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Go on me duck, not far to go now….

09/25/2015

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A short distance after the twenty two mile marker and heading back towards the town centre we passed a spot where thirty odd years before on Wednesday afternoons our school cross country runs would routinely break up into three distinct groups. Having exited the school grounds, turned left onto the main road and then left again at the pub the kids who were sickeningly good at sport and always got picked first for football would pull away from the rest.

Meanwhile at the rear of the pack the lads with sharp haircuts and a penchant for the Cocteau Twins and Siouxsie and the Banshees would be glancing round to make sure that the games teacher was out of sight before taking a detour down a side street for a smoke. A quick drag and a sneaky short cut through one of the terraced back streets would see them back in the pack in no time at all. Those of us who were tonsorially challenged and possessed negligible sporting ability plodded on for what seemed like hours but was probably about twenty five minutes before returning through the school gates crimson faced and breathless. Before heading back to the changing rooms we were brusquely informed in which lowly position we’d finished in the field of around thirty kids, as if the competitive element of it was all that mattered. They were joyless afternoons that put me off running for years.

This time, running along the same bit of road induced a smile as an elderly woman perched on a mobility scooter at the side of the road clapped her hands and shouted “go on me duck, not far to go now”. She was right of course there wasn’t far to go – a mere four miles to return to Queen’s Park and the finish of the Chesterfield Marathon. But those last few miles are invariably the toughest as the carbs from a breakfast bowl of porridge have long since been burnt off and all that’s keeping you going is a handful of jelly babies and the promise of a pint in that pub later.

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I was mentally preparing myself for the final hill up into the town centre and then a welcome descent through the town centre crowds towards the finish. Crowds? Who was I kidding? As we turned into Vicar Lane, the town’s busiest shopping street, there was a smattering of applause but most folk were busy going about their Sunday morning retail chores. This is Derbyshire. What do you want to go running 26 miles for you daft bugger? By this stage I’d overtaken the 3.30 pacer who was struggling with a hamstring problem and fortified by another handful of jelly babies from my long suffering marathon spectating partner at the roadside it felt like the finish was almost within touching distance.

This was the second running of the Chesterfield Marathon following the return of marathon running to the town in 2014. Back in the early eighties, as a jogging boom gripped the nation inspired by British runners’ Olympic success and the Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire, the town with the crooked spire staged it’s first marathon and runners of all shapes and sizes jogged down our road. Everyone wanted to be Coe or Ovett. Or Jimmy Savile. We peered out of the window, bemused as to why so many people wanted to run twenty six miles when you could hop on the bus into town for 15p. It all looked so painful.

Earlier, in glorious early autumn sunshine, hundreds of runners assembled in front of the cricket pavilion in Queen’s Park for the start. Most of them were taking part in the half marathon but lined up behind the main field was an eager group of youngsters getting ready to take part in the fun run. The field included my youngest nephew who after a couple of laps of the park and a sprint finish, raising money for charity, was on his bike offering support to us marathoners later on.

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The course, which first loops east of the town centre, flirts with the M1 and then heads west to the edge of the Peak District, must be one of the most scenic marathons in the country. It has a bit of everything; quiet country lanes, parks, main roads, cobbled streets, wooded paths and dual carriageways and more than a few hills which for a soft southern exile like me, used to running round the flatlands of central London, were tough going. It certainly wasn’t one for a PB. My only minor gripe about the design of the course would be that the ratio of dual carriageways to country lanes was stacked a bit too much in favour of the former. The stretch around the halfway mark as the field thinned out considerably as the half marathoners headed back towards the finish in town was particularly hard work.

The course marshals were fantastic as were the many supporters lining the route and offering words of encouragement. This was my first time running a marathon that wasn’t one of the glamorous big city ones like London or Chicago. More than thirty thousand runners finished this year’s London Marathon but only 148 made it to the finish in Chesterfield, compared to more than three hundred that took part last year (perhaps a concern for the organisers?).

But what Chesterfield lacked in terms of the quantity of support it more than made up for in quality. London Marathon crowds are amazing, creating almost a wall of sound all the way round the course, but there are so many runners that it tends to be the ones that have their names written on their tops or the ones in fancy dress or the more photogenic ones that attract the most interest. Here the support felt more personal and there was even a mention of my name over the tannoy as I made it, exhausted, over the finish line.

Well done to all those involved in organising the 2015 Chesterfield Marathon and all those who came out to support it, it was a cracking day. Sport, in its purest form, being relished simply for the joy of taking part, as a runner or spectator, young or old and regardless of ability.

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