Brightlingsea Marathon Challenge: a brisk day at the seaside!

It was touch and go whether this event would happen, with a second visit of the Beast from the East bringing more snow and icy conditions, but thankfully the organisers decided the course was safe and it went ahead.

It was however a select bunch of hardy runners who gathered at the start on the sea wall in Brightlingsea Marsh Nature Reserve! This was a 6 hour timed event on a 6.55 mile lap course. I was using this as my last long run before my Footsteps of the Fallen challenge and had decided to do 4 laps to run a marathon distance. Thankfully the race organisers had made the sensible decision to send the race briefing out by email rather than make the runners wait around in the cold and so with a few minutes to go we made our way to the start line, before heading off along the sea wall.

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The incongruous sight of beach huts in the snow!

The ground was still covered in a thin blanket of snow, although most of the paths were clear. The wind was biting, especially on the exposed sea defences. The course started out along the sea wall, although there was also the option to run along a more sheltered path at the bottom of the wall, which provided some respite from the relentless wind. We then turned right away from the estuary and headed straight into the wind along an exposed path, before reaching the shelter of the woods. The wind here made my eyes water, but we were only exposed to the full force of the headwind for a short time. Unfortunately, entering the woods involved following a 100m long stretch of narrow footpath, which can best be described as a quagmire. This did provide me with the opportunity to pass plenty of runners who had slowed to a walk and were picking their way along while I ploughed on through!

 

Once in the woods the ground conditions improved again and a gentle climb took us up to the top of the lap and a short road section. At the end of this section was a small checkpoint providing water and jelly babies, which was a nice touch as it meant that we didn’t need to carry anything on the course. From here, another narrow muddy path led to a very muddy field crossing, but from this point the ground conditions were good for the rest of the course.

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Looking across the snowy marshes

We headed downhill again on good tracks, before emerging onto the sea wall and following this for around 3 miles back to our starting point. The vantage point of the sea wall provided a perfect opportunity for plenty of wildlife spotting, with hares silhouetted against the snowy marshes and plenty of birds to watch, including large flocks of Brent geese, Canada geese, and many other ducks and sea birds. Once we returned to the starting point we had to complete a short out and back run, before entering the main checkpoint to collect a wristband to register our lap, help ourselves to some goodies and set back out again. It was so cold though that the drinks froze in the cups at the checkpoints, making it quite unpleasant to drink enough.

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The main checkpoint

It was really a very straightforward race for me. I stuck well to my pacing from the start and passed other runners all day. I had planned to run 4 laps of 1 hour 15 minutes, to give me a 5 hour marathon, so was thrilled with lap splits of 1 hour 15, 1 hour 14, 1 hour 16 and 1 hour 14 to finish in 4 hours 59 minutes! I felt strong all day, which hopefully augurs well for my challenge in 3 weeks’ time!

 

All in all it was a very well run and enjoyable event. I’m not generally a big fan of lapped races, but here the course was sufficiently varied to provide plenty of interest and it was a great format for a training run. Hare and Tortoise events are a new race organiser, but there were no signs of any teething problems, with a really well executed format and everything running smoothly despite the challenging conditions. I’d certainly recommend their events for the future.

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With my medal (I had to wait until I got home to take this as my phone had died in the cold!)

 

 

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