This was to be my first ever marathon, so to say I was nervous would be a supreme understatement! With my first ever half marathon only two months prior this was going to be a voyage of discovery! As I was going to be new to this marathon phenomenon, I had no experience of how to train for this! My longest training run had been 18 miles, the furthest I had ever ran, but now I had to persuade my body to do another 8.2 on top of this!
This was to be the inaugural running of the Hampshire Hoppit Marathon, so it was a first time for both of us! I had chosen this race as my grandparents had worked at the racing stables when I was younger, so I felt it would be a poignant one to have as your first. The race is situated in Kingsclere, Hampshire and the race starts on the gallops of the Park House race horse stables. It is then a loop course around the surrounding countryside before finishing up back at the gallops. With the best part of 2000ft of elevation, nothing by trail marathon standards but as a first timer it was going to be a test. I awoke to a bright sunny morning, before having a quick bit of breakfast, it was time to jump in the car and get to the start. Number picked up and pinned on, there was no turning back now. The temperature was really beginning to soar, being a June summers day, so I decided to take my handheld with me. Still a total novice to running in general I had no idea where I should start from, so I decided to move myself up to the top third to see what I could do. Next thing I know the countdown started 5..4..3..2..1.. and we were off.
We had been warned that once we were off the gallops we would be straight into a stile which would cause a bottleneck, so I tried to make up a few places before I reached this obstacle. There was a minimal amount of jogging on the spot and we were back underway straight into a forest, I seemed to be moving gradually up the field which I assumed was me being extremely inexperienced but I didn’t let this stop me progressing. Now as we reached mile 4 we exited the forest and found ourselves on the top of a ravine, but this allowed me to work out that I was in fifth position! OMG! What an earth am I doing, surely I should slow down, obviously I didn’t do that. As mile 5 beckoned I downed a cup of squash from the aid station and tagged on to the guys in front, we stayed together for the next few miles. The next few miles contained some brutal descents, but I seemed to be ever so slightly pulling away. By now the temperature was really beginning to swelter and my poor nose was getting firmly baked! Now only at the 12 mile aid station a marshal bellowed out SECOND PLACE WELL DONE! Surely it can’t be me, so I had a look behind, only to discover no one was there! A mediating voice in my head telling me ‘Jack don’t get carried away’, but with the next few miles being nice gradual downhill slopes I threw caution to the wind, blazing past the halfway point and beyond. This seemed great at the time, but by the 16 mile point I could feel it in my quads, UH OH! I managed to hold my roughly 6:50 per mile for the next couple of miles, but now the course started to take a kick back up to the hills. But as I approached the 19 mile mark, venturing firmly into an unknown distance, I was most certainly hitting the wall! Dehydrated, lack of fuel and lack of conditioning was catching up with me. For the next couple of miles I was just creeping the pace under 8 minutes per mile, but I was getting into a dark place. The sun continued to beat down on me relentlessly, I knew I was in trouble and kept fearfully glancing behind to see if anyone was closing in! Now at mile 22 I couldn’t squeak the pace under 8 minute miles any more, these marathon things are tough! But at mile 23 was a welcoming sight, for a while I could hear some obnoxiously loud dance music, now the reason came to fruition. In the back of a land rover was an enormous stereo system with a chap dressed up for a seventies nightclub, afro and all, armed with a megaphone shrieking encouragement at the top of his voice! This if nothing else brought a smile to my face, in amongst all the pain. I was able to stumble my way through the next mile or so, although it was becoming a bit of a blur by now. With only roughly a mile to go, there was a final sting in the tail, a humongous great hill! I could see nobody in front and much to my relief, nobody behind me. I had nothing really left to give so I just scrambled my up the hill as best as I could. Now with that out the way, it was a through a little shady forest and then it was onto the final descent towards the finish. I was back on the gallops and could see the finish line only a couple of hundred metres ahead, one final glance behind to confirm no one was going to pip me to the line and I mustered what remained of a jog. All I can say is, with my luminescent neon yellow compression socks there was no way my parents would have missed me finishing, nor would any passing planes either! I crossed the line in 3 hours and 7 minutes for my first ever marathon, I was immediately greeted by my bemused parents! The problem was that now I had stopped I could no longer walk! The winner had finished in an incredible time of 2 hours and 54 minutes so it was not a close contest, but I didn’t care I had not only finished my first marathon, but ended up in second place somehow! I now received my medal, a banana and a pint of the Hoppit ale that the marathon was named after. I have so much to learn to try and master this distance for the future! I can confess that factor 50 on my Chernobyl like nose would be a start! This is a day I will live long in my memory! Time to rest, but with my legs in pieces I don’t feel it’s optional!