If you want to run a marathon in London, but don’t like crowds or you don’t get into the big one, Richmond it a good alternative. There are only about 1,000 marathon runners and a bigger bunch of Half runners, who start delayed and only share parts of the route. I like that the marathon start was inside Kew Gardens and the first miles went through it. The route then led us along the beautiful trail paths following the Thames to Kingston. Just lovely. It is a good mix of tarmac and flat trail, maybe ideal for someone who wants to dip a toe into off-road running. The organisation and friendliness was very good, as I almost start to expect it from running events in England. The last mile seemed a little bit sadistic: you are already entering the finish area having the finish line in front of you, when you realise there is still a big loop to do, which will go quite a bit out before it leads you back to the final stretch. But then you get a beer at the finish! I mean real beer, London Pride, with alcohol in it, not the pseudo non-alcoholic stuff, that some running events dare to hand out. It was one of the best beers I ever had. And I managed to stay under 4 hours for this one. Despite running low, zero training and temperatures around 20 Celsius. Awesome.
This is the third one of my “it’s summer, I don’t want to run” marathons. And under these premises it was a very good experience. Running trail is always a bit different to road and the organisers claim it to be “one of the toughest, prettiest trail marathons in UK”. It was tough and very, very pretty, especially on a great summer day like this, nice but not too hot. But toughest in UK? Prettiest in UK? Not sure. But hey, compared to the other trail marathons I have done in UK, that might be tougher and prettier (Lake District and Dorset), this was fairly easy to get to from London by car. It was also very well organised and I can highly recommend it. But I am still wondering why it is called “Pilgrim” marathon and why is there a silly cartoonish running monk on the medal. I looked for more information, but could not find any. So if someone knows, please tell me.
The Dunstable Down Challenge is completed and I have to think of my favourite quote from Mark Twain: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” The thing of getting utterly lost during this self-navigating trail marathon did not happen. Thanks God for Tracy and Hakeem. Both played a major part in turning the potential for running horror into something rather great and awesome. Well, and the organisers, who despite saying there won’t be any route markers, did spread out many of them the night before. Which helped, but still, without the route description one wouldn’t have made it. The first time I had to take the description out was when all the half marathon and 20 mile runners diverted off to their own shorter routes. That was about one third into the race and suddenly the steady reassuring stream of runners before and after me stopped. Only one runner was left in front of me, so I made some effort to close up to him. He looked like he knew what he is doing. It turned out to be Hakeem and while he definitely knows about running, he did not know much about the route. That was the moment to get the description out, but I struggled to get my bearings. So I was just running on and learned the first lesson in how gut feeling and markers alone cost you time. I got it wrong, but Hakeem had the wits to look behind and saw other runners who did not follow us, but were off somewhere else which of course must have been the right way. So we caught up with them and tried more or less to stick to this small group where at least one or two runners had a good idea of the course. But when it came to the last 5 or 6 miles this group had slowly desolved and I made all effort to stick to Tracy, an other seasoned runner who somehow managed to read descriptions while she was running and had proved before that she gets it right. All I knew at this point was I must not lose her, otherwise I am lost. Which I didn’t, but t think it was less down to my determination, but more to Tracy feeling sorry for me and deliberately staying a bit behind. So it turned out that I was safely guided to the finish and crossed the line some seconds after my guide. The time was 4:38:11, much faster than I thought is possible and not to forget that the organisers sneaked an other mile in there, so the actual distance was 27 miles. It was a great event and the terrible things had only happened in my head – and to others: Hakeem told me later over sandwich and coffee that he actually got lost and it was the last sneaky mile back through Dunstable that caused him trouble, same as it would have caused me. But the medal we got is all the same epic and does remind me so much of a Game of Thrones sigil. Can it get cooler than that? I don’t think so.
I am here in Dunstable 30 minutes before race start. I am looking out for marathon runners who look like they know what they are doing. Because I am not. The Dubstable Downs Marathon come with a twist: you get a map, 4 pages of route description and there you go, find your way. The chance to get lost had never been bigger, therefore my desperate need to buddy up with runners who know the course. Will I find one? Will I make it within 6 hours cut off time? I have my doubts.