This was the inaugural running of the challenge, so the field was small, but we set off from the Sandwell Town Show, as usual for an LDWA event with the runners setting off an hour after the walkers. I set off quickly, with just four runners in front of me. Its always exciting to be running near the front at these low key events - I am always well down the field in big races.
We were soon onto the first canal and I was surprised to see the four leaders had disappeared. When the route straightened out I realised they definitely weren't in front of me so must have missed a turning. I'd normally shout after someone if I saw them go the wrong way but this lot just disappeared. Which meant I was in the lead! It was all going well until I took a wrong turn on the way into checkpoint 1. As did the second placed runner. We eventually worked our way back onto the route and found the checkpoint. I set off first and never saw him again.
The route along the canal was varied, with small tunnels to pass through, bridges and a few steps being most of the ascent (its nice to run a flat marathon for a change)! The highlight for me was the 1.75 mile long Netherton tunnel, where torches were essential. There was a metal railing to stop you running into the water but it was very dark in there, with just a faint light from the far end and some dim illumination from a few ventilation shafts.
The route was easy to follow after that, mostly along canals (where its hard to go wrong) and across a few fields. Some heavy showers forced me to don my waterproof. In the end I gave up taking it off and on and just kept in on for the rest of the run. At one point I was running alongside the M6, with both canal and motorway elevated way above the river below.
Over the last couple of miles back into Sandwell Country Park I was getting excited at the thought I might actually be first, so forced myself to push hard and indeed I finished first in 4:20:06. I've never come close to that before, but finally I found a marathon small enough to "win". The organisers were super friendly and even dragged in the local press photographer to take my picture with my certificate!