This was always going to be a bit of a punt. A friend entered me two months ago, leaving very little time to prepare for a hilly trail 27.2 mile marathon. My very steep training curve had me run a program of a weekly long run ramping up from 11 miles, 13, 15, and 20, but for the last month illness and orienteering has prevented me from doing any more.
The route is the same as the Half Marathon for the first half, returning into Stroud before embarking upon a second loop out to the east. With the option of bailing out half way, I was not totally convinced that I'd actually have the willpower (or physical ability) to go the full distance.
Took a backpack loaded with 2L of water and 4 energy bars to keep me going. My plan was to take it steady and just focus on finishing. To avoid getting swept up in the fast pace at the front I hung back and started near the back. Needless to say it wasn't long before I'd worked my way through the field to where the pace felt comfortably steady. I was a bit surprised to note that this was in 8th place, and was running alongside the leading lady. I naively decided that this was a good place to be. I have since learned that this lady was Clare Prosser who finished first lady.
The going was good for much of the first half, feeling alright and fairly strong up the first big climb on to Selsley Hill. Then the arrows disappeared. The lead pack were out of sight, and Clare and I ran together over the top of Selsley Common and down the other side. Part way down, the alarm bells began ringing and I suggested that we turn back up to the top and go the way I ran last year in the Half. We picked up the route again, but no sight of any other runners, and we had a grumble at the next group of marshals.
With no strap on my Garmin watch after last week's fall, it was tucked away in my pack, and I had no quick and easy way of keeping an eye on my progress, which I found quite unnerving. I finished the first half fairly strongly, and although I knew I was going to be in a lot of pain before long, I happily turned away from Stroud to do the second half. A long flat run out along the canal towpath towards Nailsworth was surprisingly grueling, and my pace deteriorated, leaving Clare to pull away. By the end of the towpath section I was starting to flag and was struggling to keep any sort a pace going.
Then the climbing started again, up out of the valley, which I found surprisingly more comfortable than the flat running. The scenery improved, and the trails became narrower and muddier, and more like overgrown footpaths. I was being overtaken more and more frequently as I had to keep dropping to a walk in between sections of trotting.
Then came another signage issue. I had no one in sight in front of me, and I came to a junction with no route sign. No obvious route to follow, so I stopped for while to wait for the next person. He had no idea either so we each went in a different direction to look for a sign. I trotted up the road to the right, and he went left, but after a few hundred metres found nothing, and nor did the other guy. Eventually a lady came out of her house and told us she'd just seen some other runners running up the third direction.
Feeling less and less energetic and rapidly losing enthusiasm I was overtaken by more people as we crossed fields and began to head back in the direction of Stroud. I dug out my GPS from my pack to have a progress check, and was pleased to see only 10km remained. I'd been going for 3 hours and was happy to think it'd be only another 50 mins to go. Or so I thought.
More hills, more slowing, more overtakes, and rapidly running out of water, 50 minutes came and went, but there was still some way to go, and Stroud was nowhere in sight.
When I finally emerged into the outskirts of Stroud with a steady downill road run into the town centre, I was happy trudging down the road with no one in sight behind me. Then another awkward junction appeared with no route signs. One way looked to be heading into the shopping area, but in the wrong direction, and another looked to be in the right direction but heading into residential streets. I stopped, looked around for a sign. Nothing. A minute later a couple of runners came down behind me and I waited for them to lead me in the right direction. Annoying that was 2 more places lost, but I'd long ago given up counting.
Finished in a very shaky state in 18th place, but pleased to have done it off the back of such a short and poor training period.
Some post race analysis reveals my mistake (notwithstanding the poor route signing). While I thought I was taking it steady in the first half, it seems that I did the first half only 3 mins slower than I did the same route (without the time loss on top of Selsley Hill) last year when I finished in 3rd place. Also, according to Strava, this year I ran the first big hill climb 30 seconds quicker than I did last year. No wonder the wheels fell off so soon into the second half.