I hated Paris Marathon. I had a fantastic weekend in the company of a great friend, and came away from Paris with a pair of gorgeous red jeans which have become firm favourites and a green plastic poncho which doubled up nicely as a changing tent at Autumn 100, but the marathon itself I hated. I hated it for three reasons: it was loud, it was congested and I was going for (and failing miserably to get) a sub-4hr time (though I did come away with a PB so there is a silver lining to the cloud).
This year, when I was looking for a fast, flat road marathon with PB potential, I ignored Manchester and Brighton and Edinburgh and opted for Seville. It’s a city marathon, true, but with about 13,000 entrants and wide roads, there’s precious little people-dodging to do, even in the middle of the pack. Like Paris, it also turned into a social occasion with a loose knit group of about 10 of us travelling over and meeting up every so often for pizza, beer and general chatting, but unlike Paris, I didn’t spend 26.2 miles wanting to kill people, the crowd support was noticeable but not overbearing* and the obligatory bands were enthusiastic without being eardrum-perforatingly loud. Did I bag my sub 4? No. Nor a PB, and not even sub 10 minute miles. I had a complete stinker of a run and came away with a rather lacklustre 4:34, but I didn’t hate it, and if I ever have to run another city road marathon, this one would be high on my list.
Roll forward two weeks and it was time for another marathon, this time a track marathon in Telford. I’d entered it on impulse during my rebound from Grand Slamming, because I was curious to know both how dull 105.5 laps of an athletics track would be and whether I was capable of running two marathons in two days. I drove up after work on Friday, stayed in a Premier Inn just down the road, had a leisurely all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast at the Brewer’s Fayre next door and then headed over to the track… where I promptly spotted a familiar face from parkrun tourism. It turns out that 105.5 laps of an athletics track isn’t as mind-numbingly dull as you’d think. Unlike most races where the leaders vanish into the distance never to be seen again, at a track marathon you see them over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. You can track the progress of every other runner in the race, and with lap counts being called out every 10 laps, you know that the leaders are on 30 laps when you’re on 20, that the pink runner you know from Centurion Events is just under 10, 10, and then just over 10 laps ahead of you, and that the runner from Cheadle is just a lap behind. There’s a water station every 400m, music playing over a loud speaker (think of a song about running, going round or being dizzy and it was probably on the playlist) and no major landmarks that you can miss. Did I beat my Seville time? Did I hell! 4:38 was as good as I could manage. I crossed the line, waited for a few other people to finish and then staggered to my car for the drive down to Brighton. A drive down with frequent stops to stretch my legs, and even some stairs at the first set of services, who’d very meanly decided to put the loos on the first floor.
I made it to Brighton by half eight in the evening, showered, inhaled some food kindly provided by my long-suffering and very supportive mother, and then collapsed into bed. 30 minutes later**, my alarm was telling me it was time to get up and get ready for the Steyning Stinger. I leapt out of bed in a single bound, marvelling at my lack of creak***, enjoyed a mother’s day breakfast with my mum and then headed down the road to Steyning… where I promptly spotted a familiar face from parkrun tourism. It turned out that he was going to be running the first 10 miles at a leisurely pace with a slightly injured friend, and did I want to run with them? Yes, yes I did. They waited for me to collect my number, drop off my bag and generally faff and then we wandered over to the start. One of the great things about the Stinger (there are several, including the free cooked breakfast at the end, the superbly marshalled course and the picturesque, single lap route) is that you can set off pretty much whenever you like. The marathon mass start is at 8.30am, but if you want a little more time, or simply want to have the chance to watch the fast people in action, you can set off any time after 7.30am. Did I beat my 2014 Stinger time of sub 5hrs? Not even close. I did however enjoy a fabulous 5:24 of South Downs glory, and with my parkrunning friend @DiamondLitefoot there to point out the views, ruins and other points of interest, I even managed not to miss any major sights.
3 very different marathons in 15 days, each more enjoyable than the last. Best of all, today’s hilly trail marks the start of my training block for Lakeland, and hopefully the next few months will feature trails, trails and more trails, with not a marathon in sight.
* Vamo, vamo, venga, animo!
** Okay, eight hours. But it felt like 30 mins.