Welcome to my review of the CTS South Devon 2013 marathon. It is the 6th event in the series and the fourth one that I have completed in my bid to finish seven in one season and get the 7x T-Shirt. I started it after three weeks without doing any running due to a lingering cold. It is mostly gone, but I knew that this would be a tough race for me. It is also the first race since my wife was diagnosed with leukaemia and she went into hospital to start her second round of chemo the day before the race. You can find out more about that side of things at our other blog, here: www.theleukaemiaconclusion.co.uk. In the meantime read on to find out how the race went and to meet some of the amazing people that I encountered. You can see all of my pictures in the gallery at the end.
Before I forget, a quick plug for our fundraising efforts: If you can spare a £ or two then please head over and check out our Indiegogo project. It has a deadline of the end of March and if we hit our fundraising target of £2000 then not only will several UK cancer charities get a decent donation, but you can get yourself an interesting and useful book about a family going through cancer, or a nifty t-shirt. The remainder of the money will go towards giving my wife a light at the end of her long and traumatic chemotherapy tunnel. We are trying to raise enough money to enable us to take her, as a family, to Euro Disney in the summer by train. She has wanted to do this with the kids for quite some time, but we’ve never been able to afford it, so please donate. You can find it here: http://igg.me/p/327314/x/2288858 If you can’t afford to donate then please just use the tools on the Indiegogo page to share it with your friends. The more shares we get then the higher it will feature on the Indiegogo page, thereby raising its profile and ultimately leading to more donations. If we don’t hit the £2000 target then nobody gets anything and your money will be returned.
As is often the case the Endurancelife race HQ was a marquee in the middle of a field, this time on the coast at Beesands. The location was a good one, and the marquee well thought out. There were changing areas, with carpet (nice one EL, it made them much more comfortable), the EL shop and cafe as well as the briefing tent, unsecure bag drop and a well organised registration area. It still surprises me just how many people don’t know what letter their own name starts with at 7am though!
I knew that I was going to be slow, so I turned up for the ultra start. This is about 45 minutes before the normal marathon start and can be used by those marathon runners that expect to take more than 6 hours. I knew that I would be slow with my cold still lingering, lack of recent training and all of the emotional issues related to my wife’s battle with cancer, but I was determined to finish, even if it meant doing so at a hobble and it did!
Due to the single track path at the beginning EL chose to do a staggered start, letting people go when they were ready. I loitered near the back and went through in my own good time. I jogged along at a nice gentle pace and enjoyed the long section of coastal path that the race started with, it was spectacular and very enjoyable. It was also very muddy and slippery and mostly single track. I had chosen to wear my old inov-8 fell running shoes. They have no support or padding in them, but they have massive pyramid-shaped rubber studs on the bottom. I didn’t regret it. While most people were slipping, sliding and falling over I just ran on. I didn’t slip over once and I can only think of two occasions where my foot slid after hitting the ground.
TIP: Waterproof socks! You wont regret it, but make sure they fit well and are of a decent length as you don’t want water running in the top. My feet were warm and cosy, and I could run through the puddles and deep mud without worrying about it. Seriously, splash the cash and try them!
I was running really well until 17 miles, chatting to people and keeping up a decent pace. We were all walking on the steep climbs, taking it easy on the descents, having a laugh and cruising on the flats. One of the beautiful things about this kind of endurance running is just how chatty people are. In fact, things were going so well that I thought this might be a closer to a five-hour finish than a 6+. Boy was I wrong. All of a sudden my head started throbbing (thanks to my cold!) and my previously twisted left knee (on the turbo trainer believe it or not!) started to play up. I was reduced to a fast hobble, then at about mile 20 it became a slow hobble! 9 hilly miles to go….It was about this time that we joined the end of the half marathon course. I was suddenly surrounded by fresh, fast runners that had only done 8 miles. I remembered when I felt that good, it didn’t help!
Everytime I tried to increase my pace my knee twinged and the pain in my head became unbearable. I became thoroughly miserable, which is something that doesn’t usually happen to me. Normally I would just focus on the next step, turn my brain off and plod on. In this instance I started to miss my wife, worry about my kids. Surely I should be spending this time looking after them rather than indulging myself in the selfish sport of racing? What am I doing here. I feel so tired, everything hurts and at this pace I have over two hours left to go. I want to go HOME! I became convinced that I would hobble to the end of the half marathon route and DNF, and as I was climbing one particular hill I could see the marshal turning them off towards the top. My conversation with the marshal couldn’t have been better planned. His casual words made the difference for me, they made me laugh, and the resultant good, but brief, feeling was enough to make me carry on. The conversation went like this:
- Marshal: 10k or Half marathon?
