Desk-2-marathon in 2 and a half years – New Forest marathon 2017 from Karen Connell’s perspective

Many months ago, Matt Pillinger, Matt Maiden and I arranged to run the New Forest Marathon together. As a trail marathon we wanted to enjoy it rather than push for a spectacular time on what shouldn’t be a PB course. As I was a marathon newbie the two Matts agreed to help me get through it.

Pre race, all smiles

8 miles in, still looking good

We built on our endurance training following on from ThunderRun and managed to get some solid long training runs in together, which definitely built some confidence and got us used to running as a team. Our goals were

  1. a) finish it
  2. b) beat 4:12
  3. c) sub-4
  4. d) beat 3:54:57 – my dad’s marathon PB which he set me as a target, and this would be a PB for Matt M.

I thought that given the terrain and the fact it was my first marathon we’d be very lucky if we got sub-4. And as we’d agreed to run together (no matter what) there was extra risk that one of us would ‘hit the wall’ or pick up an injury.

We camped the night before, about 200m from the start line, to ensure that we wouldn’t get stuck in any traffic which did mean we were a bit bleary eyed on that misty morning, but we had the added bonus of enjoying a very pleasant pizza/pasta carb load in Brockenhurst the night before. We were joined by Sam Carter, also running his first marathon, and supporters Rosie, Naomi and Stanley.

Stanley practicing his cheering, although I’ve included this particular picture largely because of the child behind Stanley who looks absolutely blotto climbing off the ‘bus-bar’!

Team support, which is vital in a marathon

Paced to perfection

We set off and Pace Police Officer Pillinger made sure we stuck rigidly to the plan! Quite a few times our eager pace was reigned in and we were reminded “You’ll thank me later”! The first half was lovely and relaxed and we had lots of opportunities to chat to fellow runners while taking in the Forest. At about 13 miles a man was counting us all past, he shouted out 276, 277, 278 to us! No idea how accurate he was but in the second half we seemed to progress a lot of positions. With very few people overtaking us (maybe one or two) we were climbing and still feeling good.

With the exception of some very boggy areas and some fairly extreme headwinds, the second half flew by and we were consistently ahead of target and continuing to overtake people. As we got closer to the end, we counted down – “Toothill to go” and then a welcome surprise cheer from Kat and Tom, “Lakes to go”, “Handicap to go”, “Parkrun to go”, “Beginners loop to go”… and on those last few miles we picked up the pace even more. Matt P picked up a pint of milk from his mum and dad to see him through the final few miles. Then, seeing Naomi and Stanley cheering us on with 1 mile to go gave me rocket fuel!

Running together is easier and more fun, we are still looking good at 25 miles

We stormed across the finish line, hand in hand at an unexpectedly quick 3:48:21, smashing all of our targets, gaining me a family PB and Matt M a new personal marathon PB. And our finishing positions were 173, 174 and 175, so if the counting man halfway was correct we’d gained over 100 positions in the 2nd half! I came in as 20th woman and we managed a decent negative split for the 1st and 2nd half.

20 yards to go, we’ve got this thing wrapped

There’s no way I could have achieved any of this without the 2 Matts by my side and Matt P’s exceptional pacing, reminders to have my gels and overall good marathon advice really helped me smash this! Naomi did a great job of looking after us and keeping Stanley entertained and even packed up the tent so we didn’t need to worry about it (Operation Green).

I felt a lot of pain and was moving very slowly for the rest of the day after we’d finished, and had a few moments where I felt dizzy and nauseous, but the following day I felt surprisingly spritely. I definitely want to give a marathon another go and I have my name in the VLM ballot, but I’m really not sure if I could do it alone, our little team was what really got me through this!

Stanley totally gutted that the marathon is over, Karen chuffed that it is.

Although we weren’t able to catch up with all the other OS Runners (the other distances would have been and gone in the time we were out roaming the Forest), we were well represented and there were some brilliant performances. Here are the team OS results:

Event Name Time
Full Marathon Matt Maiden 03:48:20
Karen Connell 03:48:21
Matt Pillinger 03:48:21
Sam Carter 04:41:40
Half Marathon Tony Mabey 01:51:35
Tim Newman 01:58:29
10k Julia Painter 01:03:52

Matt P writes;

I signed up for the marathon thinking it would be fun and fairly easy, especially when we had a 4:15 goal.  Well it was definitely fun, but not so much of the easy.  Having done a few marathons before I knew that pacing and fueling would be really important. We coasted through the first half chatting to other runners, more often than not being passed by them too, our time would come…  And so it proved, passing around 100 runners in the second half and with a negative split (roughly 1:55 and 1:53).  Karen and Matt both did supremely well to record great times and it was great to finish all together.  Special mention to Sam too, who recorded a great time in his first marathon.  It was a pleasure to run with them all and I doubt any of us would have achieved our finish times without team support and encouragement.

Sam C writes;

Before I decided to enter this event I was under no illusions that it would be a serious physical undertaking. It took a lot of time and a lot of discipline, and the 16 week training plan I followed was relentless.

But the biggest help to the whole endeavour was the wealth of knowledge from OS Runners. Thanks to everyone who gave me advice and helped me with race strategy. Nutrition advice, getting my running form up to scratch (shout out to all the mixed ability coaches!), and heaps and heaps of moral support.

Only 11 months ago was my first running event. Plodding my way round GSR without a clue how to run long distance. (I was seriously under-hydrated, and hadn’t had breakfast). Since then I’ve learnt a lot and done all sorts of fantastic events, but this was the pinnacle.

Karen, Matt, and Matt, fantastic job on smashing your most optimistic goal! I’ll be chasing you more closely at the next one 😉

Tony Mabey writes;

I was lucky enough to pick up a late entry to the half marathon, courtesy of Baz Newman, on the Tuesday before the event. My training plan is steady and consists of nothing more than a Monday social run and the occasional handicap event and this is just about good enough to get me through two previous half marathons and a Great South Run. I did the New Forest 10 this year and that introduced me to trail or multi terrain running and the relative hassle free New Park venue at Brockenhurst where access, parking and facilities are great.

After dropping a bag off and one last nervous loo visit… I joined in the warm up and mingled in the 1:50 – 2:00 corner, with a target of getting round being first and foremost and sub two hours being the normal goal for my age and running ability. The event got underway on schedule and we set off in waves to ease into the forest tracks. Overnight rain had made the first mile or so a mix of puddles and mud and too many people were trying to keep new trainers clean making it difficult to get into your stride but that settled down soon enough. Recently I have started running by heart rate rather than pace and this gives me a reasonable consistency. Having completed 11 or so miles the half, 10k and 5k races converged and the puddle dodgers were reunited. After making it back into the park the half route takes a lonely lap of honour before the finish straight, and with a bit left in reserve, I crossed the line at 1:51:35, a new PB by 7 minutes.

Medal duly collected and a random goodie bag including sun cream and dubious looking can of energy drink, I made it back to the car and home to track the results of the guys running the full marathon and other events. Well done to all OS Runners.

What’s next? I already had the Bournemouth Half in the diary and have lined up the Gosport Half to close out the season. Anything for another medal…. And hopefully sub 1:50.