Last weekend I took part in the Colworth Marathon Challenge, which is a three day event consisting of three separate races, with the individual distances all adding up to a full marathon. I’ve still not run an actual marathon, so I thought that by entering this event I could at least drop the phrase “26.2 miles” into conversations, albeit with lots of inaudibly muttered caveats.
The weekend is hosted by Colworth Striders and takes place at Colworth Science Park. I’m not sure what a science park is, and I didn’t see any Bunsen burners or mice with ears grown on their backs, so I’m guessing it’s just a place where scientists go at the weekend if they want to play on swings and eat ice cream. It’s a nice family event: Kids 2k race, bouncy castles, ice cream, children’s entertainer and (this was the deal breaker) a noticeable lack of poison-tipped spike pits.
Anyway, on with the races themselves…
Friday night: 5 miles
I managed to somehow resist the lure of face-painting (“Mummy, why does that 39 year old man feel that it’s acceptable to run around being a zebra?”) and lined up at the start.
There were mutterings of “oh, we’re off then” which I recognised as the small club-race equivelant of klaxons and glitter-cannons, and the race started.
The first half mile was plagued by intense glaring sunlight, and I spent those first few minutes shuffling along and staring at my shoes to avoid being blinded. They really need to address this for next year. Under normal circumstances I would never suggest that the race organisers could have done anything about something like this. However, this race was being held at a science park. Surely they had some weather machines knocking about, or perhaps one of those sun-blocking-out things that Mr Burns had in The Simpsons.
Anyway, my squinty-eyed grumpiness was short-lived, as we rounded a corner and were bathed in shade. It was lovely, as if someone had suddenly taken away the kryptonite.
THE PLAN: Don’t race it, but don’t try to hold back either.
THE REALITY: Lovely. I decided to reign in the pace a little bit at first and then cut loose after three miles. Everyone knows that the three mile point is the sweet spot of a five mile race. It’s the moment when the people who thought they’d signed up for a 5k suddenly start to panic. I powered through the last couple of miles, enjoying the mixed terrain and perfect warm-but-breezy conditions. A couple of sub 8 miles rounded off a nice little race. As I collected my race medal I felt energized and ready for the rest of the weekend.
RESULT: Position 163 of 320. Gun time 41:47 (predicted: 42:00)
Saturday lunchtime: 8.1 miles.
This was labelled as a cross country route, although it wasn’t too dissimilar to the Friday and Sunday routes which were a mixture of knobbly farm tracks, grassy hills and the occasional rooty forest trail.
THE PLAN: After yesterday’s pacey effort, today was all about recovery and holding back so that Sunday’s half marathon didn’t beat the living crap out of me. The original plan had been to keep to a gentle 10:29/mile plod which would have brought me in at 1:25:00.
THE REALITY: This is what my splits should have looked like…
I’m not great at consistent pacing at the best of times, but this was just awful. I kept taking walk breaks to try to keep a lid on my pace, but it still kept creeping up. It wasn’t even as if I was speeding up because I’d underestimated my fitness levels; it was a really hard slog. I was pushing myself even though that was the last thing I wanted to do.
About two miles in, the course went along a narrow path through the middle of a cornfield, which is where I spotted the poo. It was too big to be human, but the path was too narrow for a horse. It’s difficult to maintain a steady pace when you’re using your phone to google “how wide is a velociraptor?”
This was quite possibly the worst race I’ve ever run. It just felt grim. My pace was being a sulky teenager, I was plagued by nipple friction1 and my mind was solely focussed on the horrific state I’d be in for tomorrow’s race. The race memento for today was a handy little shoe bag.
RESULT: Position 153 of 191. Gun time 1:20:29 (predicted: 1:25:00)
Sunday morning: Half Marathon
I was not looking forward to this one bit.
My nipples were raw, my legs aching, my spirit dampened. On top of that I’d forgotten to bring any coffee with me for the journey, and the lovely ladies in the clubhouse who had been falling over themselves to feed me caffeine for the last two days were now nowhere to be seen. As the clock ticked ever-closer to start time, I began to seriously consider whether it was worth even bothering. I was trying to decide whether a pub-fight-in-hell of a race was worse than a DNS, when I realised that the race had started and I’d been running for a good couple of minutes.
THE PLAN: Despite yesterday’s fiasco, my plan for today remained the same: Just give whatever’s left.
THE REALITY: The recovery advisor in my watch was really starting to get pissed off with me. After both of the races so far, it had told me to get a good 50+ hours of rest. Clearly I wasn’t paying attention, and I fully expected it to flash up today with “d’you know what? Just forget it. I really don’t know why I bother. You never take a blind bit of notice. Do you have any idea how many complex calculations I have to do in order to calculate your optimum recovery, you ignorant dick? Well, do you?!? You make me sick”.
Obviously, that wouldn’t have fitted on the little screen, so instead it just said “Fair”.
But the race itself? It was amazing! I have no idea where it came from, but I felt strong and even-paced all the way round. I managed to pick off quite a few runners and powered up the hills despite the fact that it was a hot day and I’d just spent the last two days trying to beat up my legs. My cadence stayed at around 180 and my heart rate remained pretty level throughout, without much upwards drift. The race felt a lot shorter than yesterday’s 8-miler, and I crossed the line with a big grin on my face. This should have been a nightmare of a race, but it somehow turned out to be one of my strongest.
The race memento for today was a mug, which I promptly filled with soft-whip ice cream. There was also a slate coaster for completing the whole weekend, which was a rubbish prize because you couldn’t put ice cream in it.
RESULT: 134 of 221. Gun time 2:03:01 (predicted: 2:05:00)
RESULT: 107 of 150. Total gun time 4:05:17 (predicted 4:15:00)
I was really pleased with the result. I’d normally be a bit disappointed not to finish in at least the top 50%, but this event was predominantly serious looking club runners, so I was up against some fierce competition. Also, I did zero training for this, because lazy Jay.
All things considered, I really enjoyed this weekend. I hadn’t expected it to be too much of a challenge, based on the fact that people do marathons all the time, so how hard could it be when the distance broken into three chunks. But it was a challenge, largely due to the mental pressure of getting out there three days in a row and trying to fight the urge to treat them as three individual flat-out races.
I’d be interested to see how the final result compared to my actual marathon time, once I actually get off my backside and do a full one. My watch had the total elevation gain as 457m, so it’s a reasonably hilly course, so I wonder how I’d fare with the full 26.2 in one go on a reasonably flat course.
The Colworth Marathon Challenge is a very welcoming event with a nice small-club vibe to it, and in particular the Friday night seemed like a great family event with plenty to do.
Toilets: Not many, but remained clean throughout the weekend.
Water stations: Plenty.
Refreshments: The club house did teas, coffees, jacket potatoes, ice cream etc. and there is also a licensed bar.
The only acceptable way to eat post-race ice cream: Mug.