Claybury Met League XC - 13 October 2018

By Roisin Hogan

My first race with the Eagles and I'm tasked with writing a report – I never signed up for homework but here we go…

Eagles old and new made their way to Claybury Park for the first fixture in the XC Met League on 13 October 2018.

Whilst everyone packed trail shoes, gloves, long socks and the like, no one thought to check the weather forecast where sun cream, sunglasses and sangria would have been more appropriate.

As a new joiner to the Eagles and to the XC Met League, I was amazed to see such a great turnout. The juniors were finishing up as we arrived with the ladies race up first.

I can't say I was prepared but it was clear a lot of the ladies were. We set off (some quicker than others) but the bottleneck start slowed the majority down. I also hear one lady took a tumble with several runners following behind – thank goodness the majority weren’t wearing trail/spike shoes! Not the first calamity of the day!

The ladies had a slightly shorter route than the men which started with a short loop followed by two full laps of the park. It was an unseasonably hot day with very little shade. A Serpie runner collapsed part way through but with prompt medical assistance provided she was released later that same day.  

Ruth Dixon was clapped and cheered by all as she made it over the finish line with Melissah Gibson alongside for support.

Some also made it over the line lighter than when they started…Rebecca Jackson witnessed a girl caught short mid run!

The start to the men's race was slightly delayed but I believe this gave them an unfair advantage as the midday sun had well and truly passed by the time they set off.

The men's route consisted of a lot of testosterone, sweat and three full laps of the park or some will claim four laps including Kieran's warm down.

Safe to say everyone was well and truly dehydrated by this point and so to the pub we went.

Heatwave permitting, I'll be there for the next fixture!

Shout outs to:

Kieran and Charlotte as XC captains for organising a great event

Charlotte and Sam as paparazzi (best photo award goes to Hayley)

Simon for baking a delicious cake

Ed for dragging me along

The club for providing nibbles at the pub

Following a couple pints, a few words from those that took part:

Hayley: “today I learned that if you get a stitch on the left and then right, they sometimes combine to make a super stitch!”

Jess: “Ask me again when there's mud”

Abi: “Erm what was that sun all about? Makes the beer taste better though”

Rebecca: “you know it’s a tough race when the girl in front of you is wetting herself mid run.”

Ruth: “First time at XC and I'll definitely be back. Feeling very proud of myself and all the awesome eagles. Thanks for the standing ovation at the end – one to remember.”

Charlotte W: “I couldn’t wait for it to be over!”

Jen W: "My comeback race – hot and hilly and my lungs really hurt (and almost 4 minutes slower than last time) but I loved it!"

Claire: "I've remembered why I don’t do cross country" bit destroyed by the hills and the terrain but a beautiful park and a great team effort"

Liz: "loved the course but lack of mud a downside"

Kimmy F: "(1) liked that more than expected, (2) 2 non eagles fell ill due to ridiculous heat, (3) no mile markers and (4) feel inspired to train"

Sam: "that was hard, I don’t like it"

Mark: "first cross country and loved it! Failed to take Kieran's advice about sprinting the start but perversely enjoyed the hill passes"

Simon: "First cross country for a long time. Don’t like heat or hills! But worth it for the beers after"

Neil: "I'm not around much but XC is the biggest event in the season. Great eagles turnout and effort"

Jose: "I couldn’t wait to run this race and as usual the feeling at the end is great. Only in a XC race like this you get to see so many good runners and approaches to run the race (whether it is a crazy Ricardo sprint at the start or a strong runner like John or a patient runner like Ewan). Welcome again to XC"

Nigel: "Easy……"

Ed: “World's longest warm down thanks to Kieran. The hot new eagle made up for it”

Rob W: "I respected the hills but they didn’t beat me. Job done!"

Adam W: "didn’t see Ronnie this time round. Disappointing ;)"

Tim W: "it's not supposed to be as hot as this when you do XC. Where were the water stations?"

John F: “It's back! XC is our winter bread and butter and we need good turn outs for very fixture! Be there or be square! Good turn out today on such a warm afternoon! Let keep this up. Really testing course but lots of hill work recently paid off. Felt strong on the third loop and overtook lots of knackered runners. Punishing, testing, unrelenting XC…just as it should be. Bring on the mud all the same…”

Tom W: “First XC race. Can only be uphill from here!”

Greg: “Never again…until Welwyn.”

Kieran: “Again it’s the most testosterone filled start to any race in the world – love it.”

Laurence: “I hate Claybury. Brutal hill but ready for the rest of the season.”

Matt P: “Here’s to more runs with the Eagles! Great team support which helped after those hills!”

Laurence: “Great first race with the Eagles. Brilliant team, can’t wait for more runs.”

Bernard: “Didn’t bring my A game today! Clearly the heat played a part. Hilly and dry as per usual. Glad to be running XC again”

James: "tough hill, but nice to have Claybury as first XC with eagles"


RNR 2018

Over the last five years, many of us have been lucky enough to take part in the wonderful Welsh Castles Relay. But one of the great things about the Eagles is that there are always people who ask “what next?”. One night, Kieran Santry and Paul Thomas did just that and came up with the Round Norfolk Relay: A 198 mile race around the border of Norfolk, run as a non-stop 17 stage relay. Held since 1987, teams submit a predicted finish time which is used as handicap to make sure all teams finish at about the same time on Sunday morning. The event website says it best:

“The race presents not only a tough physical challenge, but also a test of the organisational prowess of a club... The event is much more than just a normal relay for it requires special preparation, planning and support. It is not an event for a club without a spirit of adventure. But the sense of satisfaction and achievement after completing the race is simply second to none.”

Now the Eagles have never lacked a spirit of adventure, organisational ability or supporters. Which is how a stunningly attractive 17 member team and an even more attractive 5 strong support crew found themselves in the dark in 3 small boats on the River Bure headed (where else) to the pub. We spent the night in our HQ, an amazing riverside house and boat, courtesy of Tom Green and Jon Duncanson (thanks!). There we were each issued with personalised timetables for the weekend by the man with a PhD in logistics (plus an MA in photography a BSc in sleep deprivation), Paul Thomas, before heading to the start in Kings Lynn.

As we’d submitted a relatively quick predicted finish time, our allocated start time was quite reasonable at 10am. alongside the very friendly Fenland Runners who, it turns out, love to be called the Finland Runners. The nature of the event meant that the two teams and the St Edmunds Pacers spent the daylight hours battling each other for position before the field concertinaed during the long, lonely night stages. Two minibuses and two cars shuttled back and forth, dropping off runners, support cyclist, two timekeepers and some increasingly bleary eyed cheer squad members. Runners have a cyclist with them on all the road stages, and at night you are also tailed by one of the support vehicles.

We finished in an impressive 10th place in 23:17:19, 20 minutes ahead of our target time. We were second in the mixed category, won the prize for the best new team and Rebecca won her stage. But this wasn’t about times and positions, it was about spending an amazing weekend with the best running club on the planet.

I’ll leave each of the runners to report on their own stages, but first I must doff my cap to the heroes of the weekend: The event organisers and marshalls; our support crew Heidi, Henry, Bob, Andrea and Paul Thomas; fellow organisers Tom G, Ewan and Olivia; and, of course, Captain Fantastic Kieran. Thanks to their hard work over several months we all made it around in one piece, no one got lost on the lightly marked stages and we all had a total blast.

Roll on RNR 2019!

10.00 am: Stage 1 Laurence Elliott, King’s Lynn to Hunstanton (16.32miles, 1:56:14)

The time had come for the relay to begin, all that was needed now was the baton to get on its way with the other 60 teams. The start consisting of me, the Fenland runner (our closest in the mixed category), and … that’s it. To put it simply, staggered starts are boring for the first few stages.

And like that we’re underway, support cyclists in tow and a baton that isn’t stopping for nearly 24 hours. The first few miles roll away effortlessly, a fumbled bottle handover but now we’re on top of it. Then a hill 5 miles in, the one-bit I could not recce the week before, and it feels like a big one, it isn’t but I question how the next 12 miles are going to be. Just a couple miles after its goodbye to the bikes I’m running alone up gravel lanes with glimpses of my faster fellow starter in the distance.

After a brief foray over some grass the shingle and sand begins, no more solid ground for 5 miles. Mile 10 rolls round and the first friendly faces, or any faces, for nearly 30mins. Ben and Andy bundle fuel into my hands, it’s getting hot now, really hot. All I can picture is the deep sand I need to run through, I clock my third fastest HM time just before it. Then the inevitable, I plough into the sand and my legs just turn to lead. But it’s just one long parkrun to go… it’s just dodging dogs, prams, a duck boat, and then up the cliff face. There finally I see Ewan and Andy, they assure me I’m nearly there. I wipe the sweat off the baton, hand it to Jon and off he goes with the same eagerness that I’ll see at the start of every stage.


11.56 am: Stage 2 Jon Duncanson, Hunstanton to Burnham Overy. (14.06 miles, 1:39:14)

Privileged to be on a team of high quality Eagles, the nerves before the multi-terrain 2nd stage we’re keenly felt. Stage two’s start is overlooked by a lighthouse and a beautiful view of Hunstanton beach, the sun was shining and the glorious North Norfolk coastal path beckoned...but this was a race and, unlike on my recce, any appreciation of the scenery was quickly put to one side, this was about keeping end up my for the team.

Lawrence handed over the baton and I was off straight into a 1.5m section of sand dunes before finding a firmer footing on the coastal path, phew. The excitement of the event spurred a fairly ambitious pace through section one but running an early stage of this handicapped event meant it was unlike any race I’ve done, there were no other runners or support to be seen! Fortunately section two saw me hit road for 4 miles where the Eagles were on hand in max noise cheer squad mode. Olivia flanked me on the bike, all my needs were covered, the Mo treatment was quite the treat! The road section saw me push on nicely to Brancaster, where the coast path once again awaited. That’s where it got tough, running solo with the ambitious pace I’d set earlier in the stage waning. It was a question of trying to stick with it, getting the job done and willing on the sight of the windmill at Burnham Overy. 1k from the changeover was the welcome sight of the bikes who picked me up and trailed me to the end. Over to Ben to keep the baton moving. For me, I loved all aspects of the event and, despite being disappointed not to manage my run better, I was happy to get through the stage ahead of schedule and without a wrong turn.

1.35 pm: Stage 3 Ben Cale, Burnham Overy to Wells (5.76 miles, 41:19)

A beautiful course with no road sections but also no bikes allowed so you are running very much on your own at this stage. I had a 10 minute deficit to Team Fenland in front so knew it was very unlikely I'd be catching anyone. First mile consisted of flat hard-packed dirt that formed the wall of the estuary, busy with walkers but with enough space to easily get past as long as you warned them you were approaching. This turned into a short section of boardwalk where you dip down into a proper dune before a short loose sand climb revealed the beach quite a way below. On the beach it quickly became obvious that running on the sand exposed by the low tide was the firmest and therefore most efficient course although negated slightly by the rills left behind by the waves that made it feel rather odd underfoot. High tide would have made this section miserable!

The exit from the beach was thankfully marshalled as this was the one bit I was worried about missing. To leave the beach involved ascending a rather large dune that sapped all momentum and was no quicker to run than it was to walk up. Once over you twist through the dunes before a gradual climb into pine woodland away from the shore.

The last section was an evil little bit involving a much busier section of path that ran alongside a car park, before running around a cafe and up a vicious final climb onto a concrete sea wall. Round a tough 90 degree bend before a final 30m sprint to the handover point. By the end, I was not far off the pace for a 10k PB and I'd clawed back 5 minutes on the team in front and beaten my target by just under two minutes so my job was done.


14.16 pm Stage 4 Harriet Irving, Wells-Next-The-Sea to Cley-Next-The-Sea (11.14 miles, 1:26:55)

With the voice of Captain Santry telling me that I must know my route echoing in my mind I set off from the beach Wells-Next-The-Sea down the broadwalk to the town. Had I learnt my route well enough? Probably not. So I was relying on my watch and phone to direct me over the next 11 Miles. The Captain’s voice was still ringing in my ears, but this time he was actually there on his bike, warning leisurely strollers of my approach. After navigating the busy town, I headed out over winding trails along the beautiful north Norfolk coast, with the sea somewhere to my left. For the most part the flat, well-trodden paths were easy to follow. A couple of junctions and a few “private land” signs meant consulting the map but I thankfully didn’t stray too far. Twice cheering groups of Eagles were able to get on to the route and spur me on, which was most welcome given that I didn’t see a single other runner for the entirety of the stage. With a couple of miles to go I was rejoined by the cycling Captain as I picked up the road into Cley-Next-The-Sea before the final stretch back on the coastal path out to the beach. As I started my sprint to hand over to Tom G, I sunk into the shingle. The glorious sprint finish wasn’t meant to be. At least I didn’t have to run four miles on that shingle though.


15.43 pm Stage 5 Tom Green, Cley to Cromer (10.81 miles, 1:14:01)

Stage 5 is considered one of the three toughest stages in the race (along with 1 and 12) - due to its mix of shingle and un-Norfolk-like hills - not that I knew when I put my name down for it. So it was a shock when I did my recce and found I was losing two minutes/mile over the shingle - which resulted in my predicted time being revised up by 5 minutes.

The only ray of light was that the course did offer some choice over which route to take along the beach. On the day, the word was that increasingly, as the tide was going out, runners were heading straight down to the shoreline for the firmer sand, rather than the traditionally favoured meandering route along the top of the beach which offers some respite from the worst of the shingle.

Taking the baton from Harriet, I headed straight for the shoreline. I was pleased to find that the sand was indeed quite firm, that the slope towards the water wasn’t too steep, and there weren’t too many rocks to avoid. I settled into a rhythm tracking 30s per mile faster than planned.

I pushed on, taking more seconds off my planned pace, until the 4th mile, where increasingly the shingle was running in waves all the way to the sea. Rather than cut back up the beach in search of firmer ground on the coastal path, I decided to stick with it. I’d worked out that by running on the sand while the waves were out, I could minimise the amount of time I spent on the shingle when I was driven up the beach by the waves.

I was relieved to see Heidi, Henry and Olivia on hand with water at 4 miles. The 100m uphill dash on deep shingle to reach them and then the cliffs was the hardest of the race, but I was elated to see I was 4 minutes up on my target split as I hit the firm coast path.

The rest of the race passed in a blur as I realised that not only was I well ahead of target, I had loads more in my legs and could continue to eat away at my predicted time.

I knew I was gaining on the runners ahead of me as their supporters were still on the course as I came through Sheringham. As I hit the final mile I picked up Laurence as my support bike, and immediately saw a runner ahead. I passed him before the final turn, which took us across an open field to the finish. Now I could see the runner from Fenland. I pushed as hard as I could for the finish, but he was too far ahead to close down - coming in about 40 seconds ahead. But it was a great feeling to have got us in touch with that team, made our first overtake of the race, and taken 10 minutes off my predicted time. This was a race I will never forget!

16.57 pm: Stage 6 Hayley Kandt, Cromer to Mundesley (7.90 miles, 59:47)
What an amazing event with even more amazing teammates!  Going into this race I had 2 fears: 1. Not letting the team down, and 2. Seeing an opponent and having to race head to head. You can imagine my fear when Tom Green sped round the corner, nearly 10 minutes ahead of schedule and directly on the tail of our main competition!  It was up to me now!

So off I went, down onto the boardwalk (far too fast) and within a stone’s throw of the other runner.  I’m sure Eagles on the later stages will tell you the same – there’s something inherently animalistic about chasing someone down!  After watching the Fenland runner struggle to tackle a hill I knew this race was mine to take. By the end of the 2 mile off road section, I had caught her – just in time to see our cheering teams and meet up with our cyclists. The next 6 miles were some of the best I have ever raced.  With Laurence on my tail encouraging me and keeping tabs on the other runner, all I had to do was run! A summer of Canadian trail running had paid off and I was able to run those hills like they were flats. And 59 minutes and 47 seconds after finishing I handed off to Michelle and was done… a whopping 3 minutes faster than my projected time, and with a 10k PB stuck somewhere in the stage!

17.57 pm: Stage 7 Michelle Tanner, Mundesley to Lessingham (9.24 miles, 1:09:58)

Nerves were rising pre-race, but with a cute dog waiting patiently at the start line, I managed to distract myself from getting too nervous. Before I knew it Hayley came flying around the corner and then I was off. With an amazing downhill to start and the adrenaline of it being my turn with the baton, I got to the bottom of the hill and thought, uh oh this is faster than my 10k pace but 3 miles longer in distance! As someone known for going off too fast and blowing up there was a quick panic, then some uphill kicked in I managed to find some decent pace that I have not been able to do continuously since before my marathon disaster earlier this year, so tactics became, try to hang on as long as I can. Towards the end it all became about counting down the distance left. My amazing bike support Bob seemed to understand this giving me the occasional update on distance left, between us we agreed a regular countdown and then before I knew it, it was over and the end was in sight. From there I tried to just reach the end as fast as I could, in the panic of getting to the end, the fading light and hi vis everywhere I couldn’t see Natalie! Poor girl had to start her stage with me practically running straight into her!

