Monday, 25 September 2017

Event Review: Tolkien Run 2017

"That's not Smaug, it's a Balrog!" came the gleeful cry from my friend Cathy as we ran along the sea wall. It wasn't yet 9am and my knowledge of Hobbits and other mythical beings was being put to the test. We were a couple of miles into The Tolkien Run, a vaguely Tolkien themed 6-hour time challenge put on by the ever-wonderful Saxons Vikings and Normans and admiring the fancy dress outfits of the few brave enough to don them. You may remember SVN from my attempt at Cakeathon earlier in the year. They specialise in time challenge events, ridiculously fantastic medals and excellent goody bags. Cathy had pointed this one out to me and Dean and we were rather taken with the idea and so that's how we ended up in Samphire Hoe at 8:30am on a Wednesday morning with a plan to run a marathon.
Representing Bracknell Forest Runners on location
We're not quite sure why this was on a Wednesday but certainly plenty of people had taken the day off work to take part in the event. Samphire Hoe boasts plenty of very cheap parking (£2 all day!) and some lovely views. SVN don't send out numbers in advance but it's always a pretty slick process to collect them, along with our punch cards for keeping track of our laps, on the day. The field is kept relatively small so there's very little crowding and everyone's friendly and jolly. I'm starting to recognise people at the events now, which is always lovely. Samphire Hoe also benefits from a cafe, proper loos (no queues this day) and a centre that we can duck into if it's wet with a covered outdoor area that serves as the food and drink station. None of this energy gel and sports drink malarky, it's cakes, biscuits, crisps and nuts galore, all washed down with squash or water, and while there wasn't as much cake as at Cakeathon, no one went hungry!
The goody bag!
The route was a 3.75m out and back course, which you repeat as many times as you wish or are able to in the 6 hours. This was to be Cathy's first marathon attempt so we had our sights set on 7 laps. I haven't been putting in the distance recently so I hoped to keep her company but was happy to see what the day brought and just do as much as I could. The course starts on track across the fields, drops down to a path by the railway track (bonus points for spotting Eurostar), down a hill and out along the sea wall, almost to the end, then around a cone to retrace your steps.
We three started out together at a nice steady pace. Dean soon started pulling away from us to go at his comfortable pace which is slightly quicker than ours, leaving Cathy and I to natter to each other and other runners whilst enjoying the first few laps. It was a warm day so arm warmers quickly came off and we crossed fingers that the sun wouldn't beat down too hard on us. At the end of each lap we took a few minutes to have something to eat and drink before setting off on the next. Travis, SVN organiser, would talk to Cathy at these moments about how she would have no trouble with the distance. After all, you can do a half marathon, lap I've won't be a problem, and no one stops at six laps so there! We started to take bets on when we'd meet Dean on the course and played some games of I Spy to relieve the tedium of the sea wall. Such was the tedium of the sea wall that it only took us one lap to exhaust I Spy so we started on some word association games instead, which started tapping into our deep seated desire for food.

The first three laps went by quite quickly, lap four marked a long half marathon and by lap five we'd settled into a run-walk strategy using corners, cones and hills as our markers. We were smiling at the same people, giving out encouragement, chatting about the Mega Marathon t-shirts and generally having quite a lot of fun. SVN write everyone's names on their numbers so it's really easy to make it personal. By the end of the event you feel as though you've made a whole bunch of new friends! At the end of lap five we met up with Dean who had waited for us to catch up so we could run the last two laps together. Even though we knew that some people had already called it a day, it didn't feel any less busy out on the course, which was nice. We stuck to the run walk strategy and carried on with the word association games. The wind started to pick up and gave us a very unfair headwind on the downhill. Our legs were sore but lap six was duly ticked off. This was it!

Lap seven commenced! There was no question that we were going to complete a marathon now. The wind was stronger but was at our back along the outward leg of the sea wall so we ran the whole length of it. We got chatting to a chap running with a backpack who we'd not noticed at the start of the day. Apparently he couldn't get the morning off to take part but had decided to come out and join us unofficially for a training run and to offer encouragement - superstar! The headwind back along the sea wall reduced us to a walk but finally we turned the corner, trudged up the hill one last time and jogged just about all the way back to the start. Done and with 10 minutes to spare! We were all delighted with our efforts. If we'd felt so inclined we could have gone for the ultra distance, the rule being that you have to start your final lap before 6 hours is up, but enough was enough. Cathy earned her "first marathon badge" for her medal ribbon and we all walked away with glow in the dark, Gates of Morir medals as big as our faces!
We hugged, changed, ate, hugged some more, took some photos, ate some more and eventually piled back into the car to go home, tired but happy and with a mid-week marathon under our belts. We certainly wouldn't have done it without the expert organisation and encouragement of the SVN tram and all the other competitors. At £39.95 I think the events are excellent value for money and I cannot wait to sign up for another.
Munching on hot buttery crumpets
Are you a Mega Marathoner? Have you ever done a mid-week marathon? Any votes on which SVN event I should try next?

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