Thames Path 100, 4-5th May 2019 by Lisa Watson

My curiosity was first tickled about running an ultra-marathon (anything longer than a marathon) a few years back after an ex-work colleague completed The Spine Race, a 268 miles non-stop and largely self- supported race along the Pennine Way in January. He recommended Centurion Running, who have well marked courses with minimal need for navigation and a reputation for great aid stations. Then in early 2017, I was sat propped up against a bar in Edinburgh having watched Mo Farah run an international cross country, when I noticed a guy in funky hoody which turned out to be from Jedburgh Three Peaks ultra. Shortly after I bought the top, but felt a fraud wearing it without having run it, so I entered and ran it later that year off the back of marathon training to earn it. It’s a 38 mile out and back route on the borders of Scotland that doesn’t involve navigation. It’s mostly trail, with the equivalent of a fell race across 3 hills, the Eildons, at mile 20 and a playground and slides to traverse immediately afterwards-great fun!

After completing my first ultra-marathon, Jedburgh Three Peaks in late 2017, I was cautiously considering entering a 100 miler. For a 100 miler, there is usually a qualifying shorter distance ultra. Centurion Running stipulate you need to have completed a minimum of 50 miles within a specified cut-off time to run one of their 100-mile races. The Thames Path 100 particularly caught my eye as I live within walking distance of the start, it’s relatively flat and the route finishes in Oxford where I used to live for 15 years. Before I ran my first 50 miler, I volunteered at last year’s TP100, which not only gave me a free place in this year’s TP100, it gave me the opportunity to get lots of tips from lots of very experienced ultra-runners who were either volunteering and running. The general gist was that although TP100 was flat, it wasn’t necessarily easier than a hilly 100 and was relentless (they weren’t wrong there!)  In autumn 2018, although feeling under par on the day, I managed to get round my qualifier, Chiltern Wonderland 50 and had my first experience of blisters under toe nails- I think repeatedly stubbing my toes was a factor as I don’t tend to suffer from blisters during marathons.

It felt a bit nerve racking confessing that I was planning on doing a 100 miler. Most people’s reactions were along the lines that it was crazy or bonkers and why didn’t I just drive there. In the end, it was a little bit touch and go whether I was going to make the start line of TP100. I felt woefully undertrained with only had 12 weeks to train for the Manchester Marathon and after getting my mileage up, I had to cut back a lot, as my exercise tolerance was so low due to having low iron and a few other issues. And I’d also managed to pick up a calf strain running Manchester a month before. Manchester done with a satisfying Boston qualifier and London & Chicago GFA time, it was straight off to Boston for Kevin’s marathon. I learned on my return that my 100 year old nan passed away while Kevin was toeing the start line, which made me resolve to dedicate each mile of the TP100 to a year of her life-although it did end up being 104 miles in the end!  

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The race registration and the start were in Richmond by the Old Townhall and Kevin and another friend came down to see me off.  It was a pretty relaxed start and after a briefing from the RD, James Elson (who made a Barkley Marathons attempt a few months before) I ambled off towards the back. The weather was unseasonably cold and pretty blowy, with sunshine interspersed with heavy showers-not too bad! The first few miles I was chugging along at a very easy pace, on my usual long run route up to Hampton Court and Walton on Thames at the first checkpoint, which was familiar from the Thames Half. Then near Windsor Castle, I met Kevin for the 1st time for a quick hug before continuing on and making steady ploddy progress.

At the Cookham checkpoint/38 miles I saw Kevin again and took my first longer stop as my left big toe felt sore. Removing my socks revealed a large blister and had no real choice but to lance it, if I was to continue. I then made a messy attempt to bandage it, which amused the medics no end! After circa 25 minutes faffing, I left only to have to put my rain jacket back on for a squally hail shower. I continued my ploddy progress, now feeling better and over taking quite a few people who were now walking.  It was sunset when I arrived at the Henley check point (supposedly at 51 miles, but I made it 54 miles) in 11 hours, including all the fannying about, so I was on schedule for under 24 hours.

At Henley I had a lengthy, but necessary fanny about lancing and dressing another large blister on the other big toe, changed all my upper clothing, socks and trainers for the night, ate some food, went to the toilet again, and gave Kevin a big hug before setting off into the night. This time making progress was slower and more difficult as I must have stiffened up a bit.  I was starting to get more into a pain cave, with painful ankles, knees and muscle soreness. On meeting Kevin at Reading/58 miles I was getting concerned that I would risk missing the cut off time if I continued walking so much. I said goodbye and wasn’t expecting to see him until the Abingdon/91 mile checkpoint. I really enjoy running at night and it was a lovely clear and beautiful night, but very cold. Unfortunately, I continued walking a lot and it took longer and longer to get to the next check point. There were stretches on road, but lots on hard lumpy, uneven ground with the odd tree root to catch you out!  Approaching Streatley, I startled a cute muntjac deer in front of me at one point.

At the Streatley checkpoint/71 miles I picked up a small drop bag of treats and had a small cup of tomato soup. Then back into the night, which was now very wintry with a heavy frost and frozen fog around the Chilterns combined a couple of hills and the dry, hard lumpy rooty uneven ground, which was uncomfortable, hard going. It started to get light and it was beautiful travelling along in the freezing mist by the river, although I was getting cold. At 77m around a beautiful misty sunrise, I had the most fantastic surprise, when Kevin sprinted towards me. He knew I was worried about my progress and didn’t get much sleep worrying too, so decided to come out and meet me! We walked to the checkpoint at Wallingford where a very kind lady filled up my mug with tea and helped me rearrange my clothing and put on my spare top to help warm me up. There were quite a few people who had under estimated the cold who dropped out here. This checkpoint was decision time for me and I did a few fuzzy calculations and knew I needed to increase my pace to a minimum walk/trot to make the cut off as I was now only within one hour of the checkpoint cut off! Fortunately, with a combination of feeling warmer and the sun’s warm rays, I was able to increase the ratio of lumbering to walking, apart from the areas where the ground got more difficult. Still, quite a few people were passing me, although most were accompanied by pacers, which you are allowed from Henley at the halfway point.

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The next stretch seemed to drag on for ages and ages, again on very hard uneven ground through pastures with cows and only a flimsy fence between the path and a bull. Kevin met me at 85m/Clifton Hampden checkpoint, where I had a shorter faff with a toilet stop and drinks refill. I then pressed on to Abingdon/91m, where Kevin pointed out that fellow Eagle, Emily Schmidt, was volunteering. Unfortunately, time was getting very tight and I had to press on and didn't have time to chat. Kevin then paced me for the remaining 9 miles to the finish in 27 hours 25mins, only 35 mins before the cut off. Crossing through the blue arch, I was presented with my finisher T shirt and buckle, gave Kevin a huge hug and, in age old tradition, I cracked open a celebratory beer, watching the remaining runners finish. I was so glad Kevin was able to share that last part of the journey and finish. I then made the mistake of sitting down and immediately everything started to seize up and it was difficult to hobble the short distance to my friends place on Folly Bridge Island, where a nice hot bath was waiting. I so exhausted that I just fell straight asleep in the bath!

