Time: TBC (In the region of 6:15)
This one, for a change, was not my fault! Back in April, Naomi, due to injury, was forced to defer her London marathon place until 2015. She had entered the Giants Head marathon to capitalize on her training, giving her enough time to rest and build back up to a marathon. She had also picked “the UK’s toughest and longest” trail marathon so that there was no pressure on her to achieve a certain time. You may wonder how a standard distance can be longer. Well, that’s because the course is about 27 miles long. But who cares about minor details like that?
Whilst hunting for marathons to use as training runs for some of my upcoming ultras, I asked Naomi is she fancied Helsinki marathon in August. This is when she mentioned that she had already found a marathon to run in the near future, and asked if I wanted to join her. I took one look at the elevation profile (and medal), and signed up.
2014 would be the second running of the Giants Head marathon, a smallish local race emphasizing the ‘fun’ element of running a marathon. It is an off-road race, run on tracks, trails, paths, and fields on private land kindly opened to runners by the landowners and farmers for the race, and boasts over 3000 feet of elevation gain throughout, including cresting the hill that proudly displays the Cerne Abbas Giant, known for his 11 meter tall erection.
Naomi and I flew into Bristol, caught a bus to the train station, and then caught a train to Taunton, where I briefly re-lived a moment when I was 16 and had first visited Taunton to see an old school friend. His mother and my mother were friends. They went out together. We did things 16 year olds shouldn’t, like raid the drinks cabinet and smoke cigarettes. I vaguely remember a boob grab as a distraction tactic during a heated game of pool. It was fun.
Anyway, Taunton is home to a friend of Naomi’s, Linda, who used to be live in Aberdeen and was a regular at some of the local races. Linda and her husband Steve kindly offered us a roof over our heads during our stay. Linda had also signed up to the 10k, and had agreed to help out afterwards until we were finished. It was going to be a swell day out.
According to the forecast, it was also going to be a wet day out.
Let me allow this photo of Charlotte Bronte to give you an idea about how I felt about that.
Saturday morning, at the uncivilized hour of 5am, I awoke to the sound of rain battering down outside. I chose to ignore this, and went back to sleep for an extra 30 minutes, before going downstairs and making myself pancakes. Linda was up, getting ready, and Naomi emerged soon after. We did not need to communicate verbally to express how we felt about the weather.
At 6:30, we piled into Linda’s car, and the rain, miraculously, had gone off. Linda said the updated forecast indicated we would have a dry run, and as long as we finished by 4pm, we would miss the torrential downpour that was expected. We set off in higher spirits, and I fell in and out of consciousness during the hour long journey to Sydling Saint Nicholas, the cute village where the race would start (and finish).
We were ushered into a field to park, and greeted by the smell of slurry as we left the car and headed into the village to register. Even at this time, all the volunteers were chipper and friendly, and we were registered without any problems before using the porta loos and heading back to the car to shed our warmer layers. We returned to the start with everything we needed with enough time for another toilet stop and a photo before the race briefing.
The smallish field of runners, ranging from lithe, club-vested gazelle, to first-time marathoners (who evidently are crazy), lined up on the road for the countdown, and at the sound of a gun/cannon/I’m not quite sure but it was loud, we surged forwards, smiling and listening to the friendly chatter that had already begun. The only hiccup was a guy who came bounding past, launching his mobile phone and energy gels from his pocket, which we promptly returned to him.
We sauntered casually along at a steady pace on the small road for about, oh, 800 meters, before turning left up a great big massive hill. Everyone in our sight was walking. We tried our best to blend in. I feel that now is as good a time as any to include the elevation profile:
At the top of the hill, we continued onto landrover tracks, and it wasn’t long before we heard cheering up ahead. Whatever was there was obscured by the landscape, but the cheering remained steady as we approached, and when we finally rounded a corner we happened upon the now legendary naked farmer in a bath tub, but this year he was accompanied by two (less naked) female acquaintances.
Naomi waited while I snapped a photo, and then we continued through grassy fields to yet another hill. The terrain remained varied throughout, and required us to think carefully about our footing, but I suppose that helped the first few miles tick by without us really noticing. The friendly banter with other runners also helped, and the miles and aid stations started flying by.
At roughly mile 8, Naomi and I noticed a couple of runners taking photos, and a marshal pointing to the distance. If it hadn’t been for this, we would have likely missed the Cerne Abbas Giant, a huge chalk figure on the hill, and one of the reasons we were running in the first place. The history of the Giant is varied, some believing it dates back to the Romans, others believing that is has been around since its earliest mention in records (17th Century), but one of the myths surrounding it is that it brings fertility. We got a couple of photos, and set off through a wooded area uphill, before flying back downhill through crops. I don’t know what crops. But they were definitely crops.
We continued on (in dry weather!), running the flats and the runnable downhill sections, power walking the hills, until eventually we arrived at the 13 mile marker, and an aid station shortly afterwards. We saw a few runners that had passed us earlier, and later learnt that several runners chose to pull out at this point. We didn’t hang around, topping up our water supply and enjoying some watermelon before heading onwards. And, inevitably, upwards. Why do they always put photographers at the top of a hill?
Despite leaving me in her dust at the end of Strathearn to secure a new PB, Naomi, who has had little training on trails/hills was starting to suffer at about mile 16. We walked a bit. We chatted to other runners that were around us. We kept moving forwards. It was a dark moment, but thankfully, a kilted man (in Superman underwear, I was promised) at mile 17 encouraged us, and before too long we were approaching the ‘Love Station’, where a compulsory hug from the marshal was dished out to every runner, who was then offered cake, cider, and vodka. Linda, who had finished the 10k, was here, and recommended the cider. I opted to take her recommendation, and it was delicious. I think I also had some ginger cake. Naomi said she’d puke if she consumed alcohol, so we set off again, this time, I believe, with a bit of a spring in my step. It was probably the booze.
By this point we had formed a little group with a few other runners, one of whom is a race director herself who had been a support runner at the West Highland Way Race the previous weekend. We bumbled along, walking with bursts of running, until we crested the final hill, and then began our short, but kind of steep, descent into Sydling and to the finish, where Naomi and I crossed hand in hand, ending her longest ever run.
We were handed our medal, a customized pint glass, and a tech shirt, before finding Linda for an ice-cream in the sun, cheering in the runners as they trickled in.
Overall, this was a fantastic event. The scenery was beautiful, the Giant was a nice focal point, the naked farmer was an enthusiastic supporter (and if I had realized he was serving runners champagne, I would have indulged), and the hills, while numerous, weren’t nearly as steep as the ones encountered last week thankfully!). Though a bit tricky to get to, given the chance, I would be back. I’m not sure Naomi was too enamoured with that idea when she tried to walk down steps the following day, however.
We can both agree that we were very glad when, 5 minutes after getting into Linda’s car, the rain started chucking down violently. A close call!