According to the organisers the Eden Project Marathon is
“… a multi-terrain course around Eden, the race follows a challenging route through areas of spectacular mining heritage and beautiful countryside landscapes.”
From the time you enter the car park of the Eden Project you know this will be a well organised event. The marshals very efficiently directing the hundreds of cars into the many car parks. Once parked you are marshalled onto the bendy buses. The car parks being epic, it is a 5-10 minute bus ride before you reach the baggage area. The joining instructions clearly state that you should allow 45 minutes between arriving at the car park and the start of the race; this is good advice. Once in the baggage area it was off again quickly to catch another bus to the start area.
Once in the start area it was down to the usual marathon rituals. Luckily there were virtually no queues for the portaloos. The marathon and half marathon start 30 minutes apart. With only 230 runners in the marathon the starting area was not too crowded. With 700-800 half marathon runners starting half an hour later I am sure the queues for the portaloos grew much larger after we left.
As the start time drew nearer we started to line up for the inevitable safety briefing.
“When you get to the canal the environment agency says all runners must walk for 10 ft along the canal”we were dutifully informed.
Apparently part of the canal path had fallen into the water. The environment agency had rigged up scaffold steps into the adjacent field to divert the marathon route. Unfortunately the night before heavy rain had flooded the field, the route was now to be diverted back to the canal path. But for safety all runners must walk! You really couldn’t make this stuff up.
The starting pistol went off with a loud bang and we were off. It was a beautiful crisp morning. It had rained the night before, but the sun was now breaking out from behind the clouds and the forecast for the rest of the day was good. The course starts with a lovely long down hill section along a narrow country road. I resisted my urge to sprint off down the hill; there was still a long way to run.
The road then leads to St Blazey where the marathon route leaves the roads behind and joins the trails leading up the Luxulyan Valley. This is one of the highlights of the marathon. The valley is high sided and densely wooded. A lively tea coloured river noisily pounds boulders and splashes its way down the valley. The air was getting warmer now and the humidity was building in the valley. The trail is firm under foot and looks flat, but this is a deception, the trail is actually climbing the whole time towards the village of Luxulyan.
At Luxulyan we are back onto country roads and the incline becomes a definite hill. The local people sit on the wall outside the Spa shop at the top of the hill and clap and cheer the runners on.
After Luxulyan the route continues on quiet country roads. As I run this section I try and make a mental note of the hills and landmarks. Later the route will pass through this section again.
At Lowertown we go off road again following the Saints Way. This time the trail is much softer (muddier) and uneven. This can only mean one thing. We are approaching the major Eden Marathon landmark of Helman Tor. When the race organisers describe the course as ‘challenging’ Helman Tor is what they are referring to.
Helman Tor is a huge hill/granite outcrop criss-crossed by muddy trails. As we walk up the Tor I take the opportunity to take a few photos. The view from the top reaches out across the countryside for miles. I try and look for signs of the route and the Eden Project, but I can make out no discernible features.
The other side of Helman Tor is off road down hill and I cant resist letting my legs go and sprint down it. We are only 11 miles in, not even half way yet…
The route stays off road for several miles and is pretty muddy in places – I am glad I wore my trail shoes. Eventually we reach Lanlivery. At some point past Lanlivery the route will join the Luxulyan Valley again. At that point I will know the rest of the route. Until then the route is unknown. This no man’s land of the route lasts an age. This is the first time I start to feel tired – we are only 14 miles in.
Eventually a boy holding open a gate directs us onto a wooded track. Soon the path becomes narrow and is crossed by several fallen trees some of which we have to climb over. I am beginning to think the boy has moved the signs and directed us onto another path?
This momentary doubt passes when I realise we are in the woods of the Luxulyan Valley and what a treat those woods turn out to be. Down hill fast trail sections through the trees followed by a flat path following a high leat. The trail along the leat is perched high on the steep sided valley. With the tree tops below us this gives the impression of flying rather than running – I feel elated. This was a real high point of the marathon for me and at one point we even pass a stunning frothing waterfall which seemed to tumble near vertically down our side of the valley for 100ft or more. I wish I had taken a picture of it .
Unfortunately the Luxulyan Valley had to eventually come to an end. But as it did I knew we were back on roads we had run earlier that day. We were also now around 17-18 miles in, a dangerous time for a marathon runner.
The next 3-4 miles were a slog and seemed a lot longer and harder than the first time we ran them. Still progress was being made. At Tredinnick Fields the route took a final turn and we were heading for the home straight. But there were still 5.2 miles to go.
My feet are sore now and without noticing I have slowed to a shuffle. Each time I reach an up hill the backs of my legs hurt and when I reach a down hill the fronts of my legs hurt. I do a mental calculation of how long it will take me to get to the finish line. The next 55 minutes are going to be painful.
There are no spectators and the field has spread out so I can see no other runners. I am in my own miserable world and keep repeating to myself to ‘keep moving’, keep moving, don’t stop keep moving and it will be over.
At Bowling Green we turn off and there is a hill, it looms large ahead of me. Following the hill is a flattish trail section which makes me feel like it will never end, followed by a never ending road and then suddenly we are running alongside the main road and entrance to Eden.
Even though we are on the edge of the Eden Project grounds there is still a mile left to run and it is still (slightly) up hill. As I run through the car parks I am cheered on by half marathon competitors driving home and then the path starts to slope down hill and I know I am heading for the finish.
The last half a mile zig zags down the side of the clay pit the Biomes are built in. As the gradient increases my speed increases, pushing my tired legs into a sprint. I can hear the crowds now getting louder and must only have a few hundred metres left to run. And then I see the finish line, still a zig and a zag away and all down hill. I sprint in and cross the line. Collecting my t-shirt and medal as I do.
Its a tough Marathon. But well organised and in a great location.
The entry fee is a little steep at £30 but this also gets free entry to all of your supporters. This is a big advantage. It means that your supporters can spend a relaxing 4 hours exploring the biomes and then clap you in and congratulate you on your achievement. So much better than making them stand in the wind and rain for 4 hours!
A great experience and a really enjoyable day. Well done to all of the marshals and other competitors for making it a fantastic day. The pasty and pint at the finish line was also very welcome.