Hark the herald angels sing, Corney proves he’s still king

After Roadrunners hosted a fantastically successful Thames Valley Cross Country League fixture, ladies’ stand-in skipper MELANIE SHAW has filed this report on what she has dubbed ‘Ar-mud-geddon’. Supplementary reporting by men’s captain JAMIE SMITH after his six-and-a-half-hours shift from set-up to leading the team and unpacking the vans..

FOLLOWING last weekend’s Berkshire Cross Country Championships and seven days of rain of biblical proportions at Ashenbury Park, the mud and water levels on the Woodley course had increased significantly, reducing it to a sea of treacle. Just what we wanted!  

Somehow between them Sam Whalley and Peter Reilly managed to find two very different courses, both very enjoyable. 

The latest leg-sapping course welcomed a fantastic 416 runners — including 77 Roadrunners — to celebrate the final Thames Valley XC League run of 2019, and surely the beginning of the festive season.

There were Christmas hats aplenty and the lovely Eddie Thorpe even donned his fabulous festive running gear. (Fear not, he ran in the required club vest for the race). 

The mood was buoyant — and needed to be given the conditions — and everyone seemed to enjoy the atmosphere of a great event.

Jack Gregory and Rob Corney — back after eight weeks out with an Achilles injury — led the field out and the spray from the runners was akin to travelling under a waterfall. The race was gruelling, and it was more effort pulling your foot out of the mud than placing it in front of the other one. We suffered two tough laps (of 4km each) before the final placings were decided. 

Fully recovered from his injury, Rob took first place and silver went to Jack a few muddy seconds later. 

Despite it being his first appearance of the season, our second-claimer Ben Paviour (left) was the first vet home in fourth place, just ahead of Sibrand Rinzema, whose impressive sprint finish gave Roadrunners four out of the first five places.  

If that wasn’t enough, we proudly welcomed Mark Apsey in ninth and another vet, Tony Page, in 20th, giving the club’s men a massive winning margin. With Chris Burt 13th and Jamie Smith 14th, we had nine finishers in the top 20.

I had the honour of leading our ladies team — with Laura Peatey, Jane Davies and Chloe Lloyd our other scorers — into third place. This gave the club joint first place overall, along with Datchet, after one of the Dashers’ scorers was disqualified for wearing headphones.

Sam Whalley was really pleased with the team result and wanted to give a shout-out to several other members… “Sarah Dooley was our fifth woman home, in the middle of her 14 mile long run — good going! Shweta Saikumar, who, having said just last week that she would not be back, was indeed back, and had a great run. She really will feel the benefit in the spring. Swinda Falkena’s big smile was back at Ashenbury for the second time, with Swinda claiming to have enjoyed the race much more, with the benefit of last week’s experience.

“It was great to see Annette Russell racing, after a difficult year, and Helen Wing, who had sworn never to do XC again, was a true professional in her XC spikes. Katie Rennie was back in green for this league only (at least for this year!), which was lovely to see.”

So, a big thank-you to Sam, Peter Reilly and all the wonderful volunteers who made this possible — from the course set up, the catering, photographers, results takers and the well-wishers. You really made our club proud!

Finally, congratulations to all the runners who managed to navigate themselves around the course. This event was a real show of club depth, with so many Reading Roadrunners running and/or volunteering.

Today was the final race of the year as a club and we can look forward to 2020 with a great deal of optimism.

The next XC event is the TVXC fixture at Lightwater Country Park on January 5th. Let’s start the New Year with another mass green vest race takeover!

That will be followed by the Hampshire League fixture at Prospect Park, Reading, on January 11th.

Have a wonderful Christmas all.

Results: http://tvxc.org.uk/results/team?race_id=90

Pictures: Chris Drew, Sev Konieczny, Peter Cook.

#TeamJackMon Lanzarote & Malaga Double Marathon Report.

Double Trouble. Our Lanzarote & Malaga Marathon Double, Dec 2019
By Paul Monaghan

If you fancy a spot of running in December and maybe a marathon or two then you could do a lot worse than Lanzarote & Malaga, Spain.

Lanzarote is a Canary island of volcanic origin and tends to have a hot climate in December. If you like winter sun then it’s ideal. The marathon itself starts from Sands Beach hotel in Costa Tequise.

Malaga is located on the Southern tip of Spain and is primarily used as a gateway for travelling the Costas. However I’ve always found Malaga itself a vast improvement to Torremolinos, Marbella etc. as it has a more authentic Spanish feel. It has to be one of the most underrated Spanish cities.

