Fancy an overseas race that doesn't require a passport nor a visit to the Bureau de Change? We found out what the Channel Islands have to offer...
Situated just off the north coast of France, it's easy to forget that both Guernsey and Jersey are part of the British Isles. The climate and culture have a strong French influence that belie the Channel Islands' status as a British Crown Dependency. The marathons held in the two bailiwicks offer a slightly more exotic option than your average British race whilst still having an air of familiarity about them. You won't need a passport to travel to get there (though some photographic identification is required) and visiting the bureau de change isn't necessary either, as they accept British currency. So what about the big running events?
Just 30 miles from France and 70 miles from England, the Bailiwick of Guernsey is the second biggest of the Channel Islands and nestles in the bay of St Malo. The marathon was first held in 1909, and 2013 will see the fifth staging of the event since 2009 after an absence of 17 years.
In previous years, the event took place over the bank holiday weekend in August but this year's race has been moved to 22 September. There have also been some revisions to the course with the stadium finish (involving a lap of the track at Foote's Lane stadium) being replaced with a start/finish at Albert Quay on the capital St Peter Port's waterfront.
The course takes you along picturesque roads and lanes, sandy inlets and bays, and around the coastline. The early stages of the race are undulating, gradually leading to the highest point of the island, before turning flat for five miles then descending onto the west coast and finally reaching the finish line. Temptingly, the 2013 course has about 20 miles of sea views.
Reader Karen Nicholson has taken part in several races including Run Liverpool half marathon and the Great Scottish Run half marathon. For her first full marathon she chose Guernsey, as she explained: "A friend of mine was living down there so I was hoping to visit her anyway and when I found out the marathon landed on a bank holiday weekend I thought it was perfect. It's a good place to do your first marathon as it's not as big as some of the other marathons, with only a few hundred taking part, so you get a lot more space to run in which helps in getting a fast time."
She was impressed with the course: "It was quite undulating, lots of ups and downs, but also very scenic. You're able to see most of the island whilst doing the race. I think you go by all of the 10 parishes. About half of it is by the sea, and you go along lots of pretty country roads. I'd say it's a PB course. The toughest part was two miles from the end but I think the ends of races are always hard so it wasn't necessarily related to the course."
After the race Karen took advantage of the massages on offer: "They had physiotherapy specialists giving massages for charity. I thought that was a nice touch as usually you have to pay for that kind of thing. The medal was great too - it's shaped like Guernsey. There was also a photo booth where you could take pictures as a memento."
A short ferry trip from Guernsey, Jersey's French influence is even more notable than its neighbour's with the island having predominantly French street names. Declaring itself to be 'the warmest place in the British Isles' you can expect relatively mild temperatures (around 16°C) despite the race taking place in October. Those who enjoy listening to music while running, however, will be disappointed as no music players are allowed at the event due to around 60% of the course taking place on traffic-controlled roads.
Now in its eighth year, the marathon will be held on 6 October this year, starting in St Helier, Jersey's main town, taking runners along country lanes, paved tracks, the aforementioned traffic-controlled roads and broad open footpaths. There is also a relay race and 3k fun run which, combined with the marathon, attracted over 2,500 entrants in 2012 with over 80% of marathon runners coming from outside the island.
Jim Usher was one of those visiting and was impressed by the enthusiastic support he received: "I was completely taken aback by the crowd's encouragement and enthusiasm. You could hardly run for five minutes without seeing someone cheering you on."
If you are able to make a weekend of it, it's worth doing as there is a pasta party on the Friday night and, with the island measuring just nine by five miles, you will have time to explore Jersey's local attractions before and after the race.
For those who don't fancy taking on a full marathon there are smaller races held on the islands, including the Jersey half marathon on 9 June and the Alderney half marathon and 10k fun run on 7 September. In Guernsey there is the Easter Running Festival from 29 March to 1 April which consists of four different races - half marathon, 10k road race, 4.75 mile cross country, and 4 x 2 miles team cross country relay. If you are visiting the island between February and September you can also take part in one of the Lee Merrien Running 2013 Park 5km events.
It would be a convenient simplification to say that the Channel Islands' rich and varied history are reflected in the diverse terrain and views of both marathons, but these are races you are unlikely to get bored with. In fact, once people have their first taste they can often be heard saying: "Isle be back."