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A lot of folks suffered similarly and guess 100 miles is never going to be easy and the 27% drop out attests to that, although better than the 42% drop out last year when it was very warm. I was lucky in that I seemed to have bypassed the crashing lows that I have read about. My toes were a mess, with a huge blister covering almost the entire top of my big toe. My ankles and feet were so painful and swollen, that I visited the outpatients immediately on my return to London, where another very kind lady confirmed it was tendonitis (ie an over-use injury) and deroofed and dressed my blisters properly, so they didn’t get infected.

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I’m ecstatic at finishing, but it would have been difficult without Kevin's support and the wonderful Centurion volunteers with their kind and wise words. I'd like to think my nan was with me through the adventure and I thought of her a lot, both in the many beautiful moments and when it got tough.

Tips if you’re bonkers enough to think about doing a 100 miler

  • Set plenty of time aside for recovery- don’t underestimate the after effects. Book at least one day off work, but it and may be worth keeping your diary free or booking longer or working from home in case you need it, especially if you don’t have a desk job as there is such a high injury rate. I had a bank holiday and worked from home for the following 3 days.

 

  • Make sure you take a 1st aid kit for blisters and other common injuries.

  • Allow for additional sleep and lots of rest in the days afterwards. I’m still feeling tired 10 days afterwards finishing writing this!

 

  • DOMS/muscle soreness-found this isn’t as bad as a for a marathon-guess I probably managed to walk out most of the lactic acid. However, over-use injuries are pretty common.

 

  • Training-practice running being tired by doing back to back long runs. I did this on the back of very cut back marathon training. Ideally best to do more than one 50 miler and ideally something longer as there is a huge leap going from 50 to 100 miles.

  • A hundred miles is generally going to involve running through the night. Get used to running at night and also make sure that you allow for big changes in temperature and a slower pace by taking spare clothing. Invest in a decent headtorch from the start.

 

  • Crews-family and friends can often meet you to give you food, drink and encouragement, in addition to that provided at checkpoints. It’s great to see a friendly familiar face!

 

  • Pacers-many longer ultras allow you to have a pacer at the later stages. Having some company through the night and the tough later stages to encourage you to keep moving, eating & drinking and generally chatting to you can help enormously in the latter stages.  I was originally not intending to have a pacer, but found it helped a lot for those last 9 miles.

  • Checkpoints-ignore the commonly quoted “beware the chair” at your peril! Try and minimise time at checkpoints and don’t sit down (unless absolutely necessary). You can grab a few snacks to eat enroute to the next checkpoint. I probably would have knocked an hour an a half off if I had been more efficient at checkpoints.

Boston Marathon (by Jenny Bushell)

I’m writing at about midnight in Boston, MA, when the throbbing pain in the first black toenail of my running career has become too much to ignore. I’ll spare you all the pictures!

Now I’ve had a couple of hours sleep, I’ve realised I actually really enjoyed about 80% of the experience of this race, and I’m so so glad that I came to find out what it was all about. Just being in Boston in marathon weekend is an experience in itself - the whole city getting behind the race in a way I’ve never encountered elsewhere.

I woke up on race morning excited and nervy - I knew I was in great shape to run a strong race if I could just avoid being taken down by the twin perils of the weather and the Boston course itself. More on both later. I took the bus into central Boston at 6am to check my gear onto a yellow school bus, having spent about two hours the night before meticulously separating out what I would want after the race from the small bag you are allowed to take along to the start. Thanks Kieran for making sure I knew not to take my post-race gear to Hopkinton!

As I was walking to gear check, the first batch of apocalyptic weather arrived - buckets of water falling out of the sky along with thunder and lightning rumbling around. I had felt well prepared, with a full set of clothes to throw away at the start, as well as old shoes and socks on my feet. (It all gets collected up and donated to charity). My binbag for waterproofing, though, was woefully inadequate, and I found myself with major poncho envy, as well as admiration for the smart souls who had duct taped plastic bags over their feet. By the time I reached my second yellow bus, the one that would carry us out to the race start in Hopkinton, I was pretty much soaked to the skin all over. Seventy minutes in a school bus with sixty other similarly drenched athletes was not the best part of the day! I was glad though that we weren’t enduring the freezing temperatures of 2018, and I have so much respect for those who somehow managed to complete the race in those conditions.

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The journey out to Hopkinton was uneventful, largely because our bus windows were so steamed up that we couldn’t see anything of it. I met a friendly chap from Chorlton who then quizzed me quite intensely on my race prep, and who I was impressed to learn was aiming for a 2:35. We disembarked to find the athlete village already a sea of mud, and I paid my first visit to a ‘portapotty’ before finding a spot to sit down on my bin bag in one of the large tents provided. I was also thrilled to discover hot coffee on tap, although rationed myself strictly to half a cup. After about a 45 minute ‘relax’ on the ground, I went for my second ‘potty’ trip, and then changed over my shoes and discarded my tracksuit on the way down to the start. The rain had largely stopped by this point, so although my feet were pretty wrinkly from being in soaked shoes for a couple of hours, I was hopeful that I’d avoid too much damage along the way. It was starting to feel pretty humid, giving the first clue as to the state of the weather later in the day. Aside from that, we started off with perfect running conditions - cool, dry, good cloud cover and a perfectly sized tailwind.

A quick jog down to the start line, where we were efficiently sorted into corrals, and we were off. I was in the second wave, starting at 10.25am, and it only took a couple of minutes to get over the line. The first fifteen miles were a dream race. I was aware that the gradient was more downhill than is ideal, but felt I was controlling the pace pretty well, and the kilometres ticked off at bang-on goal pace. I felt strong and happy, was enjoying the atmosphere (shouting along to Sweet Caroline with a load of Red Sox fans sends tingles down the spine!), and even started to let myself think that I might be able to maintain the pace. Famous last thoughts.

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Pretty much simultaneously, I got a stitch, and the sun came out. The pain in my abs moved around a bit, came and went, and I kept thinking I’d successfully run through it. It wasn’t to be, though, and I think it was around the 28-29k mark that my pace slowed dramatically, with a band of pain wrapped all the way around my stomach and back. I didn’t quite realise at the time just how hot it was getting, but the vivid sunburn I’m now in possession of tells the tale! I was apparently only feet away from Angela at mile 17, dressed in a bright yellow rain jacket, shouting my name and ringing a cowbell like crazy, but completely failed to see her.

By mile 21 it was all over. I was walking through the water stations, liquid sloshing around in my stomach as it shut down (something I’ve suffered before in hot races). The only thing keeping me moving forward was the thought that if I didn’t cross the line, I wouldn’t be able to call myself a Boston Marathoner, and more importantly, wouldn’t get to wear my medal and finishers jacket with pride! I avoided medical stations like the plague, fearful that if I accidentally stopped at one I wouldn’t be allowed to continue. I also suddenly started to feel the wobbly quads everyone warns of - all the downhill taking its toll. My strava record says the elevation overall was 277m climbed - it certainly didn’t feel that much, but maybe I’ve forgotten some! Heartbreak Hill was in the end not too heartbreaking, as my race was over by then, and it was more like a jog up Park View Road.

