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Monday 21 October 2013

Bournemouth Marathon Race Report: Stupidity, Hills and Trainer Dating

Usually when you’re packing for a race the usual dilemma is which PAIR of trainers to choose. It isn’t usually working out which trainers go together ...

... And I was stumped. I was well aware that I should have treated myself to a new pair of trainers before now, but with the training and general faffing around there hadn’t been a chance for some shoe shopping. So I was trying to match up sole-wear and identify the corresponding mud splats in a colour-chart style manner on 4 separate trainers, all of which looked almost identical. In a muddy, worn out way. I wasn’t brave enough for the smell test. 

They may be MY trainers, but I’m not under any illusions as to their fragrance. If a very wet dog got frisky with some hot-day roadkill and someone covered the result with 3-week old cat litter then we’d probably be about there. I wasn’t putting my nose anywhere near these.

I gave up. I’d spent about an hour on the equivalent of trainer dating. I’d checked their tongues, had a sole-to-sole with each pair, and checked that materially they were compatible ... but couldn’t work out which were the original pairs.  So I gave up. They were to be a foursome. So long as I didn’t end up with two left feet, I’m sure things would work out. 

Up at 6am the next morning. I was only staying 40 miles from Bournemouth but as there is no motorway in the entire county of Dorset (yes ... you read that right), I was to be using A-roads and lanes to get to the race start. Nothing could go wrong, right?

However, despite my worries and having to test my reflexes (and the brakes and power steering) avoiding the occasional kamikaze bunny and Highway-Code-Challenged pheasant, all was going well and there were benefits to being up early and traversing the country lanes. In 2nd gear and driving up the aptly named Zig-Zag Hill and all of a sudden, the hedges disappeared and the most amazing views opened up ....

Once in Bournemouth, the expected traffic queues and confusing diversions didn’t materialise and there was hardly any traffic around. Even more surprisingly there was plenty of parking. That was unexpected. Isn’t it a race law that you’re supposed to be stressed, late and completely unable to find a space or the correct change for the ticket machine?

One Running Law I wasn’t going to break though was Thou Shalt Drink Coffee Before You Race. I went off in search of the scalding black water that usually passed as coffee at running events. 

On the way I found the best running sign ever. It combined advice with threat and concerned about being disqualified before I’d had a chance to start running, I decided I should do as I was told. I’d wee-ed from fear before, from desperation and from too much beer. But never before had I wee-ed from fear of disqualification. It did beg the question though ... how was the Race Director going to check? Instead of a drugs test, were they going to check our wee levels with a quick tummy squeeze before we set off? 

Wow... proper loos ... and toilet paper! Why Race Director, you ARE spoiling us. 

I was concerned. Things were going far TOO well ... Any minute now the Running Gods were going to realise and something was going to go horribly wrong. I was going to get mugged for my (admittedly rather ‘fragrant’) trainers by a passing tramp who had decided they were de rigeur for the vagrants of Bournemouth or I was going to overdose on gels and spend the entire race behaving like a meerkat, sprinting for he nearest hole and occasionally popping my head up to check the marshals hadn’t spotted me. Any ... minute ... now ... Nothing though. All was going ... well. 

The cafe was indoors, warm and smelled of Deep Heat and coffee. Perfect. I obtained my cup of black, scalding water and found a seat. Out of the window I could see the pink well-maintained track of Bournemouth Athletics Club. I looked at the track and thought ‘only 105 laps and I’d have done a marathon’. It sounded a lot less than 26 miles. 

I watched the runners queuing up for their coffees and cakes. Everyone looked different. There were a few racing snakes, lean and obviously runners, but there were bigger people too. People you wouldn’t think were runners but who were wearing their numbers and their well-worn trainers with pride and getting ready for the race just the same. 

I’d already learned from parkrun that you can’t assume. Not about runners. The skinny girl might look like a fast runner but she might also be content with her 12 minute miles and be ecstatic when one day she managed a sub-30 parkrun. I have also been soundly thrashed in several sprints for the line by 15-stone Rugby players. We all looked different. However, our eyes were the same. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve trained, 26 miles is a long way. We were all looking inward, trying to confirm to ourselves that our training, our long runs in the rain, our miles logged were enough. It’s not quite a ‘Gallows’ look. But it’s close enough. 

I had a chat to the lady sitting next to me. She was hoping for sub-4 and had decided to cut time on water stops by using a Camelbak. However, she’d hit a slight snag in that she needed to pin her race number on and had found that safety pins and water bladders weren’t particularly compatible. Unless you wanted to go for the  ‘I may as well water the flowers on the way’ approach to running. She finally managed a devil-may-care lopsided look for her race number and I wasn’t drenched by a holed water bladder. Win. 

