Halstead Marathon report by Nicki Benham

So Sunday 8 May started with a clear blue sky, sunshine & a temperature of 21 degrees at 8am in the morning.  Perfect ……if you plan to have a BBQ in the garden with a few beers. Not so perfect when you’ve entered a marathon that is billed as “scenic & hilly!”

So how did I end up entering this having run Brighton marathon (18 week Passingham Plan) 3 weeks prior & London (decided 3 days before!) the week after that, I hear you ask?

Well I heard on the Flyers grapevine that Anne Purdham had a slight case of “marathon envy”, having completed all the training the Brighton newbies had, but not actually entering a marathon. As I do hate to miss out & had felt brilliant after London, that soon led to Beno & I entering Halstead to provide our support to her & also Kevin Harwood (who’d entered this as his first Marathon!) & Gareth.

So we were up early on the Sunday to get there – never one to pack lightly the “race bag” consisted of sun tan lotion, gels (enough for about 3 people!), vest & t-shirt, sunglasses, camelbak, coolbag (for post race chilled wet wipes & Diet Coke), crisps to replace the lost salt, flip flops, Flyers hoodie etc etc…….& off we went.

Now normally we never take a sat nav…..Beno doesn’t trust them, preferring to rely on his “sense of direction!”…but this time we did & it took us up the A12 rather than our normal route through Chelmsford…… & straight into stationary traffic!…..which a text from Rich confirmed was caused by an accident. After about 10 mins we started to get a bit concerned that we may not actually get to Halstead, whilst watching the temperature gauge in the car slowly rise as the day began to heat up. At this point I suggested to Anne, Graham & Rich that perhaps a picnic may be on the cards instead????

However after about 20 mins the traffic started moving & we eventually got to Halstead with plenty of time & were directed to a field just opposite the start/finish & dashed off to pick up our numbers & surprise Kevin & Gareth!  I think they were both pretty chuffed to see some unexpected Flyers support – Kevin’s face in particular was a picture when we darted over to him.  At this point Graham dashed off to enter race, having made a last minute decision to run it.

halstead 1

We all seemed to be pretty relaxed at the start, standing in the sun & checking all extremities had plenty of sun tan lotion applied……but soon decided after about 5 mins it was way too hot & went to stand in the shade!   Suddenly I realised I’d left my running belt with all my gels in the boot of the car!  Dashed over to get them & got back to the start line with 3 mins to spare, puffing & dripping in sweat – not the ideal start to a 26.2mile run…….then the hooter went off, the race began at 10am… 25 degrees!



After overhearing tales of the previous year’s races, where the air ambulance had been kept busy due again to a hot day, we’d all decided on a gentle start & in particular I’d decided that I’d be running this the “ultra way” i.e. walking up hills. Graham, Kev & Gareth soon went on ahead as did Beno, but that was short lived when he suddenly popped up from behind a hedge for one of his usual running calls of nature!

Rich, Anne & I chatted & decided the only strategy to get through this was to take it slow & steady, trying to stay in any shade available as much as possible & take on water at every stop.

Up until around mile 13 everything seemed to be going well – albeit a bit hot!! I found the heat was making me pant & I was taking on a lot more liquid than normal. One of Beno’s work colleagues, Foxy, had come out to support us… he ran for about 500m & then said he was going home to a BBQ & some beer!

As with a lot of races, it not always the course that you remember, but the other runners you end up chatting too or overhear snippets of conversation from, that stay with you. For me the ones that spring to mind were:

  • 70+ year old with 11 children & 29 grandkids who was on his 441st marathon
  • Other guy on his 99th marathon.
  • Two guys running for CLIC, one who was running 10 marathons in 12 weeks. All 10 of them were on his vest top but some of which he wasn’t even sure where they were! (Beno promptly asked him if he was running Southend Half ……& if not why not!……& he just so happened to have an entry form in the pocket of his by then sweaty running shorts (joke!) He got an invite to the Flyers post run BBQ….just told him to look for the block of orange on East Beach.)
  • Australian lady who was flying back home that week & just wanted to fit in one more marathon in the UK.
  • Runner that we’d met on the Stort30 & had given one of the cakes that The Thornton’s had bought us at the tea shop on the way back!
  • Guy sitting in shade at mile 23, who thought he had heat stroke.  Offered him our water & hope he got to finish.