*** Support crew interlude! ***

Bob Sharpe (support crew)

Up early on Friday with over 400 miles ahead of us in my Suzuki SUV – it’s not a Jeep! At first a grand tour of Ealing picking up vans and stragglers – Paul, Ewan and Heidi. We made a rendezvous with Henry at Thetford to recce stages 12 to 9 backwards…to add to the stages we’d done the week before. No mean feat but definitely worth seeing them in daylight.

As a Yachtmaster sailor I’ve always fancied a trip on the Broads… I didn’t realise that meant from my car to the house… buy hey ho, I was soon ferrying the rag tag eagle refugees to the restaurant and back… great fun and thanks to Jon and Tom for trusting me at the helm.

Heidi and I finally got to sleep after our giggling fits. It was like being at teenage camp again. At King’s Lynn I was greeted by my old friend Sue who lives nearby who wanted to let us know we were all stark raving mad. Then we’re off and speeding along to the various bike pick up and drop off points. What a wonderful experience seeing so many Eagles pulling together and a testament to Paul for his amazing spreadsheet that everyone was at the right place at the right time and knew what they were doing. I still can’t get out of my head Andrea shouting “Hundescheiße“ every time we stepped near a coast path.

After what seemed forever I realised it was only 3pm! Still another 18 hours to go! No one in the car thanked me for continually updating them on the time left. After a fiddle with Keiran’s rear… brakes, I found myself pedalling behind Michelle in my lycra shorts far too tight for a man of my age and size. She was quiet as a mouse as she made great progress along stage 7 until about 2km to go when she became a tiger hunting down her finish line prey screaming “how long to go”? plus “Count me down every 100 metres”…. Boy she was on fire. Then back in the car as night fell to stage 9 start. Ewan thought Natalie was to arrive imminently and I’m grateful that in the gloom no one could see the sight of Henry and I sprinting to the start line in front of the windmill.

An hour’s sleep under the stars at midnight in a field of cows and cars. Indelible memories of Tom Easten’s lycra clad cheeks furiously bouncing all the way along his 20 mile route at great speed. And Rebecca’s joyous celebrations as she crossed the finish line.

What a race, what a weekend, what a fab flock of Anglia eagles.

Heidi (timekeeper)

After being on the team for the first WCR I couldn't let the Eagles debut at RNR pass me by!  I'd get FOMO!! Minor problem though in that I don't run much at the moment so the chances of me making the team were slim to none!  I decided to volunteer my services instead, and after some debate it was decided I was responsible enough to be Chief Timekeeper, woohoo!!!

Timekeeping wasn't so hard - press start, press lap 16 times and press stop!  What could possibly go wrong? Other than a malfunctioning timer not too much!  It was great to be at all of the changeovers to see the runners and cyclists finishing or heading off, although as we went through the night and the runners started to bunch up the changeover areas were just complete carnage which made things slightly more interesting!!  It was so bizarre at night to see the convoy of cars and flashing beacons along the race route (although I became slightly obsessed with the style of beacon and whether they were in the right place!) and even google maps couldn't work out what was going on as it told us there was congestion ahead!  Yes, we were causing it!! But we got to fly past all the cars and cheer on our runners so that was good!

I haven't pulled an all nighter for a VERY long time so I'm quite surprised that I made it through the whole thing with only a 40 min nap in the car during Tom E's stage!  If only he ran slower I could've slept for longer!!! But despite the lack of sleep it was a brilliant weekend and it may have even inspired me slightly to get off my arse and dust off the P&D book to see if I can make the cut for next year...  Watch this space...

*** Interlude! ***

19.07 pm: Stage 8 Natalie Noble, Lessingham to Horsey (7.52 miles, 58:29)

I started stage 8 feeling good but very nervous. It was beginning to get dark and the wait to get my head torch on was finally over. Seven and a half miles of Norfolk country road followed, accompanied by the world’s best cyclist/coach (thanks for shouting at me Tom...)! A great run and coming in just under my predicted time was an added bonus. Bring on next year!

20.05 pm: Stage 9 Ewan Fryatt, Horsey to Belton (16.6 miles. 1:43:05)

Between Natalie picking up the baton and handing it to me outside Horsey mill, it had got completely dark. The experience was starting to feel surreal as everyone gathered in a car park in the middle of nowhere - not a street light in sight but hundreds of head torches, bike lights and some flashing beacons in the distance from the vans that had departed and those arriving.

Having never raced a 16.6 miler in the night I didn’t know what to expect or how to pace it, but I picked up the baton and set off hoping to average 6:20 mile (3:55ish k).

One of our vans was immediately behind me to light up the road, and I was ably assisted by my cyclist and our skipper Kieran. It’s only later on that I found out repeatedly that Kieran isn’t that good at cycling far enough in front of me to give him enough time be able to get gels and water out of his bag for me by the time I got level with him. We learned how to do it eventually, and his support was much appreciated.

The stage got eventful about 6 miles in, when we could see the flashing beacons of various teams ahead of us as we started to close in a number of the teams that had started earlier in the day. We learned the drill of runner and cyclist passing on the inside of a long traffic jam, with our van having to safely make its way through the field. The adrenaline boost of overtaking teams led to a couple of faster miles than planned, but I remained fairly sensible. I was aware that beautiful scenery was a stone’s throw away, but I couldn’t see anything except road and flashing lights, concentrating on running as fast as I could without getting run over.

12 miles in came Great Yarmouth - we were a little worried by this section because a) it featured some tricky navigation like underpasses, and b) it was 9.30pm with people outside pubs fueled by alcohol and I was about to run through it all in short shorts, a head torch and high-vis, accompanied by an Irishman on a bike shouting ‘Go faster, go faster’.

After another 4 miles of painful dual carriageway in the middle of nowhere, I could start to sprint as we could see there was a gathering of hundreds of people wearing high vis up ahead. I finished 2 minutes quicker than planned, and I was handed a slice of pizza by the team.  The most bizarre and exhilarating race I’ve done by some margin!


21.48 pm: Stage 10 Andy Guy, Belton to Earsham (18.13 miles, 2:10:03)

A week after a mountain marathon and a return trip to New York, Stage 10 started 10 minutes early thanks to my amazing team mates setting such high standards. Ewan blazed in to sight brandishing the baton. Cannot let them down now. I set off for a long stage to race in the famously flat county of Norfolk. Which isn’t, as it transpires, that flat! Nervous as usual pre-race I was calmed by Henry, Heidi, Olivia, Laurence and my cycle support Ben; the latter was about to spend over 2 hours with me on a dark and lonely road.

I had been hoping that I’d see the orange lights of support vehicles strung out along the not-

so tricky section of the route described in the instructions as ‘Then continue on road for 16

miles’. This would have helped the racer in me drive onwards. However, we saw not one

orange light or other runner (excepting the nutter who sped past me at light speed after

one mile).

The surreal 18 miles felt like chasing ever forward in to a cold black hole. I did discover that

it’s easier to push yourself ever harder when there is a bus load of teammates watching

your every step! The early hills caught up with me slightly in the second half and Ben was a fantastic support in keeping me going. We crashed onwards along the dark road with only our silhouettes for company – the result of the full beam of our support vehicle. Finally, in a blaze of light cast by headtorches and hi-viz vests, the end of the stage came, baton was handed to Olivia and the cold tarmac became a sudden resting place.

Tom E. summed it up best when, from the prone position following his stage (exhaustion

not planking for once) he uttered “I hate these Eagle relay events: it’s not like when you pay

your own race subscription and can ease off if you don’t fancy it. You just have to give it all.

Then more”. Given that running is essentially an individual sport, I’m proud to run with a

club where (i) it appears each member of the RNR team pushed themselves harder than in

solo events; and (ii) five heros gave up their time selflessly to volunteer and work hard in an

event they didn’t compete in.


23.58 pm: Stage 11 Olivia Parker-Scott, Earsham to Scole (12.45 miles, 1:39:12)

12.5 miles on one long straight road at midnight probably wouldn’t be my usual number one choice when it comes to racing however when you get the chance to be part of the first Eagles team to enter a crazy event such as the RNR how could you refuse?! When picking stages I was the first to put my hand up for a night stage as it’s gnarly nature appealed to my sadistic ‘type 2’ running side. As the day wore on I was starting to regret my life choices and fuelled by seaside chips, tons of junk food (nothing new on race day was not honoured) and little rest I wasn’t feeling incredibly confident on the start line. However with the amazing support crew behind me including Ben on his bike and Tom, Paul and Yvette in the van blasting ‘Love Shack’ and ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ it made for a fantastic experience that I’ll remember above so many other events I’ve taken part in!

1.38 am: Stage 12 Tom Easten, Scole to Thetfold (19.67 miles, 1:59:53)

For me, my feelings on the Round Norfolk Relay have come in three distinct phases:

- Months before: “Ooh, this sounds fun! I’ll have to get involved with that. Those night stages look fun.”

- Weeks and days before: “I can’t believe I signed up for this but it’s too late to drop out now,

Dammit.”

- Immediately afterwards: “That was bizarre. Intense, unique and extraordinary. Never done

anything like it and so glad I went.”

First, the event. The first time doing something like this is always something of a prototype, a way of ironing out the kinks in the planning by trial and error. Next year won’t be the same, and that’s a good thing – lessons will have been learned and things will have been improved. The essence of the weekend will remain, though: very intense, very little sleep, eating and drinking where possible [and lots of planking - ed.] and some great times with your clubmates. I’d recommend it to anyone, as long as you’re they type to throw yourself into things and don’t mind wearing the same filthy pants for about 30 hours.

Mine was stage 12, a 19.67-mile, undulating race from Scole to Thetford, mostly on the same ‘A’

road, which gave me a great, level surface to run on, unlike some of my teammates earlier in the relay. I say ‘race’; you’re actually extremely likely to start running on your own, as you go whenever the baton gets to you. Due to the event’s staggered start, you might go large stretches of your stage without seeing another runner. As my stage was in the second half of the relay, I was lucky enough to have some people to try to catch up with and pass, as by that time the race had started to bunch up and there were more runners near each other. Off I went with my support bike and follow car, up the small hill stage 12 starts with, so much the better to stop me racing off too fast. After a few miles, I noticed the first distant, orange glow of another runner’s follow car beacon and the chase was on. That, for me, was how the stage developed: racing as hard as I could, chasing orange beacons whenever I glimpsed them. Racing at that time of the night was a surreal experience, particularly when you start so fatigued. Running through the dark, with orange and white lights flickering around you, and trying to keep your tiring brain focussed is a dreamlike experience. I’m so glad I did it. Unforgettable. Maybe next year I’ll start a bit earlier though…

3.37 am: Stage 13 Tom Irving, Thetford to Feltwell (13.25 miles, 1:29:54)

A half marathon in the middle of the night requires meticulous preparation: Careful planning of meals throughout the day, napping throughout the day, a relaxed build up and a good warm up. As a serious athlete I fuelled up with some lukewarm chips, 15 minutes of dozing in the bus and several panics. Panic one: When about 5 miles from the start of my stage, driver Paul was convinced our van had a puncture. Will we make it to Thetford? Or would I need to run there? We managed to roll up to the start line, piled out of the van and checked out the 4 completely puncture-free tyres. Panic two: where are the van keys? 20 minutes of frantic searching found them in the most unlikely place - the driver’s pocket. Panic three: another 20 minutes in the portaloo queue, regretting my lack of nutrition strategy and desperately hoping Tom Easten wouldn’t arrive too far ahead of schedule. I got to the front of the queue just in time for an extensive 150 metre warm up jog before being handed the baton.

My stage was through the looming Thetford Forest, so apart from the van’s headlights there was total darkness. Not being able to see the course ahead, there was nothing to focus on except picking off the vans in front and the words of encouragement from my superb support cyclist Olivia. The first half of my course was quite undulating, and the effect of my preparation and 18 hours in a minibus made it hard going. After 9 miles I was really struggling, before the Beast of Thetford came out and started shouting at the top of its voice. The adrenaline kicked in, I saw more buses to reel in, and made it to the line a couple of seconds under 1.30. From the look in Yvette’s eyes as, I handed over, I feared for the teams in front.

5.07 am Stage 14 Yvette Burton, Feltwell to Wissington (7.27 miles, 54:59)

I woke up at 6am on the Saturday morning in order to have breakfast and be ready to leave for 7am. It was then that it dawned on me that I would be getting into the minibus at 7am and yet I wouldn't be physically running my stage until 5.23am the next day. Do I put my running kit on now? Am I going to be able to get any sleep before I have to run? I mean I'm very much a morning person and given the choice I would much sooner run at 5am than 5pm but that's after I've had a good night’s sleep in a bed. This is going to be interesting to say the least.

Much to my surprise the day went by extremely quickly. The dropping off and picking up of runners and cyclists seemed to all be going to plan. Then into the night we continued.

The night time stages is where the relay really came to life and as much as I wanted to and needed to sleep I struggled to do so as it was so exciting watching the runners as there were so many more runners from other teams now on the course and overtaking was a regular occurrence.

My garmin informs me that I had 2 hours and 11 minutes sleep. When I got out of the minibus for my stage I was like a caged animal who had been let free after 22 hours. I simply could not wait to run and that would appear obvious as when I looked at my stats for the run my first mile was 7:10mm pace and I was aiming for 7:40mm pace. It was so dark that I could not see the data on my watch and while holding the baton in one hand I didn't want to have to press the light button on my garmin every time to check my pace. Therefore I ran to feel, I ran as fast as I could for as long as I could, making sure I left a little bit in reserve. When my garmin beeped for each mile I checked the pace and moved the baton to the other hand.

I overtook 2 runners early on, but then a woman overtook me. She seemed to be running much quicker than me so I decided to use her to pace me and not let her get away. I did this for the rest of the race. I was battling and I over took another 3 or 4 runners and no-one else overtook me.

With less than a mile to go the minibus behind me driven by Tom Easten starting blaring out the Eye of the Tiger song by Survivor. The lyrics seemed very appropriate.

It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight

Rising up to the challenge of our rival

And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night

And he's watching us all with the eye of the tiger.

Rising up, straight to the top

Had the guts, got the glory

Went the distance, now I'm not gonna stop

Just a man and his will to survive.

With around 200 meters to go the finish was in sight. I sprinted like my life depended on it, I couldn't overtake another runner as the support vehicle was in the way. So I overtook by mounting the grass. The woman who had overtaken me earlier on finished just 11 seconds ahead of me.

That race and the whole weekend was simply the best experience ever! I’m proud to be an Eagle.

6.02 am: Stage 15 Kieran Santry, Wissington to Downham Market (10.59 miles, 1:12:16)

I had expected it to be fully bright by the time I received the baton, but the previous 14 Eagles had run quicker than predicted, how dare they! So it was still semi dark at the stage 15 start point.

Someone shouted “runner coming”... Oh IT IS YVETTEEEEEE get ready,  Madness! Sweaty baton exchanged and I was away. Andy accompanied me on his bike and I could sense the Eagles support van just behind me but couldn’t dare look back! With only 20 miles to go to Kings Lynn lots of teams were coming into sight, I absolutely loved this. I could look up and see 2 or 3 flashing vehicles in the distance and then go and chase them down. This really kept me going and the tiredness at bay. My stage was mainly on an A road so wasn’t that scenic but at that hour I really didn’t care I wasn’t there for the scenery.

I was handing the baton over to Sophie and as I approached it was carnage with people at both sides of the road and I couldn’t see the exchange point or cones so i just kept sprinting as fast as I could as everyone was cheering so I guessed the finished can’t be far away, then I spotted Sophie (or rather her hideous pink shorts) A quick baton exchange and a pat on the bottom (much to the amusement of the crowd!) and Foxall was away.

The race was much crazier than I expected and I loved it, just pure madness being in the support car during the night especially as the Eagles were overtaking lots of other teams.

If you are a racer you will love RNR. So many memories made during this weekend.

Delighted and very proud to be part of the team that got 2nd in the mixed category and best debutant team.

7.15 am: Stage 16 Sophie Foxall, Downham Market to Stowbridge (5.49 miles, 42:51)

Following a few hours sleep back at the boathouse, I woke up at 4am. Fast forward a few hours and I found myself at the start of Stage 16, Downham Market. By now people were in various states of sleep-deprived delirium and the whole relay was coming to a manic climax.

The Stage 15 Eagles runner just happened to be our team captain, aka. my fiancé! Crackles came through the marshal’s walkie talkie of a sighting of ‘team 54’. A couple of minutes later Kieran tore around the corner with a classic Santry sprint finish which was akin to a steam train charging towards me….terrifying! With a seamless baton transition and a pat on the bottom, off I went with Tom Green in hot pursuit as my support cyclist.