- Me: Nope, unfortunately I’m doing the marathon
- Marshal: Well, we all make mistakes. Straight on.
Those simple words, and a quick chuckle with a stranger really helped. As I hobbled on over the hill a thought crossed my mind: If Sam can cope with having cancer and months of unpleasant chemotherapy then I sure as hell could spend a few hours suffering around something as inconsequential as a bloody marathon. From then on I just kept on going. It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t pretty. Nearly every runner that passed me asked if I was ok, some offered words of encouragement and some shared a joke. It all kept me going. Left…right…left…right…..Then I ran out of water and food.
I originally thought that my headache was dehydration, but by mile twenty-five I had drunk all of my water, including the extra half a litre that I was carrying and usually finished with. I also consumed my emergency extra energy gel. My body certainly wasn’t working as efficiently as normal. I drank a mouthful of water at the final aid station and chomped on a couple of jelly babies, something I would normally avoid on my sensitive stomach. Plod on…
As I came over the final hill I could see the finish. I descended steadily and plodded down the track. One lady waiting for her husband jogged along in her warm coat, woolly hat and carrying a rucksack. She was running faster than me….I sped up to a fast hobble and started catching her. She wasn’t in the race, but I wasn’t about to be beaten by a civilian. I actually managed a sprint finish with the endorphins that my brain delivered at the thought of crossing the line. Six hours and fifty-seven minutes. 70th out of the 70 people who had finished so far. I expect this to slip further due to my early start, but they haven’t published the results at the time of writing.
As ever I met some amazing people while running this race. There was Ronnie who was dressed as superman and running the ultra, raising money for his Nan who had recently contracted Motor Neurone Disease.
There was Paul Shannon, a personal trainer from Plymouth who was raising money for his friend’s son who had a rare form of cancer and would likely have to go to America for treatment.
There was Dave (possibly wrong name!) the builder who ran past me on a downhill, than paused, wobbled left and slowly fell over. It wasn’t anything serious, just cramp in both inner thighs, but it was funny!
There was the guy that I met in the last mile who was training for the marathon de sable in April.
They were all inspirational in their own right, all great to talk to, and I enjoyed meeting all of them. If any of you are reading this then do send me a link to your own blogs, charity pages or just friend me on Facebook. It would be great to stay in touch.
And remember: Never Give Up!
Regulars to the blog will be familiar with most of the things on this list:
- Carpet in the changing tents (two thumbs up!)
- Relaxed and happy EL staff throughout the day
- Brilliant and well thought out discrete signage
- Rapid response to changing course conditions (rework of the course due to a major landslide the week before.)
- EL cafe, coffee on site, perfect
- Touting local facilities. Hopefully this resulted in some extra custom for local shops, pubs etc.
- Stunning coastal route, tough as expected, but immense fun to run along.
- Well organised registration
- Good parking facilities, although quite a walk for some people, but they did warn of this.
- Good support along what is a very remote route, runners families dotted around at various places cheering everyone on.
Another well organised event from EL. The briefing went well this time as the loudspeaker was used and I could hear everything right from the back. It did go on a teeny bit too long and people lost attention towards the end. As usual though it was comprehensive and the warnings are definitely needed. I met a lot of people during the race that were stunned by the slippery, rocky and generally difficult conditions underfoot. The clue is in the title though: Coastal Trail Series!
The largest complaint that I heard from the ultra runners was that the cutoff time for the Ultra wasn’t advertised well enough i.e. they didn’t know about it until they attended the race brief. It was also a very tight cutoff. The runners had to reach the end of the marathon in 5.75 hours, or they wouldn’t be able to continue on to the last bit of the ultra and would get a DNF. This doesn’t sound too hard for a normal marathon, however with the slippery conditions, hills and 29.2 mile marathon (not a typo) it was a bit tight for quite a few people. It might be worth placing them on the marathon course rather than giving them a DNF, or giving them a slightly more generous cutoff. I would suggest making it prominent on the website when they select the Ultra, emphasizing the difficulty of the conditions?
Another great event, some amazing people and a wonderful course. I hate to say it South Devon, but while the coastal path was lovely, the inland sections were a bit rubbish due to the high Devon hedges. It meant that half of the race was stunning, the other half felt like you had a green bordered tunnel vision. Regardless, I would thoroughly recommend it just remember those waterproof socks and offroad shoes.
[Update: 17:45 on 10th Feb 2013] They’ve published the results and I managed 85th out of 124 starters and 110 finishers. That is way better than I was expecting considering how I was feeling.