How many places can you think of that start with the letter U and have a marathon; you’re right there aren’t many. Whenever people hear for the first time of my project they always ask where the Z marathon will be, never where U is going to be. The reason I had to cram in 3 marathons in 29 days was so I could run The Utrecht Science Park Marathon. These three European marathons contrast greatly with my first three last year, where I ran on 3 continents at venues where either I didn’t really want to go, or was told by the government to not to travel to, or by friends that I shouldn’t visit!
The race started unusually late at 12.15pm, there were 5k and 10k races before and the half marathon started at the same time. The location at the Science Park was more than 5k from the centre of Utrecht and the same distance from my accommodation. Although I walked to the ‘expo’ (really just a place to collect bibs and T shirts) the day before I wasn’t keen to repeat that on race day. A free bus was provided from the centre (although when I asked at the expo they didn’t know about it) so I hopped onto a local one to the centre. I then arrived much too early, and the heavy cloud cover plus cold northerly meant that it was sensible to hang around inside until the last minute before walking 1k to the start.
Like quite a few others I wasn’t too impressed with so many runners being in the same starting pen and the lack of visibility of the pacers. It wasn’t until I had been running for quite some time that I caught up with the 4:30 then 4:15 and finally 4:00 pacers (the latter after 7/8k); no balloons just the time written on the back of the 2 runners leading each target time.
When I was running with the 4 hour pacers, a group of a 20 or so including half marathoners, I tucked myself behind them so as to get a shield from the wind when it was in our face. The problem with this was one of the group was clearly using his own form of wind power, farting regularly and producing an atmosphere that he dragged along with him for too far! I don’t know if this affected my eyesight, or I was just concentrating to stop myself clipping any heels but after 10k I didn’t see any distance markers until we had finished the first lap and the half marathon runners peeled off. I am convinced there weren’t any, but they miraculously appeared on the second time round. The psychological effect was surprising, even though I was obviously running slower from 30k to 40k the time seemed to go by more quickly than from 10k to 20k.
I was more than pleased to finish in 4:09:46, if you had offered me a total under 12:20 for three marathons in 29 days I’d have laughed at the likelihood. Right from the start of this run my legs clearly were not happy with the thought of the 42.2k ahead, thighs particularly felt tight.
A real bonus, and something I haven’t encountered in any of the previous marathons, were free downloads of the official photos from Marathon-Photos; OK they are not high-res but at least I have some I can included (my daughter Cat took a break from her ultras and ran The North London Half Marathon on the same day, but the same company did not offer free downloads for that race).
Before I had actually hit upon the idea of alphabetic marathons in different countries my first ever marathon was booked, coincidentally starting with A and it happened to be in The Netherlands. However a stress fracture less than 2 months before the race meant I couldn’t run it but I had by this time decided on the project, booked up my B race and started to plan others. If I had run in Amsterdam I couldn’t have run in Utrecht and I thought I could run The Ulaanbaatar Marathon; but it is now being called The Mongolian International Marathon. I also contacted some running organisations in towns/cities whose name started with U to ask if they would organise a marathon, none would. So the stress fracture I suffered in the summer of 2013 was, with hindsight, a very luck break.
I now have more than three months before number 22, and the plan is to visit a 6th continent. But I do hope to run, probably with a lot of walking, the NDW50 before then.