The Berkeley Marathon Race Report

When RunUltra first became aware of this race, what made us prick up our ears was not just the name, or the connection to Lazarus Lake, but the elevation per “lap”; 3,000 ft over 26 miles. There are no aid stations out on the course, so runners have to be self sufficient and be able to plot their own route between the 10 checkpoints, where books were locked away for pages to be taken from.

The unique aspect of this race is that while there are no set times for the laps, making a 26 mile marathon achievable for anyone wishing to have a go, there is a 24 hour cut off for the whole event, which makes completing the full 5 laps within that time very hard; the RD claims impossible. We wanted to learn more about this quirky race.

What the Race Director, Paul Breen, says:

The race loosely follows the format of The Barkley Marathons in America however we have changed the time from 60 hours to 24 hours to complete the 5 marathon laps. This because we simply don’t have the terrain that they do in America, and after consulting many different runners and race directors we settled on the slightly observed time limit.

The race is around 130 miles give or take and about 3000ft elevation gain each lap. This was our first year and we had 0 finishers and 6 people completing 3 laps (AKA the fun run) out of the 28 runners total.

Our race has one goal and that is to push people out of their comfort zone and achieve their personal goals. I am constantly asked why I put a race together that 95% will never be able to finish. I thought on this for a long time when first asked and after some time I came up with our race mantra if you will.

“Our race is like life, because life is a race you’re never going to win because ultimately you will run out of time, it’s about how you challenge yourself in that time that makes you a winner”

Our main goal is to support mental health through exercise and to get people outside and push through their goals.

The race is over 3 days because we meet on the Friday for a brief and admin, then they all need to copy the route onto their issued blank maps from a master map.

The elevation is all basically in one area which makes it very hard as we send them down and back up a few hills and this is a big mental drain they need to overcome. The hills are mostly around Stinchcombe golf club in Dursley and around North Nibley where we send them up the Tyndale monument to the checkpoint at the top.

There are some thorns yes hahaha!

What the Runner, Grahame Shaddick, says: 

After a chance meeting with Laz at the National Running show the now Race Director Paul Breen was told by Lazarus Lake that he HAD to set up a UK version of the Berkeley Marathons, so having never been an RD before he got to work laying on an amazing event.

Set around Berkeley in Gloucestershire it was the same format as the USA with 5 x laps of a marathon distance and over 3000ft elevation per lap within 24hrs, an unknown route until the night before, no help on the laps and of course the infamous book pages to be returned to race HQ after each lap. The great inclusive twist to the event – no time limit on the laps, do as many as you can within the 24 hours making it “accessible to all and all but impossible to finish” meaning you effectively have 24hrs to complete one lap, or two, or three…

At registration and then the race briefing the night before, we were given our trackers, race numbers, blank maps, kit check and 10 unmarked small keys. We were soon to find out that the books were located in locked wooden safes out on the course. Then followed copying the route from the master maps onto your own blank map before a beer and bed at the onsite camping area.

With glorious weather 28 souls lined up in the morning with unusual starting fee’s of a boiled sweet and a birthday card to Mary? (Turns out it was the RD’s mums birthday to which we all handed her our cards en-mass and the sweet was to be eaten out on the course when we felt low or struggling to sweeten our spirits!)

A flat few miles to get started and get used to finding the safe, the correct key, locating and tearing out the correct page in the book, re-locking the safe and securing said page for the rest of the lap. Terrain was a real mix of road, fields, tracks and trails with navigation becoming a big part of lap one. THEN CAME THE HILLS!! Brutally steep trails along a section above Dursley, really made the legs shake before heading over to ascending the Tyndall monument, a narrow winding staircase climb up the inside of the monument to reach the book at the top with amazing views over the Cotswolds.

With legs like jelly the route continued out through stunning countryside, again navigation being critical (and more than one mistake being made, even by a group of us) we passed a section affectionately called “Horny goats and blind horses” before rising again into a Deer Park. Descending to race HQ our small group were keen to try for a second lap, hopefully without the navigation mistakes of lap one.

Ten pages deposited, some hot refreshments, fluid and snacks topped up we were given our new page numbers to tear out and bring back and we were off again. With knowledge of the first lap navigation was easier to begin with, including map reading and a GPX route worked out by my now new best running buddy Jordan, before night set in to make things tricky again. 

Knowing we would not make a third lap (which would have been in reverse) in the time, we set an easy pace knowing the really tough middle section would take it’s toll. Again the Tyndall monument (now lit up) signaled the end of the brutal middle section of the race and now very weary we managed to continue and finish a second lap but not the coveted “fun run” third lap to which only 6 competitors achieved.

This is the first running of the Berkeley Marathons UK and what an amazing event, awesomely friendly, inclusive, tough and fun all in one and I will definitely be back next year as a volunteer. This new event can only go from strength to strength with now hundreds of people showing an interest in competing via social media.

Have you run this race? Leave your review on their event page here. This really helps runners considering entering whether it’s the right race for them. Do you think the full 5 laps is possible? Do you know someone who you think could finish it? Let us know below!

"Our race is like life, because life is a race you’re never going to win because ultimately you will run out of time, it’s about how you challenge yourself in that time that makes you a winner"

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