Helsinki & Tallinn Marathon Weekend 2019

Report by Paul Monaghan

The idea of running in two countries during one long weekend was just too good to miss. A flight to Helsinki, Finland, then do a parkrun followed by a boat trip to Tallinn, Estonia to run the Marathon. Caroline Jackson & myself Paul Monaghan did our research and this seemed easily possible. We put the feelers out on Facebook and on website about 6 months before Marathon to see who’d be interested
As per usual we were joined by Pete ‘The Train’ Morris & Martin ‘Bushy’ Bush. Ian ‘IPL’ Giggs, Linda Wright & Kingsley R Stirling who also joined us for this trip.Flight to Helsinki was uneventful and we all checked into our hotels as per usual. A few tourists in Helsinki but not too over the top.

Prices were expensive as we’d predicted but transport was relatively cheap. So after some sightseeing (Helsinki Cathedral was stunning) we took a short boat trip on spec to a small island called Suomenlinna without a clue in the world what was there.

The island is basically an 18th century sea fortress. Many soldiers were walking around the island on parade which was quite amusing. Anyway we spotted an old brewery which seemed vaguely interesting so we decided to visit and sample the goods. It was here we read on our phones the devastating news ‘Tokoinranta, Helsinki parkrun cancelled’ to say we were devastated was an understatement. The other closest parkrun was over 100 miles away but we had to catch a boat at 1:30 to follow. We decided it wasn’t worth the risk so we’d just do the marathon, Well all besides IPL Ian Giggs that is (See my other article IPL Giggsy).

Helsinki was not bad for restaurants even if slightly on the extensive side so we eventually found a great place overlooking the central square. Two of our crowd I won’t mention decided they’d go culturally overboard and dig out a McDonalds to eat. I mean why eat at a nice restaurant in Helsinki when there’s a Big Mac & fries on offer that’s not going to eat itself? Luckily they redeemed themselves by suggesting Hard Rock for drinks later on 😊

Boat trip was great the next day. We thought it would be a small boat but we actually had a 10 deck cruise ship. A love boat trips so this was a great adventure. Bushy was in his element as there was a full-size souvenir shop on board. Never really been one for long cruises but this was great fun. Giggsy was weighing how many laps around the boat would be a parkrun.

After leaving the boat at Tallinn Pete Morris was on a mission to do the 10K also so he dragged Bushy along ahead to the hotel well ahead of us. There were entries on the day so both managed to enter along with Kingsley who’d booked it in advance. We had to wade through the 10K runners to get to the expo but the atmosphere was electric and it was a sunny day and besides it was only a short walk from the hotel.. What a stunning old town this was, even the authentic costumed cheer leaders were giving it loads at the start. We were hoping the weather would be this good for the marathon the following day. We sat at an outside bar near the 10K finish and soaked up the atmosphere. We finally had time to appreciate hotel later. It looked like it had come straight from an Agatha Christie novel; complete with 30s Art Deco décor and an ancient metal cage lift which I just loved.

During the evening finding somewhere to eat proved slightly problematic. It was Caroline’s pre birthday meal so we decided to try and find somewhere nice. Bushy & Pete are quite happy with British style burger bar so we left them to it. The other’s also managed to find a great place.

We eventually settled for a cracking Italian restaurant which was bathed in dim lights on the outside terrace. Was similar to the kind of places where we ate in Verona. This was a top notch place without having to trade in your jewellery for a decent bottle of vino and a nice meal.

We met the others later on in the local Depeche Mode bar. I’m a big fan so loved this place. All drinks & cocktails named after Depeche mode songs as well as their music constantly playing. I’m surprised this idea has not spread to other cities. A ‘Steps’ Bar anyone? J

It was race morning and also Caroline’s birthday. Last year she had her birthday in Bordeux, France as we had the Medoc marathon and this year she’d be running one also. Hey who wants an easy day anyway? How many birthdays do we forget? Or should I say would rather forget. The hotel had laid on breakfast at 7 and we were next to the start so we could relax and not have to rush and find toilets etc for a change.

Kingsley & Linda were doing the ½ so they started later but for the rest of us it was the obligatory pics at the start.

The Marathon starts at Viru Gate which was part of the defence system of Tallinn City that was built in the 14th century. I doubt if they had marathons in the 14th century but if they did they may not have appreciated as much as we did, Was an amazing view looking at the gate towers though the electrifying atmosphere as the race got under way.

Did I spot TV cameras? Oh no they’d worked out #TeamJackMon were in town or rather they’d latched on that Bushy had ran over a 1000 marathons and wanted to catch him before he wandered into a souvenir shop en-route.


It was a great start as we circled around the old town before heading off into the country. There were a few bands on route which added to the atmosphere. Some of these smaller marathons have more entertainment along the course than the so-called Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons but don’t really advertise it. One thing about this course that sticks in my mind is we ran about 2k through a zoo. All was fine until we ran past a cage were an angry looking bear was rattling on the bars of the cage. Felt sorry for the poor animal locked up. Friendly marshals & aid stations were plentiful on this virtually flat scenic course so it’s definitely one I’d recommend.

These marathons don’t get an easier whether it’s home or abroad. All are 26.2 miles so sometimes it’s just the thought of a beer at the end and a decent after party that keeps you going. I’m baffled why we keep running them but at a push I’d say it’s the traveling & the people that keep us focused. Believe me it’s sometimes difficult to stay motivated so always a good idea to vary the location. Anyway we finally crossed the finish line and the birthday girl had managed to beat me and everyone else in our crew for that matter ‘I’ve had enough of marathons’ were her famous words uttered for the umpteenth time as a bottle of water and flyer for next year was trust in her hand. Crowd support at the end was great.

Talking of after parties we resigned ourselves to all meeting for a beer at local bar near hotel after the race. As I get slightly bored in one place we decided to take a trip to baggage to find other runners whilst Caroline & I waited for the rest. We stumbled upon free food & (alcoholic) drink which we were not aware of. Runners from all over Europe were there including one German guy who’d ran over 1,500 marathons. We just had to get a pic of him & Bushy. I’ll just say that this could well be the best after race party we’ve attended though there’s some stiff competition from Rome, Paphos, Liverpool & Lanzarote to name but a few. Caroline even ended up pouring beers for other runners. Well it was her birthday.

As always, time is never on our side but after a quick break we were out again in the evening. You may have gathered Caroline & I enjoy authentic places and try to avoid British & Irish bars like the plague. To be fair the others were up to this also.  The bunch of us along with Linda’s new friend Julia found what was called ‘The Oldest Bar in Tallinn’ which was a down stairs basement. Hang on, had I just stepped out of the Tardis? We seemed to have been transported 400 years back in time. The Karja Kelder had vaulted ceilings & dim lights and stressed out staff trying to cope with demanding 21st century customers. They even sold pigs ears here. Anyway this was great fun especially as we had 2 people amongst us who couldn’t cope with anything besides basic food. After about 10 menu changes we eventually settled down to some great beer & food. Linda’s new friend Julia seemed to find us all entertaining and immediately signed up to do another marathon abroad. Malaga anyone? I never realised we were all a travelling cabaret act but if it gets people running & healthy then it’s fine by me. Guess we could start charging for live Bushy & Pete Morris arguments. Surely there’s a market for that? On this occasion they did it for free and it turned out a great evening. Guess there was only the birthday cake missing. As you may have guessed we were the last people out in Tallinn.

