It isn’t too often that you’d drive for five hours to run round an industrial estate but that was what Rob McTaggart and Rich Brawn found themselves doing for their spring marathon offerings. They were in the hunt for a PB and the Wrexham Elite Marathon looked like it might give them the opportunity to achieve that in a race where they’d be surrounded by top class athletes in a very talented field.

The Wrexham Elite Marathon was specially designed to attract some of the faster marathon runners who would usually have been taking part in the London Marathon, had it not been moved to October. That gave Tag hope that there would be other runners there who would be going at a similar sort of pace to him.

Having entered the race toward the backend of 2021, Tag had known what he’d be doing for his spring marathon way in advance which meant he could really hit the ground running from the turn of the year.

By contrast, Rich wasn’t really sure whether he wanted to do a spring marathon but he wanted to keep progressing so he thought it was probably best to at least train for one.

He had received an email to say that he was signed up for the North Dorset Village Marathon though, which he’d completely forgotten about as it had carried over from a previous year, so he was thinking he might just do that one.

He didn’t really fancy any of the big spring marathons. Manchester was too early for him once he’d started training and clashed with his birthday and he was worried about the headwind in the Brighton Marathon. The only one he was really tempted by was the Boston one in Lincolnshire but even that didn’t inspire him.

He’d heard Tag mention the Wrexham one and had a look into it but at the time the qualifying standard was sub 2:45 which meant he couldn’t enter. He set about his marathon training anyway and started doing the marathon sessions and long runs. He thought perhaps he’d see how his training went and if it hadn’t gone all that well, just do the NDVM. But if it did go really well, he’d perhaps look for a flatter, faster one.

After putting together some decent long runs in training, Rich went to do the Milton Keynes 20 and felt that that would be a good way to judge where his fitness was at. Managed to get round in 6:25 average pace on a day where strong winds came into play, he realised he was actually in pretty good shape.

He then went back to look at the Wrexham Elite Marathon website and noticed that the qualifying time had changed to sub 3 which meant he could sign up. He then asked his dad if he would like to come along and watch and they could book a place to stay in North Wales for the weekend.

Tag’s marathon training had gone really well and had included two untapered sub 70 minute half marathons, one at Wokingham and the other at Battersea Park. He’d also finally beaten a long standing 5k PB when he recorded a 15:24 at Battersea Park in a Friday Night Under the Lights event.

He also won the Bournemouth Bay Half Marathon whilst running at his marathon pace, which he was doing as part of a longer training run. The win wasn’t what he was most pleased about though. It was how at ease he felt going at that speed. That was a great sign for his marathon prospects.

Both Tag and Rich also got the chance to sharpen their speedwork in two of the Road Relay competitions. The first was the Southern and after that it was the National. Tag performed really well in those, taking the first leg in both of them. Then, at the Southern one, he doubled up to run the anchor leg as well.

The weekend before the Wrexham Elite Marathon, Rich and Tag both headed over to Poole for what they were hoping would be a fast parkrun. Sure enough, both men received the confirmation they were looking for that they were in peak condition. Tag finished first in a tremendous new PB time of 15:14 and Rich was 7th in, what for him was also a PB time of 16:24.

Travelling up to Wrexham on the Friday night, Rich went over to the location of the race the next day to scope the course out. He could see that it wasn’t completely flat. Each lap was 7.5 miles and consisted of four long sides. Some of the sides were on an incline for quite long stretches which made Rich realise, it probably wasn’t going to be one he could do even splits in.

The roads were pretty smooth though and, although it wasn’t the most picturesque of courses, it was a proper race and the competition amongst those taking part promised to be fierce.

The conditions were fairly good when the day of the race arrived, with the temperature being not too hot, but also not chilly, even when wearing a vest. There was a local radio station there and some commentary at the finish line which the marathon runners would of course pass six times before actually completing the race.

When they got onto the start line, Rich and Tag weren’t really sure how far forward they should be standing. They knew there would be plenty of high standard athletes there but it was impossible to know what sort of times everyone was aiming for.

With so many fast runners there, including the half marathon competitors, it was easy to get carried away and go too fast once they’d set off. Rich found himself going significantly quicker than his intended marathon pace at first so spent the rest of the first mile trying to slow down to a reasonable pace. He knew he couldn’t afford to exert too much energy too early.

In the end it came out as 6:04 pace for the first mile which was a speed he knew he wouldn’t be able to sustain. Once he got onto the far side straight though, the road was on a slight incline and there were some crosswinds as well which slowed him down a fair bit. He then found himself at something closer to his intended marathon pace for the second mile.

