A Royle command performance in the city that never sleeps

FOLLOWING his run-and-write dispatches from Berlin Marathon and the Bilbao Night Marathon recently our intrepid reporter Andy Atkinson has filed another acutely-observed and highly literate missive from the New York City Marathon… 

THERE is something about the New York City Marathon that is a magnet to runners. It is not the oldest modern marathon, that accolade goes to Boston; neither is it the prettiest, London or Paris are more scenic; nor even the fastest — the world record was broken at Berlin this September. 

But running in the Big Apple is exciting — just reciting the names of streets, bridges and districts conjures up images from stage and screen and have you humming a Sinatra hit.

The run takes in First and Fifth Avenues, Upper East Side, Brooklyn and the Bronx, the Verrazzano and Queensborough bridges. Canyons between high buildings, car horns, police whistles, daylight at midnight and rattling subway trains all signal that this really is the city that never sleeps. 

So it was that a group of Reading Roadrunners found themselves with a common purpose in New York. Whether by ballot, good for age, or sports tour, we were each keen to tick this one off our bucket lists. 

We already had an inkling that this was not to be a walk (or should I say, run) in the park — prior choices had to be made for getting to the start on Staten Island — on the bus or ferry around 6:30am. Added to the usual jet lag, this meant that there would be little sleep the night before. 

Another hitch was that the run starts with a mile-long climb on to the Verrazzano Bridge, and some testing climbs thereafter. 

Reading Roadrunners, being notoriously sociable, also compounded the task by meeting for a last supper the night before.

There is still no consensus on whether wine with the meal improved or detracted from performance on the day. From the results, there was no discernible correlation either way.

Reservations about the run were demolished at the start. The day dawned cool, bright and clear, with stunning views of the city from the Staten Island ferry. After the usual interminable hanging around which accompanies big races, we were lined up at the foot of the Verrazzano Bridge in much the same way as an aircraft pulls up at the end of a runway. The equivalent of jet engines spooling up for take-off was the cranking up of “New York, New York” and we were off.

Unfortunately for me, I got carried away by the enthusiasm of my (rather fast) accompanying runners and went out too quickly. That was despite advice the day before from experts at the Expo not to do just that. I only wish I had done as some did — relax, enjoy the stunning views and, maybe take a few selfies! 

My fellow Reading Roadrunners did much better, with Fleur Denton (below) coming in at under four hours. Catherine Leather and Liz Ganpatsingh both turned in times around the four-hour mark and Vroni Royle achieved a stunning PB at 4:26.31. Christina Calderon ran a practically identical time of 4:26.39 and Ian McGuinness 4:32.56. 

Phil Reay and myself both ran around the 4:50 mark, but I suspect that Phil went out more sensibly and, consequently, felt far less pain than me. I hardly think he could have endured more pain, but he is an ultra-runner, so you never know. 

Anthony Eastaway substantially improved on his Berlin marathon time, coming in at under six hours. Our group included guest Tri20 and former RR, Edwina McDowall, who ran a brilliant 3:01.09 and Mary Wilson from Reading Joggers, who ran 5:42.14. 

With exceptionally fine weather, the city looked superb and New Yorkers were out in force. Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Harlem all responded with bands and singers, and crowds waving placards . “You are running better than the White House” was my favourite. 

As borough boundaries were crossed, so shouted greetings were renewed. A particular memory of mine was a six-row deep gospel choir outside a church in Brooklyn bursting into song just as we passed. Drawing towards the end, at the foot of the Madison Bridge, a clearly heard chant was “last damn bridge, last damn bridge”. 

To finish, you run down Fifth Avenue and into Central Park — not something you can do every day of the week, but by then I don’t think many of us were taking in the view. 

At this point, support from loved ones can make all the difference. My wife, Liz, and her sister, Rosemary, were out on the course at mile 19 on First Avenue and then, after a quick sprint across Harlem, at mile 22 on Fifth. 

Liz later told me that she had run/walked a half-marathon just following our group. But it was worth it for the cheers and hugs. Finally, spurred on by an increasingly numerous and noisy crowd, the end was in sight — just enough strength left for that last little sprint… not! 

After crossing the line, wearing that big medal and wrapped in distinctive blue ponchos, we stumbled like a convocation of monks towards the exit chanting “never again, never again”. But, as we all know, we soon forget…

Andy’s verdict: The New York marathon is a deceptively difficult run. Although it contains no steep hills, it consists of a series of inclines. Many of these are long approaches to bridges, or, in the case of the Verrazzano, over the iconic bridge itself (pictured below). 

In Manhattan, the run up First Avenue is a long rise and comes well after the mid-point, thus seriously testing stamina. Once in Central Park, although the net relief is downhill, the uphill parts are demanding. 

