Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Vanguard Way Marathon Report

I was excited to run the vanguard way marathon for the second time following last years run which went down as one of my most enjoyable running experiences ever despite getting lost three times! 

Heading over to Lloyd park in Croydon bright and early on Sunday morning I joined a group of runners ready to hit the trails. The group was a mix of elite looking ultra runner types with their high tech running belts and specialist trail shoes mixed with the less professional looking but eager all the same marathon runners of a range of ages.

As we set off from the park the sky was pretty cloudy with the summer sun struggling to get through making for quite cool conditions this changed over the coming hours though as the hot August sun shine on runners making for tough running conditions and leaving me red faced by the end of the day!

The course of the marathon is incredibly varied, extremely hilly (750m+ of elevation over the route!) and very scenic so much so that the races website describes the run quite fairly as the beautiful marathon.

Heading out of the park the course covers a range of paths, trails and roads before heading through forests and woods and out deep into the North downs.

It was in one of the wooded areas where I along with a few others lost the marked trail, easily done when there is no clear path and the woods quite dark and dense. After some deliberation, discussion and retracing of our steps we found it back onto the trail, this turned out to be the only time I got lost which I was pleased with. 

The race is very low key and understated with only two drinks stations one at 6miles/20miles on the return and at the halfway point. This breaks the marathon down nicely into four quarters which really helped me mentally conquer the challenge.

The first 6 miles is all gradually uphill which then makes the last 6 miles all downhill which is just what you want at the end of a marathon. This had been my focus through the week focusing on how easy the last 6 miles would be! Yeah right! 

The second quarter then takes on the real hills of the course with two massive downhills and one monster climb before flattening out around halfway for runners to turn back around. 

At the halfway point I was glad to refuel at the drinks station which was well stocked with water, juice, cola, fig rolls, cookies, jelly beans and more! Anything a runner could want for fuel! I don't eat mid run so opted for a glass of fruit squash and a glass of water, I am not sure if it was the volume or drinking it too quick but my stomach then felt like a washing machine for the next few miles.

The next quarter is then even tough this time with the opposite of the last section so one big downhill and two massive climbs. 

The drinks station at around 20 miles came around pretty quickly which was a relief and after a quick drink I headed off feeling confident about the downhill trails that lay ahead. 

The problem with a there and back route is that you know what's coming, you can't trick your mind into thinking it will be easier or that there isn't that far left when you can remember and visualise the sections still to come. 

The last 6 miles dragged.... They felt so long, I was incredibly glad of the company of fellow runners as a small group of us struggling along at similar pace ran a few miles together chatting about our running experiences and how tough the course was.

Meeting and chatting with other runners is one of the highlights of these kind of small scale events and I was fortunate enough to run along with and strike up conversation with fellow runner Mark at around the halfway point and we ended up running together on and off for the second half of the race. 

As a veteran of 70+ marathons I was keen to getting his opinion on how he rated the course against other marathons and was surprised to hear he felt that the vanguard way was actually the toughest marathon he had ran including the much feared Beachy Head marathon. 

Having someone to run with in the final miles really pushed me on to run harder than I would have had I been on my own so I was very grateful for the company and the chat to keep me going. 

Heading back into Lloyd park and seeing the finishing funnel in the closing few hundred metres was a much welcome sight and I was relieved to be able to lie on the grass in the sun while watching other runners finish. 

There's no doubt that the vanguard way is incredibly tough nor is there any doubt it is a really beautiful course to experience and for me that's a great combination that will see me plan to come back next year! 

Massive thanks to everyone that mad this race possible, it really is a special event I would recommend to anyone and I look forward to running again next year!