Marathons, virtual and real

Although whether you do it virtually or in an traditional race, the one thing that isn’t changing – its 26.2 miles with only your legs and determination to get you to the end.

On Sunday 4th October, there were OSR’s completing the Clarendon Marathon from Salisbury to Winchester & the Virtual London Marathon – run 26.2 miles wherever you like. One thing they all experienced was rubbish weather

Here are the stories;

Sue Stileman – Clarendon

I did Clarendon and London at the same time this year – run one, get one free  – running the first eighteen miles with David and Rollo whom I’d been coaching. They did amazingly well on a tough course on a challenging day, especially as wet-weather training opportunities had been slim, and I was super-proud of them both.

I accidentally took a small but persistent audience with me in my pocket – the London app switched itself on to cheer and encourage at every mile. I thought it would drive me mad, but I couldn’t switch it off so decided it was better to laugh at it. It was particularly funny to hear Steve Cram earnestly telling me how well I was doing as I ran ankle-deep along a never-ending river of cold, muddy water while the rain poured down and the wind whistled.

No way of avoiding it, your feet are getting wet

My race went really well. I hadn’t run a marathon for almost a year because of a persistent injury, but I felt strong all the way round and knocked four minutes off last year’s time.

The conditions certainly made it a memorable day, and it was so nice to be running in a competitive event with other people after so long without any.

David Henderson – Clarendon

As a first time marathon ‘runner’ / ‘participant’ I loved the fact that the Clarendon Marathon presents itself as an experience more so than a race. With the inclement nature of the weekend, it certainly was an experience. You’d have thought as a hardy Scot, I’d be used to wet weather. But, after 8 years of Hampshire living I fear I may have become soft and so it came as a shock to the system to complete most of the marathon wearing a merino wool hat and goretex jacket!! For anyone who hasn’t given the Clarendon Marathon a go, I could not recommend it enough. Beautiful countryside, wonderful organisation and support (thanks Ian R and John K) and a great day out!!

Not your typical race day attire

For me, signing up to a marathon event was never about race day. I’ve loved the training. The discipline, enforced by a coach and aided by a training plan (thank you Sue Stileman), got me out on days where I would rather have run shorter and returned for a cool beer (its been a hot summer!!). As a result of regular training and lots of longer, slower runs I’ve been amazed at what’s become possible. On saying that, there’s no doubting that a good choice of destination defines the journey, and so I’m already on the look-out for some worthwhile events to tackle in 2021!!

Mark Stileman – Clarendon

So here we were – after nearly 7 months without racing, pitching up at Wyvern College, on the edge of Salisbury, for the wonderful Clarendon Marathon. Rarely has a race been so eagerly anticipated in our household, following a long hot summer of training-but-no-racing. After a very dry September, the rain had fallen in vast quantities over the previous 72 hours, courtesy of Storm Alex. Sunday morning greeted us with unseasonably cold winds and intermittent further rain. We met up with David  H, Rollo and his wife Kate and after the customary worrying about what to wear, I joined them up at the start area.

In a topsy-turvy year, this was not a conventional race with a massed start. The steadiest entrants had set off at around 7:30, and from then on it was a question of selecting a start time against a slower-earlier and faster-later logic. After a round of photos and good-lucks, Mrs S and crew set off just before 9, and I retired to the warmth of the steamed-up car with a book and a flask of coffee.

At about 10:30, several of the Romsey runners were starting to show up. I changed out of my nice warm clothes, fretted about which shoes to wear, got myself registered (the registration tent gazebo was being taken down and the poor folk at the desk were putting their damp pieces of paper away and looking wretchedly cold), and did some warming up.

It was strange to be starting a race completely on my own… it felt like the virtual races I’d tried and given up on earlier in the summer. Up the first hill past Clarendon Palace, through the woods to Pitton and then on to the twists and turns of Winterslow. The marshals were invariably cheerful and encouraging. The rain came and went, and the wind was generally blowing us in the right direction.

At this point I was periodically passing earlier starters. The whole etiquette of overtaking was given added significance by the social distancing rules, but everyone was friendly and encouraging. The ground was wet underfoot but at this point was reasonably firm going, albeit with some excitingly large puddles which were fun to charge through.

Broughton Down was, as expected, fully of slippery bare chalk, which always terrifies me on the downhill slopes. Beyond Broughton, now into the second half, I was passing others more regularly and could feel the effect of the rain-soaked cross-wind. A runner came whooshing past me: ‘I’m doing the half!’ he gasped, to my relief.

I felt strong on the big climbs from King’s Somborne to Farley Mount. Then at the ‘5 miles remaining’ sign I was into a dog-leg in West Wood, marking a tweak in this year’s course. The return leg was steady uphill and quite abruptly, I started feeling properly weary. The next couple of miles were hard work, with long slippery muddy sections that left me floundering, and which required tricky overtaking negotiations. I knew the climb up to Lanham Lane would be tough, and it really was bastardly soul-sapping. I was reduced to a shuffle and tripped on one of the numerous roots, almost falling on my face.

