Life of Brian looking on the bright side with England vest

FASTEST postman in the west Brian Kirsopp is celebrating winning his first England vest but admits: “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever do it.”

Brian earned his international call-up by finishing third MV55 in the fiercely-competitive Chichester Priory 10k in a new personal best time of 36 minutes 39 seconds.

His qualification was the culmination of a highly successful six weeks of racing in which he:

  • Took second place in the Run Home Marathon in 3:14.05 (clinching a MV50 club championship and marathon championship double)
  • Picked up the MV50 prize at the Gutbuster 10 mile race
  • Scooped up another MV50 trophy at the Woodcote 10k
  • Produced strong runs for Roadrunners’ Hampshire League and Thames Valley XC League teams  and at the South of England AA Championships on the fearsome Parliament Hill course.

Now he can look forward to representing the England Age Group Masters team at the Great Birmingham 10k on May 26th.

Brian and his Masters team-mates will line up at the front just behind the international elites in a race which usually attracts live television coverage.

But first he can proudly look back on what he thinks was a “massive achievement.”

“It all started back in December when I ran every day for at least three miles,” he said.

“That was in an event called Marcothon, a Facebook group that encourages runners to do three miles or 25 minutes every day for the month.

“Towards the end of the month I entered a marathon organised by Saturn Running and thought I’d completely fail given the extra mileage and tired legs. On the contrary I found that my endurance got me second place in a time that I had targeted with a few minutes to spare.

“That really increased my confidence for the Gutbuster, at which I also gave everything and found that I could still have a good finish.

“My main focus was to win my age category at the Woodcote 10k. I managed to do the first downhill 5k in under 18 minutes and held on up the climb to win in a course PB of 38:24.

“That showed me that if I trained harder I could run faster. It gave me the self-belief that I could achieve my goals if I changed my mental outlook to racing.”

By that stage Brian had received the England Athletics email announcing Age Group Masters representative opportunities, but considered they were “something the faster runners did and way out of my league.”

When he learned that the qualification target for his age group was 39 minutes, he thought: “That’ll be easy.”

But then he looked up last year’s results at Chichester, where the third-placed MV55 ran 35:57, and said: “My heart sank. Even if I ran my track 5k PB of 18.25 twice that would still leave short by quite a margin.

“But I entered anyway knowing I had nothing to lose and that the experience would do me good.

“Sandy Sheppard gave me a lot of encouragement, as did the club captains Phil Reay and Sam Whalley. I knew I was capable of running faster but I also knew I had to beat myself mentally as that’s where I fail in races.

“At the club dinner-dance Phil told me in no uncertain terms to “toughen up” and to “bite the bullet” and just go out and do it.”

Race day didn’t start well. After a late night at the dinner-dance he set his alarm for 6.15am, only to wake at 4.45am. “I suppose that’s quite normal for a postman,” he said, “but unhelpful before a race when sleep is important.” However, his customary double-strength coffee set him up well for the day.

“I left early because the roads were frozen,” he said. “When I started out my car temperature gauge said minus five. By the time I got to Odiham it had gone down to minus 11. Fortunately when I arrived at Goodwood it had gone up to minus one. Cold, but not uncomfortably so.

“Looking at the other runners in my pen (35-45 minutes) I could tell it was going to be fast-paced. They were nearly all Harriers or AC runners.

“There is a danger of setting off too quickly in that company, what with the adrenaline and atmosphere, and I did exactly that.

“My target pace was six-minute miles for the first half and then to see what I had left. But I shot off at the gun and did 5:37 for the first mile.

“It was slightly downhill so I forgave myself and tried to slow it down but still did 5:49 for the second mile.

“That actually felt comfortable, so I kept that pace and did the next mile in 5:51. But it was slightly uphill and took a lot out of me. Looking at my watch at the 5k point, I realised I smashed my PB for that distance with 17:58.

“The first 6k of the course is on mildly undulating roads and the last 4k is on the Goodwood motor racing circuit, with the end, fittingly enough, being on the Finishing Straight. On entering the track I’d developed a stitch and was worried that I was going to start being overtaken.

“I finished my fourth mile in 5:58 but held my position. The next mile was painful. I had slowed to 6:02 with a chasing pack closing me down, so it was time to put Phil’s words at the dance into action.

“I managed to get back to 5:56 for the last mile and pushed with everything I had left for the rest of the race at 5:32 pace to finish in 36:39, a PB by one minute and 19 seconds.

“I knew I’d run the fastest I’d ever run… but was it enough? I saw the results being pinned to a board near the finish and looked to see how many had beaten me. THIRD MV55! Beyond all expectations I’d done it and now I’ll be wearing the coveted England top. Onwards and, hopefully, upwards.”

Quick to congratulate the Roadrunners’ latest international, captain Phil Reay said: “I first met Brian at an awards ceremony four years ago where he was collecting several gongs. He’s been stockpiling age category awards ever since.

“He’s a regular scorer for the club at team events and I’m delighted all his hard work has resulted in an England vest.”

The first seven men home in the Chichester Priory 10k all broke 30 minutes, with William Mycroft, of the Enfield and Haringey club, taking the win in 29:32.

The women’s title went to former Olympian and regular Diamond League star Steph Twell in 33:17.

