I’ll get the bad stuff out the way first, so that if any of it is a deal breaker, you need read no further.
- The gathering area and finish are about a 20 minute walk away from the start, so timing your last minute wee stop is challenging.
- There are no changing tents, so you’ll leave the venue marathon-fresh.
- The course is long. The half marathon came in at about 14 miles, and the marathon at 27. So unless your previous marathon PB was set on a muddy hill-fest, you’re unlikely to net a PB.
- The mile markers are placed at completely random intervals. Some miles are short. Some miles are long. Some miles don’t exist at all.
- It’s a two lap course and the half marathon runners start after the marathon runners, so as you gird your loins ready to start lap 2, the half marathoners are sprinting past you to their glorious finishes.
- There are two tunnels, one 400m long and the other 1700m long, so your GPS stats will be… interesting. Mine, for example, had me moving for only 4 hours and 20 minutes of the 4 hours and 50 minutes it actually took me, show that I ran a 2:27 minute mile and included elevation of 1600ft over two whopping great hills that I didn’t actually run over.
The marathon forms one small part of a set of races put on by Relish Running. There’s a 500m fun run for the children which goes through the shorter of the two tunnels, a 5km race which goes out and back through the shorter tunnel, a 10km race which goes out and back through both tunnels, a (very long) half marathon which is a single lap and a (long) marathon which is two laps.
For a comprehensive description of the route, head over to Relish Running‘s website. I didn’t read the route description beforehand and, being one of the most unobservant runners on the planet (Manchester Ship Canal anyone?) am little the wiser for having run it twice, but from memory it goes something like this:
Run slightly uphill along a shared use path. Run through the first tunnel. Run a little further on the shared use path. Run into the second tunnel. Run and run and run and run and run. Look at the sign on the floor that says 1100m to go, 600m gone. Think “I can hear classical music. Is there a busker? Oh. No. There are speakers in the wall”. Carry on running. Run a little more. Realise that the classical music has faded. Notice another sign on the floor that says 600m to go, 1100m gone. Carry on running. Run a little more. See the light at the end of the tunnel. Leave the tunnel to be hit by a wall of hot, humid air. Resist the temptation to hightail it back into the gloriously cool and calming tunnel. Run along the path a little further, grab some water from the first water station and then turn left down some steps.
Run along a road and then wind your way through a village. Enjoy the church bells (first lap only), run though some sort of scenery (even looking at the map, I can’t remember how this bit went, though I think there is a steep path down where you can laugh at the cyclists trying to haul their bikes up in the other direction), stop off at a water station and eventually end up on a canal. Run along the right bank. Cross over. Run along the left bank. Cross over. And then run. For ever. Along the right hand bank. Run under the occasional bridge. Admire the views across the valley. Consider what life would be like on one of the many narrow boats. Wonder at the person flying around on a motorised parachute. Watch as the randomly placed mile markers pass you by one by one and then start to doubt that the third water station is ever going to appear. Tread on a discarded baby food sachet and squirt pureed apple up both legs. Consider stopping to wipe it off but decide that you really can’t be bothered. Carry on running. Maybe it’s just under this bridge. Or perhaps it’s just around this corner. Seriously. Where. Is. The. Water. Station. Aha! Found it!
Continue along the waterway (It could be a canal. It could be a river. Who knows? Who cares?) before negotiating the out and back section. Note the runners just ahead of you (can you catch them?). Note the runners just behind you (how much distance have you gained on them since you overtook them?). Negotiate the many hazards (children on scooters, tourists taking photographs, blind corners under bridges, amblers walking three abreast) before reaching the fourth aid station. Pick up your coloured wrist band (“I was here”) and then make your way back. Cross some roads, cross some bridges, cut down past a cellotaph and then run along more canal/river. Peel away from the canal and over a bridge, through a little industrial area, over the road at some traffic lights, up through some residential streets, along a path before finally, finally crossing the start line again.
Run along the shared paths, take a small (uphill) detour through the field, mutter rude things at the half marathoners as they finish, guzzle some water at the midway aid station and rejoin the path just before the first tunnel.
Run lap two. It’s the same as lap one but longer and without the perky half marathon runners and instead of turning right at the end, you carry straight on, up the slight rise (which at this point feels like a cliff) to the finish.
There are two things that make this event special. Two things which mean that I would run it again, and I would recommend it for your consideration.
The first is that a good half of the marshals were armed with lists and primed to spot numbers and call out personal encouragement. When you’re at mile umpteen of a marathon, having a marshal call out “Come on, [insert name here]” makes a ridiculous difference to your energy levels.
The second is that tunnel. The mile long tunnel of bliss. The first time you run through it, it’s good. The second time, when the field has spread out and you have it all to yourself, it’s astounding: the air is cool; the lights curve off into the distance; the only sound you can hear is the sound of your footsteps and you yearn to stay in there forever.
Forget the mile markers. Forget the extra mile. Forget the walk to the start. This race is about the tunnels, and for the tunnels, I would forgive pretty much anything.