I should say a word here about the tracker. I had no intention at all of upsetting or offending anyone by hoping that I would be able to fly under the radar somewhat and avoid the live-action discussion of how my race was going! I think Allie put it best in saying that when you’re in the process of buggering up a marathon, the knowledge that all the people who have been willing you on can see just how badly it’s going can be enough to push you over the edge. But, I certainly didn’t mean to spoil anyone’s enjoyment in watching it, and I am overwhelmingly grateful for all of the Eagles support before, during and after - the club is 100% the reason I made it to Boston in the first place. 😍 you guys.

Ok, mushy bit over. I staggered over the line, and cried a bit into my Eagles buff, which went the whole race tucked into my shorts in case of more torrential rain. I was scooped up by a lovely volunteer who gave me a massive hug (I don’t think she knew whether I was sad or happy - I didn’t know either - but she knew what someone in need of a hug looked like), and gently directed me towards medals, heat sheets and a variety of bizarre food options. I’m not sure who has ever finished a marathon thinking ‘wow, what I want right now is a sweet roll...’

A bit more staggering, and I made it to my gear and to Angela, waiting at the funnel exit. After collecting Mike (who was sporting an extra-large, extra-shiny six-star finisher medal; much kudos to him), we all lurched off together through more gusty winds and rain to hot showers and pizza.

I’m still wobbling between disappointment and pride. I’m gutted that I couldn’t execute my race plan, but far better athletes than me were being bested all around me by the weather, and by the brutal Boston course. In the end (trying not to be too cheesy!), I’m so proud just to have made it here, to run an iconic race, and to run in the footsteps of Bobbi Gibb and Kathrine Switzer, without whom none of us women would be racing any further than 800m.

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Manchester Marathon - Writing a Wrong (by Rebecca Johnson)

I signed up to Manchester marathon days after my first marathon in London 2018 - the hottest London marathon ever. My training for London last year went really well. I managed to get several PBs at different distances during training. I was hoping for 4:15 to 4:30 and everything was looking good, until I saw the weather forecast. Warm weather is usually bad news for me and running, so this was a disaster! I did a lot of walking in London and can’t really say that I enjoyed most of it.

Signing up to Manchester was about proving to myself that I can run a marathon and that my expectations for London weren’t overly optimistic. The good thing about London being so bad is that I was quite relaxed about my finishing time in Manchester. My main focus was on feeling like I’d successfully run a marathon and hopefully that I would also enjoy it.

My training for Manchester went pretty well. I had a bumpy start due to being a bit ill in December and January and I didn’t get any PBs during my training. However, I felt like I was improving over the 16 weeks.

I was a bit unsure about what to aim for as my marathon pace. Some people suggested that I should be trying for sub 4, but my aim was to have an enjoyable race. So I didn’t want to focus on a specific finishing time and then end up feeling like I’d failed (again) if I didn’t manage it. So I focused on pace. I did the Vitality Big Half 4 weeks before Manchester and tried running at a pace of 9:30 minute miles, as I thought that could be my marathon pace. I wanted to see if I got to the end feeling like I could have done it twice. Good news - I did.

So, I had a plan for the day: run at 9:30s until 20 miles and then think about increasing my speed. My usual race tactic is to start too optimistically, to go too fast and end up struggling towards the end and having to slow down. This starting slow tactic was a new idea for me.

I even planned my music playlist to help me. I started off with songs that are nice to listen to, but not particularly up tempo. After around 3 hours of music, I added the songs that usually make me run faster.

So, how did it go?

It was great! The atmosphere in Manchester was great. I loved how they put up signs to welcome you into each town. The crowds were very supportive and I was happy to be surrounded by familiar Northern accents. My own spectators were very nicely spread out. My mum and dad at mile 6, ready to take my gloves off me. Then a mixture of my parents, Simon and the kids at miles 8, 15, 17, 25. Thank you tram!

I managed to start at a pace of 9:33 for the first mile. I did end up going a bit quicker than that for subsequent miles, but tried to hold myself back enough to reserve some energy for the end. At mile 8 I suddenly had a worrying thought: I’ve gone quite a long way, but there is so much further still to go. However, as I passed the half way point, psychologically, it all started to feel better. At 15 miles in particular I felt great and speeded up a bit more. I kept having to remind myself to slow down as there was still a long way to go.

I enjoyed getting to Altrincham and being able to see people going in the opposite direction for a while. I also enjoyed seeing a random absolutely massive tortoise casually ambling along next to the course. Pretty sure I wasn’t hallucinating at that point!

The sun did dare to come out quite a bit in the middle of the race. It was occasionally a bit too warm, but I did my best to ignore it. Luckily it went cloudy again and cooled down after mile 20.

At the 20 mile point, I remembered that I had been planning to speed up, but also reminded myself that I shouldn’t get carried away. Some of my music choices were particularly appropriate at this point. Kylie Minogue’s Get Out of My Way, was, luckily for me, very well timed. I had to do a lot of weaving in and out of people who were walking (probably the reason that I ended up running nearly 26.4 miles!).

After seeing my mum and dad at 25 miles, I turned a corner and could see the finishing line ahead of me. The crowd support at this point was amazing. The finishing stretch did slightly go on forever, to the point where I had to stop looking at the finish sign because it was a bit off putting seeing it ahead of me for so long.

The end?

I was so pleased to cross that finish line. I’d run non-stop for the whole race. My final race time was 4:05 and I’d enjoyed it. My slowest mile was my first one and my fastest mile was the last one. My second half was 3 minutes faster than the first and I’d got a PB of over 50 minutes!

My watch was buzzing constantly as I was walking towards my medal. I was really happy to see the messages from my running buddies who had been tracking me during the race.

So, am I now finished with marathons? Even though I hated the maranoia during the taper and thought it would be good not to have to do it again, I have enjoyed marathon training both times I’ve done it. It definitely helps to have a lovely group of running friends to do those long training runs with. Also, I can’t help but notice that I’m not that far away from managing a sub 4 marathon and also, because I’m so old, my Good For Age time isn’t too far out of reach (3:53 I think).

Whatever happens next, I feel very satisfied to have completed this marathon and moved on from disappointment in London.

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Hope it’s not short this time… (by Raf Mac)

My first attempt at the fine art of concise race report writing.
Somewhere there is a little about the running itself, I promise.
I dare you to read the whole thing in one go!

- "Sub-3 Train To Manchester" -
We had it all worked out, early doors.
Sometimes in Nov 2018, Bernard Twinkle-Toes Sexton, Nils-Kristian The-Fastest-Norwegian-In-The-UK Liborg, Laurence Still-Wonderkid Elliott and I (known as the No-Faff Raf) - booked an AirBnB house and train tickets to Manchester.