Brian will become the third Roadrunner to wear an England vest in the last year after Caroline Hoskins (above) represented her country at the 10k distance last May and Jane Davies (left) did so in the Chester Marathon in October.

Several more Roadrunners will be chasing England Age Group Masters honours in the Fleet Half Marathon on March 17th.

Running up that hill? It doesn’t hurt me, say gutsy Roadrunners

MANAGER, competitor and blogger SAM WHALLEY reports on a super performance by Roadrunners at the iconic Parliament Hill Fields course…

A WHOPPING team of 35 Reading Roadrunners travelled to Hampstead Heath, London, for the South of England AA Cross Country Championships. Many had heard so much about this event, with its epic uphill start, that they just had to come and see for themselves.

The majority of us travelled by team coach, but our youngest runners were among those who made the journey independently. As we made our way across the site to set up our base, we were just in time to catch a glimpse of our Under 17 runner, James Rennie, doing battle over the 6k course. 

It is not easy being the only runner for a club, so our unexpected cheers were welcome. James  (right) went on to finish 76th out of 230 – an excellent result.

Next up was Under 20 Katie Rennie, James’s sister. Having competed in the Hampshire League this season, Katie is well used to being part of the senior women’s races. In this championship, however, she was required to race separately, in what turned out to be an incredibly small field of only 69 young women. 

Despite carrying a recent injury, Katie (left) had a strong race and was determined not to be last, which she wasn’t. No doubt she will feel much more at home with the senior women next time. Well done, Katie!

Ten of us made up the senior women’s team, a mixture of regulars and newcomers, with some a little anxious about what lay ahead. 

We all expected Gemma Buley to be first back, but I could tell that she was having an exceptional race when I saw her on a part of the course where the front runners loop back; in four years of running this course, I have never seen a club member on this part of the route. 

Gemma (right) was delighted with 86th place, and a time seven minutes faster than over the same course at the Nationals last year. What an achievement!

Next in were Sarah Dooley (243rd), Marie-Louise Kertzman (394th) and Sarah Alsford (402nd), making up the scoring team. The women’s team was 39th out of 71 complete teams – not bad at all.

Pip White and Nicole Rickett finished within seconds of each other, and were followed by Liz Johnson, Beth Rudd, myself and Claire Seymour, with the entire women’s team home within 45 minutes. 

Claire and I were particularly chuffed that, for the first time, we didn’t miss the start of the men’s race… result! From the post-race chatter it was evident that every one of us had enjoyed the race, and there was even talk of investing in spikes for next season.

The men’s race prides itself on being the only XC championship race still run over the 15k distance. This fact, and its 90 minute cut-off, doesn’t seem to deter people from entering, and well over 1000 men lined up at the start.

First RR back was, of course, Rob Corney (left), in an incredible 36th place. Rob had hoped to improve upon his 78th place from last year’s Nationals, and he certainly did that. He didn’t find it easy though, and I must admit that the face I saw on the finishing straight was not the one I usually see as Rob cruises around local races; there was real effort here – well done, Rob!

Next in was Jack Gregory, making the top 100 in 96th, followed by Seb Briggs (170th), Chris Lucas (239th), David McCoy (the younger) in 245th, and Lance Nortcliff (361st).

Initial team results were incorrect, as an administrative error meant that some of our men were listed as ‘Reading Road Runners’ and some as ‘Reading RR’, and as such were not all counted as members of the same squad. 

When corrected our men were promoted from 23rd place to 22nd, out of 69 complete teams.

Andy Mutton and Grant ‘no parkrun in these legs’ Hopkins were next, finishing within the hour, with Chris Burt, Brian ‘not a thing left to give’ Kirsopp, Chris Buley, Calum ‘poker face’ Baugh, Robin Lomax, Brooke Johnson, Gary Tuttle, Ian Giggs, Mark Andrew, Bill Watson, David Caswell, Alan Freer, and the Peters – Reilly, Morris and Higgs – completing the team. 

Pete Morris impressed the younger members of the team, as a vet 60 with seemingly endless levels of energy and passion for running. Peter Higgs finished the race pain-free, but sadly also free of course markings, as it was all dismantled around him. Still, he gave it his all.

The day was summed up perfectly by Sarah Alsford: “If a race isn’t hard, how will you get to enjoy that runner’s high?” 

Same time next year, everyone?


Pictures: Peter Reilly and Pete Morris.

Bloody hero Dave in stitches as Rob and Gemma sew up wins

ANOTHER huge turn-out of Roadrunners was rewarded with two individual triumphs at the latest TVXC race. Once again ladies captain Sam Whalley reports from the front line…

IT WAS a cold but sunny day that brought 64 green-vested Reading Roadrunners, and one guest, to Tadley for the penultimate race of the Thames Valley Cross Country League season… a pleasant improvement on the snow we had experienced there last year.

We had a number of first timers — Brooke Johnson, David Clay, Samuel Alsford, Renée Whalley, Bryan Curtayne, Oliver Watts, Katherine Foley, Liz Johnson and, somehow, Lynda Haskins, who, for the first time ever, had found herself with a free Sunday. 

It was a dramatic debut by David, who bravely finished the race with blood pouring from his knee, an injury (right) which required seven stitches at the A&E.