Naturally, with all the excitement, I went off a little too fast and couldn’t sustain 7:30 pace throughout. However, I was pleased to pick off a couple of runners early on and enjoyed the (flat) Norfolk scenery! Tom provided just the right mixture of encouragement and company and before I knew it the 5.5 miles were nearly up and I was approaching Stowbridge within my predicted time. Enthusiastic Eagles’ cheering saw me over the bridge and down to Rebecca for the final baton exchange.

Just some of the highlights of RNR – a taster of boat life on the Norfolk Broads, stalking rival flashing beacons during the night stages and reminding Bob Sharpe that he had bikes on the top of his car when approaching barriers! Oh, and getting to spend the whole weekend with the Eagles!

7.57 am: Stage 17 Rebecca Jackson, Stowbridge to King’s Lynn (11.73 miles, 1:19:09)


So now comes the final stage, Stage 17: the “glory” stage. But with the glory comes the pressure! After the rest of the team had worked so hard to get us ahead of our target time, the pressure was on to ensure I didn’t let the club down! I had recced my stage the previous week so felt fairly confident with the route so it was all down to keeping up the pace I wanted. The nerves kicked in at The Heron for the handover and after a swift change with Foxall and Jon on the bike I was off. A few miles through a lovey little village and a few teams knocked off, then it was onto the Fens Rivers way passing the church ruins and several other clubs en route! The miles flew by and I was able to keep ahead of my target pace picturing the finish line as my motivation. Coming into the Lynnsport stadium for the last half a mile I could hear the tannoy announcement and the cheering from the Eagles. I dug as deep as I could for the final 100m onto the track and brought the baton home in style as I leaned through the finish rope to complete the Round Norfolk Relay 2018.




Three years to become OBE by Ewan Fryatt

THREE YEARS TO BECOME OBE…

Inspired by recent ballot winner blogs, I decided to write a race report about my marathon too. It seems a reasonable use of all the spare time I now have given that I can still barely run a week after the marathon.

I have divided this into three parts like every other blog entry I have ever written (which is one other!).

As background, I wasn’t really training for a marathon this year. I have bored plenty of people in the club with this, but to recap I had a big unachieved running goal of going under 3 hours in the marathon. It had become a big challenge since my first attempt at joining the Order of the Bald Eagle (‘OBE’) in 2015, which took place shortly after discovering on a club run that the OBE existed. That first attempt ended in a 03:00:47 and had been done without a huge marathon-focused training – disappointing at the time, but with hindsight a fairly predictable failure. I then trained in 2016 assuming I’d then easily break the barrier but I hit the wall badly in Manchester (3:09), and then same again in London in 2017 (3:08). I had gone from mistakenly thinking sub-3 was simple enough to it being a major barrier.

I hadn’t really planned to do a marathon in 2018. Over the 12 months since London 2017 though I had managed to build my mileage gradually with only relatively small injury gaps, and had trained well for the half marathons in March. Weekly mileage average was around double what it was the previous year, albeit cross-training was limited. Long runs were now feeling fairly easy and I thought I might as well attempt a marathon again with little to lose.

I eventually signed up for Southampton Marathon only about a month before the race. I knew nothing about the race but that was my only weekend that looked free. It meant I would miss London mile 23 supporting, and the celebrations in the pub afterwards, but I decided it needed to be done.

1) Training

The great part of signing up last minute to do a marathon is that I experienced very little of the pre-race training anguish.

I had trained for half marathons until March and got the time I was going for at the Big Half (1:19). Since this report will be largely positive I will ignore the Hillingdon short-course debacle the week before that where I would have gone faster than 1:19 (oops, I didn’t manage to ignore it after all!).  It suggested now might be the time to start training for a full marathon.

After a recovery week following the Big Half, I decided to see how a 20 miler felt. I still wasn’t intending to run a marathon,  and even if I decided to I didn’t want to start focusing on it yet. The problem with Strava is that everyone saw this run immediately and started asking me when my marathon was. The 20 miler (21.1 in the end) felt fine and so I did a medium-long later including some sub-3 pace later in the week to see how I would react to that – again this was fine and was probably the best indicator that I could be ready. I then decided to see how my body would react to two weeks in a row of more than 60 miles incorporating a long run and a medium-long run, and the answer again was fine. And so the plan to run a marathon was born.

By the time I signed up for the marathon, I only had one more heavy mileage week to do. It felt like I got to that ‘last long run’ feeling before really starting the training. I strongly recommend this as a training plan. I had only done three 20+ milers, but crucially they all felt manageable and as if I still had plenty to spare at the end.

After that, I still had a few fun testers that were loosely based on a marathon plan – a 15 miler at 6:37/mile pace which went well, a 10 mile PB at the Towpath Ten, another recce of the Ealing Half course at marathon pace the weekend before the race. The race was definitely on.

2) Build up to the race

Despite the slightly unusual approach to training, I still suffered two parts of marathon preparation that I dislike: a) maranoia, and b) carb loading.

a)      Maranoia  - Because I wasn’t heavily invested in that one race this time, the maranoia wasn’t as bad as normal. The weather forecast though had me preoccupied. That hit me particularly badly with 4 days to go, along with the discovery that the course was hilly.

The weather forecast varied throughout the week and eventually settled around 17-20C and bright sun. It was better than London, but significantly worse than the earlier predicted cloud, and far from ideal conditions.

I didn’t know much about the Southampton marathon. After signing up I discovered a lot of talk about how hard the Itchen Bridge was. The course is a 2 lap course incorporating the Itchen Bridge four times in all, so not a great start for a planned fast marathon.

During the week I was then sent the elevation profile, which was useful but very daunting. It made clear there was in fact one very large hill in addition to the Bridge, which you ran up at miles 11 and 24. I have attached my Garmin readings from the day in the photo below. These can sometimes look deceiving, but this is pretty much how it felt.

It seems like the description on the website of ‘predominantly flat’ really meant ‘fairly flat for about 20 miles and seriously hilly for 6’.

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In the week before, the above factors led me to seriously considering whether I even wanted to run. Thankfully, with the help of a number of Eagles (you know who you are) I decided to re-adjust my time goal a little, but still run to try for sub-3.

It is always recommended to have multiple goals for a race. I had originally decided the following – the ‘A’ goal was 2:53. No big reason for it but felt like the conservative end of various calculators. ‘B’ goal was sub-3 hours although that was really the main one.  ‘C’ goal was a PB although that was a bit pointless as it would have meant just missing out on sub-3. ‘D’ goal: Good-for-age (‘GFA’) qualifying time for London of 3:05.

With the heat wave, the hilly course, and to top it off the London Marathon changing its GFA qualifying to at least sub-3 the week before, the multiple goals aspect was ruined. My goals became A) under 3:00, B) under 3:00, C) 3:00:46, D) under 3:00 for GFA. Not a lot of room for error there. Thanks again to everyone who encouraged me.

a)      Carb-loading - I felt poor carb-loading had let me down in previous attempts, so I took it seriously this time. It’s not a part of marathon training I particularly enjoy, especially as I don’t like sweet things. I discovered that up to 10g of carbs per kg of body weight was a good aim – so that’s 760g for me - That is a lot of carbs!

I did it for 2.5 days. To illustrate, on the Saturday I consumed: a smoothie, another smoothie, an oat drink, a whole Soreen banana loaf, waffles and fruit, another smoothie, a large bowl of pasta, a pasta ‘mugshot’, another smoothie, another mugshot, a bowl of wholewheat pasta, 2 Soreen bars, an aloe vera drink, a Lucozade, a smoothie, a large bowl of quinoa, a large bowl of pasta, and a final smoothie.

The final bowl of plain pasta on Saturday night was such a challenge that the marathon didn’t feel very daunting anymore.

3) The race itself

I woke up early, well rested, and made my way to the start just a short walk from the hotel. It was bright but the temperature was very comfortable at that point as the sun rays had yet to breach the buildings. That changed around 8:55am, conveniently for a 9am start.  

I rehearsed mentally – go out slowly, try to hit around 6:47 for each mile, pass halfway in around 1:28/1:29, then carry on conservatively (I hoped it would feel like that at least) until 20 miles, dig in for 6.2 miles. The standard marathon advice is it’s a 20-mile warm-up followed by a 10k race and I prepared mentally for that. It was to work out exactly like that.

The one-lap half marathon started at the same time so there were several thousand people there – it felt like a big City marathon, but without the hassle, so was very enjoyable. I got into pen position early given the crowd, and now felt nervous for the first time. I positioned myself a few rows back as I recognized one of the 2:30 runners at the front, and the 1:30 half marathon pacer was somewhere just behind, so that seemed about right.

The first mile was 6:35 but it was downhill and I felt like I was significantly holding back as planned. I settled into around a 6:45 pace, feeling very comfortable and building a small cushion with each mile. The race was a lovely course – starting in the City Centre, going through plenty of parks, and along the seaside in just the first few miles. Crowds lined most of the route. We went over the Itchen Bridge for the first of four times, and it didn’t feel as hard as I’d been expecting from the race reviews.  The views were great from the bridge, and they’d set up a sprinkler so the heat was bearable … for now. There were quite a few people at a similar pace so a group started to form. The only downside of the course was that the mile markers were often significantly off. This brought back memories of Hillingdon Half when the mile markers being off was due to us having been led the wrong way, and on another day I feel this could have had a negative psychological effect. On this occasion, I conferred with a few runners and we agreed we should just ignore the markers. Thankfully every so often a marker corresponded to my watch (especially the 7 mile marker which I vividly remember being a significant mental boost).

Our group was down to just four of us by the time we got to St Mary’s Stadium at 10k, and ever since mile 3 it was clear we were passing people gradually and nobody was passing us, which was a nice feeling. Three of our group were running the marathon and one was running the half. We got onto a long straight road and as three of us were only 7 miles into our ‘warm-up’ at that point, we started chatting, probably seriously annoying the guy who was running the half who must have been trying to focus.   

We ran through some nice parks until we arrived at mile 11 and the start of the mile or so climb. I figured that I was used to the Ealing Half Marathon course, so this would be fine. Sure enough, at first it seemed to go up a little like Eaton Rise, so noticeable but not too painful. Unfortunately using EHM references, it was as if at the end of Eaton Rise, you then had to go up Greenford Avenue, and then straight up Park View Road, and then up Park View Road again. I don’t know how accurate that is, but it’s certainly how it felt. First time round though, although it was the slowest mile to date (6:58), it was at least bearable.

The three of us arrived at half way at 1:29:00 so exactly as planned for me – I would actually have liked a bit more of a time cushion that that, but thankfully someone in the club had specifically said to me ‘pass halfway in no quicker than 1:29’ so I was able to use that as a positive sign I was timing it perfectly.

The small group became two of us. We continued chatting with the heat building and the pain cranking up. Thankfully the miles were still being ticked off at planned pace. It helped so much to have someone to pace with, although chatting significantly reduced after 16 miles, and became reduced to an occasional encouragement by mile 19 as we approached our second trip through St Mary’s stadium. We finished our ’20-mile warm-up’ with a 6:38 mile. On my watch we had a 2.5 minute cushion (although it was actually less than that as it happened – see below).

The 20 mile warm-up was over. Now the 10k race could begin…

My approach to the last 6.2 miles was to concentrate hard on maintaining marathon pace for as long as possible after that, and hope not to slow too much on the hill. With every further mile around 6:52, the existing time cushion could be used over a smaller number of miles and I hoped that would help me focus. The pain and the heat were building really rapidly now but we pushed on through … mile 21 – 6:51, mile 22 – 6:49, mile 23 – 6:59.

Two things then happened – my group of two became just me (unfortunately Lee who I was running with had a short bad patch and eventually finished in 3:00:12), and we hit the big hill. That hill felt really, really tough this time round. The ‘wall’ was here to be smashed into or broken, and the negative thinking started to kick in – ‘I’ve slowed to almost 8 minute miles’, ‘I’m just going to miss out again’ etc. That expected part of the marathon challenge was here … a 7:22 mile and a 7:19 mile up the hill meant I’d eroded most of the cushion and was now in real pain. I fought hard to think positively, reached the water station at the top of the hill, and told myself it was now or never. I found that last reserve and got back into 6:50 pace knowing it was a gradual downhill from there.

I was in hanging-on mode. A 6:50 pace now felt like a sprint when it had felt more like a jog for the first 20 miles. The mile markers coincided with my watch measurements again, and I passed 25 just under 2 hours 50 minutes, this looked like it was on. The 26-mile marker came and again matched 26 miles on my watch. It appeared I had over 2 minutes left to do 0.2 miles, and that the course would be exactly 26.2 miles long. You expect a marathon to be a little bit long on a watch, but it looked like this would be spot on, and that I would be at least a minute under 3 hours.

I almost started celebrating until I realised I couldn’t even see the finish line, yet I knew from the first lap that it was quite a long way past the next corner. A horrible realisation set in that I could still miss the 3 hours. I now really had to sprint. I turned the corner, could see the line (which ended up being at 26.4 miles on my watch) – 2:59 came up on the clock, this was going to be really tight. It’s hard to comprehend distances at that stage of a race so I didn’t know if I would make it or not. To make matters worse I ran on the left hand side of the road and ended up on the wrong side of the barriers coming up to the line so had to stop and squeeze through a gap in the barriers and start running again … 2:59:20 on the clock, 2:59:30, I still wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. Then the line arrived, almost like a sudden surprise despite the long build up to it. 2:59:42!!!!

I had planned to take the hat and glasses off to get a decent photo finish of my first sub-3 but I had nothing left by that stage. I staggered around for a bit and finally the realisation came that I’d done it! I recovered for a few minutes, thanked Lee for getting me through many of those miles, and then after a few minutes stretching my cramping hamstrings, it occurred to me I could get a direct train to Waterloo and having started an hour earlier than London I would be able to join the celebrations. I jogged to the station at significantly slower than sub-3 pace.

A reflection … While the significant greater mileage put me in the right place physically, it’s amazing just how much of a marathon is mental. The advice that I received from everyone during the build-up (you all know who you are) was vital – so many of the soundbites of advice popped into my head at the right time. On the day I was able to pick and choose the ones I needed – for example as mentioned having passed halfway in 1:29 I remembered the advice to ideally pass half-way in 1:29, when it got hard I remember the comments about the mental adjustment required when it got hard, on the hill I remembered the comment about the hill not being able to stop me if I was on for sub-3 at that stage. Given 3 failures and 1 success, I now feel almost qualified to give advice on the mental side of a marathon – mine would be to store up all the useful advice and find a way to access it when needed, positivity is key to achieving a marathon time.

A week later, as I sit here not yet really able to run again, I still cannot fully believe I am an OBE.

 

Boston Marathon - Piers Keenleyside

I love running, and enjoy trying to get half-decent times but have been hampered by injury for the last 6 months which has been very frustrating. Last April I ran my 4th sub 3:30 marathon of the year at the London Marathon with a time of 3:23 which meant as a 60 year old I would easily have a BQ (Boston Qualifier) time.

When I ran Marrakech in just over 4 hours at the end of January and then 3:55 at Seville a month later I began to think my groin strain was on the mend but two ultras in March (Eco Trail de Paris and Two Oceans, Cape Town) did not seem to have helped the healing process! I knew that even a time of 4 hours would be difficult to achieve in Boston given the undulating nature of the course.

We left London on Friday morning and arrived mid-afternoon after a pleasant flight with BA thanks to an upgrade to business class (37 years working at BA still gets me some benefits if spare seats are available!). The weather was quite cold but sunny. Went to the expo to register and collect my number, and also sat in on a talk by previous ‘winners’. One of the speakers was Bobbi Gibb who was actually the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1966 – a year before Kathrine Switzer did so in 1967. Bobbi also ran in 1967 and beat Kathrine’s time by more than an hour – she was also the fastest lady in 1968. Kathrine’s run is more well known because she had officially entered (but as an assumed male) so was running with a bib number, and I think because of the famous picture of a race marshal trying to grab the bib number and get her off the course.

The next morning we got up early and set off on the ‘T’ (Boston’s ‘Underground’) to Stony Brook where we had a short walk to Jamaica Pond to join the third running of Boston’s first parkrun venue. A very nice course which was two laps around the perimeter of the pond made even nicer by a lovely spring morning with blue skies and a touch of warmth when in the sun – the calm before the storm! We even had coffee and doughnuts given to us the end of the run - provided by a local politician trying to get re-elected in September!

Sunday was grey and bitterly cold – with a bit of sleet in the air.  The forecast for Monday , race day, was worse – cold, wind and lots of rain with even the possibility of snow!. I also discovered that the bag drop was at the finish in Boston from where we would board the buses to the start. This meant I would need more warm throw away clothing to wear for the 2 hours or so we would have before the start of the race. After a shopping trip to Primark I was equipped with a pullover for bought $3 and jogging bottoms for $6.50. 

