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The Women Can Marathon – Heidi Zymela reports back from her first marathon on a super tough Devon course

Ever since I ran my first half marathon, the immediate question people asked was “so when is the full?” So when my best friend mentioned she was going to sign up for a marathon, it took me less than a minute to decide I was going to do it too. The race she had picked was set in Devon, off road and centred on the fact that it had been 50 years since Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially finish a marathon (Boston). Kathrine was fundamental in getting women’s marathons into the Olympics and encouraging women everywhere that we are capable of the same endurance events as men. The race was therefore limited to only women entrants, with 300 places. So all in all, it sounded like a great unique first marathon to do!


As many of you know, I’m rarely present at club runs without my trusted running partner, Alice. According to her, from the first club run we did together, I was telling her about this marathon I was going to do. With just a bit of persuading (Sorry, Alice!) she agreed to sign up too, and training began.


Fast forward to the day of the run. The start was frustratingly slow, being single file through fields and hedge rows, but the scenery was lovely.


We are both fairly new to off-road running so it was still weird to have to tackle steps and styles on a run. Anyway, we carried on, finding enough gap to overtake and run at the pace we wanted. We went over a few easy hills before running down to the coast. All was going well so far, and we were enjoying it.   


Then the coastal cliffs appeared… I had looked at the elevation profile beforehand, and thought there were just two major hills to tackle, and the rest would be fine. How wrong I was…! I had neglected to realise that what looked like tiny hills on the profile were actually fairly significant hills on their own, and that the two major hills were more like running up the side of a mountain. Combine them all together and it was extremely different to what we were expecting, let alone ever run before. Very soon, we joined everyone else in walking up the hills and even that was a struggle. Occasionally we stopped completely at the top of the hills, simply to recover from the walking before we could even think about running again. We kept up a fairly good pace when actually running, but very quickly we decided that any kind of time expectation should be ignored, and we just had to tackle what was in front of us.


The run continued in this way, walking the hills and then struggling to get running again when the ground levelled out. The pictures from Patrick’s GoPro that I borrowed (Thanks Patrick and Kate!!) don’t do the hills justice, they were so long and too frequent. The downhills were equally as steep, not really allowing us time to recover. Eventually we got over all the hills (which lasted on and off for over 16km) and the flat/downhill 10k to the finish was ahead of us. This would have been a nice end had we not been so knackered from the last 32km!

uphill doubletrack

I have never wished so much for the finish line to be within sight. We finished in a moving time of 4hrs 36, with a total on-course time (including rest stops) of 4hrs 50. It was by far the hardest thing, physically and mentally, that I have done. The worst part is that I currently feel disappointed in how it went, never expecting that I would have to walk in a race, let alone stop completely to rest. I think our biggest downfall was expecting to run it like a normal flat race, which it was far from. Hopefully over the next few weeks, it’ll hit me that I am a marathon runner, which currently I don’t feel like I am. But this does mean that Alice and I are already looking for a flat 26.2miles to run to get a proper marathon time. After a total ascent of 2000ft in this run, I will never be worried to tackle a Sandhurst hill again!

P.S. Just to uphold Alice’s and my reputation as mentioned in my last report, one spectator said this to us whilst we were running: “you must be doing well if you two can still chat!!”

 Heidi & Alice








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