Caroline Jackson & I ( #Teamjackmon ) were a bit worse for wear as only just completed the Cypriot Larnaca Marathon and the Spanish Basque country’s San Sabastian marathon. These two would make it four foreign marathons in five weeks. Fitness wise we’re both off form lately but the pull of a December in the sun with pals was just too much to resist. So we booked the flights & hotels months in advance cutting costs considerably.

Our usual RR crew Pete ‘The Train’ Morris & Martin ‘Bushy’ Bush would be joining us in Lanzarote but would be flying home after few days. Bushy would be flying to Malaga to join us also.

The plan for Caroline & I was to stay at Gatwick hotel Thur eve and fly out to Lanzarote on the Fri (6th Dec) We’d then stay in Lanzarote until the Wed were we’d fly to Seville spend a night there and then catch a bus to Lanzarote on the Thur afternoon.


After landing a Lanzarote the four of us made our way to the Nazaret apartments hotel in Costa Tequise. It’s an amazing complex were most of the 100 marathon club runners descend on every December, which gives the whole holiday a buzz. Brian Kirsopp had also arrived who was giving it a go for the third time.

The marathon is an out & back from Costa Teguise to Puerto del Carmen. A half marathon & 10K also start from Puerto del Carmen, in fact many Reading Roadrunners over the years have joined us there running various races. I can’t recommend it enough if you want to incorporate a winter holiday.

This was a hot one with temperatures reaching 26 during the race. During the back section there were many people walking. Saying that though it’s an enjoyable scenic run passing palm trees as some stunning scenery. Even a point running in front of the airport landing strip were planes appear to be coming in about 100 metres overhead. We did struggle a lot on this though support from the locals kept us going when all senses said to quit. Caroline had a podium age cat prize a few years ago but like myself was a bit too worn out to be in contention.

We all ran a 4 hour+ but Brian had managed to pull a sub 3:30 out of the bag despite the heat. Respect to him.

This was our third in four weeks so it was a relief to finish and tuck into all the post race snacks etc. Of all the marathons we’ve completed this has more than any other for the runners post race. Food, drinks & even ice creams are in abundance. We celebrated Bushy’s 1000th  ( Yes 1000th) marathon there last year as it was just the ideal place to have it.

After the race 100s of runners descend into the local square for some much needed celebrations. The four of us ended up in a Karaoke bar until about 3:30am.  We had to walk Pete Morris to his room as he didn’t know what day it was. Luckily for us he did not get up on stage.

Caroline & I stayed to the Wednesday to visit much of what the island had to offer, we even threw in a visit to the local Volcanos at Timanfaya Park.


If anyone has visited Seville or ran a race there you’ll be aware of just how stunning this place is. We ran the Marathon there in 2016 and will indeed be repeating it again in Feb 2020 just 10 weeks away.
Everywhere you look in the city there are orange trees lining the streets. Around the Cathedral area there’s a mixture of small friends tapas bars, some of which look like they’ve not been touched in 100s of years.

Pete and Bushy and most of the crew had now left to go home but we decided we’d get a flight straight over to Spain incorporating Seville before a 2.5 hour bus ride to Malaga.
Cutting a long story short, we found out the airport was closed mid-flight so we ended up at Malaga hence finding ourselves in the position of now needing a bus from Malaga to Seville, returning to Malaga again the next day.
We really enjoyed it here and even caught the excellent Xmas lights switch on as well as visiting one of the oldest Tapas bar in Spain. Our time was short so the next day it was off to Malaga.


After landing we caught the local bus from the airport to town. Our destination was the Las Vegas hotel which is right on the sea front. We had a few days before the marathon so it gave us time to indulge a little more rather than our usual arrival the day before.

I’ve always said Malaga is one of the most underrated cities in Europe. With a backdrop of a stunning cathedral and relatively quiet beaches it’s ideal for anyone wanting a authentic Spanish experience avoiding the tourist hotspots. There’s even a Picasso museum thrown in to boot.

On the Saturday we took part in the pre-marathon breakfast run. A tourist bus was laid on from the city that took us to the Estadio Ciudad de Málaga stadium were the run would kick off.

This was great fun especially as Caroline & I were decked out in Xmas gear. Really was a fun run but the nice weather and the stadium made this a great experience even if the route was a little dull.

Our partner in crime Martin Bush flew in not long after we finished ready for the Marathon the next day.

Marathon morning eventually arrived. In 2016 the rain was so bad that they called the Marathon off an hour before the start. Our fingers were firmly crossed in anticipation for this one. As it goes we kicked this off on a nice day. It’s dark when you arrive at baggage but by the time the marathon starts the sun is just rising making this ideal.

