I’m not entirely sure what inspired me to sign up, possibly the promise of plenty of food at the aid stations and a 9hr cut off, but being at the end of the racing ‘season’ I’d nearly forgotten about it by the time the end of October rolled around. Every person in the club I’d mentioned it to had looked horrified, as if the memories were too painful to contemplate, but I wasn’t too worried – 9hrs was plenty of time!
Arriving on Friday night, I decided to pop down to register as it would be one less thing to do in the morning, from the start I could see the route immediately went up an enormous hill…hmm, maybe the ‘running’ would have to wait until later in the course. I hadn’t quite realised the size of the event either, 1700 runners – the largest off-road marathon in the UK! Registration was very easy, and they even let me pick up numbers for some friends so they wouldn’t have to queue up in the morning.
My Airbnb was less than a mile from the start, so, very unusually, it was a fairly civilised race morning, albeit slightly chilly. There was a great atmosphere and then we were off. I think we ran the first 30 metres or so before things took a decidedly uphill turn – our plan was to walk the uphills, and jog everything else. There was a bit of barging from people who were feeling the need to sprint up the first hill (I had a feeling we’d be seeing them a bit later!) but the field soon spread out and the miles started to tick by.
The weather was absolutely amazing, in direct contrast to the wind and rain of the previous weekend, and once we’d started, we warmed up quickly and off came the jackets. It looked like some people had over-dressed in fleeces and hiking trousers, but I’m assuming they were planning to take the full 9hrs.
The benefit of hills is the views from the top, and these were stunning – the route was also extremely varied, taking in fields, woodlands, villages, rivers and clifftop paths. We commented to each other how quickly the time was going, and we’d soon been going for several hours. A particular highlight was the aid station at around 27km which had tea, coffee, soup, hot cross buns and a live band!
Shortly after this, things started to get ‘interesting’ – several flights of steps, including the infamous ‘Stairway to Heaven’ took us into the Seven Sisters Country Park where we could see the rest of the route laid out in front of us…not looking particularly flat. What followed can only really be described as a rollercoaster, steep downhills which could only be ran down completely out of control (at no point did I shout ‘weeeeeee’ and put my arms out like an aeroplane. Ahem.) and even steeper uphills!
Fabulous views and the knowledge we were inside the last 10km kept us going, and before long we heard the best news “It’s all downhill from here” – and so it was! The last 2km are a glorious gallop down to the finish line, in fact, kilometre 41 was my fastest of the day – which is definitely not usual. The very last section was extremely steep, and surrounded by spectators. I took it very carefully, for fear of falling flat on my face and ending up on YouTube.
At nearly 6hr 15, it’s my slowest marathon, but probably one of my most enjoyable. No worries about cut offs, great aid stations, friendly marshals, glorious views and weather* – what’s not to like?
*Not guaranteed J