As soon as I heard about this race I knew it was for me. Running as many 3.2ish mile laps of a country park within a six hour time limit. For every lap you complete you received a wristband. And one wristband was equivalent to one slice of cake (or cookie, brownie, cupcake, etc.) that would be provided.
**This is going to be a long recap sorry**
Course map and elevation
Most runners love cake so it was no surprise that the event was fully booked with a waiting list (of which I was promptly on). Thankfully they scheduled another race and I got a place. The race is run by the marvellous Saxons, Viking and Normans marathons and I can honestly say it was one of the best races I’ve done. It also worked out perfectly for my marathon training because it meant I could use it as a long training run – my last one before tapering. I knew if I ran six laps I could accrue around 18-19 miles. And six laps meant SIX bits of cake. What better inventive could there be really??
My friend, Laura, and I travelled down the night before to Kent to stay in a hotel. The Queen Street Hotel was cheap and cheerful (I paid £50 for my room and this apparently included breakfast). But it looked like a pub and the man behind the bar was very relaxed (and not in a good way). He mumbled after we paid “it might be a little loud tonight” and when Laura asked when breakfast was he said “um yeah, I guess at 9am?”. She said she needed it earlier as we were leaving for the race at 7.30am. He told her no one would be awake and gave her a few boxes of cereal and some milk to “put next to the window” to keep it cool. Thankfully I’d brought my own instant porridge.
To be fair, the rooms were clean and perfectly fine for our one night stay. After freshening up we headed off to find food. It being Sunday evening most places were closed, but we found a lovely hotel restaurant called Dunkerley’s right on the seafront. It was so lovely and calm and the staff were lovely (oh how I longed to be sleeping there later on!). I went for a chicken Caesar salad (if it ain’t broke…) with a side portion of fries.
Lovely and tasty salad but I’m glad I got the chips as well as it was a little small for a pre-long run meal. I did look at the portion size of the chips when they arrived and thought “oh God, I’ll never eat all of those.” Hmm. I was unstoppable. They didn’t have a chance!
We chatted for a bit before heading back to get an early night before the race. It was after 9pm and the music had begun in the pub. I say pub, it was now a nightclub. I wasn’t too bothered as I had my iPad so I could watch some Mad Men and read my book. We didn’t have to get up until 7am so I wasn’t stressed. Yet.
The music (and thumping bass) only got louder. I’m not kidding when I say the vibrations were thrumming through my room. Naively I thought it might stop at 11pm. I tried to stuff my ears with loo roll. This didn’t work. I tried to use the second pillow to encompass my head. I could still hear and feel the music. I tried not to get stressed because really there was nothing I could do and getting into a tizz would only make things worse. I watched more Mad Men and prayed for it to stop. Eventually I was so tired I couldn’t concentrate. It was 1am. I decided that it was desperate times and put my headphones on and listened to Coldplay. I drifted in and out of sleep until 2am when the music finally stopped. HALLELUIGH.
Then the seagulls woke me up stupidly early, before my alarm, and I resigned to getting up. I actually didn’t feel too bad thankfully! I left having breakfast until the last moment as I was faffing about so much (as you do on race morning), which in retrospect wasn’t a good idea. The race began at 8.30am and I was eating breakfast at 7.20am.
Fail-safe easy porridge
I also had a black coffee. I made sure I was fairly loud that morning (TV on, slamming a few doors) as I’m pretty sure there were people from last night’s rave also staying. Hell hath no fury like an Anna without sleep 😉 Then we drove the three miles to Fowlmead Country park for the race.
There were only about 100 people doing the race so it had a very local and personal feel. People were very chatty and friendly and the organisers were just lovely. Our bibs all had our names written on which was a brilliant touch. It must have taken a while to do and it was fully appreciated because so many people shouted my name while I ran – either the organisers, fellow racers or just lay people in the park.
There was a race briefing (and a reminder of the ethos behind the race – one lap would burn 300-400 calories which is roughly a bit of cake) and then we were off. It was all rather informal, which was fabulous as it just removed any stress or pressure.
I’d gone into the race not really having a game plan. I wanted to see if I could maintain an 8 minute mile pace for most of it to give me an idea of how that would feel. I decided to not listen to anything for my first two laps and then listen to a podcast for the rest. Psychologically it was good to think about the run as six sections rather than 18 plus miles.
The first lap (3.2ish miles) went quickly as I found a comfortable pace and got used to my surroundings. I was keenly aware I’d be seeing everything five more times. There were two significant inclines on the route. They didn’t go on for very long but they were relatively steep, but the rest of the course was flat. Though for half a mile or so there was an area that was completely un-shaded with an annoying wind that blew across at you, not quite against you, but enough to increase the effort level. The course was within a country park so there was no traffic; just beautiful scenery, a pond, lovely soft trail to run on and greenery everywhere.
The second lap I managed to latch on to two other ladies who were just ahead. I was relieved as I wanted to chat a bit and not be on my own for all of it. One of the ladies had done Boston (and London) this year and so I was fascinated to hear about it from a Brit’s perspective. And she has a marathon PB of 3:21! The other lady sounded mental. OK not really mental, but she had done a half marathon on the Saturday, a 10k that evening and had planned to do the marathon (of the same event) on the Sunday. In the end she wasn’t feeling well enough so didn’t do the marathon but she was still hoping to do a 5-6 laps at the Cakeathon! She also told me about a 5k doughnut run she’d done where you literally eat a doughnut every 1k of the race. Mental and hardcore.
