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Farnham Pilgrim Marathon

I ran this marathon for the first time last year and had been looking forward to having another go at it.  Both times it's served as a long training run rather than a race but as I went out extremely slowly last year I was confident I'd go faster this time out.  Did that happen? Read on and find out! But no, it didn't.

You can't beat trail running in this fantastic weather.  Sunday was a perfect with the sun beating down on the queues for the bogs and the brass band alike.  There's a full marathon setting off at 9:30am and a half an hour later and for once I'd arrived in good time, despite having to budget for picking up the bib before the start.

The course for the full is an out and back with deviations primarily along the North Downs Way, a National Trail so you're guaranteed some decent scenery.  The half uses the first and last sections of the marathon route missing out on the stinger at the mid-point of the marathon that is the climb to St.Martha's which is kind of a shame really.   It's mostly trail - probably 80%+ with the rest on quiet roads, so I'm using the Trail version of the Kinvara which don't offer a whole lot of cushioning on the hard stuff and I wished I'd picked more of a road shoe by the end of it.

I met up with the amazing Jacquie before the start, sidelined temporarily by a niggle picked up at last week's 7 marathons in 7 days or somesuch crazy event.  She suggested I try it next year adding helpfully that there's the option of running an ultra every day instead as if this would somehow appeal to me even more!  Jacquie and Camilla (also in the marathon today) are both running Berlin in a week's time and I'm sure Jacquie will run whatever.

Something about this race seems to attract a large contingent of the hardcore ultra community and the snatches of conversation I pick up as we set off down the road and join the trail are all about the UTMB, the South Downs Way 100, the GUCR etc.  I got the feeling this is just a short, bit of fun trot for most of them.  And I suppose it's become that for me too; this is my 3rd marathon in a year that has also included 7 ultras so far.

The field (about 300 in the Full I would guess) soon spreads out thinly and I was to spend much of the race all but alone.  No great hardship as some of the trail is single person width and the surroundings are enough for company. 

There's not much flat from start to finish (but who wants that?) save for a lovely but short stretch along the River Wey.  Soon after the steep ascent to the highest point on the course, St.Martha's begins - a gradient that increases to lung-busting proportions, on loose sand for good measure.  It's hard to walk it, because one of the fabulous and extremely numerous volunteers cheers everyone on raucously, accompanied by some kind of homemade musical instrument probably used until today to scare off the crows.

I took the opportunity to stop at the top and stare out at the great views over Surrey before the plummet down the other side.  Unfortunately it was more of a plummet for me than intended as, seconds after thinking to myself 'I must get better at descending', I tripped over a blade of grass or something and went flying, landing and then sliding on my arm down the slope.  So clearly I was right.  I do have to get better at descending. 

I got a lot of fuss at the next water station, a dousing in freezing water and a jelly baby, like a small child who's just fallen off his bike.  I'm wondering how I'm going to survive Transvulcania.

There's another quick section on the Wey but yet again it's the precursor to a nasty little climb up to the road and then on to a folly stuck on the top of a hill.  Looking at the route map, it's obviously a malicious detour just to add more spice to the race!

Last year I flew around the rest of the race with what must have been a vast negative split, but not this time.  It all became a bit of a slog.  You have to save something for part 2 here. And not fall over.  You also have to run the gauntlet of golfers (I have little time for fanatical golfers) teeing off across over your head about 4 miles from the finish.  It goes on a bit and there are some bizarrely dressed-up people in the woods (that I assume are part of the event?) and finally you emerge back into civilisation and it's back up one last hill to the finish cheered on by bemedalled half marathon runners coming the other way, inexplicably past a pub.

I posted a 3:35ish - about 10 minutes slower than last year, but hey, so what? 15th Place overall.

Lunch with the conquerors of Ring of Fire Susie (4th Lady in the Half, and whose photo I pinched for this blog!) and Shaun was held up by me foolishly going to St Johns Ambulance looking for a dab of Savlon only to face a more complex procedure than if I'd had my appendix out and the kind of paperwork normally reserved for exchanging contracts on a house.  But they were very nice and gave me some sage advice, including, looking at my running vest, 'I'm afraid you'll have to wash that'.
It's a great race, well organised, loads of refreshment stops, not bad value at £27 if you're affiliated etc.  If trails, scenery and friendly natives are your thing then get yourself involved in next year's race - 20th September 2015.

Race Web Site
Movescount Trace
Results - 3:36:10, 15th place
Full Results (excel file)

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