Saturday 9 April 2022

Berkshire: Magna Carta marathon race recap

This race was always going to be tricky.  I'd intended to do Autumn 100 as my Berkshire race but realised it didn’t have a medal and therefore didn’t meet my criteria so booked this as a replacement.  This race was promptly postponed due to Covid.  The postponement email was the most rudimentary of all the postponements I had, with not-so-much as an apology, on 11/3/21:

I then heard nothing from them for a year.  A further timetabling issue resulted in my Leicestershire race being moved to 2 days prior to this race, which was never going to be ideal, and my lack of training and recent Covid meant I wasn’t as up for a double marathon weekend as I might usually be.  Ben couldn’t come with me this time so I drove myself to Egham where the race started and finished.

As it turned out, there wasn't a lot to love about this race. 


  • I arrived and went to the registration desk.  I said, “Hi, I’ve come to collect my number, I’m number 77 I think” and smiled.  The volunteer said, “Alice?” and handed me my number.  That was the only word spoken to me by anyone in the first 90 minutes I was there.

  • There was a Union Jack on the bib number (since Brexit I think putting a Union Jack on anything immediately makes it worse).  Please also note the stupid slogan.  Stupid slogans are a guaranteed way to put me off a race.

  • The weather was slightly sunny, but the race start was under the shadow of trees.  As a result it was bloody freezing.  I was wearing three layers, a buff and gloves and still shivering.  There were a lot of runners wearing nothing but vests and t-shirts which doesn’t bode well as it usually means little thought has been paid to anyone who isn’t racing. 

  • Later, the race was absolutely boiling and I stripped off all my layers and regretted not wearing suncream.  
  • The PA system at the start was broken so the race director just spoke in his normal voice meaning it was really hard to hear him and half the field missed all the instructions.
  • The race was directly under a flight path and gigantic jumbo jets roared overhead at frequent intervals, ruining the tranquility of what was billed as “one of the most scenic and historic stretches of the River Thames skirting the actual site where the historic Magna Carta Royal Charter treaty was signed by King John of England on 15th June 1215”. They didn't have vast numbers of 737s back then though.  Just saying...
  • Just as I was settling into my stride after a kilometre or two, my Garmin did that deeply unhelpful thing where it tells you your training status is ‘unproductive’.  Thanks for that.

  • Although some bits of the course were quite nice, there was quite a lot of running alongside busy roads:

  • There was also quite a lot of uneven ground, and fairly early on in the race I came across a runner who had tripped and had a nasty fall.  I stopped and sat on a bench with her while she got her breath back and gave her a wet wipe. 

  • The course consisted of two short out-and-backs in one direction and four longer out-and-backs the opposite way.  All of it was along the river so it was pretty much totally flat the whole way.  I thought that would be good after the hills on Thursday but actually it was just dull.
  • My legs started feeling sore from 11km in and carried on feeling sore for the rest of the race.  To be fair, this wasn’t the race’s fault, but it didn’t add to my enjoyment of it.
  • It was mentioned at the race briefing that there was a walking race taking part on the same path today.  This race was substantially larger than our race and featured about a thousand people all walking along the same trails as us.  They were all going one way – we were going out and back – so for about 15 miles you were constantly stopping and starting, dodging people, shouting “excuse me” etc.  As walkers tend to, they were frequently blocking the whole path/meandering around/not paying attention/stopping to take photos.   I’m sure the runners were really annoying for them as well.  I have no idea whose race was first but it was a planning disaster and one of them should’ve been rescheduled.

  • As a result of this, people racing and trying to get a PB were often held up by the walkers and obviously this could be a bit frustrating.  In the worst episode of trail etiquette I can ever remember seeing, I witnessed a half marathon runner literally PUSH an older Asian gentleman out of his way because he was holding him up by about 2 seconds.  I was horrified.  I apologised to the man on behalf of the runner and the race in general.  When I got back to the HQ I stopped, mid-race to report the guy to the race director.  The race director said he would ‘have a word’ which, as I’m sure you can imagine, is unlikely to have much impact.  Personally I would have DQ’d him.  It was absolutely shameful behaviour that gives all runners a bad name.
  • The aid stations were shit.  There were only two – which was OK because of the out-and-back nature of the race – but all they had were gels, water, electrolytes and waffles.  On one occasion I managed to get some orange squash and three jelly sweets (!) but I never saw those again (presumably used up by the faster runners ahead of me).  The waffles were nice, but not really a substitute for a properly supplied aid station (Leicestershire had hot cross buns, FFS!)

