Round Norfolk Relay 2019 by Simon James

For the uninitiated, the Round Norfolk Relay is not in any sense your usual race. The basics first: it’s a 198 mile course, taking in the entire perimeter of Norfolk. Each participating team comprises 17 runners, each running one leg, with the legs divided into unequal distances. From a start at King’s Lynn in the west, the course runs clockwise, all around the Norfolk coast, before cutting back inland after Great Yarmouth, and then runs along the Suffolk border, through the Fens and back to King’s Lynn. It starts on a Saturday morning. And it doesn’t stop until the 17th runner gets back to the start, usually around 24 hours later. 

Done the Green Belt Relay? Finished Welsh Castles, but perhaps looking for something a bit more… extreme? I was sold.

I had dreams of glory. Dreams of a weekend spent in surroundings of strange and eerie beauty. Dreams of finally being treated like the elite athlete that I undoubtedly am.

The day after signing up, I receive an email from Kieran, asking: “For Saturday night, are we going to book a hotel, or should we just sleep in vans?”

Stage 1: King’s Lynn to Hunstanton. 16.9 miles

Greg Fernandes-Lawes

11:00am

It’s coming up to 11:00 in the morning. The sun is shining in one of those clear, wide autumnal skies that this part of the world does so well. It’s already about 18 degrees, and I was secretly thanking my luck that I wouldn’t be running until much later, beyond the heat of day. An expectant, but small crowd has gathered. The Round Norfolk Relay features staggered start times, according to predicted race times, in order for teams to cross the finish line at around the same time. The first teams had started five and a half hours ago. As one of the last few teams to start, the Eagles crowd are joined on a small path next to the Lynnsport and Leisure Park by the only other team starting at 11:00, Ryston Runners, and their first athlete, Jonny. 

Expectations are high. As is the hemline on Greg Fernandes-Lawes’ shorts.

The starting buzzer sounds, and Greg races off like a gazelle, followed by Fiona on support bike. My shout of “Don’t let the club down…” isn’t universally well-received by Ryston Runners, who obviously have a different approach to team motivation.

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Greg takes up the story:

“Underway, I started with a runner poor Jonny from Ryston, who had been called in the at the last minute to race me and was profusely told to “Keep with ‘im.” By mile seven, he was out of sight, as I was met with a cheer squad just before entering the Sandringham Estate to give me a bit of a buzz before the stage really got going. I was ahead of target, so unfortunately, the Queen missed me roll through.

“The second half got tougher, shingle everywhere. Even a few hundred metres of soft sand. I had to zigzag to find bits actually runnable against the energy sapping terrain. The scenery on route was stunning, the estate, crossing a pond on a bird reservoir and going the beach.

“As I got back on to tarmac, this coincided with one of the busy times of the day on the beach and I had to weave in and out of every bloody person who decided this was the best time to go for a stroll. Unlike my usual commute down the Oxford Road, I had a hi-viz jacket with the club name and had to be more polite.  Not easy in mile 15.

“With just over a kilometre to go, I looked to my right and realised the finish was all the way up the top of the bloody cliff, zigzagging up another busy path and then steadily up to the lighthouse.

“I have never been so happy to see Harry in his Y-fronts… Shortly after the finish, we learnt I had put a cheeky 14 minutes in to our rival team, who we would eventually beat by just 147 seconds.”

Stage result: 1:58:43. 21st place.

Stage 2: Hunstanton to Burnham Overy. 13.8 miles

Harry Claxton

12:59pm

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It’s already time for lunch. 1:00 in the afternoon to be precise, and the café by the lighthouse in Hunstanton is doing brisk business. How they have any ice cream left after Tom Easten’s serving is anyone’s guess. The stage ahead is probably one of the hardest to navigate on the course, with a fiendish mix of dunes, paths and boardwalks. Who better to rise to the challenge other than Harry:

“Perhaps in hindsight Stage 2 wasn't the best stage for someone who couldn't spare a weekend to recce the route. Trying and failing to match the pictures on the sparse route notes to points on the map shortly before leaving only heightened the mounting concern. I didn't want to run holding my watch, and went with my old school method of maps with the distances to all turns written.

“The first 100 metres follows along the side of the car park on a gentle downhill before diving down to the dunes where I almost slipped in to the bushes while trying to make a turn while avoiding beach-goers walking back up. I headed off behind some beach huts, before coming out past the lifeboat hut. The path was still soft sand; my heart rate was pumping before the sand finally gave way to grass. 

“After a short while I could see the path ahead was overgrown. I had a quick word with myself to get my heart rate down – there was a long way to go. There were groups of walkers on the path, and I was perfecting my call of “runner!” at the right distance and urgency to give them time to turn, assess the situation and pick a side. As the path turned inland through the marshland, it was here I picked up Fiona as my bike escort for the road section, mumbling something about the sand and trying to get into a rhythm along the road. It is strangely uplifting have a bike escort, and the Eagles cheer squads popped up unexpectedly with more water. After a quick gel from Fiona washed down with water from a final cheer squad, suddenly I was back on my own on the path at Brancaster.

“Unfortunately, not completely alone. Here the path is mainly a boardwalk of three planks with raised above beds of nettles and brambles, where passing people was like dancing along a tightrope. I ran past a group of a dozen ladies each stepping just enough to the side at the last moment, before a larger lady decided to stand sideways. Did she forget about her large back pack? I threw myself into a 'C' as I skipped past – catching the top of the backpack and teetering on the edge. She didn't seem happy, but I'd stayed out of the undergrowth.

“Finally the finish village comes into sight in the distance across the marsh, but the path turns back on itself and seems to go on forever as it gets harder and harder to keep the pace up, aiming at a windmill on the horizon. I almost crash into the marshal directing me round the sharp right-hander to the handover point where Rebecca is waiting. A slight fumble, but I have enough momentum for a another go, and I'm done.

“After a minute catching my breath lying on the grass in the shade Kieran tells me we need to get going. I was disappointed with my overall pace until I saw the results, which suggested everyone had found the heat and the first stage through the sands dunes sapping.”

Stage result: 1:34:59. 7th place. Eagles now in 12th place overall.

Stage 3: Burnham Overy to Wells. 5.8 miles

Rebecca Jackson

2:34pm

 It’s now 2:30 in the afternoon, and the sun remains high in the sky. There’s a bucket-and-spade feel to this part of the coast, and Rebecca is taking in the scenery as she waits for the baton:

“The start is of Stage 3 is like a snapshot from a Norfolk postcard with a traditional ice cream van, the estuary in the background, boats resting on the shore and the sun shining – although maybe a tad warm for running! This helped to calm the nerves beforehand.

“With a smooth transition carried out, I was off along Burnham Overy Staithe for the first stretch of the stage, dodging dog walkers as I went. I then leapt over the missing panels in the wooden board walk, tackled the sand dune in front of me and bounded down onto the beach – tough on the legs! I could feel my pace dropping as my feet were sinking into the squidgy sand and I weaved around trying to find the firmest parts. My legs were turning to jelly and the headwind wasn't helping either! These two miles felt like 20…

“As I descended into the woods, this next section offered welcome shade and some pleasant undulations. The trail path was busy with tourists so I shouted as I approached; unfortunately one lady heard me wrong and we collided in a fumble of confusion! A mile or so more and I could see my fellow Eagle cheer squad in the distance – thank God! [A cheer squad member writes: Rebecca didn’t have time for water, but at least she did have time to shout “I KNOCKED OVER AN OLD LADY”.] This gave me a little boost for the final stretch along the coastal path, again dodging the general public.

“I saw the hi-viz heroes in the distance and strode towards them before having to navigate through the busy café area of Wells. And just to add the extra sting in the tail, it's up the ramp and round a sharp corner to the finish where the baton and our Eagle, Jon, continue the journey around Norfolk.”

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Stage result: 43:14. 13th place (5th lady). Eagles now in 10th place overall.


Stage 4: Wells to Cley. 11.1 miles

Jon Duncanson

3:17pm

If you’re looking for a quiet corner of Norfolk where teammates can gather and calmly reflect on how things are going so far, then Wells-next-the-Sea at 3:15 on a sunny Saturday afternoon in early September, is not it. The changeover takes place by a huge car park next to the beach, situated a mile north of the town, along a sea wall built in the 19th Century that links the town to the coast. Unfortunately the narrow-gauge railway that runs along the wall between the town an the beach doesn’t seem to be working today, and so Jon has no choice other than to start his leg on foot:

“Stage 4 is a cracker. Sadly there were no lights to chase, just dogs to dodge. Coast paths most of the way and a few chances to get lost (Kieran’s constant reminder to know your stage haunting me throughout!). All in all thinking how lucky I was to be running on the Norfolk coast, in the sunshine and only having a few yards of shingle beach to negotiate.”