We popped into a café en route were these poor staff were trying to serve coffees to about 200 runners in 30 mins. Was chaos but a spectacle to watch.
Caroline with a combination of nerves and too much food the night before suddenly had a fit of the runs and quickly dived in front of the 50+ strong loo queue to save the day and her dignity. The only gripe I have about this marathon is the lack of toilets.

Start was so conjected but soon opened out as roads and coastal paths are so wide. By this time I was exhausted beyond belief and was doubting I could run half way yet a lone a marathon. Seven days out of the UK combined with eating out and late nights, not to mention three marathons in four weeks had taken their toll. Caroline was feeling pretty much the same though Bushy is a machine to business as usual for him. Another RR Paloma would also be running as well as some other pals. I decided my best tactic was to go for a fast first half and back off after 13 miles. The trick seemed to work and get me round, though my time was nothing to write home about.

It’s not a bad course but they had re-routed from previous years which meant not taking in as much coastal roads. It also seemed to add a few hills. Some people may prefer this but in the heat it can get too much. Needless to say I’d still highly recommend this Marathon in December for the city and beaches alone.

Caroline’s was about 20 mins ahead of me but Paloma had managed to pull off a PB beating us both and was ecstatic. Another friend of ours Julia whom we first met in Tallinn also managed a PB.

One of the best things about Malaga is the beach bars to follow. Tons of us met up for a well-deserved beer in the sun after the race. Bushy even managed some post-race magnet shopping.

As expected many of us got together and visited the tapas bars etc in e evening. One thing that is worth mentioning is the excellent roof top bar at the Marriot hotel. It gives a spectacular view of the city and for that it’s worth it alone.

Paloma’s parents live in Spain meaning she knows Malaga like the back of her hand. She treated all of us to drinks in the spectacular Bodega El Pimpi Spanish tapas bar which is just mind blowing. Bushy proclaimed it as the best bar he’s ever visited which coming from him just says it all.

Monday it was back to the UK. And dare I say it I think we were both glad to get back to the UK for a rest even if it was raining on our arrival. Now time for Xmas shopping, though a marathon in baking heat is easy by comparison.

Love is all around as our ladies vets grab the Berkshire title

MELANIE SHAW reports from the Berkshire Cross-Country Championships and was too modest to mention in her intro that she led the Roadrunners’ veteran ladies team to a gold medal triumph…

THE Championships were a superb event. Race director Sam Whalley once again proved her superhuman skills in organisation to produce a slick, competitive and certainly difficult course at Ashenbury Park. 

She even managed to bake for the runners. A huge, unwavering thank you should go to all the amazing volunteers who braved the wind and cold to marshal the race and ensure its success. They should consider a career in aircraft control or, failing that, professional cheerleaders. They certainly kept me going.

From a competitor perspective — I am sure we all face races with trepidation (I certainly do) and this is normal. I want to take the opportunity to say nerves make us strong, they mean that our team and races matter to us; we want to do well. Nerves are to be celebrated, not feared: don’t let them put you off racing.

The conditions were arguably perfect for cross-country; wet,wet wet, and as Marti Pellow once sang: “I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes” and we certainly felt it in our toes after the end of a muddy, slippery, sodden 10k. 

In some places — most notably the last 200 metres — it seemed more akin to running through a swamp than a park in Woodley. I considered swimming through the larger puddles.. it may have been more effective in places.

This was a day to celebrate the brave; the new 10k distance in competitive fields is not for everyone and certainly put off a few. However, the marvellous Shweta Siakumar stepped forward nervously to help the women’s senior team and without her they would not have been eligible to score for the team prize. 

Wearing her rather lovely new trail shoes, Shweta attacked the course. What a hero! Her participation meant the ladies secured second place in the women’s team event. 

Chloe Lloyd, first senior finisher, and Swinda Falkena, second finisher, completed the team. It just shows that if you are brave enough to show up you will be rewarded and Shweta was rightly delighted with her medal following a tough race.

There were some inevitable tumbles on the course, Chris Burt taking a second slip this season, so perhaps we can have a new Roadrunners award for most XC wipe-outs. Mind you, the speedy Helen Pool even took a fall (apparently the most dignified and graceful topple) on her own turf, so it just shows you how difficult the terrain was. 

Despite the conditions, roadrunners were out in spectacular full force. Jack Gregory secured third senior in the men’s race and with the men’s senior team of Sibrand Rinzema, Brendan Morris, Chris Burt, Chris Lucas and Calum Pratt won the second senior team prize.