David hopes to make a full recovery in time to resume plenty of training for his big spring target, the Hamburg Marathon on  April 28th.

Back at the race, some green vests had been borrowed, and Tina Woffington was so excited to be participating in her first TVXC of the season that she had forgotten her £3 entry fee and had to have a whip-round.

The Tadley course is not a great one for spectators, giving only really one spot close enough to the start/finish area that is wide enough for people to congregate, and even that is a hilly trek. Still it was nice to hear the cheers of our supporters, especially on that tough second lap. 

The lack of mud, due to the recent dry weather, and the resurfacing of the usually ankle-deep bridleway, did not seem to make the course less energy-sapping, and XC spikes were a definite advantage on the hills. At least it is one of the shorter courses. 

Team results are still being processed, but we can delight in the fact that both the first man and first woman were in green — whoop! 

Rob Corney is used to winning races, and was wondering who he could be running with; it can be pretty lonely out at the front, apparently. 

Gemma Buley played down her first TVXC win by saying that some of her usual competitors weren’t there. Smiley photographic evidence would also suggest that Gemma just had a great run.

Scoring for the men, then, were Rob, Mark Apsey, Brian Kirsopp (vet), Chris Burt, Robin Lomax, and Richard Usher (vet). Mark claimed he had not raced well, but fifth place is not so shabby.

I think it’s time we all started having whatever Brian is having for breakfast; he has to be one of our most in-form runners at the moment.

The women’s scoring team was made up of Gemma, second-claimer Renée Whalley, and regular vet scorers Mary Janssen and Lesley Whiley. 

Sixteen-year-old Renée (left), being used to running the 4-5k races of the Hampshire League and other championship races, was pleased to find herself well in the mix with the senior men, despite the longer distance of 5.3 miles.


Pictures: Chris Drew, Pete Morris, Ashley Middlewick. Chris’s Flickr album from the race can be viewed at

Champs Roadrunners celebrate new kid on the block Rennie

LADIES’ captain Sam Whalley reports from the Berkshire Cross Country Championships, another proud day of success for the club…

TWENTY-FIVE Reading Roadrunners were entered into the Berkshire Championships and although this is a team selection race for the inter-counties XC championship, held in Loughborough in March, it is also a good opportunity to try to pick up some team prizes.

St Andrew’s School in Pangbourne was the venue. This is not one which is familiar to me, so I was unable to advise on whether it would be grassy, hilly or otherwise. However, the organisers suggested that trail shoes might have been preferable to spikes, given certain stretches of the course.

It was, it turned out, a course of two halves: flat playing fields which led to woodland, with twists, turns, tree roots and plenty of undulations.

First up, for a change, were the senior and vet men. The under 20 men were also in this race, but were able to duck out after 9k (3.5 laps), while the more grown-up men continued for a total of 4.5 laps, and a total distance of 12k.

For the past six years, this race had been won by the same person — Alex Tovey from Birchfield Harriers — and this year was to be no different.

He did, however, have Rob Corney on his heels this year, and they seemed to switch places throughout the race, with Rob eventually a fantastic second, a place up on his position last year.

I was sure to give the Reading AC man who shook hands with Rob at the prize-giving a hard stare; I do hope Rob decides to stay with us (we do have brownies, after all), and that the incoming chairperson will seek to offer our high-performing athletes the expert coaching and support they make be seeking elsewhere.

I’ll step down from my soapbox to say that the next Roadrunner to finish was Mark Apsey, who, having been selected for Berkshire as a reserve last year, was determined to earn an automatic qualifying position this time, and he did just that, with a really strong run, and fifth place. Jack Gregory was next in, followed by Mark Worringham, who managed to equal his second vet placing from last year, this time beaten by Newbury’s James Craggs, who also took individual gold at the BBO XC champs in November.

These championships are ones where a male is considered to be a veteran at the age of 35, rather than 40, and consequently most of our male vets find themselves in competition with different people.

Completing the seniors’ scoring team of six were Chris Lucas, David McCoy and Ashley Middlewick. Ashley had had us all worried when he volunteered to marshal at Woodley junior parkrun before the race. A great thing to do, by the way, but on race day?

We needn’t have worried, as he managed to arrive in good time, even if he was still standing around in tracksuit bottoms and coat four minutes before the start. Talk about making me tense.

Ashley, and the others, all ran excellently, and the seniors team was awarded the overall trophy, for the first time since the 2009/10 season, with 58 points to Newbury’s 83.

Chris Burt was next to finish, having had a brilliant run. We would have also expected Lance Nortcliff to be in the mix by this point, but on lap two he had twisted his ankle in the woods, and was unable to finish the race.

It was Ben Whalley, then, who finished as second vet scorer for the team, much to his own surprise. In fact, having flown home from a two-week work trip to the USA four days before the race, and nursing an iffy knee, Ben was far from confident in his ability.

This was worsened by a frantic search for his wallet on the morning of the race, and stepping in something revolting. A warm-up jog with chef Apsey was ordered, and a chat about the best way to cook a Christmas goose seemed to get his head in the right place.

Andy Blenkinsop was next Roadrunner vet to finish, followed by Brian Kirsopp, this year having entered in the correct age category (although thankfully they have changed the system and it is not possible to mistakenly select the incorrect one). The vets team was therefore second, after Newbury AC.