They stopped for a bit at the aid station at the end of the first lap (where you get your wristbands) but I pushed on wanting to maintain my pace. There were lots of different food and drink on offer but I stuck to water for every lap.
Because there weren’t many people (relatively) in the race and a lot of people were pacing for either an ultra or a marathon I eventually became the lead lady. This is a moot point though considering it wasn’t about time, it was about distance. It did mean I was consistently overtaking people (not because I’m super fast, but because I wasn’t running a marathon/ultra and because it’s essentially the same loop the entire time so it’s bound to happen). This was really nice though as it meant I got to cheer other people on, they cheered me on or I could have a brief chat. It also gave me markers to get to.
When I finished my third lap I was now listening to a podcast and felt good at my pace. The only thing that I was starting to get concerned about was some pains in my stomach. It was like “I might need to go to the toilet” kind of pains. I knew going to the loo would have to be a break from the course as it was far from the race area but there were also a lot of bushes and hidden areas I could dive into if necessary. I have never had stomach issues before and I’m pretty certain it was due to the badly timed breakfast. It was only an hour from the race start – very stupid of me. Thankfully though after about 10-15 minutes the discomfort disappeared. Whew! No bush required!
The race was easy to segment as at three laps I could tell myself I was half way, four laps meant two to go, etc.. The hardest lap was the second to last one as I was still a chunk of miles from finishing. What was nice though was that the marshals at the aid station kept saying I was doing well and running strong and making jokes like “but you only just left here, Anna!”. I know it’s a bit self-indulgent, but the praise definitely lifted me. I made sure to tell everyone I passed though that I was “only” running six laps and not the full marathon or ultra distances! The ultra and marathon guys spent more time at the aid stations and some were even eating cake! I just stuck to water and moved on to the next lap quickly.
The last lap finally came and I pushed the pace. My legs were tired though and I felt it was hard work. The sun was hot, the wind annoying on that stretch, the hills tough and the pace not as easy anymore. But as I got towards the finish I felt strong and people cheered me on until the end. Then I got to ring the bell to say I was finished.
The handed me my HUGE medal and congratulated me. It was awesome. My only annoyance is getting to 19.75 miles and not rounding it up to 20 miles!!
I ran 19.75 miles in 2:35:17 (7.49 min/miles average). The results are interesting because it showed how many people did what time at what distance.
Laura did one lap and was very pleased. She’s been injured for FIVE weeks and the week before she’d only just started running again (for 15 minutes!) so she was aiming for one or two laps but wanted to play it safe. She knew how many laps I was aiming for though – I hadn’t just left her in the lurch. She said she enjoyed sitting in the sun and chatting to the runners and organisers so I didn’t feel so bad for leaving her so long on her own. Julie and her daughter did three laps (9.75 miles) and were pleased (apparently Julie has done over 30 marathons – RESPECT).
After all of…oh I don’t know, 10 seconds of finishing I headed to see the cakes. The event was great because it encouraged people to make cake to bring and there was a competition for different awards (things like “best cake with marzipan” – Maria this is a race for you!). There was a whole table just FULL of cake. I was in heaven.
Because I knew how many laps I was going to do and knew it would be unwise to try and eat six slices of cake in a row after finishing a long run I had the forethought to bring a Tupperware box with me so I could take my prizes home. Everyone either thought this was hilarious or ingenious.
And then the cake selection began…
I mean seriously, there was EVERYTHING. From cookies, to cupcakes, to brownie, to fruit cake, to chocolate cake, Victoria sponge, biscuits, tray bakes, marzipan delights, carrot cake…oh. my. lord. They even had vegan cakes because there were a number of vegan runners – how cool!
I definitely got a slice of the green marzipan covered Victoria sponge!
I can’t even tell you everything I got…so much cake!
OK there are more than six bits in there but two of those cupcakes were Laura’s…that she then forced me to take home with me at the end *sighs*.
Amazingly I did manage some self-control because I felt a little “post-long race” peaky. I drank a lot of water but I did have one cookie to celebrate because it sounded so blinking amazing: a peanut butter Oreo stuffed cookie.
Not only was the medal THE BEST IN THE WORLD, not only was the race so much fun, not only were the organisers legends, not only was there stupid amounts of cake BUT the goodie bag was one of the best I’ve ever had as well. And Jess, I know this will make you happy, you could request a VEGAN goodie bag if you wanted it!!
Are you joking!? How good is that! I was blown away. I don’t care that it’s all ridonkulously unhealthy because any race called the Cakeathon is never going to fill its bags with Nakd bars or fruit.
Back to the run though, I felt really happy with how it went. No injuries or niggles, just general tiredness as the run continued. I found the pace OK to maintain but towards the end it did involve more focus and mental strength. That said, I do feel I could have carried on. I felt a bit of a fraud stopping at six laps as so many amazing people were running further. The temptation was quite strong but Liverpool is the goal.
I need to think long and hard about what pace(s) I’m going to aim for for Liverpool and what goals I want and this race has made me ponder. I know whatever I decide I will aim to start slower and then (hopefully) get faster later. Negative splits have always worked for me, but it’s just working out how much to push or hold back. My last marathons were relatively easier to plan because I had quite low expectations and kept my pace really sensible. Hmmm.
It was a fantastic event. I can’t praise it enough. It was a the little touches, the fantastic organisation, the amazing medal, the ingenious idea, the beautiful course, the lovely people, and the cake that made it perfect – just a few things really 😉
I’m already signed up for next year’s…
What’s your favourite medal from an event?
What makes a race good for you?
How do you pace a marathon? (not an easy question!!)