Then out on to the road with less than 2 miles to go. I had no notion at all of how my race was going, but kept the pressure up. Onto Sarum Road, and a push to the line, which arrived more quickly than expected in the reconfigured finish area. 3:12:57 of running and it was over. I was thrilled to have got third place. I was just over 5 minutes slower than last year, but I reckon that the conditions added at least that to the tally. More significantly, many thanks to Mrs S, who painstakingly devised, refined and maintained a day-by-day training plan incorporating all the endurance running wisdom that she’s been researching. This was the first time that I’ve trained to a plan, incorporating a weekly mix of slow, tempo, interval and speed sessions and it’s really paid off. 

Donald Trump had come out of hospital especially for the prizegiving

Karen Connell – London

I wasn’t convinced I’d do very well in a virtual marathon, I definitely perform my best when I’m in a competitive environment with the atmosphere and pressure of a real race. I also knew that I hadn’t done as much training for this marathon, and that with a virtual, things like busy road crossings will cost you so much more time, so I was fairly relaxed about my target time. My main goal was to go sub-4 hour (to retain my record of no marathon longer than 4 hours) then if I was feeling good I would have liked to have achieved a “Good for Age” qualifying time (just to prove I still could) but I knew I’d be well off my marathon PB so that wasn’t a realistic possibility!

Back in April, when we were supposed to be running the real London Marathon, I hadn’t done much proper training. I was having calf issues, had no motivation and was already convinced that London would surely be cancelled (I was right). The day of the originally scheduled marathon I made a last minute decision to do a rowing machine marathon in my garden, it was hard in a different way to a running marathon. The effort was fairly low intensity but the monotony of sitting in the same place watching the numbers tick by slowly on the screen was torturous. I don’t think I’ll be rowing a marathon again!!

Note the OS GB picnic blanket, available from the online shop and you get a staff discount too.

So when the postponed October date started approaching, although my running was going better this time, I still had little motivation to train for something that would probably be cancelled. When they eventually put us out of our misery, cancelled it and gave us the virtual option, it was a relief. In order to defer to the 2021 London Marathon, Matt (King) needed to renew his GFA qualifying time in the virtual. So if he was doing a marathon then so was I! From that moment we fast-tracked our long distance training and got a couple of last minute 20milers in before starting a taper. We deliberated over the perfect route and finally decided on an optimal point-to-point from Chandlers Ford to Nursling.

I was very lucky to have roped in some excellent pacers/company/support for different sections. Matt (P) joined me near the beginning for a dark early morning start around Eastleigh, while Nicole joined just before the going got tough in the last 8 miles. My dad also came along for some of the ride on his bike. Matt (K) gave me a 40min head-start and set off, on his much more lonely marathon, while it was still dark at 6:40am. We hadn’t had the best pre-run sleep (burglar alarm malfunctions from 2am) and had spent most of the night listening to the ominous weather howling outside! I was expecting Matt (K) to catch me up by 39-40km so when he stormed past at 33km in Totton I knew he was having a pretty good day, and would have no worries with getting his qualifying time!

Heading towards our “finish line” I was so happy to see friends and family waiting for me, unfortunately my watch hadn’t clocked the exact 42.2km distance at that point so instead of stopping then and collapsing in a heap, I had to continue past with a shout of, “I’ll be back in a min, I’m a bit short”! The second time I approached the “finish line” that was well and truly it! Unfortunately the “world beating” London marathon app hadn’t recorded any of my run, and I hadn’t got to enjoy any of the hyped in-app audio commentary at all but luckily I had my trusty Garmin/Strava as back up! Also, quite unfortunately, during the run Matt (K) had somehow fried his phone, it had stopped recording his progress at 25.6miles and he could no longer switch his phone on at all!! We eventually managed to upload his run from his watch to my phone so we were still able to submit a proper time for him.

London runners even had official no’s – saw quite a few of them en-route

So in the end we both managed to achieve our GFA qualifying times, Matt (K) smashed his by running 2:49:48 and I sneaked in with 3:40:29, only 10mins slower than my PB! It was brilliant to celebrate by watching the elites on tv with an amazing breakfast with friends. We were also keeping an eye on the Clarendon results to see how our OS Runner colleagues were getting on with much muddier and hillier conditions! Huge kudos to you guys, that course must have been tough this year!!

We’re looking forward to our first medals of 2020 arriving in the post and to having a proper crack at that PB in the deferred real London Marathon hopefully, restrictions permitting, in October 2021.


Congratulations also to Rollo Home (Clarendon) and Caroline Renton (Virtual London).