Roadrunners vets also pulled out a fantastic performance in draining conditions, team captain Jamie Smith leading home the squad, with Tony Page and Lance Nortcliff following to guarantee third place in the men’s vets race.

With Sam ‘cool as a cucumber’ Whalley occupied with an abundance of race procedures and management — terrifyingly the caterers asked on the morning if it was an event at Newbury Showground — I had the absolute pleasure of stepping in as women’s captain and what a day to take on the role!

Bragging rights earned: Every one of the ladies who competed today took home a medal! They were amazing. Claire Raynor faced the technical run on her birthday like an absolute pro. Together with the legendary Lesley Whiley and Claire Seymour (who was unjustly wary of the field) they took home the vets’ bronze medals. 

The Roadrunners team also took the gold vets team medal, Mel Shaw (again weird talking about me in the third person, but I will get over it soon), Helen Pool and Sarah Dooley taking the shiny gold medals.

So, to conclude, a beautiful sunny day out in the mud, with fantastic rewards for the brave and valiant runners. I’d like once again to applaud the volunteers. This would not have been possible without you. I salute you. 

On a personal note, thank you for keeping us running when at times it would have been easier to give up and also for keeping us en route when disorientated in the sun. We would have quite happily run in the bushes to hide.

Feeling inspired? You should be! Fear not, you can recreate this joy next week in the final XC fixture of 2019. The Thames Valley League sees us once again splashing our way round the glorious hills and hummocks of Ashenbury Park on December 22nd at 11am. 

Thanks for that, Mel. Now the rest of the action…

The Henley mafia cleaned up at the Muddy Welly 10k in Crowthorne, Caroline Hoskins being first lady home. Carrie’s win meant the FV50 prize went to her great friend Julie Rainbow, whose son Matt, the Reading AC speedster, was first overall. Ed Dodwell picked up yet another MV60 prize.

There was a big personal triumph in Spain, where the popular Paloma Crayford finally crashed through the marathon’s four-hour barrier.

Paloma ran 3:52.59 in Malaga, an improvement of nearly 12 minutes on her time in London earlier this year.

“I’m feeling rather emotional as Malaga was my mother’s home town,” said Paloma after the race. “I would love to say that I am out celebrating but I’m drinking herbal tea. My body is feeling a little battered as the last three to four miles were painful . 

“I had to stop a couple of times to have a good drink and was battling with my mind to just keep going and push on. I’m hoping I’ve done enough to scrape through for a place in Boston in 2021.

“Now I’m off to meet my 90-year-old aunt. She lives a 20-minute from the course but I need to allow an hour as I’ll be shuffling.”

Paloma’s achievement will go down as another big success for the Katherine Sargeant-Sarah Dooley coaching team.

Berks XC results: http://www.berkshireathletics.org.uk/sites/default/files/2019/events/Berks%20XC%20Results%2015.12.19.pdf?fbclid=IwAR15x7nrFygjiBhlkA0XVYFNZecS1xXlsKuM0xOXxbs3vaE-YzgeDZnOkXY

Muddy Welly results: http://dbmaxresults.co.uk/results.aspx?CId=16421&RId=12013

Malaga Marathon results: https://sportmaniacs.com/es/races/zurich-maraton-de-malaga-2019/5df63a9f-ef58-4275-88bd-303eac1f122f/results#rankings


Roadrunners’ super-grans prove that they are still golden girls

Another successful weekend of cross-country racing for Reading Roadrunners, and here’s another in-depth report from ladies’ captain Sam Whalley…

IT WAS touch and go whether Jane Davies would be able to defend her FV60 title in the Southern Masters XC Championships in Oxford, but fortunately or us all, her new granddaughter Mollie arrived the previous weekend, leaving Jane able to slip away briefly and take on the ‘technical’ 6k course, with its grass, steep hills and plenty of mud.    

Jane and fellow FV60 team-mate, the relatively new to XC Tracey Lasan, described their approach to the rooty descents as ‘geriatric’. 

Despite their claims, Jane covered the course in a gold medal-retaining 28.46, in 33rd place overall including FV40s and FV50s, with Tracey in 30.09, 45th place overall, and picking up the bronze for the age category. 

The team was completed by Cecilia Csemiczky, in 45.53, 75th place, and the three women were crowned South of England FV60 XC champions.

Cecilia (right) was ninth in the FV65 age category, but will not know her true position as the SEAA does not have an entry option for FV70s. Maybe time for change?

In the same race, the MV70 team of Eddie Thorpe, Jim Kiddie and Ken Beck fared well in spite of a fast-paced start. Eddie was first to finish in 34.14, in 9th, slowed by a slip on a wooden bridge on the final entry to the field, which saw him taking a dip in the stream.