All good thigs must come to an end so the next day it was a case of Caroline & I cramming in as many sights as possible. We fought our way through hordes of stick carrying tourists to visit Freedom Square, Maidens Tower, Toompea Castle and the excellent St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral before finally heading to the boat port to catch to floating hotel back to Helsinki and then our flight home.

All in all, a great trip with great pals. Marathons abroad can be difficult especially in scorching hot weather (though I must admit to secretly enjoying the pain). But as always the excuse to meet more like minded people and experience a different country & culture is an absolute bonus. Next port of call Palma, Majorca Marathon in a couple of weeks. As always, anyone who wants to join us or other roadrunners on a running jaunt abroad then give us a shout on Facebook or visit Runners on the Road on our website.



Worringham makes his Mark with marathon PB in Germany

STAND-OUT Roadrunners’ performance of another hectic weekend of racing was a personal best of two hours 30mins 59secs by Mark Worringham at the Frankfurt Marathon.

The club’s former men’s captain slashed nearly two minutes off his previous best, finishing in 110th place.

“I’ve mixed feelings to be honest,” said Mark. “I really felt in the shape to go under 2:30, but at the same time it’s a decent PB and the 2:30:59 is a whole lot better than the 2:31:00 that was on my watch!

“The hope was to get under 2:30 and then retire from competitive marathoning, so it looks like I will have to keep going.

“It was a more sensible first half than my last marathon at Brighton (1:14:20 v 1:13:30) and I still felt quite strong at 20 miles. At 22 miles sub 2:30 still looked likely, but the pace slipped further and further off, and at 24 I was really struggling.

“The last two miles must have been slow as hell, but at least I kept running, if it can be called that.”

Another Roadrunner racing abroad to finish a marathon with slightly mixed feelings was Magda Bennett, who ran 3hrs 45mins in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana.

Despite chopping seven minutes off her time on the same course four years ago, Magda had been hoping for something a little quicker.

“It was a classic case of being too ambitious,” she said. “I felt great in the first half, sticking to my plan of 7.50-8.00 min-mile pacing. Unfortunately the pace dipped at 12-13 miles and at 17 miles I was overtaken by the 3.30 pacer. 

“There was no way the body could move at 8-min miling at this stage. So, I felt it was game over. The heat was a struggle and I couldn’t take on enough water. It was the usual battle of will-power to get to the finish. And at the finish I couldn’t move another step.

“It’s a great course, but the cobbled street at mile 25 was cruel. Still it was a good for age and I was 11th in my age group, so I’m not disappointed.”

Once again Katherine Sargeant was in top form on the road, following up her superb time in Moscow last month with a PB in the Dublin Marathon. The Roadrunners coach ran 3:03:58 for what turned out to be another win in her age category and an improvement of 52 seconds on her time in London in April.

Katherine was originally placed second in the FV50s but the local girl provisionally awarded the prize was actually born in 1986!

Also celebrating with her again was Tony Streams, whose time of 3:19:08 was another new PB — by seven seconds.

Biggest PB among the Roadrunners athletes in Dublin was by Angela Burley, whose time of 3:46:02 was over 12 minutes better than her performance at this year’s VLM. There were also PBs for Carmen Fuentes-Vilchez, dipping just under four hours for the first time, and Calum Baugh with an impressive 3:16:10.

There was also a group of Roadrunners competing in Belgium (below), and the highlight of their trip was a second lady finish and PB by Helen Pool in the Ghent Half Marathon.

Despite this being her third ‘half’ in the space of four weeks, Helen won her age group by over seven minutes with a time of 1:32:02, an improvement by more than two and a half minutes. 

The weekend’s action had been kicked off on Saturday by the No.1 marathoner himself, Martin Bush, who completed his 1,059th race over the classic 26.2 miles distance at Beachy Head on Saturday.

Always a tough race, this one was run in foul conditions with a lot of rain and mud, and Bushy suffered a heavy fall.

It didn’t stop the great man finishing the course (time not yet confirmed) and it certainly won’t stop him running marathon No.1,060 at the iconic Cannes-Nice event next weekend.

Back closer to home yesterday, the 11th round of the club championship, the Rickmansworth 10, resulted in a gun-to-tape win for late entry David McCoy (below) in a superb time of 57mins 55secs. And, while the rest of the field were racing it out, the cheery Ulsterman confessed he was using the race as a training run for next weekend’s New York Marathon.

McCoy had already sewn up the senior men’s title in the club championship and yesterday’s fourth-place finisher, Chris Burt, has now secured the runners-up spot. Chris had to be satisfied with a PB of five minutes!

Another Roadrunner to achieve a personal best was 13th-place finisher Tony Page, and by doing so he pretty much cornered the market in PBs recently.

Since the start of September Tony has run PBs in the Swallowfield 10k, the Basingstoke Half Marathon, the Abingdon Marathon and now at 10 miles. Oh, and he threw in a parkrun PB for good measure.

Tony of course picked up 50 club champs points and Bryan Curtayne 49 to keep their positions at the top of the M40 group, with Chris Manton collecting 48. However, it was Clive Bate’s 47, which added an extra 11 points to his total, that now sees him in third place, with 192.

The men in the vet 50s category have been battling it out all year. David Fiddes’s 50 points took him to 196, but David Caswell’s 49 have seen him propelled to 198, and joint first in the table with Brian Kirsopp. Gary Clarke picked up 47 points.

The vet 60 men’s category remains unchanged, with Alan Freer (second in his age category for the race), and Joe Blair collecting their respective 50 and 49 points.

The vet 70 men’s category is now concluded, with David Dibben, who was first in his age category, adding a final 50 points to complete his wins at every race distance, and leaving Jim Kiddie in second.

First home among our ladies was Chantal Percival, who was third in the women’s race and confirmed afterwards that she will be available for the RR squad for the rest of the Hampshire Cross Country League season.

Today’s race had only vet 40 women contesting positions in their category. Suzanne Bate’s 50 points took her up to third in the table, while Gill Manton’s 49 saw her jump a few places, up to fifth.

The club champs roadshow culminates with the final fixture, the Mapledurham 10, on December 1st. This race incorporates the climb of the dreaded ‘Tourette’s Hill’, so good luck with that!

  • Thanks to Sam Whalley for supplementary reporting and John Bailey for the image from Belgium.

Smart Alex’s national service makes Roadrunners so proud

ON a day of many terrific Reading Roadrunners performances perhaps the stand-out was Alex Harris’s personal best of nearly seven minutes on his England debut in the age group masters international run in conjunction with the Yorkshire Marathon.

Alex ran 2hrs 49mins for fifth place in the M50 age group and ninth overall. “It was a tougher course than expected,” he said, “and windy. The race got really spread out so I ran the whole way pretty much alone.

“I struggled with a cramping thigh for the second half but I dug in well until mile 24, and then faded. I thought I was really tight on getting under 2.50 after limping up the last hill so I sprinted as hard as I could and ended up with 2:49. Very happy with that.”

