Race day

Having taken part in my first New Forest Marathon this year, it is no surprise to me that the event as a whole sells out across the 26.2-mile, half marathon, 10km, 5km and junior races.

Apparently, according to the event’s organisers, over 2,000 runners were on the waiting list to take part in the 2018 edition – in case of any last-minute dropouts.

Those of you keen to run in 2019 are probably advised to register quickly!

The race day, for which I was part of as mentioned for the first time, had, I felt, a really unique feel and of course the surroundings of the forest gave it a different and special edge over a typical road race marathon.

Held at the New Forest Show in Brockenhurst, the race village had clearly been organised down to a tee – in an annual event, which dates back to 1983 and is one of the south’s most popular as a direct result.

Run by family and friends, a lot of effort goes into ensuring the race maintains a local, as well as vibrant ambience with live music, businesses and running enthusiasts galore adding to the atmosphere.

Race pick-up, entry and parking was all smooth sailing and there was plenty of space to warm-up, as well as partake in the mass warm-up, where lovely, personal stories were told by the MC about those who were running for various reasons.

It was a nice touch and certainly got me pumped for the 9am marathon start.

Starting off

Having trained in the extreme summer heat of Dubai all summer, those conditions could not have been more different to race day – something which I knew would be the case – and I was ready to make the subtle adjustments on the rough terrain and trails in terms of my overall cadence (running economy and feet positioning – exaggerated front foot strike was key).

I felt in excellent nick having kept myself ticking over from my London Marathon and Manchester Marathon double in April, and while the long run is virtually impossible during Dubai’s summer, I was confident I’d run well as I maintained my race weight (61kg) and daily strength training workload.

I have to say the course was picturesque and scenic – exactly what I was looking for, away from my normal concrete jungle life in the sandpit!

Having grown up in Hampshire – the county means a lot to me, that said – I wasn’t particularly familiar with a lot of the route having never properly run its trails previously.

I quickly moved into a top six position and averaged around a 6.40 minute mile pace up until around the 10-mile marker – which was what I was targeting, though I had just planned from the outset to come in around three hours (which I feel is my on the money / standard time).

I was in my comfort zone and cruising but it was noticeable to me how much extra mental energy I spent watching every footstep, to avoid tripping on the trails. It’s something I’d experienced many times previously but it felt like I had to pay more attention than usual this time around.

Wrong turn!

The signage and road markings were relatively clear throughout – but at around the halfway mark, I took a slight, wrong deviation.

It was my error but I did want to flag it, so perhaps the same mistake isn’t made again.

Having run a good section of Sway Road, the course route aligned itself with the B3055. It was a pretty sizeable hill climb, with cars coming down the other side of the road and strong winds against you. I’d be lying if I, at that point, said I wasn’t thinking about a nice warm beach in the UAE.

As I made my way up the hill, the runner in sixth or seventh ahead of me, had gone over the brow and was out of sight. Around a minute or two later, I reached the top – going past a busy Pitmore Lane junction – and a steward was there, though I felt (not his fault), that things weren’t very clear in terms of direction and I hesitated with cars turning in and out of the road.

I was also blowing after the climb (heart rate had spiked) and experienced a mental lapse as I missed the Manchester Road turning – without anyone saying otherwise or telling me I had taken the wrong route (see picture below). For such a crucial juncture of the race, I felt there needed to be more officials present but it was what it was.

As you can see, I ended up running down Durnstown and past the Hare and Hounds establishment where I obviously couldn’t see another runner in sight because the road curved around into Birchy Hill. I flagged down a car and asked a very kind lady (thanks for your help!), and she told me she had not seen any runners go past her.

So, after what was probably two to three minutes, I turned back, ran up the hill and got back on the right track to see the runner in 11th or 12th position just about to take the right turning and go ahead of me. I definitely wasted a combination of mental and physical energy but it was all good fun!

I soon recovered but given my finishing time was 03:03:36, it cost me another sub-3, arguably.

As I said, it was my mentally tired error of judgement and these things happen, and will probably happen again. It’s all part of the experience of a marathoner.

It has to be mentioned that the volunteers and young children involved at the drink stations were superb (although I would question the placing of some stations which were on sharp bends) – with people giving as much support as possible. Events such as the New Forest Marathon rely on that kind of help and I applaud it.

An area for improvement

For less experienced runners out there, there were a few chunks of the marathon course which would have been pretty lonely as support and race officials were scarce.

A marathon of this size is very difficult to cover in terms of making sure race personnel can be spotted frequently, but for five hour-plus marathoners, there were sections, certainly from mile 20 onwards, where more cover on the ground would have been beneficial to cheer participants to the finish line.

Post-race, a few runners who I spoke to also noticed the half-marathon and marathon routes came up short on their trusty Garmin trackers. Mine was bang on, so I’m not sure if other runners experienced the same thing or not. However, this certainly needs looking at.

Those pointers are just small critiques in what I felt was generally an outstanding event and a race day in which I would recommend to anyone. Indeed, I’ll certainly be back myself! Personally, I loved the run and it was just what I needed, combining my favourite things: running and spending time with family and friends!

If you were there on Sunday, let me know and get in touch!

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