Pete Jewell, Grant Hopkins and Andrew Smith were not far behind, the latter struggling with a knee issue. Grant and fellow championship newcomer Chris Burt had been a little alarmed by the speed and competitiveness at the front end of the field, but nevertheless both managed to record 10k PBs during the race.

Tim Grant, David Caswell, Bryan Curtayne and Nick Adley were the remaining vets in the team, and the vets B team was fourth. What a great club this is, to be able to field two complete vet teams!

The women’s race followed, with an incredibly small field of only 12 seniors, 10 vets, and six under 20s, with the youngsters completing two full laps to the others’ three.

We had only entered one senior woman for this race, Chantal Percival, but unfortunately she injured her ankle the day before, and was unable to compete. Fingers crossed that her third place finish at the recent BBO championship will be enough to earn her a Berkshire vest.

Our vet women, then, were our only medal hopes… no pressure! As Pete Jewell gave them the lowdown on the best places to run throughout the course, both for efficiency and injury avoidance (this is a real benefit of running separate male and female races) I did tell them that we needed four to score… again, no pressure!

The race was won by Bracknell’s Amelia Quirk, who you might have seen on TV last week, representing Great Britain in the Euro cross country championships. You could say the standard was high, and we were missing some of our usual top performers, due to injury.

First Roadrunner home, as expected, was Helen Pool, as fifth vet, with Nicole Rickett having a great run in seventh. Lesley Whiley ran her usual, strong, ‘start slowly and pick them off’ race, and was ninth, while Susan Knight tried to keep her in her sights, and was tenth.

By my calculations (actual maths), the vet women’s team was second to Newbury’s first. When it came to the actual prize-giving, though, it was announced that there was only one complete team.

An inquiry found that Lesley was missing from the results, and a further investigation revealed that men’s captain Phil Reay had given her Chantal’s race number, and no one had noticed that it began with a 4 rather than an 8. Honestly, give a man a job!

Fortunately (for Phil), the Berkshire Athletics people were in a very good mood, and it was all sorted, with the women receiving their silver medals, the same as last year. Great result!

Normally this would be where my report ends, but on this occasion we also had an under 17 male running later in the day.

James Rennie wasn’t sure how he would do in the 5k race, knowing what a competitive field it was. However, he started off in around tenth place, and ran an extremely well-paced race, finishing an incredible fourth. This earned James an automatic place in the inter-counties — well done!

We will have to wait to find out which of our other athletes will be selected for Berkshire. Full results from the championships are here:

Pictures: Peter Reilly and Phil Reay

Golden girl! Here’s why we all love the amazing Jane Davies

LADIES captain Sam Whalley has once again been competing on the XC circuit and then scribbling from the Press Box. Here she files on another golden day for the Roadrunners…

AFTER he won junior gold in the European Cross-Country Championships, Jakob Ingebrigtsen said: “It was a tough race. I have never done anything like this before, and it’s fun to compete in these conditions.”

Conditions? Well it was raining a bit. But tough? The young Norwegian would find more than a few twists and a couple of logs in Prospect Park or Parliament Hill, or even at Horspath in Oxford, venue once again for the SEAA Masters XC Championships.

I bet he hadn’t had to erect and dismantle an event shelter in gale force winds either. (How many Reading Roadrunners does it take to put up a tent on a windy day? As many as you’ve got. This was seriously one of the hardest things I’d had to do all year).

Anyway, there are some of us who love racing in these championships. There is something appealing about being in a race where everyone is over 40. The chance of getting lapped is lower, for one thing.

For others, though, this is just one race too many in a busy competition calendar, and with December already busy for most people, we did not manage to field full teams in all of the age categories, which was a shame.

We were also missing a couple of runners on the day, with Sarah Dooley and Jim Kiddie having picked up injuries the previous week. Thank you, Sarah, for coming to support us anyway — so nice of you!

As part of my recruitment campaign, I had billed this as one of the flattest courses we run. I did half-heartedly look for a course map when I arrived, but assumed it was probably unchanged.

Oops! After we crossed the first field, we were shown right instead of left. Something was amiss — we were heading towards the hilly woods! One and a half laps of the hilly woods, in fact; I felt bad for those running the race for the first time.

“This is a completely different course,” I said to Nicola Gillard as we climbed the first hill, so she would know I hadn’t deliberately misled her. We now knew something about the course that the men would run too, although they were to do an extra lap, with 10k to our 6k.

XC stalwart Cecilia Csemiczky said afterwards that she preferred the course; negotiating woodland, grass, ups and downs made for a more interesting race, with some runners less strong on the technical parts. It was certainly less straightforward than in recent years, and I was pleased to be able to take advantage of a close competitor taking a wrong turn. I did call her back. Honest…

On to the results, then. In this race, there are overall individual results, then individual results in both five-year and ten-year age categories, along with overall team results, and team results in each ten-year age category. Got all that?

I usually report results in the order that the races occurred, but there was no bling to be had there, and we want a big finale.