  • At 30k I was really struggling.  It was boiling hot, my legs hurt, I was bored of running and there was still really far to go.  I had a couple of paracetamol, a caffeine bullet and put on Gordy’s A100 playlist, a triumvirate that has never failed me, but even after 20 minutes I didn’t feel significantly better.    

  • Around this time I got chatting to a bloke who I’d seen around at other races.  I told him about my counties challenge and explained that Berkshire had been a tricky race to find.  He replied, “But we’re not in Berkshire.  We’re in Surrey!”  I said, “surely some part of it must be in Berkshire?” and he laughed and said, “No!  You want to do one of the weekday marathons in Slough.  That’s in Berkshire.  Egham’s in Surrey”.  I frantically tried to remember if I’d checked – if marathons are near the border I tend to – but I wasn’t sure if I had or hadn’t. I might’ve checked that Windsor was in Berkshire, but the race didn’t actually go to Windsor – only OLD Windsor.  Oh god.   The bloke said, “I should’ve told you this when you were on your last lap shouldn’t I? Enjoy your race in BERKSHIRE!” and ran off, laughing.  (Possibly I made up the bit about the laughing.  But I certainly felt distraught that I might have run this miserable race for nothing).  I got my phone out and started googling.  It seemed like Old Windsor was in Berkshire, but was I on the right side of the Thames? 
    In the end I had to wait until I got home to check the ceremonial county borders and be absolutely sure. The top map is part of my Strava trace - the red line is the route I actually ran.  The bottom map is the ceremonial county boundary map: the bit above the red line is Berkshire and the bit below is Surrey.  Comparing the location of Friary Field, at least part of the race was definitely in Berkshire.  Phew....

  • The race briefing promised sports massage would be available at the end. I walked all around and there was none to be found.  If they ever existed, they'd obviously packed up and gone home after all the fast runners finished.  Have I mentioned I hate it when races cater primarily for fast runners?  *cough* I'm looking at you, Isle of Wight *cough*



  • I ran with the woman who had had the fall for the best part of an hour and she was really nice and we had some interesting conversations.  Normally I'm pretty reckless with reporting chats I've had with people on the trails, but as we talked about quite personal stuff including about her child,  I'm (unusually) reticent to invade her privacy by reporting it here.
  • There was a nice medal with a picture of the Magna Carta on it:

  • The car parking machine was broken so parking was free.  I think it's safe to say that when free parking is the highlight of a race, the bar is pretty low.


Thursday 7 April 2022

Leicestershire: Badger Challenge race recap

It's been a while (well, 2 months) since my last race and a lot has happened.  Training has been a bit hit and miss, with three weeks where I barely trained at all thanks to work-related hassle, a week skiing and then getting Covid.  I wasn't that ill with Covid but I only stopped testing positive two weeks ago and have really struggled to build back up to any sort of distance prior to this race.

Then the day before the race I had yet more work-related drama and was feeling really upset.  I put a brave face on it and went to stay the night at my parents because it would've been too far to drive from home.   Luckily they were quite good at cheering me up and distracting me so I managed not to think about it too much and had an early night.

I got up early and headed off to the race which was now only an hour away.  I was feeling very sad and when Ben rang me I was a bit tearful and pathetic and told him I really didn't feel like doing a race today.  Nevertheless, I got there, got my number and changed into trail shoes on the advice of the person next to me in the car park.  It was cold and slightly raining, which wasn't exactly helping my mood.  I stood under the race gazebo, staring at the rain, feeling morose.

And then I saw a bloke with a tiger on his head.

I know that tiger.

I met Tim at Rutland marathon in 2019.  He'd run 46 marathons juggling then.  Today was his 63rd marathon juggling, or jogling, as is the official term (portmanteau of jogging+juggling).  Rutland was my 22nd county.  Today, Leicestershire was my 42nd. 

Last time we'd run almost the whole marathon together so I was immediately cheered to see him.  I didn't really want to spend the whole race thinking about work so was extremely happy to abandon that topic and instead talk about running, all the races we'd done, how we planned to celebrate the end of our respective challenges, and so on.  Just like at Rutland, Tim's jogling was a total show-stopper and other runners, walkers and dog owners frequently made comments, clapped or stopped to take pictures.


