Chester marathon won the best running event under 5,000 participants at The Running Awards for 2018; and since its inception 9 years ago, it has also been a constant in the Runner’s World top 10 UK marathons – and it’s not hard to see why. Sunday was my fourth time running the Chester Marathon and Cam’s third. The organisers Chris and Andy manage to combine the professional with the personal in their attention to detail in the preparation and execution of the event – there aren’t many marathons that arrange free seminars and monthly training runs with pacers for nine months before the event, and have a race director there on the day to shake your hand as you cross the finish line.
The route at Chester is undulating but pretty and fast (The Guardian rates it as one of the UK’s top six PB courses), taking you from the racecourse through the historic town centre before heading out through some attractive Cheshire villages and across the border into Wales. It is proud of its claim as the UK’s only international marathon! Aid stations are plentiful and well-stocked, and marshals and music provide motivation. A short out-and-back section and loop give runners the chance to see and encourage others before the route returns to the city via a section along the River Dee and finally the racecourse finish.
The start/finish area has a lively atmosphere, making use of the extensive facilities of Chester racecourse, and providing toilets, shelter, refreshments and an efficiently-organised bag-drop and information desk. Hard to find fault.
On the day, there is also a very popular metric marathon (26.2k) and a mini marathon for children and other family members, so the event has something for everyone.
This year was a particularly emotional occasion for us. Jacquie was taking part in the England Masters competition against the Celtic nations, which the event was hosting; and more importantly Jon Evans, a good friend of ours, was running his 100th marathon and we were presenting him with his 100 Club medal and shirt after the race. We were super excited!
So here we go.
10 best things about Chester marathon weekend 2018
1. Jon’s 100th Marathon. Jon first asked us to do his 100 Club presentation some months ago. When he subsequently decided that the event would be Chester where he was pacing 4hrs, I (Cam) thought how brave that was. Thinking back to my own 100th I was definitely in no state to look after others – instead I was supported heavily by mum and Gary Dixon – but I knew Jon was focused on the task and so I was not too concerned. True to form, Jon delivered and came in at 3:59:35, not only meeting his personal target, but also providing support and guidance to those hoping to run sub four hours. As a fellow pacer I know what a responsibility it is and was proud to run as part of Jon’s pace bus. After he had been there to congratulate me at my 100th last year in Seville, it was brilliant to be able to share Jon’s moment with him too. Whilst writing the speech we had the opportunity to reminisce over the last few years of friendship and I got quite emotional about all the opportunities and experiences running has given me. The relationships made along the way are by far the best thing about it and this weekend only confirmed that for me.
2. England Athletics Masters win. (Jacquie) qualifying to run in the English Masters team was brilliant in itself but winning my age category is one of the highlights of my running career.
3. Maurten Gels. If it’s good enough for Kipchoge it had to be worth a try! “Never try anything new on race day” – but we rarely follow convention, so of course this would be the first time either of us tried this nutrition product. We both managed to take four gels during the race and did not feel the usual nausea. Neither of us was expecting the consistency – more jelly than liquid – but once over that we managed to cope. We are cautiously optimistic about it, and will report back after Toronto. Mum has been going round sounding like an ambassador telling other runners about it!
4. Near Perfect running conditions. The morning started very cool, just over 4°C, and didn’t get much over 12°C, with little wind and no rain. After all the hot races we’ve run recently it was a pleasant change
5. Race Angels. I (Cam) first come across the Race Angels at Chester last year whilst struggling up the hill at mile 24. Race Angels are a group of runners who basically spend the day running up and down the hill to encourage tired runners to keep going. Whereas last year I was in need of their help and emotionally overcome (in tears!) by their presence, this year I was ready for them and met them with a broad smile. They are yet another example of Chester Marathon’s personal touch.
6. Race information. The race booklet and he website were very informative, and the results super quick – our finishing times almost beat us across the line! The atmospheric drone video of the race was up on the website by the evening.
7. Course. We’ve already mentioned this, but it’s definitely worth including again in our top 10! We liked the undulations because it provides variety for muscle use.
8. Hand shake. Having completed a marathon, it is quite disheartening at the end of the race to receive a medal still wrapped in a plastic bag, as some do. Chester couldn’t be further from that. This is the only marathon I am aware of where the race directors take it in turns for over 4½ hours to ensure that everyone is welcomed over the line with a handshake. These guys stand on that finish line in all conditions to ensure everyone is congratulated and feels good about their achievement. It’s a lovely touch particularly for those running their first race – though if this is you, you’ve started on a high, so make sure you pick your next event carefully.
9. Long sleeve t-shirt. Running as many races as we do, the race t-shirts begin to pile up, but a long-sleeved race shirt at the beginning of the winter season is always very welcome.
10. City event. Chester marathon is a real city event. The proceedings are started by the Town Cryer, in keeping with the historic nature of the city. Chester is a delight to stay in, with good bars and restaurants, attractive architecture, and best of all facilities near at hand.
Jon was right (see comment below) – we missed something out. So sometimes there are 11 things!
11. Chester parkrun Our usual pre-marathon day run took place at Chester parkrun. Jon and Lesley picked us up early Saturday morning from our hotel and on the way to the Countess of Chester Country park we all decided to make this a ‘social’ run – jog round slowly and have a catch-up chat. Chester park run is a pleasant two lap course on path and grass. We started well but as the kilometres went by Jon (and therefore Jacquie who was ‘chatting’ to him) couldn’t restrain himself and got faster and faster. It made for a nice pattern on Strava and the new term ‘progressive social run’ was born. The bacon and sausage roll in the Little Owl pub afterwards was delicious.
With Jon and Lesley Chester parkrun
We stayed the Crowne Plaza – our current favourite hotel chain, with attentive staff, good food, and the opportunity to catch up with other runners in the jacuzzi. Will actively seek this chain in future after very positive experiences in Liverpool, Barcelona and now here.
We drank in Corks Out – a Roman-vaulted cellar bar.
Note that you need to book tables for the Saturday evening before the race, as the town gets very busy.