Suffice to say, there were 225 men in the race, and the scoring team of Peter Aked, Mark Andrew and Tim Grant was 25th. These were all over-50s runners though, and they fared better among the over-50s, being 18th team. Colin Cottell and David Fiddes, the latter having just recovered from a cold, completed the over 50s team.

Bryan Curtayne was our only over-40 runner, although he seems to be missing from the results at the moment, while Alan Freer and Andy Atkinson had good runs for the over-60s, with Alan in 20th place, out of more than 50 over-60s runners. This is a championship for the whole of the south of England, don’t forget. Well done, everyone!

It was the women who really shone this year, though. There were 125 in our race, with overall scorers Jane Davies, Helen Pool and Angela Burley bringing the scoring team home in seventh.

Two of these were over-40s, with Helen being 17th over-40 out of 49, but they needed one more to score for their over-40s team. That was me, and that team was sixth. Nicola Gillard and Claire Seymour ran well, and completed the over-40s.

We only had one over 50s runner, Susan Knight — who is continuing her excellent form. Well done to you all, and hope to see you in the mud again soon.

I’ve saved the best — over-60s women — until last. Dubbing themselves A Hare and Three Tortoises, the team was made up of the superfast Jane Davies, new marathoner Liz Atkinson, ultrarunner Kathy Tytler, and regular Cecilia Csemiczky, who has begun to feel a bit hard done by as an over-70 with no over-70s category to run in.

In recent years, however, the women in this age category have either picked up team medals, or almost picked them up, missing out by only a point or two. We knew then, that with the just-turned-60 Jane on board, their chance of a team prize was high. And we were right, as they collected the team bronze, a great result!

Even better though, and a surprise even to herself, Jane proved that she was the fastest over-60s female in the south, with an individual gold medal.

We have said it would be useful in these races to have numbers on our backs as well as fronts, and this is why — Jane was 27th overall, but obviously did not know the age categories of those ahead of her.

As captain I could not be prouder of this amazing woman, and hope it is the first of many over-60s awards to come. She and the rest of the team are an inspiration to us all. Again, well done, and thank you for making time to run for the club.

Pictures: Andy Atkinson, Sam Whalley


When King David reigned in Spain with great feat of Clay

ON a weekend when most Roadrunners were wallowing in cross-country mud, three of our club-mates were competing in sunny Spain. One of them, Liz Johnson, has sent us this report from the Valencia Marathon, where David Clay produced a stunning personal best…

RUNNING a marathon isn’t easy. Many people train for months to be at their best on the day (you crazy 100 Clubbers aside) so if you have a marathon booked in for early December it is maybe not textbook training to have completed another marathon six weeks before, Matthew Brown, or tackled Ironman Wales in September, David Clay…

Anyway, that was the situation Matthew and David put themselves in before the Valencia Marathon.


I, being a bit of a magpie and liking all things shiny, was a tad more sensible and satisfied my need for race bling by entering the Valencia 10k, which takes place at the same time. It also allowed me to return to my previous calling of professional marathon support/cheer crew.

Nestled on the eastern coast of Spain, Valencia is a compact, and flat, city that is an eclectic mix of old and new. The temperatures in early December are a balmy 18 degrees and it’s sunny. Perfect running conditions.

The temptation of some winter sun was too much and we all assembled in the city a few days before the race. This allowed some acclimatisation, paella eating, tourism (we saw the ‘Holy Grail’ and an exhibition on Mars where David managed to slightly concuss himself on a holographic Martian), and some gentle warm-up runs through a long, narrow park that surrounds the north-eastern edge of the city centre in what was once a riverbed – pretty cool.

The Expo was well organised although not huge compared to some of the bigger city marathons. What was a pleasant surprise was the reasonably priced merchandise! Sponsored by the Spanish brand Luanvi, we all picked up some nice little long-sleeved training tops for 15 euros – bargain!

On race day morning, we gathered for the customary breakfast of porridge. The race was due to start at 8.30am so, being cautious, we agreed that we would be at the bus stop to take us to the start line before 7am. Given that David usually turns up to things ten minutes after they’ve started this seemed like a sensible plan.

The marathon handbook assured us that extra buses would run to accommodate us all. I think the Spanish definition of ‘extra’ is somewhat different to the expectations of three eager Brits!

The first bus to arrive was absolutely packed and hardly anyone at our stop got on it. We shuffled expectantly along the pavement waiting for the stream of extra buses. Fifteen minutes later we were still waiting and beginning to get nervous.

We then decided to try the metro, which would involve a 20-minute walk at the other end but we wanted to feel like we were doing something. This too was a fruitless task and 20 minutes later we were back in the ever-lengthening bus queue.

After what seemed like ages (it was now 7.50am we managed to all squeeze on to a bus, with David wedged between a seat and a luggage rack. Not ideal pre-race prep but we made it to the start with minutes to spare.

The 10k route was really congested and due to the lateness of my arrival I found myself quite near the back and having to contend with people walking before the 1km marker. I had hoped for a PB but doing the first km 40 seconds slower than I needed to be doing soon put paid to that hope. It was a nice route though that took in the old town and I finished strongly (another negative split) in 48:58.

My next task was to get out on the course to support Matthew and David (after getting my medal engraved, obviously).

I was aiming to see them at around 16/17km and again at 25/26km mark as the loops of the course meant it was a short walk for me.