New York Roadrunners produce a useful map showing how our splits worked out and it is fair to say that we all ran a much slower second half. Many commented that things got seriously difficult after mile 14. 

We were blessed with fine weather, and the run would be less attractive on a more typical November day. But, even so, the city, support and spectacle would make up for poor weather and tough topography. New York City rightly sits at the top as a marathon major.

  • A fuller version of this report will appear in the club’s November newsletter next week.

Muddy marvels! Roadrunners triumph in an Eton mess

NOT content with managing our team as well as running for it, ladies’ captain Sam Whalley has produced a report on BOTH the weekend’s cross-country events…

A FORECAST (albeit incorrect) of light rain did not deter 24 Reading Roadrunners from making the journey to Wellesley Woodlands, Aldershot, for the second of five Hampshire League fixtures. This was a new venue last season, and we had enjoyed running here in February of this year.

As is typical for Hampshire League races, the course for each race was to be made up of laps of different-sized loops.

A potential disaster was averted when star performer Chantal Percival managed to overcome a bout of travel sickness in time to prepare for the women’s race. No thanks to Google Maps for its rather twisty traffic-avoiding route there!

We were also delighted to welcome complete XC newbie Justine Morris to the team. “Are you fast?” we asked, as, while all abilities are welcome, it is sometimes nice to know in advance whether you will be required to score for the team. 

We were in luck; Justine’s 10k time placed her in the quick category, although how she stayed upright in road shoes, when most of the rest of us were wearing 12mm spikes, is nothing short of a miracle.

As we made our way to the start line, with 10 minutes to go, our final reassurance came in the shape of Pip White and Bithja Jones, who were cutting it pretty fine, but a joy to see, nonetheless, as we were missing a poorly Sarah Dooley this time. Quick recovery, please, Sarah!

With Aldershot hosting, it was no surprise that they were out in force, but Reading AC matched them, with 20 runners apiece. We did feel a bit surrounded on the start line, by the red, white and blue vests (the red, white and greens were too far forward to trouble us too much).

Numbers generally were up this year, with 118 women last time we ran this course, and 214 this time. The course was a mixture of grass and woodland and, with some tight turns, this became quite congested in places.

Aldershot’s Emily Hosker-Thornhill won the race, a whole minute ahead of the second-placed Louise Small, and with the Aldershot team taking the first four spots.

As hoped, Chantal was the first RR home, in a fantastic position of 13th, even better than her 15th-placed finish in Bournemouth last month.

Bithja was next, and our first vet, in 37th (9th vet), followed by Helen Pool in 70th (24th vet). A great start, giving a team position of ninth. Next in was Pip White, in 100th. We still needed another woman for our vet score, though, and this was to be Justine, in 103rd (39th vet), giving the vet team seventh place.

Next to finish was Under 20 runner Katie Rennie, who this time had travelled by minibus with fellow Southampton Uni students, followed by me, just glad to get around with minimal discomfort after more than two months out with a glute injury, and the ever-reliable Claire Seymour. Cecilia Csemiczky completed the team. Above, some of our team face the camera. From left: Bithja Jones, Katie Rennie, Pip White, Justine Morris, Chantal Percival and Helen Pool.

Nicky Spillane had brought her daughter for the Under 17 women’s race, but decided to spectate and support, deeming her foot to be not well enough to race.

Although the women’s course is only 5.9k, what we lacked in distance, we certainly made up for in weather conditions. Light rain turned to torrential rain, then hail, and back again. It was grim, and as we approached the finish, that top field had become somewhat swampy. The men’s race was going to be interesting…

Full results of the women’s race are here:

https://www.hampshireathletics.org.uk/results/2018/20181110_hlwomen.html

We returned from the women’s race to find that the tarpaulin had become a channel for a small river, and locating kit bags, coats and, as importantly, our food stashes, was a challenge. I would even say it was chaos, with everyone trying to change in and out of kit.

With the men about to endure a 9.1k route, though, including passing the finish area three times, there was no rush for us women to leave the tent and brave the rain, with the driest viewing spots obviously going to be in the woods.

The strength and depth of the Aldershot team was clearly in evidence here, with the first ten runners being theirs, all within two minutes of each other, and Bramley course record holder Jonny Hay winning the race.

Our first man home, Jack Gregory (above), was 28th, followed by Mark Apsey in 31st. Chris Lucas was 46th, and then the first two of our vets, Lance Nortcliff (63rd, and sixth vet), and Andrew Smith (102nd, and 22nd vet). These results gave the team eighth place. Mark Worringham was missing from this fixture, due to family commitments, and a third vet was needed to complete the vets team. This was to be Ben Whalley, in 138th (37th vet), and sporting the retro vest that once belonged to Matt Richards’ dad.

