Saracen Neolithic Marathon 2013 – report

Hana reports from her first ever marathon…

Hana Clitherow, 2013
Avebury stone circle – and Hana 🙂

Whilst sat at home glancing through the Race adverts in “Runners World” sometime last year, I spotted an Ad for “The Sarcen Neolithic Marathon 2013” run by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. In brief, it stated that it started at Avebury and finished at Stonehenge, two iconic landmarks with the race/run taking you across Salisbury Plain. This would mean being able to run in areas not normally accessed by the public. My curiosity and interest was aroused.

Now I would like to point out, that at the start of the “running races” section of my life, which occurred some 3 ½ years ago, I stated quite categorically, that I WOULD NEVER RUN A MARATHON !!!!! 5 miles was bad enough, especially as the only race I had ever intended to do, was the Truro Half marathon in 2010.

Well as you probably know, many races have been completed by myself since then, but I have kept true to my word and steered well clear of any distances over a half marathon………Until now that is.

I emailed Daughter, “Take a look at this race” I said. She did and then we both hit the “Enter Here” button on the internet. OMG what have we done, was the instant reaction. It was too late, we were committed!

“Husband who plays Golf” quoted my “I’m never going to enter a Marathon” statement over and over again, so I suggested we make this a family weekend away and that maybe he should enter the 56k Cycle version of this event. Amazingly he didn’t protest at all. There was no kicking or screaming and when told he would have to pay to enter, his only comment was, that having paid to do it, it would mean he wouldn’t wimp out if the race day was WET. Daughter’s boyfriend who also runs entered, but sadly Son in the Forces would be away on a course, so we were unable to rope him in as well.

Hotel booked (Premier Inn at Salisbury)

Annual leave booked.

I now just need to train.

I tear out the “beginners guide to marathon training” from the RW magazine, decide to tweak it a bit, apart from the schedule for the long runs at the end of each week and start to try to follow their suggested routine. Not easy when you work full time, have races already booked in the Diary and go to your mother’s once a fortnight on your rest days to do her shopping etc….. but I give it a go.

I manage to get up to 21 miles, albeit split into two runs over the course of one day (run 10 miles to work and then 11 miles home from work) So in fact, 19 miles was the furthest I ran in one go. I decided that having walked 32 miles in one day without any training, then I would be able to complete the marathon distance with some training, even if it meant doing it on all fours. Daughter was of the same mind set, and her boyfriend had already run a few, so sort of knew what to expect. Job done! Only husband left to sort out, “saddle seasoning” his rear end was simply down to him.

Race day approaches, I’m feeling great. The training has paid dividends as I’ve bagged a Half Marathon PB the month before and almost equalled it, the weekend before this event. Now all I want is May 5th 2013 to be a dry day…….fingers and toes crossed.

May 4th and the city of Salisbury is resplendent in glorious sunshine and bright blue skies. Italian restaurant booked for a last minute carbo load and red wine hydration, but first we take on some good quality Vitamin B at “The Haunch of Venison” in the form of Real Ale.

We retire to bed early for some quality sleep. I have to set the alarm for 5:45am to be able to eat some breakfast (“Alpen” instant porridge…… just add water it says. This provides you with some sort of sweetened gloop, which would bond wallpaper to any surface but makes your stomach feel full) then be able to leave the hotel at 6:30, to drive to Stonehenge to catch the 7:30 coach to Avebury.

The Premier Inn quotes on their web page “Get a great night’s sleep or get your money back with our good night guarantee”……….I was going to have to test this!

The noisy customers started returning to their rooms in dribbles from about midnight. They wished each other a good night’s sleep loudly, in a horror version of “The Walton’s”. Next was the door banging, just to make sure I was sharing their home-coming with them.

So for about 3 hours I would just be falling off to sleep and then awake with a start. Whoever was in the adjacent room also snored. They snored all night, well until 04:47 to be precise, when they decided to use their bathroom, engaging in a lengthy conversation with their partner, bang doors, leave the fan running etc…. 05:45 arrived and I’m not sure if I had managed much more than 3 hrs sleep in total. Grrrrrrr !!!!!!!!

So Gloop x 2 consumed.

1 x mug of tea consumed.

Bag check completed….all appears to be in place.

Husband is awake, (poor love) but he can have a lie in, as he doesn’t need to be at Stonehenge until about 08:30……lucky devil.

