The New Forest Marathon was my 10th marathon. I ran it with my good friend, Mike, who for whatever reason has yet to get a sub four hour marathon in his previous two, despite his other race times indicating he should. On Sunday morning my alarm went off at 5.50am (actually not feeling that bad considering I often get up at 5am during the week to go to the gym).My dad was supporting and was going to drive so I’d stayed at my parent’s house the night before. We got going at 6.20am and I had my porridge, Beet It! shot and a flask of coffee en route (time-saving tactics so I could have more sleep). We picked Mike up and headed to the New Forest.We got there within plenty of time (thankfully though not the three hours beforehand that they’d advised!). We arrived about 7.15am, picked up our bibs and were ready for a 9am start. We saw a few others from my club who were doing the half or the full and we shuffled around in the misty, cold waiting to make a move to the start area.I went to the portable loos several times (as you do). Interestingly they were split into males and females, not that people really paid attention! I was cold but not overly so. In fact, I was happy I was cold because previous Sundays had proved very warm.
And then we headed to the start. After what seemed like a rather over-zealous instructed warm-up, of which we halfheartedly followed, we were good to go.We tried not to get carried away in the enthusiasm of the start and kept things nice and easy. There were about 1,000 runners in the full but separated into two different starts so it never felt too busy. As soon as we started running I realised I needed the loo AGAIN. Can you believe that? I’d been THREE TIMES. I told Mike I’d dash off for a wild wee in a bush and catch him up. The plan was to stay around 9-9.10min/miles so I knew I could catch him up without killing myself.Wild wee was successful (though I was in an area where there seemed to be quite a lot of ants so the risk of actual ants in the pants was quite strong). Mike and I chatted away easily and I checked in with him every now and again to make sure he was finding it easy. These miles weren’t meant to be challenging at this point. The elevation for the first 10 miles was relatively flat so things should be nice and simple here. Our first mile stone was at 5 miles when Mike took his salt tablet. He’s suffered from cramp in the past and found that taking salt tablets helps prevent this – one every five miles or so.The scenery around us was beautiful. Lots of huge redwoods, ponies and pretty foliage. I tried to snap photos where I could while also not be that annoying to Mike. But I figured that while he was in a happy place and things were going well, selfies were acceptable. I’d post them on Twitter and send a few updates to my dad as I knew he’d appreciate it. With no tracker it was good for him to have an idea of what was happening.Along the route there were lots of funny signs that said things like, “Run? I thought you said rum!” and things like that. It kept us entertained. There was also a sign next to a huge tree saying that it was the biggest redwood in the whole of the UK. Pretty cool! I tried to get a pic but kind of failed.At mile 9 I took my gel. I planned it badly as it was my thick GU gel (Maple Bacon flavour, delightful!) and needed a good amount of water to help stop the “cloying” effect in my mouth. But I decided to take it just before the water station so ended up having to do a sort of gel-then-water swallowing combo. I should have taken the gel a few minutes before the water station and then gulped down a lot of water to help it all down. Oh well!I was also very aware not to litter, not that I intentionally do, but in the race pack it was said that litter outside the aid station areas would result in disqualification so I had a limited area to get the water and gel down! I could hold a gel wrapper but not a cup as well.My dad was stood at the mile 10 marker, exactly as he said he would bless him, and he cheered us on which was a lovely boost. We were still sailing along happily so everything was very relaxed and cheerful.
Then from mile ten we had a a number of undulations, but they weren’t anything terrible so far.We were slightly unnerved that both our Garmins were out of sync with the mile markers, pretty much from mile three, by about 0.2 miles. We figured it was probably due to all the trees and as we were reaching the mile markers before our watches were beeping the miles it was quite an advantageous place to be (better it this way than our watches beeping way before). It gave us some comfort that we were kind of ahead of target.So from mile 10 to around mile 14 it was basically a gradual incline. There was a section along the road where we had to run within the confines of some cones and curb and it meant single file running. This wasn’t too bad but you couldn’t zone out as you’d drift into a cone and be taken out! It also meant I had to keep looking behind me to ensure I didn’t go too fast and lose Mike. The incline didn’t feel terrible but it did mean we had to work harder. I was hoping that because we’d found the first 10 miles so easy and had kept to a fairly quickish but sensible pace we’d be able to gain back time later when we had some downhills.Mike and I continued to chatter, but he was less enthusiastic and upbeat as before and I found myself trying to think of any random nonsense to keep him distracted. Underfoot the terrain was compacted gravel and not the easiest to run great distances over. We were always pleased when we hit some road where we didn’t have to focus so much on our foot placement or jumping puddles etc. There were lots of ponies hanging around on the sides of the course in the expanses of grass around us. Several times we had ponies gallop across the roads in a rather dramatic fashion (like a Lloyds advert…). It was fine until they charged across the road very close to us and I wasn’t sure where to go to not be trampled! I remember hearing someone behind me shout about how they were so pleased there were unicorns in the marathon which made everyone around chuckle.
At half-way I remember saying to Mike we were counting down now. The temperature was quite warm and it was somewhat humid. Nothing crazy – in fact, it was quite a nice temperature to run in, but I was getting more and thirsty between the water stations. I hadn’t taken water with me as I don’t normally do so in a marathon and the water stations were frequent and plenty, but I think there were about 3 miles between each one and this proved a bit too far for me.Thankfully there were some lovely people who lived in one of the houses we passed that had put out their own water station and we happily glugged some there. The course was fairly sparse in terms of supporters though. There were the odd few people who stood outside their houses with a cup of tea cheering, and when you got closer to the villages more people were out, but otherwise there were long stretches of no support.I decided to not take my gel at half-way as I’d planned as I didn’t think I needed it and decided to wait until 18 miles instead. As we got closer to 18 miles, Mike appeared to be finding it tougher. I’d frequently (probably annoying the hell out of him) ask how he was to keep in check. Our pace started to slow down and he kept looking at his watch and panicking a little about time. At this point I text my dad to say we were hitting the struggle train just to keep him in the loop. We were hoping to see him at mile 25.