Be warned, if you ever forget your vest, this is the spare that I carry around, along with an RR technical T-shirt. The vets team finished in fifth place, but are joint first on aggregate. Great work!

Next to finish was Pete Jewell, who had a cracking race, and, as usual, managed a big smile for his supporters. Then came Brian Kirsopp, followed by Stuart Jones, who I’m assuming enjoyed the Bournemouth fixture so much, he couldn’t help but return.

Newcomers Liang Guo and Tim Grant were next to finish, followed by regulars David Fiddes and David Walkley, the latter christening some newly-purchased spikes. Completing the team were more newcomers in the shape of Alan Williamson and Matt Davies.

I think it is fair to say that by the time 314 men had run their laps, the going underfoot was not in the least bit suitable for road shoes, which Matt, as a first-timer, had worn. Well done for getting around unscathed!

There wasn’t much hanging around to be done after the men’s race either, with the focus on getting home and cleaned up (see picture above)!

Full results of the men’s race are here:

https://www.hampshireathletics.org.uk/results/2018/20181110_hlmen.html

It is well worth investing in some decent grippy trail shoes, or, if you are planning to compete in Hampshire League or championship fixtures, some spikes, as most of their courses are grassy or woodland-based. Not all of the TVXC courses are suitable for spikes, and we are advised of this before each fixture.

On that note, I was amazed to see Chantal, Cecilia, Stuart, Liang, Tim, Alan and Davids Fiddes and Walkley looking bright and breezy and ready to tackle the TVXC fixture at Eton the following morning. Had it been another rainy day, the prospect might not have been so appealing, but, as it happened, the sun was out, the air was still, and we only put up the event shelter to allow the cover to dry out, with the tarpaulin and tent sides hanging out to dry in my garden. 

The TVXC results from Datchet’s fixture are now out, and with Rob Corney first male, and Chantal Percival first female, both our men’s and ladies’ teams finished second, but that was good enough to give us overall victory in the fixture .

The scoring teams were as follows:

Men: Rob Corney, David McCoy, Brendan Morris, Fergal Donnelly (vet), Paddy Hayes and Gavin Rennie (vet)

Women: Chantal Percival, Gemma Buley, Jane Davies (vet) and Mary Janssen (vet)

Full results are now available at:

http://www.tvxc.org.uk/league-results

Above: Rob Corney and Dave McCoy lead the Datchet race from Bracknell’s Neil Kevern to the backdrop of Windsor Castle.

Pictures: Phil Reay, Pete Jewell, Bithja Jones, Claire Woodhouse.

Burnham Beeches Half 2018

Good things happen to those who wait… and wait again… Race report by Ben Hart

The Burnham Beeches Half Marathon was a long time coming. The path which took to me to the start line was not a straight one, and certainly not simple.

As a few Roadrunners were aware, I was looking forward to the Reading Half in March, it being my first race. What is more, this run was part of two events in aid of the children’s charity, Dreams Come True, a cause I have raised money for previously.

Preparation for Reading had taken an unexpected turn for the worse when I sprained my ankle badly playing football at University back in January which left me with only a few weeks to resume any running.   Yet, to my disappointment Reading was cancelled for all except the barmy minority who still braved the streets of Berkshire to run their own 13.1.  So I set my sights on finding an alternative – The Gloucester Half Marathon. Roll on August but disappointment manifested itself again. The local council did not approve of changes to the course route and, as a result, Gloucester went the same way as Reading. I did begin to wonder if the running Gods were punishing for me for claiming a Reading finishers’ medal and t-shirt despite the event not taking place!

Quickly I discovered that it was all meant to be. Burnham took place a week after Gloucester should have done. My final training run took place on the day that I would have been running Gloucester and the extra week of prep allowed me to reach thirteen kilometres – the furthest I had run in this training stint with the sprained ankle still not being 100% and the focus of much physio. Eventually, and I do not use that word lightly, it all paid off.

With donations still rolling in, I put pressure on myself to succeed at Burnham. My stance on my unfortunate “run” to the start line was, “it’s been tough but these troubles are nothing compared to the battles which the children of Dreams Come True are fighting.” My second source of motivation was a work colleague of mine, Alex. Alex was training for a one-week cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats, which would see him and two others complete approximately 150 miles a day. He advised me to watch an interview called “Driven” with an ex-Navy Seal called David Goggins, on the eve of the big day. I did, and Goggins did not disappoint. Goggins once completed an event called “The San Diego One-Day.” In short, participants run around a one-mile track and see how many miles they can complete in 24 hours. Goggins, built for heavy lifting and not long distance running, set out for 100 miles. For the last 19 miles, he ran with compression tape on his ankles and feet in an attempt to limit the pain he felt from multiple stress fractures.

