Race Review – Bovington Marathon

LET THERE BE MUD or… “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war

I had originally planned to run the inaugural Dorchester Marathon (organised by White Star Running) but due to conflicts and injuries I had to reschedule. The good and kind people at WSR were lovely enough to allow me to swap races (as I had given them plenty of months notice) and of all the races the Bovington Marathon, a monster starting at a tank museum and going across the British Army tank training grounds, worked date wise. Although as an aside, the date was penciled in for a week before and so I had the hotel booked for the 10th. It was only when Jason was talking about finding accommodation did I realise that it was now the 16th. Eeek! Quick change of plan but the team would be alright – we would get there, for a 2 race weekend for Michelle, Jason’s first marathon and my 11/12 for Pancreatic Cancer this year.

The Dirty Quarter Dozen

Facts of the Race

COST: Affiliated: £36 Unaffiliated: £38

DISTANCE: 26 hard miles (although it measured 27.5)

CUTOFF: 7.5 hours (although when leaving after changing, eating and repacking the car people were still finishing nearer to 8)

Starting and finishing at the world famous Tank Museum Bovington, Dorset (check)

Hilly, muddy, cold, wet… Lovestations (obviously), smashing goody bags and there will also be a discount for entry into the Tank Museum for you and the family for all finishers. (No goody bags from what I could see, just a tank themed buff and a bottle of beer)

Medals are being designed with WW2 theme of  Sherman vs Tiger you know Kellys Heroes, Fury, Mary Poppins proper tank stuff. (The marathon had the Tiger, with 131 on the side. I reckon they missed a trick. Surely the Tiger would be for the half and the Sherman for the full. And surely it was Bedknobs and Broomsticks that had the battle scene)

WSR also recorded a video of the race from a prior year if you want a taster.

The Route

It was tough. Simple as that. Looking back for a moment, if I close my eyes I can see it now. You cross the road from the Museum and run down a loose stone path, trees lined either side between fields adorned with signs warning you not to start fires, or where there are live explosives. You continue along at a decent clip but then hit a crowd at the first stream crossing. There are 4 stream crossings, that you cross twice as the route becomes a there and back.

The river/stream crossings give you the chance of a breather if you want. Some just ran through. Some carried carrier bags with them and put them on for the crossings. The rest of us had a game of Russian roulette about which side to cross on; the side with the shorter jump but thorns and overhanging branches, or the slippy muddy bank with the chance of falling in.

All the streams are in the first, and last, 5K so once you have crossed the larger ones you are now in the woods. There are a lot of nasty climbs that appear from nowhere that could be anything from a near sheer 30 foot quad burner to 30 metres of up and up and up.

Between the wooded portions of soggy underfoot ups and down you are really in the mud, the tank training ground and all of its icy pools, and mud, and deep troughs dug by tanks that fill with water.

And when you do get back to any semblance of a path it is stony, slippery (I saw a few people go over and a nasty head injury early on) and the puddles are so large and so frequent that you are literally zigzagging the whole way adding a lot to the final distance.

So, in short, streams, slippery paths and stones, numerous woodland climbs and descents and wide open spaces that are so muddy it isn’t all that easy to keep your footing, all punctuated with half a dozen basic water stops, and two Lovestations. The Lovestations being where you can get a kiss, a hug, and, in the second one, hot mulled cider and sloe gin.

How I did?

My bullet belt came off within 10 yards of the start and I ended up having to carry the damned thing 5K to the first water stop so I could throw it away properly.  The last thing I wanted to do was toss a munition belt away on an army training ground, even in the bins provided, even though it was plastic. I had all manner of worries about that one.

The first 15K I ran pretty fast, my normal road marathon pace really, just with the occasional stopping in my tracks as I reached a stream crossing. But once the flat and fast beginning was over we were in a whole world of pain and one without many marshals, other than on the roads, and at the CPs. I feel like there were parts where we were several miles from anyone in high viz, and with going over on your ankle, or slipping on the stones a reality, I found it quite dangerous. Sure, not as dangerous as Ultraks, we were not talking mountains here, but still, you don’t wanna hurt yourself and be wet and cold waiting for someone to get to a marshal and then come back with them.

Slippery muddy hill after slippery muddy hill, and we were going both up and down them as we made our way through the course.

There would be tanks, but not many. Sure, more than my local parkrun, and it was good to spot them when I did. There were two photographers too. One we saw taking posed shots at a tankie, and we saw him later at the top of a climb that led to another climb. I actually ran when I saw him, but only a little. And the other guy was parked at a particularly muddy swamp where no one was running and we were all watching out feet trying to make a way across. Am sure those photos are classic. LOL.

But I ploughed on, ploughed being the operative word going through the mud. I knew that I had to just finish this one and take all the pressure off me going into the last marathon of the year in a fortnight. I was on for a 5 hour something marathon but was starting to feel the mud and hills, but there were parts where everyone around me was just walking, especially in the wooded ups and downs. The course had slowed us all down to party pace. I met up with Michelle just as my watched signalled that I completed a marathon, and we still had the stream crossings to go. But Michelle is a pro at the muddy races and I let her run off as I joined a Nordic walker as we finally crossed the road and made our way back across the finish in front of the museum, before racing up to the building to see if my bag had been nicked or not. SPOILER: It hadn’t.

The Bling

It is pretty epic, everyone loves it, as do I, but it is, to put it into perspective, exactly half the size of the Relativity Run Einstein medal. Also, two things stand out. 1. I would have thought the marathon should have an allied tank, probably British on it, not the German tiger. Although they were awesome machines. and 2. The tank has 131 on it, and as a half marathon is 13.1 miles, I thought it would be more apt.

The Summary

I think this was one of those races where looking back I thought it was cool, with the tanks, and the mud and the river crossings that, at the time, I absolutely hated – so “tanks for the memories”. Going over the 26.2 (44.2KM) is really a mindjob, and can be very demoralising as from then on you have no idea just how far you have to go. I found the minimal support ok, but the minimal CPs was disappointing. When it was that tough, with crazy elevation and freezing mud, there should have been more than one table that had hot drinks. Three just had water and nothing else. One had squash and coke. I suppose it was only a marathon, but it was a marathon on a cold day, in frozen streams and mud, that some people would take 8 hours to run. I was disappointed that there was no manned bag drop. The numbers had tags. And you end up spending the whole race hoping no one has had your wallet whilst you have been running.

But, all that being said, I know plenty of people of who would have loved that race specifically for the reasons I was less of a fan. They love the countryside, the mud, the hills and stream crossings, and the lack of road. So when it comes to it:

WOULD I RECOMMEND THE BOVINGTON MARATHON? Yes, I think people who love mud and hills and streams and tanks would love it.

WOULD I RUN THE BOVINGTON MARATHON AGAIN? No. Maybe if they reschedule it for the middle of summer. Just not in winter. It was 2 1/2 hours away from London. So a pain to get to. If Michelle hadn’t been driving I wouldn’t have been able to work out simple logistics.

The Mara Scores Table

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