Race Report: Wesel Marathon and Half
Felixstowe’s twin town of 50 years is Wesel in Germany. FRR have a reciprocal arrangement with HADI (Wesel’s running club) to host members at each other’s races. Various aspects aligned that meant that I asked to go this year along with some close friends and clubmates.
I am very glad that I did, and hope to do so again next year!
This is meant to be a race report, but I’ll probably spend more time rambling on about everything else as it was a busy trip!
We had 11 FRR heading over – 2 couples with motorhomes, 6 of us renting a house and 1 in a hotel. So 7 of us travelled together in Calli’s van/minibus…
We were leaving early on Friday, but the fun started on Thursday night when Calli sent me a photo of damage to the van’s radiator – it had collided with a glass bottle. I decided to add coolant and radweld to my packing (yes, that’s the sort of thing I have just laying around!)
Friday. The journey.
The journey to Wesel was unremarkable except to say that it rained heavily the entire journey through 5 countries (England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany) and the coolant warning light didn’t come on until somewhere in Belgium. We stopped for food & comfort breaks in each country on the way through and Justin was delighted to find that meals at Burger King in Belgium have a drink option of beer!
We arrived about 6pm, settled into the accommodation, walked to the nearest shop and got some quick and easy food – we were all tired and didn’t fancy trying to find a restaurant at this point.
parkrun day. Formerly known as Saturday.
Naturally, when visiting a foreign country one of the things you look for is where the nearest parkrun is. (skipping a long story here choosing which to do) Four of us ended up at Kemnader See parkrun. The route was nicer than expected and the locals were all friendly. parkrun is not as popular as it is in the UK so they tend to be a lot smaller, which means they can do things like providing tea/coffee for runners as well as having a general welcoming friendliness that is missing in larger events. There were 46 finishers, which is their third largest attendance!
Saturday afternoon, Seamus had a mayoral engagement – a tree planting ceremony to mark 5 decades of town twinning. 6 of us joined him and thus met the mayoress of Wesel, Ulrike, along with several councillors and twinning association members. We were overwhelmed by the friendliness on show and Ulrike even walked us into the town telling us some of the history and pointing out landmarks. This is when we learned about Wesel’s mascot – the donkey (esel in German); Felixstowe even has a donkey sculpture outside the library that commemorates 25 years of twinning.
Saturday night rolled around and the usual FRR race prep ensued… perhaps a little too much race prep as it happens, but who doesn’t like to start a race with a hangover??
Sunday. Race day.
The race HQ was only 10 minutes drive from our accommodation and we didn’t need to collect Seamus as the fire service were giving him a lift! Weather was as good as it could be in early January – dry and bright but cold with a stiff breeze.
Our numbers had been prepared for easy collection, so we didn’t need to join the (very large) queue. We were also each presented with a blue wristband that granted us free food and drink from any of the stalls at the event – a much appreciated, thoughtful gesture.
The race numbers were a format I haven’t seen before – two sheets in a plastic wallet, one with reusable timing chips on and one personalised for the event. They reuse the timing sheet, so we handed them back in at the end. I’m not convinced that the logistical hassle is worth any cost savings, nor the ecology of the plastic wallet aspect, but it was interesting to see (for me at least)
The mayoress and the head of the twinning association had come along to support us, so we spent a few minutes socialising and posing for photos before the usual pre-race nerves kicked in.
Pre-race nerves leads nicely to the discovery that the portable toilets were both heated and had hot water!
The start times were pushed back by half an hour as too many people were registering on the day. The marathon start was 10:00 and the half 15 minutes later. The 4 of us doing the marathon lined up and started seamlessly. Most of those doing the half did the same, but some had a “rolling start” and found that the start timing mat had already been removed… remember that the German’s are known for efficiency ;-)
The course was a loop of just over 7km, so 3 laps for the half and 6 for the full marathon. There were also relay runners in teams of 3 or 6 each running one lap. There were a lot of supporters on the finish/handover straight but very few elsewhere on the course (there were a few music stations and marshals). Once the field thinned a bit, each time I crossed the line the commentator announced “here’s one of our friends from Felixstowe” and other such encouragement in English – this certainly added to the feeling that it was an honour to be there.
Naturally as time went on, the half and relay runners finished and the course got a lot quieter. The marshals stayed vibrant though and were constantly cheering us on. There were two drinks stations on the course serving water and isotonic drinks, meaning there was no need to carry anything – which is always a good thing on such a long run.
After the race, we regrouped at the house, freshened up and shared our race experiences. It transpires that one runner managed to miss both the start and finish! He was late to the start and ran straight past the finish line. The mood was very upbeat and everyone had enjoyed the race (accepting that it may have been “type 2 fun” in the cold).
We had arranged to meet our HADI colleagues for dinner that evening, so we decamped to the restaurant where we had a very enjoyable evening of celebration.
Monday. The journey home.
We had been warned of protests possibly blocking the main roads in Germany, so debated leaving as early as 6am but decided to risk it – there are a lot of alternative routes available and it’s not too far to the Dutch border. The weather was much kinder and the radweld had done the trick, so it was a relatively straightforward drive back to Calais. We spent a while looking for something to eat and did a bit of shopping before getting on LeShuttle, where amazingly we found ourselves on the same train as another FRR heading home from France.
My overriding feeling from this weekend is that, especially in these post-Brexit times, we should definitely make more of the town twinning arrangement. Germans are very good at this stuff and it would be great for us to reciprocate. The race itself was brilliant, but the town and locals even more so.