A little chilly and scraped, Eddie was cleaned up and left in good spirits. 

Jim had been allowed to make up a bit of distance on Eddie, though, and finished just behind, in 34.16, and 11th. Ken Beck was 12th, in 36.04, having not run XC for twenty years. Results show that no other club had managed to put together a complete team, and there was no team prize awarded. Perhaps that’s something else for the SEAA to review.

Also in the women’s race, Sarah Dooley was 30th (seventh FV40), in 28.03, Sam Whalley was 55th (18th FV45), in 32.18, and Claire Seymour was 65th (9th FV40), in 34.15. The FV40 team was sixth, while overall on the day the team of Sarah, Jane and Tracey was eighth out of 10 complete team

Colder air had arrived by the time of the main ‘younger’ men’s 9k race. First Roadrunner home was an impressive Tony Page in 36th (10th MV45), in 35.21, Fergal Donnelly, complete with sore ankle from a twist at Handy Cross, was 84th (22nd MV45), in 38.14, and Bryan Curtayne was 153rd (29th MV45), in 45.33. The MV40 team was 12th.

Sadly Fergal’s injury makes him a big doubt for both next weekend’s Berkshire XC Championships and our home TVXC fixture at Ashenbury Park on December 22nd.

Despite suffering the after-effects of a flu jab, Pete Jewell led the MV50s home in 102nd (19th MV55), in 39.08, followed by Gavin Rennie, in 105th (20th MV55), in 39.28, and Mark Andrew, in 116th (24th MV50), in 41.15. Non-scorer David Fiddes was 138th (28th MV50), in 43.32. 

The MV50 team was tenth, and overall the men’s team of Tony, Fergal and Pete was 17th out of 24 complete teams.

It goes without saying that these were excellent performances all round, in an event of such a high standard.

In other news, our second-claim runner, Ben Paviour, was fourth overall, and 2nd MV45, in 32.09, running for Herne Hill. But we won’t mention that. And another second-claimer, Sarah Urwin-Mann, was second lady overall, and first FV45. She was wearing the Reading AC kit, so we won’t mention her either.

Thanks for that, Sam! Now here’s the rest of the weekend action…

No foreign Sunday marathon this weekend for our usual international jet-set foursome… but that’s only because they raced on Saturday! This time they had the company of some real quality towards the front of the field, Brian Kirsopp running 3:28.06 in finishing 71st.

Paul Monaghan and Caroline Jackson ran 4:38.31, Martin Bush 4:52.36 and Pete Morris 5:09.10, despite a heavy fall. Once again they were moaning about having to run in baking hot temperatures, without too much sympathy from back home.

Another Roadrunner doing something a bit different was Joe Blair, who competed in the eight-mile Grim Challenge, an endurance/obstacle event run over an Army assault course near Aldershot. It made for a doubly grim weekend after he watched Reading get stuffed by Birmingham City at the MadStad on Saturday.

Joe — who finished second MV60 in 1:15.54 — said: “The good news is that I wasn’t too muddy at the end; the bad news is that the mud washed off during the last three miles, which involved wading waist-deep through seven or eight gullies of cold water. The whole thing was tough but fulfilling in a weird way.”

So when he lines up for the Muddy Welly 10k at Crowthorne next weekend it might not seem quite so…. muddy!

Nick Adley was the only Roadrunner to contest the Tadley Xmas XC, and he finished 71st in 1:02.25.

Pictures: Sarah Dooley, Pete Jewell.

Masters results link: https://www.race-results.co.uk/results/2019/seaamasters19.htm

All right, Jack? Of course he is, and the winner at Handy Cross

New men’s captain JAMIE SMITH had a packed weekend of successful racing on three consecutive days and still found the strength to send us this insightful report of the action…

A SLIGHTLY under the weather Jack Gregory decided to run only in the Thames Valley Cross Country League, rather than the Hampshire League. This proved a fine choice, with a solo front run to win the race at Handy Cross.

Saturday brought the third round of the Hampshire League XC fixtures and, being hosted by Aldershot ,we expected a number of top-class athletes and tough competition. Indeed, Aldershot proved their own team strength by providing the first five male runners to finish.

The air was cold but the ground conditions — when compared to the previous fixture in Winchester  — seemed to be somewhat more ‘runnable’. 

Once the majority of runners had arrived, we walked around the course together, finding a mixture of grass, short steep downhill banks and a technical twisting section in the woods, and of course there were also some pretty tough muddy sections.

Spikes laced up, we headed for the start-line. When the gun went it felt like a track race and what can only be described as a sprint for the first corner.

