The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Marathon Chasers – John Naylor

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Marathon Chasers – John Naylor

As many will know, I run marathons and want to complete 100 of them. I talk about them a lot. With that in mind, I decided August would be better with a marathon in it and signed up for the Hoad Hill Marathon a few weeks before it was due to be run.

I was under no illusion that this was going to be an easy course. A trail marathon with the hill profile (below), would be tough going.

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As with all marathons, I thought up a pace strategy to handle it. I decided the first half looked not too bad, with a few undulations, but I could probably get around that in about 1 hour 45. That would leave a slower section from the 13.1 to 19.2 mile points, where the serious climbing would be, then with any luck a faster section at the end, which looked to be mostly downhill. All in all, I thought I should be able to get in fairly close to 4 hours.

The day of the marathon came and I walked over to the start from the hotel well rested, fuelled and hydrated. Weather forecast – highs of 19c, dry, mostly cloudy and 40mph winds!

Here we have the Red Rose marathoners ready to go. Michael Pate also ran the marathon course. Notice the slight variation in attire.

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After a quick portaloo stop and the safety announcement, we were off at 09:30. The half marathoners followed at 10:00 on the same course (new objective – don’t get caught by any half runners!).

The thing on the blue lanyard is a ‘dibber’ – a timing chip that you have the marshalls scan at the start, the finish and one or two points along the way.

After a run out through Ulverston town, the runners stretched out a bit. As we hit the country lanes and fields things started to settle down. As you see from the first 13 miles, my pace varied a bit, but that was okay and to plan as undulations were to be expected.

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The wind played it’s part and slowed things down at bit. There was not much running in exactly the same direction, so it wasnt as bad as it could have been. I had made a bold shoe selection to go for a faster pair of road shoes, rather than the usual comfortable trail marathon pair, as I was hoping to make up time on the roads. Considering the ground conditions were dry, I was hoping I would be okay on the off road bits.

A few miles in, and crossing various fields and stiles, I nearly made my first wrong turn – there was a left arrow next to a stile and I thought it meant go left before the stile, not go over and left! Luckily a Hoad Hill Road Runner in front of me knew the course and I didn’t go wrong there.

A few more miles along, Mr Hoad Hill was left well behind and the field really had stretched out, with hardly anyone about, I decided to try and keep level with ‘first lady’ and so began miles of cat and mouse – overtaking and being overtaken. She seemed to be a far more consistent runner than me, so if I could keep up, I may get a reasonable time.

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Onwards to a stony beach section, that went on and off paths. I misinterpreted one of the signs and followed what I though was a path, which turned out to be the bit behind a thorn bush, which I them had to fight my way back out of. ‘First lady’ had more sense that to follow me through there!

Coming towards the half marathon point, I realised that we were going up Hoad Hill (I had up to this point assumed Hoad Hill would be the big climb at 19.2 miles). Mile 12 was consequently a slow one and included the first walking section of the day. It felt like one of those ‘just getting started hills’ in a fell race that lead you on to even nastier hills, which turned out to be the case.

At the top of Hoad hill was the chance to get some drinks and jelly babies (flapjack was also on offer). I had made my half marathon split in 1 hour 48, so things were still fairly on plan. We were directed a different way down the hill.

At this point, I realised where the ‘big’ hills were – the wind turbines in the distance.

At around 14 miles I twisted my ankle being too overconfident on the rough terrain and was mentally preparing myself to walk 12 miles in agony, when nothing happened. No pain and a lucky escape.

Mile 17 was the toughest of all – lots of walking sections in this bit, but I though it would all be fine by the 19.2 mile point. We did a tour round the wind turbines – going directly underneath them in strong winds is a little worrying!
As promised by the hill profile, we got to the high point at between 19.2 and 19.3. I should say ‘I’ at this point as ‘first lady’ had found another mouse to toy with and had left me for dust!

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Unfortunately I hadn’t planned for what came next. The descent was over heather and big grassy mounds, which reminded me of a section on the Hoofstones fell race, a bit which is not hilly, but is not too fast either because you really have to get your knees up high to get over the clumps of heather and grass. This is one thing in a fell race, but another in a marathon where you’ve already run almost 20 miles and your feet really need persuading to get up that high!

Clear of the heather and onto easier terrain, thing picked up a bit, but the going still varied and a couple more runners caught me. At this point I knew I wasn’t going to come in under 4 hours, but I wasn’t going to be too far over, so I was trying my best to keep my mile splits down. At 24 miles the sun came out and I was glad to be going through wooded sections out of the worst of it. The 26th mile included a final climb to the park and I caught and stayed ahead of a lone runner who had caught me earlier. After seemingly endless cones, I got into the park where I had started and got to the finish. 17th place and a respectable time of 4 hours, 1 minute and 37 seconds.

I was happy to complete what I now think of as a real Frankenstein’s monster of a race – a fairly challenging trail half marathon, stitched onto a fell race, stitched onto a 10k race to make up a hard and varied marathon course over what Strava tells me was more than 2500ft of climb.

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Well done to all those who competed, including Shane Cliffe and Michael Pate on the full marathon and Aimee Midgley, Phil Davidson, Rich Ward, Mary Conway and Lydia Plackett on the half distance.

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