Alex got a shock near the 20-mile mark when a green vest whizzed past him. It was our new Mortimer 10k champ, Marcus Fletcher, on his way to a PB of 2:47.43

For Alex the run completed an autumn triple whammy. He shaved three seconds off his PB at last month’s Maidenhead Half Marathon and his time at York looks as though it put the club’s M50 marathon championship title to bed.

Alex’s training partner Carrie Hoskins also dipped under three hours again as she represented her country at her third different distance.

Although she missed a PB by barely one minute, even starting the race represented a triumph in itself after she struggled to overcome a foot injury.

Only getting the all-clear to run after a late scan and extra physiotherapy, Carrie was nevertheless eighth lady overall, with 2:57.56, and second in her F50 age category.

“It was hillier than I thought,” she said, “and I spent an awful lot of time running on my own. The wind was in my face for most of the run. But I’m over the moon about going under three hours again.”

The third Roadrunner in an England vest at York, Jane Davies, was the third F60 home in 3:26.33, well within her target time of 3:30. “I was going well until 30k,” she said, “and then it got very tough. I managed to keep going… just!”

The big marathon Sunday had kicked off with Gary Tuttle’s success in New Zealand. With a 12-hour time difference and a 6am start, Gary had finished before most of us woke up. 

Less than 20 hours after a monster flight across the world he ran 2hrs 55mins 32secs in Auckland, an improvement of nearly four minutes.

Gary’s previous race in New Zealand was over a little matter of 234k and involved cycling and kayaking, so the marathon was a comparative doddle.

Once again his wife Trinity provided the key ingredient for his superb performance, handing him  a doughnut and Red Bull as he left the Auckland Harbour Bridge at 18km.

“The first half was a bit hilly and I planned to aim for about 1.25-1.30,” said Gary (below). “The second half was flat straight out and back along the coast, so I hoped I could maintain the same pace for that.

“I was running by myself after the first hour. At about 34km I started getting cramp in my calves and hamstrings. I knew I was on for a PB so decided to slow down a bit and stop the cramp from taking hold too much.

“At this point a few people started passing me and the finish couldn’t come quickly enough.”

The second Roadrunner to PB abroad was Matt Davies, who fought off a bout of ‘man flu’ to finish in 2:47.18 at the Amsterdam Marathon.

That was an improvement of 33 seconds on his time in his sensational marathon debut in Dusseldorf.

“I had a cold all week,” said Matt (below), “and had a terrible shake-out run and was convinced I wasn’t going to race for time.

“This morning my I was feeing better but not great. I got boxed in at the start and had to do some weaving for the first few miles.

“Once the race opened up by the river I got into a good rhythm and hit halfway at 1:21, then had a really good few miles at 6-6.10 pace. I was on for a 2:40/2:30 borderline if I held it. 

“Through 30k it looked like I could comfortably get 2.45 which was my main goal. That was my plan to build into the race and see how I was  feeing.

“Unfortunately my illness caught up and I tired a bit, then a lot for the last few miles my pace dropped significantly (and it started to hurt). But I had enough time in the bank to still get a small PB.

“I was happy how I executed the race, but I’m left wondering what might have been. I have picked up a few things to adjust going into London next spring and will use this as motivation over the winter that I can still hold it together and get a good result, even when things are against me.”

There were plenty of happy Roadrunners with PBs to celebrate after the Abingdon Marathon, but none happier than Chris Buley (below).

On the course where he unaccountably collapsed late in last year’s race, Chris buried his demons to be first RR home in 2:57.27, his first time under 3hrs and a PB by six minutes. Chris is this year’s Berkshire senior road running champion, and this performance shows why.

There were also PBs for Erica Key, Tony Page, Wayne Farrugia, Ben Fasham (by 17 minutes!), Simon Brimacombe and Sophie Hoskins, making her mum doubly proud on the day.

SAM WHALLEY wraps up the best of the rest of the weekend action: 

Despite not being in any way involved in the second TVXC fixture, I was looking forward to seeing the results. Not least because I had seen that a few of the people I follow on Strava had done really well, and then seen a few more familiar faces in the photos. 

It was definitely looking like it had been a good day for the Reading Roadrunners XC team, with 55 of you turning up (in your shared cars).

Coming in first for our men (and first and second overall) were Matt Richards (below) and TVXC newcomer Sibrand Rinzema. They were followed by Jamie Smith (sixth) and Chris Burt (11th). David Ferguson was next in, but was too young to be included in the scoring team, with two vet 40 males needed to complete it. Cue Darren Lewis (26th) and Fergal Donnelly (30th). Note that if there were any scoring speedy women among this lot their scores would be even lower — what a great start!

There was an excellent turn-out for the women too. The finish positions I list will be irrelevant to the scoring, as women score separately to the men, but we won’t have that data available until the official results are up.

Mel Shaw led the team in (90th), followed by the only vet 40 needed for the scoring team, Lesley Whiley (174th). Sally Carpenter (179th) and Swinda Falkena (194th) completed the scorers — well done, and thank you!

If you didn’t make the scoring team, never fear, your contribution will still have been valid by affecting the points awarded to all of those behind you. And even if you didn’t have anyone behind you, then you will still have improved your strength, balance and fitness, so that’s good too.

Elsewhere, there were a fair few Roadrunners in action on the south coast in the Great South Run. I’m not even counting Ben and Manny Whalley, who were third man/dog team in the 2.5k Canine Run in the same location on Saturday.

First RR to finish the 10-mile race was Jack Gregory, who had benefited from a bit of pre- and post-race hospitality by being part of the elite start, and stormed to a new PB of 52.26. A sub-five minute last mile sealed the deal. I saw Jack (below) after the race and mentioned that it looked like a 10k time to me — really impressive, and even more so with young children to have to accommodate around your training.

By the way, if you’d noticed Gemma Steel’s number looking particularly on point, you’d have Jack’s support crew Claire Woodhouse to thank for that. Perks of being an elite running WAG, I guess.

There were also PBs for coach Vroni Royle, adding the 10-mile PB to the 10k, half marathon and marathon best times she has achieved this year, and Helen Dixon, who PBd by over four minutes, approximately 40 minutes faster than on the same course last year. No PB for Juliet Fenwick, but surely worth mentioning that she ran the entire race for charity, dressed as a flamingo?

Other notable performances this weekend were achieved by Lance Nortcliff, who was second MV45 in the tough Exmoor Stagger, and Nigel Hoult, who was third MV60 in the Fleet 10k.

THANKS to Claire Woodhouse, Gemma Buley, Peter Reilly and all others who contributed pictures.

TVXC results:

Abingdon Marathon results:

Brendan: How I conquered Chicago… and all that jazz!

Kipchoge? Kosgei? Who needs ‘em? We’ve got BRENDAN MORRIS, the man with the incredibly consistent 5k splits (see below). Here’s the inside story of his brilliant run at the Chicago Marathon… 

IT’S the morning after the day before. I’m in my pyjamas, sat in the hotel lobby making the most of the free coffee. I feel horrendous, yet happy. The classical music they are playing is far too loud for my current state and the spotlights in the ceiling feel as though they are burning through my retinas and boiling my brain.

