How things have moved on! Last year this was never on the radar – but it is a recurring theme throughout this blog that I am perpetually vulnerable to the power of positive suggestion, particularly from people like Kim – and Mel – and also (it turns out) Sue. And so, just three weeks after last year’s triumphant parade around the streets of Paris (and Sue’s around Brighton) I headed ooooop north (of Dorchester) to Sturminister Newton (or SN as we shall hereafter refer to it) to take part in the North Dorset Village marathon. Buoyed by going “sub-four” in France I set out confidently before being dealt a most painful reminder by the great marathon gods of the immense respect that this event is owed.
But, unbowed, this year it became part of “the plan”. A positive act to support this (relatively local and) relatively low key event organised by the Gillingham Trotters (that’s Gill as in Dorset, not Jill as in Kent). It was plain this time that after attempting to run fast in Manchester, there is no way I should attempt to do anything similar here. But how to play it? My disappointment in Manchester was in seriously running out of steam at around 20 miles, at which point I was still well in PB territory. Could I lay that all at the door of Pizza Express, Salford Quays (for running out of b£$%%y pasta - I ask you)? Or was it my race-day fuelling strategy. I’ve spent plenty of time these last couple of weeks reading up on the right number of gels? with caffeine or without caffeine? energy bars? the need to top up with electrolux?!? etc … etc.
After parkrun the previous day I sought advice from Simon, whose marathon times have plummeted since breaking his back a couple of years ago!! “oh I just 'ad about three gels” was his advice – nothing too scientific there then 😩 . So I headed ooooop north armed with all the above.
But first the trip up – I have offered to drive a carful of Egdon Heath Harriers. I have printed out the instructions from google maps and cross referenced them against the map. I am convinced I know the way – turn right at Charminster onto the top road – look out for signposts – drop down to the right – and Bob’s my uncle – we’ll be in SN before we know it. Craig sitting alongside of me is nominated as official navigator. Well to cut a long story short I screwed up – ended up on the wrong “top road” whilst Craig admits to getting “car sick” if forced to look at a google maps printouts for too long. My on-board trip computer is working overtime and I’m seriously starting to panic – but eventually we see SN signposted and I deliver my cargo of Egdonite to race HQ about ten minutes behind schedule.
Race numbers collected and pinned on (front and back!) I scoff my energy bar, deposit baggage, force down a gel (with caffeine) and top up my battery, before the short walk to the start. I know my place (towards the rear of the field) and head for it. A (whatever the collective noun is) of Egdonites have agreed to process around together at about four hour pace (some of them having run London the week before) (in about three hours) but, though tempted, I am aiming at around 5:50 per km, which would maybe get me around in about 4hrs 10mins. I am stood by some “Dorset Doddlers” – one lady is talking about running Manchester - “oh I was there too” I interject – “oh yes – we spoke to you at the start” she recalls – the global marathon village again!!
We are off, running up a slight hill – before quickly turning right onto the (fairly quiet) main road. Very early on I am particularly impressed to see Egdonite JR demonstrating some advance dog handling skills. He has collared a stray pooch, and is calling to a martial to take control of it! My first km is a little slow but before I know it, and without really trying, I am ahead of the target time (surprise, surprise!!!). This is of course a hugely different experience to big city marathons – there is no mass of supporters, drumming bands, or (god forgive) morris-dancers and bagpipe players – for the most part it’s you and your fellow runners. And as you settle down to a steady pace, those around you become a very familiar sight.
So soon I’m running around with Natalie from Christchurch, and thus begins the most enjoyable section of the marathon. Natalie is getting back into running just six months after giving birth to her first child – but she has run the distance before, once in London. We seem to be running at a comfortable pace and it is always a delight not to be obsessing too much with Garmin – just every now and then glimpsing it and being very encouraged at how the kms are ticking over. There are also a gaggle of Dorset Doddlers in front of us, including my friend from Manchester who is (I think) part of a relay team (relay teams of four are also running alongside us). And then, some time later a gentleman behind (wasn’t even aware he was there) joins in. He is most appreciative of our efforts since we seem to be running at just the right pace for him. And so there are now three of us running together having been joined by Adrian. Adrian comes from Taunton, but runs with the Chard Running Club. For him this is his first crack at the marathon distance.