With the children on one shoulder and Goggins on the other, I knew I was going to eat the thirteen miles in front of me for breakfast.

Early mornings are not generally familiar to me. As a University student, a 9 o’clock seminar is my worst nightmare, let alone a thirteen-mile race. My Mum deserves a mention for her efforts in helping me, not least when she prepared my breakfast of honey sandwiches, as I adopted her pre-race nutrition. Well fed, we arrived at Coldicot school and I was rather excited for the imminent challenge.

For the first few kilometres I was trying to settle down into my own pace, with Mum’s words of wisdom “run your own race” reverberating around my head. Another new phenomenon was the water pouches handed out to runners. My, are they hard work?! If anything, my inability to open the darn things made me chuckle as I pounded the woods of Buckinghamshire. At half way I felt strong and comfortable, confident that the second half of my race would be quicker than the first. After one more battle with the impossible pouches, the second half of the race seemed to fly by. I think it helped running a two-lap track as I could prepare mentally for the physical battle that was to come.

I desperately chased a time of sub 1:40 but missed out by twenty seconds, coming in at a time of 1:40:20. The sense of accomplishment upon crossing the line was one of my all-time sporting achievements.

I would not go as far to say that I have “caught the bug”, but I will definitely be wearing Roadrunners’ green (and blue shorts!) again in the future.

Roll on Reading 2019. I will be there to collect a medal that was truly earnt this time round!

Buley, madly, deeply! How Gemma wowed Wycombe

GEMMA BULEY was the big winner at the eighth round of the Reading Roadrunners’ club championship, the Wycombe 10k.

Gemma was first lady home at Adams Park and led our girls to take the team prize.

In doing so she moved up to 199 points and pretty much sewed up this year’s senior ladies title.

Gemma finished 22nd overall in 46 minutes 20 seconds, just 36 seconds and one place ahead of Katherine Sergeant, who also came first of the F40s.

Melanie Shaw, fourth lady overall, and Sally Carpenter helped Roadrunners clinch the four-to-score team award.

Paloma Crayford rounded off a day of success as the first F50 finisher.

Also among the age group winners was Alan Freer, who didn’t let a heavy fall stop him from collecting the M60 prize.

“It was a real pleasure to chase Alan round the course,” said Gemma, “although he gave me a fright when he fell over about 7k in. He was incredible descending on those hills and he jumped straight up, completing the course with blood trickling down his face and knees.

“I’m in absolute awe of him. He gave me a good run all the way round.”

Alan said: “I was only on the ground for about five seconds.” At the finish he still had well over three minutes in hand over his main F60 opposition, Marlow Striders captain Mike Thompson.

Alan had already made sure of the F60 championship but was still chasing points in the ‘all racers positioned by age grade’ title race.

Gemma was quick to praise her team-mates’ achievements. “I was so pleased for Mel Shaw contributing to winning the team prize as she says she never wins anything. She did so well in the heat.

“Katherine carried her water round, offering it to me out on the course. Such lovely team spirit as always in the Roadrunners.”

Gemma was also on hand to accept the second-place team prize for Roadrunners’ men as our four stars had already left the Wycombe Wanderers ground.

The successful foursome was Andrew Smith, Tom Peirson-Smith, Paul Kerr and, first home in his debut event in our colours, James Rennie.

Sixteen-year-old James was sixth to finish overall in a time of 42:14. Bearing in mind that almost everyone was about five minutes over par over a challenging trails course on a stinking hot day, that shows he is proving a very useful recruit.

Andrew Smith’s performance took him to 200 points and the guarantee of at least a share of the men’s V40 title.

Ninth overall, his team prize followed key roles in both the club’s recent relay triumphs on the Ridgeway and at Runnymede.

There are also new leaders in the M50 (David Fiddes) and M65 (Andy Atkinson) title races, as well as at senior level (Chris Buley).

But Chris (left), hampered in this race by a knee injury, was not celebrating like his wife. He knows what  he has to do to take the title, but he has a sense of foreboding about what’s coming next.

“Rob Corney is running against me at the Englefield 10k,” he said. Good luck with that, Chris!

Englefield is on August 26th but the next round of the championship is the Burnham Beeches Half Marathon on August 12th.

That event is listed as a ‘road’ race…. but then so was the Wycombe 10k! Someone misinformed our excellent championship organiser….

*Our main picture shows Mel Shaw, Katherine Sergeant and Gemma Buley bookended by race officials.

*Results: http://racetimingsolutions.racetecresults.com/Results.aspx?CId=16269&RId=909&EId=1

*Standings after round eight are on the club championship page.