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Jon delivered an outstanding run, equalling the Eagles’ best placement in a stage over the weekend. He had such a flier that he was even too quick for the cheer squads that tried to catch him half way along his route. 

Stage result: 1:10:50. 4th place. Eagles now in 7th place overall.

Stage 5: Cley to Cromer. 10.8 miles

Colin Overton

4:28pm

It’s still mid-afternoon, and it’s hot. The sort of weather we’re you’d like to be on the beach. Unless, that is, your job is to run on that beach, along shingle, up and down dunes, and along the very edge of the shoreline. Colin had been given one of the hardest legs, nearly 11 miles of brutal endurance running in unforgiving terrain.

Whilst Colin made his away along the coast, at the changeover point at the end of the stage in Cromer, the team’s mission control was dealing with two potential crises. The first was apparent when Tom I – poised half-way along the stage on his bike, waiting to pick up Colin when he emerged from the coast – messaged to say that Colin had yet to emerge at the expected time. Had Tom missed him? In which case we’d need to prepare another rider to continue with Simon S at the start of Stage 6. With no way of contacting Colin, it was a question of a nervous wait.

The second crisis was caused by Diane approaching the front of the fish and chip queue, and not having had everyone’s orders. With Colin still not in sight, and no more messages from Tom, the tension was heightening, so much so that Skipper Santry had to temporarily suspend a few people from the “Serious Stuff” WhatsApp group, which could only really support one critical conversation at a time (speaking of which: was there anyone who didn’t want vinegar…?).

As it happens, Colin did manage to hook up with Tom, no reserve cyclist was required, and everyone got their fish and chips, apart from poor old Simon S and me, who by now had other things to focus on.

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Stage result: 1:14:20. 8th place. Eagles remain in 7th place overall.

Stage 6: Cromer to Mundesley. 7.9 miles

Simon Stannard

5:43pm

Cromer on a Saturday afternoon was no less busy than Wells. Simon S had a scenic but tricky stage to navigate, with beach huts, the promenade and a lighthouse. Fortunately Simon’s warm-up routine of listening to half an hour solid of Basement Jaxx left him well-prepared, as he ate up the miles and maintained the Eagles’ overall position in the race. 

Stage result: 57:19. 16th place. Eagles remain in 7th place overall.


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Stage 7: Mundesley to Lessingham. 9.2 miles

Simon James

6:42pm

It’s now around 6:30 in the evening, and the sun is low in the sky – so much so that it’s impossible to look directly west into the path of the runners finishing Stage 6. The staggered start is beginning to unwind, to the extent that a few other runners are lurking around the start at the same time. Dogs sit waiting to be petted by the support crew.

It’s now my turn. It’s a short-ish, fast leg, with only two directions to remember (turn left at the T-junction, turn left at the crossroads). And I’m as nervous as I’ve ever been before a race, wondering if the various injuries I’ve been ignoring are going to wreak some sort of havoc in the next hour. With no warning, Simon S appears around the corner and in ten seconds I’m off.

It’s the colour of the fading daylight that I remember most. That, and the discomfort in my groin turning from a glow into a grinding pain. I’d only been to Norfolk once in my life before, and oddly enough I’d stayed for a week just a couple of miles inland from this exact stretch of coast. I try to distract myself by clocking off the experiences of a few years before: the windmill where we whiled away half an hour on a rainy day, the beach where I played cricket with my son, the fish and chip shop where we bought supper. It’s a sparse but attractive part of the coast, blighted only by a major industrial plant. Thankfully, I have Harry on the bike for company, providing verbal encouragement as only an engineer can (“Bacton Terminal there… Major processing point for most of the country’s North Sea gas…”).

We pass huge churches, glowing pink and orange in the evening sky. The sun has long since set, and I can barely see, through sweat and the rapidly fading light. We turn a corner into Lessingham, and the team is there, with Yvette primed and ready to go, and then it’s all over.

I’m not happy with my time, but given the pain I’m in, I’ll take it. There’s time for a quick post-match interview on camera with Tom G (who tells me my post-race voice “sounds amazing”), and a short warm-down, before I’m bundled in to the back of the van. On we go.

Stage result: 59:19. 10th place. Eagles remain in 7th place overall.

Stage 8: Lessingham to Horsey. 7.5 miles

Yvette Burton

7:39pm



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I remain a grumpy, uncommunicative wreck for the next 55 minutes. Yvette has a much better view of the stage:

“Norfolk was a bit of a blur but for my stage the full moon was amazing and it was such a surreal run. It was a lot darker than I thought it would be as I had forgotten that Norfolk’s country lanes have no street lighting! Therefore when I turned around corners I couldn’t see a thing and I just speeded up and hoped for the best in the sense that nothing was coming my way. Then Diane on her bike and Kieran in the van caught me up and lit up the road ahead. 

 “With one and a half miles to go, Kieran beeped the horn and shouted at Diane and me. It had been so quiet for the previous 40 minutes (Diane and I didn’t say a word) that it literally scared the life out of us and we stopped dead as we were convinced we had somehow gone the wrong way!”

 He did it to me and Harry too, Yvette. Just testing the horn I think.)

 There were no wrong turns – just a fantastically efficient leg. And now, at about 8:30 in the evening, the night was properly on us.

Stage result: 53:33. 15th place (5th lady). Eagles remain in 7th place overall.

Stage 9: Horsey to Belton. 16.6 miles

Tom Green

8:32pm

By this point I was starting to recover from my post-race fog. Which was just as well, as it gave me a ring-side view of one of the most impressive runs of the weekend, by Tom G:

“I knew the closest competition was at least 15 minutes up the road, so unless there was a very significantly slower runner on one of those teams, which was unlikely given we were at the fast end of the pack, I wouldn’t be likely to catch anyone within the 16 and a half miles. But I did know if I could match Ewan Fryatt’s pace from last year (6:13 per mile) I would likely be faster than almost all the other teams – so my job was to eat away as much of their advantage as possible so that Tom E could start with less of a deficit and start taking positions.

“I settled into time trial mode, at a pace around 6:10 per mile which felt comfortable with excellent support from Mark on the bike and Greg cheering me on from the van.

“As predicted, I didn’t see any other teams until I was in the last mile of the stage. At this point, the race doubles back on itself so there’s about a mile overlap where runners on the next stage are coming the other way. Here I passed three runners, who I estimated were between six and ten minutes ahead. This, and the slight downhill finish, meant I pushed on to the line to hand over to Mr Easten, finishing with an average pace of 6:09 and having taken one and a half minutes off my half marathon PB!”

This was another phenomenal run, equalling the Eagles’ best performance in any leg (fourth place). To run a half marathon PB in these conditions was amazing. It was dark, there was some tricky navigation and – most impressively – there was a good miles or so of running through Great Yarmouth town centre on a Saturday night, with the added jeopardy of bumping into someone emerging unexpectedly from a kebab shop… The support bus was in awe, although we also had plenty of time to subject Tom’s unique running style to close observation. As Tom notes:

“It was a bit strange running with so many teammates on my heels, knowing they would be analysing every change of pace or misstep, as well as my unusual gait! I’m reliably informed that when the question went up in the van “If you could run as fast as Tom Green, but would have to look like he does when running, would you do it?”, only one person opted to run at a slower pace but with a less hilarious style…”

Stage result: 1:40:41. 4th place. Eagles now in 6th place overall.

Stage 10: Belton to Earsham. 18.1 miles

Tom Easten

10:13pm

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It’s dark now. Not the sort of dark you get in London – it’s blacker than that. As Round Norfolk Relay folklore has it, these are the stages where the race is run and lost. The longer road sections at night, with no scenery to distract the mind. The stages that are only fit for the real elite runners in the team. Stages where your team’s support along the way can provide a much needed boost when reserves are low. Which is a bit unfortunate, as at this point two vans that weren’t escorting the actual run decided to pull in to McDonald’s for what I swear was one of the best meals of my life.

Tom E, unable for the moment to share the joy of a large Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal, takes up the story:

“This stage was appealing to me for two reasons: it’s a night stage, and nothing’s quite like racing the Round Norfolk Relay in the dark with the orange beacons flashing around you; and it was long – just over 18 miles, pretty much in a straight line. Perfect for a long-distance road enthusiast like me.

“In terms of advice to whoever runs this stage next year, make sure you’re ready for a fair bit of up and down. None of the hills are steep but for the first 13 or 14 miles, you rarely get a mile on the flat. It’s gently up, gently down, up again until (if you’re anything like me) you’re cursing the fact that you can’t get into any kind of rhythm. It certainly doesn’t bear much resemblance to the stage profile published on the website. The good news is that the last four or five miles are flat and fast so, if you’ve got a bit left in the tank (I didn’t), you can really put the hammer down on it then without worrying a surprise incline will pop up to spoil your fun. 

