On a more personal note, my boyfriend Ian and I recently got back together and he kindly offered to do all the driving. This makes a huge difference - a marathon is easy, but a marathon combined with ~13 hours driving is another thing altogether. So big thanks to Ian - it also made it a lot more fun.
The race started at an incredibly civilised 9:30am. We were staying 5 minutes drive away which meant I got a pre-race lie in until 7am, a pre-race breakfast of porridge and a croissant at the hotel, and still had loads of time. On arrival, the race start was in a picturesque little village. It was cold but bright, with quite a lot of ice on the ground. Not as bad as the start of Oulton Park though. I'd somehow forgotten to pack a jacket - lucky it wasn't raining!
I was feeling strangely cheerful. I'd just come off a couple of 'easy' weeks of training, I felt fresh and ready to go, it looked to be a beautiful course and it was two out-and-back half marathons with very little navigation required. Some days I have to force myself to run marathons - this wasn't one of them.
Shortly afterwards I saw this tunnel appear. Nobody had mentioned a tunnel in the race briefing and there was nothing in the notes either. How exciting! Love a good tunnel! Turns out it was a pretty long tunnel, probably a couple of hundred metres long. On googling it's called Leighbeer Tunnel, designed by the main man Isambard Kingdom Brunel and apparently it's haunted.
Tunnel Ultra whilst I was in there - a race devised by the evil genius Mark Cockbain, which involves running back and forth through a 1 mile tunnel 200 times continuously. No thank you!
Caroline had done the Arc of Attrition and the Lakeland 50 and most of the 100. She was a much better runner than me but patiently put up with all my questions. She told me about her daughter and her job - as usual, these races are all about the people.
As we passed these gates for the first time, a man running by informed us that last year they had opened to let a train through and added a couple of minutes onto his time. As a result I was a bit paranoid and got a wiggle on every time I approached them in the hope of beating any trains! Also love the sky trails in this pic which I didn't even notice at the time!
I stopped at the checkpoint on the way back and commented on what a lovely selection they had. Basically it was the perfect checkpoint: squash, water, Coke. Chocolate biscuits, jaffa cakes, jelly babies. Crisps, peanuts, cheese-y fish crackers. Everything you could ever really need!
This is the view from another of the bridges I passed out over Dartmoor. Beautiful.
On 1st January this year I'd run a marathon in Liverpool (just for fun as I've already done Merseyside) in 4 hours 28 minutes, which was my quickest time since May 2019. But I was on track to go a lot faster than that. And I was feeling good! As I turned around, I wondered if I might be in the top three women. That would be quite an achievement, wouldn't it?! I started paying attention. The first lady came past me when I'd not long started the second loop - she was incredible - running at way faster than my 5k pace! I picked up the pace and overtook a few people including a lady who'd been ahead of me for most of the race so far. The lady in second place passed me maybe 10 minutes before the turnaround point, and the third maybe 5 minutes before. Oh well. I would be fourth then.
I took a picture of this bit of path because I thought the flooded bit next to it was kind of cool, there were ducks on it a bit further down but it was only a couple of inches deep:
Shortly after this I reached the turnaround point. To my surprise, Shaun was there. I hadn't seen him since the very start of the race but he'd hit the wall. He was stretching and trying to take on board food, I suggested more sugar as he'd had lots of gels. Meanwhile the volunteer dug around in the boot of the car after telling me they'd run out of Coke. This is always disappointing but miraculously she found another bottle (this never happens) and gave me some. I felt amazing and raced off. I had about 10k to go and I could see I was definitely going to get a good time as long as I kept pushing myself. For someone who doesn't like racing, I can get extremely competitive (with myself) once I know I'm in with a chance and the switch just flipped. From kilometre 29 onwards, every kilometre took less than 6 minutes. I didn't stop at the checkpoint. I didn't stop to talk to Ian.
Ahead of me I saw the lady in third place - she was walking. This was the incentive I needed and I stepped it up a gear. At kilometre 39 I cracked out a 5:26! By that point I was huffing and puffing. There was a very unwelcome hill in the last kilometre that nearly killed me but I knew I was on for a good time and there was no way I was letting that go now. Randoms walking past, alarmed by the sound of my breathing, said, "well done!" - you know you're working hard when that happens. I crested the hill and bombed it back down the other side towards the finish.
The goody bag had a banana in it which I ate, along with a cup of tea with sugar from the village hall which tasted fabulous. I reckon I'm getting faster because I'm building up my mileage for Hardmoors in March. The last time I got anywhere near this pace was when I was building up my mileage for Convergence two years ago. I can see I busted a gut from the heart rate data from my Garmin - my races NEVER look like this - I usually hang around in zone 2-3:
The next morning, Ian and I ran 8k of the route again so I could show him how pretty it was, then we drove back to Liverpool. Pretty amazing weekend!
Edited to add: Do you remember Tim, the juggling runner from Rutland marathon? Well he contacted me recently to report that his zombie running blog is up and running. It is bloody brilliant and you should definitely read it: http://www.joggling.co.uk/Home/Post/280/Welcome-to-2020-with-a-muddy-traipse-through-zombie-country-Marathon-49-Sunday-12th-January-2020