At around mile 14 we saw our friends Crispy & Ann & stopped for a chat & a cool down from a local resident who had brought his hose out to the front garden to spray us all. Crispy had ran Halstead last year & I heard him say to Beno “Watch out for the cliff near the end!” I remember thinking “cliffs in Halstead – what’s he on about, Essex is flat!??”

I’m not sure if I stopped for too long at that point, but I found it really hard to get running again, which meant Anne & Rich started drifting off ahead of us. After about a mile with no shade, I found I had started to pant again & for the first time the thought crossed my mind that I might not be able to finish this & have to pull out. I’ve never been a DNS or a DNF but I was really struggling with the hills & heat.

Eventually we caught up with Rich & Anne (they waited for us!) & although I didn’t realise it at the time Beno had told him that I was struggling & he made a quick decision & told Beno to go off with Anne …………with a shout out from me “don’t go too fast!”

At this point I was very close to tears…..mainly I think through frustration that my body didn’t seem to have any energy & with the thought that I may not finish the race. Rich gave me a hug & said “You can do this Nicki!” to which I grunted a response……this turned out to be a much repeated exchange between the two of us for the rest of the race!  That & “Go on Rich, I don’t want to ruin your race, I’ll be ok on my own”, with Rich’s response being “No I’m not leaving you!” Me – “As long as you’re sure Rich? Much appreciated. I owe you.” (I still well up remembering these exchanges.)

If I’m honest the second half from mile 16 is all a bit of a blur of bright yellow fields of rapeseed, open country lanes, steep up hills with what seemed like even steeper down hills, gorgeous thatched cottages, quaint village churches, lots of support on the course from residents that had their hose pipes out, kiddies with jelly babies & those that gave us their last ice pops & sprayed our face with a water spray, the cyclist that popped up 3 times on his bike with a tub of orange segments, salty pretzels at one of the stops, “reframing the race”, the accordion player, tears, laughter & fantastic conversations……….& the alpacas.  (Quote of the day from Rich:  Why would you take a half a million pound house & clad it so it looks like a £250 shed?”)


halstead 5

To give Rich his due he tried in sooooo many ways to cajole me to run a bit, but my legs just didn’t want any of it & I resigned myself to walking & just finishing the race & so began again the exchange of “Go on Rich, I don’t want to ruin you’re race, I’ll be ok on my own…………” He did however keep a very fast walking pace up – we were hitting 15 min/miles on the flats.


Halstead 4

At mile 20 I couldn’t care less what time I finished & was back to being tearful again by the time we hit the 21 mile water stop…………… & heard from the marshal there, that the lead male runner had at that point collapsed!

However I pulled myself together by mile 23 & after looking at Garmin for first time, Rich commented that perhaps if we tried to run in the shady flat bits, we could get under 6 hrs!

And so began Rich’s well known “last 3 miles of a race parkrun” analogies! “Right Nicki, we’re now on the starting straight……now we’re on our way to the sea wall… we’re just at that funny bit”…………..”What you mean the castle Rich?” “Yeah that’s it!”

Then we hit the “cliff!”………….which was actually the last mile uphill around an uneven field (Me to Marshal: “This is really mean!” Marshal: “Yeah it is – sorry about that!”) & then on to an uphill path by a road. At this point I was panting like a dog with asthma! Rich kept saying “Nicki take it easy & breath!” Me in response: Pant! Wheeze! Pant! Wheeze!”

Eventually we saw Anne, Graham & Beno opposite the turning into the finish…………& at last I had the energy to run across the finish line………….in 5hrs 58mins!

Food consumed en route:

5+ litres of water

1 ice pop

3 of the juiciest orange segments ever tasted

6 gels

Unknown number of jelly babies

3 cashew nuts – which I think are still stuck in the back of my mouth Rich!

1 packet of mini cheddars

Now the question that I always ask myself – would I do this race again?  Three weeks have past & I’ve gone from a “never ever again” to a “possibly”. However only if it’s moved to a cooler time of the year, or I’d take a chance & enter on the day if the forecast is for freak 5 degrees on the date in May!!

It is very scenic & the support from the club that run it & all the local residents is absolutely brilliant. There are plenty of water stops & I think additional ones were added on the day, but I still think that you need a hydration pack too, as it is through some remote countryside with very little shade.

Thanks to the local ATC boys & girls out on the course aswell……& special thanks from me to Rich……..I really mean it when I say I couldn’t have done it without you.


Halstead 3

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