Race Date: 9 August 2019
Two years ago, I vowed I’d never run another marathon.
After a terrible time at York in 2017, which ended in slumping over the line and throwing up for a good 20 minutes, I’d decided that the half marathon was quite far enough. And even though it irked me that I’d missed out on a GFA time by only a few minutes, I could live with it. Just about.
That was, until my brother-in-law piped up at Christmas: “I’m 40 this year… I might run a marathon. What do you think?”
Needless to say, the Harvey-Menmuir household could not countenance the possibility that a close family member might run a race without us.
So within approximately 15 seconds of his uttering the word “marathon”, we’d mapped out the options closest to the 40th birthday in question.
The choices put before Brother-In-Law (who by now was wondering what he’d let himself in for) were:
Bournemouth. Flat, fast and on roads.
New Forest. Not flat, not fast, and on trail.
He chose the New Forest, as he thought it might be prettier than Bournemouth. So that was that. We’d all signed up – whether he liked it or not, and before I’d really had opportunity to consider if I could face the marathon again.
This time, I told myself, I was going to take it seriously. That meant no “fun” races over the summer, in the run-up to the big 26.2. That meant cross-training on top of running (hence the bike commuting and the Ponds Forge membership). And that meant giving up booze altogether for nine months (cue lots of predictable “are you pregnant” nonsense).
Training went pretty well, mainly down to the enthusiasm of the Damflagden crew (Ashleigh, Bish and Claire made those Sunday mornings bearable), and I bagged a couple of nice shiny new PBs along the way, including my first sub-21 Parkrun and a 1:38 at the Sheffield Half in April.
By race day on 8 September I felt ready. Training was done (or as done as it could ever be, with two kids and two jobs to juggle). I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol since Christmas. And I’d even discovered where exactly the New Forest was.
Unfortunately, training hadn’t gone so well for the rest of the crew. Alasdair pulled his calf, so dropped down to the half instead of the full marathon. And Brother-In-Law had spent several weeks on a fishing boat in the Arctic where, apparently, it’s hard to run. So between the three of us, it’s fair to say we were hoping for a fun day out rather than anything particularly special in terms of results.
And a fun day out it was. The event was well-organised, friendly and very good fun, with much more of a fell race feel than a big city marathon. I was relieved to see there was plenty to do for the kids – bouncy castles, face painting and lots of freebies advertising questionable sponsors such as Ineos and Exxon Mobil – as they were going to be kept waiting for quite some time.
I wanted to finish in 3:45, five minutes faster than the 3:50 I ran in York two years before. I knew it was a big ask on a much tougher course, but hoped the training would pay off. Gameplan was to go out steady, keep at 8:30 pace until 20 miles, and then speed up if I had anything left.
From the off, I kept it steady and sensible. The first half of the race is flat-ish, all on trail, with enough ups and downs to throw the southerners around me, but nothing by Sheffield standards. The scenery was absolutely stunning and provided a welcome distraction, particularly at around five miles when we all had to stop to allow a herd of wild horses to gallop across the race route. Water stations were fairly frequent, there were lots of chatty runners around me, and I kept it going at the 8:30 pace I’d intended.
Despite the beautiful surroundings and the sensible pace, at around mile 17 and 18 I felt myself starting to get tired. The runners around me who’d been chatty just a few miles before had either fallen off completely, or the middle-distance fixed stare had set in. Then came mile 19 and The Hill. Again, by Ringinglow Road standards it wasn’t *that* tough. But at mile 19 of a marathon, a long and steep uphill on trail takes it out of you. Runners around me slowed to a death march. My Garmin told me I did that mile in 9:09. There was lots of time to make up.
Miles 21 to 24 went by in a dizzy blur. I hadn’t taken enough gels with me – one had helpfully exploded in my bra, which was nice – and there wasn’t any energy provided on the course (learning point for next time!) so I was worried about how much longer I could last before bonking completely. Out of the forest, we ran on exposed heather moorland and the sun was getting hotter and hotter. This was starting to feel tough.
At mile 24, I knew Operation 3:45 was still on, if only I could muster up some energy from somewhere. Energy I really didn’t have. But I found some speed, buoyed on by the crowds which were gathering as we headed back towards the race village, and went through mile 25 in 8:24, and mile 26 in 8:17. Running the 3:45 I’d hoped for was tight, but possible. Just.
For that last 0.2 mile I gave it my all, as I sprinted, dizzily, through the forest tracks and into the race field. My Garmin told me I did that last section at 7:20 pace. And I was too knackered to care too much, knowing I couldn’t have done any more, as I crossed the line in 3:45:06, and promptly collapsed in a pile of grass and mud.
Weirdly, perhaps, I wasn’t disappointed in finishing six seconds over the 3:45. GFA for London was 3:40 this year anyway, I told myself. So that was an excellent excuse to run another one. A flat one. On roads. So I’ve signed up to Manchester in April.
The New Forest Marathon is a great day out in a beautiful part of the world. If you’re going to have a tough run, why not do it somewhere stunning. And sharing a race with wild horses was very special indeed. You don’t get that on your average Runch.
In terms of the result – more important than the 3:45, I think, is that my marathon demons have been firmly put to bed, I’m still off the booze, and I reckon I’ve got a sub 3:40 in me in 2020. If the Damflagden crew keep me going, that is…
Jeni Harvey 3:45:06 (20th out of 337 women).
The race was won by Rob Forbes in 2:40:35. First woman was Emily Jeacock in 3:10:01.
Alasdair Menmuir ran the half in 1:30:58 (73rd out of 1,037 men)
The half was won by William Bryan in 1:12:57. First woman was Susannah Abayomi in 1:26:38.
Full results available here: https://www.newforestmarathon.co.uk/the-race/2019-race-results/