As promised, the rain and wind arrived early on Monday morning and woke us up at 3am as it crashed against the window of our apartment! I got up at about 6am and after a breakfast of porridge and cereal bars made my way to Boston Common via the ‘T’ to board a yellow school bus which would take us to the start at Hopkinton 26 miles to the west of Boston.
After an hour on the bus we arrived at the Athletes’ Village where 30,000 pairs of feet had made the place look like scenes from Woodstock with shoe sucking mud and piles of discarded clothing and blankets. There were also small piles of snow ringing each of the marquees where it had slid off the tops. Although they looked to offer some shelter from the wind and rain, getting over to them would have meant having my running shoes filled with water, icy slush and mud!

Luckily I spotted another option – some small red tents being used to distribute free Clif bars and gels to runners had also been given over to be used as shelters. I squeezed inside and found it surprisingly warm – they were equipped with small portable gas fires! When the first wave of runners were called to the start, quite a few people left the tent and I was able to bag a seat right in front of one of them!

I was in wave 2 but delayed leaving my cosy spot until I heard the first call for wave 3. The starting area was about 500m away and as I arrived, my corral of runners was already on the move and I tagged along at the back crossing the line about 5 minutes after the official start time for the wave.

Just prior to the start I had thrown off my jogging bottoms, (heavy fleece bought in a UK charity shop) and replaced my heavier ‘Paris Marathon’ poncho with a thin single use type plastic poncho. As it was so cold I decided to keep the Primark pullover on until I had warmed up a bit!

At the start the temperature was only 3 or 4 degrees but a 30mph headwind and the constant rain meant that it felt a lot colder. The rain never stopped – sometimes it would ease off and I’d think it was going to stop – but no! Within minutes it would be back heavier than before and with hail and snow mixed in for good measure! In places the water rushed down and across the road like a small river.

There were an amazing amount of spectators in spite of the weather and they made as much noise as any other major city race I have ever been in. Because of the driving rain I kept my head down and due to peak of my cap saw only my feet and the road for much of the race! On occasions when I did look up I could see that the small towns we passed through had wooded suburbs and roads lined with fine New England clapperboard detached houses.

The first 2 or 3 miles were quite easy being mainly downhill. It then changed to a more undulating type of course with many ups and downs. Just before the halfway point I reached the famous Wellesley College “Scream Tunnel” which could be heard well before I got there! Apart from the final few metres this was the only time I actually enjoyed running that day! It is not often a man of my age gets 100’s of girls screaming to be kissed by you with some holding risque signs such as ‘Kiss Me I’m Wet!”

I was very wet! Feet soaked from the many puddles and water running down the road. The sleeves of my long sleeved Ealing Eagles top, not covered by the poncho, were also dripping wet and every few minutes I would clench my fists in an attempt to ‘dry’ my sodden gloves!
At about mile 16 my groin strain really started to become quite painful and my pace dropped to 12 and 13 minute miles – I knew I would not even get a sub 4:30 finish. There was quite a steep hill around mile 19 and I thought I was at the famous Heartbreak Hill – but no, it was about a mile further on and a bit longer than the previous one. The race was mostly downhill from there but with a few more small climbs to negotiate. The final two miles were very flat coming into central Boston via Kenmore Square and along Commonwealth Avenue before turning right on Hereford Street and the left to the finishing straight on Boylston Street. When I made the right, there were hundreds of raincoats and garbage bags on the road, discarded by runners (I assume for “photo finish” reasons). Finally the finish line, and I was thinking when I got the medal, “this is one that I really earned!”. My official time was 4:57:08 – my slowest road marathon time ever. I hope to do better on Sunday in London where the weather is forecast to be a little bit warmer!

I exited the finish chute and collected my bag of dry warm clothes, left there earlier that morning, but could find nowhere dry to change. The Arlington ‘T’ station was very close so I wobbled down the steps and made my way back to our apartment. Kathryn had just got back from spectating and was soaked to the skin through 4 layers of clothing and a thick ‘waterproof’ coat! She had been on the course just after the turn into Boylston but we missed seeing each other. 

The Boston Globe had a story the morning after that said 2,500 runners received medical treatment for hypothermia. Among the elite men, 10 of the top 13 seeds all DNFd. I think I would have also been a DNF if I hadn’t kept the plastic poncho on for the whole race. I have now finished 148 marathons/ultras, and of them, the 2018 Boston Marathon was the hardest road marathon race I have ever done.

And well done to fellow Ealing Eagles, Gosia and James, who were also running Boston and  both did brilliant times in spite of the horrendous conditions!

 

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Hillingdon MET League XC 02/12/17 by Hein Gunnewicht

HILLINGDON MET League XC – 2nd Dec 2017

The Race:

After Santry’s call up (“Your Club Needs You”) the Eagles turned up in big numbers of 40+ women and men on a cold damp Saturday afternoon in a field north of Uxbridge. The course was a double loop and not too muddy, but also featured a couple of obstacles in the  ”mountain” and the “river rapids” (Emily). The mountain was a 30m steep gravelly muddy incline, that appeared out of nowhere amidst the trees and would have stopped a lot of runners in their tracks had it not been for the wonderfully loud marshal shouting encouragements. Thank You, Marshal!

The River!!!!!

 “Many rivers to cross - But I can’t seem to find my way over...”

Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come, 1972

Well, there was only one river to cross (River Pinn to be precise – apparently giving Pinner its name) and due to minimal recent rainfall it had reduced to a mere creek. The tricky bit was the steep muddy bank on the other side, which – unless you were running in spikes – was managed by some on hands and feet. ‘Either get your hands dirty or slide back into the water’.

So the ‘water feature’ somewhat divided opinion:

·         “ ...river wasn’t as bad as expected” (Kim)

·         “More water features, please” (Sophie)

·         “cold, steep, wet – but always back for more” (Laurence)

·         “Great creek ******** aye, mate” (Cam)

·         “the Great River Crossing – only for real runners! Hope you are reading this, Raf. Best cool down was in the pub” (Santry)

But:

·         “I need to get some spikes! Not sure about the water hazard.....” (Tim)

·         “Apart from the cold stream and near heart attack – great fun as always” (Greg)

·         “whoever designed this course should be locked up.....” (Paul)

The Tea Urn

Massive Thanks to the Eagles who organised the tea urn. Nothing beats a hot cup of tea and a Kitkat (other wafered chocolate biscuits are available) with your legs caked in mud and your muscles still giving out a lactic scream. Other running clubs have fancy tents, but who needs a silly tent if you can have hot tea under an open sky.

The Pub

We followed textbook advice on immediate fluid and electrolyte replacement post exercise by heading to the Fig Tree in Uxbridge as recommended by Kim and Sue, who are regulars there. Main question debated was “How will I get out of bed for Perivale 5 next morning?” There was no definite answer to that one. Also I was surprised how much musical talent there is amongst us with trombone, guitar, drums, piano – enough to form a band.  Sadly, some other band already called themselves ‘The Eagles’. Eventually trundled home after a busy day’s running and drinking.

More Quotes:

..wiIl be back for Wormwood Scrubs - Kim

Cold, wet, windy, hilly – but good fun! Will be back for the next one – Natalie

More water features please!! Vive les Eagles! – Sophie

Tough go after a Parkrun PB this morning, but I am beginning to see my efforts on the track and hills pay off! I’ve got the XC bug!! – Hayley

Muddier than WGC – I need to get some spikes – Tim

Cold (Start), hot (running), cold (river rapids), hot (mountain), hot (tea), cold (supporting the Band of Brothers), hot (pub) – Emily

Great course, loved the river crossing – Matt

Cold / Steep / Wet – but always back for more – Laurence

Great fun as always – Greg

Quite cold weather but great fun, I’d come again! Thanks for organising – Ken

Steepest hill I have ever tackled, but we beat them – Rob

Didn’t have a chance of keeping up with Jose, who looks to be back in top form. I must try harder! Great to see such a good Eagles turn-out and to finish over cool down in pub. – John F

Great creek  ****** aye mate – Cam

Nice flat and dry race. Run in Vibrams next year – Matt Kauf

The Great River Pinn Crossing is only for real runners! Hope you are reading this, Raf. Best cool down ever was in the pub!! - Santry

Who ran?

Girls: Mia (in under 11 race),

Women: Melissah, Alexandra, Hannah, Francesca, Rebecca, Charlotte, Sarah, Natalie, Donna, Grainne, Emily, Hayley, Sophie, Elizabeth, Sue, Charlotte, Lisa, Liz, Nicola, Kim

Men: Jose, John, Ricardo, Andrew, Mat, Brian, Matt, Laurence, Santry, Greg, Chris, Cam, Hugo, Nils, Pardip, Rob, Firas, Mike, Brian, Hein, Thomas, Michael, Tim, James J, Dominic, Paul, James de V, Aaron, Matt, Ken

Why You Must Try X-Country

·         Because Santry says so

·         The softer muddy surface reduces impact on joints. So muscles ache, but joints don’t

·         The challenging terrain improves balance and agility. You run with your whole body, making you a more efficient runner due to better distribution of running workload onto all muscles.

·         There are ‘water features’, ‘mountains’ and ‘river rapids’ (and you don’t get them in Lammas Park)

·         Less likely to get hit by cars, though some runners have apparently encountered hostile livestock.

·         The post race tea urn plus pub

Thank You to Santry, Lisa, Hillingdon AC and all the marshals for encouragement, support and organisation of it all.

                                                                                                               Hein the Heinster, Dec 2017

Extreme Cross Country in the Derbyshire Dales by Sue Park

The Dovedale Dash has been run for 61 years.The first Dovedale Dash was held on the Bonfire Party Weekend at Ilam Hall in 1953 and was a challenge race between the cyclists and the walkers of the Derby Mercury Running Club. It now attracts around 1500 runners and raises money for local causes such as the school. It's 4 and 3/4 miles long. 

We always arrive early and pay the National Trust for a spot on a gravel surface. It's a long uphill trek to the start but we get to see the tea hut arrive on a tractor and use the loo. 

Torrential rain overnight so the plan to wear waterproof walking boots to the start paid off as standing around for nearly two hours with frozen wet feet before the start wouldn't have been much fun. It's a 'pay on the day', just sign, print your name and go - presumably a disclaimer but no one bothered to read it. They don't want your mobile number or your email address, your home address or your credit card! Bring your own bin bag and dump your kit behind the sign on tent and watch the children race - wow the youngsters up here are tough. It must be the local schoolteacher on mic as it seems almost every child's name is called as they cross the line. All the adults cheer and watch with utmost respect of their grit and strength.

Finally we are huddled at the top of the hill and I realise we are moving forward, hurtling down the dale through bog and rocks, slick mud and tussocks of long grass as fast as we dare. There are always some great fancy dress costumes and in I notice a guy who is pretty fast considering he is in full cricket whites, including pads, a full face helmet and carrying a bat!  

At the bottom of the dale is (allegedly) one of the coldest rivers in the country, no point in hesitating, using the stepping stones or tippy toeing through...just got to grit your teeth and get to the other side. It's quite fast flowing this year and up to my ... (well up high anyway!).

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Dogs were carried and we clambered out the other side but the river bank was in flood so no chance to dry off and get the feeling back into my feet for a while. We turn into the first field on a steep camber and slog it up the first hill. The race goes through a farm and 4 farm gates in fields so it's pretty muddy and sometimes smelly but we got a cheery wave from the farmer as we slithered through his yard.  

This year, as last it included a delayed start as the muddy car park (field) meant marshals stopped vehicles getting close and participants had to abandon and walk. The charm of this race is partly it's lack of finesse. No-one really cared it started an hour late. We'd only paid £8 and we're waiting in beautiful surroundings - albeit in about 4 degrees! I do have some sympathy for those who had to leave due to other commitments. 

Last year the entry fee was £5. Personally, I don't care what my time was and chip timing for the first time this year seems a bit unnecessary. Yes there was a long queue last year to cross the line but if you didn't want the 'fill it in yourself' certificate you could just duck out of the queue. After all, if you enjoy this kind of race any faff at the end is unlikely to be of interest (except the beer voucher stapled to the certificate perhaps).

I was definitely slower than last year which was much drier. Finished 183 out of 518 ladies. Time was 57:29.

There are some great videos on YouTube of the 2017 race. Just search for Dovedale Dash 2017.

Cheshunt Sunday League XC by Abi Barber

Sunday XC League – Cheshunt (Broxbourne Runners), 29 October 2017

37 Eagles wended their various ways to Cheshunt Park for a very civilised 11am start to the Sunday XC League hosted by Broxbourne Runners. Several of us were totally new to the delights of XC and the nerves were definitely in evidence as the chatter about spike length, how many laps (how many times up the hill) and predicted mud levels slowly dwindled and the peeling off of outer layers began. The weather was pretty good actually – neither too cold nor particularly windy.

Having done a short warm up we set off down towards the start line – a bit of a crush on a track by a tree in the middle of a field as 491 women and men got ready to start the 5 mile run together. We were given our final instruction by the starter: ‘Watch out for the sharp right turn just down there. If you don’t make the turn, you’ll end up in Tottenham’. Good advice. Then without further ado, the klaxon was sounded and off we bounded.

From my position in the middle of the pack it was cool to watch the front runners stretch their legs and take off up the first incline. There was a bit of jostling as everyone tried to hit a maintainable pace, but it was all pretty friendly. With so many Eagles in attendance, we covered almost the whole stretch of runners and it was nice to be able to pick out the black and white vests dotted around the fields.

The course was one short lap, then two longer ones. Each lap had a couple of inclines – not too steep, thankfully – and corresponding downhill sections. The terrain was long grass, a gravelly track, a couple of wooden footbridges, and some hard packed mud. Nice and varied, kept us on our toes! On the approach to the finish (which we had to do three times before we could actually finish) was an interesting section of bumps which gave rise to a variety of exclamations including ‘oof’, ‘yikes’, some extra huffing and puffing and the odd expletive. It made for an entertaining final stretch. Luckily, if we hadn’t been able to make out the funnel, we could simply have headed for the colossal bobble on Thom’s hat, which served as something of a beacon when approaching the finish line.

Everyone ran hard throughout and finished strongly. In a rematch following the previous weekend’s tussle, José Manuel Pabon (33rd) held onto his lead over Ricardo Agostinho (39th) – it’ll be interesting to see how this one pans out over the season. Next Eagles over the line were Cambell Easton (119th) and Laurence Elliot (129th), followed shortly by Mike Duff (143rd). Then our women started to fly to the finishing party – first in, with a super strong performance, was Sara Bailey (149th).

Rob Willin (159th) was next to come through, then there was almost nothing in it between Firas Alhawat (162nd) and Ellen Easten (163rd). Jennifer Watt (183rd) was followed by Gary Hobbs (190th). Gary was clearly still buzzing from a huge parkrun PB the previous day and took 8th Eagle man, so completing the A team scoring for our chaps.

Yvonne Linney (210th) came home next, with Adam Wakefield (214th) and Paul Roberts (225th) following. An eagle’s feather separated Malgorzata Kucharska (231st), Abi Barber (232nd) and Michelle Tanner (233rd). The three had been swapping positions throughout the race until Gosia decided that enough was enough, pulling out an uncatchable sprint to take 5th Eagle woman and complete the A team scoring for our ladies.

David Bone (240th), Piers Keenleyside (261st), Phil Cairns (268th) and Baljit Dhanda (275th) were next to fly home. There was very little in it between Sophie Cook (294th), Emily Schmidt (296th) and Donna Warren (297th). Ladies’ captain and XC stalwart Sarah MacKenzie (305th) was followed by Paxon Mo (320th), Hayley Kandt (324th) and Una Crotty-Joyce (334th). Sue Park (355th) put in a typically smiley and strong performance, all the more impressive as it was her third XC race of the weekend.

Also smiling were Dineke Austin (387th), who seemed to enjoy her XC debut very much, and Jess Hood (409th), who was positively beaming on the final stretch! Michael Limpert (435th), Kate Ward (451st) and Sylvia Cordell (455th) kept pushing hard to the finishing line. Another triple XC-er this weekend was Mirka Miturova (460th), who continues to delight in her steady comeback from injury. Lucie Godfrey (462nd) and Tara Flynn (476th) nicely wrapped things up for the Eagles.

Upon exiting the finish funnel we all took our numbers to Petrina or Shane. They had the unenviable task of trying to get some sense out of us and write down our finishing order while we were huffy, puffy and very sweaty after the final push. Final team positions were: Overall 10th; Men’s A 11th, Men’s B 10th, Men’s Masters 13th; Women’s A 2nd, Women’s B 2nd, Women’s Masters 3rd. Being new to this whole XC thing, I’m a little hazy on the scoring system but I understand there’s some wizardry (or maths) to be done involving finishing positions. I’m sure someone will be able to explain this to me over a pint at some point.

