From Victor Hugo to Oliver Reed, the island of Guernsey has a long history of attracting colourful characters and, as Julia Buckley discovered, the 2010 Sportingbet Guernsey Marathon continued this tradition in glorious and laid-back style.
With 141 finishers in the full Sportingbet Guernsey Marathon, along with 41 five-person relay teams, the field wasn’t enormous, but there were some huge personalities amongst the runners.
There was Keith ‘KC’ Guernsey who’d travelled from Maryland USA, to take part in the marathon, ‘because it had my name it’. Paul Van Beek ran the entire course bouncing a basketball in each hand and finished in an impressive 4 hours 39 minutes. Carl Thomson rowed 26.2 miles before running the marathon, then cycled another 26.2 miles on a stationary bicycle after the race. Then there was Fleurette Romdin, a prime candidate for the ‘Runner who had the Most Fun Award’ if there were one. He turned up in full pirate garb and clearly loved every minute of the attention. There were even reports of him stopping off at pubs around the course to lap up the photo opportunities (and possibly more).
“It was my first time on the island of Guernsey, but it won’t be my last. Getting there was easy. Just a two-hour trip across 75 miles of sea from Weymouth on Condor Ferries, which was very comfortable with café, duty free shop and newsagent. It would’ve been lovely if my stomach had behaved, but you can’t have everything...
“Luckily, the weather was fine and a relocation to the outside deck quelled my queasiness. It was a good move all round really, we had lovely views of the islands of Alderney and Herm as we sailed past and it made the approach to Guernsey really quite exciting. Cornet Castle came into view as our first sight of the island, followed by the pretty coastline of St Peter’s Port, the island’s capital, with its bustling boutique shops, inviting cafés, and smart restaurants.
“Although under the possession of the British Crown, Guernsey is an independently governed island. It’s just 40 miles from the coast of France and the continental influence is clearly visible in the architecture and street names. There’s a wonderfully laid-back atmosphere, I felt infused with the ‘holiday feeling’ from the moment I stepped off the boat.
“One of the first things that struck me about Guernsey was how immaculate the place was. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere quite so clean, there wasn’t a single piece of litter on any street. (Until the marathon started and the roads got strewn with water bottles and gel wrappers. But all that was promptly swept up post-race). Every house was perfectly painted, the gardens well tended, even the public toilets were spotless. I had to restrain myself from actively looking for garbage and grime – it almost seemed too squeaky clean. But then, I do live in North West London.
“Taking part in the marathon proved an excellent way to explore Guernsey. Since the race, several people have asked me if we had to do two laps of the island to get the full marathon distance, so I feel the need to point out that Guernsey is bigger than many people seem to think. In fact, it has over 100 miles of coastline and a footprint of 24 square miles.
Heritage, Beauty and Fresh Veg
“The course was nothing short of beautiful. It made a single loop from the modern Footes Lane Stadium along the island’s quiet roads to the sea at Portelet Harbour. We then followed the coast for nine miles, turning inland after the Le Grand Havre.
The promises in the marathon brochure of ‘fishermen’s cottages and sandy beaches, flower-lined lanes, and valleys shaded by panoplies of lofty beeches’ were amply fulfilled, along with other highlights including 18th century Martello towers, sleek yachts and cute little stalls outside many of the cottages selling vegetables and flowers via honesty boxes. The island’s more recent history was also in evidence with various museums devoted to the Second World War Nazi occupation signposted from the route and concrete German gunposts now looking incongruous dotted along the sleepy coastline.
“Guernsey has a population of just under 60,000 and the local community embraced the race with open arms. The support gave me an enormous boost, not being among huge crowds of runners made the calls of encouragement seem all the more sincere.
“A nice touch by the race organisers was the reverse mile markers – every mile a signpost counted down the distance from 26 to the very welcome #1. The finale was a half-lap of the running track back at the stadium before crossing the line to cheers from the crowd and congratulations from the tannoy.
“I’d had some problems with asthma leading up the race, so was resolved to run-walking it, but the fresh air and relatively flat course made the going much easier than I’d expected. I thought I’d probably take over six hours, but as it happened I made the finish line in just under 5 hours 10 minutes. Far from my best time, but under the circumstances I was pleased with my result.
“Like many of the runners, the next stop for me was the massage tent, where I had a rejuvenating rub-down. This set me up perfectly for a trip to The Athlete’s Foot. As race director, Peter Head, described it, Guernsey’s ‘newest pub’, a marquee with full bar, food stand, music and, thankfully, ample seating – just the ticket after 26.2 miles on your feet.
“And then came the reward, a fat burger-in-a-bun and salty chips washed down with a sumptuous pint of local Randalls Beer. Here’s to next year!”
I travelled with Condor Ferries from Weymouth. The crossing took just over two hours and tickets cost from £50 for foot passengers or £180 for two people and a car for a two-day trip. Similar services are available from Poole and Portsmouth. There are more details and online booking at: www.condorferries.co.uk.
You can also fly to Guernsey airport from all major UK airports.
Where to stay:
I stayed at La Collinette in St Peter’s Port which is a short drive, or a 15 minute walk from the ferry port and a similar distance from the race start/ finish. Rooms are clean and well-furnished. There’s a plush bar and modern restaurant, plus a small pool where I enjoyed a refreshing post-race dip. Rooms usually cost from £55 per night B&B during August, but the hotel offers a discount to people taking part in the marathon. www.lacollinette.com.
For more marathon accommodation offers visit, www.guernseymarathon.gg.