The Great Barrow Challenge was a last minute entry for me. I wanted to fit in a marathon length training run as part of my preparations for the Hardmoors 60 in September, and as this is only a 30 minute drive away it was a perfect opportunity to get a long run in.
The Great Barrow Challenge is the home of the multi-marathoner and the marathon that I was doing was also the last day of their Summer 10 marathons in 10 days series. Even with over 20 marathons and ultras now under my belt, I was very much a novice on this start line, with many of the runners having done over 50, 100, 200 and even 800 (!!) marathons!
The event this year was supported by the Suffolk Fire Service, as one of their firefighters successfully completed the 10 in 10, and extra excitement was provided at the start as we were led out by two fire engines, with lights flashing and sirens blaring! Perhaps it was the adrenaline of this, or the big early downhill, but the field went off like a rocket and by the end of the first mile I was close to the back! Thankfully we then turned off onto a bridleway, everyone calmed down and I spent the rest of the day passing people.
We were running the “Circle” route, which initially heads north and we soon heard the noise of heavy traffic and crossed a bridge over the A14 dual carriageway. I was pleased to see a very heavy marshal presence, complete with cars with flashing beacons, making sure that runners were protected as we crossed the A14 slip road, although in actual fact there wasn’t any traffic at the point I went through.
I carried on around the corner onto the quiet country roads again, only to come across a runner frantically trying to shoo something off the road. As I got closer I was surprised to discover that this was a rather frightened looking piglet, which must have escaped from one of the local pig farms! Thankfully, we were only just around the corner from the marshals and the runner ran back to get help. I discovered after the race that the marshals were able to successfully return the piglet to the farm; a happy outcome and certainly not a regular occurrence on a marathon!
After all the excitement I settled into a rhythm and began to tick off the miles. The day had started off cloudy and with a touch of drizzle, but now the clouds had cleared and it was rapidly turning into a very hot day. The first 7 miles were almost all on the road and it was a relief for this trail runner to reach Tuddenham and turn off onto fields and footpaths. This area of Suffolk is pig farming country and I could see the pigs getting muddier and muddier as they wallowed to try and get some relief from the heat!
Soon I had crossed back over the A14 and now the countryside changed as the route weaved its way through the villages close to Newmarket. The route became more undulating and there were lovely views of the rolling hills of West Suffolk. This area has lots of picturesque small villages with flint cottages and I enjoyed seeing the old packhorse bridge at Moulton. It was now very hot, so it was a relief to find plenty of shade on the route. I have something of a history of struggling in the heat, most notably at the Great Barrow Challenge two years ago, where I completely overheated, was violently sick and took 2 hours to complete the last 6 miles. I was therefore determined to handle the heat better on this run, so concentrated on maintaining a sensible pace, drinking little and often and making use of the checkpoints to cool myself down with water.
The miles continued to pass quickly and I was pleased to still be feeling in good shape. With about 6 miles to go I thought that I could dip under 5 hours if I picked up the pace a little, but unfortunately, one of the disadvantages of running a marathon from Barrow is that it sits on top of a hill and almost all of the Barrow Challenge routes involve a significant amount of climbing in the last few miles. I continued running strongly, but picking up the pace proved impossible and I crossed the line in 5 hours 6 minutes and in 28th place.
I was very pleased to have run strongly throughout and to finish feeling comfortable. I also managed a good performance at an orienteering event the following day to come 7th overall and 1st Lady, all of which gives me confidence in my fitness levels with around 2 months to go until the Hardmoors 60.
This was my third time of running a Great Barrow Challenge event and after a 2 year gap it was great to see that the events have gone from strength to strength. As somebody who runs almost exclusively off road, I wish their routes had a little less road and a higher proportion of trail, but otherwise the events are well organised, with a great atmosphere. I’m sure I will be back again in the future!