I’d been eyeing up Phoenix races for the best part of a year, without having finally made the plunge, and I doubt I would have done had it not been the 100th marathon of a running friend , Jan Lavis. It had been meticulously planned, and she’d invited us (my wife Sue and I) to join her for the occasion. Not wanting to miss out, we booked places in September.
So, why hadn’t I done one before? Well, a couple of things: it’s laps or loops; it always seems to be in the same place; I’m not a big one for medals, no matter how big or elaborate they are. However, after running the Velothon a month or so ago, the potential for getting bored with laps was somewhat reduced. That race taught me to plan within a race, and take in those running around me.
On the day, we arrived nice and early, having picked up Karen and Steve on the way. I wasn’t exactly feeling that up for it, mainly due to work related pressures, and wasn’t sure how much I would do. The race HQ was in the Elmbridge XCEL Leisure Centre, on the outskirts of Walton-on-Thames, near both what remains of the Brooklands racing circuit, and Shepperton Studios. The Centre is well equipped, changing rooms, toilets, a climbing wall, a pool, and coffee shop. We picked up our numbers, folded them up small enough to be pinned to our legs (but still big enough to be seen), chatted amongst ourselves, then made our way out to the race briefing.
Rik Vercoe the RD, made it very plain and simple, then went on to give out a number of awards to those running today: 250 marathons in 700 days, 52 in 52, 10 in 10, 100 marathons… you get the picture. There were some true runners out there that day.
So, once the awards were given out, we made our way to the start – a short walk to the Thames Path, just outside The Weir pub. The route was apparently the short loop, that is go west for about 1.6375 miles, until you reach Leon the marshal, then turn back. Four loops gets you to half a marathon, eight a full one. The loop itself is interesting enough. You pass another pub (The Angler), a couple of weirs (which on the day was raging quite heavily – a lot of flood water needed to be got rid of from further upstream), a couple of parks (yes, I checked them out), over a footbridge at Walton Marina (boats for sale, starting at £32k), under the A244 bridge, past Cafe Gino, then return. All the while, you’re by the side of the Thames, with all its birdlife. Ducks, geese, swans, gulls, rooks, moorhens, all joined us on the path at some point. The wind was also in a westerly direction, and quite fierce, so it was a struggle on the first half of every lap.
The day’s race was a 6 hour cutoff, so if you felt like running more, you were more than welcome to do so. How do they work out how many loops you’ve done? They stick a hair scrunchy on your wrist each time you pass the start/finish line, which is also the bag drop tent, and the all-important aid station, which contained all manner of penny sweets and Freddos. I was a little disappointed with the lack of ‘real food’, such as bananas or biscuits, but it wasn’t a problem.
I ran the first half of the race with Sue – she was running the race with a suspected stress fracture of the fibula, and I didn’t want her to race on her own. It was touch and go whether she would have run at all, but she wanted to do it for Jan. It was a case of managing the pain with a run/walk strategy. At four, she’d decided she’d had enough, which was more than both she and I were expecting her to do.
After she dropped, I picked up the pace a little, running at my own pace and going by feel rather than anything else. Three laps went by pretty quickly, with the fourth a struggle into the wind. I walked a little further than I intended to, due to the wind, but picked up pace again on the way back to finish in a little under 4:40. Not bad, considering I’d run the first half in 2:30, and stopped for a toilet break (which involved going back to the Leisure Centre!).
I went back, got changed, and waited for Jan to finish a short time later. She was handed her 100 marathons medal, and her 100 marathon club shirt. Local cake-maker Helen Pratt had also been commissioned to produce a most marvellous cake to commemorate the event. And it was, both marvellous and delicious, in the shape and colour of the 100 marathon club shirt.
Not much more to say, except for the usual questions:
What did I learn from this race?
- The friendship of other runners can drag a little more out of me, no matter what my mood is, going in.
- Laps aren’t so bad. There’s a little familiarity that allows it to go by a little faster. “only two laps to go, ah this is the last one” etc.
What did I like about the race?
- It was somewhere I’ve never run before.
- It was by the river Thames.
- Bird life.
- The friendliness of the runners and marshals.
- Low-key. I came 14th out of the 100 runners who did it.
What didn’t I like about the race?
- Muddy, and puddly. Wasn’t really deep mud, or huge puddles, I just wasn’t expecting it, to be honest.
- Aid station could have done with a bit more ‘food’ as well as sweets. But, having it being my first Phoenix race, and knowing what I know now, I’ll just bring my own.
- That’s about it, really.
Is it a PB course? Potentially.
Is it a Negative Split course? Potentially.
Would I do it again? Not this specific one, but I would certainly do another Phoenix race again at the same venue, and do the long course.
But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.
Is it worth the fee? Yes.
The race itself is very well organised; Rik and his team have been putting these types of races on for a good few years now, and it’s a very well oiled machine, with very few moving parts. They know what runners want, and put it on very well, including a medal the size of which you could eat your dinner off.
So, on to the next race. Happy New Year, and I wish you all the best for 2018, whatever your running aspirations.