Hel’s bells! Executions, torture.. then we raced a half marathon

TRAVEL writer-cum-race reporter ANDY ATKINSON tells the inside story of another successful trip abroad by a group of Reading Roadrunners…

DID you know that the “Gravensteen”, or Count’s Castle, was built by Philip I of Alsace as a show of power and wealth and to keep the burghers of Ghent in order? No, neither did I. That is not until I heard one of the quirkiest audio guides I have ever encountered. 

Full of interesting anecdotes about Philip I, his wife, Elisabeth, the executions and tortures routinely inflicted there, it certainly takes your mind off the exhausting climb up winding stairways to the pinnacle. Once up there, however, and elated that the climb is finally over, you have the town before you!

It was not surmounting old ruins, however, that attracted a group of Reading Roadrunners to the Belgian town, but a different kind of challenge.       

October 27th saw a running festival take place and we were targeting the half marathon – flat, fast and situated away from the town centre, there are no real hills and cool weather promised good times. Ghent is also easily accessible by Eurostar – an ideal venue for a short bit of running tourism. 

Of the ten of us originally up for this, two were non-starters! Fiona Ross and myself, with illness and injury respectively, decided not to run. Undaunted by this little difficulty and unwilling to give up on the chance of a weekend away with good company, we switched our entry to the 10k walk. 

This was much more civilised, allowed for some sightseeing and photos, and was rewarded by personal bests for the two of us of about 2:09:00. Probably not astonishing in the world of race walking, but should there ever be a “leisure walking” event, we would be up there!

The rest of the group took the half marathon race rather more seriously and were rewarded by some exceptional results. Fergal Donnelly turned in his second best-ever time at 1:25:57 and Mark Andrew completed at 1:35:50; but the greatest credit should go to Helen Pool. 

With a two-and-a-half minutes PB of 1:32:02, Helen was on the podium as second female overall and first in her age category. As cool and collected at the finish as the start, she made it look easy!

The rest of the group also performed well – Dan Rickett was well within his predicted two-hour time at 1:54:47, John Bailey and Liz Atkinson chased each other in at 2:26:17 and 2:28:31 respectively, despite John sporting a shoulder injury, and Lorraine Bailey followed with a solid 2:37:10. Liz and Lorraine bagged the second and third FV65 placings in the process. 

We were joined for the event by Reading parkrunners and long-term friends of Reading Roadrunners, Aleid Busser and Adrian Wadham. Aleid turned in a superb 1:59:39 as first FV70 and Adrian 2:05:24 as first MV75. 

Veronica Andrew also attempted the half, but under-trained and a little under the weather, she wisely decided to call it a day at 10k before things went pear-shaped. Her prudence paid off and she is none the worse as a result.

As for Ghent – not so well known as its flashier neighbour, Bruges, it is, however, very quaint, with a long history as a mercantile town. It sits on the rivers Lys and Scheldt and is criss-crossed with canals. 

As well as the castle and mercantile history, Ghent is famous for the “Adoration of the Lamb” triptych by the Van Eyck brothers in St Bavo’s Cathedral and, at the other end of the artistic scale, “Graffitistraatje”, where you can try your hand at your very own graffiti. 

The half marathon has only been running for about three years, but next year it is planned to route through the city centre. This will add interest, but perhaps not speed — much of the centre is paved with cobbles. I am also unsure of how they will deal with all those thousands of bicycles that zoom around. Between the cyclists and the trams, walking, never mind running, can be a hazardous experience.

Overall verdict: A well organised, multi-terrain, friendly race with a super finish line in the Topsportshal Stadium and the bonus of a big bottle of exceptionally strong Belgian beer in the goody bag.

Cartoon: Veronica Andrew, from her personal collection.

Pictures: JohnBailey, Dan Rickett, Andy Atkinson, Fergal Donnelly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heartbreak Hill conquered… now it’s Chicago here I come

SPECIAL report from Roadrunner BRENDAN MORRIS on yesterday’s Boston Marathon… and it’s aftermath!

IT’S 3.30am local time and I’m wide awake lying in our hotel room in Boston. Yesterday I ran the Boston Marathon in a time of 2:47.50. It was a time that I was quite happy with and celebrated accordingly afterwards.

The trouble is now that I’m rather uncomfortable. The hangover is bearable,  but not pleasant, the muscles in my upper legs are particularly sore, but the worst thing is, I need the toilet. 

This will be the third time that I would be going during the night (an issue with maximum rehydration after a marathon). The first time, my left leg gave way underneath me completely and I ended up in a heap on the floor and crawled to the ensuite.

The second time, I made so much noise groaning in pain that I woke my wife up and she was less than sympathetic. 

