This is another brainchild from the Sussex Trail Events team. “Wouldn’t it be great”, they thought, “if we could run up and down a pier as a marathon event?!?”. Well, they chose the perfect pier to provide this. Southend pier. The longest pleasure pier in the world, and a listed building too!
So, what’s it all about? Well, it’s eleven out and back loops, out into in the Thames Estuary towards the Isles of Grain and Sheppey and back. You turn around just past Jamie and Jimmy’s Ice cream parlour, and head back for shore.
My plan for the race was simply to finish. I was keen to do this one as it was the inaugural event. It may well be organised again, as it was so well received, and went without a hitch. It’s nice to be able to say you’ve run the first edition of an event, whether or not it runs again, but I certainly hope it is. However, my training up to it hadn’t been that comprehensive. The furthest I’d been in the last three months was a two-hour run, so I wasn’t bothered about time, just to finish and not pick up any injuries on the way.
We were driven up by my long-suffering running buddy Darren, and accompanying us was Steve Roberts, another Burgess Hill Runner and all round superstar at the club.
We weren’t allowed on the pier until 9:15, where each entrant had to show their race number at the turnstile to get on the pier itself. Otherwise it would have been a £1 entry fee. Once we were all through we had the usual race-briefing (emphasis on brief) by Jay. What’s the rules? Go up turn around when you reach Danny at the other end, come back, collect a hair band, continue until you get ten, then on the eleventh collect the medal and give back the bands. Simple! Not quite, the pier was still open to the public, so we had to respect the general public’s needs as well. Rudeness would not be tolerated by any runner, with the ultimate sanction being disqualification.
The race was started by someone from the pier staff, who’d worked with the STE team to put the race on. She received a very warm cheer of thanks for allowing the race to be put on.
She did well to start the race without getting trampled on!
Off we went, getting a feel for the “route”. It was quite unusual, I don’t remember starting a race as well kitted out as I was here. Although we’d pretty much missed the rain forecast, there was still a dampness in the air and on the floor, and chilly wind from the East cooled things down further. I was running in four layers on top, and still feeling cold. It took me until loop two to warm up.
The pier has a railway, which was running on the day, bringing spectators, locals and visitors to the end of the pier, where there is the aforementioned Jamie and Jimmy’s Ice cream parlour (where they do their tv program), the Lifeboat station, and the Salt Cafe, where you can sit a mile out to sea and watch the world go by (or in this case a hundred idiots run a marathon!).
As you can see from the photos, the pathway isn’t exactly wide. Four-Five abreast is about the most you could do, so as the day went on, with more and more fun seekers going up and down the pier, there was some congestion at times. However for the most part the timing was such that no-one had to wait behind any walkers, and everyone was happy and polite with each other.
The quality of the boards were mainly good, although the odd one was a little worn, and I turned my ankle once when I landed on a good and bad one simultaneously. At the turning point as well it was a little slippy, as the wood had some algae on it. It got moved into a less slippy bit until the boards dried out, and was then put back.
So, what else? I definitely saw a 1/3 mile, a 2/3 mile and a mile sign along the pier, and maybe a 1/2 mile sign? That last one I’m not sure of. In addition, the pier had a few places to sit (not that I did!) up the pier, with a bunch of benches covered by windbreaks and hoardings showing local photographers’ work of local individuals.
The train! Sir John Betjeman, ran up and down the pier every fifteen minutes, which was nice. It was a kind of moving windbreak, keeping us out of the Easterly winds for a moment each time it moved. Great if it was travelling in your direction, but that wasn’t always the case. I can also say that I have been chased down Southend Pier by Sir John Betjeman!
Of the race, it went by pretty quickly. Darren and I changed positions a lot as one or other of us went to the toilet, or spent more or less time at the aid station (there was only one, but you had access to it ten times!). In addition, as it was an out-and-back, you spent a lot of time cheering on your friends. I knew at least a dozen runners out there, and a few more I recognised from other races, so there was a lot of nodding, smiling and friendly encouragement around the course. These sorts of races bring the best out in people.
My fuelling strategy was simple. Eat something and drink something every loop, and I did. As usual. STE’s stations are well stocked with all the right stuff for me – fruit, Jaffa cakes, savoury stuff (pretzels and cheese & onion rolls), coke and water. I stuck with fruit and the odd savoury snack most of the time, but had a couple of the Jaffa cakes too.
When it got to the last three loops, I got to a point where I needed to walk to relieve the monotony. Just a bit, though. Every time I reached the turnaround point at the far end of the course, I walked until I saw someone I knew behind me coming the other way, then started running again. The tenth loop was the worst. It was a struggle. But at last, I had ten hairbands around my wrist, and I was on my way out again. It got a little easier at the point. The thought that this was the last one must have pushed me onwards, and on the way back it felt pretty easy, so I pushed on to the finish at a pace faster than the last few laps.
I finished and got my medal, relieved that it was over and that I’d finished in one piece!
As usual, Jon Lavis was there to take some awesome shots, some of which I included here – they’re the ones with the watermarks! (Reproduced with permission!).
So, the usual questions:
What did I learn from this race?
- I do have a certain amount of fitness in me that’ll stand me in good stead, even if I haven’t trained as well as I should. I am, after all the Ill Prepared Runner…
- I hit low points in races. If I can work on those low points and grit my teeth and continue through, I will improve. It’s a psychological rather than physical barrier.
What did I like about the race?
- It was somewhere I’ve never run before.
- It was by the river Thames.
- The views!
- The train!
- It’s on a famous pier!
- The friendliness of the runners and marshals.
What didn’t I like about the race?
- Bit windy. Easterly winds made it colder than I thought it would be. I ran with four layers on for the first couple of loops.
- That’s about it, really.
Is it a PB course? Potentially.
Is it a Negative Split course? Potentially.
Would I do it again? If they do organise it again, I may well do it. It has the potential to be a PB course, so if I was in the mood and in the right fitness band to have a crack at a PB, I would.
But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely. All STE events are great, well organised, and the team behind the races are great. They put on great races, which are a little unusual.
Is it worth the fee? Yes.
To close, I’ve another two races of theirs to do, and then I will have done the set. This one is up there in the top 3.
So, until next time, stay fit, and live to run another day.