It was a gorgeous morning for a run. Sunshine and no wind at all. Apart from the nervous runners around me. I made a mental note not to get into the portaloo queues behind these people. 

I got into my pen, my swanky Bin Bag jacket being the must-have running item of the moment, judging by the number of runners also wearing them. Windproof, waterproof and covers those lumpy bits that lycra just doesn’t hide. I didn’t make the mistake I made last time though. I’d brought a wheelie bin refuse sack with me to a race by mistake and hadn’t cut holes in it for my head and arms to go through. I’d put it over my head and was completely unable to make holes in it from the inside. I must have looked as though I was fighting myself inside a bin bag. Basically trying to get out of the bag was my warmup for the race.  DON’T do this.   

I started getting a bit worried though. I could see the start line for the race only about 25 metres in front of me. Seemed far too close. No pressure, Sarah but you’re going to have to run like you stole something otherwise you’re going to be trampled by the masses behind as they make a sprint for the start line. 

The race started at 10:02 after a 1 minute countdown and I was over the line in under a minute which seemed very impressive for a new race. But did worry me slightly ... This was the second Running Law flouted ... new races are supposed to start at least half an hour late ... 

One of my biggest faults in races is setting off too quickly. I’m aware of this. But still I do nothing about it. It’s completely stupid. I can mess up a race in the first mile and make the later miles really hurt ... and STILL I do nothing. 

I knew my race pace was 7:45 min/miles and I was aiming to maintain this until 20 miles and then to quicken up. So why was I doing 7:30, 7:35? Because I’m bloody stupid. Who wants to run a race properly anyway? You’re supposed to crash and burn at mile 18 in a marathon, right? Slaps forehead. 

Running through the streets and I hear a “Hello! I think we follow each other on Twitter”. Looked around and there was Neil @njr234. Had a bit of a catch up and we discussed paces. We were pelting on, chatting. We discussed what times we were going for, then I looked at my watch. “So if we’re going for those times, then why are we running at 3:15 pace?” Ah. We slowed down. 

Running through the streets of Bournemouth, I realised I was running in a space on my own. And I wasn’t entirely sure why. I’m fairly sure I’m not stinky and I wasn’t trumpeting farts or attempting a snot-rocket frequency record. Plus I was only in mile 3 - not even time to get the Suffering Marathon Runner’s 1000 yard stare and zombie lurch going. I decided it was probably it was just the neon pink socks scaring people away.

A few people were holding signs. There was the standard “Run Daddy Run”, but there were a couple that cheered me up: "Your legs are Kenyan" and Your legs won't thank you today or tomorrow but ..." I didn’t read the rest of the sign before I went past but I reckoned that it was probably pretty accurate. My legs weren’t going to thank me tomorrow. But pride lasts longer than soreness.

We came along to a wide expanse of sky. I couldn’t see the sea but knew it must be just past the grass and below the wall. It was my first landmark. Invisible landmark. Once I saw the seafront I knew I was almost 1/4 of way through. 

The roads were smooth and flat so far but as we got towards the cliffs my lovely flat roads gradually started sloping. They were very slow hills which weren’t a problem and it meant I could maintain the pace and then let go a little on the downhills. Hills are a nice distraction sometimes, a reason to dig a little bit deeper. My idea of hell would be running a marathon on a treadmill. Well maybe not hell .... but purgatory anyway. An ongoing, never ending grey slog.  

I didn’t mind a few gentle and gradual hills but I had a nasty shock at mile 12 as the horizontal very quickly turned into the vertical. 

This wouldn’t be a welcome sight on a running route at ANY time, but at mile 12 of a marathon such a steep hill was not appreciated. People who had trained for a marathon at 7:45 min/mile pace looked at it and started walking around me. I wasn’t going to walk up it - pride wouldn’t let me but there was no way I could maintain my pace up it. It was soul destroying seeing the pace drop so dramatically ... and so early on in the race. 

I ran up slowly trying to maintain effort rather than pace. The problem with hills are that the uphills slow you down faster than the downhills speed you up. I decided not to worry too much. The worst thing I could do here would be to try to maintain pace up this thing, tire legs out and be unable to come back to normal pace at the top of the hill on the flat. 

This was a new course and they’d put the majority of the route along the promenade and the seafront which meant lots of double backs. The turnarounds were tough as you knew that you’d have to retrace your steps the other way and it didn't feel like I was ‘running for home’ like it does on a looped run. It was nice to see the other runners coming the other way  and see the elites battling it out. Although the looks of pain on their faces were a stark reminder of what was to come.