At one point we passed a party of schoolchildren and their teachers who burst into applause and started cheering for Tim as we went past.  This happened on more than one occasion (as we were doing loops) and I definitely felt the benefit of reflected glory!

We talked about Tim's fundraising (obviously he's raising money for tigers - here's the link: if you can spare a few quid, please do.  I'm going to go to his 100th jogling marathon as it's lovely to celebrate these milestones and one of the best bits of running is meeting interesting people.  We have added each other on Strava now so I can keep an eye on how he's doing.

The loops sped by.  I probably ran faster than I would've on my own - Tim is a pretty speedy marathon runner who can do a 3 hour 40 marathon without the jogling, whereas I am not.  I need him to juggle to slow him down enough that I can stick with him, and he says it takes the pressure off, so it's win-win!

On the way round  we had a good conversation about Green Magic, which are a health food/nutritional supplement which comes in the form of a green powder.  Tim had seen an advert for it and had signed up for a year's supply at £20 a month.  My dietitian sense started tingling, and when he went on to say it was full of superfoods like spirulina and wheatgrass, it went into overdrive.  Poor Tim got cross-questioned about his oral intake and then lectured that his magic powder was almost certainly useless and he should try probiotics and fibre for improved gut health.  Having now had a chance to review the nutritional content of Green Magic (0.3g of fibre per serving), there's more fibre in a bag of crisps (0.9g)!  Compare that with milled linseed which has a whopping 2g per serving. Don't get me started! 

We also had a long conversation about running poles - I've never used them before but as I have a VERY hilly race in Cornwall coming up I'd asked for some for my birthday.  They arrived last week and I'd decided to bring them to this race to try them out, but thought I'd get them out after a few loops in case they were annoying.   Tim had used them a lot in mountain races and said they helped a lot, which was positive, but also said that adjustable length ones were better (mine aren't adjustable) and that it was best to get cheap ones as he'd broken quite a few (mine were horrifically expensive and better not break - although it did say on the packaging that due to being lightweight they were prone to breaking).  Arrrghh! It's funny how runners are easily parted from their money by the promise of powder that makes you healthier and sticks that magically zoom you up hills.  We both saw the funny side!

I decided I'd get them out of the car after the 4th lap and change back into my road shoes at the same time.  By the time I'd got sorted he was well ahead of me and I never managed to catch him up again.

The park was called Beacon Hill Country Park and there was one big hill at the start of the loop, followed by a couple of smaller inclines and then almost the whole of the rest of the route was downhill.   I'd watched some videos of how to use poles which I tried to copy, but found my legs were too long (or maybe my arms were too slow)?  In any case I got into a rhythm that seemed to work on the uphills.  They seemed easier because now I could push myself off.  The downhills were trickier, because they weren't really steep enough to need poles (and possibly also what Tim said about needing longer poles on downhills... gah!).  The main problem was the loop was so short (3.3 miles) it wasn't worth folding them up again, so I just carried them in the assembled position the whole time.  OK in a quiet country park, not so great in a busy race when you're poking people's eyes out.  Apologies in advance to the residents of Cornwall, I'm going to be a menace.

The weather was a bit hit and miss.  Some sections were sunny, often it was pretty mild but there was one particular section which was horrifically windy every time I did it, and often seemed to start raining as soon as I approached it and stop as soon as I got past it, hmm.  Here's some pics of the course - pretty standard country park stuff, nobody reads race reports to look at pictures of paths so feel free to scroll on by!

There was a canicross event at the same time which started just before the marathon, and had its own cute Dog Aid Station. 

I had been worried I might not be able to finish in the time limit because of Covid and just generally feeling tired and not really hill trained, but I needn't have been too concerned.  I finished in just under 5 and a half hours, which was absolutely fine (there was over 1000m ascent too, though it didn't feel like it) and collected my beer and flapjack and medal.

Bumped into Tim again at the end and had another nice little chat - he hadn't realised I was behind him, so had sped up to try and catch me, and therefore the gap had widened further and he completed the second half 8 minutes before me. I also had a nice chat with the race director's mum, who remembered my counties challenge from last time and was encouraging me to do the Big Bear event in Bedfordshire.  I already have a Bedfordshire marathon booked but theirs sounds so nice, I might just do it anyway!

Then I went to the cafe for some actual food (I'd survived all morning on mountains of sugar) followed by driving to see my daughter who conveniently lives in Leicester.  Overall a most enjoyable day out which turned out to be a lot better than expected.