Clarendon Marathon (Salisbury to Winchester, England)

[marathon #166 / unique marathon #84 / 1 October 2017]

The best thing about work travel is hunting down obscure marathons to run. A short trip to London and the hunt was on… After whittling down the options, Clarendon Marathon was selected as the potential prey to be conquered.

Staying in the middle of London meant the first challenge was a logistical one – how to get to the start. Eliminating planes and trains, I settled on the automobile option and hired a car as the most economical option that was likely to get me to the start line on time.

The start was at 10h30 but unfortunately a sleep-in was not really an option. The race is point-to-point from Salisbury to Winchester and busses from the finish to the start are provided. The last bus leaves 08h45 and, with a 90-minute drive from central London, a 6am wake-up was needed to ensure that there was enough time for a slice of toast and the early morning post-coffee weight-loss routine that is required to run a comfortable marathon.

My father, who lives in the Lake District, met up with me in London for the weekend and we travelled to the race together. We pulled into the parking lot at 8h40 and made it onto the last bus with a few minutes to spare (reminding me of the first Two Oceans I ran in 2002 – where he pulled me over the finish line for a bronze with a few minutes to spare). We received a friendly welcome and were invited to grab some jelly beans and bananas before boarding the bus. Jelly beans are the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast and the two handfuls I grabbed paired well with a couple of bananas.

Departing the bus armed with a banana.

After a 45-minute bus ride we arrived in Laverton, Salisbury and I was surprised to see how many runners were in the registration hall. As a late entrant, I paid £45 (about R800) – £10 more than pre-entries. All the race fees (minus running costs) go to Rotary who organise the race. As most of the prizes and incidentals are sponsored by local companies and organisations I think that only major cost that needed to be covered was for jelly beans (which were plentiful before, during and after the race). There are also plenty of marathon runners who use the race to raise money for various worthy charities.

Registration was efficient and allowed one to chill out in the autumn drizzle for 45 minutes before lining up for the start. The start was very relaxed: After a short race briefing the organiser realised that there was still 5 minutes that needed to be filled. He asked the runners for ideas, it turned out someone was having a birthday so we proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday” and this was followed up by a detailed description of public toilet facilities along the route (as a regular guy I always appreciate this kind of information).

Make sure you get to the start in time to get a detailed breakdown of the public toilet facilities in greater Hampshire district.

As we were on the Wyvern School sports fields, it was fitting that instead of a gun it was the more traditional starter’s orders, “On your marks, get set, GO!” that sent us on our way.

It took me about 30 seconds to realise that I had put my beautiful (plenty of compliments on Facebook – not all of them sarcastic) South African flag running pants on backwards but it was too late to do anything about it. However, I can now say that I know what it’s like to run a marathon in a G-string (for the record, not entirely unpleasant provided you apply enough Vaseline). This got me thinking (there is plenty of time to think during a marathon) that there must be a marketing opportunity for the Mara-thong – I’m just not sure I want to live long enough to see it!

Aside from the distinguished pants, I was also easily identifiable as one of the few out of town runners because I was the only person who had bothered to bring sunglasses to the race (which sat on top of my cap the entire race).

About to cross the River Test. I was easily identified as one of the few “out of towners” with my splendid pants and the only runner optimistic enough to bring sunglasses.

The marathon is predominantly off-road (with quite a lot of it single-lane track) and follows the historic Clarendon Way (which gives the race its name). The track has been used been used by kings and queens in the past and dates back to Roman times.

A surprisingly unmuddy single track section early in the race.

The race claims to be both “picturesque and challenging”. Based on previous UK marathon running experiences, “picturesque” I had no doubt of, but was somewhat sceptical of the “challenging” claim. In London a “large spacious bedroom” is one where there is room for a really thin person to walk around a single bed and in the UK a challenging marathon usually has one hill of insufficient stature to earn an official name if it was on Comrades or Two Oceans.

The first half of the route proved me right – a few little speed bumps here and there but really nothing remotely challenging. I had to reassess my opinion in the second half of the race where they served up a few real hills and I realised that the “picturesque and challenging” tag was definitely not false advertising.

At the top of a real hill (in fact it is known locally as ‘Killer Hill’). The disgruntled runners in the background are from the “Newsea” running club. I cheered them up by telling them that, from a distance, I thought they were from the “Nausea” running club.

However, the real challenge was the mud – frequent patches of thick, sticky, treacherous mud which made running conditions perilous along several sections of the route.

Trying not to slide down the muddy, single-lane track through Pitton. (Photo courtesy of Clarendon Marathon)

You need to make sure you’ve laced up tightly because this was the kind of mud that sucks you under and steals your running shoes. It’s also the kind of mud that quickly clods up your shoes to make a massive “mudshoe pie” – providing zero traction and tests your core muscle strength via mud surfing every few steps. I took the prudent approach and walked most of the muddy sections which helped me avoid falling into the mud (until about 2km from the finish).

Avoiding the mud that sucks you under and steals your running shoes.

The tough conditions meant that times were quite slow (only the winner completed the course in under 3-hours). They are very inclusive and allow walkers and “very slow runners” early starts. On top of this there is a 4-leg relay option, a half marathon, a 5 mile mini-marathon and a free fun run for the kids.

This is one of the few overseas races I’ve done where the marathon is the most popular distance (390 finishers – plus 54 relay teams) compared to 305 for the half (and only 26 people woesed out and did the 5 mile).

Plenty of forest running through thick canopies.

There are 14 drinks tables along the route and each is stocked with water, orange squash, jelly beans, flap jacks, banana bread, bananas (without the bread) and more jelly beans. The tables are all manned by local organisations and the marshals are volunteers from the local Rotary chapter – despite the deteriorating weather they were super friendly and very efficient at ensuring that everyone got their fair share of drinks, snacks and encouragement. The mid-morning start meant that I would miss my normal hearty Sunday lunch but I more than made up for this with a 14-course serving of jelly beans over 4.5 hours.

One of the excellent tables on route. Not many jelly beans left (after I’d helped myself to another large serving).

This is an excellent marathon – a real team effort between two towns who put on a great event for the runners and raise plenty of money for charity. The race is tough but scenic and it was great to get off the tar and run a cross-country marathon. The only downside is that I don’t think I’ll be eating jelly beans again any time soon!

The Running Mann with the Old Mann – great to meet up with my dad and have him supporting!
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