I found out last night what American rappers mean when they refer to a “forty”. A forty-ounce pitcher of beer, like a lot of things in America, is too big. Especially after the free can of lager you get for finishing the marathon, three pints of IPA in the after-party and four pints of Sam Adams in an “English” pub called The Elephant and Castle.

Yesterday was a test of endurance over 26.2 miles, but right now that feels like a walk in the park compared to the test of endurance that will be surviving this hangover.

My body clock is still closer to UK time than US. The last couple of nights I’ve been going to bed at around 8pm and getting up at about 3.30am. Saturday night followed that pattern and apart from getting up in the night twice to go to toilet I managed a good six hours sleep. It might not sound much, but for the night before a marathon, that’s quite a lot for me. Anxiety and nerves in the past have meant almost no sleep, or very little, especially when I know that I have a good shot at recording a personal best.

The marathon starts at 07.30 (not sure why) so it’s recommended that you’re at the start for 05.30. This meant leaving the hotel to make the 1.5 mile walk at about 5am. I knew it was going to be fairly cold, but I wasn’t prepared for just how cold it was. Including running vest, I had on four layers but the cold wind seemed to go straight through them, which meant a good two and half hours of shivering. 

I tried to stay off my feet as much as I could in the start area. I sat on the ground by a large fountain. This was good for 20 minutes, but as it got busier I realised I was in the perfect “selfie” vista of the buildings in the background and fountain in the foreground. After the third person asked me to take their picture for them I decided to move on. 

I perched on a bench next to a couple of Chinese runners (American nationals). They could hear my teeth chattering and took pity on me and lent me a jacket they had packed in one of their bags. They were seasoned marathon runners and it was good to get some of their advice. Chatting to them was also a great distraction from the anxiety and I not only felt warmer when leaving them, but definitely more calm. 

The cold conditions I knew were actually a blessing, eight degrees centigrade and “breezy” would be great…… once we got going. By the time I was in the start pen my back was as stiff as a board from shivering. I tried to stretch it, but we were packed in like sardines so I didn’t get the chance.

The klaxon goes and we’re off. The first 500 metres or so is quite wide, so alleviates the bunching you often get at these large events. By two miles the road was fairly clear to run into. 

I had been warned by many that the GPS signal was poor for some of the course. I had made the decision to use my Garmin more like a regular watch and use the mile markers to track my pace. The plan was to set out at 5.55 per mile and see how long I could hold on.

In typical fashion, adrenaline and excitement had meant I had gone off too quickly. By the third mile I noticed that I was 20 seconds ahead of my target pace. I knew I had to slow myself and try harder to maintain the 5.55.

I clicked into a good rhythm and the miles ticked by. I was hitting the 5.55 per mile pace very accurately; within a few seconds of the target time each mile marker. The course is very flat and has long straight stretches, making it great to maintain a good pace. 

There were a couple of times early on where I felt it to be a bit worryingly difficult. Around seven, eight miles and then again between 11 and 14. I tried not to panic and just eased the effort level. Surprisingly this didn’t seem to affect my pace; I was still hitting the miles at around 5.55 and I was feeling more comfortable again.

The course was well supported almost all the way round. There were quiet sections, but these were soon interrupted with pockets of cheering supporters, DJ’s and other musical acts. 

We must have gone through a university campus, or nearby, as there was a particularly loud and possibly drunken section around ten miles in. The crowds in the centre of Chicago had all the American enthusiasm you can imagine and helped drive you through the concrete maze of tall buildings, bridges and tunnels.

The wind had been intermittent and I hadn’t quite worked out which direction it was coming from. There were definitely times it felt as though it was behind you pushing you on, but other times you would turn the corner on the course and it would crash into you like a firm palm to the chest.

The miles ticked on… 16, 17, 18. I was still feeling fairly comfortable at this pace. I was waiting now to see when I was going to hit the wall. I surely couldn’t be this comfortable for much longer? 

At 20 miles I was still feeling good. I started thinking about the finish for the first time. I was starting to think about if and when I should try and increase the pace. 

I was by this time, a good 40 seconds up on my target, so had plenty of time in the bank if I wanted to just try to maintain pace till the end. I decided that at the 22-mile mark I would start increasing my effort level.

At 22 miles I tried to gently ease into a quicker pace. I went purely on feel and didn’t even try to use my Garmin. I felt as though I was putting more effort in and turning my legs more quickly. I came up to the 23-mile mark. 5.55 exactly! I hadn’t run any quicker at all! 

This worried me slightly as I was starting to find life more difficult. I tried to increase the effort level again. The 24-mile marker came by…  5.53! 

From here I gave it my all. I only looked at my watch twice after this; once at the “one mile to go” sign and then the “100 metres to go” sign.

With a mile to go I knew I was on for a good time. I desperately wanted to try to go under 2hrs 35mins so needed to do the last mile in under 6.10.

There is a slight incline in the course in the last 400m. It is probably very mild, but at 25.8 miles into a marathon, you feel like you’re being asked to scale Kendrick Road on a bike with flat tyres. 

At the 100m to go sign, I knew I had done it. Smashed my existing PB and, better still, managed to run under 2.35! I started celebrating (and am yet to stop) and properly ran through the finish line. (Rather than my usual immediate stop and semi-collapse).

I couldn’t quite believe it. I didn’t know how I managed to keep pace all the way to the end… no wall, no injury or cramp, just a very hard long Sunday run. 

I was desperate to meet up with my wife, Gemma, and share the joy. I ran through the finishing area stopping only to grab a banana, water and can of beer they give you and posed for a couple of pictures. 

I ran past the finishers’ goody bags by mistake, so never picked one up. I ran to an empty bag-check tent then on to the meeting area where I could see my wife waiting for me. I picked up my pace in the last 20m toward her and pretty much rugby-tackled her to the ground, like a dog who hadn’t seen their owner for a month (with all the panting and licking).

The hotel staff are starting to clear away the breakfast material so it must be 10 o’clock. I’d better get back to the room. Was it really me who ran that time yesterday? Was it all a drunken dream? I’d better check the results on my phone again… yep, seems it was me!

Roadrunners’ chip times: Brendan Morris 2:34.45 (PB), Mark Andrew 3:24.04 (PB), Simon Denton 3:28.27 (PB), Fleur Denton 3:48.24, Grant Hopkins 3:54.40, Vroni Royle 4:00.02 (PB), Susan Knight 4:00.14 (PB), Ian McGuinness 4:11.06 (PB), Catherine Leather 4:32.07, Anthony Eastaway 5:51.14.

Pictures: Bottom image shows Vroni Royle, Ian McGuinness and Grant Hopkins in Chicago.

Fall guy Burt hurt but our vets finish first in Hampshire League

From Dorset to Illinois, the Roadrunners website has the weekend action covered, thanks once more to ladies captain SAM WHALLEY…

FIFTEEN hardy Reading Roadrunners made the rainy journey to Bournemouth for the first fixture of the 2019-20 Hampshire League. This is the furthest away of the races in this league, so we were pleased to be able to field full teams, although until just before the women’s race traffic problems and navigational issues had us feeling a little thin on the ground.

