Just doing one standalone marathon isn’t enough of a challenge for Stu Nicholas these days. In fact, he often tends to run two marathons in quick succession.
From the start of the year, his goal was to make it to 50 marathons by the time 2018 is out. That was from a total of 37 that he’d completed by the end of 2017.
Doing two in one go may seem like a lot of hard work, which it most certainly is, but it kills two birds off with one stone essentially and brings him closer to his milestone much more quickly than if he was just to do the one.
That’s the theory anyway, although in practice it can be an extremely difficult prospect, even for a man of Stu’s immense talent and drive. In his last attempt at a marathon double header, Stu took on the Black Knight Challenge Run on one day and the Teddy Bear’s Picnic on the following day.
Winning the Black Knight Challenge Run, he set himself up nicely for a potential double victory as the Teddy Bear’s Picnic Challenge Run got underway.
Sure enough, he was soon in the lead, with a significant margin over the rest of the field. It looked as if he was coasting in for another win when, all of a sudden, on the sixth and final lap, he suddenly blew up and his body flatly refused to take him any further.
That meant that after 21.85 miles, he was forced to abandon, meaning his intended 46th marathon had not come into fruition. It was a tough break for Stu and would mean he’d have to find some way of squeezing in an additional unscheduled marathon between now and the end of the year.
One thing that DNF did do was to heap the pressure on Stu to complete his next marathon double-header – and it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.
On Saturday 28th July, Stu was pencilled in for the Dorset Invader Marathon, an undulating, 95% trail route on a dismantled railway line from Stalbridge to Spetisbury.
After completing that marathon, the plan was to head over to Queen Elizabeth Country Park for the Midnight Marathon, a night run staged along the South Downs Way which was on that very same day but starting at 9 in the evening.
So… the challenge was set for Stu. But could he complete both marathons? Did he have enough in his locker to conquer two tough trail marathons in effectively one day? It was a huge task, but if anyone was apt enough to take it on and succeed, it would be Stu.
As if it wasn’t going to be hard enough, the Dorset Invader race was actually 28.5 miles long, consisting of one big 15 mile loop and then a slightly smaller 13.5 mile loop to follow. The conditions on the day were warm but a touch blustery.
Knowing he had another marathon to complete later that evening, Stu took it very steadily. Starting off at a very casual pace, he gradually ramped it up as the race went on to finish very strongly.
On this occasion, he wasn’t thinking about positions at all. He was simply concentrating on getting to the end and using the minimum amount of energy he could and with the least amount of wear and tear.
Amazingly, Stu crossed the line in 3rd place, finishing in an impressive time of 3 hours 38 minutes and 23 seconds, despite taking it relatively easy by his standards. That was out of 256 who completed the distance.
Once that race was done, he scooped up an armful of Dorset-based goodies and headed home to relax and refuel before heading off to QE Country Park.
It felt a bit odd to be having porridge as his evening meal but Stu knew he had to be fuelled up for this race just the same as he would be for any marathon he was running on any given morning. It was his first ever night race so he had no real idea what to expect or how to fuel and prepare for it correctly.
The conditions as he lined up for his second marathon of the day were cloudy and windy. On exposed sections of the course, it could even be a little chilly.
After his earlier marathon, Stu felt like he had a bit of a hip flexor strain but, although the pain was present, it fortunately didn’t seem to worsen as the race went on.
The course began with a couple of miles within the country park before heading out onto the South Downs Way where the rough and rugged terrain awaited.
The views can be spectacular on a clear night, with the stars in the obsidian sky above, the hilltops and lights of the villages below visible as you look out across the Downs. A head torch was a necessity for every runner in order to find their way along the route as darkness fell.
As he progressed along the course, Stu took full advantage of the aid stations for refreshments such as crisps, watermelon and cola, since he knew he was in deficit from his earlier exploits.
Although his feet took a bit of a battering from rocky surfaces underfoot, Stu managed to make it round the course. The tempo was very much dictated by the terrain and the darkness but he did it, completing the course in 4 hours 4 minutes and 32 seconds to take 15th place in the standings.
A total of 239 participants started the race, with 232 of those making it to the end. Most of them probably hadn’t already done a marathon that morning though like Stu had.
That brings him up to marathon number 47 now, leaving him with just three left to complete by the end of the year. With a full five months still remaining, that should hopefully be enough time for Stu to hit his target. Then the celebrations of a fantastic year’s work can truly begin.