We push on at a steady pace. At one point we catch another lady from Chard, who declares that she has gone off too fast after not really training for this. She runs with us for a bit but before we know it, and without appearing to try too much, she starts to pull away. Every now and then Natalie takes time to comment on the surrounding scenery, which otherwise I would have totally ignored. But around 16 miles or so I sense that Nat is starting to drop back a bit, and she soon confirms this, telling us to push on ahead – and so three becomes two.
Now avid?!? reader(s) of this blog will also know that the other recurring theme is my ongoing obsession with the “comfort stop” aspect of running. So far I have been amazed that I have been able to complete six marathons without recourse to a single “Paula moment”. But I start to sense that we could be looking at seventh time unlucky. Not too long after I inform Adrian that I am going to have to stop (and go) and so with an “I’m sure you’ll catch me up” (don’t bet on it mate!!!) we are separated. I take one look at the gap in the hedge I have stopped at, leading to a seriously locked gate, and decide this really is not the right spot – I walk on and then am able to run again – but just as I start to think the crisis might be over, once again the feeling came upon me like a tidal wave – I ask at a water station but to no avail. And I wonder at the wisdom of knocking on some stranger’s door and asking them to take pity on a poor, very sweaty runner.
But now I am running again and we are approaching the final relay change over point, which appears to be based at some sort of centre of civilisation (farmyard!). “Is there a loo” I ask the marshal – “over behind that four-by-four” he replies – YAY – relief will be mine 😊. Past (surely) the car in question - but no sign of a sign. I carry on searching – wtf is it – GIVE UP!!! – but as I head back to accost the marshal I spot (damn it) another four-by-four, slap bang in the middle of the carpark area – DOH!!! - and behind it- Shangri-la!! – a single (unoccupied) portaloo.
So now we have no excuses. Soon I am running again – indeed running well. Last year I ran out of steam well before this point. There are a couple of nasty little uphill kicks as we get towards the business end of the marathon. Last year I walked them. But this year I’m running them, overtaking others as I go. At the village of Child Okeford we turn right and head toward the 30km drinks stop (where I have even been well enough prepared to deposit a sports drink - with electrolux) (or whatever it is). It was at this point last year that I was picked up (by the scruff of the neck) by self styled Old Bat On A Bike Barbara with a “Keith – we’re going to finish this together – it’s the only way I’m going to get there”. No Barbara this year and to be honest just now I don’t need her 😊
But soon I’m regretting her absence 😩 This is now a lonely road. Today, there is no horned beast. Today all three of me know we have to (slow) run-walk it from here. But there are still others close by. There is a particular gentleman, plodding along at a constant pace. I overtake him, but then stop to walk and he is past me again. I overtake him, but then stop to walk and he is past me again. Not so much hare and tortoise as tortoise and tortoise. I know we are heading towards the disused railway that takes us back to SN. And then we will truly be homeward bound.
Eventually we drop down from the road, and I am on the rail track. And suddenly there is someone on my shoulder – no horned beast today – this time it is Barbara! Well last year, despite my best efforts, she wouldn’t let me run walk along here. She was on a mission to achieve London GFA (which she did). And she is with me again – keep running – keep running – I take off. But unlike the Great North Run (or indeed Manchester) this is a long, long finishing straight but with no end in sight. I know it’s there – keep going (says Barbara) – keep going. There are now a few spectators. And suddenly there is the 26 mile marker – sorry Barbara – I allowed myself the luxury of a short walk – wouldn’t have dared if you’d been there in person 😉 And then run faster and faster and I have finished another marathon – head for the grass verge and collapse flat on your back (for the record 4hrs 28mins – two mins faster than last year) 😊.
I am soon joined by marathon first timers Adrian (4hrs 13mins) and official navigator Craig (4hrs 18mins). We watch Egdonites JR (advanced dog handler), David (back seat passenger) and Mark finish, and give a huge cheer as Nat comes over the line in an excellent 4hrs 46mins. Wondering what her views are on marathon running compared to child birth. On the way round, I did mention the classic quote from Men Behaving Badly “now, I'm not saying it doesn't smart a bit, but if blokes did it, I reckon you'd be looking at, what, give birth, have a couple of Paracetamol, maybe a bit of a nap and then back to work within the hour” – hmmmm.
Afterwards fellow tortoise Geoffrey congratulated me on my finishing pace!!! whilst telling me that he’d won the prize for first over 70s finisher and had achieved London GFA 😊. A later fb conversation established that there are actually three possible routes to GFA. And since (1) Run Faster is clearly out of the question, afraid I shall be sticking with (2) Get Older, because I am not (yet) prepared to entertain option (3).
Thanks for reading,
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