The women’s race was underway at 1.35pm, and as usual we took up our starting positions way behind the Under 20 elites. Three of us were excited to be sporting brand new spikes, although only one of us had tried them out before that moment, and at least one of the others was wishing they had done the same. 

We were grateful for a break in the rain, and for the course to not have yet been run on by too many feet. We’d be sure to churn it up nicely for the men.

At 6k, the women’s race consisted of two small loops and two large ones, mostly on grass, and with a stretch of uphill through the woods. Any other ups and downs were short and steep, but enough to remind me that I really need to do some hill training. 

Sarah Dooley, in great shape only a couple of weeks after running a PB at the Berlin Marathon, was our first woman home in 56th (12th vet).

Chloe Lloyd (right), only recently having returned from injury, continued her fantastic run of form and was second, in 88th, with me (Sam Whalley) in third (113th, and 38th vet) to complete the scoring team. The senior women’s team was 16th. 

Chloe later told me she’d been looking for me on the corners; she needn’t have worried, there was no doubt in my mind that she’d be faster. We still needed a third vet though (increased from 35 to 40 this year, to match the men’s vet category), and this was to be Claire Seymour (132nd, 48th vet), pleased that she had finished, despite a niggly leg, with Alex Bennell only two places behind in 134th (50th vet), keen to get finished before her son set off in the U17 men’s race. 

The vet women’s team was fifth. The inspirational Cecilia Csemiczky completed the women’s team, in 181st (80th vet, but first FV70), and, despite her fears, was not in last of the 190 runners. Well done, team!

The men were off at 2.30pm, just in time for the rain to restart, and had four large loops to look forward to for their 10k.

I’m calling Jamie Smith (left) the unofficial men’s captain for the day with the actual men’s captain being in Chicago for the marathon; the support and encouragement Jamie offered to the rest of the team was commendable (and he is also a dab hand at putting up the tent). 

There were a few switches of position during the race, with Mark Apsey, on his way back from a period of injury, and now with a new baby in the house, initially leading the team, but being caught by Jamie later on, with Jamie finishing 43rd, and Mark 47th. 

Chris Burt was third home, in 69th, having got the bug for the Hampshire League right at the end of last season, and keen to get started this year. It might have been Chris’s excitement that led him to fall over twice during the race! A spikes newbie (below), he thinks he might have to plant his feet differently to feel the benefit of the extra grip. 

Completing the senior men’s scoring team were the first of the vets, Andrew Smith (74th, and ninth vet), fresh from Chester Marathon last week, and Lance Nortcliff (79th, and tenth vet). The senior men’s team was eighth. Pete Jewell was the third scoring vet, in 108th (22nd vet). The vet men’s team was first — amazing!

The men’s team was completed by Hampshire League debutant Tony Page (141st, 46th vet), who probably won’t be brave enough to run in road shoes next time, Colin Cottell (161st, 59th vet) and David Walkley, who decided halfway through the race that it would actually be easier to run without glasses, and finished in a creditable 195th out of 239 runners, having raced both a marathon and a half marathon in the last two weeks. Great work, guys!

This is a very promising start to the season, and we look forward to seeing how far we can get this year. Luckily we won’t have to go as far as Bournemouth again, with the next fixture being at Sparsholt, near Winchester, on Saturday, November 9th. 

I, for one, really appreciate everyone taking time out of their weekend to travel to these races and represent the club, so thank you, and most of all, well done! Race rewards from the Whalley bakery were vegan brownies and gluten-free white chocolate crisped rice squares.

Elsewhere this weekend, over in Chicago, Brendan Morris ran a 2:34.45 marathon, a PB by over four minutes, and you might have seen him live on the BBC red button (below), crossing the finish line in 201st place — brilliant work! “I’m over the moon with that performance,” said Brendan. “Everything just clicked into place.”

Also delighted with her run in the Windy City was Susan Knight, whose time of 4:00.14 represented a PB by five and a half minutes. “I went much too fast in the first half,” said Susan, “but I’ve learned a lot just in case I ever feel like another one.”

There was an even bigger PB — more than 26 minutes — by coach Vroni Royle who finished in 4:00.02. “Those pesky two seconds!” said Vroni, who threatens something similar at next weekend’s Great South Run.

Not far behind Vroni, in 4:11.06, was Ian McGuinness, whose posted a PB by a massive 20 minutes.

Closer to home, Ian Giggs was 43rd in the Eden Project Marathon, with a great time of 3:52.13 on what he described as a hilly course with some off-road sections.

Noora Eresmaa and Christina Calderon ran the Autumn 100 mile race in wind and rain to complete the 100 mile Grand Slam, which means they have run four 100-mile races in the past five months. Incredible — I cannot even imagine what this must be like, but I hope you both live in bungalows.

In half marathon news, Liz Jones was first FV50 in Henley, with 1:45.03, while Peter Aked was our first finisher in 1:34.49. Over in Oxford, Alex Warner was first RR home in 1:25.23, followed by Michael Hibberd in 1:28.48. There was a PB for our next man home, Andrew Butler, who defied a migraine attack to post 1:32.03, an improvement of 1:40 on his Reading HM time.

Despite the atrocious conditions another Roadrunner claiming a PB in the Oxford race was Clinton Montague, with 1:35.44, off the back of the two PBs he achieved in one night in the Friday track mile and 5k. 

Fergal Donnelly ran 1:30.21 in Exeter’s Great West Run (half marathon), while Helen Pool equalled her PB with 1:34.36, and was second FV45. As a Devonian, I can completely imagine that the course might have been more than a bit challenging.

Brian Kirsopp was eighth in the Tadley 10 mile, in an impressive 1:03.47, and was unsurprisingly first MV50. At Wimbledon, Ashley Middlewick clinched third place in this month’s Second Sunday 5 event.

And finally, supervet (not the animal kind) Jane Davies achieved a whopping 87.97% age grading at Prospect parkrun, bettered on that course only by the 88.92% she achieved last year.

Results: and

Pictures: Chloe Lloyd and Claire Raynor

Amazingstoke! Our girls race away with the team trophy

SUNDAY, October 6th, 2019 may well go down in history as the busiest race day ever. There were Roadrunners everywhere, and not just running on roads, writes SAM WHALLEY…

As a good number of us lined up for the start of Basingstoke Half Marathon, the final half marathon in this year’s club championship, I wondered whether it would have been preferable to have been running a six-mile cross-country race…… until I saw the photos and realised the usual stream had been pretty much a river!

I felt bad that I hadn’t reminded people to bring a complete change of clothes with them; they’ll know for next time.

A whopping 46 RRs and three guests turned up to run the first Thames Valley XC fixture of the season, hosted by Metros, in Hillingdon, some of them for the first time.

First to score for RRs was Jack Gregory, in second place overall, followed by Chris Lucas in fifth. Third to score was Andy Blenkinsop, as first vet for the club, and then Ian Giggs. Gavin Rennie was the club’s second vet, and the scoring male team was completed by Markus Orgill.

For the women, it was Gemma Buley who was first to score, followed by Mel Shaw. Vets Claire Marks and Mary Janssen completed the scoring team.

If you didn’t make the scoring team, you will undoubtedly have affected the scores of the other teams by finishing ahead of their runners. Every position counts in XC.