A brief spell of light rain and wind hit us which was both a welcome relief but also an annoyance as it meant we were working against it. The cooling effect though was worth it in balance. Sadly the rain didn’t stay for long though.I saw my friend, Ben (possibly 21 or 22 miles?), and he cheered us on and helped encourage us. We got to another water station and both of us guzzled down two cups of water and Mike dumped another on his head. He mentioned he was feeling a bit sick and his fingers were tingling. I didn’t like the sound of this but I needed him to not focus on it unless it got really bad. I could see he was starting to drift into his head and go to a dark marathon place.
We hit some nice downhills which helped keep us going but he started to need to take a few walking breaks. I desperately wanted to keep him motivated and moving forward to his goal but there’s only so much you can do. I had to have another wild wee (weird, two wees in a marathon!) and then sprinted to catch up with him. It was quite nice to get my legs moving quickly – though it definitely was not sustainable at this point!
As we hit mile 23 Mike had really hit a dark place. Along with feeling dizzy and tingly he complained that his side was hurting (like his ab muscle). He luckily stretched away his knee hurting (another thing to add to his struggles!) but this side thing wouldn’t budge. Looking at his watch was just stressing him out so we decided to shelve the sub four and focused on finishing without injury and misery. This involved walking to a certain milestone and then running some more. I tried to encourage him as best as I could but I could tell it wouldn’t really help. We’ve all been there! But taking away the time goal now seemed to lessen the edge off the darkness.
I really didn’t know how best to keep him moving forward at this point. We got to mile 24 (I think) and he stopped. A fellow runner asked if he was OK and then Mike decided to sit down on a verge which possibly wasn’t the wisest idea as he immediately got cramp. The runner told me I could go on and get my time and he’d look after Mike. I was like “hell no, buddy, I’m running this thing to the end with him”. The guy said he’d stay with us as well and we’d run it to the end together and helped Mike to his feet. The runner did stay with us but for about five minutes and then disappeared which I thought was a bit odd considering he was so keen initially! But it didn’t matter as I wasn’t leaving Mike and we really didn’t need someone else offering empty words (I was doing enough of that!). It was kind of him to have helped us but in reality the only person who could help Mike was Mike.The final mile we were back to running more consistently as the end was in sight.
I spotted my dad and headed over to him to have a quick chat as Mike continued on. I explained we were struggling a bit. He said he’d see us at the finish and shouted encouragement to Mike.We ran all the way to the finish – so strange to be running the same path we’d been at four hours ago.
Sadly our time was 4:10:46 – not quite the sub four we were hoping for, but still a stellar time considering the hills and terrain. I mean, looking at the splits we only hit trouble in the last three miles really. It’s definitely an encouraging run for Mike. Had the course been easier he would have smashed it I’m sure. But such is life and such is the decision we made to use this marathon as the one to go for.
This was a very strange marathon for me as I spent about 90% of it not thinking about me at all. During the majority of my other marathons I’m constantly analysing my pace, thinking about how I feel, monitoring any niggles or weird feelings and just zoning out. For this marathon I had to be in tune with how Mike felt and constantly think about Mike. My own feelings were pushed back. I only remember one time during the marathon where I thought, “oof still a long way to go” (I think this was at about 17 miles). It was also really nice to be running at a very relaxed pace (for me). I didn’t struggle at all (sorry, Mike) and found that I was easily sailing along. Not only this but I felt I could have continued running rather than being in complete relief at the finish line. I felt good!I’m sad we didn’t hit Mike’s goal but I do think he did amazingly – and he really pushed through some tough times during those last few miles. He should be very proud of himself. I think initially he was quite disappointed but I guess that’s only because the last few struggling miles were so sharp in his memory. On reflection I believe he’s more happy now. As he should be!The New Forest Marathon was a great event. There were lots of other events happening on that day too at different times (children’s run, 10k, half). And to be honest it was mostly very smooth and well run. The medal and t-shirt are cool, and the goodie bag was reasonable with a few freebies, a banana and a water.
My only complaint was getting out of the car park. Everyone was parked in a field and it was a bit of a mess trying to get out. There were several streams of traffic from all different rows and the security wouldn’t let anyone actually exit. We have no idea why. We could just see the security team shaking their heads at each other and throwing their arms in the air… And yet there seemed no obvious reason why we couldn’t exit – there wasn’t anything blocking anywhere. People starting getting frustrated and started beeping. I think the lack of information was really annoying people as as far as we could see everything was fine to leave.
Eventually we were able to leave though! Hurrah!
We invited Mike to join us for some food but he declined (understandably not everyone thinks about food straight away after a marathon!) and we dropped him off. My dad and me headed to Coast to Coast as I had a 50% voucher and we needed some large portions and a “not too posh” restaurant.I ate to my heart’s content (that’s to say, I ate everything I ordered; chicken wings, fajitas and chocolate fudge cake) and then my dad took me home so I could pick Alfie and my car up and then head home. So, at 5pm after walking Alfie, I could finally shower! Lovely.
Do you like to eat straight after a marathon?
Have you ever run a marathon with a friend?
Have you ever gone to the Dark Marathon Place before?