Greg The-Honeymoon-Fatty Fernandes-Lawes also wanted in, but decided against the bachelor’s team. He shall be travelling and staying with Kimmy F. We fully supported Greg's decision, naturally. Greg sets up a chat group, gives it a pet name "Sub-3 Train To Manchester".
What can go wrong?

- Manchester is the new London! -
No, there's no other mile 23 quite like the one in London, but, as we will learn later, the power of Matt Kay 's high-five counts for plenty and Olivia Parker-Scott 's agility in getting between multiple cheering points is second to none. She must have run a good few miles.

Also - Manchester is cheaper, guaranteed place, it's colder, flatter and, on occasion, even significantly shorter than London! Surely that's the one to go for.

Others clearly think the same and join later: Tom GreenJon DuncansonFiona PlainRichie Emmett, Firas Alhawat. The more the merrier. And this is only those that joined our group chat.

In early December most of us start the focused training - some decide to follow the highly regarded P&D (the minimum mileage version, which we call "The Baby P&D" - up to 55 miles per week). Hardly a stretch for most, really. Some P&D first-timers get impatient in the early weeks due to suspiciously low mileage. Some top it up, race here and there. I just stick with it. I've done it twice to a tee and know that what's coming will test my body to the limits. Unfortunately.

For the next 18 weeks we often meet for group training sessions, in various configurations and places. Be it an extended Sunday Club Run, MP miles around Battersea or Regents Park, joining the Perivale 5k PB Tuesday Track, you name it. It's going great. It's going to be fantastic!

- Casualties -
Apart from fact that where there's marathon training, there are always casualties.

My back flared up in January. At first I thought it's as bad as back in 2017. Pinched nerve, I fell to the floor a few times before getting to a doc. But they gave me some super anti-inflammatory drugs and within a few days I'm back to "normal". Phew. Well, the doc may have mentioned 2-6 weeks "rest", but I was busy reading the dosage instructions and didn't quite record that.

Others are not quite as lucky.
Bernard is out with an Achilles drama. Takes some time off, then resumes the training, but eventually it becomes clear that he's not recovered fully and needs a longer period of more comprehensive physio. One of our main group of 4 AirBnB crew is out. That meant we no longer had to decide which two of the four were going to share a bed (originally 4 boys, 3 beds in the AirBnB house). Boo.

One of Oliver's legs also stops cooperating. Initially it seems like a temporary thing, but the reality is - he needs to make the same tough decision and pull out.

Pretty much everyone else has some sort of a niggle or issue (weak and twitchy bum for Laurence and myself, non-running related groin strain for overly active newlywed Greg), but somehow, luckily, we can fast forward to the race week and no one else is forced to pull out.

- Race week -
Now, to clarify - the "No-Faff Raf" is actually my New Year resolution. And it's 2nd year running.

Therefore I'll just quickly go back to my back. 7 days before the race it flares up again. Surely the nerves must have something to do with it. I only fall to the floor twice (on Sun and Mon). But any sort of movement causes discomfort, I can't lift my left leg to put the shoe on. Bending over without falling over is impossible.

Luckily - I saved half of the drugs from January - I start popping the pills and take the week as easy as possible. Andrew Guy somehow finds new levels of extreme patience, reads (via chat) all about my drama, doubts, worries and manages to help me focus and relax. Accept what may (not) happen. Listen to the body. Let it rest. See how it goes. The magic, carefully timed "you've got this".

By Friday morning - the pain is pretty much gone, I'm just left with the back a bit stiff and an occasional twinge. I'll take that.

So - I focus on having a lovely time with Laurence and Nils. We go shopping, we cook, carb load, we squeeze on a small sofa and watch a blockbuster movie on a phone (there's no TV in the house, instead - the hosts went for a load of female reproductive organ posters, weird hipsters). We drink some awful beetroot juice and pass pink urine. On repeat.

We meet Greg, Kim and Rebecca Jackson at the Stretford Parkrun - does it get any better than this? Life's a dream.

- The Race Day -
6:00am.
Number 2 + 1 (pink, or rather bloody red).
Coffee with clarified butter and coconut oil. Two soft boiled eggs. One piece of toast with avocado. One final Beet-it shot.
Number 2.
Banana. Water with rock salt and lemon juice.
Walk to the race village.
Number 2 (3rd and final, like a pro).
Bag drop.
Number 1 - last minute urinals. Finally, feeling empty and ready!
We realise it's 8:45 or so. Start "walking" to the start line.
We enter our pens 2 mins before the gun goes off! Never in doubt. No warm up. No stretching (planned it this way this time).

I high-five Nils and wish him luck for the last time. Laurence, Greg and the rest are in pen B behind us. They'll soon come past with the 3h pacers going for a 1:29 half split, I'm sure, we can say hi then. I tell myself for the final time that the back will be OK, the weather is near perfect, I've never been fitter. I've got this. I'm weirdly calm. What's wrong with me? I luckily have no time to answer this, because...

9:00. Bang!
My pacing strategy - slight amendment from Berlin: cross half-way around 1:29:15 to allow for a slight fading at the end (circa 1min30 positive split).

Aim to run the first 5k/3mi a tad slower than the avg pace required for sub-3 - to get going. But only 3-5s per km slower.

Then try to average 4:12km/6:45mmi for 27km/17mi.

Finally, "allow" to slow down in the final 10.2km/6.2mi to that initial pace again. 2:59:45 or thereabouts. All I need is 2min 19s off my Berlin time, 1.3%.

"Hi Raf" from Tom going past as soon as 1km in I think. He must have been right behind that pen tape. I learn after the race that Laurence was there, too, but sneaked round the other side, didn't want to stress me - what a gentleman. They're racing their own little race. Off you go, boys, I don't want to see you before supper!

Soon after the 3h pacer with the group catches up - they were in pen B at the start, close behind. Together with them: Greg, Jon and Richie arrive. We're all so focused there isn't much of a pleasantries exchange. You wouldn't tell we're club mates! Everyone's saving each and every breath. Well, apart from Richie, who seems the most relaxed of us. Gives me a big old smile. Looks like he's just jogging lazily on the side of a football pitch, before even being told to warm up properly. How do those youngsters do it?! Different league.

I let them go past, as planned. I'd thought this through and focused on not stressing about being left behind by the 3h pacer (or any of the Eagles, especially). I'm racing myself, my back, my pronation, my sweet little bunion, my mediocre economy, my fear of never finishing what I started. Chasing my dreams! That's the one!

So - it's just me and the tarmac. I knew the pacer would go a bit faster, probably around 1:28-1:29 half pace. So I happily let them all go and stick to my pace. Breath in, out, head high, knees up, shoulders relaxed, elbows back and forth. Or at least I picture it this way. And smile.

The 3h group (and Jon, Greg, Richie) are in sight for ages, 50m ahead, tops. It seems that my 3-phase plan works out pretty well. Slightly increased pace keeps me within a short burst of the group, should I get really anxious and want some "shelter". But I'm sufficiently behind to be breathing fresh air instead of their testosterone and sub3-ambition-fuelled sweat and farts.

