From Svalbard to South Africa and Marrakesh to Istanbul, I’ve run in some exciting, exotic marathons in some pretty awe-inspiring corners of the World. Now I’ve run a marathon in a multi storey car park in Worthing.
Written by Tim Boone
Billed as the first known UK running of such an event (can’t think why!) it sounded so gloriously mad I just had to do it. As my running mates said… it’s just ‘wrong’ on so many levels. Well, eleven levels, actually, which meant 10 ramps up and 10 ramps down for each of our 71 circuits… one thousand, four hundred and twenty concrete ramps in all.
The estimated total ascent and descent wasn’t far off the height of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest hill. And all on hard concrete, with more sharp turns than I cared to think about. My legs would probably resemble raw chipolatas when I finished.
I travelled by train. Initially, I’d thought, ‘great, a car park, no problem with parking!’ But the car park was closed for the event, and I didn’t want the added pressure of chasing a marathon time to beat a parking metre. So I let the train take the strain, staring out at the ominously dreary drizzly day with foreboding. Maybe I should have brought a head torch, not because I expected to exceed the 6 hour cut-off and be running after dark, but because the low, grey interior of the car park was so dank and gloomy.
But, look on the bright side, no mud! I wouldn’t need trail shoes for this one.
Teville Gate car park in the rain was even more depressing in the flesh, with forlorn groups of shivering runners discussing their sanity and what to wear. But as we congregated and chatted, our runners’ natural optimism seemed to spark into life, brightening up even this bleak, drafty place, with its misspelled graffiti and puddles of indeterminate content.
At least we wouldn’t have cars to contend with on our 71 laps, although statistics showed that only a couple of cars ever use the car park on a Sunday. So, obviously, our paying occupancy of ‘the carbuncle’ was seen as a nice little bonus for the Council? Not entirely. The organisers, Sussex Trail Events, had to jump through a seemingly endless array of risk-assessment and health-and-safety hoops before permission was granted. And even then there were objections.
As late as the Wednesday before the event, grave concern was expressed, apparently, about this event not being in line with the image that Worthing wanted to promote about itself.
Good job I shaved, and put on my best club vest!
Entries had been restricted to just 50 places, with double that number wanting a place. And that was with almost zero publicity.
Cue a ballot. I waited nervously for the result.
“Congratulations or commiserations…” the email said, “you made it in.”
Most of the fifty turned up. Most seemed to be experienced marathon runners, 100 Marathon Club members and/or regular faces at other marathons organised by STE.
The race briefing was short and sweet:- follow the Big White Arrows on the ground all the way to the top floor, run around the bollards, follow the Big White Arrows all the way down, repeat 70 times. On finishing the penultimate lap, we’d be turned around to run our final lap in reverse, to high-five everyone else still running.
Off we went.
Okay, so it wasn’t the most scenic of routes, although we could see the Downs, mist allowing, from the top floor, and there was a fine view of the railway line and the back of Worthing Hospital.
Pacing was pure guesswork. I didn’t even attempt to use my Garmin, but did wear an ancient mechanical lap-counter strapped to my wrist, which helped my focus. I just had to remember to click it after each lap.
I liked the frequent changes of up and down running, although the 20 metres of straight, flat running in the fresh air on the roof was something I started to look forward to.
One question I’d asked the Race Director before the start was about how accurate the distance was. He told me he’d used a surveyor’s wheel to measure one lap and found it to be exactly a seventy-first part of 26.2 miles. But he also told me that he’d measured fairly tight to the bends. So this would be like a track marathon, where the official distance is 105.5 laps of a 400 metre track. But that’s calculated on the inside of the inside lane. Even running on the outside of the inside lane can add metres to a lap, and running wide to pass slower runners can push you out into the second or even third lane when you have 30, 40 or 50 sharing a track. Notoriously unreliable on a track marathon, satellite devices have recorded distances varying by as much as two or three miles for the same event.
Race etiquette (which the RD appealed for in his pre-race talky bit) is to allow faster runners the inside route, leaving the very inside clear except for overtaking (or should that be undertaking?). In practise, having competed in several 6-hour track events, we runners do not generally comply with this etiquette, either through forgetfulness, selfishness or just tiredness. This happens even at the Olympics, in a 10,000 metres final, so what hope for a 71-lap event in the tight-turning confines of a multi storey car park?
Anyway, I wasn’t here for a time, just the pleasure of the experience!
There was an extremely well-stocked feed station that we passed 71 times, efficient chip timing (with our individual lap progress regularly shouted out), and a most welcome massage afterwards. The race memento was interestingly quirky and there was even a technical tee-shirt included in our £33 entry fee. Crowd support was minimal, to say the least, but it was good to have the support of several (bemused, but loudly supportive) club mates.
Yes, I can actually say, on reflection, that I enjoyed this event. While for some runners, the novelty had obviously worn off after a few laps, and some were walking after ten laps or so, I continued to tick off fairly consistent laps until finishing (albeit gratefully) in 3.49.11 and 9th place. (This might have been 7th place if I hadn’t had to exit the car park mid-run and use the Portaloo… but, hey, this was hardly the Olympics.)
Conclusion; as delightfully barmy as this event was, one multi storey marathon per lifetime is definitely enough.
Although, I do hear there’s the possibility of a repeat running of this event.