With all 37 safely back in the nest (the tarpaulin next to a flag in the middle of a field), the giant tea thermos was put to good use and a veritable banquet of cakes was tucked into. Much needed sugar started coursing through everyone’s systems and the outer layers were piled back on. Packing up started, and soon the only evidence that we had ever been there was a patch of slightly squashed grass. And Jen’s bag, which she soon came running back to pick up. And Jen’s other bag, which she still managed to leave in the field. Post-XC exuberance, clearly!

Massive thanks to everyone who organised, drove, provided tea and cake, wrote down results, took photos and supported. When I was forced to do cross country at school I would hide half way round to sneak a cigarette, or ‘twist my ankle in a rabbit hole’ – pretty much anything I could think of to get out of doing it. This was my first XC race as an adult, of my own volition, and I absolutely loved it. Apart from being a little disappointed that my legs were totally clean at the end – not one tiny bit of mud splat to be seen – I felt that this was a great way to cut my XC teeth. The opportunity to try out spikes at the pre-season meet in September was invaluable, as has been the advice of the more seasoned Eagles. It’s been made very easy for an XC novice to get stuck in and have a go and I can’t wait for the next one. More mud please!

Claybury MET League XC by John Foxall

A sizeable convocation of Eagles made their way to Claybury Park, just beyond the junction of the M11 and the North Circular. Frankie Snell and Benjamin Rawsthorne were first to test themselves in the U17 race on a typically warm and dry season opener. Most opted for road or trail shoes as the going was very firm under foot. Slowly more and more Eagles arrived and it was clear that the usual behind the scenes blackmailing/arm-twisting/encouragement had taken place. Some had even come of their own volition (!!), among whom quite a few newcomers. Credit to XC captains Sarah MacKenzie and Kieran Santry as always. Those who had raced here before spoke of the competitive start – after barely fifty metres the course narrows and everyone charges down a hill along a narrow path, making overtaking difficult. The advice was clear – don’t hang around at the start!

More than 200 women shot off for a short loop followed by two full laps of the park. They were led out by World Championship marathoner Tracy Barlow, who took the win for Thames Valley Harriers. In a top quality field, Rebecca Jackson (65th) was first Eagle home, looking strong throughout following her recent half marathon PB. Sarah MacKenzie (108th) and Emily Schmidt (115th) came in next for the Eagles with typically committed performances. Charlotte Levin (120th) and Hayley Kandt (122th - making her XC debut) both ran strongly to complete the scoring for the A team. The Women continued a consistent run of scoring from last season with 6th place out of 10 teams in Division 2, just behind neighbours ESM.

Sophie Foxall (128th) found it tough but finished strongly. There is absolutely no photographic evidence that Sue Park (135th) finds XC tough – quite the opposite in fact as she is the poster girl of the springy XC exuberance of youth. She was followed by Lisa Watson (146th - XC debut) and Lisa Snell (166th) who helped the B team to an 8th place finish in Division 3.

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Liz Ainsworth (173rd), Jess Hood (189th), Mirka Miturova (205th) and Kim Bobsin (207th – XC debut) completed a third team, hopefully a feat both men and women can maintain throughout the season.

A few words from the ladies:

Hayley: “First XC as an adult, absolutely loved it! Very happy with my result 6 days post-marathon. XC definitely brings out my competitive side!”

Kim: “First timer at XC. Enjoyed the trail parts and running through the woods. Hill walking skills came in handy. Enjoyed cheering the lads. Onwards and upwards?”

Rebecca: “Second time running Claybury and that hill does not get any easier! Last year hated it, this year loved it! Great course, great support and great fun! Go EAGLES!!”

Jess: “Harsh reminder not to fuel for races with wine and nachos. Will try harder next time. Bring on the rain and the mud.”

Liz: “First XC for nearly 30 years. Although there was no mud it was still fun, well not the hills, but the support and the pub were all welcome. Bring on more XC.”

Sophie: “Great turn-out of Eagles and brilliant entertainment watching the sprint finishes (‘Elbows out!’) – bring on the next one!”

Charlotte: “Do you enjoy seeing the greener areas of London? Do you run better when you can match someone’ else’s pace and get a kick from overtaking them at the end? Then XC is for you! For me, it’s been a way to see a different side to London and enjoy the competitive side to running in an incredibly supportive environment.”

Smack: “Thanks to my super team of ladies. Some great performances today. Special shout-out to Lisa Snell who is definitely one to watch this year. Also great work from first timers Liz, Hayley, Kim and Lisa. Finally, a massive welcome back to my inspirational predecessor Petrina.”

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Next, a record 508 men lined up, bolstered by a record-equalling 25 Eagles men. The frontrunners duly set off at frantic pace and the rest of us were dragged along for three tough laps with an energy-sapping slog up the hill half way through each lap. The overall winner was steeple-chaser Adam Kirk-Smith from host club Woodford Green. On the back of promotion to division 2, the Eagles men needed ten to score and just for good measure we got 25!

Ewan Fryatt (120th) is a man in sparkling form and the dry conditions seemed to suit him as he strode away on the second lap to finish as first Eagle. John Foxall (130th) did his best to keep up but had his work cut out. History was made moments later as Ricardo Agostinho (179th) pipped the previously dominant José Manuel Pabon (180th) with a cracking sprint finish. Club historians have consulted the archives and have concluded that XC stalwart JMP had never been beaten by a fellow Eagle in Met League prior to this occasion. In these turbulent times, he was only 4th here! Expect a response to this aberration!

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Kieran Morrisroe (188th) is another man in form and won plaudits as the first Eagle to the top of the blooming great big hill on the first lap (that hill... shudder.) Having followed the proven XC tactic of attacking the first mile, he held on for the following four and was 5th Eagle home. Bernard Sexton (208th) was one of many victims of Eagles papparazza Charlotte Levin as he took time to wave/conduct his fans on the way to another strong finish. Chris Lambert (249th) continues his recovery from injury and was followed by Andrew Guy (255th), another Eagle in form. Ryan Yoruk (280th) and Jack Moran (288th – XC debut) completed the scoring ten as the A team finished a creditable 7th out of 10 on their Division 2 debut - just in front of Newham and Essex Beagles who may have to call up occasional clubman Mo Farah to help them get past the mighty Eagles.

Rob Willin (314th), Philip Evans (315th), Kieran Santry (316th) and Mike Duff (319th) fought hard to be front and centre of a cracking set of finishing photos. THAT MUCH. What? Oh the question – “How much do the Eagles want it?” Nils-Kristian Liborg (343th) was first Norwegian Eagle back – an achievement that should not be underestimated. He enjoyed his first outing, much like Cam Easton (353rd) who flashed a winning smile whilst wanting it to end. His parents had come all the way from NZ to see how grown men spend their weekends in London. Answer – they travel to the end of tube lines and run round in circles, come rain or (rarely) shine. Two more debutants – Laurence Elliott (356th) and Matt Powell (387th) completed the B team, who were 10th out of 24 teams in Division 3.

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With such strength in depth, we were almost able to score another team. They were Hein Hunnewicht (395th), Firas Alhawat (403rd), Paul Dodounou (431st), Baljit Dhanda (449th), Neil Enskat (467th), Warwick John Fahy (468th) and Matt Kay (504th). It was tough but in Matt’s words, “we got the job done”. Matt will be relieved to hear that the XC season only gets easier from here on. No wait ... that couldn’t be further from the truth. Never mind... Firas, Warwick and Matt were also making their XC debuts. We then retired to a nearby classy drinking establishment for a beverage and a chat, fire alarms permitting.

Some quotes from the men:

Cam: “ME OH MY, did I enjoy that! Yes Boy!”

Warwick John Fahy: “First XC. Awesome course. Pain.”

Hein: “Pain filled – can hardly remember going through the finish line. Thanks Eagles for your support. Great sprints.”

Nils: “Great race. Great spirit! Thanks for all the support and on to the next few.”

Matt P: “Here’s to more runs with the Eagles! Great team support which helped after those hills!”

Laurence: “Great first race with the Eagles. Brilliant team, can’t wait for more runs.”

Neil: “Bumped into a familiar face in Kieran Geaney from Serpentine on the first lap. We spent the whole race swapping positions before I just pipped him on the steep up-hill finish. Awesome day.”

Jose: “Great start to the XC season. The profile of the race is challenging but if anything I’ve learned today is to keep an eye on my back when I get close to the finish line. I’m going to keep an eye on Ricardo if he’s nearby, mastermind of the sprint finish! He overtook me with ease in the end”

Colin Overton: “Not sure about the race organisation, course came up short on my garmin.” (N.B. Poor Colin turned his ankle so had to pull out early. He may or may not have done this whilst waving to a marshalling Ronnie O’Sullivan.)

Santry: “If you enjoy testosterone-filled races then Claybury is one to do. Brilliant to see Ricardo’s sprint finish to beat José. Lots of new club members trying out XC and some great additions to the men’s team today. Massive crowd at the pub afterwards which was the best part.”

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Chicago Marathon by Allan Williams

So it all began during a half marathon in Palma de Majorca just less than a year ago…a roasting hot day, two thirds round the course and me promising myself never ever to do this again...well it didn’t quite start there but close enough. A few hours later talking to my wife Tanja over a celebratory beer I mentioned that maybe running a marathon might be a good idea. The crazy logic being that it would be a bit slower and therefore a bit less painful than a half....as I write this I’m already thinking, what an idiot!

So as a Christmas “present” Tanja signed us up for Chicago marathon... that kind of present could seriously lose you some friends. What next, entry to an Ironman for my birthday, a voucher for a kick in the shin for Easter as a healthy alternative to a chocolate egg?!

We were both lucky enough to get through the ballot and so there we were flying to Chicago with our training behind us, me looking suspiciously around the plane for any sign of a sniffle or a cough having tried to avoid any human contact for the last week in order to not pick up a cold.

Chicago is a super city, we’ve been before and really like the place....a couple of days to acclimatise and avoid much walking, a visit to the expo for some free goodies, a marathon t-shirt, some free beer and of course our start numbers!

The big day came, despite my obsession with cold avoidance we'd both picked up colds! Sniffles and a bit of a sore throat but nothing too severe...nothing a 26.2 mile jog couldn’t sort out. It was going to be a pretty hot day, unlike any other holiday we've been on we were constantly looking at various weather apps leading up to the race hoping for a severe drop in temperature. It had been getting up to 31 degrees in the week before so we were pretty lucky it had dropped to a relatively parky 26 degrees on race day. Each time I mention to someone it was hot it goes up by another degree, to the point I've pretty much started saying my trainers were melting. To keep it factual, I’ve done some research and it reached a high of 28 degrees but thankfully after the race.

So to the race. We had a 45 minute journey from our Airbnb to the start line and we joined the throngs entering the park. We had a long queue for the toilet which put me a bit on edge, but that aside it was trouble free and we headed to our respective start corrals. I felt fairly good as I walked through to the front of the corral towards the pacers for 3hrs 40mins which was my target.

I had already decided not to run with the pacer as during my training I’d done a few long runs with half marathon at around 1hr 47mins so i thought if all went well I might be able to sneak a 3hr 35mins Marathon.

The first half of the race went great, I couldn't take the smile off my face! There were loads of people out supporting as we ran through the centre of Chicago. There were lots of funny signs out there to take your mind off the running, my favourite of those I can remember being “if Trump can run, so can you”. There were plenty of people out supporting and the atmosphere was great.

It was already quite hot, but the tall buildings gave really good shade. Unfortunately that couldn’t last forever and the second half is much more exposed as it winds through Chicago’s various neighbourhoods, each bringing it’s own distinct flavour.

The on-course services were fantastic, with sports drink and water stops every couple of miles and a load of other goodies like sponges, gels, chews and bananas being handed out at official stations and a load of other treats being offered by the cheering crowds. I really couldn’t have any complaints there...I’m sure I could have put on a couple of pounds around the course if I’d have been in the mood!

So I reached half way in my target 1hr 47mins feeling pretty good...happy with the world...dreaming of a run below my target. Unfortunately that didn’t last too long...a few miles later and I started to slow, my energy was drained despite taking my gels as I’d planned. I think back now and wonder why I didn’t stop and have a banana or something more substantial but I think at the time a combination of being nervous about trying something new and also just not really feeling like I had the stomach for it stopped me.

My pace dropped, it didn’t fall off a cliff but I lost about 20 seconds a Kilometer for a few kilometres and then another 20 seconds after another few kilometres. It was starting to feel pretty bad and the last 10km's was torture! I’d ran up to 35kms in training and had never felt like this...there was nowhere to hide from the sun and each water station involved throwing a couple of cups of water over my head as well as drinking plenty. I’d normally not drank too much on my long runs but decided that given the heat I’d take a little water at each of the stations right from the start...nothing new on race day of course but I felt given the temperature that I had to make that change. It certainly didn’t seem to impact me in the first half.

So did I say the last 10ks was torture! Obviously I’d heard people talk about this and our trainer, Mark had talked a lot about the mental side of things and how the last 10kmwas going to be mentally and physically tough....I guess I just really underestimated that and certainly hadn’t come anywhere near the feeling in training...I had expected pain as my left knee had been playing up at the end of long runs but that was surprising not too painful...maybe I was too exhausted to feel the pain! I told myself that I just needed to keep running, but in the end I couldn't manage it - this was a low point, I didn’t expect to have to walk and this hurt...I walked through the water stations, justifying it to myself as needing to walk to take on water but in reality I just couldn’t do it anymore without these rests every couple of kilometres. I started to dream of the next water station where I could walk again, the relief palpable as they popped up like an oasis in the desert!

Another low couple of lows came as the both the 3:40 and 3:45 pacers passed me…I made a feeble attempt to keep up with the 3:45 as I was pretty near to the finish but just had nothing to give, no energy in the legs and it was enough just to resist the desire to walk the rest of the way.

I don’t think I ever thought I wasn’t going to make it, I knew I could walk the rest if it came to it but I really wanted to carry on running to get the best time I could. I really was counting down each kilometre and as I’d done a year ago I was telling myself “never again”!

I crossed the line, relieved and exhausted but in control of my faculties enough to grab as much free stuff as I could! Protein shakes, ice bag (placed on head), wet towel, ubiquitous Marathon silver sheet thingy, bottle of water, free beer (very important), various crisp type snacks and energy bars and of course, last but not least a nice shiny medal! And what a medal!

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I staggered over the bag collection, picked up my stuff, sat down and turned on my phone to track Tanja coming through on the race app. Loads of messages came through from friends and family tracking the race in the app who had seen that I'd finished and it was great to know that they were supporting us as we slogged around the course.

I went to wait for Tanja coming through and sat down on the ground in the sun, it took me a good couple of minutes to get to the floor I was so sore and I got a little cheer from some fellow runners amused at my inflexibility as I made it to the floor.

It was great to see Tanja coming out of the finishing area, I was really relieved to see she made it in one piece as it was so brutal out there. The journey wouldn’t have felt complete without both of us making it.

We hung around a bit, took a few photos, had another free beer and then headed back to our flat...I think mixed feelings for both of us, relieved and happy to have completed our first marathon, but both a little disappointed having not made our target time.

Spending the next few days hobbling around, that feeling of disappointment for me has now gone, the conditions were tough, it was our first marathon and it really is a good time I can be proud of... as for never running another marathon, let’s just say I now know the chance of getting into the London Marathon through the ballot in 2016 was 6.9%.

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Maverick Original Kent by Charlotte Levin

The Maverick Original is a series of trail events hosted around the UK that I had only recently come across. Just in time for the end of the season I made my way out to Groombridge Place and the Kent event. The race offered three distances, short (7km), medium (14km) and long (21k), not calling myself much of a distance runner, I decided that I should challenge myself a bit and signed up for the 14km one.

Turning up on race day, I look around at the other participants. There aren't many people in club or charity tops, but many more in various trail jackets and a range of "I'm attached to my backpack" looks. The event is dog friendly and the runners with four legged friends come well prepared with a harness rather than just a regular lead. Regulars? Plenty. They have a season pass for a reason.

As we prepare for start, they make us form two lines. All distances start from the same place, at the same time but the long distance then immediately take a left turn whilst medium and short peel off to throw right. We're informed that anyone who wants to race for a time should make it up to the front as the path quickly gets narrow and overtaking opportunities may be restricted. To my surprise, a lot of people still hang back, being there for the joy of running the trail more than hitting a time.

The cow bell rings and we're off. Staying true to my race habit (not necessarily a good one), I set off at a pace I know I won't be able to maintain for the whole route, hoping to get some space to find my rhythm later. After about 100m, we're faced with the first bottleneck: a cow gate. It is a trail race and noting to be surprised about, but I'm glad that my quick start means the queue is shorter than for those further back. Obviously there wasn’t going to be only one and for the first kilometer there’s probably four or five. People and dogs gradually perfect their crossing to make the race flow as much as possible.

