I hadn't planned to do another marathon in 2016 but at the end of November I was talking to Adam Holland, one of team 40-40-40 who had also won the RB Hull Marathon earlier in the year.  Adam was organising one of his own events in Newark on Trent, where he lives.  The event was a multi lap challenge of the Newark Showground - 2 days of 6 hours running time - or 8 laps of 3.28 miles if you wanted to complete a marathon. 10 days before the second day (the Sunday) I decided I'd enter.  Unusually I'd been keeping my mileage up post Snowdonia whilst doing reccy's of the revised RB Hull Marathon course, so was in marathon ready state (apart from my trainers!).

Only being 70 miles from home, a handful of other Hullites were also running and I travelled down with the company of Stephen Baker - whom I'd met through Adam's "Walk for Peace" in 2015.  The event was a small affair and, with no more than 100 runners permitted each day, and 60 taking part on the Sunday.  There were options to do 1,2,4,8 or 8+ laps to get the medal. I had never done more than a 2 lap marathon course, so this was going to be mentally challenging.  Even more so when I looked at the route map to realise it was very much squiggling about the showground and adjacent airfield, thus covering a lot of the route up and down etc.  It was flat at least (though that is sometimes a disadvantage as you get no change to challenge your muscles).

At 9:00am we set off, with Adam leading the first lap to ensure we took the right course. With a small field, I found myself in the unknown territory of being near the front and close enough to actually go to the front for a minute or so!  It didn't last (as expected) and Stephen took the lead and I dropped into third in the second mile.  The first loop was complete in 24:06 - ahead of my usual 7:30 mins per mile target pace.  I felt Ok and remained third.  The 4th placed runner was on my tail and Stephen and the 2nd placed runner (Jon Ward) gradually eased ahead. When we hit the airfield each lap we had a bit of head wind as we ran north, with the temperature around 5-6°C. I was thankful I'd kept a hat on and two layers.
Newark Showground Christmas Challenge


As we moved into lap 3 we started to lap people, including two other members of Team 40-40-40, Lua Stifani and Zara Jaffrey.  They had both done the 8 laps on the Saturday too, Zara commenting pre race how she was bored after 4 laps and wondered how I would fare!  By lap 4 I was not overly inspired!  However, at the front, Jon had now taken the lead and Stephen had dropped back.  I knew he had a knee injury and also a habit of going off too fast, so assumed this was the reasoning.  I remained 3rd with Mr "On my heels" still very much on my heels.  This had, inadvertently, driven me on though.  I was determined not to drop back!  How often would I be able to be in 3rd in a marathon!  As we went through 13.1 miles I was under 1:37 and believe it to be my fastest ever half marathon over the marathon distance (eclipsing Cardiff in 2006!).  The official halfway point was the end of lap 4 and I went through 4th as I dropped my drink just before this and backtracked to get it, allowing Mr "On my heels" to take 3rd.  However, he then dropped a gel he acquired from his supporter just after this point and I took advantage to regain 3rd. I should point out now that of the 60 runners who started only 36 finished 8 or more laps, so in perspective I was around the usual sort of 10-20% top placed runners I usually am in most races!  

Pre event with, below, Zara and Lua, and Stepehn on right

The next lap remained reasonably OK - my place slowed a little as I went over 7:35 minute pace but remained under 8 minute miles.  I was through 16 miles in under 2 hours for only the second or third time (again, Cardiff the only other occasion I am sure of).  This was looking good for a PB, although my stomach had been given me some grief for the last two laps and at the end of lap 5 I finally decided a loo stop was necessary.  Annoyingly I had been making ground on Stephen and had a chance to get into 2nd place, but not before the loo stop.  I lost a few minutes but felt it wasn't the end of the world as I hoped the relief would enable me to regain some pace. I still passed Stephen, who was having a break at the drinks/sweets table, but had been passed by a few others and was now down around 6th.

Another mile on and I literally had to have a pit stop as the stomach was not anywhere near settled!  (I used a mud pit on the airfield side - not dignified but better than the other outcome!).  Despite this mile 18 remained inside a 9 minute mile pace.  I completed lap 6, with a further toilet diversion.  Into lap 7 and I passed Zara and Lua again (for a 3rd time) and had to have a further 3 stops in the process!  My stomach was far from happy and I concluded it was a form of food poisoning from some fish I'd had at home.  Annoyingly though it had lost me time.  When I was moving without a pit stop involved I was still managing a reasonable pace.  On my final lap I had seen Mr "On my Heels" looked to be leading - which baffled me as Jon Ward had not appeared to lose pace from what I could tell.  It turned out that Mr "On my Heels" had gone wrong in his final or penultimate lap - which he realised when he got to the finish and his GPS hadn't got to 26 miles still!  He apparently backtracked to rectify the issue.  

Stephen went into the final lap with me but moved ahead a little with a lady runner, who seemed to finish before us, but also had a discrepancy with distance so did an extra lap - proving how the multi lap, squiggly course could lead to confusion and delusion!  Stephen out ran me in the final section but a time of 3:45:01 was perfectly acceptable (distance of 26.4 officially and 26.6 on my GPS due to diversions for the 6 pit stops!).  (My last lap was 8 minutes quicker than lap 7).

The medal was awarded by Adam - and a very nice medal it was too.  I have to say I never want to see Newark Airfield again though!  Having run up, along the top, down the side, back along the bottom, back up to do a U turn and back down half of it once again was draining!  Well done to Rich Harrison and Sara Morrow of Kingston upon Hull AC on completing the course too.  Zara achieved another 8 laps with Lua completing 7.  Well done to them both and the other finishers on both days. The positive news was it meant I only have 3 marathons to do in the next 9 months ready for number 50 on 1.10.2017!

Above: Stephen & Lucas with medals

Left: The Kingston upon Hull contingent - Lucas, Rich Harrison, Sara Morrow and Stephen Baker

Right: Zara & Lua after the 2nd day

Lucas (left) and Robin (below) just before they cross the finish line

Lucas in the 4th lap and , below right, Stephen on same lap

On the 4th lap with Mr “On my heels” on my heels!!

The route map!

Above - a drink stop after 5 laps (and 1 pit stop!)

Below - At the finish with my medal and Adam