Another weekend, another marathon – yes, this is how I roll at the moment. And the lucky destination of choice after a three-ish week hiatus (which included a holiday in Vietnam and a very exciting engagement) from running was very close to my home town of Chatham in Kent.
Known as the A20 Path’n’ Downs Marathon, this 26.2 miles of paths which include parts of the North Downs, as the name suggests, is a hilly ride through the garden of England. It begins just down the road from Leeds Castle in Kent and takes you through the neighbouring pretty villages of Charing, Lenham and Harrietsham (see the route map below) as well as parts of Pilgrims’ Way, which became famous after the murder and subsequent canonization of Thomas Becket in 1173 (good to know if you’re a fan of pub quizzes).
Besides being very close to my mum and dad’s house, which means I reap the benefits of the parental comforts for the weekend, this marathon is a fantastic introduction for any marathon runners wanting to challenge themselves away from the crowds of the city. In fact, I enjoyed it so much three years ago (my first time with this particular race) that I thought why not incorporate the race into my Marathon des Sables training. After all, every little helps. And I’m so glad that I did. Here’s why:
1. The Hills
I would describe myself as a glass half full kinda person. You know, always look on the bright side, have faith and paint a rosy tint on everything around you. While I remembered the spectacular views from when I had raced the A20 Path’n’Downs Marathon before, I had forgotten just how many hills there were along the course. It was tough, dressed in a long-sleeve top, leggings with my rucksack on my back but I know that there will be many a hill along the MdS course, so this was a much-welcomed challenge for me.
2. The organisation and race marshalls
It’s true that smaller events are easier to manage but organisers could learn a thing or two from the people behind the A20 Path’n’Downs as getting lost simply wasn’t an option. The course was well marked with bright yellow arrows and mile signs and the marshalls were enthusiastic and offered a range of treats for runners in need of a drink or energy boost. With my rucksack and pockets bulging with sweets I was an anomaly among runners who ran without anything as the snack tables really had all you needed for the 26.2 mile race.
3. The size of race
Hands up if you prefer smaller races. Me. Me. Me. Around 150 runners took part in this race, which is now in its fourth year, and from what I could see, the majority of them were club runners. That’s not to put anyone off as I think this is a great race for anyone with a bit of marathon experience. In fact, smaller races are fab full-stop if you hate the argy-bargy, crowds and pressure of larger city marathons. Or the idea of having to share a space of around 10 metres wide with 10,000 other runners (that is until a race thins out). A half marathon was also taking part at the same time, which for anyone wanting to enter a hillier half is a great course to do.
4. It was essential winter training
As much as I love running, it can be hard to keep yourself motivated. That’s why I enter races. I know, I know constant racing is not good for you but when it comes to long runs and training for the MdS I think racing say a marathon helps me prepare both mentally and physically. My aims for the A20 Path ‘n’ Downs were simply to hold back for the first half, control my speed without the use of any gadgets and finish feeling strong, which is exactly what I did. I passed numerous people during the last 5K because my legs had not been pushed too hard. Despite the time finishing well short of my new PB (3:38:25), I am happy in the knowledge that I can run a marathon in warm clothing carrying a rucksack without feeling like poo afterwards. My legs are tight but nothing that a decent stretch couldn’t fix.
Back to the race – I’d recommend the A20 Path’n’Downs to anyone who wants to try a marathon in the winter months. It’s hilly yet worth the climb and you are surrounded by the splendours of the autumnal colours such as: