Race Report: My first self navigated marathon (well 50km in the end)!
Updated: Nov 17, 2018
Getting lost is part of the fun.
At the end of August I will be taking part in my biggest running challenge yet. I will be taking part in a race called the Tour of the Circuses, which is one of the Grand Raid des Pyrenees mountain ultras, consisting of 120km of running with 7,100 of vertical gain. Sounds crazy, and no doubt it will be. My aspirations for the race are primarily to survive it, but ideally to have at least SOME energy to enjoy the undoubtedly breath-taking scenery that the Pyrenees has to offer.
So why am I telling you this? I have been steadily ramping my training up over the past 10 months, and wanted to test my fitness out given that I was about 5 weeks away from GRP. It sounds crazy to say, even to myself, but running a marathon as a so called 'training run' as many of the Frontrunners can attest to, is becoming increasing common (if not fantastically worrying!). I also find that running for 4+ hours on my own a bit more challenging that running with others (I'm that annoying guy who holds the gate open for you mid race, and then chews your ear off until you ditch me at the next aid station!)…
SO, I found myself scouring the internet on a Tuesday night for a marathon that coming weekend. I found one up in Cambridge direction, a ‘navigational’ marathon with options for a shorter half and 30-mile option, as well as a 50k ultra. This was perfect, primarily because it meant that my girlfriend could also run a half marathon, and not be sat about in the rain waiting for me to finish- win win I thought!
We turned up on the morning, having thought little about the nature of the run or indeed how we'd find our way about. "I'm sure there will be some ribbons hanging on the trees or some small signs to guide us, there usually is" I said to a couple of people on the start line. Oh, how wrong I was! The first clue should have been a 4-page list of instructions and a map given to us at registration. The 2nd clue should have been the lack of a mass start, meaning there wasn't anyone to follow. But there was hope! 5 of us 'rolled' through the rather casual start line after a quick photo, and with that I thought I'll take the lead, and a couple of similar paced runners (hopefully all 4 locals) will follow, and happy days, we'll trot out way round in under 4 hours easy peasy lemon squeezy.
At the end of the road we turned right, followed by a short trail into the trees and a small path junction. I went straight, 2 went left, 1 went right and the other one stood there laughing his head off. We were in fact all CORRECT. What came to light was that we were all doing different distances, and they split us at the earliest opportunity to really sort the lemons from the oranges!
Ultimately I managed to find my way around the course, if not in a rather run/walk and long-winded fashion. There were plenty of stop and ponder moments, a couple of ask the local moments, and even a moment stood in the middle of round-about wish people honking and pointing "this way". It would have been very useful, if all 3 cars hadn’t pointed in 3 different directions! So, I like to tell people that I took the scenic route. So scenic in fact, it was about 7km longer than the marathon route. And so scenic, that the race organisers kindly gave me the 'ultra' finishers medal!
All in all and most definitely in hindsight, it was great fun. It was good training, and an opportunity to be outside moving my body for over 5 and half hours. If you ever decide to enter a 'navigational' race, please, study the route, please know what you're getting yourself in for, and most importantly, please give your partner the car key!
Keep running everyone, and have fun out there.