Rich Brawn in the early stages of the Wrexham Elite Marathon

The pace was fast and ferocious to begin with for Rich

Tag posted a 5:21 for his first mile which was very quick but the tougher stretch on the second mile brought him back to something close to his target pace at 5:28. Both Tag and Rich ran their third miles at pretty much the same pace as the second before hitting the faster section of the course on the fourth mile. This part contained a nice downhill stretch and was also slightly wind assisted.

That brought them through the finish line and onto their second lap. One down – six to go. Rich was already feeling like he had to work harder than he would have wanted to sustain the pace when he came onto the far side straight. That left him thinking he might not be able to manage that for five more laps.

Rich Brawn racing round in the Wrexham Elite Marathon

The fact that some long stretches were on slight inclines made it tricky to judge the pacing

Tag was going at around 5:25 pace for the faster miles and just over 5:30 pace for the tougher miles. Rich managed to stay under 6:20 pace for the first nine miles and was then around 6:20 pace for the next eight miles taking him up to mile 18.

The field began to think out a fair bit once all the half marathon runners had finished and Rich found himself pretty much on his own after that. Tag was running with Declan Reed of City of Derry AC Spartans and they seemed to be going at a very similar sort of pace which was looking like it could lead to sub 2:25.

Rob McTaggart in the Wrexham Elite Marathon

Tag found someone to run with who was going at a similar pace

Before he had even reached the end of his fourth lap, Rich was overtaken by Omar Ahmed, who was running as a pacer. He was followed by Irishman  Stephen Scullion, who was going for a very quick time.

The good thing about it being a seven lap course though was that it was easier to break down into chunks. So Rich knew, once he’d completed his fourth mile that he only had three left so mentally, that gave him a bit of a boost. He then knew if he could get through one more lap and it would only be two left. Then he’d start to feel like he could really do it.

Rich Brawn coasting along in the Wrexham Elite Marathon

The good thing about a 7 lap course is, after the first lap you always know what’s coming next

Another bonus was that if you had someone there supporting you, you would see them seven times. Rich had his mum and dad there supporting him and he found it to be a great boost every time he came round the corner and saw them towards the end of each lap.

Tag had his partner Nikki Whittaker there watching him and cheering him on. She also runs for Bournemouth AC so knew Rich as well and was also giving him a shout as he went by.

Rich Brawn goes over the finish line in the Wrexham Elite Marathon

It was good to see those who had come to support you several times in a multi-lap race

Matt Brown of Littledown Harriers was there as well competing in the Half Marathon and he was just coming back into really good form at the right time after a long time out through injury.

He completed the Half Marathon race in a very impressive time of 1:15:23, which was a superb PB for him. That put him in 43rd place out of 77 who finished the race.

It was of course a very elite field and there were some fast times posted, with Jake O’Regan picking up the win in 1:04:56. There were four men in under 1:08 and ten in under 1:10. Amazingly, 40 runners got round in under 1:15. After Matt had finished he stayed around to cheer Tag and Rich on for the second half of the marathon.

Still going strong, Tag was just over 5:30 pace from mile 18 to mile 22. That left him with just one lap left to go.

Tag gives his all in the Wrexham Elite Marathon

Tag’s run had been exemplary up until mile 23

Rich’s pace dropped to around 6:25 for the 18th and 19th miles and then 6:30 for the 20th mile. He wasn’t feeling in too much difficulty though but didn’t want to risk over-exerting himself fearing that he could get cramp in the latter stages.

Getting back to a decent pace though on the easier section of the course, he was then onto the 23rd mile and embarking upon his final lap.

Rich Brawn in the Wrexham Elite Marathon

Rich was still feeling energetic when he entered his final lap

The last lap was where it began to get really tough for Tag. He had to dig deep and his pace began to fall away slightly. He was still between 5:40 and 5:50 pace though for the last four miles but at 24.5 miles, Declan Reed began to pull away from him.

It meant that Tag had just faded away from a dreamy sub 2:25 tariff, going over the line in 2:25:40, but it had still been an incredible performance. He’d knocked over three minutes off his previous best time which was set at London in 2017.

The actual distance on his watch had come up as 26.34 miles though so according to Strava, he had registered a sub 2:25 for the marathon distance. He’d finished in 7th place, which was tremendous in such a high standard field.

Tag powers along in the Wrexham Elite Marathon

Tag had to dig very deep in his final lap

Still feeling pretty strong once he got onto the last lap, Rich was debating with himself about what point he should start upping the pace. He cranked it up a notch for the last tough section and once he was through that, he knew he’d probably be okay.