“The other important point to make is that Stage 10 is when the race starts to come together and you can expect to see other teams out on the road. This year, I think I was the first Eagles runner to catch up with teams who’d started ahead of us. The earlier stages can be a lonely experience, more like a time trial than a race (not that they don’t have other things going for them that the night stages don’t, like the support and the scenery) so it’s when you get into the night that the unique magic of the Round Norfolk Relay starts to come into its own. There’s nothing quite like the sight of an orange beacon rotating on the road half a mile in front to fill you with motivation to chase it down and get on to the next one. It’s an experience I’d recommend to everyone and the main reason I hope to be available for selection next year!”

Stage result: 1:55:03. 7th place. Eagles remain in 6th place overall.

Stage 11: Earsham to Scole. 12.5 miles

Kieran Santry

12:08am

It’s now almost exactly midnight. Amazingly, there aren’t may times during the weekend that I doubt my sanity, but contemplating getting on a bike after one of the hardest runs of my life to cycle in support down a dark A-road for 80 minutes is one of them. My nervousness is compounded by the fact that I haven’t been on a bike for years. I ask Harry how the gears work, and he looks at me as if I’ve asked him how legs work when you walk. Despite his careful explanation, I decided it’s too risky to press any buttons and I spend the whole stage stubbornly stuck in the same gear.

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Thankfully, Skipper Santry knows exactly what he’s doing, and delivers a dogged captain’s performance, grinding out some hard miles away from the attention and the crowds, and overtaking a couple of runners on the way.

What else is there to say about this stage? The official directions read:

1) Proceed 700m to the T-junction and turn left

2) Follow the A143 for approximately 12 miles

3) At the signpost for Scole Village, turn right.

Reader, there is nothing else to say about this stage.

Stage result: 1:22:50. 11th place. Eagles remain in 6th place overall.

Stage 12: Scole to Thetford. 19.7 miles

Laurence Elliot

1:31am

We were now in a car park somewhere in the middle of East Anglia – I had honestly lost all sense of time and space. Somehow, in the complete darkness I managed to find a van with teammates in it and made my way to the driver’s seat for one final drive before we managed to park up and “get some rest”. 

The next leg is the longest in the race – nearly 20 miles. Thankfully, we had Laurence on the starting line:

“Not much to say about my stage to be honest as it was 1:00am and we all know not much happens at that time of night. Hardest thing about the entire run was working out what to eat; there’s only so many cereal bars someone can eat whilst sat in a minibus. By the time the stage was getting close to starting the body clock had gone to pot and there were no satisfactory evolutions. Yet as an extremely sweaty baton was handed over by Captain Kieran all of that disappeared and all that lay ahead for me and my trusty sidekick Simon S was total darkness and a beacon or 12.

“Off we charged hunting down light after light and my half marathon training showed, as what started as promising for 13 miles turned into agony as every niggle I'd had and many more became apparent. Still this lack of speed meant I was unable to get all the beacons I wanted but left them just in sight for Andy to take the reins.”

Greg notes that driving an automatic car behind Laurence for over two hours engaged new muscles and was probably more tiring than actually running.

Stage result: 2:04:16. 8th place. Eagles remain in 6th place overall.

Stage 13: Thetford to Feltwell. 13.3 miles

Andy Guy

3:35am

By this point, your correspondent was in a van, parked up somewhere by the perimeter fence of RAF Feltwell, failing to get some sleep against the constant background noise outside (“Where are the loos? Is there a portaloo here? Are there any more loos further up? I can’t find the loos”. And on and on and on.)

Andy on the other hand, was awake, and buzzing:

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“3:30 in the morning; trying to keep warm and adrenaline starting to fly around the body and bring life. Santry’s doing a Facebook Live which I’m trying to ignore. Get focussed and run harder than you’ve run before for 16 teammates and our hardy support crew.

“Suddenly Laurence appears and I’m off with his kind wishes the last thing I hear. Picked off two teams quickly – more quickly than it took for my support bike and car to find me...!

“As Tom G said now that he’d joined me, it seemed like a long gap and it could be another lonely run. The route, at least, was beautiful with moonlight filtering through the trees and me tapping out as best a rhythm I could on undulating roads.

“Then I’m caught; a shock. The ever-supportive Tom tells me it’s fine but I’m disappointed by my pace and my legs are cold and my hamstrings have some cramp from sitting down for days! The guy who catches me makes me forget all this – now I’m racing. Do I let him go? Ewan’s recent counsel on racing springs to mind – so I try and hold him for a minute. Then another.

“After five minutes I felt good, my legs were getting stronger and I tried to raise the pace.... that went on for a couple of miles but then he stretched out 15 yards. I try to keep the guy in view and focus on what’s ahead. Tom points out that the next couple of miles of road looked like Heathrow’s runway at night – so many orange lights flickering on and off. So many lights to try and pass. 14 in total we think, but the race within a race was eventually lost to the Riverside Runner. The early duel had been more fun than passing the other teams who didn’t put up much of a fight.

 “Suddenly I’m aware of the dazzling lights of the stage finish, adjust the baton to my other hand so as to hand to Hayley’s remaining good arm – I hope I remembered that correctly! – and it’s over. Next thing I know Colin’s trying to keep me steady on my feet. 13 and a half miles at 3:30 in the morning never felt so good!”

Stage result: 1:28:12. 12th place. Eagles remain in 6th place overall.

Stage 14: Feltwell to Wissington. 7.3 miles

Hayley Kandt

5:03am

This stage existed in something like a dream-like state. Harry was driving in support, Michelle and I were navigating, and all of us had been sitting silently in a dark stationary van about half an hour ago. As had Hayley, who somehow was now running through the dark, navigating her way out of the small town and into the Fens. We didn’t quite get the promised mists at this point but we did get a strangely coloured, huge sky.

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This was another fantastically efficient stage, made all the more impressive by the fact that Hayley was nursing a fractured elbow. Proper commitment.

Stage result: 53:11. 19th place (5th lady). Eagles now in 8th place overall.

Stage 15: Wissington to Downham Market. 10.6 miles

Tom Irving

5:56am

Nearly 6:00 on a Sunday morning, and whilst it’s not by any means light, it’s not fully dark either. Wissington exists in an eerie calm, punctuated only by the comings and goings of agricultural workers, the odd delivery van, and 59 teams of runners, cyclists and support vehicles grinding along in first gear with glaring orange lights.

Tom reflects on his race strategy:

“It turns out that drinking a cold double espresso kindly bought for you eight hours earlier is actually a great idea. I had a dream of a stage, starting at night and finishing in the day. I even had the worst dressed cycle support* of anyone else in the race (but he made up for it in encouragement). Best race of the year, bar none.”

*Let’s call him Greg. It’s impossible to remember which particular outfit that Tom is referring to, given that over the weekend Greg would undergo more costume changes than Kylie.


This was another brute of a stage, and Tom gave it absolutely everything. As a reward, he found himself picked up by one of our two vans, rather than having to squeeze himself into the car as scheduled. I’d love to be able to say that critical race-related reasons necessitated a last-minute alteration to the plan, but a remorseful Jon reports that it was the prospect of motoring straight on to pick up bacon sandwiches at the start of the next stage that mean the car forgot Tom…

Stage result: 1:08:47. 10th place. Eagles now in 6th place overall.

Stage 16: Downham Market to Stowbridge. 5.5 miles

Michelle Tanner

7:05am



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It’s now actually daylight. This stage goes by in a flash – it’s the shortest leg, and by now everyone has their eyes on the final stage and the finish line. It’s flat and quick. Michelle starts by crossing the Great Ouse, eating up the miles efficiently whilst looping round in a slow bend before crossing back over the river again just at the finish, with now less than 12 miles to go before the end of the race.

Stage result: 40:52. 22nd place (10th lady). Eagles now in 8th place overall.

Stage 17: Stowbridge to King’s Lynn. 11.7 miles

Fiona Plain

7:46am

Stowbridge was by now a hive of activity, at the positively social hour of 7:30 in the morning, Those local teams that had managed to send runners home to their own beds for the night were now back out in force, and those that hadn’t, ours included, were queuing at the Heron public house which was doing a roaring trade in the aforementioned bacon sandwiches. It’s an odd start to the stage, with the incoming runner on the previous stage coming over a bridge, only for the outgoing runner to run back over the bridge after the changeover.