We had a total of 14 Roadrunners competing, being led home by the “mud lover” Mark Worringham in 46th. Our senior team finished in sixth place and that proved enough to keep us sixth overall in this season’s League standings.

The senior team scorers were Mark Apsey (53rd), Jamie Smith (56th), Chris Burt (66th) and Tony Page, having a fine run in 87th.

The men’s vet team had another excellent performance and continue to lead the way in this season’s league table.

The vets team finished the day second overall to host team Aldershot, who had clearly pulled out all the efforts to win their home fixture. Let’s make sure we return the gesture when the Hampshire League comes to Prospect Park on January 11th.

Ours vets were led home by Mark Worringham (3rd, right) and Tony Page (10th), who were backed by a strong run from Lance Nortcliff in 14th.

While the sharp end of the field is a stellar line-up of top-class athletes, everyone is welcome to take part and there were excellent runs by both Pete Morris in 262nd and Nick Adley in 270th.

It would be great to see some more runners at our next fixture in the New Year.

It’s not every race where you see a Great Britain international (Steph Twell) finish second in the ladies race and find another GB athlete (Andy Vernon) marshalling out on the course all afternoon.

A quick wash of the kit and refuel for some — including both captains, well done Sam! —who were doubling up this weekend, and the runners were raring to go at the next fixture in the TVXC.

This Sunday’s race took place at what is regarded by most runners as the hardest course in the league. I am sure those who had only just recovered from last week’s hills at Sandhurst were looking forward to even more today.

In dry and sunny conditions another large turn-out toed the line undeterred by this week’s exertions.

Before the race began we had a moment’s applause for Bracknell Forest runner Chau See, who sadly collapsed suddenly a week ago and unfortunately passed away this week.

I had the pleasure of knowing Chau for many years through my time at Sweatshop, where he was a regular runner, and then through parkruns, many local races and at Endure 24 every year.

Chau will be remembered for his unwavering smile that always greeted you and I am sure his family will have appreciated the moment taken to reflect. Some asked if there is a collection taking place and here is the link to it:


The Handy Cross race began in earnest downhill before the impending hills to come, and quickly we saw Jack Gregory take to the front. Even more quickly, he disappeared over the top of the first hill and out of sight.

The course, albeit a little drier than we have got used to in recent weeks, did not allow for any easier conditions. Every ascent seemed longer than the previous one but the descents that didn’t feel as long as what had just run up!

The men’s squad comfortably beat Datchet Dashers to the team win, with Jack being supported in the team by seniors Brendan Morris (5th), Sibrand Rinzema (7th), and Jamie Smith (10th). The two scoring vets this week were Fergal Donnelly with a fantastic run in 17th, and Paddy Hayes (44th).

Superb running by everyone at both these events and it was great to see the camaraderie shown between all club members throughout. 

The next TVXC will be our own host fixture at Ashenbury Park, Woodley, on December 22nd and it would be great to see as many members as possible turn out. Let’s make sure we can win our host fixture!

Now here’s the report from women’s captain SAM WHALLEY…

Wellesley Woodlands in Aldershot was the venue for the final Hampshire League fixture of 2019. Despite being our third visit to this location, it was the first time we had really been able to see the statue of the Duke of Wellington at the edge of the woods, having only previously experienced foul weather here before.

The women were first up, with their 6k course being made up of a start loop, one medium and one large loop around the outside of grassy pitches, and through twisting woodlands, with a couple of undulations, nothing major. The grassy areas were already pretty churned up and boggy.

The race started about a minute too early for my liking, as I was still tying my shoelace when the gun sounded, and everyone disappeared into the distance. It’s surprising how far away people can get in 10 seconds. What a rookie!

We were joined again by second-claim member, Freya Martin, who put in a fantastic run, finishing 19th. Helen Pool was 44th (fifth vet), and Sarah Dooley 56th (ninth vet). This gave the seniors team a very good sixth place. 

I think there should be a stewards’ inquiry into how Chloe Lloyd can now finish 50 places ahead of me in a Hampshire League race, or rather, it just goes to show that regular and sensible training can result in consistent excellent performances. Chloe was 65th, with Claire Raynor 94th (34th vet). The vets’ team was a fantastic third! Claire swears by a pre-race parkrun leg-loosener, but I’m too scared to give this a go.

The teams were backed up by me (Sam Whalley) in 116th, Alex Bennell in 121st, Claire Seymour in 132nd and Cecilia Csemiczky in 162nd (2nd V70).

