Marathon 2 – Heartbreaker Marathon, New Forest
When I was planning the challenge I was really struggling to find a marathon that was local for February. I knew the New Forest was a couple of hours drive away so a stay somewhere was going to be in order. After a bit more digging I discovered the run start from Sandy Balls Holiday Park, it was a place we used to stay many years ago. So many years ago it’s actually quite worrying how quickly the time has flown by! I saw it as a sign when I booked up for this, trying not to think too much about the marathon name at that time. Back in November 2015, mum booked up the caravan for the weekend with the idea that I’d get there Saturday so I had a chance to relax ahead of the run on Sunday. With the accommodation sorted, thankfully the week after half term, I secured my place in the marathon.
Only with it all booked did I delve a little deeper into what I’d let myself in for… A hard 6 hour cut off time… Eeek! Plus the course was ‘undulating’ that means hilly in everyday language. Double eeek! I spent several weeks before dipping in and out of mental arithmetic trying to work out the pace I needed to go out to achieve this, whilst taking the climbs into consideration. 4.5 miles per hour, that seemed doable… Depending on how undulating the course really was. I found the course online and transferred it to the Garmin.
The prep email came through a few weeks before the run once again stating the cut off time. I thought best to email back just to see how firm they were with this… They were… And to top it off there was a check point at 4 and half hours, if you didn’t make it in time that was the end of the road. So i thought that’s fine, I potentially won’t get an official time or medal but I’d still continue to run the distance. And that’s the thought that helped me prepare in the days leading up to the event.
It was made slightly more challenging with suffering from a heavy cold a week before the big day. So I was dosing myself to try and get rid of it as soon as I could.
If managed to booked time off work that allowed me to travel down on the Friday, then relax on the Monday. This gave me the opportunity to not only take the Mountain bike down to see what the course was like beforehand, but also to sneak in a parkrun too!
With a stressful 4 days at work I was thankful of Friday morning to slowly pack and gather my thoughts ahead of the drive down. Soon I was on my way. Thank goodness the M25 gods were on my side too that day, and with MarathonTalk podcast on off I went.
Saturday morning I was up raring to go to get to Moors Valley parkrun. It was bitterly cold. I got lost on the way there. Note to self the New Forest area doesn’t have much in the way of mobile signal. I made it in the nick of time and managed to photobomb the MarathonTalk run camp photo too! Off I went on a slow 5k that turned into a not so slow 5k. Probably not the best idea the day before a marathon. Nevertheless for event 16, and a high number of runners to deal with, my 54th parkrun was complete. I got lost getting back to the campsite.
Once back, it was a quick change into cycling gear to head out with dad. Garmin course set, off we went. The first few miles were a slow and steady climb on the main road. I looked to right, checked the Garmin course direction, and gulped. ‘Dad, we may be walking the bikes up that hill.’ Going down was a little hairy, rocky and steep, going up the other side was a case of getting as far as I could without feeling I was pushing it or before I fell off. Needless to say we walked up the hill. At the top, back on we got passing a few runners. Before long we were going down again, and then stopped as we tried to figure out how to cross the ford. And how on earth I’d cross it on foot the next day, the last thing I wanted was wet feet so early into the run. I’d only got road shoes with me. Backing up on the bike, and with a deep breathe and all guns place we sailed through the ford. And then up another hill. At the top we weaved around vast puddles before reaching the t-junction. Turning left all was going well, and then down another hill which took us into the forest.
It was beautiful and peaceful riding through, there was another steady climb and a little downhill slope before we got to the first turn point. So back we went retracing our steps, up the super steep hill whilst thinking of the next 3 times I’d been making my way up it. Back to t-junction we carried straight on along the ridge, a smooth path with gorgeous views. Before long we’d made the 2nd turn point. As we turned we realised we were heading into a headwind, and boy was it windy. We pushed through and retraced all the way back to the t-junction. Turning left to go back it was a relief to have the wind behind us, as we flew round the puddles and down the steep hill, only to come to a halt as we made our way up the final climb back onto the road. It was reassuring once we’d completed it as I know mentally knew what was ahead of me and I was finally ready…
On the Sunday I was up before the alarm. And by 7.25 I was making my way to registration to collect my number. The next hours whizzed by as I sorted out my kit, had breakfast and all the other necessities. 8.40 the marathoners were in the hall for briefing. ‘Lets have a display of hands of those that have run here before’ a measly 4 or 5 hands went up. Oh dear, that didn’t look promising… 10mins later we were walking to the start, only it was the start I was expecting. Instead we headed down, down and down some more. Great, an even hillier start than I’d thought, not the best way to begin. The good majority ran up but I knew I needed to conserve energy and along with a fair number we walked the unexpected climb. Heading out on to the road, back on familiar territory, I waved bye to dad and we were off.