Fast forward to 15km or so. I feel a little crisis, the concentration goes a bit, and with it the stride, breathing. Some negative thoughts creep in like an unwanted 6-monthly Thames Water bill. It takes me a while to realise. Ha! Almost got me! Nah. "Relax. Take a gel. Spray your face with some water. Focus!". I have a water bottle from the drinks station. Nice and cold, thanks to the weather, hence super refreshing. All over my face. Down the spine, chest, shoulders, groin / quads. That's better.

Someone helpful says "A bit early for that, you better slow down, matey". For a brief moment I smile nervously and feel embarrassed. But then I hear my voice responding: "Thanks. What's your bib number? I bet I'll beat you to the finish". Someone else asks me for the water bottle with a smile. I'm feeling pretty good again. I've got this.

I go through the half way and check my watch for the first time in ages. 1:29:41. Phew. Not bad. About 25s later than planned, but still have a little play. 30s quicker than in Berlin and I'm feeling better.

At some point I realise I'm inside the 3h pace group. They must have slowed a tiny bit, or my rhythm is picking up a tad. I've not really been checking the splits, running to feel. That's good. What's not good is that I was right about that air. It stinks here, like you wouldn't believe! And it's too warm. Surrounded by oxygen-sucking, smelly diesel engines. I've got to get out of here. I feel that running with the group has also forced me to pull up and shorten my stride. So I quickly decide to weave my way out on the next downhill (yes, we hit a series of innocent looking, but pretty steep bridges, it's not all that flat here). Greg must have felt the same, as he's slightly ahead of the group, 50m or so. Good, we're both ahead now. Let's just make sure it stays this way! For me, especially, since the pacer started 10-15s behind me.

I get to Greg around 24km in. He's chugging along nicely, as he does. Jon and Richie are out of sight by now. I speak to Greg a bit, tell him we're doing well. Good pace, not too fast, but gaining that time reserve with each km. Just keep going, relax. We'll be good. We've got this.

I think we were close until around 32km. Not a single word after that initial "chat".

20 miles! It did go fairly quickly I guess. I could say "time flies". I think I'm meant to be fading away a little by now. But I feel like speeding up instead. I mean legs are hurting, I'm not exactly breathing easy, but this is the best I've ever felt at the 20mi mark. I grabbed a gel at the drink stations a couple of times, just to keep my own for a crisis later. They were pretty good tasting. I used the water to cool myself down a couple more times when having a little mini crisis. I let a big "F" word out when tackling another short, steep incline around mile 22 (that made me feel better).

With around 6km to go, I really started feeling the legs. My right quad, hamstring and glute were getting twitchy. I tried changing the stride but immediately felt a near-cramp sensation. It relaxed with me getting back to the previous stride and slowing down a little bit. That's fine, I said to myself, that was always the plan. I can afford a few seconds per km until the finish. Relax! I turn around - the 3h pacer isn't even in sight. I'm good. It's annoying, because I can feel I could go harder than this. But can't ignore the legs.

This is where I knew I needed some positive thinking to get that pain out of my head (and legs, hopefully). I started going through my previous races, especially those successful and most enjoyable ones. Welsh Castles in 2017. Berlin. 37min 10km in Fulham. Ladywell 10.000m. Summer League. Willan XC. River Relays. Edinburgh mara trip with the family. And so on. Then - the Eagles. The social. The banter. Tier 2. Perivale track. All the support from the guys. Andy Guy, putting up with my faff and helping make the right calls. All those previous sub-3 achievers, telling me I'll get there soon. The cheer squads in numerous races.

And then my family. Junior Parkruns together. My wife, somehow still putting up with it all. I picture how I will call her in 30 mins or so and tell her that it didn't work out, but it doesn't matter, because I love her (and she'll fall for it, then I'll tell her I did it!). I laugh out loud. My kids, playing with the medals and asking if I won. Hanna, who I'll soon run with in a buggy (for the first time!). I keep running and smiling to myself.

- The Finish Straight -
Before I realise - I get to that final straight. It's the longest straight in any race on Earth. I've done it 2 year ago, so I remember. You can see the finish line in the distance and you think it's 200m at most. But it's 900m! You immediately speed up. Ouch! That right leg, I forgot. It almost goes. The left isn't much better. I return to the cruise gear. I don't need that sprint finish. It doesn't matter. Keep it together. You can still blow it! I really am stressing now, the legs are very twitchy. In pain. On the edge of cramping up. But I check the watch. I have circa 5 mins. It can't be more than 200-300m, surely?! Around half way to the finish I spot Jon, maybe 200m in front. He's wobbly... Slows down. I get closer, but can't sprint to go and help him! I tell myself "he'll be fine, he's fine, a marshal will help if need be". I get closer. Jon stops. I can't quite see if he collapsed or just slowly crouched. A marshal helps him get up and move. Then lets Jon go. I get closer. Jon struggles on, a few steps, starts bending forward. "F..., he's going to fall on his face!" I get to him in time. Give him a hand. Not sure he knows what's going on. "Come on, Jon, look, it's just there! We've done it! Let’s go, just a few steps! We've got this!". Maybe 100m and we cross the finish line.

The speaker shouts:
- "Wow! Ealing Eagles! West London in the house!"
I check the watch. We have bloody done it!

Laurence comes back to see us. Then Richie. Greg finishes 30s or so later. He's done it, too!

We all do a long, super sweaty group hug. Sit on the road for a few minutes and smile. Do high-fives every minute or so.

Everyone's smiling. Richie looks just as fresh as he did at the start, slacker. More people are coming in now, so we have to get up and go. We get our bling and I spot a photographer, so quickly get the guys together for a group photo. That'll be a good one.

Life's a dream.
Running is life.

The 2019 Greater Manchester Marathon: Super Sunday (by Greg Lawes)

Having been an Eagle now for just over two years, this will be my first ever race report.  Thankfully, I have been overlooked on a number of occasions for various relays and cross country races.  The main reason is that in every way of life, I am an accountant. We are known for being extremely dull and a bit anal, which has definitely flowed through to my running and my ability to notoriously follow the given training plan.

Towards the end of a gruelling 18 week plan, with countless hours spent running in to work down the Uxbridge Road and Friday night 10k tempo runs on the track I was feeling confident.  One of the problems training with club mates faster than you, is you end up with ideas above your station and with a few weeks to go, I announced to a number of people:

“I am going to give 2:59 a go”

The responses were reasonably consistent:

“Greg, do you really think you are capable of a sub 3 marathon?”

“I don’t know.” I replied honestly, “But hopefully, I won’t blow up too much.”

Hopefully not famous last words.

On the morning of the marathon, I woke up to a text from James Linney, wishing me luck and expressing the FOMO of “that marathon day buzz,” clearly it has been a while since he did one.  I was nervous, I felt sick and I was starting to doubt myself. Luckily, the wife (aka Kimmy (also running)) was on hand to tell me to calm down and shut up.