Incidentally, Team GB’s Steph Twell was second, and said the years of training with Aldershot in those woods did not seem to have made them any easier. Even more satisfying then that many of us recorded our best performances on that course.

With the TVXC hosted by Handy Cross Runners the next day, a few of us — Cecilia, Claire Seymour and myself — were up for the ‘double’, being unable to resist the lure of the undulating Bradenham Woods course and its views (apparently there were some, but I didn’t see any).

Bringing the women’s team home was Laura Peatey in seventh overall, followed by Mel Shaw, who although feeling the effects of the sub-20 PB she achieved on the track on Friday evening still managed an excellent ninth. Sarah Alsford was our first vet female, in 23rd, with Claire Marks completing the scoring team in 26th.

There were too many other women to mention them all — which is great — but I must give a shout out to Claire Woodhouse for her storming performance, and Ros Crawford, who seems to be enjoying her first proper season of XC. Well, she keeps coming back for more.

Thanks and well done to everyone who took part in the XC events this weekend.

Here’s the rest of the weekend’s racing news…

Mortimer 10k champion Marcus Fletcher nearly grabbed another title when he finished second in the Mapledurham 10 in a super time of 1:03.41. However Brian Kirsopp was the big winner from the final club championship race of the season, the flying postie coming home ninth overall to wrap up the hotly-contested M50 age group prize.

Brian’s time of 1:08.17 was also good enough to clinch the coveted ‘all racers by age grading’ title, pipping Katherine Sargeant and  Alan Freer. Gen sec Bob Thomas has now produced the final standings and a jubilant Brian said: “A massive thanks to Bob for compiling them and organising all the races.”

Second Roadrunner to finish was Tony Page. In doing so carried off the club’s M40 crown as well as the Mapledurham M40 trophy. Tony was seventh overall in 1:06.46.

The only other club award to be decided was the senior women’s title, carried off by Donna Saunders after another good run.

In the Mapledurham 10k there were prizes for our first three finishers, Ed Dodwell (first M60), Sophie Hoskins (second lady) and Julie Rainbow (first F50).

Back at Palmer Park, Track Friday supremo Fergal Donnelly is trying to firm up dates for the 2020 meetings after another successful event last week.

Defying an icy track surface, Sibrand Rinzema won the opening mile in 5.02, beating off the challenge of two guest runners from Reading University.

But the Dutchman couldn’t repeat his success in the 5k, finishing second behind Ryan Faulkner, who won in 16.48.

There were stand-out performances — and big PBs — from Mark Dibben (17.52) and Mel Shaw, brilliantly paced by men’s captain Jamie Smith, dipping under the magic 20mins barrier for the first time with 19.53.

Pictures: Eddie Thorpe, Chloe Lloyd, Gemma Buley, Cathrin Westerwelle, Paul Monaghan.

Link to Mapledurham 10 results: http://dbmaxresults.co.uk/results.aspx?CId=16421&RId=12012&EId=3

Link to Eddie Thorpe’s Track Friday album: https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipOoRuBE7V5yY6u9Zj2PxVkrWlEv2wY1sGjTKeBD4DW2N6cZahlun5FyOQQu022OHQ?key=YnMxcElGNmhtY1l4UlNLeklBNnNianhQVV9RQXFR

Hampshire League links: https://www.hampshireathletics.org.uk/results/2019/20191130_hlmen.html and https://www.hampshireathletics.org.uk/results/2019/20191130_hlwomen.html


Muddy marvels! Roadrunners clinch another TVXC triumph

Roadrunners took a huge contingent of 70 athletes to the latest TVXC event and were rewarded with victory for the men’s team and third place for the ladies. MELANIE SHAW and JAMIE SMITH tell how they did it…

MUD, mountaineering and madness… Thames Valley Cross-Country League gets cruel at Sandhurst.

Well, we all join the League for some fun Sunday running; a chance to get out and explore new routes, meet new people and get involved in racing rather than clock watching or watch clocking.

But sometimes I do wonder what on earth I was thinking when I left my comfy, warm bed to embark on some of the most challenging, albeit beautiful, courses in the Thames Valley.

In true Jamie Smith fashion, we arrived nice and early at the stunning Lord Wandsworth College, Odiham, where the new men’s captain’s uttered the wise words: “You’ll be thankful for this close car park space when you’re done.” 

Three hours later, following a race and pack-down of infrastructure, my legs fully understood what he meant.

We set off merrily on our way to the start with fellow car-sharing team Dan Stockwell and Laura Peatey. It’s always good to car share — not just an example of our eco-friendly ethos but also very practical as parking can be tricky at these events and it’s a great opportunity to get to know fellow team members. Top tip: post on the club’s Facebook page if you ever need a lift. I’m sure you’ll get a quick response.