The next TVXC fixture will be hosted by Thames Valley Triathlets, at St Neot’s School in Eversley, on Sunday, October 20th. In the interim, the first fixture of the Hampshire League will be in Bournemouth on Saturday, October 12th.

As people were tucking into the post-race refreshments after the Metros event, many of us were still going at Basingstoke.

It was a great performance by the women in particular, with Laura Peatey fourth, Katherine Sargeant fifth, and Helen Pool eighth. Katherine was also first FV50 — by the little matter of TWENTY-TWO minutes! — and Helen was third FV40. That was easily enough to take the ladies’ team trophy back to Palmer Park.

As far as the club champs were concerned, Laura picked up 50 points in the seniors category, and Donna Saunders picked up 48, with non-contender Lizzie Hogan in between the two. Hannah McPhee took away 47. For the vet 40s, Katherine collected her usual 50 points, Helen 49, and Sam Whalley 48. Alex Bennell was no longer in the competition.

There was only one competitor in the vet 50s age group, so Nora Holford was able to increase her lead at the top of the group by four points. Linda Wright is the last women standing in the FV60s, so must have just taken part for the fun of it!

For the men, Brian Kirsopp was third MV50, and David Dibben won the MV70 age category. In the club champs, David Walkley’s 50 points and Derek Cheng’s 49 have propelled them further up the table. David earned his points the hard way, running a 35-seconds PB just a week after a sub-4hrs finish in the Barnstaple Marathon.

In the vet 40 category, Tony Page was delighted to pick up 50 points (and a PB) over Ben Whalley’s 49 to increase his lead at the top of the table, while Tim Miller came in sixth for 44 points, behind non-competitors Fergal Donnelly, Chris Thomas and Tony Long. 

For the highly competitive vet 50s, our first finisher Brian Kirsopp’s 50 points took him to top of the table. There were 49 points for David Caswell, 48 for David Fiddes and 47 for Tony Streams. I’m looking forward to seeing how this category in particular will end.

Joe Blair was the only contender for the vet 60s, and his 50 points keep him in second place on the table, while David Dibben’s 50 keep him in a similar position for the vet 70s.

With only two more events in the championship, the Ricky Road 10 miles on  October 27th and the Mapledurham 10 on December 1st, there is still time for positions to change in many of the categories.

Elsewhere in the country, there were Roadrunners aplenty at the Bournemouth 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon. Reports of smashed targets are still coming in, but Miriam Coleman was possibly the most delighted to have recorded a PB with her first ever sub-2 hour half marathon, while Rachel Helsby PBd at Cardiff Half Marathon.

Rob Cannings nailed a PB at the Bournemouth 10k to follow up his huge improvement at 5k at the recent Track Friday event.

Closer to home there was a thumping win for David McCoy at the Reading 020 10k. The busy Ulsterman beat the second man home by more than four minutes in a useful warm-up for this weekend’s Chicago Marathon.

There was the customary win in the FV50 group at this event for Lesley Whiley but Ed Dodwell had to settle for second place in the MV60s in a race top-heavy with early finishers from his age group.

Plaudits for the best marathon performance of the weekend by a Roadrunner went to Andrew Smith for his run of 2hrs 54mins at Chester.

Further afield Shweta Saikumar ran an eight-minute PB in the Portland Half-Marathon in Oregon.

The less usual events of the weekend were Gill Manton’s Jersey Marathon Relay, Chris Burt and Sam Hammond’s Spartan exploits and Ian Giggs’ 300th different parkrun at Herrington Country parkrun, near Sunderland.

Pictures: Sibrand Rinzema

Basingstoke HM results:

TVXC round 1 results:


Roadrunners do relay really well to earn honours at the Palace

Multi-talented selector-captain-runner-baker-reporter SAM WHALLEY tells the inside story of Roadrunners’ relay teams’ big day out in the capital…

THE SEAA (or southern) road relays are a huge event in the Reading Roadrunners calendar these days. For many years they were held at Aldershot, with the women’s race on a Saturday, and the men’s on a Sunday. 

In recent years they have mostly been held at Crystal Palace (one year at Bedford Aerodrome was not popular), and we have grown from a minibus to a coach. We are grateful to the club for funding this for us; it’s so good for team spirit to be able to travel together, and takes some of the stress out of the day.

This year, I had enough interest to put together two senior teams and one vet 40 team for the women. I hadn’t noticed that this year, for the first time, they would also be accepting women’s teams in the vet 50 category – a breakthrough and another step towards equality. Whatever next — vet 60?

Mark Worringham acted as team captain for the men again, and was inundated with runners wanting to be part of the squad. He entered three senior teams and one vet 50 team, with himself and Seb Briggs being speedy enough to run as vet 40s in the seniors A team.

The rules with this and similar events are such that you can enter a certain number of runners per team, and no one may run who has not been entered on the original list. This allows for a bit of shifting around if there are any last-minute injuries, and while no athlete can run more than one leg in one age category, a vet runner could run a leg in both a senior and a vet team, if necessary. Fortunately, there were no on-the-day changes needed this year, for either the men or women, and no one was asked to double up and run two legs. Relief all round.

Arriving at around midday, we had enough time to use the delightful facilities, do a bit of shopping — coffee and event hoodies were the order of the day — check out the course, including the infamous steep-then-gradual hill, a changed finish from last year, and, for the men, an extra 0.7k loop around a car park, per lap.

It was also a good idea to watch the junior races, to check out how the handovers worked. 

Officials at such events have been doing their thing for years, and can be a bit shouty if you get it wrong. To the relief of our first-timers, there was no baton involved; you were just told to go once your incoming runner had crossed the chip mat. 

For Mark and me, there was also the task of collecting race numbers and chips and completing the team declarations, which involves writing down exactly who will be running which leg for which team. It’s no small job.

The women were off first, at 1.30pm. There were some nerves in the camp, with a few feeling more than a little intimidated. It’s fair to say that the best of the best run in events like this, including GB marathoner, Tracy Barlow, and local parkrun course record holders, Naomi Mitchell and Jess Gibbon.

Added to that the crop tops and skimpy shorts (OK, pants), and confidence can be knocked, especially considering where we were all at in our race schedules and general health. 

I had run a marathon the week before, Sarah Dooley and Liz Johnson were a week away from their marathon, Mel had not long returned from a long period out with injury, Claire Woodhouse had had her second baby only six months ago, Gemma Buley, Aga Faulkner and Sally were nursing niggles, and Claire Seymour and Magda were at the end of colds. Apart from that, I think everyone was raring to go.

Both senior and vet teams run together, so it was Gemma Buley, Aga Faulkner and Sarah who were tasked with getting the A, B and vet teams, respectively, off to a good start. They did not disappoint, running fantastic times of 17:25, 21:39 and 19:01 for the 4.8k.

They handed over to Laura Peatey, Sally Carpenter and Magda Bennett, who again ran brilliantly, with 18:53, 22:23 and 19:57. 

On the third leg were Mel Shaw, Claire Woodhouse and Claire Seymour, who handed over the metaphorical baton in 18:55, 23:01 and 22:52.