Fiona, meanwhile, was not well. We’ve all had those days where for whatever reason, you can’t make it to the start line, and decide the better thing to do is to cut your losses and bail out. Sadly, with sixteen runners on your team having spent the last 21 hours getting the baton to you, this was not a luxury Fiona could afford:

“I experienced the toughest race I’ve had. Being unwell before and during my run left me with nothing much to give. Knowing the team were waiting on me in King’s Lynn kept me moving (just!!). Big thanks to Rebecca for support on my leg and apologies that you had to see me vomit... three times!!”

The team by now had gathered back at the Lynnsport Centre, where both the leg and the whole race finish with a sprint down the venue’s running track. Seeing Fiona make it over the line was genuinely humbling. Giving it everything you’ve got, even though you’re exhausted and in no fit state to race, because everyone else is relying on you getting over the line? That’s team spirit. 

Stage result: 1:30:33. 36th place (12th lady).

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Total race time: 22:16:42. Eagles finish in 8th place overall, out of 59 teams.

Conclusion

How to sum it all up? This was more than just a race. The planning was meticulous. Several stages had to be reccied in advance, all had to be studied at home. The team meetings, the organisation of everything from hi-viz to bikes to radios and flashing beacons… It’s no wonder they say that the running is the easiest bit.

Everyone played a part, but the most special mention must go to the most amazing support crew, Mark Fisher, Diane Gill, Olivia Parker-Scott and Paul Thomas, who kept the entire show on the road, both before the weekend with their careful planning, but during the weekend too, with faultless timekeeping, energetic cycling, and enthusiastic good humour. 17 runners carried the baton, but these four carried the whole team.

The final world goes to our Skipper, Kieran:

“Every one of the 17 runners announced on the team in June came to Norfolk. Round Norfolk Relay is not for flakey people! I don’t like flakey people. It’s much more than running your stage.

“My PB days are long gone, so the memories I cherish most are these team events. As I always say, no one other than yourself gives a s***e or remembers your PBs. But everyone remembers weekends like this.”

Roll on next year!

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Lakeland 50 by Jenny Bushell

Well, the dust has settled on the weekend, and I’m just about over my post-Lakeland blues. I thought I’d try to see how much of the race I could actually remember, and also document my enormous gratitude to Lily, Alex, Ian and Nelson, who came up to the Lakes to support me. First up, this is hands down the most amazing race I’ve ever been involved with. I didn’t think I’d be saying that so soon after Boston, but even if it’s a bit like comparing apples with pears, Lakeland is incredible. I’ll apologise now for the length of this race report – I can’t help recounting it all in ridiculous detail. 

Race weekend proper started at kit check on Friday morning when I erroneously drove into the camping field to register. It transpired that there wasn’t really a way back out, and I was wondering if I’d just have to beg a spot in a tent, but a very kind and totally unflappable marshal let me park up while I went to get checked. Even though this was only ultra number two, I felt so much better about my kit than at Lakeland Trails last year (55k, my first ultra) – I didn’t realise then that I didn’t need to actually pack all my kit into my vest for kit check, so took an age pulling it all out and stuffing it back in, and I totally didn’t appreciate the importance of packing light. This time, with the aid of a washing up bowl borrowed from my AirBnB (thanks, Brenda!) and a much more considered approach to kit choices (no full-on orange bivvy bag for me this time!) I made it through easily, and proceeded on to get multiple different wristbands, trackers and tags attached. The photo below caused more than one person to think that I’d DNF-d and was in the hospital with a cannula. Sorry for the false alarm, folks. 


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I then spent Friday doing as much sitting down as possible, and so took the crew on the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway and on the steamer up to Bowness. Highly recommended as a soothing pre-race activity – I managed at times to distract myself from the nerves, and hopefully I didn’t drive everyone bonkers overthinking everything six million times.  My worries showed most in the number of times I asked someone to go over the compulsory kit list with me again to check that I really did have everything.   We did all get much enjoyment from the dry humour evident throughout Lakeland’s list. I particularly enjoy the requirement for my foil blanket to be bigger than that which would roast a small mouse.  I have to confess that at this point I was starting to feel a bit of a muppet. I really didn’t know whether I’d bitten off far more than I could chew in entering one of the most prestigious ultras in the UK, and one in which I knew I’d be covering some reasonably technical descent (not my strength, more on that to come!) and spending several hours in the dark. I was scared that I’d hold everyone up, get lost, panic in the dark, and generally be a nuisance to all of the ‘real’ ultra runners. Here’s me pretending I’m fine. 


On Saturday morning, Alex drove me to Coniston for a very relaxed feeling time of 8am, and I headed into briefing, having chosen to do this on Saturday morning rather than Friday night.  I wasn’t expecting the stand-up comedy that ensued (although of course with a very serious race safety section included!) and it did a lot to make me feel more relaxed. I particularly liked the North vs South shout-off, and was happy to discover that when the question is put, despite fifteen years now in Oxford and London, I still proudly identify as a Northerner!

We then jumped on a fleet of coaches, and set off for Dalemain. I should explain, for those not familiar with the race, that the Lakeland 100 is a full loop race starting and ending in Coniston (it had set off at 6pm the previous evening), and so the 50 runners are driven to the north end of the course to complete approximately the latter half of it. On arrival, I found myself in an extremely long (even by normal race standards) portaloo queue with a group of very cheerful ladies. We collectively looked around at the large number of men relieving themselves into trees, bushes, long grass and assorted agricultural machinery, and decided en masse to go and squat behind the row of loos. I love what a bonding experience a collective wee can be! Wishing good luck to my new wee friends, I headed off to find my support crew by the start.


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Ian was later complimented by a marshal on being the best-dressed spectator he’d seen all day.

With superb Lake District timing, the heavens (which had been threatening to descend all morning) finally opened pretty much simultaneously with the start.  I’d optimistically put my waterproof away just before going into the start pen, so it was annoyingly anticlimactic to have to stop 400m in to the race to take my vest off to get it out.  The whole of the first 4 miles was quite underwhelming – the course takes a loop around the Dalemain estate to make up the distance to the full 50 miles, and as someone else described it, felt like ‘a bit of a crap, crowded parkrun’.  When we finally left the estate and set off towards Pooley Bridge, things started to spread out, and I felt like I’d finally started the race.

My main aim for the first section was not to get over-excited and go off like a rocket – I knew that the first few miles would be either flattish or on good surface, and didn’t want to waste a load of energy.  Most of the first few kms started with a 6, so I was happy with that.  Although Pooley Bridge isn’t an actual check point, it was the first time I saw my support crew again, and was also packed with other supporters.  You can see I’m pretty happy to see them all! 


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I ran past thinking how strange it was that I wouldn’t see them again until 8 or 9pm that evening, as the next point they were allowed to spectate was Ambleside.

We then headed up onto the Ullswater way to Howtown, the first check point.  I was confident on this section – I’d covered it twice in recce, and knew that there were no nasty surprises in terrain or navigation.  I always prefer to keep running on gentler slopes, as I find it easier on my legs than walking, and so I overtook quite a lot of people on the small ascent onto the fell.  Once up there I found to my delight that I was happier on the rough, rocky surface than ever before.  Fear of falling has been my biggest demon in fell running, and I really enjoyed the race adrenaline helping me to cover the terrain much more confidently than in the past, including as we started to descend into the check point at the Bobbin Mill.  I did keep in the back of my mind that there would be much, much trickier ground to cover later in the race, and so tried not to get over-confident.  The checkpoint was pretty crowded, and I hadn’t used much of the water from my flasks, so I just had a couple of speed cups and took a packet of crisps for the climb up Fusedale.

By this point, I’d already begun my metronomic fuelling strategy, which is to take on roughly 100 calories every half hour.  It’s difficult to remember, but I think I’d started with a couple of quarters of peanut butter and jelly bagel, which I wrap individually in tin foil.  The crisps were calling to me, so I took that as a sign I could do with a tad more salt – I find that what my body wants is usually a good indicator of what I need, and this hasn’t seen me wrong yet.  I took it steady on the climb, which is the longest of the whole course.  It’s also deceptive – the first time I recce’d it I only got half way up before I had to sprint back down to catch a lake steamer, and I had no idea that there was a similar elevation still to come!  This was the first point that I was really grateful to my past self for having been diligent in my recce runs – the route up to the top of the fell and across down towards Haweswater is not obvious, and although the runners were still very close together at this stage, knowing that I was following the correct route rather than just the person in front felt really good.

