In short: Smooth-planning-dirt-diving-calf-cramping-flint-kicking-hand-shaking-breath-taking Clarendon In full: These kind of marathons are the antidote to the hassle of the big events and I love them for it.
I turned up with my family just 10 mins before the start and ambled to where the few hundred other nutters marked the start with my kids watching from a grassy bank just five yards away. Try that in London!
For me, this was a tough training run and a goal to keep me sharp between road marathons. As such, I was free to relax and take an easy pace. Had I been in a more competitive mood, the narrow trails would have caused me far more frustration with the inevitable boxing in.
Unlike the Salisbury 54321 which I did in 2007, there was no getting lost on the Clarendon, which was comforting. Not only was there excellent signage but at every possible wrong turn, a friendly marshal was there to encourage you on the right way.
The trails were mostly dirt and with the dry weather over the previous days, I'd elected to run in my road shoes for the extra bit of response. That mostly worked out well although I did regret the lack of a stone shield in some of rougher areas and accidentally toe-punting a block of flint was not fun. In the wet, I think my road shoes would have been treacherous, especially on some of the later rough downhills.
For me, a slight downside was the mix of marathon with a half and relays. As a reasonable road runner I find it quite demoralising getting repetitively overtaken. And yet, this was pretty much the story of the last eight miles for me. OK - I knew they weren't doing the marathon, but I still felt a little downhearted and marginalised by the other events.
Thankfully the scenery was enough to counter that slight injury to my morale and keep me going in the tougher moments. Some of the hills were pretty steep and I felt my body switching to into fat burning mode a good four miles earlier than I'd expect on a road race. I'd read somewhere to add about 15 mins onto your road time for this race and that seems about right or even slightly optimistic.
The countdown markers were a nice touch (once I'd overcome my initial confusion at mile 15 and realised they were counting down and that I really had done more than 11 miles...)
As always, the knowledge that I'm down to my last couple of miles was enough to give my flagging legs a boost (even re-overtaking a number of those dratted half-marathoners) before making a largely pointless but emotional sprint over the last 100 yards.
Regretfully my moment of triumph was somewhat spoilt by confusion at the line. Aparently I was supposed to have some tag on my running number and, since I didn't, they took my whole number. Unfortunately, that then caused confusion with getting medals and shirts and I ended up being shunted around the finish area between various marshals for nearly 10 mins. That's probably just my bad luck.
The rest of the finish area was welcoming and the offer of a free massage was gratefully accepted, even though a shortage of beds meant I had mine lying on the grass.
Note to supporters: make plenty of time to get to the finish area! My family got caught in the extra traffic and arrived nearly 30 minutes later than planned, only catching up with me in time to witness my agony as the masseur showed no mercy to the knots in my calves.
Would I do it again? Yes - probably. It's definitely a great Autumn marathon if you want something different and challenging and you're not chasing a clock. Date of review: October 12, 2009