As I drove away from Church Stretton after having run another marathon I did wonder what I could write about as my marathons are normally a catalogue of disasters that would form a series of articles in Runners World of mistakes to avoid. However for this race, my check list worked; I had all the kit even my Garmin, I was coated in P20 to prevent sunburn and had the right shoes in the car. I guess this time it would have to be a serious race report all about the tough route.
I would start my report commenting on how The Piece of Cake Marathon (and half) is perhaps the most misnamed marathon ever! As it is far from a piece of cake, but then again what marathons are?
My report would go on about how this race is the ‘summer’ version of the Icing on The Cake Races, both using the same 13mile ish route – Twice for a marathon. And describe the route in great detail how it starts and finished at the National Trust Tea Rooms in the Carding Mill Valley and winds its way around the Shropshire hills, over the Long Mynd so before you start you know what to expect – hills and lots of them. Actually it really is only two big proper hills each lap, unfortunately they are both 3miles long so over the course of the marathon you do them twice and get 1400m of ascent (and therefore descent!)
Going on I would comment how as I knew what to expect from February, I encouraged Mary to start nearer the front than we would normally – actually fairly easy as everyone moves towards the back and a natural gap gets created. As the race started the speedier runners who had been cross bred with mountain goats careered off ahead and the the rest of the field pounded the 200m forward to the initial undulation. Here it was that the wide road gave way to a narrow single width scree covered uphill path. Almost immediately peoples’ breathing got harder and the pace dropped to a walk – and a slow one at that. With no way of overtaking without causing fellow runners to plunge down the hillside everyone dropped to a walk. Starting further up the field, knowing that everyone would be forced to a walk (and not by us) meant that we would gain valuable minutes on the cut off time for the marathon. As the route passes the golf course it widens and runners able to run could pass, so after a quick chat with Clare we finished the descent before facing the technical downhill section. Tricky to run due to the narrow scree path and runners ahead blocking the view for sighting. However we reached the base of the first 3mile climb.
The only way I managed to tackle this beast of a hill was hands on thighs and to keep moving – never looking back. During the climb any slight flattening of the route or even descent was seized upon for a little running to try and make up some time.
At the false summit the gravel path gave way to grass (even duckboards over a particularly wet patch) and the head wind started to blow…
I would probably mention how all week long Mary had been popping cold and flu remedies to try and get rid of her nasty summer cold – but had failed… so with the head wind and airways full of junk I found myself running next to Darth Vader.
I would describe the majestic scenery that from the top of the hills lay out before us like a patchwork quilt, but rather than fabric squares were fields of crops and animals, and I would describe that after the climb followed a seriously quick descent only broken up by panting mountain bikers zig zagging over the path as they pounded the pedals to climb to where we had started our descent. I would mention the quiet lanes that passed us by as we headed down into Bridges and the turn at the aid station. At this stop we got the offer of a map to lead us through the farm yard – as the farmer dislikes runners and a right of way across his land so he removes all markings! I refused the offer of a map – much to Mary’s concern but with the route programmed into my Garmin 920XT and having done the route before I was confident I knew the way (It was etched into my memory as it is the start of the next 3 mile climb)
I would have emphasised – probably over exaggerated the climb back up to Long Mynd through the field of cows that took fright at the sight of me in my Mr Bump shirt and stampeded away. On over the heather upward and upwards.
With great glee I would tell tales of slipping in the bog – the same place that I sank in the winter but up to my knees – and reaching out to grab hold of something to stay upright only to find it was barbed wire that had punctured the web of skin between thumb and finger. That to clean the wound I spurted water from my hydration bottle onto my hand. Only to realise that two seconds later that Hi5 Zero tablets are great as they contain electrolytes and therefore salt which was now gushing over my perforated skin!
My report would then tell of the ‘final’ climb up to the trig point before the three miles back to the cake station at the end. I would tell of the steep final mile into Church Stretton of the path with culverts for water and the limestone boulders and scree that lined the route making a speedy descent tricky if not impossible – the efforts of the climb not rewarded with an easy fast finish over the ford passed the National Trust stop and cake and refreshments, easily making the cut off time so my encouraging words to Mary on route to keep her moving had been worth it.
The tale of the run would continue with Mary and I leaving for lap two munching down cake and coke as Clare came in to finish her half marathon. I would brush over the fact that my chocolate cake although a particularly well-made sponge was covered with a chocolate ganache that was too bitter (Green and Blacks Dark cooking chocolate!) and the filling was just too light – needed far more vanilla butter icing and cherry jam – it wasn’t up to my winning standards or even my 2nd place of the Massey Bake Off!
Runners heading back to the car commenting on how tough it must be having to head out again on that tough route to do a full marathon when you know what is ahead would have been singled out for comment. As although they were correct hearing it from others doesn’t put you in the right mind set.
The next part would be brief and tell of how initially Mary felt that the weather had changed for the second lap as rather than overcast and humid it had turned to light rain and the wind had got stronger. But it wasn’t rain, it was cloud! During the race the cloud cover had lowered so we ended up running into them!
To make my report slightly amazing to those reading it I would tell of Mary not realising that the first and third aid stations on the route were the same and that for half a mile we ran back on ourselves. In fact we passed four runners ahead of us on this very stretch but she had no idea why they were going the wrong way! It makes you wonder what would happen if Mary had been forced to use the map and compass that we were required to carry!
I might have added a bit of anticipation and suspense to the report with allusion to the sweeper slowly catching us up and that at the trig point we could see him behind us carrying the direction markers and red and white tape, which he left at each aid station. However that would be purely for making it a better tale as really we were well within the cut off time and could have easily walked the rest of the way and still made it.
The final downhill would have been of little interest in the report but I did stop 300m before the finish to buy an ice cream for Mary and myself which would have definitely been in the report as it explains our four minute time difference. It should have been less but the couple ahead couldn’t decide what to have! In the end the husband chose for his wife (Single scoop chocolate no flake because it was 50p more) and then himself (Double scoop! But Blackcurrant sorbet and vanilla – what a dreadful combination not of flavours but mixing ice cream and sorbet) So it was that I ran into the finish clutch two ice creams with the tail runner next to me (he didn’t want an ice cream but waited with me as I made my purchase)
My report would then end with how this is a very tough marathon (or half) but brilliantly organised and marked on route, well stocked aid stations and beautiful scenic route and a must do for all in the club – but forget about a PB.
But as I pulled out onto the B5477 and accelerated off heading for home a loud bang came from behind the car and a shower of brown flakes flew out from behind us. I had forgotten something! I left the remains of the cake in a tub on the roof when I drove off!
Mary Connolly 6:40:11
Daniel Connolly 6:44:21
Clare Weston 2:55:39
Elaine Robinson 5:24:25