On Sunday 21st June at about 10.20 in the morning, I joined around 200 other runners and assembled on the beach opposite the Two Sugars Cafe in West Mersea for the 2015 'Round the Island' race.
The race is described as a multi-terrain event and takes runners on a single clockwise 'lap' of the island, following the beach and sea-wall where possible, although extended this year with a slight inland diversion to make the distance up to the 13.1 miles of a half-marathon.
I hadn't done any specific preparation for this other than my usual 3-4 runs per week although wasn't feeling as fit as I would have liked having suffered an ankle injury some 8 weeks or so beforehand. Whilst I've run several half-marathons before and am used to the distance, I wasn't really prepared for the sandy start!
Once given the off by the Mayor of West Mersea, the first mile or so of the race was along the beach with runners picking their path across either the soft dry sand above the high-tide line, or the harder (but stonier) surface below. Either way it was a tough surface upon which to start and I welcomed the short stretch of road which ran behind the houseboats and boatyards and on to the sailing club. Once past the clubhouse, it was out onto the sea wall and on towards The Strood (the causeway to the mainland).
This first section of seawall was obviously well used and the footpath on top undulated continually underfoot. We were still well bunched up at this point and I was pretty much running right on the ankles of the runner in front and so was having to concentrate very hard to avoid aggravating my otherwise recovering ankle. After about a mile, the footpath became quite overgrown with grasses before giving way to the tarmac of the road as we circumvented The Strood. This section of road also gave us our first water station. The marshalls were doing a very good job of controlling the traffic, the flow of which was mostly on to the island, and drivers waited patiently as the train of runners crossed in front of them.
Having traversed this short road section, it was back onto the sea wall for the next 4 miles. At the exit from the road, the runner in front asked if I'd like to overtake him (the footpath on the sea wall was pretty much a single track affair) to which I responded something along the lines of 'not being that quick today'. Although I didn't get his name, we were to spend most of the remainder of the race running together and discussing other events past and future and our own running experiences in general. Now I don't normally talk when running but I was out to enjoy the event rather than set a time and I'm always keen to pick up any tips from fellow runners so this didn't seem a bad thing.
The sea wall around the north of the island borders farmland for most of its length and the path was in good condition making for comfortable running. Unique to this type of event though are the kissing gates which by nature and design, are not easy to pass through and maintain any kind of pace!
Having rounded the easterly tip of the island, there followed a short diversion around part of the Cudmore Grove Country Park (much to the bemusement of those otherwise enjoying the park itself) before turning down a concrete slipway and back onto the beach once more. The tide obviously covers most of the beach on this side of the island and the sand was by and large firmer underfoot. My legs were well warmed up by now so this was not another energy sapping repeat of the start of the race. After about a mile, we exit the beach onto a stretch of promenade running the length of the Coopers Beach Holiday park. A pint would have gone down nicely at the bar at the end of the prom but we passed on by and found refreshment instead at another water station.
Here we began our inland detour of about 1.5 miles consisting of a couple of quiet road sections joined by a farm track. Passing the vines of the Mersea Island Vinyard and through the outdoor activity centre we exit out onto the beach for one last time. We're well spread out now and can only see a handful of runners on the beach in front of me. After just under a mile, we are direct off the beach by another of the fantastic marshall and begin the final stretch past Seaview Holiday Park and behind the Beach Huts. At this point I leave my companion for much of the race and pick up the pace towards the finish - my watch suggested that I could probably finish this in under 1:50 and of course I wanted to make a bit of an effort for anyone (including my family) watching at the finish!
At this point I was very nearly on my own and could hear the unmistakable cheers of my 3 boys (not that they get to cheer their Dad very often!). Passing them with a wave and a smile, I turn right off the road and into the car park hosting the finish. My name is announced just as I am about the cross the line (which was a nice touch). Pressing 'STOP' on my watch informs me that I've just scraped in under the 1:50 with a time of 1:49:25. That's 8 minutes slower than my half-marathon personal best but a result which I'm more than happy with that given the unfamiliar terrain coupled with the fact that I've spent most of the race nattering! Collecting my finishers medal and a bottle of water, I turn back towards to beach and meet up the the family. Race recovery consisted of an ice cream and a large slice of bread and butter pudding from the cafe!
This was a thoroughly enjoyable event and one which will definitely be in the calendar for next year. If you're in to running in any way, I'd highly recommend this to you. It's a pretty unique and, if you registered in advance, only cost £9 to enter!
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