“You let us down Ali, 40 seconds, we could have had the clean sweep!” These were there words I listened to post-race as we celebrated Alex’s Birthday with a nice meal after a run at the QE Spring Marathon organised by Second Wind Running.

We had run the event last year and managed to pick up the Team Win and so had decided to run it again this year as it once again coincided with Alex’s Birthday. Pre-race, Alex was ‘in form’ after a win at the Thames Trot and was looking forward to a good hard run. Paul Beechey was less enthusiastic with Crawley 24 hour in a couple of weeks and said he could have easily stayed in bed that morning.

Reading Joggers Ultra Team

I was somewhere between the two after recently getting over illness which lasted for weeks. I was looking forward to getting a race or two under my belt but I knew I wasn’t quite in the same shape I was this time last year so was expecting to be a few minutes slower in all honesty. However, there was the matter of the Team Prize to defend (until someone better comes along) and we stood on the start line with Wendy Shaw who was looking to get some training miles under her belt as she builds towards the Euro Championships at the end of May.

The marathon itself is a 2 looped hilly affair with around 550-600m elevation gain per lap over 6 or 7 climbs of varying steepness and length. There were around 130-140 runners taking part in the Marathon event.

Near the start of the race

As the race started Alex hit the front from the start determined to lead from the outset. Beechey and I went a bit steadier with my plan to take the first lap steady and see if I could maintain pace on the second.

After the first couple of climbs my breathing was pretty ragged and I settled down to a slightly steadier pace as a few people passed me at this point.

The route was all runnable depending on how much effort you put on the hills with some great downhill sections where you can put your foot down. Depending on your footwear there were a few sections where you had to watch your footing on the mud which got a bit worse on the second lap as the ground was chewed up by the Marathon runners and Half Marathon runners who started an hour after. I would say conditions were probably a touch slower than last year.

I ran largely by myself with the odd word with a few people as we crossed paths. I’m definitely out of practice up the hills and made a deal with myself that if I took these steadily (i.e. hiked sections) then I would have to put my foot down on the downs/straights and my pacing went from 7.xx m/m to 9-10m/m depending on the elevation.

Final couple of miles of the loop

Around the 10 mile point I started to pick off one or two people ahead of me and that continued into the second lap as I caught up with and passed a handful of people. The 15-17 mile section of the race felt great as I was running strongly at this point although I did slack off on a few of the climbs which I could (should) have been able to run (albeit slowly).

After each climb, I was able to pick up the running pace and then towards the last 10k or so I started to catch up with the Half Marathon runners.

I did glimpse Beechey ahead in the distance with about 4-5 miles to go on a long section but didn’t see him again until the end.

There had been a slight route change from last year (to an older course route from 2016) which meant we missed out on a steady long gradual climb towards the end although the last mile or two was possible the muddiest section of the course so there’s always a bit of give and take.

I was by now running sleeves rolled up making a bit of an effort as I came down the last hill and turned into the finish zone to complete the race in 3.36 which was about 5 minutes slower than last year so fairly pleased with that.

Alex had a superb race leading from the front finishing in 1st place. Beechey had picked off a few runners towards the end finishing 2nd in 3.33 and I finished in 5th.. 40 seconds off 3rd place which gave Alex some ammunition to berate me for not managing to make it a Reading Joggers Ultra runners clean sweep to which I offered my range of excuses (I’m not fit, I’m still on anti-biotics, I’m old etc). Team banter and all that. Wendy finished a little while later having got some good miles in her legs as part of her training plan.

However, we did pick up the team prize for getting 3 runners home so some small reward for my efforts.

Team win bonus

Overall, I was quite satisfied with the time and effort and look forward to getting some consistent training and a couple more warm up races under my belt over the next month or two.

Next up is Crawley which I have managed to ‘downgrade’ (withdrew from the 24 hour and got a place on the waiting list for the 6 hour) to the 6 hour event in a couple of weeks time as I don’t think I’m fit enough for a 24 hour race yet so happy to build towards the GUCR.

Thanks once again to Phil, Theresa and the team at Second Wind Running for another well organised event. We are likely to run this again in the future and would recommend the event to others if you fancy a hilly trail marathon.

Post race picture

Birthday win for Alex (the boy done good)

Wendy heading towards the finish