I was nervous again as we came off the top of High and Low Kop – on my recce I had made the mistake of thinking that the path along Haweswater to the Mardale Head checkpoint would be a nice, easy lakeshore stroll.  In fact, it’s a rocky, muddy, off-camber single track along the fellside.  By the time we reached the initial descent, the still-falling rain and the volume of runners already through had turned the path into a mud-based slip’n’slide.  This would normally be my worst nightmare (fear of slipping, fear of falling), but I was still flying high on adrenaline and my newly-improved descending skills, and just went skidding down.  This gained me a bit of space on the trickier lake path, and it was quite a way before I heard runners coming up behind me, and called back to ask if they’d like to pass.  We were also passing plenty of 100 runners by this stage – it was inspiring seeing them moving so well, given that they’d been running since 6pm the previous evening.  At briefing, we had been asked to ‘adopt a 100 runner’ (complete with schmaltzy soundtrack in the manner of a donkey sanctuary advert!) and so the majority of 50 competitors tried to call encouragement to the 100s as we passed.  Reading some of their write ups later, I’m not certain how welcome this was, but I’m not sure where my head would be after nearly 24 hours of running, either!

Finally the tricky section was over, and I reached Mardale checkpoint.  A slightly longer stop here, as my flasks needed refilling, which entails a bit of annoying fiddling with my vest.  I’m getting quicker at doing this, and the volunteers were also really helpful in taking and filling everyone’s bottles.  No more than five minutes, and I was on my way, this time with a peanut butter sandwich to keep me company up the next climb.  I knew that the next section to Kentmere wouldn’t be too bad, although I would need to keep my newfound nerve to tackle the stony descents.  On the climb, I fell into step with a chap who was on his fifth 100, a feat I can’t quite imagine.  You get a special award for doing this, and Lakeland send out an email in advance listing everyone who is up for it, so he was feeling extra pressure this year to finish.  We happily passed the climb (frankly) bitching about our shared dislike of too much attention before and during races, and between that and the sandwich, I barely noticed the metres mounting up.

I didn’t tackle the descent to Kentmere as well as I would have liked – it’s a bit steeper than those which go before, and I reverted to a bit of anxious braking, which I knew would hammer my quads, rather than going down confidently.  A lot of runners sailed past me at this point, which is always disheartening, but I had tried to prepare myself mentally for this by reminding myself that we all have different strengths – I make up a lot of time by having higher flat speed.  I also remembered the ‘low mood – eat food’ mantra, and at the couple of times I started to feel a bit weepy, made sure to get some more calories in, even if it wasn’t a ‘scheduled’ feed time.  I was also feeling very soggy – the rain had carried on falling, and I’d managed to let some in at the neck of my waterproof, which meant it was running down both my arms in an uncomfortable trickly way. It all generally amounted to suddenly feeling quite unsure as to whether I could go all the way.

Despite this, coming into Kentmere I had already decided to have another really short stop – I needed a portaloo trip, and wanted to grab a bit of food (and, of course, to ‘dib’ in, which you have to do at each checkpoint to make sure the race team knows where everyone is.  Failure to dib in would mean a DQ), but wanted to press on to Ambleside where I could have a longer stop.  The Kentmere checkpoint is small, and was as crowded as I’d expected, so I was happy with this decision as I hiked off up the next hill.

The Kentmere to Ambleside leg was probably my lowest point of the whole race.  It’s more or less the mid-point, so excitement and adrenaline is fading, and awareness of how far there is to go is mounting.  I knew though that if I could get to Ambleside, I would be two thirds done, and from there I could even walk to the finish if I needed to.  As it got later in the day, the temperature started to drop, and I started to feel chilled and shivery.  I was worried that if I couldn’t get warm, or if the rain (which had temporarily stopped!) started up again, I’d be in trouble.  I got through it by focusing on my total time to Ambleside, which was only fifteen minutes longer than my Pooley Bridge to Ambleside recce, despite being six miles longer on the day.  I was also massively helped by falling in with a little pack as I came down into Troutbeck, in particular a lovely Sale Harrier called Timothy.  We walked together up the hill to the Post Office, and on over towards Ambleside, and again the chat helped distract me from the climb, the weather and the temperature.  It was also somewhere around here that I chatted for a while to a lovely lady from inov8’s social media team.  She was cursing her (inov8!) waterproof for letting the rain in, and I was (slightly shamefacedly!) cheered that it wasn’t just my cheap Decathlon apparel that was struggling.

Once I came out onto the road above Ambleside and could see the distinctive roof of Hayes garden centre, I started for the first time to feel confident that I could actually complete the course.  I trotted down the hill, and tried to really soak in all of the cheers and encouragement from the wonderful people standing outside in the rain.  I was also trying in my mind to go over my checkpoint plan (dib, wee, hot drink, cold drink, change clothes, food, get more food out of my vest into the outside pockets), when I suddenly saw my support crew shouting like loons on the corner by Zeffirellis.  It’s really hard to describe the feeling you get when you see a supporter in a race, but it was multiplied up many times!  I just felt so overwhelmingly grateful for friends who will spend hours standing outside in the rain just to give you a quick cheer, and once again you can see my happiness in the photo!


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Ambleside parish hall was like paradise!  Warm, cosy, full of helpful people, and most importantly with a toasty hot ladies’ bathroom which was doubling up as a changing room.  I tipped my vest out onto the floor and started sorting out a fresh set of kit, making the decision to go from shorts into full length tights plus my waterproof trousers.  I knew I might get warm, but reasoned that I could always slow down, whereas if I got the tights wet and then got cold, I didn’t have any more clothes.  With half a cup of sugary coffee inside me, I felt like a new woman, and trotted back out to find that I’d spent so long in the checkpoint that my crew thought they’d missed me.  We said goodbye again, but knowing that I’d see them very soon for the final time at Skelwith Bridge.

I was on such a high at having made it this far that I hardly noticed the climb out of Ambleside again, and before I knew it was on the road down towards Skelwith.  I had my only food-based error at this point – I felt like I needed a bit of a kick of energy, so had some gel (I use Gu gels from their big-serve pouches in a reusable Hydrapak flask), but it hit my stomach really hard, and I had to spend a mile or so thinking I was going to vom before it settled.  It was a little bit emotional seeing Lily and co for the final time, as we all knew that when they saw me again it would be at the finish line, and I would have covered a good 3-4 hours in full darkness.


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The Langdale section of the course was completely magical for me.  It’s an area I know really well, and who could not love the nice wide, flat section of the Cumbria Way that takes you through from Skelwith to Elterwater?  The time of day, with the sun just thinking about setting, made it all the more wonderful, and I set a gentle pace, enjoying the opportunity to look around me and take everything in while the ground underfoot was safe enough that I could take my eyes off it!  I even managed to rescue a pair who had missed the footpath off to Chapel Stile in the growing darkness, and saved them from a bonus few hundred metres.

I just about got to Chapel Stile without needing to dig out my headtorch, and somewhat staggered into my favourite checkpoint so far.  It had passed me by up until this point that all the checkpoints had themes (with many apologies to the wonderful volunteers who had made a lot of effort with costumes!), but you couldn’t miss the Chapel Stile International Airport.  They had a landing strip which guided you in to the dibber, passport control, baggage reclaim, arrivals and departures, and cheery volunteers kitted out in flight suits and Biggles goggles.  This was also the first point that I fully realised just how helpful they were being in asking each runner what they needed/wanted, and then going off to fill up bottles, put soup in mugs, fetch snacks, all while we were able just to sit and rest.  I tried not to spend too long, as I didn’t want to build up any fear over the next section.

I managed to set off on the leg to Tilberthwaite as part of a small group of runners.  It was now gone 10pm, fully dark, I had my headtorch on, and I knew I was setting off on what for me would be the most difficult section.  Full disclosure, my mostly meticulous race preparation had fallen down in one rather key area.  I had not, as instructed, practised running in the dark, or with my headtorch.  So while I knew that it worked, I had no idea whether it would sit comfortably while running, or whether its batteries would last, or how bright the light would be.  In hindsight, this was bloody stupid!  I was lucky, in that it worked perfectly and was more than comfortable, but I quickly found that I couldn’t run anything except the smoothest and flattest surfaces in the dark.  I’m sure I’ll get better at this, but for this race I’d mentally prepared myself to be mainly walking the night legs, and that was how it turned out.  I’d also prepared for the fact that I might panic if left alone, but fortunately this didn’t materialise.  Every time I found myself a little adrift of a group, it was barely any time before another runner came along to reassure me that I was on the right track.  I dug out the ‘foldie’ for the first time, which is a waterproof copy of the route instructions, just to check that at the various turnings and stiles I was still on the correct route.