Chauffer located (daughter’s boyfriend), so off we go along beautiful country lanes to Stonehenge. We do suffer one minor hold up along the way, as Mr and Mrs Mallard decide to perform a sit down protest in the middle of the road.

We arrive at Stonehenge at about 07:00 and there are already Japanese/Chinese tourists walking around the stones. We are directed to a huge grass overspill car park with an array of marquee’s erected for this event and the finish line for the Marathon etc…… is marked out by a pair of flags/banners.

We are booked onto the 07:30 coach to Avebury, so I have just got time to check out the toilets at Stonehenge. They are housed in a semi permanent Porta Cabin type buildings on stilts, so you have to climb about 4 steps to reach the entrance. Once inside they are clean and functional. They have all we could wish for in a toilet , and at this time in the morning…NO queue.

Onto the coach we get. I’m sat next to V70 female who has run this race every year since it first started. I ask her how many marathons she has completed……over 400 she replies and she only started running at age 47…..that’s almost the same age as when I started running. She asks how long it takes me to run a Half Marathon (between 1:46 and 2hrs) and then predicts this race will take me about 6 hours to complete. I feel depressed. I haven’t set myself a time but had hoped that it would be under 5 hrs.

Avebury arrives, we have 2 hrs to kill and the village is asleep apart from the race HQ and hoards of people who have paid to walk the marathon route or sections of it. We collect our race numbers I’m No 7, daughter is No 8 and Boyfriend of daughter is No 9. We then walk amongst the sheep grazing around the Neolithic standing stones. They even put numbers on the lambs, and there, looking all sweet and edible, is lamb No 7…….ahhhhhhh!

Hana Clitherow, 2013
Your number may be up…

I start to get nervous. Daughter has been nervous for some time, so we make good use of the National Trust toilets at this location. Nothing posh, just simple, clean and functional, with toilet roll and no queue. I am given a pep talk by my daughter about not setting off too fast and keeping to a pace of between 9 and 10 minute miles. I watch as both her and her boyfriend consume jam sandwiches, mars bars etc…. and all I can manage is a banana.

Time to line up for the start, just outside the race HQ in the quiet traffic free lane. I have no idea how many there are of us (just checked 239 of which 65 are female), but Daughter and I stand at the back. Over this distance and with timing chips, there is no need to battle through to the front. I look around and there is a mix of ages. Some look like keen runners others look like I feel, very unprepared. Only time would provide the real running profile of each of us.

We are warned that there are roads to cross, a railway line to cross (that’s a first) and that the tracks across the military range are hard, rutted and stony. The sun tries to squeeze through the grey clouds and it is dry with a temperature that doesn’t require me to wear gloves or a buff. I have my Bum bag on, equipped with some Jelly beans, dark chocolate pieces, an oat bar thing, lip salve, plasters, lightweight windproof and a survival blanket. It weighs very little and as the route has copious water stations along the way, there is no need to carry water.

So off we go. Along a quiet lane, then a narrow footpath and before long we are climbing uphill onto beautiful undulating hills with no craggy bits. They looked like god had employed a landscape gardener to create these hills with fine curves and glorious slopes which took me back to being in New Zealand a couple years ago. I would have liked to stop here and soak in the magnificent views (sorry no photo’s camera too heavy and big for the bum bag), but we were only in the first 4 miles of this race. It was though, simply wonderful and the sun had broken through the clouds to make us sweat even more. Wow factor 10….sun factor 30….. on the face.

We drop down off this hill and onto lanes again. We cross over the Kennet and Avon canal, we cross roads with marshals making sure we aren’t killed, but the traffic is so well behaved progress is not hampered at all. One village we pass through has a BBQ outside the pub and wine tasting. I actually grab some water and sadly give the burgers and wine a miss.

At about mile 10 we have to cross an intercity railway line. Open gate, stop, look and listen, tread carefully across and exit via the second gate. Phew no trains and no one is tempted to lay across the lines so on we plod.

Daughter has had to reign me in numerous times for running quicker than she is allowing, but another large hill is approaching with the sound of a live firing exercise taking place in the woods alongside it. I look to my left and there on an expanse of flat grass land is a glider waiting to be launched up into the thermals above. The shooting continues and I wonder if maybe this is the time to actually run faster. I glance ahead and note, that nigh on all the runners are walking, so it can’t be too dangerous.

We speed walk the hill and I attempt to suck on a piece of dark chocolate. This is proving very hard but part of me feels that maybe a little something might help me along the way. I am a confirmed chocoholic, but this chocolate is not triggering any pleasure zones in my head.

