I’m going to start by saying that those Victorian Pilgrims were fit. That was not an easy route!
The start of the Farnham Pilgrim Marathon isn’t easy to get to without a car, but I was still able to get a 8am-ish train from Waterloo to Guildford and then jump in a £20 taxi to the venue in lots of time for the 9:30 start.
After a quick change and an important pick up of BOOST performance enhancing snacks from Josie, it was 4-3-2-1 from the announcer and we were off! About a mile on the quiet roads (except for cars full of half marathoners en route to their 10:30am start) and then we turned right on to a path and so started our pilgrimage. There were 250-ish runners doing the full marathon and a few forced walk breaks on the narrow paths at the beginning but no one was complaining. The vibe from the start was really chilled out and friendly amongst all runners.
I quickly found myself settled into a 10:30 min/mile pace and saw superman up ahead. When you have the chance to pace yourself with superman do so. Superman turned out to be in the 100 marathon club (like almost everyone I met during the race) and we spent about a mile chatting about his charity fundraising and favourite races around the world. It set the tone for the rest of the race as you couldn’t pass someone without at least 15 minutes of chat.
The route was spectacular. We mostly ran along the trails (with a few road bits thrown in) with marshals at every point where any confusion could be about the route. Each marshal would give you so much information about the upcoming route as you walked by you almost had to stop to listen. Again, so friendly! At one point I took a turn around a stile a bit too quickly at one point and now have a massive deep purple thigh bruise to prove how much of a city running girl I really am.
There were lots of hills so plenty of opportunities to walk. My plan was to walk the hills and keep the moving forward at a generally easy pace. I didn’t want to wear myself out as even though this was the end of my peak week of ultra training, I still had 3 weeks of running to get there. Soon St. Martha’s hill came into view and I knew we were almost half way once we got to the top of it. My Kilimanjaro legs were apprehensive as we started the steep climb, but quickly got into the spirit as we passed a lot of llamas.
The most enthusiastic marshal was halfway up the hill with bells and cuddles for anyone who needed one. The slog up St. Martha’s hill is a real one. The path is loose sand so it’s a lot of slipping around and sliding and just a bit of an effort after 12 hilly miles. Making it to the top though is glorious and the views are worth it. So were the honeycomb chocolates at the water stop.
From the top we ran past all the families on their day out and lots of DoE kids in packs that weighed more than their own bodies (Can we please let children use new lightweight kit in the outdoors – no need to scare them off with 1980s wire frame packs!). I settled in for a few miles here just following the path and enjoying the day.
One of the more interesting parts of the route is when they send you up St. Catherine’s Hill just to do a loop of the chapel ruins at the top. Another chance for some good views (and selfies) and part of what makes it such a fun race.
The route doubled back on itself for a few miles, but had enough diversions to keep it interesting and not just a standard out-back route. I enjoyed the loop around Puttenham common as it was nice single track to get the legs going a bit. Around 23 miles I was feeling pretty good and wanted to finish feeling that way so spent some time with a nice group of 100 marathon club runners who insisted I sounded more like I was from Chicago than Canada. That wasn’t the reason I left them and ran ahead, I promise!
I was trying out a few things for the ultra and one of them was Quavers. A perfect light snack to carry, and while they don’t have much nutritional value, they’re salty and after a lot of sweets all race they hit the spot. Highly recommended!
At 24 miles there was the final water stop and after a handfull of jellybeans I saw the downhill and just went for it. My legs felt like they were flying and it was so nice. 1 mile to go the marshal helpfully told me “Just a mile to go! Apparently it can be done in under 4 minutes!” and while I wasn’t that fast I ran the last mile and a bit sub-9 min/miles with a smile on my face. Passing a few other runners who weren’t finishing as strong felt pretty good and gave me all the confidence for the Downslink in 3 weeks. Five and a half hours from when I started I returned to the race venue to the announcer welcoming me over the line and it felt so great to stop. I didn’t have a time goal for this race, but thought between 5-6 hours would be an ideal time on my feet.
After collecting a medal & tshirt (only large left, if you’re small you have to run faster!) I found a comfortable piece of grass to say thank you legs. While chatting with some other finishers waiting for a massage one of the marshals from mile 16 came over to say hi and offered me a ride back to the station. This just put the cherry on the top of the race for me. So well organised, so friendly, great route, loads of food at the water stops every 2ish miles, nothing at all to fault.
The marathon is £28 (with easy online entry) with proceeds going to charity and absolutely one of the best value events I’ve done this year. I’ll be there next year (mayyyybe just the half) for sure.