I got chatting, well as much as you can chat whilst running, to two ladies. One was an experienced Heartbreaker marathon runner, the other her first ever. I kept with them for maybe the first 5 miles but decided I needed to keep on track with my pace. It was great to have the out and back sections, as it was a little morale boosting passing each other on the way round. I also made a conscious effort to say well done to runners I passed going the other way and those over taking me, this kept me going for sure but also showed how miserable some runners are when there’s no response back!
It was about 8 miles or so in I was approach the 2nd turn point, but surprised not to see a marshal or any indication of the turn around… I started to feel a little uneasy as we headed out before turning another corner to head down… Another hill that I was prepared for… Bugger! And to top it off it was straight into a cold strong headwind pretty much all the way back up to the aid station / t-junction.
The run was going well, I was happy is decided early on to walk, albeit at a fast(ish) pace up the hills. I was making the most of the water station, and blagged some very much needed tissues from the ambulance crew (the cold hadn’t worn off completely!).
It was another lift when the half marathoners joined as that made the end of the first loop and start of the second a little more enjoyable, spent mainly attempting to establish who were ‘full’ and who were ‘halves’. I’d finally worked out then that I was battling for fourth to last runner. That didn’t bother me. I was more concerned with whether I was doing okay, and still within the check point times. The 2nd turn point marshals thought I was doing okay but weren’t too sure what time or where the cut off was.
It was around 17.5 miles going down the hill that I felt a pain in my little toe. Granted it wasn’t in the best shape to begin with but it literally felt like my toe nail hard torn away from the nail bed. Pleasant image! I had to stop, sit down, take off my trainer and sock to assess the damage. The plaster was soaked but the nail was intact, how strange! Carol and Ali were passing me at that point, and briefly stopped to check on me. I got back on my feet and gingerly carried on to the marshals, as soon as I thought they could hear me ‘have you got a plaster at all please?’. Another 5 mins break to wrap up my toe before getting back on my way. The pain subsided as I carried on, and for that I’m so thankful. I don’t know how I’d have been to carry on for another 8 miles in pain.
At the aid station I final got the answer I was after. I was safe with 15 mins inside the cut off point. That left 6 miles left to go and 1 hour 45 mins to do it in! Yippee! There was light at the end of tunnel at long last, albeit it a few more climbs to contend with. At the final turn point they had a 3rd band ready for me, and so began the wall back up to the aid station. A Range Rover went passed me to check my number, they were trying to work out the final runner. It was then I thought that I’d not seen the last lady go passed for a while. Oh bugger, I was last but at least I was going to blooming well finish! Fuelled with my final gel I saw the aid station appear. When I arrived there were two cups of water, I had them both and was sent on my merry way for the final section. No more loops, just 3 hills, 1 ford, and the downhill main road to go. It was certainly a lonely road back with only walkers and hikers now braving the elements, but passing them gave me a mini boost. On the final climb I was literally clapping to egg myself on that the end was so close.
On the main road, I could see finishers driving home. I have to say in so grateful for those that beeped, waved, gave the thumbs up as they went passed. It kept me smiling all the way. My pace was bang on so I knew I just had to keep on going. Passing the final marshal I was now counting down the final stages. As I turned the last corner they was the campsite sign in all it’s glory, and yes I did well up, I was going to do this. It was with about 5 mins to go that I realised not only was I well within the 6 hour mark, but I was actually going to come in under 5 and a half! Blimey, I’d done it and I’d done it with a PB to boot! I was chuffed. I didn’t care if I was last. I gone and knocked off 32 mins and I was chuffed to bits with that! As I was coming up to the line I saw dad and gave a wave, throwing my hands up in the air as I crossed the line. I’d done it! Yay! I gave dad a hug, captured all on camera of course! We attempted to find the free soup but gave up and headed back to the caravan to give mum a hug too!
Marathon number two is in the bag!
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Also published on Medium.