The Main Event
The Jersey Marathon
Having become an outand-out Londoner over the past 15 years, I must admit I expected little when I rocked up on Jersey. Race director Andrew Thomas had been tenacious in courting Runner’s World over a number of years, insisting they had a small but perfectly formed 26.2 that deserved outside investigation.
A veteran of many, many daytime reruns of Bergerac as a student I was fairly sure Andrew was exaggerating, so I packed a weekend bag, switched my brain to ‘parochial’ mode and set off for a jolly weekend of patronising the locals.
An hour after arriving in Jersey’s capital, St Helier, I had counted 23 4x4s with tinted windows; wandered through a swanky shopping parade that looked like it had
been transplanted from Regent Street; drunk one of the best flat whites I’ve ever had and sat watching an army of workers swarming all over the main square, Weighbridge Place, finishing off a race HQ as thoughtfully done as anything you’ll see at a Great Run event. Damn you, outdated television drama series.
The prerace pasta party was equally impressive. For an admittedly punchy £12 you chose one of five perfectly cooked and hugely portioned pasta dishes, and also received coffee/tea, a soft drink and a gooey-yet-crumbly chocolate brownie approaching the dimensions of a brick.
As I lined up the next morning in drizzly but calm conditions it took a start-line pep talk from former triple jump world champ Jonathan Edwards to make me forget the cannonball of food still lying in my stomach and focus on the task at hand. I needn’t have worried, as once we ran out of St Helier and north towards St Lawrence I turned my attention to running with my head up so I could take everything in.
The route is a big anticlockwise loop that covers most of the western half of the island, taking you through seven of Jersey’s 12 parishes (St Helier, St Lawrence, St John, St Mary, St Ouen, St Peter and St Brelade). The islanders stress that each is very different from the others, but to the outsider merely passing through on foot, it was only really possible to notice the similarities: the narrow lanes with tunnels of overhanging trees, the country cottages with laden trellises, creeping ivy and platoons of gnomes; brooks and streams weaving their way through pretty hamlets, signs everywhere warning of the islandwide speed limit of 40mph; and, yes, gangs of Jersey cows mooching around fields with the chilled-out confidence of beasts who know they are the queens of cream.
Outside the commercial hub of St Helier much of the Jersey I saw was a rural idyll, and to a city dweller used to a daily cocktail of smog, scowling and car horns, running through such pastoral splendour was a soothing balm for the mind.
The locals who came out to watch were similarly laid-back. There was no frenzied shouting, no booming stereos, no foam fingers and no crowds six-deep; just a steady flow of people who’d taken time out of their day to stop and offer a few low-key words of encouragement, such as ‘ Well done’, ‘ You look fine’ and (my favourite) ‘ You’re not doing too bad, lad’. The lack of glib superlatives actually made me all the more grateful for their support.
Back in St Helier I’ve never felt so composed crossing a finish line – a feeling enhanced by the finisher’s token, which entitled me to a whopping cheeseburger and a pint of beer in the main tent.
Between chews I considered two things: firstly, that in this modern running world of more – more runners, more noise, more races, more gimmicks – races that do not follow this trend, but instead focus on being true to their community and offering quality of experience over quantity, are not only lovely to discover but help us remember why we run in the first place.
The second thing? Andrew Thomas was right: Jersey has a cracking marathon.
Running through such splendour was a soothing balm for the mind