You may remember that I have travelled to deepest darkest England a couple of times previously to undertake the Newark Showground Christmas Challenge. The first year I did it, I ran just over 4:31 and as the route ended up being over 27 miles, this would have been a PB (and in fact probably still would be my PB!). The next year I returned for the slightly altered route (now just slightly over at around 26.4) and completed two marathons in two days for the first time. For one reason or another I decided against heading down last year, but when the race fell on a flex weekend again this year, I decided to go for it, especially as I could get my hotel super cheap (though the trains were still ridiculous!).
I don’t really know what it is about this event that means I keep coming back, but there’s just something. It’s so well organised, friendly, and simple, and I know the logistics well by now (though every time I forget about how painful the journey back up is). One of the big appeals this year was the medal; on both days you got a Christmas tree (one pink, one blue) and if you did both days, the medals would intersect to make a 3D Christmas tree medal.
I had decided to attempt Marcothon again this December, so on the Friday morning I did a slow 5k with my mum. My legs felt awful and I knew that the weekend was going to be a struggle, but I was determined to get two marathons done, and maybe a little more. My train journey down was smooth, and I arrived in Newark around 5:30. I walked the mile or so to the hotel then sorted my kit out in the hotel room. I had optimistically packed a load of options, including shorts (I wore shorts and a t-shirt the first year I did this race!) but with the yellow warning for snow and ice the following day I thought the thermal leggings were more likely to be worn.
I had an average dinner with a couple of glasses in Prosecco in the bar attached to the hotel, then settled in for the night. My taxi was booked for 8am so at least it wasn’t too early a start. I slept reasonably well and woke feeling nervous but ready to face the day.
As I was getting in my taxi, a guy in running gear called over from the reception. I asked if he was headed to the showground and he nodded yes so I told him to jump in. It’s a short taxi ride but not really walkable as it’s alongside a busy dual carriageway with no pavement. We passed the short journey pleasantly as we chatted; he was also a slower runner aiming to do the marathon both days but had only done a couple of marathons before so was nervous about the task ahead.
We arrived in good time and registered easily. It was very cold, but at least for now it was dry. There was a strong, icy wind which I knew wouldn’t be much fun, but at least I knew because of the twisty turny nature of the course you’re never running into the wind for that long (although by the eighth lap of the day it certainly felt like a long time into the wind!).
Soon enough it was time to set off, and the reasonably small crowd assembled at the start. I was immediately quite near the back but I was fine with that- the beauty of the timed race is that you know that some of the quicker people will keep going after the marathon distance so you won’t be holding anybody up. Conversely though I would occasionally find myself even further back than I thought I was when people stopped after a few laps.
It was as friendly a field as ever, and I chatted to a few people, but mostly I was just in my own little world. The icy wind was hard to deal with, and it took a lap or two before I could feel my face properly. The sections into the head wind were really tough, and although I wanted to make it to halfway before walking, by the fourth lap I was having short walking breaks in the windiest sections. Halfway was a boost as ever (thoughts of doing more than the marathon were long gone!) but in the fifth lap I started to really suffer. Although my core was ok, my hands despite my good gloves were absolutely freezing. They were both in agony and yet I couldn’t feel them properly- it would have been nice to have some music but I wouldn’t work my fingers to get my phone out. I was starting to get concerned, not just about the current pain, but the agony that I knew would follow when I did eventually start to get warmth back in my fingers. Although there were showers, they were in a cold building and I wasn’t sure how I would warm back up properly. Around the sixth lap I was seriously contemplating having to pull out.
Then I decided to spend my (by now fairly frequent) walking breaks with my hands stuck in my armpits. After a couple of these, the relief was immense, as my core body heat started to slowly warm my icy fingers. It slowed me down, but given how close I was to pulling out, time was no longer any kind of concern as long as I got round within the 6 hours. By the last couple of laps I had cheered up significantly, and although still tired and cold I knew I would finish.
And finish I did, in 5:15:04. Somewhat depressingly, quite a bit slower than even day two last time I did the challenge, but another marathon in the bag (number 37 in total). Pretty much the minute I stepped inside the shed, the heavens opened with icy rain and I was very glad that it had stayed dry for the duration of the race!
One of the volunteers gave me and Joel (new hotel running buddy) a lift home, and I had the most amazing long hot shower- I think I was in there for days! I then focussed on refuelling (KFC maybe not the best option but damn it tasted good) and resting up. I did not sleep well, and woke on Sunday feeling pretty exhausted and not exactly relishing the thought of another day, but looking forward to having it over with, and having my amazing medal in my grubby little paws.
I shared a taxi in with Joel again- minor panic as the taxi didn’t turn up (we had booked it for 8:15 but it had arrived at 8:00 and left about 8:10, but luckily it hadn’t gone far so was able to come straight back, and we still arrived in good time). Thankfully the weather gods were on our side and it was a much nicer day; the sun was shining and although there was still a wind it was much milder.
We registered easily again, and I chatted to the lovely Jabberknit, a Fetchie I met last time I did the race. I knew we were a similar speed so hoped I might have some company on the way round. I then debated about what to wear- after nearly losing my fingers the day before, I was actually considering leaving the gloves behind (I did, and I didn’t miss them!).
My legs were super heavy as I started, and I knew it was going to be a long day. Quite soon into the first lap my tummy also started to make a few grumblings- the KFC was really not such a good idea. Fortunately there is a toilet en route, so after the first lap I dived in and felt much better for it- though it did mean the people around me, including Jabberknit, ended up a few minutes ahead and I was on my own.
I quite quickly resorted to music, and after only a couple of laps I decided to introduce a defined run/walk- I went for 4/1 so that I was always working in multiples of 5. This did reduce to 3.5/1.5 quite quickly, but I was able to still stick a few 4/1s in. Although the conditions were infinitely more pleasant, there was still enough wind to slow me down a bit. The wind switched direction after a few laps which at least changed things up a bit and made me hate different bits of the route!
There’s not much to say really. It was a slow shuffle to the end (and again, thoughts of running more than the marathon were quickly forgotten). I chatted and waved to fellow runners, as well as stewing in my own head, and finally, after just over 5:30 I crossed the line of the eight lap, my sixteenth for the weekend. I received my second medal, and then had to get help to turn the two medals into my amazing 3D Christmas tree, and suddenly it was all worth it.
The journey back up the road was tiring and painful, but as I had a long stop in Edinburgh I was luckily able to escape the station and meet my friend Rhona for a chat and some delicious noodles. I finally made it home just after midnight and fell into bed, too exhausted to sleep- Monday at work was a real struggle.
And so it’s done again. Two marathons in two days, and because of the miles in the preceding week, a super high weekly mileage of 73. Much slower than last time, but I still got it done. For a year that was supposed to only have one marathon, in which I desperately hoped for a PB, I have achieved a string of PWs but 5 marathons and one ultra, and an annual mileage of 1740 (lower than the last two years but now by a huge amount, considering I’ve had two injuries). Onwards and upwards for 2019!