Never underestimate a marathon 

With TDS looming large on the horizon and some summer heat finally forecast I decided a long and hot run was overdue and entered the Bewl Water marathon. This is a two lap race around the reservoir and mostly on trails. Obviously it’s nothing like TDS in terms of profile but there are a few hills but more importantly the forecast was for sunshine all day. Knowing it can get pretty hot in the Alps in August I thought this would be good practice to see how I cope with running in the heat. Unfortunately real life sometimes interferes with running, and a crisis at work meant my preparation was not ideal. Late nights in front of the computer, calls with colleagues at all hours etc. so race prep was non existent. After a brief conference call on Saturday morning while eating my breakfast, Sarah reminded me I should be in my running kit ready to leave. Bewl Water is only a short drive from Tunbridge Wells, so I was at the start on time but had to beg for some sun cream as I’d forgotten to bring cream as well as a hat.

The race start – photo by Mark Perkins

After a race briefing from Dave Ross (race director) we were off. No one was in any hurry to get underway and after the initial leader called out “I’ve led a marathon” and dropped back, I found myself alone and in the lead.   My goal was to run a 3:30 race (8 min / mile pace); hard work on trails and in the heat, but not so hard that it would impact my training too much. After running the first 3.5 miles to the aid station, I stopped for some water. I was averaging 7:40 pace, so decided to slow up a little.  There were 37.5 and 50 mile races happening too and those runners hadn’t done a 1 mile loop over the reservoir so I started catching some of them, but soon heard footsteps behind me. When the trail opened out another runner came up alongside me.

I recognised him from previous races (David Thompson), and although we’d never spoken before we soon got chatting. In fact we ran together for the next 2 hours chatting about past and future races. The aid stations were well stocked and I tried some of the racefood bars – like nougat. Tasty and easy to eat without being sticky and sickly. I’ll be adding these to my food bag on my next ultra.

Racefood - well worth trying

Racefood – well worth trying

We ran through the start / finish area and set off on our second lap, still running together and I was feeling fine after 16 miles, but as we came out of the woods and hit the road section and picked up the pace it felt harder than expected. At 18 miles I was feeling really weak and as we hit the hill up to the aid station I had to slow to a walk. I wished David well and muttered something apart catching him up in a minute, but knew that wouldn’t happen.

At the aid station I drank plenty and poured a cup of water over my head, before setting off again, but at a reduced pace. I was searching out every patch of shade, but fortunately much of the run is in the woods. At the final aid station i stopped again for more water, and two more cups went over my head.

With two miles to go I recognised where I was and made an effort to run up the final hill. I’ve had a run of 3rd place finishes recently, so decided I didn’t want to surrender my 2nd place.I couldn’t see or hear anyone behind me, but assumed there may be someone running hard, so pushed myself to the finish.

I finished in 3:31:33 in 2nd place, and picked up a lovely little trophy.

2nd place - my best result

2nd place – my best result

David Thompson was the winner in 3:24:33, so a minute a mile quicker than me over the last 6 miles. I’m not sure why I slowed up so much, but i’m guessing it was a combination of factors: heat, dehydration ( i drank over 2 litres after the race and still didn’t need the toilet for some time), starting too fast, or general fatigue from the training i’ve been doing.

However , when your main focus in 100 mile events, it’s easy to underestimate how tough a marathon can be, and next time I’ll treat the distance with a the respect it deserves.

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