When October 19, 2008
First Man Steven Neill 2:32:25
First Woman Samantha Amend 3:03:47
Last Finisher 5:32:52
No. of Finishers 647
Few rural marathons can lay claim to selling out three months before race day, but such was the enthusiasm for this longstanding Oxfordshire fixture.
This was no doubt partly due to the cancellation of last year's race, which
was not only met with shock and disappointment among the local racing community, but also left hundreds of runners frantically looking elsewhere for
a course that was both flat and fast enough to chase an autumnal PB.
Yet if the organisers felt the pressure of heightened expectation with the race returning, they needn't have worried. Abingdon's winning combination of pleasant scenery, smooth contours and a laid-back atmosphere seemed to hit exactly the right note among fleet-footed front-runners and marathon first-timers alike.
Conditions were perfect – cool and overcast, with just the slightest headwind no threat to quick times. And it was clear from the off that many had a PB on their mind. The field enjoyed a rowdy send-off from a packed grandstand at Tilsley Park athletics ground, as they completed a flying lap of the track before heading out along leafy country roads towards the village of Radley.
A short, off-road stretch then led the field south to Abingdon town centre where, against the backdrop of the town's historic architecture and tranquil riverside, clusters of vociferous supporters spurred runners on as they embarked on the first of two circuits taking in neighbouring villages.
Sunday ramblers, families heading to the local car-boot sale and a constant stream of side-road traffic certainly kept runners on their toes as they sidestepped such hazards beside a busy main road. Some reprieve came as the loop turned away onto quieter rural roads, although the course-side scenery at this point was a mixed bag, with jaunts through the picture-postcard villages of Drayton and Sutton Courtenay being rather bafflingly interrupted by a characterless circuit of Milton Park industrial estate, where the eerie quiet surrounding the deserted warehouses made for tough going.
An absence of energy drinks at the regular feed stations was also a concern for some, but help was at hand at the carnivalesque Fetch Everyone support station (miles 12 and 21), where claps, cheers, Jelly Babies and biscuits were all in plentiful supply.
A leafy mile-long section over well-maintained footpaths concluded each of the two laps, and signalled a welcome return to town on the second leg. Spirits were lifted back at the track where – after tackling the course's most notable incline, a steep underpass exit at mile 24 – runners completed a lap of honour in front of a grandstand packed full with spectators.
Post-race facilities were excellent: chocolate bars, energy gels and bananas went down a treat among finishers, as did the hot showers and ample changing facilities available at Tilsley Park.
A shiny medal wasn't the only memento brandished by finishers either; they wore the exhausted smiles of a new marathon PB, already pledging to return next year.