The last few days before the race had been wet enough for the ground to be properly soft and my shoes quickly gain extra weight from the mud they're putting on. The route goes over fields, through woods with root laced paths and, only when necessary, along some tarmac roads. The short and medium races follow the same course for the first 4-5km. It is well marked with arrows and blue bands, but there aren't many marshals around and you're strongly encouraged to not just blindly follow the person in front of you as they might be doing a different distance. Each category has about 120-125 runners, and the small number has its benefits and drawbacks: you don't have to fight for your space on the path but neither do you have many opportunities to find someone who can pace you. I had the intention of racing but after the first third I'm feeling how much tougher the undulating trail is compared to the flat road that has made up my training base. My race plan had been too aggressive and I'm forced to walk for a bit just to get my heart rate down. When I'm able to start picking it up again, I’m surprised by the lack of people going past me, and I readjust from "push, push, push" to a gentler pace. The surroundings were varied, open areas giving you a view of the place, followed by twists through the forest and later easy straights across fields.

With only a few kilometers left, you start seeing the long runners, but they're coming the other way! By this point I think the short and medium courses have joined up again, we're running on a wide ish path and people are going both directions. Even if it's not quite two person wide it passes very smoothly, no one seems particularly bothered by it and are just in their groove. I was glad I didn't have to dodge any dogs, instead I spot a friend of mine and high five as we pass.

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Across a field, past the photographer who's shouting some cheering words and to the finish. All those cow gates we started with are now tackled the other way, my legs significantly less excited about them, and a few of the finishers are stood along the final stretch looking out for their friends. I usually try to go for a sprinting finish, but this time all I could do was to convince my legs to keep the same pace, across the finish lines and to the goodies.

One thing they do differently is to include a beer instead of a finishers tshirt in the race entry, with medal designed to double up as a bottle opener. I chat briefly to another lady I had exchanged a few words with before the start and someone who had used me for pacing for a while. Not many have stayed around or, as I discovered later when looking at the result list, the majority of runners from medium and long haven't yet finished.

There were certainly things with the race which were different to what I've been to before: fewer marshals and a very casual bag drop (non-guarantueed-attended during the race) being the main things. None of those really bothered me, but I was a little annoyed that I had planned on there being two water stations but then only came across one. That aside, the course had everything it promised and was beautiful to run. My race had been tough, but of the type where you're not regretting getting into it but just take notes on what training to focus on for the next one. I still finished 9th lady on middle distance and was happy with my time. With that in mind, it’s time to look over the weaknesses and turn the mind to cross country season!

Bournemouth Marathon by Matt Kay

Pinning my colours to the mast at the beginning of the year I treated myself to a place at Bournemouth to chalk a marathon off the list before I hit 30.

Having joined the Eagles a year last July and getting injured after a week I was chomping at the bit to get involved in the new year...in my inexperience I’ve entered far too many races this year including double booking myself on a couple of occasions!

Training

After finally returning to the club in the new year for the first club run of 2017, John Barry mentioned to me that Jesal had coached him through his marathon. I subsequently joined forces with Jesal which has really helped shape my approach to running for the year through which I feel I’ve learnt a lot.

After a disappointing run at the Olympic Park in early Jan I produced a PB at the Hyde Park 10k at the end of the month and continued to see a surge in fitness towards March where I ran my first sub 60 10k helpfully pushed on by Claire Morris at the end to dip under 58mins. This was sandwiched by Allie pacing me to a sub 30 5k at Gunnersbury Parkrun in Feb for club champs. I attribute the surge in fitness to continued track sessions. I’m grateful to Christina O’Hare and Annette for pushing me along at track whilst they trained for their own marathons.

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After these runs I really started to work closely with Jesal including mapping out a pre-Marathon plan for Bournemouth with the general feeling that if I started early in April focusing on getting up to Half Marathon distance then I would build a good foundation for Bournemouth. I did and by May I was thinking that marathon training was going to be a piece of cake and as happens when you start to think things will be easy and you get complacent a massive curve ball is thrown into the mix, and I got injured.

The injury occurred about three weeks before Swansea half and with rest, massage, physio and recuperation together with calf protector applied I told myself I was fully fit, but I knew I wasn’t. 

Striking out for the sub 2 I’d arrived and trained for I ran a PB over the first 10k and was feeling strong for the first 7 miles but then I started to feel my calf and slowed momentarily until a woman shouted from behind me “come on Ealing Eagle you have been pacing me for the last six miles”- this gave me a lift for the next 2 miles but at that point my calf completely gave up and I went from doing 9min miles to 12min miles. The thought of the last three miles now going to take the time equivalent of four miles was quite soul destroying, and despite finishing with a massive PB improving on my time of 2:40 a year earlier to 2:13 I lost my way quite a bit after Swansea. So whilst running a few summer leagues and other runs I didn’t really start to knuckle down again until the beginning of August.

I knew August was going to be a make or break month for me testing my body to see if I could go beyond the half marathon distance and up to the required mileage breaking the “golden barrier” of 20 miles.

In that month I managed a 12.5 miler back in Manchester with my sis running the first 7 with me - the last 5 particularly the final 2 and a half were very tough and I felt my calf. The following week I did Burnham Beeches half with an added 2 Miles at the beginning - whilst very picturesque, it was definitely one of the toughest halfs I’ve done despite being billed as “flat”. I was indebted that day to Kimmy running some miles with me (I remember her asking me before the race if the calf blew up what would I do about Bournemouth and I said I’d be doing it regardless but deep down I think I knew that race was make or break). I was also grateful to Angela dragging me up the hill at the end. I remember speaking to my sister after the race feeling totally wiped out and she said “you will ask yourself how you will do another 10 Miles on top but next time you run your legs will feel stronger”- they did, the following week I did 18 Miles where I was grateful to Christine Dixon running the Battersea 10k summer league with me to finish off my 18 miler where after 16 again my legs virtually gave up but she kept me going. 

Following Summer League came the training defining 20 miler which started off from Hounslow, built in Gunnersbury Parkrun and then finished with the West Walk 10k - many people got me round the course that day and in particular my sis running it with me and Olivia and Michelle kindly stalling their own run to get me up the last hill rep - James and Che’s continued cheer and water supply also played a big part.

That month essentially defined my training prep and gave me the self belief that I would not be denied and would complete the marathon.

However there were still tests and bumps in the road - I picked up a foot injury and couldn’t compete in one of my favourite 10k’s in my hometown two weeks later. At one point I told Jesal I didn’t care about pacing and just wanted to run the marathon time at whatever time I did. However despite a moment of indiscipline doing a tempo run rather than a recovery run where I tweaked my calf, September was the month of pacing where I really nailed my times for marathon and instilled the belief I could run the time I wanted: 4.30.

So after a mentally exhausting taper where my brain felt shattered and a reluctance to run I had a relaxing final week prepping for the big run.

The Race

Race day arrived although I did clock 10 miles walking round Bournemouth the day before which probably wasn’t ideal prep and I had a sore left ankle by the end of it although come race day this had subsided.

In terms of the race I’d had grave concerns over the 10am start time particularly given the weather forecast had been showing sun all week, however when we arrived to the start line the overcast conditions looked perfect - little did we know Bournemouth had many personalities when it came to weather depending where you were.

I’d agreed long ago that I’d run with Hayley as we both wanted to do 10min miles so we took our place in the start pen and at that point the sun appeared- half joking with the marshal I said we needed him to get rid of it, to which the woman next to me responded- “oh no, we want it to be sunny” to which I retorted “no we don’t”; anyhow we set off and the heat was noticeable from the get go, given the easy pace we were taking we shouldn’t have even been breaking sweat but it was dropping off us by the bucket load; that’s said the first 8 Miles seemed to fly by and we’d flown up the first hill into the cliffs and everything was going smoothly or so I thought aside from the fact I’d needed the toilet since we’d set off, anyhow whilst I’ve run a few races feeling like that and performed well perhaps because my focus has been on needing the toilet rather than my mind thinking about anything else race or otherwise. However whilst I’d managed many races feeling like that there was no way I could last another three hours feeling like that so when I got the opportunity I went to the toilet before catching Hayley up, she’d been struggling with illness the day before but had felt fine before the race and whilst at a couple of points I thought she was struggling, she said she fine and credit it to her had kept pace; however shortly after me she too took a comfort break, I’d urged her too as I’d said for me I felt a lot better for it. So we partied ways around mile 9 and whilst I expected her to catch me up unfortunately she didn’t. For me though, at this point I was starting to feel really strong, feeding off the energy of the crowd and having to reign myself in not to up the pace.

Anyhow the key turning point was when we dropped down onto the promenade, running along the seafront - the heat was an absolute killer and I felt like I was being nailed to the beach huts by it; similar to being nailed to the wall by the sun outside Osterley Park on the summer 10k, it was brutal and at this point I knew I was in trouble and could feel my legs starting to cramp up and I decided I needed to try and take evasive action so I threw the gel strategy out of the window and took one two miles ahead of schedule and took every bit of sugar I could lay my hands on, unfortunately for me - I was clearly dehydrating and there wasn’t a water station for another 3/4 miles.

By mile 12, I could feel the pace and my intended time goal slipping away and not just by seconds but minutes and at this point my head started to drop, I saw some family friends at that point but I was in a bad way and quite disenchanted with it all asking myself how on earth I’d get through the next 14.2 miles. Anyhow I pushed on trying to keep to 11min miles but visibly struggling. That’s when a big turning point came in the race, seeing Carlo at Mile 14 on Boscombe Pier gave me the unexpected lift I needed and coming back through the pier I started to steel myself and tell myself I could get through it. However the pace was starting to suffer considerably and I was down to 12min miles and by this point I pretty much knew my time was gone, being completely truthful I knew it was gone by mile 12 as despite timing wise still being on track I knew my body wouldn’t sustain the pace I needed to in order to achieve my goal, the main positive by mile 16 was that I knew regardless of time I would complete the race but what came next was a massive physical and mental challenge... 

As I looped round Bournemouth Pier my eyes locked onto what I can only describe as the biggest hill I’ve ever seen or at least that’s what it felt like and my mind just went “oh no”- I had a similar feeling to looking at a giant rollercoaster at a theme park and not wanting to go on it, the only bonus with that is that the rides are usually over in seconds and it’s optional unlike the hill. The added sub dynamic was that someone had the bright idea to map the course so you ran through the finish line so on the left the sub 3hr finishers were coming home whereas the poor, unfortunate slower runners were through the finish line and up and round for a jolly up the hill... I ran it to the top, despite one bloke helpfully commenting “you were well ahead of my wife beforehand, what’s happened?” as he came down the hill, sometimes spectators say the most unhelpful things - I don’t hold it against him as I don’t think they understand the mental detriment it does to you.

Anyhow I got to the top but I’d completely blown a gasket - that mile took me 13mins but the damage it had done to the body in the heat was irreparable and the next three miles took 15mins; the only thing that kept me going was that I knew my old man was at Mile 20 and he’d see me home, I also ran into Peter Mizzi’s friend Tony at Mile 19 and he gave me a welcome lift.

Anyhow I got to Mile 20 and seeing my folks gave me a welcome lift and I knew I’d get home; I picked up the pace momentarily and ran a 13.50 Mile- nothing fantastic but an improvement nonetheless but I couldn’t sustain it and the pace dipped again, sadly the last 5 Miles off the race is you running out to Sandbanks whilst those on their way home are hitting mile 25 in the opposite direction.

Anyhow I just focused on getting to the turn at mile 23 which seemed to take forever and at that point the customary “you’ve only got a parkrun to go” was exclaimed by a marshal, it’s little comfort when you know it’s probably going to take you double the time you usually do a parkrun in 😂.

Anyhow I just focused on finishing helpfully pushed on by the old man albeit with the occasional “pick your feet up son” bellowed at me, I wasn’t dragging them on purpose😂

What seems like an eternity later I arrived towards the finishing barriers and still managed a customary sprint finish and I wasn’t allowed to keel over as the funnel managers quickly moved you along to get your medal etc - a great feeling.

I have to hand it to Bournemouth, the organisation and spectator support was awesome although the start time was less than ideal and a big gap in water stations along the seafront post 10 Miles was tough. That’s said the festival is great and offers something for everyone, mine and my friends family contingent had runners in the 1k, 5k, 10k and mara so it really does cater for all with a half sandwiched in too and despite initial concern it could be a poor generic medal it isn’t.

The course itself whilst quite a bit of up and down was enjoyable but the killer was the hill at 17 so for me if I ran there again I could only see myself doing the half.

In terms of marathon’s I’ll definitely do another but perhaps not next year unless I get into London through the club ballot as I worry my calf could struggle again so a lot of strength work for that is needed as training wise whilst not perfect on the whole I got the miles in and had a fair amount of hill training. Regardless, of the time I’m happy to join the 1% and be classed as a marathon runner so I’ll take that for now although next time I hope to not be on my feet as long as it’s a killer!

Thanks for all your support and well done to all other runners over the weekend. The one thing I’ve learnt from my marathon experience is to respect it - regardless of training and prep anything can happen on race day so it’s important not to apply too much pressure to yourself!

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The Jungfrau Marathon by Andy Guy

The Jungfrau Marathon markets itself as 'The Most Beautiful Marathon in the World'.  This beauty is certainly not a reflection of the course profile but typically based on the photogenic beauty of the valleys and mountains of the Swiss Alps.  Not this year:

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This year was the 25th Anniversary of the Jungfrau Marathon and over a few too many glasses of wine during Christmas 2016 I was convinced to enter it.  The Berner Oberland region has a special meaning to me and I decided that running a non-road marathon would help keep my fitness up during the summer.  I conveniently forgot that I now live in London and there is a rather different course profile to this marathon – with over a vertical mile to climb during the last 10 miles:

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I'd done a recce of the steepest sections (both conveniently highlighted in green above) and found them to be horrific!  A couple of other mountain runs and a 16km race in the region during July confirmed that I'm simply not very good at hiking up the steepest points at speed.

The Race

The weather forecast had been consistent all week.  A cold, cloudy day in Interlaken (around 12 degrees) with rain/snow forecast (and 2 degrees) for the top of the race at around midday.  The temperature change involved more than the usual faffing in terms of 'what to wear'.  The race started at 0830 so it was the usual early start, get a train down to Interlaken and run up a mountain, into a cloud.

Starting waves were invoked for the first time and the timings were stuck to with Swiss precision.  As part of Block 2 I started at 0835 with the question that had been playing on my mind for months: how to pace this?  In terms of expectations, my main aim was to finish – a Swiss friend who has completed this race twice mentioned recently that he has seen this course reduce grown men to tears.  Of all the advice I'd received the best was to simply enjoy the run and the views.  Given a combination of the terrain, route profile and weather, this seemed unlikely! But the sentiment was spot on – and confirmed a conservative approach was probably sensible.  In addition, the rough guidance from the organisers was to add 1.5 hours to a recent road marathon time, so based on that I'd decided to pick up a 4h 45m pace band and set out at 5 min/km.

The atmosphere in Interlaken for the start was fantastic in spite of the poor weather.  Alpine horns, traditional flag throwing and the Swiss National Anthem all preceded the start.  Given it was the 25th Anniversary there were an additional 1,000 runners or so (around 5,100) and a certain nervousness about how this would play out on the single track paths above. 

The first 26.5km are described by most people who look at the route profile as 'flat' – except that they're not and climb some 300m!  The first 5km are flat though and it was a bizarre and almost eerie feeling as we set off.  I've never been in a race before where virtually everybody is holding back and thoughts already flicking ahead to the wall that will meet us at the 26.5km mark.  The lack of racing meant that a few conversations broke out; the Eagles vest being an advertisement to anyone wishing to converse in English and the FiveFingers shoes being the usual icebreaker from anyone who drew up next to me.  In short: yes, I've run in them before (this is a marathon afterall) and yes, I've considered my shoe choice (I'm an adult and dress myself).

Each hamlet or village we pass on the way was great – applause, 'Hopp Hopp' cheering, Trychler groups with their huge cow bells, Fasnacht bands, solo guitarists with huge speakers and various other bands.  The event is clearly an important part of the region and each of the small villages that the route passes through.

