Flitch Marathon 2015 a personal view by Graham Purdham
Well…. After Stort and its rather pleasant 30 miles along an ‘out and back’ course it seemed like a good idea to do the shorter marathon distance on New Year ’s Eve. I bought into the Flitch marathon as it too is an out and back course and, even better, it was along an old railway line so it was bound to be flat wasn’t it?
Keith had been talking about Flitch back in November and I’d been tempted but done nothing about it. Opportunity arose though with the arrival of December and Hugh unfortunately getting injured and offering up his place. I bit and the place was mine.
Until then my running had been going pretty well. Most of my parkrun times were under 20 minutes and the looping efforts on the Thursday and Sunday runs were helping to increase my stamina and speed. So all was good. Only a few longer runs needed in December and I was all set.
So Murphy ’s Law set in. First a little gluteal pull and, just as that was settling down, a hamstring tweak. Flitch was now only two weeks away and I’d not only not run anywhere near 20 miles since Stort I was now struggling to just run.
Fortunately some physio and some tape from Kieran, some gentle stretching at Sam’s pilates group and I was able to get some miles in the week before Flitch and suddenly New Year’s Eve was here and we were all set.
Myself, Lloyd Richardson, Richard Pryor, Keith Passingham, Nicki Benham, Kev Maguire, William Bowen-Davies and Neil Krisch were all set to do our Flitch stint. Joining us on the course were a load of Rochford runners plus our very own Paul Gribbon plus loads of other parkrun faces.
Supporting us were Anne Purdham and Mark (Booty Boy) Benham who raced around the course in Mark and Nicki’s car whilst Tina , John Boswell , Laura Bowen Davies, Matt Campbell, Steve Nash and Sue Taylor bravely chilled out in the cool winter afternoon as we all gratefully finished our runs and returned to the warmth of the centre race HQ.
Anyway it was a cold start. It was dry, which was nice and it was quite bright. We knew it would be muddy in places as an e-mail a few days before had said “wear trail shoes” so here was my first marathon in trails shoes ( actually this was my first marathon!).
The course starts over a road bridge that takes you down a rutted path with lots of potentially deep puddles. The hardier souls ploughed through these but it seemed a bit early to me to start running with wet feet so I hopped and circled the dodgy bogs and we eventually hit what was unmistakably a disused railway line – the old carriage sitting on some 50 feet of track plus and old station converted into a café rather gave this away.
This was definitely what I signed up for and I happily set my own pace letting faster runners ease past whilst overhauling others. All good so far. Whilst the ground wasn’t too bad here it did appear to be a slow but gentle incline as the straight path along the old railway cutting gave a good view of runners streaming off into the distance.
Old railway cuttings not only lose their tracks. Sadly they sometimes lose their bridges too. This happened some four miles in when we had to descend and cross a road where I timed it well enough to just pass in front of Anne and Booty Boy as they cruised the course. A brief wave and it was back up the slippery steps on to the Flitch Way.
Shortly after this was the first feeding station at about 10K. No need to stop here as I had my water pack and snacks on board. This was good though as this landmark meant we were nearly a quarter of the way there and I’d been so engrossed I’d missed my watch beeping for the last two miles.
From the checkpoint the path got muddier and then we were in Great Dunmow. We’d been given instructions here as we had to go through the town. However with people in front to follow this was not an issue and I managed to navigate the hole in the fence, pass the 4×4 garage, go through the industrial estate and go up the bypass before turning onto the swamp that I later identified as the Dunmow cutting. It was wet, it was muddy, it had duck boards in place to ford the really wet bits and you then had to climb a constant slope for about half a mile whilst trying to avoid finding how deep some of the mud holes were. Did trains really once come up here?
Anyway the path improved after this and we went down some field edges before literally getting back on the track . At 11 miles the leader glided back past me – a mile ahead of second place – and a steady stream of runners followed. Finally I got to the turnaround point myself, again earlier than I thought I would be, in a few minutes under two hours.
A quick drink of water and the return started. Now as the journey to the turnaround point had seemingly been uphill I was expecting a downhill trip to help me overcome my probably over enthusiastic first half. I was still feeling fine but it was definitely early days.
In no time at all I saw Lloyd on his way out. A shout of recognition, a high five and I was on my own again. Not long after though Kev hove into sight and a similar shout and a (missed!) high five followed. The support crew of Anne and Booty boy next showed up with Anne delivering some lovely cake as I passed by, doubtless jealously observed by other runners.
The orange of the final group of Flyers then showed up with Rich, Keith, Nicki and Will all within a few yards of each other. More yells and high fives ensued. All very reviving! The energy boost was welcome as I was beginning to flag. My outward bound 8.5 minute miles were turning into 9’s and 10’s. The mud was beginning to be a bind and the harder surfaces were starting to hurt my feet in the studded trail shoes.
Stort though had prepared me for this and a cessation of running to take on lots of my pack water (Smart Water if you’re interested) and a munch of some Naked bars and glucose tablets. Not perfect but it kept the incipient cramp at bay and fuelled me up to get back in the race.
Slowing right down had cost me some four places (not that this was a worry) but a steady return to running took these places and a few more back. Suddenly I realised I had less than ten miles to go. Dunmow was then behind me and I was back at the feeding station where David Davidson asked me to pose for a quick picture (the one where I look just about done in – no jazz hands for me).
The last few miles were as level as they were on the way out and should have been a breeze but I really did ache. My recent strains were reliving their highlights and my toes were now sore too. Then a quick revival as Matt turned up with his son Harry with a cheer. Soon after Tina, John and Laura did the same (with Darcy hoping for a handout!). It was now only the footbridge to go before the now very busy path had to be navigated to get to the final bend and the amusingly sadistic final, final climb up the slope to the finish. A new PB (which I suppose doesn’t count as I was a first timer) but was under 4 hours so I can confirm that I was pretty pleased.
A short wait and Lloyd breezed in. With Lloyd you always get the impression that if you moved the finish a few miles it would make no difference, he’d just carry on and do it.
The others then trickled home with Nicki excelling herself with a brilliant run and Kev, Rich, Keith Neil and William (temporarily lost but not forgotten) all making it safely back. Paul Gribbon snuck in when I wasn’t looking but, like Lloyd, seemed barely out of breath.
So, thoughts? I doubt I’d run it again. The weather yesterday was great, cool and sunny so just about perfect in that respect. The course is weird though – it seemed to go mainly uphill on the outward and return! The medal was really great and I’m sure collectors will do it just for this.
Finally a brief postscript to thank those who came along and supported. It was cold and I’m sure the waiting was tedious at times so we all thank you for taking the time. More thanks to Anne Purdham, Tina Boswell and Sam Maguire for the gluten free baking goodies and also to Kev for the lift.
And really finally….. To those who run marathons without the training. Yes you can do it. But be prepared, the next few days are very uncomfortable as you pick up a whole heap of aches that training would have restrained. Ouch!