In the starting pen I met Firas and Nils, two Eagles that have come a long way in the last year, we confirmed our race tactics and went off on the gun.  My race tactic was simple, stand twenty metres behind the guy with a 3 hour flag and do not let him out of sight, easy.

The pacer was Chorlton runner Matt Shaw, the last time we both lined up together was last June, on the steps of Caernarfon Castle, ready to proudly lead our respective teams in to battle for the Welsh Castle Relays.  Matt was out of sight within minutes and comfortably won the stage, beating me by a huge 14 minutes (sorry lads!), lets hope my chase was more successful today.

The first few miles was more of an Eagles social than a race, Tom Green stormed past on the way to setting a GWR for the campest ever marathon, I met Richie Emmett looking as cool as a cucumber and then exchanged a “thumbs up” and a low-5 with Jon Duncanson and Raf before focusing on the job in hand.  I am not going to say the pace was exactly easy, but the nerves were starting to settle, not helped by every other spectator screaming something along the lines of “A sub 3 marathon! Are they mad!?!?”

At mile 6, disaster struck, after taking my first of four chia-seed based energy gels, I went to put it neatly away in my back pocket and heard two noises that will haunt me forever…

Plop

Plop

Two of my gels had hit the deck.

I turned round and let out an array of expletives that could be heard as far as Liverpool.  Could I turn round and get them? Not a chance, it was like a scene from the Lion King, a stampede of sub-3 hopefuls tore through the streets of Manchester behind me, not even Mufasa could have saved them from the inevitable.  Had I just dropped the World Cup?

A nice old man running alongside calmed me down and told me not to worry, we had a nice chat, before I re-convened for a team talk with Jon.  At mile 9, Jon then pointed me in the direction of two children handing out some rather toxic looking gels on the side of the road. Beggars can’t be choosers I thought to myself.  I grabbed two and the crisis had been averted. No one has ever said anything about nothing new on race day…right?

At mile 12, there was an incredibly generous downhill section, I took my chance to breakaway from the 3 hour pack and went through halfway 33 seconds ahead of schedule at 1:29:27.  The only thing I had left do was that again.

At mile 16 the pain was growing, I was reunited with Raf who went through 101 different ways of running the next 10 miles.  I can’t recall any, the only point I gathered was that we could not afford to slow down too much. Eventually he finished talking and I responded with a polite grunt.  Raf was making things look easy, much to my annoyance, my quads were becoming harder to lift by the step and even my arms were starting to ache. He was out of sight by 18, knowing this meant I was last of the sub-3 hopefuls…dig deep and don’t let the club down, I told myself.

At mile 23, I finally remembered why it was two years since my last marathon, minutes went past like years, I knew right there the race had begun. To make things worse, at the end of the mile my Garmin beeped….”7:04 for the mile”… Hardly slow by most people’s standards, but seeing that “7” was a real psychological blow.  I tried to remove any negative thoughts and focused on the smug faces of the boys* (no names) sat back in Ealing with their feet up watching the tracker and seeing me blow up so close to the finish, I could not give them the satisfaction.

Two to go…I turned round and saw the 3 hour pacer coming right for me.  I felt like the break away in the Tour De France about to be swallowed and churned out by the peloton.  Not today, I had come too far…I gave everything to get in front of them, it was futile, and I was back in the pack.  

One to go…Every time I got any breathing space ahead of the pacer a new pain would appear in the legs, they were getting harder and harder to move and eventually the peloton had thirty metres on me.  I knew this was going to be close.

“Nearly there” someone shouts

“No we’re not” I respond

With 800 metres to we turned right, and there it was, right over there, a long way in to the distance, on the horizon….The glorious finish line.  An emotional moment for any runner. I looked down at my watch…2:56….definitely going to be close…

This was my moment to surge forward, putting any remaining bit of pain to the back of my head.

700…I was past the 3 hour pacer

400…”ITS NOT GETTING ANY CLOSER”

300…2:58…

200…Surely, this was it!

100…

With 10 metres to go, I looked down at my watch and finally allowed myself to believe that this was my day!!  I relaxed, spread my hands and looked in to the sky. Rolling across the finish line in 2:59:18…unbelievable. An achievement that really seemed impossible just a few months back.

Waiting for me over the finish line was an ecstatic Raf, a smug Laurence, an incredibly chilled Richie (had he even ran?) and a nearly passed out Jon.  Just a few of the guys I have been training with and without them would never have been close to such an achievement. We milked the 30 metre walk from the finish line in style with hi-5s and photos.  It was now time to sit back, relax, upload to Strava and let the kudos roll in.

ManMara.PNG

*To point out, they are also very supportive.



Southern Road Relays 25th March 2019 by Tom Irving

"It's a strong field, we'll be one of the slowest teams there". We had all heard Cap'n Santry's words in advance, but there's always a little bit of you that doesn't quite believe it. 

Until you see the GBR jackets. And they weren't merchandise from the Green Belt Relay.

Feck.

So Operation Don't Be Last kicked off in an infeasibly sunny track in Milton Keynes, the thinking man's Stevenage. At least for the men, as ever our women had higher hopes than the men. The format was quite simple, alternating laps of 5.05km and 7.66km around a twisty, deceptively slow course around a park, with a start and finish on the track.

One of the club's best runners, John "Foxall" Llaxof, kicked things off for the gents with a brilliant first leg... finishing 48th of the 53 teams. Ah. The winner of that stage has a 5,000m PB of 13.49 and Paul Martelletti could only finish fourth. We are probably not going to win this.

Jenny Bushell went first for the women, an hour later. The field was equally fast, including Tracey Barlow, the UK's 25th quickest marathon runner ever. Commonwealth Games finalist Iona Lake could "only" finish 3rd in her leg!

You get the picture.

We may not have been the quickest team there, but no one left a single second out on the course. I'm not going to pick out a single performance, but the agony on Kieran's face summed it up. Overall the women were an amazing 17th out of 27 teams, and the men were 41st out of 43 teams that finished. Operation Don't Be Last was a success!

I'm proud to be an Eagle for many reasons; but today I was proud to be part of a club that could put out a team for one of the toughest events in the country, not afraid to be last, and have total commitment from everyone.

And you know what? We had a bloody good time.

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Ally Pally Met League XC, Feb 2019 by Cam Easton

Over my three seasons of cross country running in the UK I have come to look forward to the February races as they consistently provide “classic cross country conditions” with plenty of mud, cold, rain and or clouds.

This year was no exception at Ally Pally with a respectable amount of mud, its fantastic hill and a stadium-like atmosphere provided by the amazing supporters at the start and end of the hill.

We had a great turnout for the club given the distance to travel and is a testament to the team captains Charlotte and Kieran’s ability to hype the event. I later realized that Kieran had shamelessly exploited my impending move to Australia to drag runners out and I had to explain to several disappointed eagles that I was not leaving the country for a couple of months. I’m sorry guys, I will go, I promise. You don’t need to start another hashtag.

