The Littledown Harriers, based in Bournemouth, Dorset, is a wonderful runningclub, comprised of a sea of bright orange vests and even brighter personalities. The club was founded in 1990 and prides itself on its inclusive nature and its local feel. Naturally, such a bright and brilliant club are bound to put on quite a race, and the Littledown Marathon is exactly that.
For those unacquainted with the Littledown Marathon allow me to acquaint you with the premise. 1 mile. 1 park. 26 times.
The Littledown loop
If the idea of doing the same mile 26 times over fills you with dread then, rest assured, you’re not alone in that sentiment.
I went in to the Littledown Marathon with a little bit of lapped experience under my belt – having done a 26-lap course at my local seafront mile for charity – yet even I was daunted.
It probably didn’t help that, in my mind, I had preconceived notions of the course being a single open grassy field that I would have to circle around in a monotonous grind for hours on end. This couldn’t have been further from the truth.
In reality, the Littledown Marathon course is a much more varied loop than you would imagine, and one that I pleasantly enjoyed venturing through on each loop.
You start in Littledown Park in Bournemouth where the aid station is set up. This lovely little section of the course has everything you could possibly need – registration, the chip timer, the aid station and ample space to set up your own kit. Plenty of toilets are also available in this area, alongside a space where friends can camp up to help you along the way.
From this starting area, runners are lead to a little space to make up the odd 0.2 miles before venturing off on the main loop. A paved path leads you off in to a little bridge before heading off in to a grassy field. From there you go in to a small wooded area before heading over another field and then over a different bridge.
A slight incline (which, later in the run, becomes an ‘uphill’) then guides you around the park and by the side of an adventure course before curling off in to another little wooded section. From there you travel in to another small little grassed field with a small amusement railway track trailing by the side before heading off on to another paved section and then running back in to the original field you started with.
Highlights of the course
The park was mostly vacant when less than 100 of us runners started off in the morning, but variety was added throughout the day by seeing children playing, watching ducks and other wildlife plod about their day, and through the cheery encouragement and photography moments from marshals on course.
While the course is small, there are a few definite charms to it. One of which is the fact that the course has a few sections where you can see runners ahead or behind you, allowing opportunities to cheer each other on, whereas another has to be the variation of wooded little segments and open grass, which makes for good run-walk timing opportunities if desired.
I cannot emphasise enough just how wonderful it is to have an aid station that you return to every mile as well. The fact that, at any point, you know that you’re a mile at most away from water, juice, gels, and anything you’ve personally left at the aid station is incredibly reassuring, as is the fact that you can easily interact with accompanying friends and family throughout the day.
The White Star Running crew decided to make a much-appreciated visit during this particular year, and their sponge bath addition and hugs were greatly appreciated. The Race Director, James Davies, was also always on hand too, giving encouragement to the runners and checking on our safety.
Such an attentive race director should never be undervalued and James Davies was dedicated to the point of venturing out with the last runner in the Littledown Marathon for their final lap. A true testament to the personable and caring nature of Littledown and of James Davies himself.
A mile, though?
But let us return, for a moment, to the elephant in the room. Can doing a mile-long lapped marathon ever be enjoyable?
Honestly? It was one of my favourite marathons of the year (and I’ve done London Marathon this year, among many others).
Mile-long courses are special. Every single lap is a new journey and none of the 26 laps seems daunting because it’s only a mile. You don’t have to think about venturing out for 26.2 miles. You don’t need to worry about if you can make it, because it’s a mile. Most of us know that we can do a mile and each time you head out from the aid station that’s all that faces you. It breaks up so easily in the head.
Because this race is such a short lap it also means that you can easily encounter, catch up to, or slow down for anyone else on course that you want to socialise with, encourage, or generally help. A large part of marathons for me is the social element, so this was an absolute dream come true.
Then, of course, there’s the mental aspect. There’s something in human psychology called the Return Trip Effect, which essentially means that we perceive time as going faster in areas we’ve already been in. Whether this is to do with familiarity, paying less attention or both researchers are generally in agreement that the more you’ve been to a place the more time flies.
My time spent with the Littledown Marathon absolutely flew by, to the point where I never once felt like the large stretch of miles and time ahead of me was ever too much. On multiple occasions I couldn’t believe just how many miles myself and my band of running buddies had covered, given it all seemed to flow so enjoyably.
Come the end of my Littledown Marathon experience I left feeling like I had experienced something truly special and thoroughly enjoyable in every way. So much so that sharing in another 6 laps with a friend of mine still on course was an absolute breeze.
The Littledown Marathon is a race to be cherished and is almost unrivalled in its support and intimately encouraging nature. I highly recommend it for anyone considering a marathon with a difference. Oh, and did I mention that many consider it to be a speedy course too (if that sweetens the pot for you)?
I’ll definitely be back for 26 more loops next year.