Gothic Challenge (Marathon) report #ProjectGrandSlam and a PB for me

“I’m nervous – more nervous that when I do a parkrun…. OMG!!!!!!”

That was me on 12 february. What was I doing? Why was I so nervous? After all, it was “only” a marathon and I have run further before – as my friends kept telling me. But this was a race that would give me a sense of how my training was going in the lead up to Centurion Grandslam 100mi (x4) between April and October.

So as it was, I was getting messages from friends trying to reassure me that I was going to be ok. At the same time, I wasn’t letting slip what target I had in mind for the marathon. (I don’t mind sharing now that I was planning to keep to around 8:30 minute / mile pace for the marathon.

I laid out my kit the night before. What struck me is that I had very clearly forgotten something, because I didn’t have the kitchen sink! I am used to doing ultras which have long mandatory kit lists. But this one, all that was required was to turn up with clothes on and run!


The race was called the Gothic Challenge. My plan was to do a marathon and to keep it just slightly uncomfortable but not to go flat out because that would mess up my training for weeks if I ran too hard.

Susie was running too and we turned up plenty early enough to get a coffee nearby. I find drinking a latte takes away any hunger pangs and the caffeine gives a little boost too.


We picked up our race numbers and clip cards (to record the laps) from the organisers. Saxon Viking Norman organise these events – and they are friendly, laidback, great medals and goody bags and are very local to us in Kent.

The sun was getting stronger and despite it being cold stood waiting, I decided that I would run in shorts, t-shirt, arm sleeves (that I could take off), and no gloves. I figured correctly that I would start to feel warm after the first mile or so.

Soon we were ready for the race briefing. As ever – all I heard was blah blah…. I am not very good at listening when I am nervous, and all I heard was second bridge. Either way, I would be following people (I’m not so fast!) so would be unlikely to get lost.

This is the medal I would be running for….


3….2……1………. go!

And off we went, I quickly found myself caught up in the excitement with only about 10 people streaming out in front of me. I ran a few miles at what felt an easy pace (compared to flat out at Serpentine 7 mi on Wednesday night (which I run at 7:30/mi) and parkrun (which I run at 7:15/mi). I decided to rein in the pace before I regretted it later. So I aimed for 8:30/mi as it felt reasonably comfortable, but that I was pressing on.

We ran along loose gravel – high quality trail, over a couple of bridges, down a little rutted/rocky path and then onto trail path down the side of a quiet road, up to a turn around point, and then back to the HQ. The good news was that from the turn around point, it was pretty much downhill and that made for some decent mile splits. I quickly realised that to get 8:30/mi average I would have to take full advantage of the downhill sections because of the undulating trail sections.

Soon I was back at HQ, and the aid station. I decided that I would visit the aid station on every other lap to save time and hassle, so I pressed on. By 4 miles in I was fully into my stride and feeling good.

The miles and laps breezed by. I felt good. The uphill sections were becoming harder going, but I kept up my momentum. The downhill sections felt fine and I was able to press on at around 8 min/mile pace. I was loving it. I was so happy it was feeling good, and I was smiling and waving at everyone I ran past (in both directions – because it was more or less an out and back course).

At the mid point of lap 5 I started to feel a dip in energy (that would be around 18 miles) and I realised I should have taken a few more jelly babies ( I had been eating 4 each time I went to the aid station) and I promised myself that I would scoop some up at the end of lap 5 and 6 before the final lap.

When I came into the aid station I was excited to find some cups of shandy! YAY! I took one on lap 5 and 6 and loved it! It gave me a real spring in my step and I found that I had been able to start catching some of the runners that had been consistently ahead of me. It was a great atmosphere – we were all willing each other on, smiling, waving and shouting words of encouragement at each other.

Finally, on the last lap I saw Lisa – the leading lady already on her return section and mere minutes from the finish. I wished her luck and I carried on with what felt like a lovely victory lap. I ran up to the turnaround point, and from there I felt home and dry. Just short of 2 miles, mostly downhill, and the opportunity to give it almost everything I had to get a decent time.

My previous PB was 3:50:09 – set at Edinburgh in 2011 (a flat road course which I did 6 years earlier!). I knew I was close to reaching it. But the time was ticking away. My watch showed 3:40 something…… and I was still half a mile from the end. I gave it more. I flew past a chap who had been in front of me all the way, we exchanged congratulations and I put my head down and charged up the final short little slope into the car park.

The finish line in sight……

I screamed “Get the stop watch ready………. Get the bell ready for me to ring!!!!!!!!”

I ran to the end. Looked at my watch…..


3:44:49 – A PB! Holy moly – a PB by over 5 minutes.

I clanged the bell with all my remaining energy and discovered that I was fourth marathon finisher and third male!

The first time that has ever happened. It felt great. Ok, of course I was blessed with a fairly small field (maybe a 100 runners?) and no elites – but hey – I am happy!

I got my bottle of beer opened (amazing goody bag by the way) and chilled out and looked at my medal (there is always a tank embossed in the medal and it is fun to try and find – took me about 7 hours!).


Susie was at the end – she did 5 laps (19 miles) and I soon saw Paul Commons who was just out for his final lap. We waited around for him and enjoyed a coffee afterwards at the cyclopark café.


Brilliant event. Marvellous training. Fantastically friendly and well organised. You can see from the graph below that I kept it pretty consistent in terms of the pace (taking into account the lumps in the route!)


Next race is Cookiethon on 6 March 2017. All good training ahead of Centurion Grandslam 100 during the summer.

Strava link –


  1. Brilliantly paced and a 5 minute PB is one to celebrate! I loved reading this especially as you were smiling the whole way round, I’m going to take jelly babies on my next marathon too! Congratulations to both you and Susie, what a wonderful Monday 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks 🙂 I totally loved it once I was running. I was really super nervous beforehand because I didn’t want to mess it up. The key lesson is that I don’t need to eat so much when I race 🙂


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