Sussex Trail events are at it again, sending hints over Facebook on their next wacky marathon idea. Things like “first marathon on water” were being posted and everyone’s tongues were wagging.
I had become friends with most of the STE crew by this time and it wasn’t long before I spotted one of the race directors Jay at a marathon (I forget which one) in the late summer of 2017 that he was bursting to tell me what he was planning. He had arranged for a marathon on Southend Pier. Here we go again.
I got home and googled. I knew where Southend was but that was about it. This pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world. 1.34 miles to be precise. It also has a railway alongside it that can transport the public from one end of the pier to the other. At the end of the pier is a café made famous by Jamie Oliver and some other fella who have a show where they do some cooking. They were not present at the time of the race.
10 out and back laps would complete the distance of 26.2miles. Having ran their multi storey car park marathon earlier in the year I felt a sense of having to enter this, didn’t want to let the team down.
The race went on sale and sold out insanely quickly. People had heard of the Car Park marathon and there was a taste in the market for these insane world firsts. I managed to get a spot and would be accompanied by lifelong friend Ben Steel. (Yeah we were both sad enough to be sat at our computer screens one evening waiting for 7pm and entries to open to ensure we got in to the race.)
This would be Bens fourth lifetime marathon and fourth within a year. He had joined me for my 100th marathon the month before and came in with a strong time of 03:18 and third place. There are pros and cons of Ben joining me on races. When he is there unfortunately it is a race. He’s highly competitive so whenever he is around I have to work hard which I don’t enjoy doing. He had slaughtered me at my 100th. Admittedly it was my 6th marathon that week but we don’t really allow excuses in our constant battle. With Ben entered into the pier I knew that this would be a race rather than a fun run at another “world first” marathon. On the other hand though its enjoyable having him there pre and post-race as there is always chance for a catch up and most of the time his parents turn up to spectate, cheer and more importantly get the drinks in at the end.
On the lead up to the event Jay would contact me asking if I would be looking for the win come race day. I find it very complimentary that people perceive me as a reasonable runner but I often feel their perceptions of my ability are often somewhat inflated! It may not have been such a daft question but every time I see Paul Sargent on the entry list it should be assumed that 1st place has already been taken.
March 2018. Race day and we arrive at the pier. I was feeling rather strong. My twin boys now aged 1.5yrs had by some miracle both slept well the night before giving me a reasonable night’s sleep. The weather on the way to Southend had been miserable. Rainy and a few gusts of wind. Ben and I had both discussed the possibility of turning up and finding out that the race would not go ahead due to conditions. This was also made very clear on entering that the elements would either allow this race or not. It was cold and wet. Ice lay on some of the pier and the wooden surface in parts made some areas quite slippery.
After a briefing from Jay and a quick applause from the 100 runners clapping Southend for allowing the race we were off. A start field of around 100 would funnel through the bottleneck of a ramp down to the pier for the first out and back. I decided to make a break for it and avoid the congestion. By doing so I was in first place!!! 10 seconds later off went Paul and an unknown runner to put me back in third.
I like running multiple lapped marathons as you get to see the field of runners and at each turn point and you can see how close the nearest competitor is breathing down your neck. You also get to know the course very quickly. Lapped events in my opinion are also reassuring as you don’t have to carry any calories or fluids as they are all provided at the aid stations at the start of each lap. The only problem is you can get a bit carried away at the aid station, chat and each too much and without knowing it add 20 minutes onto your race time. Today was not going to be one of those despite the goodies that were put on offer.
The first lap goes well and I maintained my third place. Ben is behind me so everyone (in my opinion) is where they should be. Very quickly I notice that I am maintaining a pace that I know would normally cause me a very challenging second half. The sensible thing to do would be slow it down to finish more comfortably, but Ben is here and I can’t let any weakness show.
I hit the half way point around 1hr and 28minutes in and chase after a family on the train running parallel to the race. Giving them a wave and showing my fatigue as the train pulls off. A silly game but it manages to keep my pace up and my mind off the pain.
As well as Bens parents another old school friend of ours Becky Hall made an appearance. This was exactly what I needed. There were rumours that she was coming down and getting a high five from Becky each lap gave me a pick up each time. It also allowed me to pass messages back to Ben through her. Mainly abuse but it gave the race a bit of character.
The last couple of laps and I was struggling big time. Ben was also having a battle of his own. No matter how hard you train or plan for a race I strongly believe that it’s how you feel on the day and both of us were struggling. I pass Ben on the pier shouting “This f**king marathon!!”. My lungs were on fire, I felt sick but I didn’t let the pace go. I thought more about how much I hated Jay for putting me through this. It’s a recurring theme with me and specifically Sussex Trail Events. They put on these slightly harder than normal marathons, I turn up excited, loving life, get the crap kicked out of me by the run, curse the names of those involved then finish and the mood quickly lifts into euphoria and we are all friends again. Luckily most of the time this goes on in my head rather than being played out over the course of the marathon. It is common to see these thoughts played out by other runners at any given marathon and I credit all these race directors (also runners) who know what these people are going through. They are very tolerant, understanding and know how to manage the situation.
At 23 miles I was on my last lap. Throughout the race we had a strong side wind. This didn’t bother me, much rather that than a head wind one way and tail wind the other but I was ready to throw up at any moment. This pace was way outside of my comfort zone.
For those who are familiar with the name drops get this – I lap Keith Luxon. I tell him I’m going to be sick and Keith simply says “Keep going, be sick at the end, you’re looking at sub 3!!!”
Sub 3. I’ve been close a few times and I was here giving it everything. I get to the turnaround and am on the home straight but feel the power in my legs lose it. I had pushed too hard for too long and too early. I finished in 3:02.
An amazing race and another great time had (in hindsight) on the world’s first ever pier marathon! Conditions had been very favourable to us. I arrived in Southend thinking that this one would be more of a character building run (a run more of mental strength than physical) which is what I find most of Sussex Trail Events to be.
Always good to beat Ben as well. I make that 2-2 fella!
If you do get to do this one it is cold. Wrap up warm
Watch out for the surface. It’s slippery.
STE arrange for cheap beers after the race. But this is STE so with their sense of humour this is available at the opposite end of the pier from the finish!