In case you were wondering, yes Guernsey is a different country. It is not part of the United Kingdom and is not a member of the EU (look it up on Wiki for more details!)
The island is just the right size so that running all the way around on roads, with one small added loop, fits in a marathon. A majority of the course does run along the coast, and is less undulating than other coastal marathons.
But when leaving the start in St Peter Port on the east coast it is necessary to run across the high southern region in order to get to the west coast. This involves a serious hill, right at the beginning (described by others much more experienced than me as a definite walk/run if at the end of a race). But at the beginning it was actually beneficial. It stopped all but the very elite from starting too fast, and I usually find it takes my legs more than 5k before they accept what they are being asked to do, but once at the top they were ready to go
As in my previous marathon, I decided to run at a pace that felt comfortable so as to enjoy the experience, hence I expected to be no more than 2 minutes below 2 hours at the half way mark, my Finistere time where there was no hill. That would have been just right to meet my wife at the mid point where she would have just arrived on the hourly bus across the island. I didn’t glance at my watch until the ’14 mile to go’ marker (the course was marked this way, rather than in the distance covered) and was startled to see a time that was well inside this target, indeed I was going to be very close to a half marathon PB. So I had a mile to decide what to do if my wife hadn’t arrived, “describe her to marshals and ask them to tell her I was on a silly pace and would probably end up walking the last few miles”. Fortunately this wasn’t needed as she was there but not in the slightest prepared to see me, and there was quick rummaging about in the bag for the bottle with my electrolytes she had and I was swapping for my empty one. After this exchange I really did spend much of the 2nd half wondering when I would suffer and succumb to my first half pace.
Just before the ‘6 miles to go’ sign the marshal told me I was on for a sub 4 hour. I checked my watch and saw I had an hour for this distance. I decided I did want this, and would even like a PB. I knew I was slowing, and for the first time in seven marathons I really did focus to keep it going, using the ‘mental strength’ that my daughter Cat quite right insists is essential. I knew it was working, I was only being passed by relay runners. Along the marina, with a few hundred metres to go, I heard the announcer; “And coming in is number 249, Keith Simpson who is running 26 marathons in alphabetic order and different countries. Where will his next one be?” As I approached the finish line my wife shouted “PB”; amazed that she knew this I almost stopped! That wouldn’t have mattered, I was a whole minute and a half inside my Düsseldorf time (a FLAT course). Might not sound a lot, but my 3:57:13 (86th out of 186 finishers) gives an age graded time of 3:03:56 …I’ll take that.
Whereas for most of the runners it was either their first ever marathon, or their first for weeks/months for three runners this represented much more of a challenge. For locals Warren Mauger and Phil Smith it was the 7th consecutive day that had run this marathon, in aid of two Guernsey-based charities This Is EPIC and The HUB; finishing in under 5 hours was some achievement! Rob Young’s achievement was even more astonishing, unless you had evidence you probably wouldn’t believe it. The Guernsey marathon was his 145th marathon in 134 days. Yes, you read that right. His unbelievable past daily efforts and future runs can be seen at Marathonman.
And the event details that might help you decide if you want to do the race next year, it is one I would if didn’t break my self-imposed rules.
- The roads were not closed, but even on the narrowest sections there were no concerns about the (small volumes of) traffic.
- Even with the relatively small entry, there was a pasta party and they did specifically provide me with a gluten free meal.
- There were water stations every 5k, but the expected gels did not materialise after the half way mark (suggestions are this will be rectified next year).
- Start and finish at the same place, very convenient in the centre of St Peter Point.
- Guernsey is easy to get to, flights from major UK cities (Southampton is the closest); the airport is about 4 miles from St Peter Port (you will run past it during the race) and the island has an excellent, cheap bus service, £1 for a journey no matter how long, you can even go right round the island.
- There was an excellent medal and a non-technical top at the finish. Although I hadn’t got round to shopping for my chocolate milk for the end, there was as much Guernsey milk as you could down at the finish line.
Local cider, Rocquette, was the drink of choice to celebrate after the race and the local seafood at da nello (which, although they were not very gluten free ready, so I took my own gf roll, they could knowledgeable recommend from the menu) was the outstanding source of protein.
So I might not have actually ‘galloped’ around the island, but all descriptions of speed are relative I (although I won’t get too deep into this by putting my physicist hat on). When you cover the 42.2 k in a shorter time than ever before ‘galloping is an apt description.