Waiting in the start pen with Liz Johnson and Claire Raynor, it was wonderful to hear Liz declare “She’s quick” as Mel ran in, looking strong. Having missed last year’s race due to injury, Mel’s journey must be one of the comeback stories of the year. 

Liz herself has gone from strength to strength since taking up running only a couple of years ago. Feeling somewhat daunted by her escalation to the A team, she did herself and the team proud, bringing them home in 20:44 (her personal target had been 22 minutes), which gave them an overall finishing position of 32nd out of 55 complete teams. Fantastic!

Claire Raynor, who had also been watching her son Mattie race, was next off for the vets, with unfortunate timing that meant she was caught up quite quickly in the entire first leg of the men’s race, which started moments after she had set off. 

Having been ushered to the side so that the 141 men could start, I did not envy her one bit. Nevertheless she had a great run, coming in at 21:33, and ninth out of 10 complete teams — a great result!

I was the penultimate woman to set off for the final leg of the senior women’s race. Yes, I realise I am way too old to be in an under 40s team, and I had thought I would be safely on the bench as third reserve. Alas, three women having to pull out meant that I had to get my tired legs back into action and complete the team. Captain’s duty. 

Watching the YouTube footage, anyone would think that I was in leg two for the men, as an entire swarm came past me at great speed. I was pleased to maintain my position, and finished in 22:35, with the team in 54th. Job done.

By this time, the men’s race was well underway, having started at 2.30pm. I hadn’t had as much opportunity to speak to the men individually, but knew that at least Matt Richards (left) and David McCoy had a marathon on the immediate horizon, Rob Corney, Lance Nortcliff and Andy Mutton had a niggle or two, and Pete Jewell was returning from illness. 

There might have been other reasons for people not feeling their best, so apologies if I was not aware — it definitely didn’t show! 

Seb Briggs (A), David McCoy (the younger)(B), Chris Buley (C, below) and Brian Kirsopp (vets) ran the first 6.2k leg in respective times of 18:20, 18:38, 20:27 and 21:06, setting their teams up in fantastic positions.

They handed over to Rob Corney (16:59), Ryan Faulkner (in his first team event for the club)(19:28), Ian Giggs (21:56) and Colin Cottell (22:46), who also had brilliant runs. 

The third leg runners again ran really impressive times — Matt Richards (above, 17:36), Chris Lucas (19:03), Lance Nortcliff (20:04) and Pete Jewell (21:59). 

By now, the lead runners were beginning to lap those further back, and things were looking pretty messy out on the course: men warming up and down, women cooling down, spectators everywhere, and park users generally in the way. 

I think the lead bike had stopped doing its job by this point, but having that on the track at the start and finish of each lap did not help matters. Those actually in the race had to have their wits about them to keep up with what was going on around them. 

Up for the fourth legs were another new Roadrunner, Sibrand Rinzema (18:24), Jamie Smith (19:22), Tony Page (21:18) and Tony Walker (21:53). The latter’s anchor leg brought the vet 50s home in 13th out of 20 complete teams. Well run, guys! 

I don’t know when was the last time that RR had a vet 50s team at these relays, but a precedent may have been set now.

Meanwhile, the seniors continued for their remaining two legs. At the point in the YouTube film, Tonbridge coach Mark Hookway was counting runners into the stadium. He knew every vest of every club. When he saw Sibrand, in 18th, he said something along the lines of “Don’t know who these guys are.” Were the green vests suddenly a threat? They had certainly been noticed. 

Leg five was run really well by Mark Worringham (18:05) and Matt Davies (19:26), but Andy Mutton (23:03) was clearly not comfortable. I hope he has been resting this week. 

On the anchor leg were Jack Gregory, Chris Burt and Ollie Watts. Jack ran a storming 17:47 and brought the team across the finish line for the final time in 17th place.

This was a huge improvement on their 25th place finish of the previous year, and was set to see them qualify for the National Road Relays on October 6th. Chris and Ollie also ran well, with 19:31 and 22:37, but the latter had reported a rather lonely leg, with the race drawing to a close. The B team finished in 48th, and the C team 68th, out of 73 complete teams. Great performances all round.

The results were up as we arrived back in Reading. The A team was listed as incomplete, with both Rob’s and Matt’s times missing.

Team manager Mark set about investigating why, and reported back that, somehow, Rob had not been listed on the original electronic entry form. While this does not seem possible, even with such a problematic entry system, which is prone to crashing, the SEAA were adamant, and with no way of proving otherwise, the team had been disqualified. Devastating!

Regardless, the fantastic performances still happened, those brilliant times were still run, and it was incredible to be part of a club with enough members of that standard. What a great day! In the words of Mark Hookway, as Jack came into the finish: “These have done well… Reading Roadrunners!” And yes, they had indeed.

The SEAA six (women) and twelve (men) stage relays will take place in the spring. Get your names down now (there will be brownies).

Pictures: Claire Woodhouse, Gemma Buley, Mel Shaw

Brendan tunes up for the Windy City with PB in a soggy town

PREPARING hard for next month’s Chicago Marathon, BRENDAN MORRIS headed to the Wild West for a training half marathon and came home with a personal best and this brilliant report…

IN the words of David Brent: “I heard they dropped an atomic bomb on Swindon… did about ten quid’s worth of damage.”

Well, that’s probably a bit unfair, but by running the Swindon Half Marathon I’ve apparently viewed the highlights of the town. I hope the organisers have a self-deprecating sense of humour and the “highlights” of the town they list are tongue-in-cheek, yet I can confirm that they seem to be unfortunately accurate…

My relationship with Swindon consists of fond memories of failure and rejection. As a teenager a close friend of mine and I started supporting the football club. It was the early Noughties, when a couple of fake IDs ordered from the back of FHM ensured you could simultaneously be old enough to buy eight cans of Fosters for £5 in the corner shop on the way to the ground and yet secure a child’s train ticket and child entry (£2!) to the ground (as long as we acted sober and avoided breathing cheap lager on the entry stewards). 

We watched them be relegated into Division Two. Sometimes we would stay in town after the game and sample the best of the clubs and pubs Swindon had to offer, where if rejection didn’t meet us at the door, it would smack us in the face on the dance floor. I also failed my driving test there, so was keen to make amends.

The race is advertised as being mostly flat. When looking at the profile of the course online, you can quickly see that though most of the course is fairly flat there is a definite hill at mile 11. About 40 metres of elevation over a mile, then the majority of the final mile is a steep downhill.

I felt in good shape, thanks largely to the track sessions with team-mates led by Jack Gregory. A team I then ditched to run the Swindon Half (the rest of the guys were running a stellar performance in the Southern Road Relays in Crystal Palace) because that’s the kind of clubman I am…

The game plan, was to aim for a PB (sub-74 minutes preferably). I knew I would slow on the hill at mile 11, so I wanted to be a good 20 seconds up on the target time by the foot of the hill. 

The race is a fairly small event for a large town (2500 entrants) and catered well in terms of bag drop and toilets; pretty much no queuing, easy to get to etc. 

The race starts at two of the town’s highlights —the County Ground (grey concrete walls) and Magic Roundabout (grey tarmac). 