We are at about mile 11 and have left all the beautiful scenic soft hills and lanes behind. We are now totally exposed to the elements on Salisbury Plain. God help us if the sun gets hotter, as there is no shade and should this have been a wet and windy day, it would have been horrendous as there is nowhere to shelter.

The path we have to share with the walkers is rough, compacted with rubble down the middle and edges. You have to tread where vehicles have left their tyre tracks. It is hard on the feet and my motivation. We have about 13 miles of this to cover. You can see the track winding it’s way across the plain and it is in no way flat. Lots of undulations and I’m starting to hallucinate. I can see hot mugs of tea with fruit scones, jam and cream……daughter is doing the same.

We pass the half way point, which was motivationally great. This is the point they ferry the half marathon runners out to large coaches, and guess what wants to come past us on an upwards slope…..a very large coach.

There is no way I’m stopping, it’s going to have to wait, but no, it squeezes by and belches out black exhaust fumes into our faces. We can’t hold our breath, so this is not a pleasurable moment.

Up and down we go for mile after mile and I start to wonder how people tackle long distance races across baron landscapes like the dessert, because this is starting to do my head in slightly. We do pass hundreds of walkers doing the 26 mile walking event and from time to time, I hear “well done Truro”. One thing for sure is that you are never alone on this route, but you don’t find people handing out Jelly babies or waving flags to cheer you on. No you have to squeeze past walkers, try not to trip over their dogs and envy the ones sat down having their picnics along the route.

Mile 21 arrives and I’m having a mechanical malfunction. Firstly I have a huge stitch which is making me gasp, which in turns makes me want to vomit then the outer part of my left leg by the knee ligaments is extremely painful. If I walk there is no pain, if I run it is agony, so I carry on running.

Mile 22 onwards is a battle. We play cat and mouse with several other runners and even pass others who I thought looked like hardened marathon runners. I am speed walking and running alternately. Daughter is keeping me going, but in truth I just want to cry.

Hana and Leonie Clitherow, 2013
The end is nigh!!

Mile 24 and softer terrain has arrived. I’m hurting, but the time showing on our Garmins is keeping me going. Daughter is talking me through this battle and before too long we can see the final straight and there with my camera is her boyfriend. Can I smile for the camera, I think not. Each step is pure agony and as we cross the finish line I just want to weep. I am physically and emotionally drained. I forget to stop my Garmin, receive my medal and it would appear we have crossed the line in 4hrs 29 mins. That’s 1hr 31 minutes faster than that lady on the bus predicted. Having struggled for the last 5 miles with a very painful left leg/knee I was well pleased.

Husband approaches, he’s had a good bike ride and he has had his free refreshments so helps me to get mine. I find a seat, collapse, pile on dry clothes and state I will never do this again!!! Daughter and I exchange tan/sun burn lines and consume two cups of tea very quickly.

I can’t eat. I have used nearly 3000 calories to run this race. All I have eaten is porridge and a banana pre race, then during the run I have consumed two squares of dark chocolate, two jelly beans and a failed attempt at a small piece of oat bar that turned into wallpaper paste in my mouth at a point where there were no water stations.

I manage a quick walk around Stonehenge then we drive back to Salisbury where I drink nearly two pints of milk….bliss.

Hana and Leonie Clitherow, 2013
Done and dusted – and still smiling!


I complain to Premier inn about my bad night of hardly no sleep. It would appear I should have contacted them at the time, they would have spoken to the people and moved me to another room. I’m unimpressed. This guarantee is supposed to be no questions asked and quibble free, I’m getting a Spanish inquisition. Complaint email about to be sent!!!!

Sadly no goodie bag just a medal, but after two days of rest I feel great.

I’m amazed I’ve actually completed a Marathon and it was definitely a challenging one re terrain and heat.

Will I do one again………ummmmmm…….don’t think I had better answer that one!



3 thoughts on “Saracen Neolithic Marathon 2013 – report

  1. Fantastic report Hana, big congratulations to you all!!! I bet you’re sleeping well now 😀 Sounds like you had the perfect race to me: great weather, great company, amazing views, just the slight inconvenience of having to run a few miles – but I bet you’ll be back for more!!!! xxx

  2. Well done Hana. Great report as always. Sounds like a real battle for the last few miles so I am v v impressed with the time. 🙂

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