October means the start of another pilgrimage to Bournemouth for the marathon weekend. Having run it every year (this year is No5) I feel compelled to keep going. I’m hoping to be awarded the title of ‘ever present’ and carried through the town like a king. Or at least get a decent discount like Milton Keynes Marathon do for their repeat offenders!
This year the running festival was a week later than usual. Typically the weather is lovely for spectating and bit hot for the marathon. Would the week later make a difference and would clashing with Chester, York, Royal Parks Half and some other big events affect the popularity?
If you’ve not run Bournemouth before then the main points to note are it’s a weekend festival of running with kids races (1km upwards) along with 5k and 10k races taking place along the promenade. These all start and finish on the seafront so are great for spectators and runners as you can lob your hoodie to your mate, run your 10k, retrieve hoody and go find a beer or ice cream. Or even beer flavoured ice cream. These events all take place on the Saturday and almost without fail the weather starts as damp and a bit grey (maybe I’ll stay in bed rather than do parkrun) and ends up sunny and dry for the evening. The 5k race starts at 7pm and is a festival of fairy lights and silly outfits.
For Sunday there’s the choice of the half marathon or marathon. Both start outside of the town centre at Kings Park by the Vitality stadium, and both finish back at the main pier.
The half kicks off at 8am so an early race and means you may miss hotel breakfast to get there. The marathon is a more gentlemanly 10am start meaning you get to enjoy a massive breakfast first. Running is important but breakfast is more ‘importanter’. If you’re inclined you can run both, but need to aim for a 1:35/1:40 half to give yourself time to get back to the start of the HM. Weather for Sunday goes from ‘bit nippy’ through ‘this is pleasant’ and if you’re running at 1-2pm will typically reach ‘my head is burnt, why did I not wear sun cream, why is it so hot’.
Over my previous four attempts my times have ranged from “Wow” (third PB in 6 weeks, I’m the next Mo Farah), through “Meh” (not quite the time I was hoping for but solid) to “Urgh” (why did I think running all four events was a good idea, my legs will never forgive me). This year the goal was to try and beat marathon 100 (3:17) and hopefully beat my PB of 3:15. I was aided in this by running with club mate Matt, and we both planned to run 7:20min pace for the mile. This figure sounds casually stated but I can still recall when that would have been an ambitious pace for a parkrun.
Shivering in the start pen (wearing the latest in bin liners) I was regretting not sticking a base layer on. This was my first race outing of the 100 Marathon Club top and a base layer would have kept me warm and stopped the likely nipple chaffing that the cheap material would inflict. The countdown got to 1 and Matt and I kept to the back of the first pen, letting the bulk of runners through to give us some room and set off. Seemingly within seconds the clouds parted and the sun came out. Now I was glad to have ditched base layer but regretting lack of sunhat.
After a few miles we settled in a rhythm and the 7:20 pace felt gloriously simple. Matt was a little cautious, reasoning 7:26 would be sufficient and dropped a little behind. Sensibly I should have too but liked the simplicity of 7:20 dead. The early part of the course has a lot of out and backs so we could keep check on each other and as usual in any big marathon event I was finding a lot of people I knew in the pack to swap high-fives with, including my ‘Dad’, fellow club mate and namesake Mark Atkinson.
Somewhere around mile 5 or 6 I fell into step with another runner and after a brief chat we mutually stuck together and ran well. I lost him briefly at mile 13 when I stopped to grab a drink from the helpful wife (the race provides water or gels only, no sports drink) as we dropped down onto the promenade before running out to Boscombe pier.
Somewhere on the return leg from the pier I seemed to lose him but was still holding the 7:20 pace. Then at mile 17 comes the kicker. The course leads you under the finish gantry as a cruel joke, then up and over the bypass before heading back up a MASSIVE hill to follow the top of the cliff. Sensibly this shouldn’t be an issue, it’s just a hill. In reality it comes just as your body is starting to object to the pace and for many is the point at which you hit the wall.
Although I was expecting it, it still hit my rhythm and despite passing many runners I was gradually slipping off pace. I risked a couple of small mouthfuls of gels and tipping water over me whenever I could. Basically I was hot and tired. And I could feel the plasters leaving my nipples so bleeding would soon follow….
Finally after a lot of looping in the residential streets the course drops down through a shady footpath back to the promenade at 20 miles. Also the exact point at which the closing footsteps behind resolved themselves into Matt. Those three miles of dodgy pacing had allowed him to close the gap and he sailed past on course to a massive PB whilst I struggled to hold the fade.
The crowd shouted and cheered but my sub3:15 faded as I ground out the final 10k to finish in 3:17, my second quickest and beating marathon No100. Given the hills, the heat and only two weeks between PB attempts I couldn’t complain. Finishing 79th out of 2000 runners also felt a decent accomplishment for a hot day. Matt smashed a 13 minute PB with a 3:13 on only his third attempt. The git.
Upon finishing, rather than the usual drawstring bag as given in previous years and also on the Saturday races we were presented a funny little box. Inside was the race top, some sachets and a running water bottle so small even the kids laughed. I’m pretty sure it’s intended for administering water to a chaffinch. I can’t imagine the running scenario that necessitates bringing water, but only a minuscule amount. Maybe it’s a hip flash for nice Scotch? Basically it all went in the bin. The bags had been useful both on the day and since (my 2016 bag is finally falling apart due to overuse), the box is junk. Please have a rethink Bournemouth as the last thing a runner needs after 26.2 miles is something pointless to carry.
Next for me is a slightly longer race, the Autumn 100 mile race in two weeks. No more 7:20 miles, I’ll likely have many closer to 17:20.
Course Notes –
Start – Not a huge lot around and a walk from bag lorries to start so worthwhile wearing bin bag/old clothes to throw off at start, especially for the Half Marathon which starts at 8am.
First half of the marathon has a lot of out and backs to see other runners and the elites.
There’s two big(ish) uphill sections. Not a huge issue if you’re expecting them. If you’re from Milton Keynes they are of Ben Nevis proportions. Don’t kill yourself running up, better to power walk, and take chance to drink/change ipod track or admire the views.
Fuelling – gels and water only, no sports drink. Personally I prefer sports drink so I take some High 5 tablets with me to dissolve into bottles.
At mile 17 you do a lap of the main pier and then pass close to the finish gantry. You can almost touch it. Then you do a quick dogleg over the overpass and back down to the finish gantry again to really rub it in, before being sent up a climb away from adoring crowds to do a 9 mile out and back along the coast. If it’s going well this isn’t too bad. If you’re struggling you dwell on the fact that every knackered step you take forwards will need to be repeated back on even more knackered legs.
At mile 22 you take a turn inland, past annoying people relaxing in cafes and eating ice creams to loop a traffic island and then it’s a straight run back. The final section it’s best not to focus on the finish and the pier in the distance as it never seems to get any closer.
Mile markers are at times a little off due to placement of lampposts and it’s a fairly winding course, I normally get closer to 26.5m on Garmin so allow for that if you’re going for a time.
Finally I like to finish the race, run into sea, cramp up, fall over and nearly drown. It adds an element of danger.