What it’s like to run a 26-lap marathon


“I’ve signed up for another marathon,” I said, back in 2014. This came as little surprise to any of my family, who knew I had my sights set on a PB after getting a few decent road marathons under my belt (for me anyway – I’m no elite!). “It’s 26 laps of a field.” Wait, what?

That was the general reaction I got from most people I told when I explained what I had registered for. At the time, lapped marathons weren’t quite as popular as they are now. In most cases, the laps would be at the very, very least 5K, but usually longer. The thought of having to run the same 1-mile loop 26 times just didn’t seem that appealing to most runners. But it did appeal to me.

Why run a 26-lap marathon?

I like consistency. I like routine. I like knowing what’s coming. Well, when you are running around and around and around for hours over the same ground, you certainly get all that. In training, I did a full course recce – how many marathons can you do that for? I ran that 1-mile loop a few times in the lead up to race day, learning where the ground changed, when to turn, where to watch out for tree roots. I noted where there was shade in case it was a hot day (it was). I figured out where the start/finish of each lap would be and the kind of pace of wanted to achieve in each lap.

I felt more prepared for that race than any marathon that came before it.

The race in question was the Littledown Marathon, run by Littledown Harriers, a local running club based at the Littledown Centre in Bournemouth. The route was a marked mile that started from the cricket club hut, around a large field, across a bridge, around another field and then around the cricket pitch to complete a loop. The start was 0.2 of a mile from the lap start/finish, so you got that out of the way at the beginning, before getting into the rhythm of the laps.

Lap marathon running

Small field benefits

There was no more than 60-odd runners taking part, the smallest race I had ever taken part in. I certainly felt nervous about bringing up the rear – but that fear soon dissolved. The joy of running a lapped marathon of such a short distance is that it doesn’t take long for everyone to be merged together, elite, club and novice runners alike. The frontrunners overtake at regular intervals, and by the middle of the race, you don’t really have any concept of how other runners are doing.

This was key for me in this race – I had no point of comparison, no trying to outrun anyone. I could just focus solely on my own race, my own pace. The only thing I had to do was keep my feet moving. Knowing the course so well meant I could zone out and be distracted, watching the world go by as I kept my legs ticking over.

I had my almost 2-year-old being watched by his grandparents on the sidelines – he slept through most of it, enjoying a restful nap in a park on a beautiful summer’s day. My little support crew were there the whole time. I knew I’d see them every 10 minutes or so, which was a boost in itself to keep going.

I also didn’t have to carry any fuel or water with me. The sole aid station, based at the beginning/end of each lap had water and sports drink, as well as the chance to stash my own fuel. They also had sponges, which could be dunked in ice cold water and carried for a lap to keep cool in the rising heat of the midday sun.

Lap marathon start of lap

The hard part

It wasn’t all easy though. The first 15 laps went by quite pleasantly, but by laps 16 and 17, I had had enough. I couldn’t face any more of the same ground and my head began to have a wobble. This happens in every marathon at some point. The joy of consistency had given way to monotony, and I had a moment of stroppiness. And yet, while battling with my brain to continue, my legs just carried on, trudging the same path they had got so used to by now.

It passed, as it always does, but miles 16 to around 22 would definitely not the high points of the day. Then knowing I had just four more laps to go, my cloud suddenly lifted. I knew I could manage just four more laps. Then three, then two and then finally one. That last lap really did feel like a victory lap. I knew that I could finish and, not only that, I knew that I had a PB in me that only a running disaster could take away from me on that last lap.

I crossed that line for the last time with joy having, mostly, enjoyed the marathon from start to finish. My medal was carefully inscribed for me there and then with my name and my time. It also featured the entire course – that 1-mile loop – on its front.

2019 repeat

I know it’s not for everyone, but I often share my experience of this race and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new kind of marathon. In fact, I loved it so much that this year, five years later, I am back to do it again. So, anyone fancy joining me?

Find out more about the Littledown Marathon 2019 and enter here: https://www.entrycentral.com/littledown_marathon

Lap marathon medal

Main image/illustration by intographics from Pixabay