He was trying to work out whether he was on for a PB or whether he’d faded off it in the last six miles. He thought it would be a pretty close call but his maths wasn’t the best at that point so it was difficult to be sure. With just over two miles left though, he felt he could afford to really start putting everything in, but he wanted to keep it controlled.

Rich Brawn gives it his best shot in the Wrexham Elite Marathon

A PB was looking on the cards for Rich if he could just maintain it on his last lap

He was edging closer and closer to the guy up ahead of him who was Ben Kennedy of Les Croupiers. Receiving great encouragement from his dad and his mum on the final corner, Rich gave it one last push and was now right behind Ben.

Then as he began to approach the lane diversion for the finish, he saw Tag and Nikki there. Tag shouted at him to unleash and he then made his move to overtake Ben. Ben wasn’t going down without a fight though and a fantastic sprint finish ensued between the two.

Rich Brawn powers along in the Wrexham Elite Marathon

Rich worked hard to catch up with the guy ahead

Rich managed to stay ahead though and crossed the line just before the clock ticked over 2 hours 46 minutes. He was overjoyed with that as it was almost two and a half minutes quicker than his previous best which was set at London last October.

His official finishing time was 2:45:52 which put him in 39th position. Ironically, the guy who he’d outsprinted did actually get a faster chip time than Rich by one second. Still, it felt like a win of sorts for Rich, getting to the line ahead of him.

Rich Brawn finds a sprint finish in the Wrexham Elite Marathon

Rich makes a break for the line in a very exciting sprint finish

Rich was the 11th quickest Vet 40 in the field out of 33. Before the start of the race, he’d had in his head an average of either 6:18 or 6:20. It had actually ended up at 6:19, so he was pretty accurate with his prediction. Tag’s average pace was a remarkable 5:32 minutes per mile.

it transpired that Stephen Scullion had dropped out at 30km when he realised he was going to be unable to achieve his target. Omar Ahmed who was pacing then dropped out at the 25 mile point.

That enabled Hugh Armstrong of Ballina AC to win the race and he broke the Welsh-all comers record with his time of 2:14:02. It was also within the European Championship qualifying standard.

Callum Johnson of Gateshead was 2nd in his first ever marathon, securing a time of 2:17:42, and John Gilbert took 3rd in 2:20:55. Russell Bentley of Kent AC came in in 4th place in 2:22:31 and James Dunn of Corstorphine was 5th in 2:22:59. The guy who Tag was running with for the vast majority of the race, Declan Reed, finished 6th in 2:25:15.

Rich Brawn heads down the road in the Wrexham Elite Marathon

It was a pleasing performance with Rich and showed that he’ continuing to progress

Woking AC man Ben Goddard was 11th in 2:29:36 and Johnny Suttle of Bristol and West took 14th place in 2:30:26. Rich was dismayed to find that he wasn’t even the fastest Brawn in the race. That accolade went to Kirk Brawn of Peterborough & Nene Valley who got round in 2:37:58.

Chelsea Baker of Royal Navy was first female, completing the course in 2:47:04. She was 41st overall and that was enough to give her a four minute advantage over Sarah Hunter of Ackworth who was 2nd female and 45th overall in 2:50:52. Natalie Seymour of Thames Hare & Hound was 3rd woman in 2:54:06 which put her just inside the top 50.

There were 12 men inside 2 hours 30 minutes, 23 inside 2:35 and 33 who finished in under 2:40, underlining the high quality of the field that the race had attracted. Only three out of the 57 participants who completed the marathon failed to finish in under 3 hours.

Rich Brawn after Wrexham Elite Marathon

It was an event that Rich will reflect on fondly for some time to come

That elevated Tag to 18th on the all time best Bournemouth AC marathon times list, ahead of Stu Fox’s Berlin Marathon of 2:26:13, Rob Spencer’s 2:25:56 at London in 2021 and Terry Smith’s 2:25:50 at London in 1987. It put him just behind Billy Nixon who ran 2:25:39 at London in 1998. Rich was now 70th on that list, just behind Ian Graham who ran 2:45:33 at London in 1990 and Michael Jordan who did 2:45:44 at London in 1996.

Tag and Rich were both over the moon with their new PBs, as they rightfully should have been. It was a relief for them to be rewarded after training so hard for it for a good 14 weeks or so. They just wanted so badly to be the best that they could be and knew that the only way to do that was to work super hard in training and make all the necessary sacrifices.

Another plus point of doing this marathon was that it would give them a new target to aim for at the London Marathon in October. With the course being flatter and so many other runners around them, there is a good chance they could both go quicker in that one if they can manage to get another solid block of training behind them.

Rich Brawn with medal after Wrexham Elite Marathon

Rich went home with a medal and some marvellous memories