The route takes you onto the pier about mile 12.5. It was lovely running over the boards and seeing the sea sparkling under your feet. I promised myself a dip in the sea as a treat when I’d finished running. Something to look focus on as a treat. The sun was getting hotter and the runners were all trying to stick to the shaded areas. 

At the end of the pier was a bar and a group of men were leaning against the bar doorway watching the runners with bemusement and holding their pints of beer. Running past, I gestured at their cold pints and said “Yeah yeah, rub it in.” And gave them a big grin. One of them ran after me with his pint, holding it out. “There you are, love. It’s yours. It’s just orange juice.” He made my day. He may have been about 70 and dentally challenged but he was brilliant.  

The hills were tough, the sun was hot but the support was great. At about mile 14 I spotted a sock twin - a girl who must have run the half marathon also in eye blisteringly pink socks. I bellowed “Sock twin!!” as I ran past and got a cheer. On the double-backs I saw Bat Girl going the other way, I was overtaken - and later overtook - Fred Flintstone complete with club, Sid in a morph suit and running strongly. A man in a pink tutu came flying past going the other way, maybe he had spotted his Christmas tree. 

The marshals were also brilliant, really enthusiastic. They were cheering and shouting every runner’s name out and being really positive and happy. Just brilliant. They really made it easier and every single one had a big grin. Apart from the one at mile 22 who wouldn’t let go of the gel he offered me. I wanted that gel but didn’t want to break pace and turn around and go back for it. Wanted to hug HIM. In a stabby way.

At mile 18 there was the hill to dwarf all other hills. I ran up it. I had no choice. Pride wouldn’t let me walk during a marathon. Well ... I say I ran up it. I’d been running for almost 2 and a half hours and some sadistic git had added a mountain into the route. I didn’t crawl up it but I wasn’t bounding up it full of the joy of Spring either. However, if the Race Director had been standing at the top of it bellowing “Call yourself a marathon runner?! I put the hill here ON PURPOSE!” I probably could have mustered a sprint to fuel my murderous rage and strangle the bastard. But without the incentive of murder, my run was so slow, I could have been overtaken by a narcoleptic snail. 

There were a few clues that the Race Director was a sadist. We ran under the finish gantry at 17 miles which seemed a little bit wrong. Had a momentary blip when I thought, “Cool! I’ve finished already!” Then I realised that I still had 9 miles to go ... gutted.  I didn’t twig at the time but maybe this was the first sign the heat had affected me ... 

At around mile 18 I realised that I wasn’t maintaining pace properly. This doesn’t always matter - so long as you realise and speed up to the right pace. It’s when you stop caring about pace that you realise you’re tiring. It took me a long time to recover from the steep hill and I just kept plodding. I realised that the over-enthusiastic first few miles had come back to haunt me ... Just hang on, Sarah!  

My feet were feeling very sore from about mile 19. Although I had a slight twinge at the back of my right thigh, it wasn’t my legs hurting but my feet. It was another stupid, stupid mistake – running in worn out trainers and running too much on trail rather than roads. I had thought that the trainers were nearing the end of their life but hadn’t realised they were quite as bad as they were. 

A sign that all wasn’t well came when I didn't fancy the gels. Usually it’s another way of counting down the miles – it breaks the run into 5km segments, but today I dreaded the next one and I was finding them too sweet and syrupy. I’ve tested these gels a lot of times. Half marathons, previous marathons and on long training runs for this marathon, but today I was dreading the next. However I could feel when one was late as my speed slowed and after I’d taken one the running was easier. This might have been mental but I don’t think so.  

There were people cheering from their beach huts and leaning over their balconies shouting us home. Children were holding out jelly babies. It was a nice thought ... but no chance. I wasn’t eating one of those jellybabies. I have a 4 year old. I know where they put their hands. I want any toilet trips to be my own fault.

I slipped into mind games at around mile 21 on the final double-back. I kept thinking that if the person in front of me walks, I'll walk as well. I focused in on my chosen person, although realised that my competitive nature kept me running after person after person in front of me started walking. Stupid competitive brain went “Ooh an overtake” and kept me running. I was also keeping myself going by telling my feet that if I kept running it would all be over a LOT quicker.

About mile 21 the marshal shouted to me “You’re about 22nd or 23rd woman”. Nothing like a bit of gender competitiveness to keep me running, however runners can be a pretty androgynous lot. And from the back it’s not always reliable. What looks like a sports bra strap from the back could be a heart rate monitor strap. I decided it would be rude to ask and I was at the point of the race where I couldn’t run away very fast if one of them got angry by the “Are you a man or just-looks-like-a-man” question so I just kept clocking up the overtakes. 