On my way there I managed to spot the elite field sprint past. The men’s race would eventually be won by Leul Aleme in a super speedy 2:04:31 and the women’s race by Ashete Dido in an impressive 2:21:14. I managed to obtain a high-five off David and a wave from Matthew as they went past. Spotting duties then fell to David’s partner Becci at 30 and 39km.

While we were out on the course, there were many back at home on the tracking app and WhatsApp eagerly watching and wondering whether David’s surge of pace half-way through was sensible. He later agreed it wasn’t

David and Matthew both had different goals and reasons for running Valencia. David wanted to banish the demons of a very hot London 2018 where he felt he hadn’t run to the best of his abilities, while Matthew wanted to enjoy a more controlled marathon than Amsterdam. It’s safe to say they both smashed it.

David casually knocked a whopping 55 minutes off his London time, reducing his PB from 4:19:09 to 3:23:55, although he very much looked like he wanted it to be over 400m from the finish line.

I am now slightly peeved that I can’t rib him any more about me having a sub-4hr time and him not, but seeing all his hard work and training over the summer and autumn pay off just about makes it all right… just.

Matthew, on the other hand, finished the marathon with a big smile on his face only six minutes outside his Amsterdam time in 4:04:54. He also claimed to feel only ‘slightly achy’ in the hours after the race, much to a nearly crippled David’s disgruntlement.

Matthew really enjoyed the course with a lot of it run on wide, uncongested boulevards. It was very much a ‘city’ marathon with great scenery and, apart from near the beginning, the public support was loud and sometimes deafening. The finish line, built over water, was a stunning way to end. Definitely a race he would recommend.

At the end of the race, when he was a bit unsteady on his feet, David was quickly attended to by the medical helpers (nothing serious, just a bit tired and nothing a little sit down couldn’t cure). It was everything you would expect from an IAAF Gold event and the medal was top notch. The added bonus was being able to recover on the beach in December.

The day was rounded off with champagne, tiny sandwiches, and more champagne. All in all, a pretty successful trip and we will reconvene, with a few other Roadrunners, to do it all again in Berlin next September. Can’t wait!

Big Ben strikes as Roadrunners are really flying at the airfield

NOT content with battling through the cross-country leagues on two consecutive days at the weekend and managing our teams, Roadrunners’ ladies’ captain Sam Whalley has also penned an in-depth report on the action…

THERE seemed to be very unwelcome pattern emerging as I made my way to Popham for the third Hampshire League fixture of the season, and the final one of 2018… rain.

Lessons had been learned in Aldershot last month, and we were not taking any chances this time. Rumour had it that Mark Apsey had packed his entire wardrobe, Gemma Buley was prepared for every eventuality, and I was not the only one to have also included spare underwear in my kit bag. Too much information, I realise.

Fortunately, by the time of the women’s race, the rain had ceased and we were just left with a headwind to contend with. The windsock at Popham Airfield is certainly always flying very well.

For those who haven’t yet braved this course, it is essentially made up of zigzags through two fields, with a short steep up and immediately back down, and a short uphill stretch through some woods. Oh, and the bits through the fields are long, gradual hills, in both directions. Two full laps for the women, and 3.5 for the men. Lucky them!

A few of our usual best performers were missing, due to injury and other events, but a team of eight women was a turn-out to be proud of, and although we knew we would not score as well as usual, we were all ready to give it our best. For me, this always means trying to catch the person in front, especially if they are over 35.

The race was won by Melanie Wilkins of Winchester. First Roadrunner home was Gemma Buley, trialling some new spikes, in 17th (out of 165) followed by the first of our vets, Helen Pool (41st, and 11th vet, but, to her annoyance, just behind her Reading AC rival, Sue Francis), and then Nicole Rickett (80th, and 37th vet).This gave the senior women’s team 12th place.

Under 20 Katie Rennie was next (19th U20), but we needed a third vet scorer, and this was to be me (51st vet). The vet women’s team finished ninth. Next to finish were Claire Seymour and Hampshire League debutante Alex Bennell, who, having watched her son race at these fixtures many times, wanted to try it for herself. Cecilia Csemiczky completed the team, following a battle with a friendly rival from Victory.

Every one of us felt we had run well, and were initially disappointed with the Strava ‘trending slower’ comparisons to times from previous years. The consensus in the end was that this year’s course was indeed slightly longer – phew.

In the men’s race we were truly spoiled with a team of 15. We are so used to see Rob Corney winning races that it was no surprise to see him well in the mix at the head of the field, placing between third and fifth throughout the race. It was eventually run by Aldershot’s Ellis Cross, with Rob an excellent fifth (out of 268), followed by Mark Apsey, in 14th.

Next came the first of the supervets, Ben Paviour (18th and second vet), and Mark Worringham (22nd and third vet), the latter apparently not running well at the moment. I beg to differ. Jack Gregory (34th) completed the scoring team. The senior men’s team were third, which was a fantastic result.

A third vet runner was needed to complete the vet men’s team, and it was Lance Nortcliff who did the honours, in 43rd (eighth vet). This meant the vet men’s team finished a fabulous first, and are top of the leaderboard, on aggregate. David McCoy, the younger, was next in, followed by another couple of vets, Andrew Smith and Pete Jewell.

