The more I look at it on paper, the more I can’t quite find the words that would accurately describe the challenge of the Bolton Hill Marathon. Half trail; half road; small competitor field; 3200ft climb. It was one hell of a race!
This was my 7th marathon; my first of the year. And it was a labour of love and hate I can assure you!
The event itself, in terms of its organisation and general set-up was very impressive. Really good communication beforehand; really good starting point with plenty of free parking; an easy registration on the day, and superb marshals and regular pit stops. The medal isn’t too bad either! I cannot speak highly enough of these increasingly important aspects of running events.
When I initially signed up to the race, I did so a little naively to be truthful. I was looking to run a marathon after completing my first ultra in April and wanted to do one in the summer period. Bolton Hill Marathon was the one that stood out as it was local and reasonably priced. This meant that it would be easier to have my little boy and wife, Ethan and Gemma, there to support and this is a huge inspiration to me no matter what distance the race.
I anticipated hills; it is in the name of course, and being local, I knew the area reasonably well. Although I had never been to the top of this particular hill, it offers incredible views and is a real focal point on the fabric of the town. I drive past it on a regular basis and as the time approached, I had the opportunity to mentally prepare for the challenge of making it to the top of, by all accounts, a mini-mountain.
The race began at 9.30am with 72 runners in total. A small, but competitive and determined group where there was clearly a mixture of runners; you can always tell by the gear that people wear! Some were fully kitted, others with minimal gear; every one of us though, together and ready to take on the hill.
We set off and immediately hit an incline that steadily and then steeply rose for around 4 miles. Before I knew it, I was running on the side of the hill with mist all around protecting the views, and in single file as we headed up the trail. It was difficult to find a footing as the path interwove between grass, mud, rocks and steps; at least it was for those less experienced in terms of trail running and as we made it to a stretch of flat and went past the first pit stop and onto the road, I glanced at my tarcker and realised that we had covered around 4 miles in 50 minutes. It was a real slog and I quickly realised that I was some-way behind in terms of time. I needed to get a move on.
So; I did just that. I took the opportunity to move up the pack and of the decline and felt like I was making real progress. Passing fellow runners, we exchanged pleasantries and I spoke briefly to a local who runs the paths on a regular basis. He warned of a couple of challenging sections and we naturally split. It was something to bear in-mind.
Approaching the second pit-stop was a treacherous path of jagged rocks and slim pathways stacked either side of bushes the size of trees. I struggled down this section with my footing and took my time to avoid an injury. I realised too that this was the section that my fellow runner had been talking about. It culminated in moving into a period of flat and in total since the start, we had covered 7.5 miles. I had made up some time, but had to return to this path on the way to the finish. This meant that at around mile 19, we had a 3.5 mile climb. That would hurt!
That being said, the next period of 11.5 miles were incredibly enjoyable; I made it to 13th in the field at one point, and felt strong in my stride and confident in my pacing. I was making good progress throughout. Added to this, the real highlight of the entire event, seeing Ethan and Gemma and my stepdad Tony at various points. It was a welcome surprise as it can be difficult to navigate for spectators sometimes, but as the route was a loop, they took full advantage. Seeing my boy in the distance as I approach, waving and shouting, ‘come on Daddy, you can do it!’ made my day. He was even high-fiving other runners, who took full advantage of the support as there isn’t much on a trail run and one runner commented saying, ‘you have the most supportive family.’ I did; I do.
Moving through then towards the more challenging aspect of the run; the final 7.5 miles. I had slipped slightly to 15th, and began my ascent with more and more trepidation. I lost some of my confidence here and slowed my pace right down. I knew that I had a steeper incline to come and had to save something for then. The time was slipping slowly away and after rationalising this with myself, I made it, step-by-step, up and up….and up and up. Back through the mist, into and onto the hill, this was the toughest section of a marathon route I had ever encountered. I did everything I could to keep myself motivated. Taking advantage of the isolation, I sang, I shouted, I battled with the negativity and my mind telling me to stop and walk.
Key to this, as it has proven my recent more challenging events, was thinking about Ethan and the way that I believe that seeing me run can influence his own understanding of the possible; of his possible. Of overcoming the toughest of challenges, and going back for more. Of willingly pushing yourself to your limits and achieving what you and others say can’t or shouldn’t be done. Of finishing when everything is telling you to stop. This is why I started Running Dads and why I spend time connecting with other dads that run and promoting their achievements. The community is vibrant and supportive and one that allows like-minded people to learn, develop and grow in their own way. We are active on Twitter @dads_running, Instagram @running__dads and on our website www.runningdads.org. Check us out!
I ended the marathon in 23rd place in a time of 4:19:38. 19:38 minutes slower than my target.
That being said, with everything that the race had thrown at me, and as I am a road-runner normally, I was pleased with my finish. I have only recently begun to experience and experiment with trail running and can honestly say that I am not sure if it is quite me. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy this run; the challenge was up there with any I have done so far and I will give it real consideration for my 2019 running event calendar.
I would however, definitely recommend it to you. You won’t see many marathon challenges like it.