So I’m now weighing up the options available. The most attractive one seems to be to wet the bed, but I think the most acceptable one will be to attempt to roll out of bed into the floor quietly and then once again crawl to the toilet and muster up the strength to stand, then hobble back. 

The prestige of the Boston Marathon needs no introduction. It’s an event that is on many amateur runners’ bucket lists, with a difficult qualifying time and no opportunity to run it otherwise, making it a race to aspire to. The city seems to have embraced this event with open arms as well, with the locals generating a great atmosphere throughout the marathon weekend. 

Upon signing up to run Boston, my initial thoughts were… “it’s that marathon with a hill in it.” After running it, I think it would be better described as “the marathon with one flat bit in it.” 

The more I read about the course in the build-up to the event, the more it started to worry me. “Though it has a net drop in elevation, do not let that fool you into thinking it’s a quick or easy course.” This was just one of the cliche-type phrases that I read and in hindsight all of them seemed to have been true. 

Another element to the Boston Marathon is the unpredictability of the weather conditions and this year did not fail to disappoint. As myself, Gary Tuttle and Grant Hopkins sheltered from torrential rain in a marquee, wearing ponchos and bin-liners around our feet, we spoke to a local runner who had done Boston “around ten times”. He claimed that your finishing time in Boston can’t be compared to other marathons; it’s a different kind of beast. 

He said you cant even compare your Boston time to other Boston Marathons as the weather each year is so different. Again, more cliches that rang true. 

This year they had initially predicted heavy rain throughout and for it to be cold. It was actually pretty mild in the end and the rain had passed by before the race started. The real issue during the race was the humidity to begin with and I would say in the final stages it felt pretty hot as the sun came out. 

The crowds along the course were great. Again, the area seems to have not grown tired of this event but to relish in it. Lots of unofficial feed stations, water stations, live music and co-ordinated cheerleading had been set up and in true American style they are unapologetically loud and bold. The Wellesley scream tunnel left my ears ringing and the last couple of miles in Boston proper were incredible. 

My build-up to the race had been hampered by a foot injury. I was only able to build up to the distance slowly and was not able to put in the amount of training I would have liked. I could only manage four runs greater than the half-marathon distance, which for me is not many (London and Berlin ten runs of 18 miles-plus).

So I was looking for a decent performance in the region of 2:50.00 but wasn’t going to be too harsh on myself if I only managed sub-three hours. My tactic was to run comfortably on the downhill stretches, not slowing myself down, then respect the uphill sections and not put too much effort into attacking them. I thought this would leave me good energy to finish strongly in the last five miles, which are pretty much all downhill.

Unfortunately this didn’t seem to work as well as I had hoped.  A lack of long hilly runs in my training meant that around the halfway mark my quads were sore and I could feel my hamstrings tightening. 

This seemed to coincide with the temperature increasing and I knew it was going to get tough in the second half. I made a decision at that point to stop looking at my pace and concentrate on feel. 

I still respected the hills through Newton (a series of four inclines culminating in the infamous Heartbreak Hill) and took them steady in the hope that I could run strongly in the final stages. 

The course had taken it’s toll on my upper leg muscles though. By the top of Heartbreak Hill I was in agony. My legs couldn’t turn over quickly enough to take advantage of the last downhill section. In fact i was cursing the downhill parts by this time due to the pain. 

The last five miles became “let’s just finish without walking” mode. I was in a world of pain by the time I got into Boston proper, but the crowds and a runner who I was keeping pace with really spurred me on.

I snapped out of my defeatist mindset in the final stages and suddenly realised that I was still on for a good time. I gritted my teeth in the last mile and tried to make sure I ran under 2:48, which I managed.

It was a tough race. I would like to tackle it again with more specific training and higher volume. Considering the conditions and lack of preparation I’m happy with my time, the injury was fine and it gives me good confidence going into Chicago in the autumn. 

Pictures: Gemma Morris and Brendan Buxton

Boston results: http://registration.baa.org/2019/cf/Public/iframe_ResultsSearch.cfm?mode=results

Caroline Jackson Achieves 100 Marathons

Caroline Jackson finally achieved entry into the prestigious 100 Marathon Club last week when she crossed the finish line at Larnaca Marathon 2018.

‘It feels like a dream. Having my friends & family here with me is just the icing on the cake’ Caroline commented.

Not only has she run 100 Marathons but she’s ran them in style clocking up over a third outside of the UK and all in 7 years. She’s also been on the podium many times including first lady at Limassol, Cyprus marathon and second lady at both Hunsruck in Germany and Liverpool.

It was a group occasion as Caroline was joined by her partner Paul Monaghan  (they call themselves #TeamJackMon) and many members of Reading Roadrunners plus other friends from various clubs at the Larnaca marathon were she finally nailed her 100th. Her family were also there to witness the presentation and join in the celebrations after she crossed the finish line.

Well done from all of us at the club.