Matt Davies was right behind, and I was pleased to see he had come back for more, after the Aldershot experience. Next were Mark Dibben, a Hampshire League newbie, and Chris Buley, with David Walkley, Alan Williamson and Nick Adley completing the team.

With two matches to go, current standings in the league are: senior women joint ninth, vet women seventh, senior men sixth and vet men first.

Thank you and well done to everyone who has participated in the league so far. The next race will be in Prospect Park, Reading on Saturday, January 12th. Why not give it a go?

With such a cracking turn-out in the Hampshire League, we were in serious doubt as to how the club would fare in the TVXC fixture at Handy Cross the following day. Rewind to the previous weekend, when Reading Roadrunners had triumphed in the TVXC race at Sandhurst.

The mixture of mud, grass, hills and woodland here is a perfect mix of cross-country terrains. It was also, apparently, suitable for spikes, now that there was a detour around the tarmac path from last year.

Rob Corney, David McCoy, Stephen Ridley, Brendan Morris, and vets, Fergal Donnelly and Andy Blenkinsop, brought the men’s team home in second place, while Chantal Percival, Gemma Buley, Sarah McDade and Mary Janssen (vet) took first place for the women, with Chantal first female overall for the second time this season.

The huge turn-out of 73 Roadrunners kept the other teams at bay, and the club finished joint first… an excellent result.

Back to Handy Cross…. this course is a different beast altogether. The mud is muddier, the woodland more twisty, and the hills, yep, more hilly. Running this race a day after Popham, I realised, was tough. Especially after two months out with a glute injury. Glute strength was very much required for Handy Cross.

I was not the only one to be doing the XC double; Nicole Rickett, Gemma and Chris Buley, David McCoy and Matt Davies were also as foolish as I was, while some others who had raced at Popham were taking on (and conquering) the multi-terrain Mapledurham 10k and 10-mile races.

In contrast to Sandhurst, it was a smaller contingent of 43 Roadrunners and guests who braved Handy Cross. David McCoy, Fergal Donnelly (vet), Calum Baugh, Chris Burt, Paddy Hayes and Richard Usher (vet) made up the scoring men’s team and they finished fourth, after Fergal was forced to, almost literally, crawl around on the floor of the food tent in search of his dropped position token.

Chantal Percival was first female yet again – amazing! – with Gemma Buley, and vets Mary Janssen and Nicole Rickett completing the scorers.

The women’s team was third, which meant that the overall team placing was second. Well done to everyone who ran – it is much appreciated. My husband didn’t run, as he was in the USA, but I’m pleased to say his vest got a good run out; I hate to see a new club member without kit!

With two fixtures to go, Reading Roadrunners are in second place overall. The next race will be a mudfest hosted by Tadley Runners, on Sunday, 20th January. Let’s all go!

Pictures: Matt Fowler Photography, Nicole Rickett, Gemma Buley, Sam Whalley.

Results links:

Hampshire League women:
Handy Cross:

Freer we go again as Alan leads the Roadrunners gold rush

GREEN VESTS dominated proceedings at the Berkshire Road Running Championships presentations at Bracknell.

Although Roadrunners are encouraged not to indulge in triumphalism at times like this I’m afraid there was an air of …er, well, triumphalism.

That’s because we took home two of the four men’s trophies up for grabs, thanks to Rob Corney and Alan Freer, as well as four of the end-of-season runners-up awards, through Pete Jewell, Alex Harris, Andy Atkinson and myself.

Our ladies also bagged four medals for the four events which constitute the 2018 season, thanks to Gemma Buley, Helen Pool, Paloma Crayford and Helen Dixon.

Alan (MV60) and Rob (senior men) had completed a clean sweep of victories in all four rounds of the competition – the Wokingham Half Marathon, Maidenhead 10, Marlow 5 and Woodley 10k.

Alan has pledged to try to repeat his all-gold feat next season, and is one of several senior Roadrunners considering making a tilt at the England Age Group Masters team through the Fleet Half Marathon qualifying race in March.

Alex Harris had to be satisfied with silver despite beating the eventual M50 champion, Wayne Lillis of Newbury, in all three of the races where they clashed. Similarly, Gemma was denied a nailed-on  champions trophy when she missed the 10k race to support her husband, Chris, at the Brighton Marathon.

Ladies captain Sam Whalley was left to sort out and distribute a huge trawl of gold, silver and bronze medals won by Roadrunners throughout the season.

Our other medallists during the season were Stephen Ridley, Ben Whalley, Lesley Whiley, Erica Key, Sarah Dooley, Sally Carpenter, Sarah Bate, Mary Janssen and Susan Knight.

Sam (right) was too modest to mention that she had also won a medal herself. But she said: “I would like to congratulate everyone who won a medal or trophy. 

“It really is worth entering this championship; it’s just unfortunate that the entry isn’t automatic when you enter one of its races. I did my best to remind everyone before each event this year, so I hope these wins will inspire even more of our members to enter when the time comes.”

Men’s captain Phil Reay said: “The club has won several accolades in 2018 and it’s fantastic to see the trend continue with our haul of silverware in the Berkshire Athletics Road Running Championships.  

