my Christmas Present (just before midnight on Christmas Eve, talk about last minute), as I made a little fuss that he got into London and I didn’t; this was his consolation present to me. This was no big city marathon, but one he found on the 100 Marathon Club list – a self-guided race! His comment was – well it was cheap! My plan for today, given the re-emergence of my boomerang cold, was to simply get round and not worry about the time.
The start was a phased affair from 8am (if you wanted to try for a prize you left at 9am). With my number attached, with my pockets stuffed with gels, followed by a final rereading the directions, I decided to go at 8:15. With Chris, the organiser, quoting Shakespeare before shouting ‘Go’ we were off. As arranged, Daniel waved me on my way and headed off to Costa (plus ça change) with his Kindle and a stalker APP on my phone sending him location updates so he could cheer me in at the finish.
The first 4 ish miles were fairly easy as I had people to follow and there was a proper path to run on. I did find myself cursing the lack of cushioning in my trail shoes at this point and Daniel for suggesting them. The first water point was at the Mary Arden Hotel, which was a welcome stop for a Jaffa cake before heading off again on pavements – again more cursing of the trail shoes.
I then headed across playing fields and onto a track – at least I think it was a track, it may have been a river bed. Now I appreciated the trail shoes as the mud was thick, sticky gelatinous gloopy stuff that was to stay with me, literally for the bulk of the run. I had to walk stretches here as for me it was a little slippery and I was mindful of the lonely 2 remaining working discs in my spine.
The trail took me downhill, across more mud and into another muddy section before the village of Newnham. Once out of here there was another water stop before the aqueduct which I thought was really cool but I did worry about the fact that on a boat the water line seemed very close to the top of the watercourse – with my steering I could see me falling off such a thing should I ever return here by boat.
The route then took me alongside another canal (I’m sure it said which one on the increasingly crumpled instructions but I can’t remember the name) but this one lacked firm paths – it was back onto the mud. The mud continued all the way to the turnaround point at Lowsonford. It has to be said it was a very pretty route and only gently undulating, but it was slippery.
To my surprise I found Daniel at the water stop with some fruit pastilles, telling me that he had just missed me at the aqueduct! With a ‘Good Luck’ he directed me on the mile turnaround loop and returned to chat to the marshals as I ran on, brightly telling the marshals that he wasn’t worried if I slipped and fell into the canal as (apparently) I am well insured. My first marathon was a tough off roader with lots of hills and by the sea and cliff edges, my second one was a slippery run by canals. Is Daniel trying to tell me something…
Halfway round the turnaround loop I started to question my sanity and safety to run on as there before me were ducks swimming on the field. A double take confirmed I was not dehydrated and hallucinating, the ducks were real and having a great time.
Ducking under the bridge I returned to the aid station to find Daniel and a welcome square of ginger cake. I started the run back to the Cricket Club back the way I had just come. If I thought it was muddy on the way out, the way back was a sticky morass of mud given that the hundred runners on the way out who were ahead of me and running back to Stratford had churned up the ground well.
The squelching away of my shoes became a little off putting so I turned up the volume on my MP3 player and ran on fighting my way through the mud. Daniel’s use of the stalking APP took on a very welcome level as on a quiet part of the towpath, I could see him standing on a bridge before the aqueduct offering me more pastilles (I even received a few orange ones) and a good luck for the final nine miles.
The stretch between 16-19 miles was incredibly slippery and to be honest I walked most of it. There were no other runners around me now and I didn’t wish to take a slip into the canal at this point. Not only would such an event do no good whatsoever for my OCD and concerns about germs, Daniel would NEVER let me live such a thing down. I would be very unlikely to hide such a thing as he was very likely to know as his stalker app would no doubt show me plunging off route and increasing speed as I floated along the canal. By 18 miles I had developed a bizarre obsession with how I was ever going to clean my trainers (which kept my mind off my tired legs). I think that was fuelled partly by the fact that my trainers had at least doubled in weight by this stage.
On returning to Newnham we had to take a slightly different route. I was a little unsure of the instructions here but to be fair I think that was more due to tiredness and there were signs to mark the route. The route looped back onto the bridleway that I had seen hours before. I spared some concern for the poor horses who had been ridden up here; given that I was struggling to control just two legs, I would not have liked to have had four legs here.
The return section was much more slippery this time so gave me the perfect excuse to walk. The slippery track across the fields wound its way back up the hill and I slowed to about 1.5 mph to slither up the hill. It did cross my mind, as I slid backwards, that I had the potential to record my best time of the day at this point – unfortunately though this would be as I shot back down the muddy slope in the wrong direction. Following this it was a return to the pebbly path; the pebbles of course stuck to the mud on the shoes making them even heavier.
The muddy playing fields sapped the strength from my legs as the weight of the mud stuck to my shoes making them heavier and heavier to lift and therefore run. The route showed signs of slips and falls from earlier runners so to avoid injury I kept my pace slow and steady.
After Daniel seeing me off on from the final water stop, I knew I virtually had the medal around my neck as the final four miles were back on a reasonable running surface, so all I had to do was keep moving. The only unnerving bit coming back into Stratford was the surfaces round the slopes up and down a couple of the bridges, very pretty, slippery brick-type numbers which were like ice in the wet. Just a thought for Stratford council – these looked nice but maybe tarmac would be better for the wet and rainy weather that we occasionally get in this country.
The sports club was a most welcome sight on return just over 7 hours later and there were plenty of cheering marshals and Daniel there to greet me. A lovely touch was being welcomed by name by the course director and being given my medal, towel and goody bag (2 good magazines, a snickers bar and some funky looking running tablets, for next year’s event maybe?). Food was provided in the bar area and the showers were hot, although I found the sight of my muddy toes, without socks on, very unsettling.
This was a really well organised, friendly marathon. Without exception the team organising the event were cheery and helpful. All the marshals asked the runners if they were ok and looked after them really well and at times it was really miserable weather for them to be stood out in. The drinks stations were well stocked and most had food and the instructions were good, backed up by signs where needed. The bulk of runners who passed each other called out cheery greetings and, to be fair, I think the ones that didn’t were at that time watching their feet to ensure they stayed upright. True, it was very muddy, but then again it’s a trail marathon and it’s April so it’s bound to be wet. I am hoping that Liverpool however has tarmac surfaces and doesn’t run me to close to water, as I am now convinced Daniel is trying to get me drowned whilst I run.
This was great training for Beachy Head later this year and I definitely want to do this one again next year – it was a fantastic event and I’m glad to have taken part in it.
Race Report by Mary Connolly