The ladies race as always was first and consisted of two laps. Was great to see the stalwarts, first timers and especially second timers (who having done once thought it was fun enough to do again!).

The Men’s race was a much more sedate affair. Apparently, there were other Eagles running but I didn’t see much of them as I was too busy enjoying the view from the top of the hill. I finished up in the C team which is a testament to the very large number of fine, excellent, fantastic runners who managed to stay ahead despite my current fabulous form. Also, maybe going on holiday wasn’t the best training plan.

The mud was a fine consistency with the right amount of stickiness. I left quite a bit of it on the train on the way home, along with some leg hairs. Ally Pally is my favorite type of met league mud, but I know photographer Olivia was disappointed that no-one fell over.

Cross-country has been my favorite part of running in the U.K and I am sad to be leaving it behind. I love the battle against the hills, weather and ground conditions combined with the fantastic team spirit and competition the eagles provide. I highly recommend any new members give it a try!


Cam loves the mud!

Cam loves the mud!

Here’s what the rest of the team thought of it:


Bernard: Ally Pally was its usual hill and muddy self! No A-team for me today …. Outclassed!! A great send off for Cam!! #diditforcam

Alan: I wish my girlfriend was this dirty!

Greg: With Cam leaving, I was very sad to beat him by such a large margin, better taking him on the line like Wormwood Scrubs.

Tom: What a hill! My favourite of the season… Might have faltered had it not been for the leadership of Cam but luckily, he inspired me through it!

Laurence: An emotional out with Cam, but nice to beat him once again!

Fiona: Wanted to walk the rest of “the hill” then heard Greg shout “Come on Fiona!” so annoyingly had to keep running! Tough, but the best one yet.

Matt: Hideous as predicted, however mildly less hated than previous XC. Perhaps I’m starting to “enjoy” XC. Pub always makes it worth it plus all for a good cause #doitforcam.

Ewan: This was the second most sick I’ve felt after a race. First was Ally Pally 2017. So it was probably my favorite Ally Pally. I hate hills, both the up and the downs. Jose was strong today.

Tom: I love XC and John Llaxof

Sophie: #doitforcam End of a fab season – river crossing, mud hills and pints – it ticked all the boxes! Au revoir to the fastest kiwi @metleague

Charlotte L: Great to see so many Eagles on the course, leapfrogging each other as we show which past of the course we’re strong on. To use Kieran’s words, the tube journey and pub is a craic! Nothing quite like XC to brighten your mood.

Nils: Mud and hills. All that I shouldn’t like but lots of Eagles and great fun.

Michelle: Finishing felt good! A new experience. Glad to have done it though.

Linda: After Wormwood Scrubs I wanted more mud and a more challenging course. Wish was granted!

Sam P: Suffered so much but took 4 mins off 2017 time!

Anna W: Jess pre-race “it’s like a roller coaster“ is hilariously accurate

Hayley: My lungs and legs hated me today, but I #diditforcam.

Liz: Loved the mud, hated the uphill. Best way to cure last night’s excesses though.

Rhiannan: ugh, mud.

Abi: Mud Mud Mud, hills hills hills - save the best for last I #diditforcam

Sam: Nearly crapped myself trying to keep up with Oliver #doitforcam

Charlotte W: I don’t have spikes so it was like running through treacle

Will: It occurred to me greatly today as I huffed and puffed – I, Will Adolphy, can NOT run hills. Wow. Wake up call. Glad I finished!

Simone: Fuck my boots, that was a bastard

Mike: 7.5K too long. Don’t recommend 1/10

Chris: Need to get better at running down hills #doitforcam

Gerb: Absolutely love the mud.

Paul B: Great to meet you today. Great race!

Oliver: Muddy and hilly I loved it, glad it didn’t rain!

Jack: First XC, set off too fast and thought the hill on the third lap would the end of me. But great fun and felt great at the end.

Pammy: loved supporting as usual – get stuck in the mud!

Nigella: All I could think of was “After The Rains” by Muddy Waters

Harry: Could I throw myself down the hill fast enough to pull out a big enough lead on Santry to beat his sprint finish? Dam right I could #revenge.



Wormwood XC race report- 12th January 2019 by Oliver Gildea

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With race day approaching, Fiona, Laurence and others had been drumming up support for this Met league fixture, under the instruction of Mr Santry all the way in South Africa!! Laurence even stirred up a few rivalries for the men’s race through a feisty Facebook post. It finally came around to race day. The weather leading up to race day had been pretty mild, so everyone had to make the critical decision of whether to wear 6mm spikes or 9mm spikes?! No demand for those 15’s needed at Uxbridge! Having only turned up 5 minutes before the ladies race started, I couldn’t help but be blown away by how many Eagles there were waiting at the bag drop. Correct me if I’m wrong, but 76 runners must be some kind of record for the Eagles at a Met-league fixture? However, I was extremely happy to be warm and cosy in my coat as the wind blew down the opening straight of the course. The women had their compulsory team photo and headed down to the start line, where the lady in the long-red coat waited with her gun in bag.

 The gun went off and the ladies race began, they shot up the opening stretch in to the headwind. Their course was half a lap followed by a full lap, covering 4 miles. The course was much flatter than Uxbridge and critically…drier. There were some brilliant PB’s from the ladies and some great efforts from XC first-timers Vanessa, Caroline, Charlotte and Linda to name but a few. Fiona continued her good form, coming through first Eagle.

Abi clearly having too much fun

Abi clearly having too much fun

As the ladies race came to an end, the men began to contemplate getting changed and ready to race. As we lined up at the start line, Kieran did a vital shift as a wind-stopper at the front and then shuffled back in to the huddle. Just as the red-coated lady was readying herself to reach for the starting gun, Sam Royle sprinted down to the start line in the knick of time! Everyone was ready, the gun went of and we sprinted into the distance! The men’s race covered two laps of the course, taking in 5.2 miles. We followed the course round in to the woods, with John disappearing into the mass of runners. Having really drummed up the rivalries prior to the race, I was keen to try and beat Laurence, so I stuck to him like glue. I overtook him going in to the second lap, which was probably a bit ambitious and had to pull back the pace slightly to avoid the dreaded stitch. However, unbeknown to me, Laurence had suffered a hit from the “mighty cramp gods”! Now, unlike some of the quotes in the pub report, I sympathise with Laurence, having suffered a similar fate at Uxbridge…but secretly, I was happy to take our XC tally to 2-1 Laurence. Bring on Alexandra Palace!

Laurence trying to make up for having a little break

Laurence trying to make up for having a little break

 Like in the ladies race, many of the men set some fantastic times on the course. Will put on a flying second lap to catch John, but John managed to beat him in the sprint! Jose and Ewan rounded out the top 4 Eagles.

 Wormwood was another cracker followed by LOADS OF CAKE and a few drinks in the Pocket Watch. Here are a few of the quotes from some of the team:

 Claudia – “1st race of 2019, this Canadian girl nearly died, but managed to get the best time by far!”