“Congratulations to all our medal winners and to Alan Freer and Rob Corney who won the overall championship in their age group. Winning the championship requires, speed, dedication and consistent performance over four distances… well done, gents.”

The county federation have announced the four fixtures which constitute their championship in 2019. These are:

February 28th: Wokingham Half Marathon.

April 19th: Maidenhead 10.

May 12th: Marlow 5.

August 11th: Burnham Beeches 10k.

The 10k event, a multi-terrain race, is a new fixture for next year and the date is unlikely to please runners who takes their holidays in August.

Similarly the Maidenhead 10 won’t suit everyone, coming as it does nine days before the London Marathon. When it was suggested that the Bramley 10 might be a better bet, that was pooh-poohed on the grounds that it was too close to the Wokingham race.

The Maidenhead-VLM clash will deter a few veterans but won’t bother the young superstars like Gemma, who has vowed to target both.

All details about the championships, which will include a new FV65 section in 2019, can be found at

Our golden oldies! Me and Mrs Jones, we got a thing going on

CAPTAIN Sam Whalley reveals the big decision she had to make which was crucial to Roadrunners’ ladies winning gold at the BBO Championships…

MY car thermometer read 6.5°C as I set off to the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Cross Country Championships. It was going to be a chilly one.

The venue was to be Newbury Showground, which, from my experience as a Berkshire Schools XC Championships spectator over the past few years, I knew to be pancake flat. Oh yes, apart from that hill they added in just for the day!

We needed a team of eight women for this fixture, and with only six interested parties a couple of days before the entries were due, I was prepared to put myself in the team, despite having little confidence in my post-injury ability.

Julie Rainbow stepped forward (yes!), and I was even more delighted to strike a deal with Bithja Jones (right); I would look after Bithja’s children while she ran. This made much more sense for the team.

We only had one senior woman in our team, and it was only one we needed. Chantal Percival, this time well aware of the 6k course distance (unlike at Datchet last weekend, where the 6k she expected was actually six miles) was right up with the elites on lap one, and only slipped back slightly by the finish.

Nevertheless, she still maintained an excellent third place overall, behind Anna Boniface of Reading AC and Jess Franklin of Newbury AC.

With Jess being an FV35, and with the strange way the prizes work at the BBO, this meant that Chantal was also given the prize for second senior woman. An excellent haul!

With no chance of a senior team prize (that went to Reading AC), our hopes were pinned on the vets, as we had managed third place last year.

First of our vet ladies was Bithja Jones (see, I knew it was best that I watched the children!), with Helen Pool and Julie Rainbow our second and third scorers.

Next in was Nicole Rickett, followed by Lesley Whiley, Susan Knight and Claire Seymour, with the latter having tried to distract herself from any running pain with thoughts of her sister, who was in labour at that time. All had enjoyed their runs, despite reports of a strong wind all around the course, and an extra 0.5k that shouldn’t have been there. I noticed that this extra 0.5k had disappeared from the under 17 men’s and women’s 6k race later in the day, when my daughters were running.

The prizegiving seemed to take a long time to arrive. As well as Chantal’s medals, we were really chuffed for Bithja, who collected the prize for second vet, and even more chuffed to pick up the shield for first vet team. Or we would have been, had the shield been returned by Reading AC in time for the competition!

The team scorers will have to be content with the tiniest medals in the world in the meantime. Oh yes, and they will need to provide their own ribbons too.

I am so proud of what the women’s team achieved today – well done to everyone who ran, and thank you for turning out for the team.

Fielding a team of 12 men during a busy racing year is always going to be a challenge, although last year it seemed slightly less so, with the fixture being local in Prospect Park. Next year it is our turn to host, so let’s see what happens then.

Six seniors were needed to score as a team, so with only three entered, it was left to the individuals to decide whether to run or not. David McCoy decided he would like nothing more than running 10k before his impending night shift, and we were pleased to have him on board.

Lap one, and DMC was first RR. Lap two, the same. But bring on the finish, and it was Lance Nortcliff who rounded the corner first, with David on his shoulder (left).

They tell me the race that ensued was planned, just to give me something to write about. Whatever, it was entertaining, with David just clinching the ‘win’ as Lance cheered him on.

Another two vets were needed to score, and it was Andrew Smith and Andy Blenkinsop who did the honours, having changed places during the final lap. Following them in were Pete Jewell, David Caswell, Alan Williamson, Peter Reilly, and, having fallen foul of misbehaving shoelaces, Chris Manton.

The senior prizes were picked up by a whole load of youngsters, so our hopes were again with the vets, with the vet men having won the shield for first team last year.

It is a strange phenomenon of the BBO and Berkshire championship races that a veteran man can be 35 or over, rather than 40, and so, with all of our vets over 40, we felt somewhat hard done by. Nevertheless, Lance picked up the medal for third vet, and the team was also able to claim third place – excellent!

Newbury AC, on the other hand, cleaned up with both the senior and vet men’s trophies. Well done to all of the men who contributed to the team today; it is much appreciated.

* Results now available at:

* Pictures: Peter Reilly and Bithja Jones. Our team pictures shows (from left): Susan Knight, Bithja Jones, Helen Pool, Chantal Percival, Claire Seymour, Julie Rainbow and Nicole Rickett.

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.