I had now hit each of my pace targets within 20 or so seconds. This was going well in spite of the high heart rate brought on by a head cold and the not so flat first half.  Now for the right turn towards the wall to Wengen.  Deep breathe. The glacial valley on top of which Wengen is perched means that there is no simple route up to this car free village – presumably the reason it is car free!  The steep switchback section of the narrow path is only about 2km long but took me 24 minutes during my recce run. The flow of people past me confirmed my fears that I don't speed-hike as quickly as others. Having said that it looks from the results that I held my own and didn't lose as much time as I feared.  Significantly I started running again as soon as the tarmac section appeared and managed to run all the way up the next 2km to Wengen passing many of those frustratingly quick walkers.  I'd agreed that I'd see my one-man support crew in Wengen to replace water bottles etc but when I got there I didn't need a new supply – mainly because the fuelling stations had been so good and it certainly wasn't warm.  Indeed, it struck me that Simon looked freezing with his down jacket, additional waterproof and hat pulled down tightly.  An ominous sign for what was to come! Wengen is at 1283m above sea level and marked the 30km mark.  I think I was right on target – about 2h 55m.  Only 12km to go. Good?  Nope - it was going to take me at least another 1h 50m…

The route now follows the route of the mountain railway quite closely and it was a boost to see the support crew again at the Allmend station (the slow pace and the trains up the mountain means some parts of the course are quite accessible for spectators).  However the rain had now well and truly set it and the cloud was hovering above us.  Running into the cloud was when it became really miserable and much colder, although thankfully, after Allmend, there were some decent sections where something resembling a run could break out.  It's worth pointing out at this stage that along with kilometre markers at each and every kilometre – held by incredibly positive and increasingly cold looking volunteers – there are markers every 250m such is the time taken to pass each of these.  The very fact they need to do that on this course freaked me out and helped keep moral up in equal measure.

Usually when I reach the Wixi skilift I'm disappointed that the skiing has temporarily ended.  On this occasion it was with a sense of relief at there being only being 4km to 'run' but also the intrepidation of what lay ahead.  Now above the tree line this climb is brutal. Especially when you've run 38km (23.5 miles).  It's pretty much single file scrambling up a narrow rocky path. The good news is you cannot go too fast; the bad news is that if you lose contact with the runner in front you have the feeling you're holding 5,000 people back! 

The 41st kilometre is possibly the hardest – it climbs up a ridge called the 'Moräne' (glacial moraine).  It is exposed, and climbing through the freezing cloud in single file was truly miserable. That kilometre took me the best part of 18 minutes – only 44 seconds quicker than my best Gunnersbury Parkrun time!

For some bizarre reason a bagpiper stands at the highest point of the course – the sound of was eerie and he suddenly appeared out of the cloud at an altitude of 2,320m.   Never have I been so happy to hear the pipes!  My feelings at this point fluctuated widely between disbelief, inspiration and even amusement (I remembered that in these parts, the bagpipes are called the ‘Doodlesac’), but the overriding emotion was relief: the finish can’t be far away now.

  These guys are from 'Block 1' – the front of the field.  Moräne, 2017

These guys are from 'Block 1' – the front of the field.  Moräne, 2017

Down now – almost down…  for the final kilometre, still mostly in single file.  A couple of people raced past taking no account of the health of their ankles.  Others were wincing in pain as quads and calves started cramping up.  But after scrambling through a gap in the rocks, before you know it you've finished.

Done. I’d lost a couple of minutes in the last climb and had fallen slightly behind my pace band, but still finished in 4h 50, cracking the 5 hours that I'd been hoping to do. 

I'd envisaged drinking a couple of cold beers, lying on the alpine meadow overlooking the Finish and valleys below and savouring the fact that I'd finished the Jungfrau Marathon.  However, given the weather (and the fact I'd now lost feeling in the ends of my fingers) the key was now to get warm, gather medal, slab of chocolate and Finisher T-shirt and get back to a warm restaurant.  Outside, it really was miserable – and getting worse.

My heart went out to a couple of finishers who sat near us on the train on the way back to Grindelwald in the valley below – one asked if you could normally see the mountains.  He'd run the Jungfrau Marathon and not even glimpsed the Jungfrau itself. If only he knew the foot of the world-famous Eiger Nordwand was only a couple of hundred metres away.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him.

  The view my train companion missed…

The view my train companion missed…

Overall the event was brilliantly organised; an incredible challenge; a once in a lifetime experience and - much as it sounds ridiculous - the atrocious conditions made it even more satisfying (once I’d finished!). A lot of people asked ‘why run that marathon?’.  Well, the race itself was mostly too painful to think about an answer but afterwards I’d include it in that category where the greater the hardship and discomfort during, the greater the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end.  Once the heat and feeling started coming back in my fingers – an hour after I'd finished - my mind had already started wandering to parts of the race where time had been won and lost… was this really only ‘once’ in a lifetime?

Lessons Learned

In case anyone’s tempted (and if you look at the odds, the weather next year must be better!), entries for the Jungfrau Marathon 2018 open on 14 February 2018 and will sell out within a week.  So for anyone who does fancy a trot up a Swiss mountain, here are a couple of observations and lessons learned:

•    [Obviously,] It’s not a regular marathon, you can’t compare it to a ‘normal’ course. It’s more two races – the first 26 kms or so (a slight uphill road race), and the final 16 kms (a monster hill – hiking with intermittent running off-road)
•    Walking uphill is a skill in itself requiring different technique and muscle groups than running so needs specific training – would have been a good idea!
•    Time on your feet – adding 1.5 hours to a normal marathon is a large percentage for any marathoner.  I ran a 30 miles training run in the North Downs at a very slow pace with a knowledgeable guide – that really helped. Should have done more.
•    There’s also no (or very little) downhill. So bearing in mind the havoc that steep downhills plays on your legs, the best hill training would be to find the steepest long slopes possible, but somehow defy the ‘what does up must go down’ law and avoid the pounding that coming back down a couple of thousand metre climb normally entails. Save your legs and recover faster for more uphills. Unfortunately, trail runs often don’t have a slide back 2 kilometres to the bottom
•    On pacing, there’s a school of thought that says embrace the two stage nature of the race, go harder and more aggressive than normal for the first half, knowing that the second half is a more evenly paced walk, often single file with no passing opportunities – the opportunity to recover and hang in there.  It sounds high risk and I wasn’t game to try, but…

I hope this was interesting.  For anyone thinking about the Jungfrau Marathon, I hope this helps.  It’s a truly beautiful part of the world (usually) and I’d urge anyone to give it a try. 
And maybe I’ll see you there.
 

Paris Marathon 2017 by Olivia Parker-Scott

It was the 30th November and 4 days earlier I had run the San Sebastian marathon. After becoming accustomed to the carb lifestyle I decided I needed to enter another marathon ASAP. After a chat with Surrey traitor Harriet Betteridge who was also looking for a new challenge following her triumph in the Lisbon marathon the previous September we both decided to sign up for Paris. I was looking to better my GFA time from San Sebastian (previously just scraping in at 3:44:35) and Harriet wanted to dip further under 3:30 having done 3:29:54 in Lisbon. The challenge was set.

Coach Walker very kindly agreed to help me once more with a new plan which involved 5 days a week of running, it was a definitely going to be a challenge but seemed very achievable with some good time management. The basic rules were Tuesday track, Wednesday easy mid-week long run, Thursday Tempo, Saturday Parkrun and Sunday long run. Classic.

Training started really well and I quickly started entering other races and training runs to fit into the plan. Brighton was the target half (minus 146 metres apparently) with a few others booked as part of training runs. These included the Bramley 20, Cranleigh 15 and the wonderful Leith Hill Half. 

 

Everything was going great with a new PB (I'm still claiming it) for the half distance and I was generally feeling pretty strong with the taper on the horizon after completing my longest training run of 22 miles, that's when my achilles decided it was time to cause some mischief...

I'll never know what would have happened on race day if I decided to completely rest instead of just cutting back on the mileage, which I did do quite substantially, but spoiler alert, it didn't quite go to plan. During the taper every time I ran all I could think about was my achilles and whether it was going to magically not hurt this time, a few times it didn't at all but this was outweighed by all the times it definitely did. I desperately rolled, stretched and rested as much as my maranoid body could handle until a few days before all I could do was rest and hope for the best.

Friday arrived and an early Eurostar to Paris awaited with Hattom (Harriet and Tom for those not in the know) and Sophie and Kieran (reporting for cheer duty) due to join later that evening. But disaster struck and after a week of ignoring esteemed health care professional Sophie Foxall, Kieran admitted defeat and finally visited A&E where he was told he'd need his foot amputated... oh sorry no it was just a bad case of cellulitis. Either way our personal cheer squad could no longer make it, lesson learnt, never ignore a nurse when she tells you your foot looks like it needs seeing to. Get well soon Santry!

 

On Saturday morning we headed for the Expo to collect our numbers, I'd been told it was bigger than London and it wasn't a lie. After collecting our bibs and race rucksacks we quickly made our way through the copious amount of stalls, stopping only to buy 'XC pink' marathon branded tops. I thought it would be a good incentive to finish the race no matter what the next day otherwise I wouldn't be able to wear it without feeling like a fraud. A quick stop at the Marathon du Medoc stall for a thimble of wine (important to keep hydrating the day before kids) and then my favourite part of any training plan was put into full action, carb loading was a go.

 

The morning of the race arrived and Harriet and I set off from our Parisian apartment near Place de Clichy at 6:45am, which was very conveniently situated on a metro line heading directly to the race start on the Champ-Elysee.

 

We headed straight for our pen but upon arrival thought it probably wasn't a good idea to run with all our stuff so decided to try and find the baggage drop instead, definitely should have read those race instructions.

One thing I'd been repeatedly warned about with this race was the toilet queues but I really didn't think this was an issue. This may have been because there was a one portaloo no-one seemed to want to go in and Harriet and I thought it was fine (usual level of disgusting but fine) so no queue for us.

8:35 and we were off! The way the start staggers for Paris works really well, they let everyone from one pen go at a time before waiting a while to release the next, this meant it never felt too crowded on the route, I still felt like I did a fair amount of weaving due to people trying to stick to the green line but I think that will always be the way.

Phill and Tom had agreed to be at 3 or potentially 4 places over the course and the first was just after 5km so we knew we didn't have to wait long before we got some cheer squad action. After 2 miles together I let Hattie go ahead as I knew she wanted a slightly faster time than me and I wasn't sure how my achilles was going to behave. I passed 5km around the time I wanted to with the achilles not complaining and cheer squad in the agreed position up ahead, I was feeling positive. Unfortunately this was only to last another 2 miles...

Just after mile 5 on the approach to the first woods, of which there are 2 along the route, I felt my lower calf start to pull. This was a feeling I knew all too well from the past few weeks and I knew what was to come. By the time we left the woods at around mile 12 I was in quite a bit of pain but was just trying to focus on getting to half way and then to the next agreed cheer point just before the 15 mile mark.

When I saw the boys I really wanted to stop but knew as soon as I did it would be so hard to start again and I was already feeling a bit emotional about the prospect of potentially not finishing.

I was wearing two pace bands and at this point I was still just about on target for the one which read 3:30 but I knew it wasn't going to last and tried to cling onto the one that read 3:35 instead.

However about a mile later the pain was too much and I had to stop to try and stretch my calf, at this point I was about ready to quit and was feeling quite teary. Then I thought what a bloody idiot I must have looked and told myself to snap out of it, I was in Paris on a beautiful sunny day, running an amazing race with some pretty awesome people. And more importantly there was a lovely pink t-shirt I'd bought the day before and damn I really wanted to be able to wear it. And beer, there was beer at the finish line.

So I struggled on, walking if I needed and running when I could. I looked at all the sights and made sure to take in the Eiffel Tower which Tom had told me his Uncle had missed when he ran it because he was having such an awful race, there was no way I was going to miss that. After that I knew I just needed to do a Parkrun (a mantra I always find useful) before I saw the boys again at the start of the next woods. Here I stopped and had a little (big) moan about my time and wanting to quit but Phill made me keep running for which I'm very grateful and was the push I needed to finish. I'd read horrible things about these wood being a 'death march' but considering how much I was suffering psychically I found them quite enjoyable. A couple more miles and the two man cheer squad had darted across the park so they could see us again, a welcome sight as I wasn't sure I'd see them again until the end. At this point Phill told me to run faster and this time I didn't appreciate his encouragement quite so much but I tried to do as I was told none the less.

The final mile seemed to drag on forever and the sign for 200m to go couldn't come soon enough. I summoned all the strength I could do a 'sprint finish' but it was nothing more than a hobble. And with that I was done.

We were quickly handed a very nice finishers t-shirt and given the 24 degree midday heat, an unnecessary poncho but good to know that the organisers we prepared for all eventualities on race day. I found Hattie with no trouble in our pre-agreed meeting place and quickly felt most of the disappointment of my race disappear knowing we could celebrate and have a post race beer in a beautiful city on a sunny spring day.

 

No I didn't get the time I wanted or trained for but if you'd have asked me this time last year if I could run two sub 4 marathons in 4 months one being a good for age qualifier for London I would have said it wasn't possible. I'm grateful that I'm at a point where I can be disappointed with a finish time of 3:50:25 and I'll get that illusive sub 3:30 one day. C'est La Vie, the sun is shining and life is good. Now to rest this gammy ankle... 

 

This Old Girl Can...and Did! NYC Half by Teresa Anderson

Go on, we've all done it.  Booked a race online while under the influence of alcohol / over enthusiasm.  I blame the Eagles runners doing the 2015 NY Marathon, there I was innocently viewing their progress on my laptop, sipping tea and then wine, and hey! an ad pops up for the NY Half the following March.... 

I really didn't think I had any chance in the ballot, I was wasting the $5 ballot entry fee on a dream, like a lottery ticket. So imagine my surprise at getting a place! Fast forward to March 2017 and my deferred place is waiting for me (did I tell anyone about my 2016 broken finger/black eye/deferral...?) 

With a mix of triumphant training and stomach-clenching nerves, I boarded the Virgin flight last Thursday, wow it's really difficult to work out what to pack in advance, isn't it!  My answer was to pack everything.

Advice for an overseas race:

1. Check the weather, but not constantly, you just spook yourself needlessly.  

2. Pack everything, all your running gear, who knows, your running bra might just combust during the journey...

3. Do a couple of practice runs to gauge the weather and that indefinable feel of the streets

4. Assume the worst, it WILL cost more than you budgeted for, especially if you fall for more running gear at the expo

5. Plan for after the race, not just before: where you will meet your friends/family

6. Don't go for a PB, go for an unforgettable experience, you can do the PB at a local race, but you might just be lucky on the day  

7 Do the tourism bit too, float round the city on a cloud of pride for at least a day afterwards.

So should you go in for the NY Half ballot?  Well, yes. Here are the reasons why: 1 it's in New York 2 it's in New York. Seriously, what can be better than running round Central Park, down 7th Avenue, through Times Square, along West Side Highway (OK that's a bit straight) round the tip of Manhattan, finish in Wall Street/Water Street?  It's very well organised, with water and Gatorade stations plus portaloos every couple of miles. It has the feel of a major marathon in its organisation so for us poor mortals who might never do a marathon, this is the closest to the razzamatazz of a marathon we will get. Apart from the Central Park hill at 5k, it's flat especially at the end. The only downside for me anyway is the high chance of cold, cold weather. Storm Stella arrived in New York a couple of days before me, dumping two feet of snow and freezing temperatures. So I had to run in the cold, no choice about that. 

How did I do? Well, good and bad, you know how races go. I had to be up very early, 5.30, to make my wave start. I seem to have bigged myself up and claimed a 2.05 predicted finish so I was in Wave 2.  Call Uber, arrive 6.45 at Columbus Circle at sunrise, and through the extensive security. Walk to the corral and wait for ages while the delayed start gets organised.  Keeping warm in my old EHM 2014 hoodie, I chuck it away at the start and really feel sad to say goodbye to it. But hey! we are off and running round Central Park!  In the cold, and wind chill factor of minus 2. 

Central Park is surprisingly hilly, and at 5k there is something similar to Mount Greenford, a seemingly never-ending incline. I get to the top and start to feel less freezing, lower the EE buff from my nose and ears.   Remove my gloves, hey maybe one of my tops soon. We leave Central Park, and there is the never-ending horizon of 7th Avenue in front of us and a wall of cheering, a real high. Down towards Times Square and it feels like all of NY is out on the streets to cheer us on. Just off Times Square we can see a group of kids about to do a 1 mile race, we cheer each other on.  Barriers manned by smiling NYPD cops, everyone is so happy.  We run further on, past bands playing just for us, head West and then along the West Side Highway.

Somewhere Tony might be singing to Maria (look it up) but still NY is out to cheer us on. Wind chill factor from the Hudson River hits here, no thought anymore of removing a top. Past the Whitney Gallery, looking up at the Observatory Tower.

