Sunday marked my third marathon in three months as I completed the Brentwood South Weald Marathon organised by Go Beyond in the leafy Essex countryside.
The appeal of this event was its proximity to where I live, just a 15 minute drive away. After I entered I however became less enthusiastic about the event due to it being 12 laps of a 3.5km course and I was somewhat apprehensive this would be a dull and boring monotonous event that would be a depressing mental grind.
The reality was thankfully far from the truth.
The marathon forms part of the Brentwood Running Festival which also comprises of a 10K and a half marathon, so provides a challenge for all abilities.
The marathon is a complete off road affair, a real trail marathon, suitably tough, muddy and grueling for even the most experienced runner.
Before the event I knew to expect a tough course as I have visited South Weald Park before and so was aware of the terrain, but it wasn't until completing my first lap that I fully appreciated what a tough event this marathon was going to be.
Somewhere into my second lap I quickly established my race strategy, aim for under 5 hours which would be incredibly respectable, be prepared to walk the hills and inclines and conserve energy for later in the race and keep my trainers as dry as possible for as long as possible.
I also broke the course down into two halves, one half was around the main park field where running on longish grass that was very tough on wet heavy ground. The hill up to the wood then marked the transition into the second half where the trails zig zagged in and around the woods, although undulating and technical the path here was mainly downhill I figured and was a section that I should try to move through as quickly as my legs would allow.
Interspersed in the forest were sections of treacherous muddiness where a slow to a walk was advisable. There was also the tricky ravine with a sheer drop down a root riddled bank and a muddy scramble up the other side slowed most runners progress down to a walk or a crawl.
Out of the woods a nice water sodden muddy, marshy patch awaited before the second hill climb completed the lap and took you down to the finish line.
How did I find it?
In summary; tough, muddy, tiring, scenic, challenging, autumnal and rewarding are the words that spring to mind.
I decided to run without a watch so throughout the race I had no real idea of pacing or my race time apart from the snippets of other runners completing the 10K or half marathon I heard over the loud speaker as I passed through the finish line after completing each lap.
This decision made the finish all the more satisfying as I was really pleased with my finish time as this was my fastest off road marathon.
The course was so demanding though, having completed Beachy Head Marathon this time last year I am no stranger to tough off road marathons and although the hills in South Weald Park don't quite rival the seven sisters this is still a tougher than average marathon.
As some kind of perspective I consider myself to be in much better shape running this marathon than my last two but by the half way mark my legs felt like they did at the 20 mile mark of the last two marathons.
Overall I really enjoyed the event and would class this event as a special event as it stands out for its excellent organisation, brilliant marshaling on an interesting and inspiring location and setting.
The event was very much a slick operation which included a thorough briefings given before the start of the three different races, enthusiast marshals offering encouragement on the course and a plentiful supply of refreshments available after every lap. The race represents terrific value as for the £16 entry fee you received a medal and t shirt as well as a print out of your split lap times provided to you within seconds if finishing.
The only negative I can recall from the experience is a minor one relating to the playlist being played at the finish line, some of the songs were not what you would call your obvious choices, hearing Elton Johns candle in the wind 3/4 of the way through was extremely odd and although it didn't inspire to me run it did make me chuckle!
On a personal note I was very pleased with my performance, I didn't find the multiple laps a drain or a bore but instead found it quite comforting to know what was coming up and to have a clearer understanding of distance covered and distance left to run.
I coped with the slight repetitiveness of running the same path over and over by talking myself through the route that lay ahead of me on the course in the same way a rally car drivers navigator talks the driver through the obstacles that lie ahead in the next few hundred metres.
Physically I did start to tire and ache from around lap 5 and the going got harder as you would expect through laps 6 and 7. I was as ever glad and thankful for the support of my wife who was on hand with lucozade and support to keep me running into the final laps.
The last few laps were understandably all the more difficult but thankfully went by relatively quickly and I continues to feel buoyed by the growing number of multi coloured bands I was collecting to count the number of laps completed.
I most admit a strong feeling of elation approaching the finish line for the final time, no musical fanfare, no cheering cheerleaders or cheering crowds that you get with larger inner city marathons but instead the strong sense of satisfaction of having completed a demanding challenge with a handful of other hardy souls.