Saturday, 23 January 2010

Marathon: Ouch!

My blog gets encumbered with my occasional running notes, because I haven't got a better place to put them yet!

Today I ran the Portland (Dorset) coastal trail marathon ( This means lots of steep climbing and descending - some bits quite technical and tricky - and on the exposed coast mostly. This was my 2nd marathon (the first was a road marathon in 2007). Great day, lots of fun, especially so because lots of family were there too. It didn't start so well; I woke coughing at 4.49a.m., and when I eventually turned on the light to get up I found there was a power cut which also meant there was no heating - Brrrr! The briefing took a long time and I had to queue for the toilet, which also meant I set off having done no stretches and was beginning to feel as if my cold had spread out of nose/throat into my head at large. But on the plus side, the weather was basically perfect for January: mild, no rain and as little wind as you can get when running on the channel coast. My Runner's Knee from 5 weeks ago (the last run of more than 7 miles) did not make an appearance, and the trail running kit all worked really well.

After coming off Chesil Beach

The first mile includes a 500ft climb. Not too long later there's one so steep that I did it hands-and-knees when coming up the second time. The course is the half-marathon course done twice, each of which is basically a lap of the "Island" of Portland in Dorset (including round Portland Bill at the tip), and then 1.5 miles on Chesil Beach. 200 entrants. Chesil Beach is excrutiating - it's large pebbles which give way under foot; very heavy going, and murder for your quads. After coming round the first time (2 hrs 15 mins), I thought I had bitten off too much by not entering the half marathon. But gratifyingly those around me were now slowing down too. After the first 3 miles of settling down, I was overtaking someone each mile or so - but from half-way someone was overtaking me about every 400 metres until I stopped the rot!

When 20 miles came I felt pretty finished; this is at Portland Bill and precedes 4 miles of climbing, the first of which is steep. It was refreshing to see so many beefy looking men reduced to staggering - it wasn't just me the first-timer! Once I'd got up the first mile (and through the mud-bath-like bits of the next section where running seemed pointless; as bad as Chesil Beach it was so sticky!), I resorted to running 0.2 miles and walking 0.1 in repetitions. Eventually I got up to running (well, jogging) continually again; then came Chesil Beach. Here, the method of 0.1 running/0.1 walking meant that nobody overtook me on the section, and I overtook about 5 or so; they were running less! One of my support party did comment that they had tried and it was really hard/painful work running on the beach, and that was without running 23 miles beforehand!

Chesil Beach - how your quads feel after this is indescribable... first time, 16 miles to go!

After that second encounter with the beach, there was only perhaps 0.5 miles towards Weymouth, then the turn around and about a mile back to the event HQ/finish line. Adrenaline and will-power (please please let me finish asap!) was enough to run this all the way. And eventually, the finish line:

About to finish

26.88 miles by my watch - the organisers do say that their courses can go over the 26.22 standard. All in all, it took me 5:06:33. I thought I might be near 4:30, but I had not appreciated just how gruelling such a marathon is. The results aren't out yet; this would have got me 66th last year though I'm not sure if there were 200 starters then like this year. The winner was in an awesome 3:27 - 7:42 minutes/mile is one thing on flat roads, but with huge climbs, twisty-turny technical sections and Chesil Beach it's pretty amazing.

Great day. I'm not sure I'd have entered if I'd known what a big step up it was from a road marathon, but as I finished it of course I'm really glad I did - a unique experience and fun to share with the family.

As you'd expect, marathon running is another of the great proofs of the reality of God. Ontological argument, teleological argument, marathological argument, 1 2 3. No species that could have evolved on a Darwinian basis would seek personal challenges to stretch himself, taking it on "because it's there". Running round in large circles has no point in itself. Neither is the ability to do such things of any particular value for surviving as the fittest - the couch potatoes live and breed just as much as the hill-runners. Trail marathoning is an activity exclusively for human beings made in God's image. And it was thrilling to enjoy his creation whilst doing so - especially seeing the vast ocean, the dark clouds and the intrusions of bright light through them. This was all in the first few miles, of course. After that my brain was not processing much more than "Mmmm, Lucozade." :-)


gingoro said...


"I found there was a power cut which also meant there was no heating."

I'm surprised that you had any heat normally. We had no heat except for the kitchen wood stove when we lived in Addis Ababa. In April when we started the school year average lows were 10C with record lows of 4C so lots of blankets were necessary.

I thought you sons of Andrew from the old country were more hardy than us Nord America-no wimps. When ever I visited London (July 52 and 55). I always was always cold. (Don't mind the good humored ribbing.)

The first boarding school in Addis Ababa which I attended probably was at about 9500 ft altitude. It was in the Entoto area and 9300 feet is about the lowest altitude of the Entoto marathon which you could try sometime.

Ned Kelly said...

Hmmm, yes, well, I'm not sure about all that. I have to admire your grit, and I'm sure that it is a great personal achievement, but really - why? Isn't self-flagellation frowned upon? I have to admit to some severe trekking experiences in Patagonia, the Andes, and the Himalaya, but at least I was going somewhere new, not just around in circles at a local venue. Still, congratulations, it was a great effort, particularly as you had some doubts about your personal fitness. Continue to post such activities here, it is always good to have insights into the nature and character of our spiritual leaders, to know that they are well grounded on this planet, even if some of their habits are of a dubious nature. Personally, I much prefer my 1000km days on my motorycle, much less chance of injury. Sincerely though, well done, I doubt that I could muster such courage and endurance.

David Anderson said...

I should have pointed out that this marathon was not in Africa but in the UK - we have been over for a rest/deputation. Hence I think I'm allowed to turn the heating on without being thought of as too wimpy!

It was round in two big circles, but not somewhere I'd seen before and the scenery was very beautiful - a scenic trek and running race rolled into one.

gingoro said...

"I should have pointed out that this marathon was not in Africa but in the UK - we have been over for a rest/deputation."

OK now I understand. I recalled that you had been in Kenya for two or three years and since my parents term in Ethiopia was five years I figured yours would be some think like 4 or 5 years. In the hot countries the terms were 4 years but in a more temperate country like Ethiopia 5 years was considered appropriate. No one realized that high altitude takes it's toll on people not originating from such conditions.