Lucy Ralph and Matt du Cros at the New Forest Marathon

Lucy Ralph was making her marathon debut at the New Forest Marathon where she was accompanied by her brother Matt du Cros

The 2023 edition of the New Forest Marathon was to be remembered primarily for a couple of former Bournemouth AC members who were tackling it in their first ever attempt at the marathon distance. Ella Preston joined the club whilst she was at Bournemouth University studying film production and became a regular at training sessions and went on to compete in numerous races in yellow and blue. She’d done half marathons before but a full marathon was going to be a step up for her.

Also making her marathon debut, Lucy Ralph, formerly known as Lucy du Cros was also taking to the start line. She had had previous spells where she trained with the club and raced as well and of course, her brother Matt du Cros has been a member for several years now and he was doing his sibling duty and running the marathon with Lucy.

Neither Ella or Lucy were taking it lightly though and they’d both put in some decent long runs in training that would be sure to help them through it and give them that much needed endurance. Lucy had done several 18 mile runs and had managed a good 20 miler. Ella ran a 16 miler at the end of July and that was the furthest she’d ever ran. She then went on to run a 19 miler which she found really tough and then after that she managed 20 miles.

Another Bournemouth AC woman in action at the New Forest Marathon was Sian McIlwaine. She usually favours off-road running and has competed for the club several times in cross countries. She also comes along to the Tuesday night training sessions quite often as well.

The New Forest Marathon is staged on a multi terrain course, with the route consisting of forest inclosures and an old railway line, as well as some sections on the open road. It’s described as being flat and fast but it is still undulating in places with some tough, uneven terrain. It can still attract some quality runners since the event is sponsored by Garmin and the prizes are terrific for the winners, with expensive watches up for grabs.

In the 2020 New Forest Marathon event, Rob McTaggart attempted to win both the 5k and the 10k on the same weekend. He succeeded in taking top spot in the 5k race but could only managed second place in the 10k, which was effectively a time trial then as it was in covid times. Then in 2022 he won the Half Marathon even though he was doing it as part of a longer marathon training run. That was also despite the lead bike going the wrong away and having to discuss with a marshal which way they should be going.

In the 2023 event, Barry Dolman was featuring in the Half Marathon and youngster Solly Abu-Ghaba was in action in the 5k race. Solly featured in the 5k at the New Forest Marathon last year as well, finishing in 24:02. Barry had been part of the Bournemouth AC team that topped the standings in Division 2 of the Hampshire Road Race League at the Overton 5 and he ran a 30:09 there in blisteringly hot conditions.

Holly with Matt and Lucy's parents supporting them at the New Forest Marathon

Lucy and Matt’s sister Holly and parents were on hand to cheer them on

In the Marathon race, Lucy and Matt were mostly going at between 9 and 9:20 pace for the first 12 miles. Over the second half of the race though, Lucy’s pace began to drop and she started to get tired. There were occasions where she had to walk near the end but she didn’t give up. She was determined to both enjoy the experience and make it to the end and she did just that.

Lucy Ralph after completing her first ever marathon

Lucy was delighted to successfully complete her first ever marathon

It wasn’t quite the four hour time that she was hoping for but she got round in 4 hours 21 minutes and 26 seconds in the end, which put her in 302nd place overall. Out of the 226 women in the race, she came 60th and out of 58 in the F20 category, she was 18th. Matt stayed by her side all the way with the pair crossing the line together, making it a special day for them as well as for their parents and their sister Holly, who has also trained with the club a times. They all came along to watch and support Matt and Lucy.

Ultimately, Lucy was happy with how it went and said it was her first, and potentially her last marathon! As the memory of the suffering fades though, the sense of achievement will live on and that is what often provokes runners to want to do it again.

Considering it was her first ever marathon, Ella Preston paced the run surprisingly well, starting off at a very steady pace for the first 10k. Then she picked it up a bit after that. She was still going strong in the second half of the race, raising the pace again for the next five miles.

Once she got over 20 she was in unknown territory and didn’t know how she would handle the remaining 10k. She managed it well though, keeping the pace much higher than it was in the first 10k and that’s a pretty good way to run a marathon in all fairness.

Ella Preston after completing the New Forest Marathon

Ella Preston paced her debut marathon extremely well

Completing the course in a time of 4:24:20, Ella finished up in 322nd place overall and she was 66th woman and 19th in the F20 category. It was a fine performance from Ella and she said it was one of the best days of her life.

Getting round in 4 hours 30 minutes and 25 seconds, Sian crossed the line in 351st place overall and was 72nd female and 20th in the F20 category. Considering she’s not really an endurance specialist, that was a terrific performance from Sian.

Adding another win to his impressive resume, James Baker won the battle of the Bakers ahead of Jason Baker, who is also a very good marathon runner. James’s winning time was 2:40:13 and Jason arrived in 2:43:43. Phil Norton finished in 2:52:24 to take 3rd place and Keith Russell was the only other man inside three hours, clocking a time of 2:59:45.

Charlotte Johnston was 1st female, reaching the line in 3:15:29 which put her 17th overall. Her closest female challenger was Sylvia Longworth who got round in 3:29:07 which out her 45th overall.

Looking to run the Half Marathon at four minutes per kilometre, Barry Dolman was going at around 6:30 pace or just under for the first 10 miles of the race. Then he picked up the pace really well over the last few miles to complete the course in 1:22:14. That put him in 8th position out of 1,177 finishers.

That was technically a half marathon PB for Barry, although the course comes up slightly short and it isn’t on Power of 10 so it wouldn’t have officially gone down on his record anyway. Nevertheless, it was a strong run from Barry and a confidence boosting one as he continues his training for the Valencia Marathon in December. His average pace for the run was 6:23 minutes per mile.

Former Bournemouth AC member Helen Ambrosen was also running the Half Marathon, the day after she got stung but a hornet, along with many others at Moors Valley parkrun. She came 634th overall and was 176th lady out of 509. She also took 7th place out of 31 in the F60 category.

The Half Marathon race was won by Matthew Green in a time of 1:16:37. Alex Young finished 2nd in 1:17:26 and Neil Hutchison was 3rd in 1:17:29. Erica Fogg went full steam ahead to come in as 1st female in a time of 1:27:10, which put her 7 seconds ahead of Nikki Moxham who was 2nd lady in 1:27:17. They came 23rd and 24th overall.

Just managing to better his time from last year by a couple of seconds Solly Abu-Ghaba finished in exactly 24 minutes in the 5k race which put him in 11th place. The race was won by Mitch Wade in 19:34, with James Peckham taking 2nd in 19:36 and Russell Forsbrook getting 3rd in 19:40.

Lucy Ralph and Matt du Cros after completing the New Forest Marathon

It got tough towards the end but Lucy did it with Matt staying with her every step of the way

Making an improvement of close to two minutes on his time from the previous year, Trev Elkins had a good run in the 10k to claim 7th place. His time was 38:38, which was a pretty good time in a multi terrain race.

Having converted back to Littledown Harriers with Heather Khoshnevis, Ken Parradine was also making an appearance in the 10k and his time was 1:06:03, which put him in 366th place and 7th in the M70 category.

After battling Ollie James for 3rd place at the Overton 5, Richard Waldron of Southampton AC ran well to finish in 2nd place. He was just three seconds behind Owen Smith who topped the standings in 34:30.

The first marathon an athlete does is always a learning experience and there’s so much that can go wrong when trying to cover such a long distance. What Ella and Lucy produced on their first marathon attempts was very commendable and their experience of the New Forest Marathon will certainly be one that they’ll never forget. That’s what its all about really. Making memories that an athlete can look back on with pride and a huge sense of achievement.