The final leg of our Autumn Challenge was the Palace for Life Foundation‘s Marathon March. An annual charity event that is now in its fourth year.
It’s an event that Sue and I have both had hankering to take part in since it started in 2017. Early in this decade, we used to organise similar events ourselves. We ran two successful charity walks with other Palace fans raising over £10,000 for various charities, including Cure Leukaemia, via the Geoff Thomas Foundation.
The reason we hadn’t gotten around to participating in the Marathon March until now was simple; we’d already had holidays booked, when the date of the run was announced. Obviously, in this year of COVID we weren’t booked to go anywhere, so we entered, albeit wondering whether the event would be allowed to go ahead. Thanks to some very efficient planning by the Foundation and the club, the event was able to go ahead.
There were some changes from previous years, not least the route which used to be from central London to Selhurst, via a scenic route. This year, however, it was a circuit of South London and a rather hilly circuit at that.
The team formerly known as ‘Just One Lombardo’ assembled at 6:45am at Selhurst Park in the milky dawn light of a crisp October morning.
We had to pass temperature checks, before we were allowed to go, which gave Sue some anxiety as she’d been feeling a bit of chill since Friday morning. The thermometer at home had her temperature up, that morning, but this is that same device that when I use it, suggests I’m suffering from extreme hypothermia! Hardly a reliable witness.
She passed just fine, with a temp only a couple of tenths of a degree above mine and one bacon roll later we were both on the start line, with our fellow Team members and a lovely lady called Angie, getting our pre-march briefing. Angie, from Plymouth is a regular Marathon Marcher, she was added to our bubble to make up the six.
There was over twenty bubbles in the event, with the faster ones going off first. It was a surprise, therefore, to find that our team had been placed second! Our Captain, Kate, had completed the last two Marches, Paul and Si have done several long-distance races and, well, you know all about us. A reasonable pedigree, but even with Angie, not perhaps deserving of such a high-placing. especially when two of us were only 6 days out from doing our last Marathon.
Anyway, we were soon on our way and within a couple of minutes, yomping up through Grangewood Park: the first of many, many hills. A couple of miles in and we were at the start of Crystal Palace Park and the club’s ancestral home.
Time for a confession here: it had been bothering me rather more than it should that with this event being on a Saturday, that I wouldn’t get to run a Parkrun. I have been keeping up the routine of running an actual parkrun course every Saturday morning since lockdown. Even during our recent break on the Isle of Wight, we sought out the local parkrun and ran it despite an absolute deluge. Thus, I was delighted to realise that the route would take us around a good portion of the Crystal Palace parkrun course. That was good enough for my inner geek.
By the time we reached the steps up to One Tree Hill in Honor Oak, we were already loudly cursing the frequent inclines. Whilst on that ascent, we were passed by a runner in Palace for Life colours. This was Ed Warner, the chairman of the Foundation, who had started right at the back and with the aim of seeing everyone on the March enroute. We had been passed by a couple of Groups at this point, but to go by us before the first official pit stop at 8 miles, was seriously impressive.
After a quick break for a second breakfast (a Banana, this time) and cuppa, we pressed onwards towards Ladywell, where we would spent a few miles marching down the Waterlink Way – part of our virtuial Marathon route. The weather this time, although quite cloudy, behaved itself during the section and no risk of aquaplaning, this week.
Lunch was taken next door to Palace’s training ground at Kent Cricket Club in Beckenham, when the first spots of rain were felt. Nothing that dictated any change of clothing though. By my reckoning we were down to about eighth, but it could not have mattered less as this was no race.
We set off again, after being interviewed by the Club’s media crew, and passed the halfway point whilst traversing Beckenham Place Park. Millwall’s training ground got a very petty, but quite stern booing as we passed by.
It was clear by this point that Angie was a lot faster than the rest of us, on Swan Hill in Bromley, she and Si were up ahead of the rest of us. They had missed a waymarker and I had to dash up the Hill to retreive them. Unfortunately the way we were supposed to go was also sharply uphill, so we three ended up doing an extra incline. But hey, what’s one more hill between friends?
As we trekked through Hayes, weariness began rear it’s unwelcome head. As a five-girl bubble passed us, it was only fair that Angie, who was still going very strongly joined up with them. Possibly not a strict adherance to the rules, but one that made practical sense.
Passing through Coney Hall, we came across a football match on the local Rec: Selhurst United v Emmanuel Lightning in the Croydon and Bromley Christian League. Paul, Si and myself paused for a few minutes to watch and were rewarded with a touch of the matchball and two identical goals for Selhurst (but sadly, despite thorough inspection, no #yellowhose).
The final official pitstop came on Addington Bottom after a hair-raising crossing of the road known locally as ‘the Mad Mile’. Just as well the Medical truck was on hand! Thankfully, the dangerous road claimed no victims. Whilst at the stop, we had a good chat with one of the Foundation’s workers about the great work they do in the local area. Just the motivation we needed for those final 6 miles.
The climb up through Spring Park Wood may not have been the highest, but certainly seemed to be the steepest on the whole route. It was noticeable how our mile times started to dive after that tough stretch. We were all feeling it now, especially Captain Kate, whose hip arthritis had well and truly kicked in. As had the weather, the rain was now constant meaning the waterproof layer finally had to come out.
Whilst traversing the undulating Shirley Hills section of the London Loop, we were passed by the celebrity bubble of Mark Bright, Eddie Izzard and Shaun Derry. They had started at the back too, but were setting a fearsome pace and passed us almost in a blur. A few moments later, we encountered a runner coming the other way. He was clearly a Palace fan and intrigued by the presence of so many similarly attired walkers. After a quick chat, he promised to donate when he got home and, sure enough his £10 had arrived before we got back to Selhurst. Cheers, Clive!
Every time we thought we were done with the hills, the route seemed to find an extra incline. We agreed that next year our team name should become ‘Just One More Hill.’
“Next Year? I’m done with this” said Captain Kate.
Hang on though, Kate, you said that after last year too!
The Marathon distance was completed within sight of Selhurst, but still with a little way to go to the official finish line. We reached the ground but, of course, were directed up the Holmesdale Road hill to finish. A little top-up of the 1900ft-plus of elevation gain around the circuit. We entered the stadium in Park Road to cross the finish line just before 5pm after clocking exactly 27 miles and around eight and half hours of walking time. In fact it was the steps down the Arthur Wait Stand that caused us more trouble than that last hill climb. It wasn’t only Kate, who would be having hip issues the next morning.
We took a victory lap of the hallowed turf and it was a surprisingly emotional moment. Not just because we’d completed a really tough Marathon distance, but also because we were actually inside Selhurst Park after so long. After celebratory team photos, we headed inside for some much needed alcoholic revivers and socially-distanced chats with other bubbles. I reckon, despite the slowish end, we finished in the middle of the pack.
It wasn’t just Clive who donated to the team over the last few days. Major thanks to our friends and families who have generously supported the team and the foundation, including the amazing Tony Burkey for an amazing £400 donation. Tony also gave us £200 each for our Marathon charities. Thank you all, we love you.
Also big thanks to the Club and the Foundation for all the extra work that went into staging this wonderful event.
It’s now the day after and it’s fair to say, that we are suffering in the legs. Sue’s can barely walk whilst I’m stiff, but mobile. The after effects are very much different/worse when you’ve done two in six days. After saying last week, that I don’t often get blisters, typically, I managed to get a massive one on the ball of my left foot meaning my daily mile later today will be interesting to say the least.
That’s the end of our autumn challenge and, thankfully, it was a success on all fronts, although recovery might take a little while. Not surprisingly, it might be a while before we set out on another long-distance run.