Middle age catches up with me: I defy any middle aged mum of four to run past a portaloo at Mile 10 and not stop for a wee. So a precious 3 minutes is wasted.  Past the 9/11 Memorial somewhere on the left and into the bizarre Battery Park tunnel. As a tunnel it's not bizarre but I've never run in a tunnel before, it's weird. Two brief stops to alleviate a searing pain in my ankle which is my latest injury and suddenly the End Is Nigh! It's amazing how fast the end comes even after a long race. Wall Street - huge high skyscrapers and all the Sunday action is down on the street with 20,000 runners from 88 countries finishing the race of a lifetime, for me anyway.  Wrap myself in the foil cloak, find a medal and my friends.  Not before I have done the Eagles celebratory "wing salute" and literally hit the guy behind me in the face.  

The only downside in this perfect race is the poor pacing, one pacer every 5 minutes with a flag so tiny that a leprechaun would think it too small.  So I was pacing myself. I've got used to running with Eagles on the Sunday runs, and the lovey EHM and Osterley 10k pacers, so I really struggled to keep myself on track. My hopeful 2:08 turned to 2:13 and after the loo break  2:16. Never mind, I will never run in NY again, it's a victory at any pace. And the average female (any age) result is 2:14 so the stats say, so I was pretty much bang on. 

Meanwhile...on the NY Half app, fun is being had.   My kids back in England have downloaded the app and struggle to be awake at 11am to virtually cheer me on. Much cruel speculation as to whether the stops in my progress are the GPS malfunctioning or me "doing a Paula Radcliffe" accompanied by searching for runners with amusing names (mainly involving men called Dick or Willy). 

Net net I would give this race 9 out of 10.  I will never get closer to feeling the Real Thing than this. And I have even converted my bemused English friends I stayed with to participate in a Half marathon sometime. As long as that means following me running the race on an app, while they snuggle in bed with a good cup of Manhattan coffee. 

Leith Hill Half Marathon 2017 by Andrea Hendy

Setting off yesterday (Sun 5th) morning at 08:30 from “the green” with the lovely Jenny Baker andMartin Bower heading down to Dorking, which was going to be – at least that’s what we expected – a very wet race indeed.  All of us had done this race at least once before and absolutely loved it. Even the desperate weather yesterday didn’t manage to dampen our enthusiasm for this race.  You gotta love hills and certainly not be bothered by a bit of mud, to thoroughly enjoy this race.  As we were driving through Dorking we noticed with great delight, that the weather seemed a lot brighter and drier down there then it was back in West London.  By the time we pulled into the car park of the Priory School (race HQ) the sun had come out.   

If you like a low key race that has not yet been spoiled by greed and over commercialism, then this is the race for you.  It’s always brilliantly organised.  You get a Tech T-shirt at the end - with all participants names printed on the back -, a full English breakfast (if you can stomach it after your race), a memento and of course the all important medal.  All the marshals and other volunteers are extremely friendly and encouraging.  The friendliest marshal of them all yesterday was of course Ealing Eagles Tom Irving who assisted at the finish line.  Thank you for volunteering Tom and hope you are back running very soon.  Tom and Harriet Betteridge had yet again signed up to compete in the renowned “Wife carrying race” which takes place just before the main race.  Its brilliant fun to watch and the kids love throwing buckets of water over the contestants as they struggle up and down the hill.  You don’t have to be married to the person you carry either, which in some cases is probably not a bad thing.  Tom and Hattie had put in plenty of practice – at least 20 seconds – and were feeling strong.  To give you a little taster here is a short clip of what it looked like.  Would be interesting to see what Hattie’s experience was like. Maybe next year Hattie you could fix a “go pro” to your helmet. Take a good look at the last person, carrying the heaviest wife.  I believe they hand out a prize for “heaviest wife” as well.  You gotta hand it to them....great sports.

 

With the wife carrying out the way and Olivia having made it back from her 5 mile pre race run in time for the Half Marathon it was time to line up.  Martin Bower, Jenny Baker, Olivia Parker-Scott, Harriet Betteridge and I were race ready.  However there was still one important “ritual” to complete pre race.  This was of course the singing of the National Anthem. I must admit, I had forgotten about this bit.  Yes, you did read correctly, singing the national anthem pre race is very much part of the whole experience.  Don’t worry if you don’t know the words. Mumbling is allowed and you will not incur any penalties by having time added to your finish time by doing so.  The race organiser, as always wearing his patriotic running shorts, will have you all sing your little hearts out before the start of the race.  By the way, when I say shorts I mean shorts.  This guy wears the shortest shorts I have ever seen.  Not sure how much shorter they could be, before they become a thong. Having a bit of a sing along is all just a bit of fun and is taken very light heartedly indeed.  It just gives this race a special note (no pun intended) and something a little different. 

And we are off......up the hill. 

The route is an out and back, with the “out” being tougher than the back bit.  After the recent rain there was certainly no shortage of mud along the way.  I figured that there were about 4 different techniques of how best to get through the mud.  There was the “ever so cautious runner” who moved through the mud almost in slow motion, resulting in every step they took to sink deeper and deeper into the mud.  Then you have the “slightly more daring runner” who will manoeuvre in and around the mud puddle, with more confidence and speed and look a bit more gracious compared to the “ever so cautious runner”.  Then you have the “quick step runner” who will take short and quick steps across the mud, landing each time with the toes first thus ensuring that you don’t have time to sink into the mud.  Last but not least, you have the “don’t give a shit about mud runner”.  Running straight through the mud full steam ahead is their motto, sending blobs of mud flying through the air.  I was a “quick step runner” on the way up, having converted into the “don’t give a shit about mud” on the way back.  Great fun!!

I had ran about 4.7 miles which had taken me 55 min, when the fastest runner came flying passed me heading in the opposite direction for a glory finish.  There was little me, struggling up the path, not even anywhere near half way, when this guy passed heading back already.  Awesome running!   The first Eagles passed me after about another mile.  It was Martin and Hattie, shortly followed by Olivia all still looking very fresh.  As I was reaching the last and very steep hill before the half way point I had Jenny coming down the hill giving me an encouraging “well done, keep going”. 

Finally reaching the top and with that the half way point, I was happy to find that the weather had not turned and the sky was still remarkably bright and sunny giving you a spectacular view over the lovely British countryside. You could stop and stare all you wanted, but after all you had race to run. 

Heading back and passing the food/water station again, I continued to make the most of the Jaffa cakes on offer.  I mean it would be rude not too, right?! I really like them as energy boosters during a race.  They also had jelly babies and other sugary jellies as well as water. 

After several more miles I had finally reached the steep steps, which are the last test of your endurance.  Everybody ahead of me was walking, well crawling up it and this of course included me. The heavy breathing that was going on scared the poor wildlife for several days I am sure.  And of course to top it all.......by the time you dragged yourself up this very last hill there was the photographer ready and waiting for you and your “race face”.  I wondered how much it would cost me to bribe this guy to make my photo look like I was running up hill, rather than being on my last leg.  Surely with today’s modern photo technology there is a way. Oh well....maybe not.  I am sure nothing tops my worst race face ever, which was crossing the finish line at the Reading Half Marathon in 2013.  Warning!! Do not try and find this picture.  It’ll leave you traumatised and in need of therapy for the rest of your life.

So from now on it was only downhill.......yippee.  I crossed the finish line, with a high five from Tom and a big grin on my face, as well as a massive sense of achievement.  I think it’s safe to say we all had a bloody good race and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves yet again at Leith Hill.

After a quick change we all had a lovely breakfast before heading back.

I’m looking forward to next year, with hopefully an even bigger flock of Eagles.

 

 

 

 

Cambridge Half Marathon by Dominic Wallace

On a day when Eagles were involved in an impressive number of different races (I’ve counted at least six, just from Facebook posts), 15 of us (plus a couple of hardy spectators) swooped on the Cambridge Half Marathon, lured by the prospect of a scenic but flat course and, in some cases, by the opportunity to visit old haunts and/or student offspring.

Cambridge has a fully-deserved reputation for being impossible to park in; in fairness, there is a well-organised park and ride system that was beefed up for the day, but that still means a lot of standing around, so most of us had come up the day before.  Harry Claxton did bring a car up on the morning and gets a lot of respect for sweet-talking the porters at his old college into letting him park there.

Anyway, the weather was just as bad in Cambridge as it was in the rest of the country, so a few of us had the chance to show how glamorous we look when modelling the latest trend in designer waterproofs (aka bin bags)…

 

…and then it was off to the start.  Cambridge has a reputation for being quite crowded early on, which they had tried to fix this year with a two-wave start and each wave split into two or three by expected finish time.  Now I’m a bit of a novice and don’t have much to compare it with, but all in all it seemed to work:  it was still busy, but everyone around you is going at much the same speed so it doesn’t really matter.

The course is lovely, and roughly breaks down into thirds.  For a mile or so just after the start you could be anywhere, but then the view opens up and you see the city to your left before crossing the bridge and heading south past King’s College Chapel and all the other classic buildings.  Once you come out of the city centre you’re on a contra-flow and only have half the road, so it’s still a little congested, but after five miles you get to Trumpington, you turn right and the road opens up gloriously in front of you saying “come on, you can go faster than that”.

At this point I should explain that I’d based my training around a 1:40 target, but the longer race-pace runs had been a struggle and the last bits of preparation (which mostly involved standing in the wind for two days watching Teenager One play lacrosse) hadn’t exactly come from the textbook, so I’d tempered my ambitions and just decided to aim for a PB, setting off at 1:45 pace and hoping to gain a couple of minutes on the way round.  Which is exactly what happened until the road started talking to me and I ran the next 5k at horribly close to parkrun pace.

Anyway, the final third comes when you get back into the city just before the nine-mile point, at which point you take a different route through the cute bit (passing Paul Robinson at ten miles, who is doing his best to tie shoelaces using fingers that have turned into blocks of ice) and then retrace your steps back to the start/finish on Midsummer Common.  Just after the final mile marker you go over the river for the last time, and here’s where I paid for taking that middle section so fast and resorted to a 45-second walk break before sprinting home as best I could.  Press the “stop” button and my watch says 1:40:00 (yes, really), but I have the horrible feeling that I was a second or two slow to start it and this is borne out when the text comes through (this is a really impressive feature) telling me I finished in 1:40:01.

Rather to my surprise, I’m not remotely upset by the two seconds that stood between me and a “99 something”.  It was the best part of four minutes off my PB and nothing hinged on the time (GFA is a very long way away, even at my age).  Up at the pointy end of the field, others were taking great chunks off their PBs too:  John Foxall led us home in 1:22:47, and Harry and Kira broke their respective 1:30 and 1:40 barriers by ridiculous amounts.  Sophie went one better and did a Bob Beamon, leaping the 1:45 and 1:40 milestones in a single bound with a six-minute PB of 1:39:36.

So then it was time to collect the bags and go, and probably my only criticism of a wonderful and very well marshalled event.  The organisers had allocated race numbers in order of expected finish time, which makes perfect sense on the surface.  The flaw in this cunning plan is of course that all the fast people end up trying to collect bags from the same place at the same time, while the people handling bags for the higher numbers have nothing to do at this point (and there’s not enough physical space for them to help out where they’re needed).  With luck this will change next year, although I suppose it does provide an incentive to come home inside your target time:  the more you outperform your race number, the shorter your bag queue when you get to it.  I was 1,298th off a race number roughly double that, so no queue and very quickly into warm clothes before rushing off down the motorway to pick up Teenager Two from a music competition, while the rest of the convocation did what any self-respecting Eagles would do and went to the cinema.

Alright, so it’s not a cinema any more, but it was in my day.  It’s now a pub.

Clapham Chasers Thames Riverside 20 by James Linney

One of the advantages of running a spring marathon, over running one in the autumn, is the abundance of 20 mile marathon training runs that are available. There are so many in fact, that you have the option to be a bit picky and choose the one(s) that you enjoy the most and best fit within your training plan.

I ran the Clapham Chasers – Thames Riverside 20 back in 2015 in the build up to the Manchester Marathon and it was a no brainer for me to use this as one of my 20 mile runs in preparation for VLM2017 for a number of reasons.

On the face of it, the event doesn’t sound particularly exciting! It starts at 8am in the morning, involves a not particularly exciting route, running up and down the Thames (a large part of which is the clubrun route), there is no finisher t-shirt or medal and it costs £22.

And for all of these reasons I was depicting a pretty negative attitude towards running this year in the days leading up to the race. And with the forecasted heavy rain I was close to not getting out of bed at all. At this point I should apologise to everyone that had to ensure my grumpy demeanour on route on Sunday morning. To my defence the rain was coming in side-ways and we had little to no shelter in the race village.

The good thing is that once the race started, I remembered why I had signed up in the first place. Being a club-run event, the organisation is excellent – they know what runners want and need, focus on getting these things in place and don’t worry about all the pointless frills and spills.

 

The pace groups are what really set this race apart from the other marathon training runs. With 2 Clapham Chasers assigned to each group (7.00, 7.30, 8.00, 8.30 and 9.00mm), being set off at 2 minute intervals to avoid congestion, there is a really relaxed feel and a non-race vibe, with the first few miles spent getting to know different runners and sharing the various ups and downs of marathon training. Not everyone, including me, sticks to the pace group for the entire 20 miles (although many do) as the flat nature of the route provides a perfect opportunity for a progression run or even running part of the race at marathon pace. Again, by chatting to the other runners, you can often find someone who has a similar race plan and therefore can provide company for most of the run.

On top of pacing, the Chaser Marshalls are brilliant. They are situated and regular interval points, many of which double up as water/Gatorade stations and their enthusiasm and professionalism is probably only bettered by us Eagles. And considering the biblical weather we were experiencing at times on Sunday, it was even more impressive.

I mentioned earlier that the route was a bit of a negative. However, the out and back nature of the course means that you get to see all of the other runners on route and as the faster runners cheer you on the way out, you get to reciprocate this with the runners that are slower than you on the way back. And as there is always a decent number of Eagles running, this provides regular boosts just at the time you need it and is often shortly followed by those on the Sunday clubrun. In fact, there is a great buzz all round on this date as the event coincides with a rowing regatta, so the Thames get lined with supporters up and down the boat houses.

I also mentioned the lack of medal, but personally I’m not bothered about getting a medal for something that isn’t a race. The important thing after 20 miles is that you get well fed and with one of the most impressive goody bags around, courtesy of Holland and Barrett – not to mention the large selection of homemade cakes waiting for you – what’s not to like!

Overall it was a great day and the sun even came out for the second half of the run.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 10k - by Tracey Melville

It's been a while since I've felt so good going into a race and last Saturday has to go down as my best, so far this year. Back in October at the Eagles birthday quiz & party I was lucky enough to win 5 entries to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Winter 10k series, held on the first Saturday of each month. At the time I was slightly worried that I would now have to run all of them! But raffle man Hardy pointed out I could give them to friends. So that's what I did, rounding up a few members of the pluckie crew (some names stick Kelvin) together with my sister in training for first VLM, I put our names down for the last one of the Winter series. Then that strange thing that always seems to happen, happened. I entered another race - this was the Fullers Thames Towpath 10. I've never done a 10 mile race, so it was something new to attempt in 2017. Fast forward to early March and I am halfway through my training for the 10 miler and this 10k slotted in very nicely. I've been mixing up my training with cross training for the first time, although this did involve me signing up to a gym -something I said I'd never do again. However, this time round I go to the gym with a purpose and not to prance around, then sit in a steam room. I've got a job to do; strength, cross, abs, stretch, even the 'dreadmill' to knock out some of the miles in an attempt to save my mature knees or more likely poor running style. So back to Her maj's lovely park and what a lovely place it really is. It seems incredible that nearly 5 years ago, it was emerging from nothing to host the unforgettable 2012 London Olympics and today it is still being used and inspiring so many to participate in sport at some level. There's even a football club there 😉.  Meeting up with the pluckies + 1 at various points between Northfields and Stratford, we arrived in good time to collect race packs, pin our numbers to our thighs (this was a new one on me), drop our bags, then line up with everyone to hear tales from the MC about his marathon career starting back in 1981. Mr MC then decided we needed rehearse our finish line hands in the air & SMILE. We had to do this a few times until he was satisfied we had understood, then threw a few shapes in an attempt to warm up - star jumps - why?? And we were finally off. Three laps of the course, mostly flat, a few undulations, criss crossing bridges and repeat. My target was to get near 75 mins as that would have knocked off a good chunk from my last 10k back in December when I was still run/walking. After two laps and checking in with my garmin, I thought, I've got this - sub 70. At 8k I was flagging a little and my sister offered up a jelly baby. It did the trick and I powered home to finish in 68:33. A 10k PB. I was delighted. We all thoroughly enjoyed the race, oohed and ahhed over our shiny sparkly red finisher medals and celebrated with a hot cuppa and slice of my banana bread and other treats. It's now Monday and I'm still on a high, so I thought I'd share with you all. I'm now looking forward to Towpath 10, where a PB is already in the bag. Thank you to my lovely running buddies Roz, Carol, Teresa for joining me at Stratford and my sister Rose who I made an honorary eagle for the day.