It seemed a very long way to Tilberthwaite!  In particular, Blea Moss is a notably unpleasant combination of single track rocky trail, mud, slippy rocks to clamber over and (as the name suggests) peaty, soggy ground.  We knew that we had to make our way to an ‘unmanned’ dibber, placed as we came out onto the road, in order to ensure that we hadn’t cut the corner off the route.  It was the most enormous relief to come off the nasty section of rocks to discover that some kind soul had placed little sticks with white, sparkly ribbon attached to them, along the last few hundred metres towards the dibber.  This didn’t help everyone – one man I was with insisted that these had nothing to do with the race, and headed off at a right angle to the course!  I couldn’t persuade him otherwise, but decided myself to follow the ribbon.  This decision was borne out when I emerged onto the road exactly opposite the dibber, to find it not unmanned at all.  An elderly chap with an enormous rain coat and a tiny dog was guiding everyone in, chatting to the runners, and generally lifting spirits.  I discovered later that very little is known about this man beyond that his name is Tony.  He’s been turning up to man the dibber for a few years now, but isn’t connected to the race officially, and nobody knows who he is!  The next few miles were sprinkled with more examples of this – kindly local runners who had committed themselves to spending the night in a remote field, usually with a dog and a headtorch, just to make sure that the runners didn’t miss any vital turnings.  I got quite emotional about these people, as I just couldn’t get my head around the selflessness required to do this – to my mind far more taxing than actually running the race!

The final few hundred metres to the Tilberthwaite checkpoint are on tarmac, so I jogged in, keeping to my ultra rule of ‘run whenever you can’.  Again I only made a short stop here – I knew I only had three miles to the finish in Ambleside, but also that they are a tricky few miles which would probably take me more than another hour to complete.  This was the section I was most grateful to have recce’d.  My sister and I walked it way back last summer, in daylight.  I knew, therefore, that some of the scarier route instructions which suggested that one might fall into a quarry if insufficiently careful, really only applied to people straying metres from the route.  I also was prepared for the hands-on-rock scramble over a little waterfall, and knew the exact location and appearance of the ‘single tree’ at which we had to cross a river.  It didn’t really feel very long before we were beginning the descent into Coppermines.  I had somehow found myself back in a group with Timothy the Sale Harrier, a 100 runner whose name I never learned, and a couple of others.  I was in the lead, picking my way down the steep and rocky path.  I’d been trying not to think about this section (it’s Hole Rake, for those familiar with the area), as I knew it would be tough at this stage, in the dark and with very grumpy quads.  In some ways, I actually enjoyed it!  The group was lovely and chatty, and reassured me that they were all happy to proceed at my pace.  I asked several times if anyone wanted to pass, as I really didn’t want to be holding anyone up at this stage!  They were all very happy to stick together, though, and eventually we made it down.  I loved the final jog down the track and then the road into Coniston – I kept welling up at the realisation that I would actually be crossing the finish line and had made it all the way! 


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Lily and Nelson were at the finish to meet me, and spirited me off into the car (which Nelson had somehow parked directly opposite the finish line) and back to the cottage. I was greeted by balloons, champagne and a massive cheese scone, although to my shame it took me quite a long time to notice these as I was so preoccupied with getting out of my clothes and into the shower.

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To conclude, I’m so happy to have completed the race of my life to date. I feel like I faced down my fears of the terrain, the navigation and the dark, and did it in style. I finished in 14 hours 27 minutes, in the top half of the field and well inside the top 100 women. To say that’s beyond what I thought I could do is the understatement of the year. Finally, another mahoosive thank you to Lily, Alex, Ian and Nelson for coming on this mad adventure with me, and thank you to the Lakeland team for a magical race.


Regents Park Summer League by Melissah Gibson

SUMMER LEAGUE– CLOSER THAN EVER!! UPDATED 😲

We continued to shine at Regents Park last weekend! We were less than 1 percent in front of Queens Park (17 points) going into it, and knew they would bring their finest to battle it out at Regents Park!

Queens Park are 4 points ahead!! Eagles 18,718 : Queens Park 18,722 Every point matters as we go into the Grand Finale at Battersea 11th August!

Senior Results

Laurence Elliot is in sensational form, crossing the line in a fantastic 7th position in 36m3s. Right now, he is in 3rd position in the seniors competition – an incredible achievement given the exceptional standard of the men this year! We were delighted to see Will Adolphy return to the league, home next in 36:53, followed by Sam Royle in an incredible 37:12. Both men have only done 2 races this year, so a strong run in Battersea could see them make the Top 5 in the seniors competition. Big kudos to Jose who is currently in 5th position overall, after clocking a solid 22nd position last week in 37:49! He is just 1 point ahead of Oliver (6th senior male overall), after Oliver took Regents Park more gently in sub 40 (slightly easier than his previous ‘Top 15’ form)! I forgave him after a stellar run in the men’s relays – but we all have high expectations for Oliver at Battersea, especially after today’s PB!! It’s going to be close, rapid Raf was only 10 seconds behind Jose with an epic 37:59, and is currently in 7th position overall (just one point behind Oliver!). Congratulations to Andrew Green, who was home a few seconds later, with a fantastic 38:02 for his first Summer League fixture of 2019.

I was home next in 38:07 with a PB (beating QP by 22 seconds – and she was wearing the fancy green nike shoes!). It will be a close competition with just 1 point separating us as we go into the final fixture. To beat Jen (QP), I need to win Battersea – and I need another speedy lady between us. Have I left my run too late? I suspect so!! But I only really care about our overall result – so will be fighting for that point!!

Nils was home just 9 seconds later in 38:16, with another solid performance after a string of great summer races. We were delighted that Alex Smith made it to one more before moving, clocking a speedy 38:32. Next eagle in was our heroic Harry Claxton, once again triumphant in the V45 category! Looks like it’s in the bag this year – well done Harry!

Shortly after was Neil Johnson and Oliver, tying in 39:49! Special mention to Joshua Brain who has had a great first summer league season, clocking consistently great times at each fixture. He just scraped a sub 40 with 39:57, pipping Ralph Dadswell at the post by 1 second! Ouch Ralph – there goes a club champs point! Not to worry though, Ralph is sitting very comfortably in 2nd position in the V50 category, having been first home this week (but like my case, probably too late to cause an upset!). Dominic Wallace is 4th overall by 1 point. Hope you can make Battersea Dom!

Well done to Kieran Santry who clocked a quick 40:22. He is currently in 3rd position overall in the M40 category! Would be brilliant to see our summer league regular to go home with the bronze! Shout out to Henry Dadswell who clocked a very decent 42:22 for 1st M20, just 10 secs ahead of our awesome speedster Ben Cale!

In the ladies race, we had very similar scores to Queens Park. It was fabulous to see fast Fiona Plain home in 41:20 for 4th female (with Queens Park sneaking 2 in between us). Fiona has had a great SL debut, currently leading the Senior category. Results can shift in the final races, as more people qualify with 3 races or improve on previous scores. One such threat is our speedy Hayley Kandt, who could push from 2nd to gold with a top 21 finish at Battersea! Can she do it?! Or will it be their relay buddy Kat Revill who would need to come 16th? Or Emily Cook with an 11th? Lets see how it plays out – but it’s amazing to have welcomed so many talented ladies in this category this year!

Claire Morris is back running strong, winning the V40 race at Regents Park. She was one of our top scorers with a great 44:25, and could disrupt the rankings if she performs well at Battersea in her 3rd fixture next fortnight!! Next home was our amazing Yvonne Linney, just beating Queens Park and being 2nd overall in the V45 competition. Awesome to see Louise Winstanley currently in 4th position overall in the category! Next across the line for us was the awesome Gosia who is consistently right up there! Gosia was 4th V40 on the day (currently in 4th position overall but very close to 3rd!), beating Claire Ellison by around 30 seconds (5th V40). We are all in suspense - Claire Ellison has had a fantastic first season (currently in 2nd position overall). Between the Claires and Gosia – it’s going to be a fantastic race to the finish line!!

Ian Wimsett was his usual fantastic self, making top 5 M60 (at Regents Park and overall), just pipping Simon James who was in 7 seconds later! Shouldn’t have done that long run before Simon!! Well done to Robert Kipling 7th overall for his category. There was a great battle between Nora Mixova (our fabulous club champion in 2011 and 2012 who has just returned to Ealing!) and John Kenny who was home 1 second later in 47:29.

Sophie Santry has had a particularly strong Summer League season, with Regents Park no exception. This week she clocked 48:24, which may be her fastest 10k in 4.5 years! With Battersea that little bit flatter and Sophie stronger by the day, she could edge closer to her PB in the final race of the season!

Stuart Mitchell is also performing well, finishing in a speedy 48:29 for 7th M55 (4th overall). Michelle Tanner is clearly benefiting from her Ride London cross-training, home in 48:42 - beating our awesome V55s Marek Waszcuk (by 2 secs) and Sue Park (by 3)! Oooh very close!! Kudos to Nick Davies who celebrates a sub 49 min! And our amazing Lorraine Hill ran a strong 49:16 (4th V50). She is currently in 4th position, but could sneak into bronze with a storming run at Battersea.

