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Ian Watson reports from the Pilgrim Marathon

I’d done The Farnham Pilgrim twice before, doing the Half Marathon each time and I enjoyed it thoroughly both times.  It’s run by Farnham Rotary as a charity event and this sets the tone for the event – it very much has a “run for fun” feel to it, though clearly there is no limit to the amount of effort a runner may wish to put into it.  One of the main appeals to it is the chance to enjoy running along the Hog’s Back, which gives a chance to not only run in some beautiful countryside but particularly to appreciate the extensive views over the North Downs from above.  With this in mind, and having heard great recommendations from those who’d already done it, I boldly booked onto the Marathon this time.

Because of this being an off-road event and because enjoying views from hills means you’re going to have to get yourself up them first, I knew this was not a little pootle in the countryside and that I would have to train for it.  So naturally, being a focussed and organised athlete, I did nothing of the sort.  (Well, I had one 12-mile run about 7 weeks before, but “marathon training”?  Nah).  The saving grace is that there was absolutely no point in trying to achieve a particular time in a race like this which might mean anything.  So the thinking was : could I walk 26.2mls? Yes.  In that case, this was going to be a “Walk+”, any amount of running being a bonus, and no guilt or disappointment for stopping to enjoy views, take some pictures or whatever.

The course did not disappoint – all the charm of the Half Marathon, double that and add a grand walk up the hill to St.Martha’s Church just to the south-east of Guildford at the turning point.  (presumably some would run it, but certainly not something I witnessed.  I expect you didn’t have to go far down the field to see the last of those who managed it).

As could be expected with such a strategy, I was not too out of puff to chat to people, including the sea of marshals who manned the huge number of aid stations, dishing out drinks and an array of toothsome snacks which you could just about convince yourself were needed to keep your energy levels up.  Oh yes, absolutely.  “No way am I going to finish if I don’t have a handful of jelly beans, several slices of Mars bar, half a dozen pieces of flapjack, a banana and some Haribo every two miles!” and they encouraged you to have it.  Honestly, it was like being spoiled on a visit to your granny.  Add in a lot of marshals ensuring we went the right way and there were probably as many volunteers at the event as there were runners in the marathon event which was about 300.  Though the route was well signposted and marshalled, I found one exception where I came to a farmyard with no other runners ahead to follow and no marshal or course sign.  Just a gate with some tape showed the way to the left and I saw a couple of runners in the distance who I followed.  After growing uncertainty, a U-turn, an extra 1/2ml added and a conference with the knot of runners now gathered in the farmyard, I located us all on the OS map I’d downloaded to my phone (!) and confidently and correctly told everyone what the real route was.  Considering that I’d been broken the previous week by the difficulty of the orienteering at the British Championships, this really was quite a coup.  Lina Johnson, take note: I am now the king of self-nav, and available for lessons at very reasonable rates as you prepare for your utterly bonkers challenges)

Amongst the runners I talked to, the most impressive was actually not the Superman doing his 312th marathon.  This accolade belongs to a woman of about my age who had done a marathon the day before.  (Okayyyy, nice!….)   Oh, and it was her 224th.   (Ooooh!…..) The first 100 took her 10yrs, the second 100 4yrs, and she was trying to get the third 100 in 80 weeks.   (Gulp….).   Oh, and at around 280, she’d had a heart attack, the doctor had advised her to stop running, she thought he was clearly not a runner and that running was actually the best thing, so ignored her and kept doing it anyway.  (Wow!!  But I’m very glad she’s being proved right!…).   And just when I thought she couldn’t add more to the astonishing story, she put the icing on the cake by telling me the previous day’s marathon had been in Devon, she’d driven back to her home in Cornwall and then driven up for today’s 9.30 start HAVING GOT UP AT 4AM TO MILK THE COWS.  I told her that I was doing my 6th marathon in 7 years.  It felt like an “I tried my best” sticker given to a child in Reception for their finger-painting.

I did complete the course, though it was quite a “challenge” towards the end (and I deserved it as my “training” got its own back on me).  As for my time…well I said it at the start.  You shouldn’t care because I honestly didn’t.  Even being “Dave Watson” in the results with a number which was one less than mine and not even being listed as an SJ, didn’t detract from the day, beyond proving I was there.

I’d thoroughly recommend this event.  Even the Half could be done by someone for whom a shorter distance would be considered by them to be a stretch.  If you’re comfortable with doing a club run, you could do this.  Not because it’s an easy one.  Far from it.  But remember that a “Walk+” attitude will be rewarded by a great experience.  As for the strong/fast, it would be a great course for taking up a challenge and really going for it.  I’ll be at it again, for sure.

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