Standing on the start line, the clouds were looking more and more grim and I think we all knew the rain was on the way. Conditions were slightly muggy and the rain when it hit (about one mile in) was actually quite refreshing. It was non-stop from a mile in, all the way to the end and seemed to intensify as the race went on. 

It was from the first mile marker that I took the lead. One runner stuck on my heels for another couple of kilometres but then I heard him drop away quite quickly. The next few kilometres were fairly lonely; sweeping perimeter roads broken by roundabouts every 500 metres or so with supporters huddled under bus stops, trees and umbrellas. 

I was running pretty well, felt fairly comfortable and was hitting the target pace. I was trying to gauge how far behind second place was by listening to the small groups of supporters and the gap they left between clapping me and the person behind. I could tell second place was gaining on me.

At around five miles I could clearly hear the squelching of second place’s shoes on the soggy roads. He caught me around nine kilometres. We stuck together for about a mile and had a pleasant conversation. Our conversation revealed that he was quicker than me. 

He was clearly more comfortable than I was at the pace we were running and he was targeting a PB of his own; a sub-73 minute time. 

I made the decision (if you really do make these kinds of decisions) to let him get away. He slowly moved away from me, but I still used his presence to help pace me. I tried my best not to let him get too far ahead and to keep to my target pace. I was just about managing, but it was definitely getting more difficult! 

By the ten-mile mark a spectator shouted “23 seconds” at me. I knew that this was the time I was behind him, so that was probably equivalent to about 120 metres (but looked a lot further).

The next bit of drama occurred at one of the advertised highlights. No, not Swindon College, or the Great Western Shopping Centre, or even the Oasis Leisure Centre. I’m talking about the Nationwide Building Society Headquarters. This was at the foot of the dreaded hill. 

The course took you into the very start of the car park of the headquarters, before you made a quick U-turn around the end cone and made your way back out to the main road.

As I came towards the end cone there was clearly some commotion. A couple of marshals were yelling “Come back” and l soon realised that the leader had continued into the car park when he was meant to make a U-turn around the final traffic cone. 

In fairness to him there were no signs saying that a U-turn was required and I found out from him after the race that the lead motorbike he was following went further into the car park to make the sharp U-turn possible, so he was simply following the lead bike. 

After making this error he was now only a short distance ahead. I was close enough to hear him spend the next couple of minutes muttering profanities to himself; so probably about ten metres. His anger seemed to propel him up the hill. He was pulling away from me again. 

By now I was just giving it all I had. “Come on, hard effort up the hill, and then cruise to the finish!” I knew by the start of the descent I was one kilometre from the end. I looked at my watch and was behind where I needed to be. It looked like I needed to run the last kilometre in 3.10 to get me under the 74 minutes I was aiming for. I used the downhill and lengthened my stride. 

The only thing that seemed to slow me down was my leg speed. I desperately tried to lift my knees as high as I could and not fall flat on my face. I didn’t really think that I could do it. I didn’t dare look at my watch but just focused on the finish line. 

The hamstrings were starting to burn, but I could then see the timer. I still had ten seconds of time to spare and I was almost there! Second place and more importantly a new personal best (73 minutes 52 seconds).

No prizes for second place. No prizes for first either! It didn’t matter, it was always about the time and the race marked the end of the hard marathon training and the transition into the taper. 

Chicago is less than three weeks away and hopefully I can keep myself in one piece and maintain fitness for the big one. 

*The race was won by the Wimborne AC athlete Christopher Wood in 73.44.

IPL Ian Giggs Beats the International Odds

By Paul Monaghan

Ian Giggs proved being the club’s IPL (International Parkrun Legend) is all in a day’s work.

Picture the scene. A bunch of us from the club have all planned to run the Tokoinranta parkrun in Helsinki followed by a boat at 1:30 to Estonia to run the Estonian Marathon the next day. Would it go to plan? Does it ever?

Giggsy’s a true parkrun ambassador for our club and his stats are nothing short of astounding. Over 500 parkruns in total which includes nearly 300 different locations spread over 13 different countries outside the UK including Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and North America to name a few. He also puts a lot back into the community by regularly volunteering at parkrun and other events. What he doesn’t know about parkruns is not worth knowing as he’s a born statistician. He also counts parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE (and his wife) as his friends. I’m almost forgetting that he also runs many other distances including marathons and has been a member of the club since a wee nipper.

Anyway getting back to the story at hand. The day before parkrun we decided to take a short boat trip from Helsinki to a small island called Suomenlinna. We were browsing Facebook during a quick trip to a brewery when we were confronted with the devastating news ‘ Tokoinranta parkrun cancelled’ Giggsy who’s face had been beaming throughout the trip now looked as if someone had just confiscated all his bar codes. Between us we tried to find a way to reach another parkrun in Finland, but the most easily accessible was over 100 miles away. We talked about catching an Uber cab, hiring a minibus and grabbing train at 6am. There was 6 of us and time was just not on our side. As our boat was at 13:30pm to Tallinn we’d calculated getting the train back would be a push to make it. The following boat was at 4:30 so there was a chance we’d miss the expo hence picking up our marathon numbers. All of us decided the gamble was not worth it.

Being an IPL means you’re made of sterner stuff. I can honestly say I’ve never seen Ian Giggs looking so sad, or was I getting sadness confused with a mass of calculations going on inside his head? The rest of us turned in that evening resigning ourselves to having to write it off and just enjoying Estonia. Or so we thought, as one of us had different ideas.

At breakfast we texted him to find out when he’s be joining us. No answer. We tried again. Could he have? No, never we thought, even Giggsy is not that crazy. We couldn’t contact him and he did not turn up for breakfast. Then have a guess what pops up on Facebook? Only Giggsy posing behind the Tampere parkrun sign.

He’s actually done it. We still couldn’t get in contact and it would soon be time to catch our boat. We eventually caught it at 13:30 and there was still no sign of him. Just before departure Caroline had took a picture of me from the stern  looking towards the port with the caption ‘Waiting for the IPL Mr Ian Giggs. Will he make it?’ She’s barely put her phone down (actually she never does, but that’s another story 😊) when who was standing behind us? It was none other then Giggsy. Against all odds he’s not only ran a parkrun over 100 miles away but also manged to catch our boat. He was now on schedule  to be able to also run the marathon on Sunday also. To say we were pleased for him was an understatement. A rapturous applause followed. Unbelievable!

And this is what he did:

  • Woke up at 5am.
  • Ran to train station a mile away with luggage.
  • Caught the train 6am to Tampere.
  • Arrived 8:30 after a 2 ½ hour journey.
  • Ran with luggage to Tampere parkrun start.
  • Ran the parkrun in 22 mins.
  • Found a fast fast coach back to Tallinn after chatting to locals.
  • Ran to coach station with luggage and caught coach with 2 mins to spare.
  • Arrived back at Helsinki around 12:40.
  • Ran 2 miles to Ferry port with luggage.
  • Caught the boat with mins to spare as final boarding was at 1pm.

What separates the greats from us mere mortals is that they will sometimes go with their gut instincts rather than following or trying to please the masses, no matter what hand they are dealt. He’d made a risky decision but pulled off a Royal Flush. And to that I take off my hat. Well done Giggsy!  A parkrun legend if there ever was one.