Shout out to our sprint finisher Vicky Chan, who is currently in a top 5 position in the V35 competition (49:20 clocked on Sunday), just 4 seconds ahead of Nicola Phelan (5th F45 on the day) and Pinja Haikka who ran a rapid 49:44. Dave Powlson was our quickest Dave of the day, just beating Mr Bone by 1 second – both having strong sub 50 min runs!

Speedy Suha is currently in 4th position overall in the F35 category (50:19). It was a tight club champs race, with Suha proving dominant over her sister Magdalene (well into her Chester Marathon training!) and our epic Charlotte Wade (who went on to show her strength in the women’s relays – helping our team to almost get the win!). Home a few seconds later was Zak Dadswell, who is dominating the M17 category, having sped up dramatically over the past year (not quite enough to catch these speedy ladies, but he did show his Dad up in the mixed relays!).

We were delighted to have our Bald Eagle Godfrey Rust join us, still in great form with a 54:44! Dick Overton continues to impress, with a fast 55:06 in the M70 category for 2nd, just 48 secs off the winner. Next in was Janet Wimsett (55:20) who is doing so well in the F60 competition (70% age grading and 2nd place!) Rachel Hearson also ran an impressive 55:37 in the F55 category, whilst Dineke shone in the F65 competition with a fantastic 58:22. Celia Roberts was a joy to cheer home, having run a fantastic 1:04 for a 70% age grading in the F70 competition, and smiling ear to ear! She had clearly had a lovely race, being part of a great flock with Stuart and Helen Pugh, Elizabeth Adams, Laura Cann and Tanja Williams. Love these mini-flocks!

Our women’s relay team almost won this week, it was closer than ever! The 280m was way too short for me, my heavy legs just couldn’t get going after the 10k. I did however collide with the 2nd Queens Park runner in handover, giving our already fantastically fast Fiona a flying start!! It was brilliant to see Charlotte Wade storm round, she is a force on the short stuff and has an epic sprint finish. And of course, Natasha Bennett was brilliant as ever, almost catching Queens Park with a breath-taking run! So proud!

The men did great, with Nils, Oliver, Ben and Ricardo smashing out some brilliant legs to get 3rd place in a super competitive mens race. It is always incredible to watch – in awe!! I believe we can also expect the awesome Jordan Jowett and Colin Clifford to be racing at Battersea again too!! Worth coming just to witness those 4 breath-taking minutes of athleticism!!

HUGE thank you to everyone who came to battle it out! With the points so very close, we need everyone to come and RACE hard at Battersea!! Every SINGLE point will matter.

Big kudos also to the newer runners to the club who are determined to qualify for club champs and who have embraced the fun of summer league! Who PBed? Will you be back for more? These are just my highlights – do let us know what yours were!!

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Junior Results

The juniors continue to inspire! Many also starred in our mixed relays, and showed such determination against their adult competitors!! Some were doing SL followed by Middlesex Relays!!! It was fantastic that they could make it, a huge thank you to the parents who made it happen.

Super proud of Henry Jones, who is the most determined 10 year old I’ve ever met! He had already raced the mile Friday night (well under sub 5:50), and then in a desperate attempt to break all the records before he turned 11 (this Monday!), he raced parkrun (finishing in just over 20 mins, almost a PB!). Then on Sunday he did the double, racing at Junior Parkrun and equalling his PB (he is just 7 seconds off the record!), before a mad rush to make it to Summer League to race over the mile and the relays! Henry then stormed around in 5:50 for first M10. He was 3rd overall, with the M13 and M14 beating him by just 12-15 secs despite being a foot taller. My hero! And thank you to Jen and Evan for making it possible!

Natasha Bennett was 2nd F10 and 3rd female overall. She shows a resilience and maturity beyond her years, being a core part of our women’s relay team this season too!! She’s had a fantastic season, and is currently leading the F10 category, having shone at both SL and at her track events. It could be very close in the end!! Fingers crossed!!

Nathan Powlson was next in for 2nd M10, and also had a fantastic relay run, giving a Serpie man a real run for his money!! Minna Williams was first F9! If she can make the final race at Battersea, she should make top 3 in her age category – perhaps even win it! Well done to Joe Burges who blitzed the M8 category in 6:42! He is currently in 2nd position overall for the series!

The mighty Jack Jones was our next eagle in in 7:05! He was first M6, and had also done the double, running Junior Parkrun earlier (8 secs off a PB). Jack has consistently won his age category and will definitely be a force in the coming years! It was a close race for the youngster, with him having 2 M7s on his tail! James Green was in next for first M7 (7:11), just pipping Conrad Acorn by 1 sec (2nd M7)! Conrad will be impossible to catch this late in the season, but it will be interesting to see who gets 2nd and 3rd with Ryan Johnson, Aiden Quinn and James Green all being top contenders!

2 seconds later was our fabulous Noah Liborg! Noah was just 9 seconds off first M6, and is in a comfortable 2nd place for the season! He did well to hold off Daniel Burges, in 8 seconds later! Daniel has had a great first season, and should hopefully walk away with a bronze medal in a very strong category!

Next in was our speedy Sofia Bennett, who ran a super fast 7:24 for first F7!! She’s guaranteed of the gold trophy this year!! Well done to Lauren Green who was in 4 seconds later for 2nd F9, a great result just beating her Chaser F9 competitor by 2 seconds!

Now we are all used to this Machnik / Liborg competitiveness. The Dads race constantly, and early on in the season we saw young Emily Machnik F6 try to take on Sarah Liborg F9! Well the battle continues, with a sprint finish between Sarah Liborg and Jeremi Machnik! Machnik won this battle, with Jeremi 2nd M8 in 7:57! Huge kudos to Sarah, 2nd F9 in one second later! A great result for the little athlete, who then went on to compete at the Middlesex Athletics meet! With both runners now away for the summer, our fingers are crossed that Jeremi can hold on to his bronze position overall. Sarah should also walk away with another medal – colour to be determined!!

Beth Powlson was our next eagle in, in an amazing 8:28 – more than 90 seconds faster than the year prior! Fantastic to see such a huge improvement, with Beth really racing towards the finish line! She is currently in the silver position in the F6 category!

9 seconds later, we saw an exciting tie!! Keana Acorn flew in as 4th F10 (with one more race needed to get her back in the top 3 overall!). Keji Lagu was next for 2nd F12, currently in the bronze position for her category! It was great to have Leo Johnson in 20 seconds later, for 6th M6 in his first real SL race! Well done Leo!!

Next in was Emily Machnik who has had an amazing season! She came 3rd F6 for the Regents Park race, despite suffering a stitch. With Emily unable to make the final race, she finishes the season in 4th position by 1 point. It’s been an incredibly competitive F6 category, and with that Machnik spirit, I have no doubt that she will hit the podium in 2020! Inspiring debut Emily! Love having you in our team!

We then had Thomas Powlson in, as 2nd M11. He is winning the M11 category!! With Finn Elliot in 2nd place and Cohen Murphy in 4th, it would be great to get these boys to Battersea to fight for a place on the podium!!

Huge kudos to Zereda Lagu who was 7th F9, and is currently 6th overall. Zereda regularly runs in our mixed relays too, and has shown great improvement over the season!

We also had lots of lovely pint-sized runners in the fun run! Special mention to Kaitlyn Mitchell and Alva, who are getting quicker by the day! Great to have you all with us!!

Remember – Every point matters!! Let’s bring our shield home!! 11th August at Battersea Park!! Fight to the end!!

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Six Star Finisher by Mike Duff

Blood (clots), Sweat and Tears

Seven weeks removed from finishing in Boston I’ve had a chance to think about the journey to my six stars. My Six Star certificate has just arrived this week so now seems as good a time as any to try to write this blog.

People have asked what made me decide to aim for the six stars and assume it must have been some sort of long term goal that I’d been planning for years, but the truth is there was no plan and it was really just a series of random coincidences and unconnected events that led me to it.

London 2016 was going to be my last marathon – I’d already done five previous marathons and my body was feeling broken and battered from them. I’d had to defer from the year before and I didn’t think there was any way I could train for another one without completely breaking myself.

So, the first step on this journey was Angela’s suggestion of joining the Eagles in September 2015 and her getting a coach to train her for her secret marathon debut in Rome. As I’d basically made up my own training programmes for my previous marathons based on very little knowledge, I thought maybe asking for help wasn’t such a bad idea and might get me round London in one piece. Enter Coach Mirka and a complete overhaul of the way I trained so that I was no longer trying to do every training run at flat out pace / kill myself. This is definitely the only reason I’ve managed to get through all six and make the massive PB improvements that I have across all distances so never underestimate the power of knowing when and how to train! I know my approach baffles a few people when I regularly run but hardly ever race Club Champs events and don’t pile up 60 mile weeks every week but it works for me.