A man running beside me turned to me and said “How are you?” I replied that I was “Ok” despite feeling like I was most of the way to perfecting the ultimate zombie lurch. I asked him if he was alright “And he said “Yes ... no. Not really.” I told him we were nearly back. That we’d practically nailed it already. Just need to finish it. He didn’t look convinced. In fact he looked as though he’d already beaten me to the perfect zombie gait. 

I had realised that the bottom of my feet were sore but I hadn’t realised that the soles of my feet were massive blisters. One of which popped at mile 22. It was a grotesque feeling but I can only be grateful as it distracted me from the thought of 4.2 miles still left to run. Instead I could concentrate on the feel of damp sock and whether my toenails - having detached - were now rattling around in the ends of my socks. 

By this point, the heat had got to all of the runners and almost everyone was walking – except me. Stupid pride. I was overtaken by 1 man but I must have overtaken 20 other people. I was on my way to the mile 22 turnaround but it seemed to take forever. Runners were coming the other way – their faces etched with pain and their shirts with sweat – and I couldn’t see where the end of this loop was. Finally at a roundabout I turned round and was finally on the home stretch. I saw the ‘Yes ... no. Not really’ man going the other direction, still heading towards the turnaround. Walking.    

About mile 23 I overtook the only convincing woman in front of me. It was luck. I was no longer racing. I was just moving towards the finish. Running very, very slowly. 

I was counting down the distance to my speed up for a good finish. As I passed the 26 mile sign I thought “This is it.” And went for my sprint finish. There were crowds on either side cheering and the marshal was encouraging me, shouting me on to overtake the bloke in front. I gave it all I could in an eyeballs out, gut bursting glorious sprint finish.

Well ... that’s what it felt like. I’ve since reviewed the video footage and would like to confirm that while it FELT like a sprint finish what it ACTUALLY looks like is snail racing. It’s almost excruciating in its slowness. It’s like 2 pensioners with zimmer frames going for the Bakewell Tarts 2-for-1 deal in Tesco. 

However I did manage to overtake someone. So the best pensioner won. 

Collect the medal, collect the family .... And into the sea with running gear on. Cold, so cold ... despite the sunshine it still felt like a British sea but bliss on the toes. Up to my knees in the sea, I just needed a hanky on y head and a sandy jam sandwich in my hand to be a properly English. And possibly a crab hanging from a toe if I wanted to turn it into a good old English seaside postcard. 


16th woman 
9th in category 

The Bournemouth Marathon have confirmed that they’re not releasing the full results. The top 1500 finishers can be seen on the Run Britain website but no other information is being released such as number of women running or numbers in each category.


  1. Fantastic report!! Sounds like you really had to dig deep - massive well done. A mountain in the middle of a marathon is definitely NOT what you need....

    1. Thank you! It was a hard one and it really hurt ... but a lot of that was completely my own fault and could have been avoided. Like checking the gradient of the course and spotting any mountains halfway :)

  2. Brilliant race report, humorous and so descriptive :) great result in a tough race and fab pic of you and your daughter!

    1. Thanks Paul! I did find it really tough. At one point I wasn't even sure I was going to manage sub-4 but managed to keep focused ... on the mountain, on the blisters ... ;) In the pic Lily has my medal looped around the neck of her teddy Bo :)

  3. Great account! One question... was it worth it? ;-)

    1. Well ... all of the toenails that are detachable have fallen off and the pain has faded so I can say a resounding "Yes!" :) (If I'd replied half an hour afterwards I might have replied slightly differently ...)

  4. It was so hot that weekend! Rubbish marathon running weather! Still a mega impressive time though! Well done. :)
    I've got two sets of two pairs of trainers the same so when I get back from a run I just tie the laces together so I remember which ones go together.
    Love that you found your sock twin! I've mugged several children for jelly babies in the past, although only jelly babies not touched by their sweaty hands.
    What is it with Race Directors deciding to challenge us in the last mile of a race?! We've already run 25 miles...that's enough of a challenge!!!

    1. Oh that's a good idea re tying the laces together! I had done that in the past but I think I'd been lazy and they all ended up in a jumble! Someone on Twitter suggested different colour laces which I thought was a FAB idea!

  5. 'pride lasts longer than soreness' - what a quote, I love that...

    Amazingly well done, loved your report, as ever!! Brilliant :D

    1. Thank you!! :) The toenails have absconded so feet are feeling ok again! But still have marathon t-shirt ... no, no ... PRIDE! I meant pride!!

  6. Oh my freaking LUNG SACKS!

    Number 1: you are hilarious.
    Number 2: I've signed up to my first ever marathon (Bournemouth this October) thinking it was "flat" and this has terrified me to some degree...


    1. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post! It was a beautiful run but certainly not as flat as I'd expected. It was LOVELY standing in the sea with an ice cream afterwards though! Bets of luck for the marathon!