Phoenix Spring Marathon felt distinctly wintery. Into March and having seen crocuses and daffodils in the week before my hopes for a mild and relatively easy training run building up for the Ox 50 miler in May were dashed by the Beast from the East and storm Emma combining to dust the south of England with a few inches of snow. Although this had the benefit of a couple of enforced days working from home including a couple of breaks for tobogganing with the kids, it looked like the Spring Marathon could be in jeopardy.
However, race organiser RiK Vercoe had ran the course and declared the course along the Thames between Walton and Hampton Court even prettier than usual and runnable and the local roads all OK. It was then left to people to see if they could make it to the event, with those that couldn’t able to transfer to a later run. Very fair in the circumstances.
There was snow forecast on Friday night, so to give myself a fighting chance of getting to a main road on race morning I moved the car off the hill we live on to flat ground in the evening. I needn’t have worried, as by Saturday morning there had been no more snow and the temperature was above freezing. I made it to the race HQ at Walton Leisure Centre just after 8am for a 9am start.
Sixty Eight people out of registered field of 150 managed to get to the event which was enough to attract the attentions of Sky News who had a crew on hand to do a live interview with Rik, unfortunately just after we had all set off on the run.
The course is a mixture of tarmac and concrete paths and woodland and park trails all alongside the Thames. We headed off from outside The Weir pub going downstream with the river on our left and, keeping the river close by it’s impossible to get lost. All the paths were initially covered with snow, and I thought this could have been a real problem if it was at all icy. I wasn’t so much thinking about falling, but just the loss of traction and how much wasted energy there would be just keeping moving forward.
The snow wasn’t actually that much of a problem. It was like running on a loose gravel path and my Hoka Mafate Speed trail shoes provided enough grip. I combined these with gaiters so I didn’t get icy slush dripping into my shoes and my feet stayed reasonably warm and dry for the day.
I had started off the race with an idea of beating the last time that I did here on a similar course of 4:58 and set off from the front of the pack only so I might get on the telly (Sky News failed me!). We were quite quickly distanced by some very quick runners who seemed to be running 3 miles for my 2, and it wasn’t long before I felt I was running mostly by myself at a comfortable 9:30 minutes per mile. I also had in mind that at my previous marathon I had run to about 13 miles without walking, so this was going to be another long training run and I had a target of at least 15 miles to get to.
The course along the river was pleasant, though I was concentrating on staying upright more than the scenery. We first pass Sunbury Lock, then the intake pumps to Walton water treatment works, Molesey Reservoirs nature reserve, through Hurst park and past Molsey Rowing club almost to Hampton Court Bridge, a distance of 3.25 miles and where the aid station was located. This was manned by two of my marathon running friends Leon and Davo. It was nice to see friends at the aid station but every time Leon saw me coming he moved the turn around traffic cone further away – what a joker!
On the way back to the start I heard someone running behind me. We were going at the same pace and for a couple of miles I could hear their footsteps. At the start/finish aid station I grabbed a drink, cola bottles and a couple of Freddoes and set off again for lap 2 of 4, but rather than upping the pace to break the elastic to the guy behind I let him catch me up to have a chat; you can get to hear some interesting stories along the trail. Neil Addington was part way through running 105 marathons in 105 days raising money for mental health charity Mind. He had been given a 4 month sabbatical from his work building trucks and he told me about the friends he had who had suffered with mental health issues, one even committing suicide. We spent about an hour of the race talking and running together.
The weather seemed to warm a little as the race went on and the snow turned to slush after half way and then to mud on the wooded sections for the last lap. I managed to keep going with a brisk run-walk so I didn’t have any really slow miles the whole race and finished in 4:48.