 Charlotte- “Another 1st timer here! PB in my first ever 6k race as well!”

 Linda- “First XC race for me! Loved it!”

 Caroline W- “1st XC for me too, after 2 and half years as an eagle! I’ll definitely be back”

 Vanessa M- “1st race for me since school and better experience than I remember. Great atmosphere and people”

 Kin- “A fast start, enjoyed running in the woods. Harsh wind across the course- 3 cakes!!”

 Charlotte L- “Have you seen how many Eagles turned up?!”

 Bernard- “Come on Laurence, you can do it mate!”

 John F- “As fast a start as ever today and I genuinely thought Will was ahead of me until he came flying past with about a km to go. Just edged it on the sprint finish though”

 Sam- “Can Laurence get a stitch every race please?”

 Charlotte W- “It was my fastest XC race yet…”

 Cam- “Really enjoyed seeing Laurence pull up”

 Sam P- “Unofficial 5km and 5 mile pb- perfect conditions!”

 Tom C- “Pleased to prove Kieran’s predictions wrong yet again- Team A again!”

 Greg- “Dragged here against my will…”

 Laurence- “Was going well. The mighty cramp gods beat me as did Oliver (2-1)”

 Fiona- “Spent most of the race distracted by the girl in front who’d failed to dress herself properly…”

 Hayley- “Why does everyone question me when I show up in leggings? We all know I’m going to reveal the legs at 1.45…”

 Tom- “Nice and flat, but a little monotonous wasn’t it? Tried my best but still got passed by an old man breathing like some kind of zombie- that’s XC for you!”

 Wei- “Great race. Tough but great fun! Love it!”

 Sophie- “Who needs South Africa when you have Wormwood Scrubs XC in January!”

 Vicky- “No mud! Hurrah, 2nd time on the scrub and no mud!”

 Nigel- “The battle at the back was remorseless…”

 Pammy- “Loved cheering everyone on!”

 Michelle- “Steady start, then decided to work a bit harder, enjoyed picking off the teams in front for the rest. Great race!”

Uxbridge Race Report - December 1st 2018

Some time in November I was encouraged to take part in the Uxbridge Met League fixture.  Adjectives such as “fun” and “enjoyable” were thrown around as captain Santry coerced the men who had a) never done XC before; or b) had forgotten exactly how brutal it is, to take part.  And so on 1 December a huge field (or flock I suppose) of Eagles descended on the world renowned Hillingdon Athletics Stadium ready to take on the infamous “ski slope” and the raging river/stream/brook (delete as you feel appropriate) that this fixture offers.

As advertised, at “not before 1.55pm” an elderly lady slowly reached into a backpack and removed a gun which was briefly pointed in our direction.  Luckily it turned out to be a starting pistol and the ladies tore off through the rain, wind and mud to be the first of the club to take on this course.  We men meanwhile stayed wrapped up and slightly smug as we briefly forgot we still had to do this. The start resembled not so much a race as an all out charge as the ladies jostled for position and swiftly disappeared into the next field never to be seen again (well not for a little while anyway).  The course was to take in a couple of deceptively easy looking hills before descending to the bottom of the ski slope at which point spikes seemed inappropriate and crampons would have been preferable.

As the ladies emerged towards the river they were met by inspirational cheers of encouragement from a selection of the men’s team (who were also filming the crossing in case of any amusing incidents) before the charge (or in some cases queue) to ford.  Shortly after, the rest of the men’s teams smiles started to fade as the ladies tore towards the finish line very wet, muddy and exhausted and reality of the task at hand set in.

And so, with my anxiety levels increasing following some feedback on the course including such words as “tough”, “muddy” and “brutal”, I lined up with the rest of the men’s team as the elderly lady once again reached into her bag in slow motion for the starting pistol.  The gun went off and I got caught up in the initial excitement, running at a pace I knew I had to drop, despite a sea of other men still overtaking (a theme that would sadly continue for the entire race). We too attacked the first hills as John, Jose, Laurence and Oliver disappeared into the distance, not to be seen again.  As my lungs burnt and my heart threatened to explode I looked at my watch to see how many miles we’d covered. 5? 10? 15? Apparently only 1.3. Still a way to go. Spikes scratching on the gravelly ski slope I briefly made some places only to see those I had overtaken tear past me on the muddy descent. Knowledge of where I was on the course disappeared as my focus turned to purely being able to continue, eventually emerging at the raging torrent (I’m sure it had got much deeper by the time the men got there).  A fairly comfortable crossing (the only part that was comfortable) made me happy I’d invested in spikes this year rather than running in road shoes. It would only be later in the day that I realised we had been filmed by Linney and therefore should have watched our language. Shortly after we were all reminded that this was in fact a 2 lap course and off we went again. Another ascent of the ski slope (briefly worrying about altitude sickness) and another attack on the river followed and we finally emerged towards the finish line.  With a usual good sprint finish my brain sent the message to my legs to do what they always do. Unfortunately they were not in agreement and slowed down in protest. Somehow the finish line was achieved and the race was over. My ever-loving wife rushed to meet me and proceeded to make me feel better, consoling me with comments such as “where were you?” and “I thought you’d stopped”.

The customary cool down was begun with us blindly following Sam who had clearly decided that he was not enjoying his shoes being dry any more and so back through the river we went.  Battered and bruised (one of our number had been savagely attacked by a bridge mid race) we stumbled off to the Fig Tree for some well earned beers.

I remember finishing and promising never again, however as I write this now I’m already feeling like me and that course have unfinished business.  I’ll be back…

For those of you who have not done this course or even any XC here are some inspiring reviews from some of the team:


Wei – “Great fun today! Love the river crossing and great fun.  Lots of support. Next time don’t trip!”

Carlo – “Great race, hard but great fun!”

Tom – “After much nagging from Keiran, I finally turned up for a Met League fixture.  I can thoroughly recommend it, although compared to watching Spurs (the reason for previous absences) it’s not quite there”

James – “Think I need swimming lessons after the river.  Hard run but fun!”

Anne – “Great day for a swim”

Jess – “Now THAT’S cross country!  Not sure what I enjoyed more – running through the river or laughing at all the men falling over in it after.  Brutal.”

Hayley – “There was a young lady who swallowed a fly…  and then she vommed”

Fiona – “Loved that so much, but the queue for the river was a bit slow!  I’ll try to be less pathetic in future (please refer to the FB video for Fiona’s dainty entrance into the river)”

Oliver – “Got a stitch”

Cam – “Great creek!”

Abi – “That fucking river crossing!!”

Sophie – “Fave XC course!  Water feature rocks!!”

Simon – “That was a proper x-country!  Loved it”

Colin – “I’ve done a few XC in my time.  Never before been required to ford a river.  I have gained a life skill”

Laurence – “Great river crossing.  Best race of the season. Best moment was all the lads going through the river on cool down”

Jo – “I can die happy now I’ve done my first XC with a river crossing.  Challenging but exciting race and the sun came out!”

Matt – “Why?  Never again (until next year)”


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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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