With my third marathon in 2017, the QE Spring marathon, behind me I’d be lying if I said that didn’t hurt. It hurt, it hurt a lot. It hurt so much so I was seriously contemplating dropping out and recording my first ever DNF 13 miles or so into it. Fortunately for me I was with another runner, a chap who I’d met a few times before at other events, Ian, who I found out also happens to be the ED at Chichester parkrun. He kept me going through the bad patches and saw me through to the finish. The niggling injury in my left leg announced itself again at about 12 miles in, it does this, ever since I picked up the injury at the Portsmouth Coastal in December its the same M.O. I get into double digits and the pain rears its ugly head. My head wasn’t in the best of places today either so I was close to letting the distance and the pain defeat me. It’s been a good few months now so I really need to do something about this as it’s not going away any time soon.
Anyway, enough about me, let’s talk about the event. Gently undulating, flat, PB course are words that we won’t be using again, so I’ll leave them here. Make no mistake with in excess of 1100 metres of elevation gain spread over the two 13.5 mile laps words like testing, tough, challenging, brutal are far more appropriate. It is a tough marathon, there is walking a plenty, walk the ups run the downs is the order of the day. The location is one of my favourite places to spend time, the stunning Queen Elizabeth Country Park just outside of Petersfield. The weather for the day I don’t think could have been any better, it was a glorious morning, but I’m glad I’d taken the SPF50 with me as well as a cap. Whilst there is plenty of shade around the course, there area large portions of the course where you are exposed, better to be safe than sorry.
The marathon is put on by Second Wind Running who certainly don’t scrimp on hills, if you’ve done any of their events you know you will experience hills a plenty. They are a great little outfit who know how to put on a decent trail race. There were two options to chose from today, 1 lap for the half marathon, 2 laps for the full. The communications out via email before the race were very good, well timed and the right level of detail. I particularly liked this statement in one of the emails.
There will also be marshals out on course. Nevertheless, please take a look at the attached route map and perhaps scare yourself a little by looking at the course profile.
The profile certainly looked a bit scary! On the day the run brief is very matter of fact and full of humour, it’s evident that Phil Hoy is a very experienced marathoner/ultra runner himself. It’s nice to have a good mix of humour and brevity beforehand. A quote that made me laugh from the half marathon brief that I later saw posted up on social media was this gem, “If you need to retire – really? it’s a half marathon, take your time, have a break and then start running again. Okay if you break your leg then I’ll let you retire otherwise enjoy yourself and finish.” Love it!
The race starts just a short walk from the visitors centre, the race HQ and finish area are located in the lower field. As with most races of this ilk the atmosphere beforehand is one of friendly cameraderie, lots of smiling faces and laughter and joking before the ordeal ahead. I love these sorts of events and cannot recommend them highly enough, give me a race like this over a soulless corporate race any day of the week. It’s great to catch up and have a bit of a laugh and a joke with runners from other clubs that I’ve met over time and previous events. I absolutely love the running community, so many great folk.
The marathoners were set off at 9:30 with the half marathoners released to chase them down 45 minutes later.
Within next to no time I’m part of a group and we are tackling the first set of hills. The picture above is about 1km in and everyone is still smiling, from left to right, Richard Hill, a QE Social Club regular and top fella, me, Jonny Langley and Simon Langley. The Langley brothers had chosen this little beauty as their first official marathon, loons! They’re great guys and you’ll often see them manning and aid station and helping out at local events. They’d bet Richard he couldn’t get a selfie of us all whilst running, the above photo is the result!
We stuck together as a group for a while, probably a good 11-12 miles in fact, we had others join us for a while and then drop off or move forward, as is the norm. You can find that you play leapfrog with people on longer distance races like this. The picture above, taken by the official race photographer Stuart March really captures the spirit of the run for me (at least the first half anyway!). Such a fun and friendly atmosphere from start to finish, in races like this it is rare that you don’t share a brief moment in time with everyone that you pass or in my case that passes you. Be it a simple pleasantly like a “well done” or a “going well”, down to the usual “bloody hill” type of comment later in the race.
I pulled up at around 12 miles to get my cap out of my backpack as I could feel by head baking, the joys of being a balding middle aged man! It was at this point I really started to struggle, getting going again was hard work and the niggle in my left leg that has been plaguing me since the Coastal marathon in December reared its ugly head. The group I was with gradually increased the gap between them and me as I fell off the pace and walked a bit. This was just after the Red Lion pub in Chalton, there was a long field with a gradual incline heading back up to the stile to get back into QECP and onto the boundary path. I dropped further and further behind, I wasn’t in a good place both physically and mentally and had every intention of pulling out at the half way marker. However, this was not to be, our little pack of Portsmouth Joggers had been joined fairly early on into the race by Ian Robertson. Now, I’ve met Ian at a few other marathons and chatted with him a few times before. The running community is like that, you get to know the faces and build a rapport with people you bump into. He was an absolute rock, he dropped his pace to accompany me and his presence saw me through to the finish. I’ve never vocalised quitting before or whinged anywhere near as much as that Sunday. I can’t thank him enough for putting up with me. Ian is raising money for Guide Dogs as is running quite a few marathons and ultra-marathons this year as a result. He’s currently in the build up for a 100 miler. This is a distance I’d love to have a crack at but I’m just not in the right shape, physically or mentally to attempt it yet, maybe next year.
We get to the halfway point together and straight on through the aid station and back out on the second loop of the course. I’m guided through this with minimal fuss and all talk of dropping out put aside. In hindsight pulling out at the halfway point would have been a dick move and I’d have kicked myself for doing this. There’s a hugely generous cut off and it’s such a nice place to spend time regardless of the hills. Just take it steady and walk all the ups and run all the downs. Adopting this walk run strategy eat up the remaining miles and even left us with a relatively strong finish. We’d worked out as we were getting back into the QECP boundary that if we pushed on we could get in under five and a half hours. I ran this marathon last year at clocked up a time of 5:24:41, this time round was t actually that far off that which I’m quite surprised as I walked considerably more of the course this time. We finished in 5:29:44 so managed to get in under five and a half and less than 5 minutes slower than last time.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a finish line. I hadn’t been in a good place from the start and was really glad to put this one behind me. Don’t take this as it being an awful event though, it’s not, is far from it. It’s probably my favourite marathon, it’s bloody tough but that makes finishing it even more sweet. The organisation is fantastic, the aid stations and marshals are fun and friendly and Second Wind Running are a great company.
This is one I’m going to learn from and hopefully return next year for a third crack at it. I’d love a sub 5 time on this course and I know I can achieve it with a bit of work on both my physical and mental fortitude.