I entered the race end of last year thinking it looked like the sort of race that would be interesting, would be a challenge, would be something to give me a focus over the winter months and make me get out training whether I wanted to go or not, whatever the weather.
Yes I got out there training, although admittedly not as often as maybe I should of, but I did get out there in all sorts of weather, so that plan worked.
Was the race interesting? Yes it was, the course was a mix of all sort of terrain. There was a bit of road, trail, boggy marshy fell sections, bits of the route I would swear were cross country it was that muddy! (I will come back to that later) and last but by no stretch of the imagination least there were hills (hence the name Bolton HILL Marathon).
And did I get the challenge I wanted? I did and then some! I’ve never done anything so tough in my life! Well I have been saying that I didn’t want to do an easy marathon (where's the fun in doing an easy one I kept asking) and I got my wish with that and a great big heap of hard added on for good measure. I've got the sneaky suspicion that if I'm not careful I may get a tiny little reputation for picking the hard races and working my way round to the easier ones later, maybe, one day. This is not a conscious decision, its just happening that way, I promise.
Anyway, enough of why I entered etc, etc, I guess the easy answer would have been “Why not enter?” but that’s not really the whole reason. The above is part of the reason, the rest of the reason why I entered might have had something to do with half a bottle of wine and other alcoholic drinks, but enough of that.
Lets move one. The race started at Moss Bank Park in Bolton at 9.30 am. There was an 8 hour time limit which I felt comfortable I wouldn't need to use all of. The temperature was fairly cool which was good, it meant that I wouldn’t be getting too hot on the way round, it was pretty windy out in the open on the hills and misty the first 4-5 miles which I loved. I always enjoy running when its misty or foggy. It makes the route more mysterious. I cant see the hills coming, cant be worrying about what’s coming if I cant see it, also it feels like I’m in my own little bubble, just me and few metres of land around me. I’m sure I haven’t explained that very well, but its the best way can explain it.
As we got further into the route it became more difficult, became more muddy. We had already dealt with some hills within the first few miles which I didn’t struggle with too much (yes I did find them hard but nothing compared to later on in the race). The mud and boggy patches threatened to steal my trail shoes from me. At one point somewhere between 6-8 miles I tried to be clever thinking I could jump over a bit of a dip in the path. There was mud all around, but I didnt think anything of it. I jumped and then slipped and went face down in the mud. So I ran around 18-20 miles covered head to toe in mud.
The next few miles were filled with more mud, hills, stony trails, cyclists and walkers giving me encouragement, cheering me on which was very welcome, and helped a lot. I remember seeing 12 mile marker and thinking that we must run past there again at 12 miles, I thought I was only at about 9-10 miles. I checked the distance on my watch and low and behold I was already at 12 miles. I dont know why, but I found that really funny, that I was actually further along the race than I thought.
By the time I got to the toughest section of the race at roughly mile 21 I was more tired than I ever remember being before in any race. It wasn't just physical tiredness, I was mentally tired too with having to concentrate on my footing, constantly making sure I did my best not to twist an ankle, or fall again. I was fortunate that the worse I came away with on my fall was a tiny graze on my hand and a wounded ego that I fell in the mud (although no doubt very funny if anyone had seen it).
At mile 21 was the steepest, longest hill I have ever had to get up. There was no chance of running up it, those in front of me that I could see were all walking up it, I was walking up it, and those behind me I could see were walking up it. It wasn’t like some races where you see some run/walk up, some run up and some walk up. Everyone that I could see was walking up it! Everyone I spoke to afterwards said they walked up that section. After what seemed like an age, I got to the top, completely worn out. There was a short flat section then another up hill and another absolute age, eventually there was no more up. I didnt have the energy to walk at this point, never mind run. I stopped, rested for a few minutes, then slowly (and I mean slowly!) started to jog a bit, then walked again a little, ran, walked etc till I got the strength back in my legs to keep running/jogging. I kept this up till mile 25. We turned left off the road straight onto a trail path and (you guessed it) more mud! It was literally side to side mud, no getting away from it, no skirting round it, no escape. A fellow racer behind me was cursing and asked in a not so happy voice “how are we supposed to run in this?” I shouted back as jovial and as happy as I could muster “very carefully” and carried on. After a brief chat, and bit of camaraderie he carried on ahead of me, which was fine with me, I was running my own race, not worrying about who was in front or behind me.
This last bit of mud wasn't all that long really but again felt like it went on much longer than it did, probably due to me not being able to go very fast. I was tired, and the mud was doing its best to stop me. I dug deep into my reserves of stubbornness. If this course hadn’t beaten me with its most difficult it wasn’t going to beat me now! I came to the last stretch which was the road we had come down at the start. Its a slight incline going back, with mile 26 at the bottom of an embankment which lead back into Moss Bank Park. I got to the 26 mile marker and stepped up onto the pavement and had to stop. I needed the break for a few seconds before I could get up the embankment, I wanted to run into the finish, not stagger/walk in. Pride took over and made me take a few seconds break. I then ran up the embankment and down the other side, and onto the finish. I saw from a few meters away that the clock had on it 5:34:20. It looked further away than it actually was, but my main thought was to get over that finish line before the clock got to 5:35:00. Well I did make it before the clocked got to that time. I finished in 5:34:24. I wasn’t as far from the finish line as I thought I was (only 4 seconds but felt like a lifetime).This is the way my first marathon went for me, sorry for the rambling report. I hope it gets across how tough, interesting, and downright tiring the course is, but one more thing that I should point out. There was a lot of effort put in organising it, it was well signposted, the marshalls were brilliant, and overall I cant think of one fault with the race at all. It was more than than I expected, I learnt a lot about myself doing this race and have learned that I am tougher and stronger than I thought. I also earned the medal that we got at the end which I will show off with pride. It will be a constant reminder of what I can achieve myself and with the help of my club mates, thanks all of you.