Giant’s Head Marathon 2016

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.

Giants HeadThe 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.

Big love.


The Hampshire Hoppit Marathon

So my first marathon of 2016 was the Hampshire Hoppit Marathon.  It’s taken me 6 months to lose my 2016 cherry and I’m very glad to have completed my 20th marathon.  A lovely little milestone.

It’s an early start to Sunday morning.  5.30 alarm call and an hour and three quarters drive over to Hampshire.

On arrival at the race venue, the first thing that strikes you is how lovely the area is. We’re only about 10 miles or so outside Basingstoke and we are pretty close to the M3, but it’s lovely.  The view from the car park was probably worth the drive.

The field of 400-500 runners for the half and full marathons slowly arrive, park up and make their way over to the start/finish area, which is about a 15 minute walk from the car park (no big deal before the start, but I thought it was going to feel a lot longer for the journey back after the race).

So, the start/finish is in the grounds of the horse racing stable.  Not a big fan (understatement) of horse racing, but you can see how much the industry is worth.  They use huge expanses of land to train on.  This isn’t the back end of Lincolnshire where land is cheap.  It’s prime land in the south of England.

Everything is well set up.  Start/finish arc, massage area, baggage drop, food, drink and most importantly, the toilets, of which there were plenty.

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The sun was out and it was a bit too hot as I changed into my running gear and got lathered with sun block.

I only knew one other person running the race and that was Jan, who is probably the single biggest influence on my running in recent years, so it was lovely to have this picture with her before the start (photo courtesy of Jon Lavis)


The race stared bang on 10am and off we went.  Up the hill.


That’s the hill in front.  This is it close up.


And this is the view from the top back down.  Big, isn’t it?


Welcome to the Hampshire Hoppit.  It was worth the climb though.  That’s where the best views are.


The first 5km are pretty much all up hill, but after that, there is a lot of gravity assistance until after half way, with the odd little bump thrown in.


It’s a tough race.  It is technical in places and you have to concentrate in order to keep your feet.  The sections with wide paths are a welcome relief.


There are less photos from the second half of the race, as there tends to be with me.  The second half was tough.  Obviously I was getting tired, but the net gain in the second half compensated for the net loss in the first half (when you remove the huge hill at the start and the finish), as the profile below shows.


I am preparing for a couple of 50 milers at the moment, so there were a couple of things that I wanted to check out as part of my prep.

First of all, fueling.  I had used Ella’s Organics baby food in the past and quite enjoyed it. This time I decided to try some sweet and some savoury.  The savoury was horrific.  Cold lentil and vegetable stew.  It had the texture of when you’re sick into your own mouth and you have to swallow it again, so that no-one realises (we’ve all done it in the pub before).

The sweet ones were lovely though, so I will take some of those on my first 50.

The other point was mental attitude.  I chanted a mantra in my head. ‘I’m so lucky to be doing this’.  Over and over again.  It seemed to work.  Maybe I should come up with more mantras and put them to a tune, so that I can hum them as I go along.

Anyway, so other things about the race.  The marshals.  Bloody amazing.  They ranged from lovely and polite, to really encouraging and cheery to slightly crazy, dancing to the music on their stereo.  Probably the best marshals for some time.

For me, this race was a huge confidence boost.  2016 has been pretty rubbish health wise and there hasn’t really been a period of sustained happy training.  To be fair, there hasn’t been before this race either and that was the test.

My 10km splits were really quite cool in the way that they were so even.

1st 10km – 1 hour 7 minutes
2nd 10km – 1 hour 7 minutes
3rd 10km – 1 hour 6 minutes
4th 10km – 1 hour 19 minutes

That’s pretty consistent given the hills and I kept myself going well towards the end.

The last mile or so is really tough.  Steep downhill and that’s not funny at that stage of a marathon.

But I did it, all in tact.

And a little tired.

I would seriously recommend this race.  Apart from the hold up at the bottleneck at the top of the first hill, which can be resolved very easily by staggering the half and full marathon starts, I’m not sure what could have been better.

I love it.  I love the feeling of being free in the countryside.  I love the feeling of pushing my body and I love crossing the finish line and the elation it brings.

Thank you Tim and everyone that made this happen.