One sad day in the late autumn, thousands of would-be London Marathoners are branded REJECT. Many no doubt heave a huge sigh of relief that they don’t have to fulfil that drunken bet made months previously, and stagger back to the sofa to recover from the effort of picking up the rejection mailshot from the floor.
But many look elsewhere for a marathon. Some go abroad and race in a big city event elsewhere. Others look to one of the smaller British spring marathons instead - there are at least eight to choose from. One is the Shakespeare Marathon, and half that accompanies it, in Stratford-on-Avon - this year on Sunday, April 24.
Held as part of the celebrations of William Shakespeare’s birthday (he would have been 441 years old in 2005), this event starts at one o’clock in the afternoon, which brings its own challenges: having to prepare and feed properly beforehand; having to battle against thousands of tourists to find somewhere to park and to make your way from the race HQ across the river to the theatre where the races start.
As always in my experience (2000 and 2003), race day was one of the hottest of the year so far; not entirely appropriate for those of us who had trained through a British winter.
A number of Forumites wanted to meet beforehand, so we agreed to wear some green ribbon on our shoulders and meet on the steps beside the theatre. It didn’t help that there were at least three sets of steps to choose from (sorry!) and that not all of us found some ribbon (guilty again). But with 15 minutes to go there was a good group of 15–20 of us laughing nervously in the sunshine.
We broke up our little band to join the 2,500 other runners, going in small groups according to the pace we hoped to run at. There isn’t much space on the road in front of the theatre, and with no visible signs suggesting where runners aiming for specific times should line up, everybody was pushing towards the front.
I’d offered to run at a steady nine-minute mile pace throughout the race to give those going for sub-four a good start if nothing else. I’d achieved this with a measure of success at Abingdon the previous October and wanted to do it again. Even before the race started though, I realised that I should have copied one of the RW pacing “lollipops” because there were simply too many runners for me to be able to rely on my height as a means of being visible.
With no starting pens, there were plenty of inexperienced runners for us to weave our way through. Gradually we were able to run but the congestion was awful for the first couple of miles. As I’d expected, this prevented us from setting off too quickly and was part of my plan. The support was great as we ran around the centre of Stratford before heading for the countryside. We slowly picked up the pace as the crowd thinned out, and after five miles or so the group began to spread out as Rossi, MaryC and SamD gradually pulled away. By this time Apparition had caught us and told us that Little Miss Happy was having a bad time and had needed a walk. Soon all that was left from the group were Loon and me.
It turned out to be a day of mixed fortunes for Forumites. SSING and Matt the Brum ran brilliantly to finish in second and third places in 2:43 and 2:48, even running together between miles four and eight without knowing that they were both Forumites. Others, like KatieS (3:37), Rossi MotoGod (3:56) and SamD (3:58) ran really well and achieved what they had set out to do – Rossi and Sam in their debut marathons.
Loon and I faded in the second half and finished in 4:17 as Loon battled against some awful stomach cramps and the heat. It was still a PB by 23 minutes for Loon, so still something positive to move forward from.
Some found the heat especially tough. Vixx and Running Monkey were amongst many who struggled to make the 2:15 cut-off time at the 12-mile point. But they both did it, and battled on to finish in 5:22 and 5:29 respectively. Two great performances despite their disappointment with their times.
Finally we have to spare a thought for those who had to drop out because of illness or the heat. Haruki, ICRAM and Dragonfly all had to stop some way short of the finish and they were by no means the only ones.
I mean no disrespect to the half-marathoners here by concentrating on the longer race. Running 13.1 miles in any circumstances isn’t easy and you all did just as well as those of us in the marathon.
Personally, I was happy to get my 40th marathon out of the way – and be humbled by the runner who was completing his 300th. I learnt some more about pacing a group, and I think we were all reminded that no matter how much you train, you can’t take account of very warm weather, or an un-cooperative tummy.
Despite my mixed emotions, the Shakespeare Half and Full Marathons are good events, and the marathon fulfils a need in the marathon calendar by giving us FLM rejects somewhere to go.