The Roadrunner Marathon has been taking place at the cyclopark in Gravesend for only a few years (this was the fifth event,) and ever since its inception the event has had a strong band of supporters. In all of the previous four years it has appeared in the Top Ten of the Runners’ World Top 50 marathons listing.So, having been turned down for a ballot place at London yet again, I decided that this one would go on my list of alternatives for a spring marathon. In October/November when I signed up there were already limited places, so I felt I had to register immediately; it sells out well in advance every year. There are anumber of reasons why that might be, but here are some of the choice ones taken from the race website:
free professional race photographs, free beer, world-class venue, gold-standard organisation, UKA permits.
They had me at free beer!
Fast forward a few weeks to the new year and I was awarded the club place for London. What a dilemma. However, with five weeks between the two I decided it would be fine. London would be my focus and this would be a secondary goal. I am sure that I had been led to believe that this was a fast race too, but I might beg to differ. In fairness, I can’t find such a claim on the website whilst recovering on the sofa this evening.
Being held at the cyclopark means that this is a road race (so you can qualify GFA for London etc.) but it is a not open to traffic so the tarmac is basically freshly laid and you can stretch out across the route to avoid too many other runners in your path.
Registration was open last night, but obviously that was quite a trek for me so I opted to get there early this morning to collect my stuff. We had hoped to go over as a family, but the little one is a bit under the weather so earlier today, after a fitful night’s sleep for everyone, we decided it was probably best if I went alone.
The drive along the M25 went without a hitch and I made good time. I parked the car and headed into the main reception building to collect the relevant bits and pieces. This was a painless and speedy experience. Before I knew it I was back at the car, filling in the back of my race number and pinning it onto my vest – being very careful not to tear off the strip at the bottom which would later be swapped for a bottle of beer. I attached my timing chip to my shoe and put the collection of elastic bands around my wrist.
I was ready to go
I waited in the car for the rain to pass, which thankfully it did, and then I went to the race start for the briefing.
I am not sure whether it was the noisy crowd, or a quiet bullhorn, but I couldn’t hear a word the race director was saying, and I was only about five rows from the front of the race; I can only assume he didn’t say anything important.
And then, we were off.
Unsure of whether the tight and twisty nature of the course would confuse the GPS watch I had printed a pace band from the website for a target time of 3:20 – just fractionally ahead of my target 7:40/mile paced marathon.
After the first little loop I was on target and I settled into the correct pace quite comfortably for a coupe of the longer, 1.285mi, loops. Already though, it was apparent that this was not a flat course. Broadly speaking the course runs West-East; the startline on the northern side heads to the highest point on the course at the East end, before gently dropping to the lowest point at the far Western end. The return to the start is not quite so gentle; instead it seems to rise in steps which means that the slopes appear sharper. About six laps in, and I was starting to really feel those rises.
The looped nature of the course means that many supporters settle in at the side of the track to cheer their runners on, and other runners too when their own is on another part of the course. It also means that runners can set up their own individual aid stations on a specific part of the course, and this looked to work quite well. I didn’t take advantage of this, but I think I will when I return in September – the water station was brilliantly staffed, but I think it would be easier to have my own table stocking exactly what I want, when I want it.
One guy had volunteered to run the course in the opposite direction to everyone else. This meant that he was highly visible if you were having an issue that needed to be relayed to the HQ – it also meant that he could cheer runners along as he went, and he did an amazig job of this – praising pretty much every runner on every single lap of the course. God only knows whether he stopped at marathon distance or just kept on trucking round until the last person finished, but he was super cheery the whole way.
By about mile 17 my legs were starting to wobble again, and indeed I started to get a little shin pain if I dropped my foot down differently, or sprung too enthusiastically from my toes. However, I don’t think it necessarily slowed me down at this stage – the wee stop did enough of that!
Almost exactly on mile 20, having threatened to do so for a good 20 minutes, the heavens opened and it started to rain again. This was certainly refreshing, for a while, before it started to get chilly. This seemed to highlight some minor dehydration for me and forced me to take on board a bit more liquid each time I passed the aid station.
With five laps to go my quads started to twinge with the early threat of cramp as I came up to cross the finish line yet again. Heading downhill did little to allay my fears, and at this point I had to take the decision to walk up the short rise on the way back round to the end of the lap. My target time was already out the window by this point, and any chance of a PB had disappeared almost as quickly. I held out hope for a sub 3:30, but having to walk that rise the next time, and then pausing to take a cup of squash completely scuppered that too.
My head was dropping, but at least I only had one more band on my arm – just two laps to go. I trugged along slowly but still overtaking people, even hearing one man saying he still had ten miles to go and I shuddered to myself. I walked the rise and promised I would try to run it on the final lap. But, it wasn’t to be – my legs weren’t going to hold up, so I walked the short climb before getting back into my shuffle.
I hoped to pick up the pace over the finish, but I couldn’t really even do that. I crossed the line in 3:32 and some change (still awaiting official results to confirm.)
In hindsight, I am happy with that time, even if it is some way off my target. If the day has taught me anything, it’s that I need to respect the course over the summer as I build up to the sister event in September.
I crossed the line and finally saw, in the flesh, the glorious medal I had only seen photographic glimpses of online. It was freaking huge. “That’s going to pull me to the ground!” I said, as the lady wrapped it round my neck; somehow my legs held me upright.
It is an absolute MONSTER!!! And weighs about a tonne.
I picked up the tiniest goody-bag in race history – but actually perfectly formed, and filled only with things a runner might actually want in this situation, and exchanged my hallowed bib slip for my free bottle of Upham Brewery beer (which I can attest is quite nice as I am drinking it now.)
The £5 massage was a bargain, and I then got changed before finally sitting down to get something to eat. As I had to drive myself home from the race I decided it was probably best to refuel as best I could before getting in the car.
So, would I recommend this race? Wholeheartedly. The atmosphere is really good, the loops less boring than I might have assumed, and the event itself is good fun. But, treat it with respect as it is not an easy course necessarily, and by the time you have run those climbs twenty times your legs really know about it.
Entries for 2017 are open now, and if I hadn’t already sworn off marathons after September I would be signing up again today!
But, for all the weight and glory of the incredible Roadrunner Marathon Medal, I think this one awarded by Delilah might just top it!