Earlier in the year my brother-in-law and I agreed to sign up for and complete an official marathon event. For my brother-in-law (Jason), this would be his first marathon distance run – a goal he had set his mind on for some time. After failing to get places in the Brighton and London 2021 marathons (besides paying a lot of money for charity placements) we did manage to get entries into the Bacchus Marathon.
What is the Bacchus Marathon all about?
The Bacchus Marathon is a predominantly trail based route (described as multi-terrain) with half of it stretching over undulating hills within the Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, Surrey. The other half of the route flows through National Trust countryside and woodland along Pilgrim’s Way and the North Downs Way. Traditionally some participants arrive and run in fancy dress.
There is much more elevation on this route when compared to the relatively flat Brighton and London marathon routes.
For Jason, tackling a marathon for the first time was already a significant task. Going straight for the Bacchus Marathon meant that his challenge would include uneven terrain with significant hills too.
Personally, I had expected around 400 meters of total elevation, but it was actually closer to 900 meters, something that caught me by surprise.
Jason and I would run as a pair and stick together. The focus was on Jason’s goal of completing the marathon distance in around 5 hours.
How it all went – arrival and setup
We arrived at the event around 45 minutes before starting and met in the car parking area. We topped up fuel with a banana each and collected our race numbers.
There were roughly 90 runners in the Marathon event and we would all start at 09:30 sharp. The course route flows across vineyards, up and down hills, and into National Trust woodland. For the marathon event, we would need to complete 2 x laps of this.
How is all went – lap 1
Setting off at the start we followed a gently undulating route up the first hill toward the vineyards. The sun was out and cast its gently warming rays across the endless rows of grapes.
We focused on pacing ourselves, reining back our instinctual tendencies to push up at a faster pace. Our thinking was to complete the first lap of 13 miles / 21 km without pushing too hard. This would be our scout lap – figuring out where we would slow down for hills and where we could make up time.
The first half of the first lap is a beautiful course that allows for some breathtaking views across vineyards. There were a few water and drink stops but we didn’t stop aside from grabbing water and continuing on.
The grass was wet in the early morning but not too long. There were some sections that were a bit uneven and so caution was required to prevent ankle rolls. Part of this route led up a fairly significant climb which required a bit of walking.
On the second half of the first lap we entered National Trust woodland. The trees offered shade to help cool us off and we made up time here from the prior hills. Our pace quickened as we adopted a good running cadence, nearing the last segment of the first lap. This segment led onto tarmac which decended downhill toward the vineyards and finish area.
With the first lap completed we had new found knowledge as to what lay ahead on the second. We had mapped out the elevation profile in our heads and could now plan appropriately.
How it all went – lap 2
With the first lap under our belt and a good idea of our current time and pace we continued on, discussing our strategy with regard to the next half-marathon.
We would preserve our energy by slowing for the hills and not overexerting ourselves on these parts. The next 6-7 miles would include most of the remaining elevation.
With the hills ticked off, our plan was to increase pace and make up for lost time.
To meet our goal of around 5 hours we couldn’t afford to spend any time stopping at drink stations. We kept going, getting through the difficult task of surmounting the hills in the vineyard portion of the route.
Once we reached the National Trust woodland sections we increased pace again. Eventually we reached this great view before heading down toward the finish line.
Heading downhill with pace we were on target to finish just after the 5 hour point. Our final completion time was just a few minutes off our goal, 05:04:00. For Jason this was an outstanding result. Having gone from sparse bouts of running and training in 2020 and early 2021, and dealing with a condition that made any kind of movement difficult and painful, to completing a challenging marathon course is a huge accomplishment and testament to his training, tenacity and mental fortitude. The last time we ran together (before all the lockdown started in early 2020) the furthest distance we had completed together was just 17km.