The Stour Valley Marathon is a beautiful course run along part of the Stour Valley Path in Suffolk, as well as the Essex Way and St Edmund’s Way. I was running the race as part of my prep, and as a recce for, the Stour Valley Path 100k ultrarun in August. Having twisted my ankle in a previous race and been suffering from associate knee problems I was a bit apprehensive, but thought I’d give it a bash!
Its a typical labour of love race, a local guy with some fellow runners, no big sponsors. But its even better for it as the effort put into it was clear and massively appreciated by the runners.
The race starts at the Village Hall in Nayland, just north of Colchester and does a figure of eight around the “undulating” countryside. A self-navigated route, all runners were given written directions to carry at the start in a plastic wallet, along with their number, which they had been able to choose in advance if they wanted to – a nice touch. Armed with the year of my birth as mine (94 obv – cough, cough) I set off with the 100 or so other runners through the village and was soon running up hill out into the surrounding countryside.
I quickly latched onto a group of six other runners and was soon chatting away about running different races, our training progress (or not), and the fact we’d all missed the England v Italy game the night before for this! Sadly I started to get a bad blister on my left foot (a perennial problem) and at checkpoint 1 I lost them whilst I sorted myself out. Always better to fix these things on a trail run I find, otherwise you risk not finishing. Glad of the small first aid kit in my rucksack (we had to be self sufficient with our own water supply) I ploughed on.
A few wrong turns later (sorry for the small group following me!) I made it to check point 2 set in a beautiful church yard. 95% off-road the route is perfect for the road weary among us. A couple of Jaffa cakes later and off I went again.
By now I was running with an Aussie guy (later found out called Steve) and we did a good job of keeping each other not only on the route, but going through the hilly sections. Of which there seemed to be many. From about 12 miles in I secretly was starting to worry about my ankle as I’d tweaked it a bit earlier and it was starting to throb, but kept that to myself. Then we did a mile along very uneven ground and the thing I was most worried about happened, my knee started to have stabbing pains in it, like I’d had a week or so ago. Knowing my fibula had been out of alignment I was thinking that checkpoint 3 might be my last.
I let Steve run on and stayed at the checkpoint longer than I would really have wanted, but it was time well invested. I’d been prepared and brought things with me to sort my leg out if needed and applied a cold freeze patch to the muscles, as well as necking a couple of ibuprofen. Taking the chance to deal with another big blister I set off with a walk-run strategy to see how far I could get. The knee was sore but seemed a bit better and then I swapped the cold for a heat patch a mile or so out.
Thankfully the pain started to subside and I felt a bit more confident I might finish. The next few miles were the worst though as I reached that point in the race where energy was dipping and I was also on my own for a long stretch. I could see a group about a mile ahead when I was on long stretches of hill or country road, but they didn’t seem to get any closer.
But plough on I did and started to really enjoy the terrain. Having “bashed out” a road marathon in Liverpool at the end of May, I’d really not enjoyed it. But being out in the country and having cryptic directions to follow I remembered what I love about running. I wonder if Liverpool may have been my last road marathon?
I finally caught up with a few of the group ahead, which was nice to break up the silence (and stop me talking to myself as is my wont on these things) and I started to dig in for the end. Thankfully the last 5 miles were relatively flat so it became a case of head down and make for the end.
With a lovely reception of the locals as I came back into Nayland I stumbled into the field of the Village Hall at 4hrs 45mins, nearly 50 mins shy of my previous marathon time. Add in the unexpected stops for leg fixing and my ‘gun’ time was actually 5hrs 11mins! But what a lovely day it was. Humid and hilly it may have been, but a cracking race and one to definitely recommend.
Post-race pasta and chilli was much appreciated and we all received our bespoke decorated horseshoe as our race memento.
Met some lovely people, was glad I was able to finish and can’t wait to tackle the 100k along part of the same route in 2 months!