One of the best things about the forum club, now in its second year, is the way in which runners of every level of experience, speed and inclination come together to share the experience of running. This inclusive spirit was very much in evidence when around 20 Forumites gathered to sample the delights of the fast, flat course offered by the Abingdon Marathon. For some it was a welcome return to a favourite race, for others, another stab at the Marathon after the PB-destroying scorcher that was the Flora London Marathon 2003 and alongside these eager souls were many first-timers tackling their first 26.2.
Forum runners took over the Crown & Thistle pub the night before the race, with the check-in causing some amusement as everyone was booked in under their forumite names. 14 forumites – Ashley, Sutts, Benz, Timothy Rainer, The Coach, Cornflakes, Aljan, Debster, JaneM, Liz, Speed Ted, Flying Ant, Stickless and RichK - gathered for essential lasagne-oriented carbo-loading in the hotel dining room, which had been tastefully decorated with balloons and URWFRC banners.
But it was a ‘fresh’ 9am start for the field, who assembled at the Tilsley Park Stadium in various degrees of shivering undress (depending on anticipated completion time). As a race with a welcoming attitude to beginners and slower runners, there was a large forum contingent at the back of the pack, who were treated to a glimpse of the first forum tattoo before the off…
A beautiful clear Autumn morning and a varied 3-loop course through pretty Oxfordshire villages made for pleasant running early in the race. Later on, the now infamous stretch along the side of a pig field momentarily transported the entrants into the Marathon des Sables as the road disappeared in a storm of dust and sand. In fact, the whole last loop, which followed long main roads and lacked the scenic ‘eye candy’ of the previous miles, proved a challenge to the even the most seasoned race veterans and had a telling effect on finishing times. Though some of the more ambitious amongst us were disappointed with their final results, there were also a few notable triumphs of sheer bloodimindedness over adversity.
Peppermint Hippo refused to give in to stomach problems and remained cheerful throughout to cross the line in 6:08:55, while Evil Pixie did not let the absence of marshals, signs and manned water stations deter her from completing her debut marathon in just over 7 hours. In a noteworthy demonstration of the forum musketeer spirit, Ye Hippo provided the intrepid Pixie and her pacers with a cycling marshal service on the final loop despite having finished the race himself in a perky 3:12:02.
Though there was almost four hours between the first forum finisher and the last, with club members tasting both agony and ecstacy, there was one notable area of consensus. In the online postrace analysis, almost everyone had words of praise for the helpful attitude and friendliness of the marshals. Our very own Nicko of darkside fame was one of them and seemed to be everywhere on the course, cheering us all on and giving inspiration and encouragement where it was needed. And although support was officially withdrawn after six hours, the marshalling team went beyond the call of duty to assist Pixie’s marathon campaign, driving out and leaving chocolate and water at an abandoned feed station.
Abingdon may be a small race in this age of mass participation marathons, but it is easy to see why it has been chosen as the venue for many championships, including the army and the police. The fast, flat course will please PB-hunters, while the friendly and welcoming atmosphere is encouraging to first-timers and slower runners. It has definitely won a few converts amongst the forumites, many of whom have already pledged to race in 2004. A huge thankyou to all the people who made the race possible… and see you next year!
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