The Endurancelife trail series runs from autumn to spring and not only includes various coastal races around the country, but also a variety of distances at every event: a 10K, half-marathon, full marathon, and an ultra (which is the marathon route plus the 10K route, so there’s plenty to choose from. I had opted for the marathon distance, in an attempt to kick-start some decent training and give me a challenge to aim for. One thing and another (namely an unexpected trip back to Alaska at the end of September for research purposes) meant that the planned training had gone out the window and my pre-race long run was a single attempt to stagger around the streets of south Birmingham for 15 miles. Not adequate marathon training, but I already knew I could at least walk the marathon distance…
The event started at the picturesque ruins of Greyfriars Monastery at Dunwich and covered varied terrain and plenty of nature reserves as it wound its way through the Suffolk countryside. Registration for the marathon started at 07:30 and the race itself began (slightly behind schedule as seems the norm for these events) just after 08:30. It was a chilly start as we jogged out of the starting field and down a narrow track, where the route became quite congested, but I soon warmed up as we came out of the shade and on to a track behind the beach. The road section did not last long and we were soon running on pleasant footpaths with views over areas of marshland. Before we turned properly inland, there was a short section across beach shingle, which was tough running.
The first check point (there are no on-route marshals, so you follow signs and tape and then check in with an orienteering-style ‘dibber’ at each check point) was at mile 4.2 and my legs were already starting to feel worryingly tired. I decided at this point to make sure I didn’t run off too fast and stuck firmly behind a group of other runners doing something between 9-10 minute miles, which is a comfortable long-distance pace for me. After the check point we ran inland along raised mud paths above an area of marshland. It was probably a lovely area for bird watching, but I was concentrating on not falling into the murky water either side of me.
We returned to the first check point and then continued inland and on to Dunwich forest, which was pleasantly shady and provided a welcome break from the unseasonably warm sunshine. Through the forest we had to negotiate some slightly broken and slippery boardwalks, as well as watch out for tree roots (I stumbled heavily on one of these, which didn’t help my already sore legs) and the many brambles which grabbed at my arms and face. I felt fine at the half marathon distance, but after 16 miles my lack of training began to show and various muscles began to protest more than I was used to. It was a lonely stretch of the race as I was a long way behind the runners in front and I couldn’t see anyone behind either. I reduced my pace, and from about mile 18 shuffled along the footpaths in a slightly miserable run-walk wondering why on earth I had decided to commit to this race…
Sometime later on I realised that it was more painful to walk and then try to jog slowly, so I managed to pick up my pace and run slowly for reasonable stretches. This cheered me up no end, especially as I caught up with a few other runners and was able to overtake them (I think they were heroic ultra-runners completing their extra 10K loop). I don’t remember much detail from about mile 18-22 as I was stumbling along feeling utterly exhausted and rather sorry for myself, but I do remember the wonderful feeling of noticing my watch bleep for 23 miles. Only 5km (and a bit) to go!
Much of the last section was along the Suffolk coastpath and included some sneaky sections of running along shingle, which reduced me to walking pace (I also surprised a bird watcher partly hidden behind a bush with an enormous telescope as I whimpered and staggered along the path). The route then turned away from the coast and I ran through an area of heathland, which had an incredibly narrow path and some painfully scratchy gorse and heather to add to the selection of cuts and scratches from brambles earlier on. At least this discomfort took my mind off the pains in my legs, left knee and ankle!
Just when I thought there was no hope of me running any further, the path returned to a forest and a selection of attractive little houses with names including ‘friary’ and ‘Greyfriars Cottage’, which suggested that the end at the ruined monastery really was only a short distance away. Suddenly, through the trees I spotted the finish-line flags and I started to speed up. Then I passed through a gate and discovered someone with a cruel sense of humour had decided to send the route around the outside of the field before I could stagger across the finish line (actually there was a fence in the way, but really it would have been nice if someone could have temporarily destroyed it…).
I was elated to cross the line, not only because I don’t think my legs could have propelled me another mile, but also because I managed to complete the 26.7 mile route in less than the 5 hours I was optimistically expecting! I was even more surprised to discover later on that I was 30th out of 54 marathon runners, and 8th lady in a time of 04:44:26. It was less of a surprise to assess the post-marathon damage: one black toenail, three painful blisters, a sore knee, aching muscles in my legs, back and arms (was I really flailing through the mud and shingle that much?!), a rubbed shoulder from my rucksack (obligatory to carry water, coat and a first aid kit during the race) and lots of bramble scratches! Overall, an enjoyable and challenging day out…when’s the next one?!
More Endurancelife events and info can be found here: http://www.endurancelife.com/