Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Jack's marathons - March 2014 to May 2014

Jack, Big Sur, April 2014
Borders Marathon: 2 March 2014: This was, I believe, the first marathon ever to be staged in the Scottish Borders. Disappointingly there were only 36 starters, which may have been the result of people worried about weather conditions in Scotland at this time of year. As it was, while a friend of mine encountered heavy snow on his drive from Glasgow all that the runners had to contend with on the day was a strong (albeit cold) headwind on one half of the23.5 lap course. The full marathon was run entirely around the safety track on the inside of the Kelso horseracing course. The track was mainly comprised of hard-packed gravel although there was enough sand, stones and loose gravel to present a hazard for the unwary. The marshals were really supportive and there were drinks available on each lap. I enjoyed chatting to other runners on the way round and was pleased with my finishing time of 4:05:35. It was a very long way to drive for a race, but I’m really glad I made the effort.

Pitsford Water Trail Marathon: 16 March 2013: I decided to run this undulating 4 lap marathon in Northamptonshire again this year as it is such a well-run and friendly event. This year it was much warmer than in 2013 with the temperature climbing to around 16 degrees. However, the headwind was particularly strong in places. I was pleased to get under 4 hours for a trail marathon for the first time since Kasterlee Marathon in 2005. My time was 3:59:20 placing me 35th out of 113 finishers.

Hastings Half Marathon: 23 March 2014: Had I realised that this race used to be rated as one of the top 10 hardest halves in Europe at one time I might have thought harder about entering it. Suffice to say that the 2 mile long hill from 3 miles to 5 miles was a true test of character. I was content with my time of 1:46:36 (which was 3 seconds faster than my chip time at Watford Half this year), but it was great to see Howard Bull improving his times yet again with a PB run of 1:36:50.

Bratislava Marathon, Slovakia: 6 April 2014: Having flown into Vienna Airport we got an airport taxi into Bratislava at a very reasonable cost. The marathon package included a 2 way transport pass for buses and trams and free entry to many attractions. There was also a free 6km ‘History Run’ around the main sites in the old part of the city. The marathon comprised 2 laps of a flat course, the only uphill section being fairly easy. The cobbles just after the hill were not particularly user friendly, but didn’t last for long. There were several out and back sections and from time to time I spotted Strider Leigh Ecclestone, who was well ahead of me (finishing in 3:19:54). I’d started well behind the 3.45 and 4 hour pace groups. It took me about 7k to catch up the 3.45 pacers and I stayed with them until around 22k. After that I ran ahead of them, but they were close enough behind that I could hear their group cheering as they went through each kilometre until I finally left them behind as we turned to run along the side of the Danube at 39k. Happily, my time of 3:40:48 will give me a guaranteed ‘Good for Age’ entry for London Marathon for 2015 and 2016. London Marathon: 13 April 2014: It was a bit of a shock to the system to run a big city marathon again. On the one hand the support from the crowd (and particularly the large contingent of St Albans Striders) was tremendous and I also saw loads of people I know at the start and on the way round. On the other hand there were so many runners there that it was impossible to run at a set pace and one constantly had to concentrate hard in order to avoid being tripped up or twisting an ankle on discarded half-full water bottles etc. My legs felt tired from the start so I was pleased to finish in one piece in 3:49:04.

Good Friday Cricket Club Trail Marathon, Stratford on Avon: 18 April 2014: This was another thoroughly enjoyable race organised by my good friend, Chris Seeney. The first loop went out towards Alscott Park and the second loop went out towards Loxley. Much of the route was new to me and it was great to once again be running through the beautiful fields and villages around Stratford on Avon. There were around 100 runners and, as with all Chris’ races, this was a friendly well organised event.

Jack, Big Sur, April 2014
Big Sur Marathon, California, USA: 27 April 2014: I have wanted to do this race for some time. It has been called the USA’s most scenic marathon and The Ultimate Guide to Marathon Running scores it as 10+ for beauty (out of 10). Hugh Jones describes it as ‘unforgettably scenic’, but the views with mountains on the right and the Pacific Ocean on the left come at a price and Hugh rates the course as 8 out of 10 for difficulty. The 2 mile climb to Hurricane Point (520 feet of climbing) may be the worst of the many hills, but none of the point-to point route was flat so far as I could tell. There were a number of bands and musicians entertaining us along the route, but the highlight for me was Michael Martinez in full evening dress playing the Grand Piano as we descended to the halfway point at Bixby Bridge. We were incredibly lucky with the weather as the customary headwind failed to appear and, if anything, it was too warm towards the end of the race. I finished in 4:05:36 (830th out of 3338 finishers) and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

Avenue of the Giants Marathon, California: 4 May 2014: Incredibly, this race is also one that has been on my wish list for some time so it was good news when I spotted that it was one week after Big Sur. The Ultimate Guide to Marathon Running scores it as 10 out of 10 for beauty and whilst there are hills they are much more manageable than those at Big Sur. The route is along a paved road that winds through the giant redwoods in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and comprises 2 out and back sections with the Bull Creek leg first and the Avenue of the Giants leg second. Running beneath a canopy of prehistoric redwoods is a truly mystical experience. To top this off I discovered that I’d come 3rd out of 24 in the 60/64 age category and 169th out of 636 finishers with a time of 3:54:57.

Copenhagen Marathon, Denmark: 18 May 2014: I stayed with former Strider Mette Brink in Copenhagen and discovered that, in addition to huge areas of open space, plus lakes and canals everywhere, there seem to be more bicycles there than in Amsterdam. Mette was the perfect hostess and put up with me for 5 nights. On the Friday she scared the hell out of me by taking me go-kart racing in Roskilde with members of her cycling club. I nearly burnt the brakes out. Back on 2 legs I made the start of the marathon wondering how much the Stevenage mid-week road race had taken out of me. The course was flat and scenic, but it was very warm for the first half. Towards the end it started to rain and by the finish I felt like a drowned rat. Stupidly I’d put sun-tan lotion on my forehead before we started and the rain made a great job of washing this into my eyes so that I could barely see for the last mile or so. I was happy with a finish of 3:49:11.

Jack Brooks

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