Forum vs Hastings Marathon: Winning the Battle

Forumite Kevski has a Chariots of Fire moment (© photos)

On Sunday December 14, 1,178 finishers crossed the line of the first Hastings Marathon to be staged in a century. Held at the home of the celebrated Hastings Half, race organiser Eric Hardwick MBE was determined to recreate the event on its centenary, having first heard about the 1908 marathon 27 years ago.

Historic Hastings

The 1908 marathon was male-only, run on a course just 25 miles long, and won by British Olympian W T Clarke in 2:37:16. This year, Julian Rendall of Tonbridge AC took the honours in 2:36:51, with Annabelle Stearns of Gravesend Roadrunners & AC the inaugural ladies' winner in 3:04:40.

There was also a large RW forumite contingent among what Runningmachine reports as a "predominantly club-runner field. Runners had travelled from far and wide across the British Isles and beyond to take part in this special race, and many even put on period costume for the occasion."

The marathon's starting gun was fired by the local MP, just as it was 100 years ago. And many other elements combined to reflect the race's 1908 counterpart, from the long-lived 1908 car at the start to the fancy dress-clad marshals and spectators.

Challenging Course

Weather conditions sadly did not reflect the toll of years of global warming in the UK, with temperatures hovering unobligingly close to zero and mist covering the plentiful hills. Runningmachine reflects, "One of the lasting memories of the 2008 race will be the penetrating cold – only a couple of degrees above freezing and misty too on the hills around Battle."

As Pete Sherri also commented, "It was a funny time of year to run a marathon! I was never quite sure what the weather was going to do!"

The course itself was kept as close to the original as possible, with a few necessary alterations, as Runningmachine reports."In 1908 the runners started with three laps of the Cricket Ground. The 2008 runners did two laps round the shopping centre, which had been built on the site!"

Once out of Hastings town centre and its shopping mall, runners steadily scaled more and more incline, the fog closed in and the herd began to thin out as runners headed towards Battle, home of the famous battle, and through the villages of Catsfield and Ninfield towards Bexhill. Forumite Iron Tractor Boy looked on the bright side: "There were plenty of undulations for the next few miles, but luckily there was some pleasant countryside to look at through the mist!"

Tough Guys

And those hills kept coming. As Iron Tractor Boy remarked, "For each hill in the last six miles each marshal seemed to think they were at the "last" hill! We finally reached Galley Hill, at 22 miles; the final hill. Perched on the cliff tops, it was definitely refreshing. Even when I got to the top I still couldn't see the finish. But at least I could see a cafe aid station, which supplied me with a cup of tea and toasted sausage sandwich – a great change from energy drinks!"

The field then followed the promenades of Bexhill, St Leonards and Hastings, to finish back at the start at Hastings Town Hall. But before the finish, the hardy Hastings competitors had to tackle a punishing shingle section, as Keith Foreman (4:13:29), of Reigate Priory Athletic Club remembers: "The beach provided the sting in the tail that we all expected. If you don't want it tough, don't do marathons!"

As Walking in the Air? Running in a Gale, more like! (4:19:13), of Cambridge & Coleridge Athletic Club reports, "Unsurprisingly for a hilly winter marathon, a fair few of the runners who entered do like it tough – three new members of the 100 Marathon Club notched up their 100th marathon at this 100th anniversary race. One woman completed her 12th marathon in 12 months here. Paul Garner (4:14:42) of Serpentine Running Club even ran the course twice as part of his training for March's Marathon des Sables! He set off at 4:50am in the icy darkness, finished in 3:58 and then set off again for his lap of honour."

Battle won: Iron Tractor Boy with his hard-earned memento

End In Sight

But crossing the finish line to the strains of a brass band and the cheers of supporters in period costume, to pick up an old-style mounted horse brass in place of a medal, made the Hastings Marathon feel like history to many runners. As Tonic Tone commented, "The organisers, marshals and crowds of supporters all did Hastings absolutely proud. Considering the harsh weather, the atmosphere they created was fantastic."

And for some it was particularly special. Oliver Jones wrote, "It was cold and damp, the hills were seriously tough and the last six miles on that windswept shingle beach were murder! With all that, I came in with less than two minutes (count ‘em!) off my marathon PB, which was set in a warm, dry and flat Berlin! Proof, if needed, of what a fantastic race it was!"

Many of the competitors on Sunday would agree with JeyChick, in sending a strong message to the race's organisers: "I hope I don't have to wait another 100 years for another shot at this course!"

Thanks to all of you who contacted us with your accounts of this special event. To view more race-day photos, taken by longstanding forumite RichK, please visit Iron Tractor Boy's photos can also be seen here.