I nearly failed to start the Giant’s Head Marathon for a couple of reasons, but I’m now sitting here on the sofa watching the cricket, eating the left off munchies from the weekend, reflecting on 2 days in the Dorset countryside.
The Giant’s Head Marathon was voted the best marathon in the UK in 2014 by Runners World magazine. Quite an accolade. This has got me thinking about what are the ingredients for a good marathon for me.
There are several reasons why we like an event and I am going to base my race report around the important factors for me.
The setting is a huge for me. I love being in the countryside. I will do very few town/city road races from now on. They’re dull, tend to be expensive and I’m not that bothered about setting records.
Giant’s Head is based in Sydling St. Nicholas. It’s in Dorset. It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s a lovely little village with lots of flint cottages, old style stone walls, a stream running through it and it is surrounding by hills. It is very green. There is a village green and quaint little village hall.
The camp site is a field. That’s it. They have removed the cows and added some toilets. It’s simple and absolutely perfect for what we need. It is a 1 minute work to race HQ and the start/finish of the race.
It is a real skill to be able to create the right atmosphere at a race. I’m using up my weekend and taking holiday to run 26.2 miles, so it’s important that I feel relaxed and comfortable with my surroundings. Well, registration took 2 minutes. You don’t have to worry about turning up with driving license, passport, 15 utility bills and a note from your Mum to get your number.
They serve very nice home cooked food in the race HQ, prepared by the local WI and there is a beer tent outside serving lots of local booze. There is even a chap in the corner playing music on a tape deck. ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ was playing when we walked in. Nice and apt.
Everything is relaxed and runners are sitting around chatting over food and a few beers, before making their way back to the camp site for a crap night’s sleep (I have never heard so much snoring in my life).
This atmosphere is all down to Andy and his team. From his social media videos to the most relaxed (outwardly at least) attitude to race day and the dedication of the marshals and aid station volunteers, Andy and the WSR team nail this every time.
Running is our hobby and hobbies are supposed to be fun. I think that runners (and probably other amateur sportsmen) can often forget this. WSR don’t and Giant’s Head is proof of this. Shamelessly, there is a penis theme to everything. Race number, t-shirt, buff and the spinning willy medal. There isn’t some weird fetish thing going on. It is because the race passes the site of an ancient fertility symbol carved into the hillside, the 180 foot high figure of the world famous ‘Rude Man’, the Cerne Abbas Giant. So, keeping with the theme, the marshal at the check point at 10 miles made a huge penis, complete with hair (fake (I think)) for the runners to sign.
So, the course. Never, ever to go to WSR event expecting or hoping for a PB. That’s not the point. This is about testing yourself against something that is beyond a road marathon. Something that challenges you with hills and changes in terrain when you least expect or want them. There are 10 hills. At times, the incline is above 20%. This can also be said for some of the down hills.
The terrain changes from road (not for long), to short grass, to long grass, to dry soil with flint in, to rutted fields, to paths of loose flint, to mud. Some of the climbs and descents are on a camber too, adding to the difficulty and the stress on the ankles. These sections require serious concentration to avoid any mishaps.
The countryside is beautiful. There is no other way to describe it. One of the great things about walking up the hills is that you get to look around and take in the sights.
When I go away for a race, I’m dipping into my pocket. For me, this is quite deep as well, given that 2 of us take part. I don’t like to feel like a race is taking the p*ss. At £33 for the entry for GH, I can’t think of many races that give you better value for money. First of all, the race is 27-ish miles. That’s 3.8% more distance for your money. The medal is a thing of beauty. There are no other medals like it.
The free technical t-shirt is well designed and high quality. You get a free buff. The aid stations are well stocked.
The facilities are excellent and the merchandise is all well priced and excellent quality.
I can never afford to buy photos after a race. It just never happens. The only ones I have are from the London Marathon. If you’re in the same boat as me, WSR has the answer. They have people out on the course taking photos. They are volunteers and they are amazing. The 2 photos below are from Jane Tearle, who picked the most fantastic spot to see us fighting up one of the hills. Thank you so much to all of the photographers.
So, what more could I ask for? Well, perfect company from my wife, Philippe, Karen and Francesa. Lovely, chatty, happy fellow runners. Oh yes, cracking weather.
That’s it really. I now know why it won this award. I’m also really happy I didn’t stay at home nursing a grumbling stomach. A perfect way to spend 2 days in fields. 2 days that felt like a week (for all of the right reasons).
For me this was the second marathon in a week and was the last long run before the Endure 1250. Having been a doubtful starter through illness, I’m seriously impressed with my physical and mental effort. I ran all of the flat (there isn’t much) and the downhills and was still strong in the last 25% of the race, even though the hills continually sapped the legs. I’m getting the hang of fuelling and watering myself and the salt tablets seem to be making a real difference.
Can’t wait for the next WSR event and I have 4 to come for the rest of the year.
Thank you Andy and the team. See you soon.