Halfway through my training and amazed at how much better my body felt for the change, by chance, I spotted a post on the Facebook page saying that the ballot for New York was open so I decided to stick my name in thinking “my body feels OK - maybe I can do one more and then quit”. By race day I’d found out that I’d been successful in the ballot and so I was going to finish my marathon career in New York – not a bad place to finish – but chance had other ideas…


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I had never heard of the Abbot Marathon Majors – no idea what they were, what the races were or what it meant. After picking up my number for London I happened to spot the Six Star medal as I entered the expo section and thought “that’s a pretty impressive medal”. I vaguely noticed that New York was also one of the races but didn’t really give it second thought. Subconsciously, something had obviously struck a chord somewhere as three days later sitting on the Eagles bus to the start line Mirka asked me what was next after London. After a few seconds thought I replied “well, I’ve got New York in the autumn and then I’m going to do the majors and get that big medal”. That was it. No lifelong masterplan, no deep research into, just a spur of the moment decision without knowing what I was getting into.

London itself didn’t go particularly well – my target of sub-3:30 went (along with my hamstring) at 16 miles and to this day I still have no idea who was at Mile 23 as I was in so much pain and desperately concentrating on trying to make some sort of passable impression that I was actually still running as I went past. People ask which has been my favourite of the majors which is almost impossible to answer but I can say without doubt London was my least. Controversial, but I hated almost every minute of it and honestly wouldn’t be disappointed if I never ran it again. Of course, every so often that little voice says “well, obviously you still need to put that performance right don’t you…..” so we’ll see.

After London, my next major should have been New York that autumn but it didn’t quite work out. As some of you will know, having done most of the training I returned from a two-week holiday in California to be diagnosed with a Deep Vein Thrombosis in my right calf. With only a couple of weeks until New York my thoughts ranged from “I could still do it – there’s only a small chance I could die on the flight over” to “I might not actually be allowed to run again so this six star journey might be over before it’s really begun”. Spoiler alert – I didn’t run New York, I didn’t die and I can still run.

Instead of New York my second major ended up being Tokyo the following February. I’ve written about my recovery and training in my Tokyo race report so I won’t bore you with it here. Suffice to say, it was an amazing experience from start to finish and the Eagles I’ve spoken to that have run it since have said the same – the city, the atmosphere and the people make it an unforgettable trip with locals amazed that you would want to visit their city and going out of their way to welcome you.

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Post-Tokyo with some random bloke we met on the street             

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A rather damp Berlin in front of the Reichstag

Third up was Berlin that autumn. Fully recovered I had optimistically targeted 3:15 and upped my training considerably. Anyone who follows me on Strava will have noticed that since the start of my training for Berlin I have an almost OCD approach to doing every training session scheduled, on the day it’s scheduled, at a scheduled metronomic pace. Ok, so there’s no “almost” about it, but sticking to this and not racing races for the sake of it during training has meant that I’ve got to the start line in each major feeling stronger than the one before.

Berlin always has that added buzz to it that you might just be in the same race where the world record is broken – I can’t think of any other sport where us mere mortals take part in the same event, in the same arena at the same time as the elites. That year Wilson Kipsang was rumoured to be targeting the record but failed to finish and a certain Eliud Kipchoge won but weather conditions put paid to the record and my 3:15. If rain and high humidity are a good enough excuse for not breaking the world record then it’s a good enough excuse for me. Still, ending up with a big PB, a large post-race pizza and a few steins of beer on Unter den Linden with a flock of fellow Eagles more than made up for it.

Next up was my deferred New York entry from the previous year. Having run Berlin six weeks before I went into this one with the target of taking it easy and enjoying it – do the first 20 miles in 8 minute miles and then slow down for the last 6.2 and soak up the atmosphere. It’s amazing the difference it makes when you’re running well within yourself rather than constantly trying to set a new PB in a race whether it’s a parkrun or a marathon. I enjoyed every minute of it with the exception of the Queensboro Bridge between 15 and 16 miles which was an absolute killer even at training pace. The last two miles through Central Park were truly memorable.

New York easily has the best on-course support of any of the majors. Other than when you’re on the bridges, there isn’t a road that isn’t lined at least 2 or 3 deep on both sides which helped overcome the miserable weather. From the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge right at the start of the race you should have majestic views over the Statue of Liberty and New York skyline but the driving rain and mist meant we could only see about halfway across the bridge. I didn’t realise until we were on the ferry to the statue the next day how close we’d been to it but it was completely obscured.


Crossing the finish line in New York

Crossing the finish line in New York

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Chicago race day

I had a brief diversion from the majors to run Vienna in spring 2018 in 30°c heat but got back on the chase in the autumn with Chicago. Qualifying to be in Corral B was quite an experience and pretty daunting. I could just about make out the elites up ahead and looking around at the other runners in the pen was rather intimidating – I felt a serious case of imposter syndrome. Another attempt at a big PB was thwarted by torrential rain and howling gales (anyone starting to notice a pattern here?). It was probably better than the heatwave they’d had the previous year and, to be fair, it was as much my over-ambitious push from halfway to 20 miles as the weather so I can’t really complain about ending up with a 10 second PB instead of the 10 minute one I’d imagined.

And finally to Boston.

Up until this point I couldn’t tell people which of the majors had been my favourite but even on the Saturday, two days before the race, I could tell this was going be special. Yes, the fact it was my final major might have helped but, even without that, there is just something special about Boston in race week. The other majors have huge crowds, big expos, but seem to be confined just to the race route and the “fans” whereas the Boston marathon seems to simply take over the entire city and suburbs. Shops, restaurants, bars all have marathon specials and every person you meet is running, has run it or is congratulating you on running. Everywhere you look there are Boston Marathon celebration jackets from years gone by mixed in with the current edition. They even go to the extent of repainting the finish line once the race has finished so people can spend the next week being photographed on it.

I approached this one a bit differently to the previous ones given that it was my last major. I’d trained for around 3:05 and was going to start out aiming for a PB but see how I was at halfway. If I felt good, I’d keep pushing and if it was a struggle I would slow down and enjoy it. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) it was the latter. The crazy weather conditions that hit the city for the whole time we were there meant any thoughts of a time went out of the window but also meant that I could fully soak up the atmosphere and really enjoy the experience. The last mile or so was an emotional experience for a number of reasons which I mentioned in the Facebook group and there were a few tears shed as I collected my Six Star medal and then again in the reunion area with Angela but I couldn’t have asked for a better place to finish the journey.


Finish straight in Boston

Finish straight in Boston

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Doing these majors has taken me around the world – I would never thought of visiting Japan, Chicago or Boston but would go back to all of them. The journey has left me with so many amazing memories and provided me with so many different experiences. There has been the general camaraderie between the runners – meeting people you’ll never see again but share a few minutes with at the expo, the bus ride to the race start with or spend a couple of hours running along side during the race. Then there are the individual things you take away from each race.

From Tokyo, the two girls dressed as geishas at the Friendship Run that were giving out origami good luck messages to the marathon runners, the seemingly endless number of weird and wonderful mascots, the genuine warmth of everyone to the overseas runners and the strange mixture of neon and noise with temples and zen gardens.

From Berlin, the inline skating marathon on the Saturday, running amongst so much recent history from the site of JFK’s 1963 speech to running through the Death Strip between East and West where 30 years ago you would have been shot dead, passing under the Brandenburg Gate and running the same course that the world record has been set on so many times.

The incredible crowds of New York – coming from the silence and solitude on the Queensboro Bridge and then being met with a wall of noise as you turn onto 1st Avenue, the mini-version of the Olympic parade of nations for the runners and getting a handshake and look of amazement from an NYPD officer when he realised I had finished, gone back to the hotel, showered, changed and made it back to meet Angela as she finished (she’s asked me to point out that she wasn’t THAT slow, she was in a later wave!).

In Chicago, taking the school bus to the expo, starting so close to the front, potentially having the race cancelled due to civil unrest and eating Pizano’s pizza.

And pretty much the whole experience of Boston.

So, what advice can I give?

  1. If you’re thinking of taking up the Six Star challenge or even just an overseas marathon or race then go for it. The experience is fantastic (if expensive) and it’s a great way to see a city and experience the culture.

  2. Have a supportive wife who doesn’t mind going on holidays around the world (thanks Angela!)

  3. Have a supportive coach who tells you when you’re being an eejit (thanks Mirka!)

  4. If you qualify for Boston, run it!

  5. Never run a marathon that I’m also running in. There will be rain, thunderstorms, howling gales, hailstones, 30°c heat, humidity, baking sun or, in the case of Boston, all of the above.

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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.

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*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!