Celebrating birthdays was a common theme for today’s fixture. I am not sure I’d want to be spending my birthday morning splashing through mud and slogging my way uphill but fair play and a huge happy birthday to Colin Cottell and Sally Carpenter for being better human beings than I. I hope you had a blast.

The weather was utterly perfect:  a slight chill, a cinematic Sherlock Holmes mist close to the ground, but not a drop of rain in sight. Judging by the course condition this had not been the case in the days prior to the race. It was a mud-fest! Despite this, 70 wonderful, Reading Roadrunners turned out.

Undeterred by the previous days’ heavy rainfall, they donned their trail shoes, green vests and a wry smile… (OK, that might have been trepidation but I’m reading it as excitement) and lined up to face the experience.

Hearing rumours of potential bottlenecks on the course, the start was fast, with Sibrand Rinzema leading the men’s team out. 

From the moment the countdown begins, you always wonder what the course will bring. That’s part of the fun, right?  And this one did not disappoint… if you like hills.

Well this course seemed to go up FOR EVER (making for excellent hill training, which I am sure will make us all stronger in the long run). This was followed by what can only be described as a quagmire; ultimately, the reason we all do cross-country, surely? 

Then, just when you thought you were safe —  another hill. No, not a hill, a mountain. The kind of mountain you expect crampons and sherpas to help you with on some experiential travel package. Alas, here no donkey, only our poor legs. 

Good job this was followed by an incline through a claggy mud-field that added an extra 2kgs to each shoe! Oh, and then go around again. Two-lap courses certainly are challenging.

Roadrunners were led home in fifth place by Chris Burt, followed closely by Jamie Smith in sixth, Sibrand Rinzema in eighth and Mark Apsey in tenth. But it was our leading vets, Fergal Donnelly, in 24th and Brian Kirsopp, in 30th, who clinched victory for the men’s team.

The women’s team also ran really well to finish in a highly creditable third place. Laura Peatey (below) was our first lady home in tenth, celebrating her debut appearance to the Thames Valley League following up a corking performance at the BBO Championships last week.  

Mel Shaw (OK, a bit weird talking about myself in third person) came a close second in 11th, Chloe Lloyd 22nd and our first scoring vet, Sarah Alsford, 27th.

I really need to recognise the fabulous effort displayed by Gill Manton and Sophie Higgs who battled through the difficult conditions to finish together, as a team. It made me really proud to be a Roadrunner; ultimately, we are a team and it is our combined efforts that will make us stronger.

So, what’s next? Not had enough mud? Not hit enough trails and hills?

Well, we can help… the next exciting fixture is the Hampshire League race at Aldershot on November 30th. The women’s race (6k) is at 1.35pm and the men’s race (10k) at 2.30pm. What’s even better is that this is free as the club pays for your participation. 

If the Hampshire League is not your bag, then join us at Bradenham Woods for the Handy Cross Runners course on December 1st at 11am (it’s OK to walk the hills, you know) for more mud and merriment.  

Trail shoes are a must. £3 a runner, £4 guests and… there is cake on the finish line. You don’t even have to move to be fed. That gets my vote!

See you there.

* Two of the club’s Hampshire League stalwarts, Pete Jewell and Helen Pool, took the flatter, drier, option of the Jigsaw 10k at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey (where Top Gear is filmed)… and were rewarded for their efforts.

At least Pete, when finished 14th in 38:11, would have been rewarded had there been a prize for the winner of the M50 age group… but there was no such thing. Was he disappointed? Er, yes… actually he was!

But at least he had consolation of seeing his training partner, Helen, finish third lady and achieve a 12-seconds PB with a time of 40:47, a nice follow-up to her half-marathon PB last month.

Three other Roadrunners who opted to compete on a firmer surface were Mark Andrew and his wife Veronica, plus Lizzie Hogan. They ran in the Silverstone 10k on the Formula One circuit, Mark finishing in 42.10, Lizzie in 46.15 and Veronica 1:10.42.Meanwhile the “it’s-Sunday-so-it-must-be-overseas-marathon-day’ gang chalked up another visit to Basque country for the San Sebastian Marathon. Caroline Jackson just beat the 4hr mark with 3:59.12, Paul Monaghan ran 4:19.43, Martin Bush 4:31.24 and Pete Morris 4:35.05.

Results: http://tvxc.org.uk/results/team?race_id=92

Pictures: Phil Reay, Gemma Buley, Angela Burley, John Bailey.

Cross country? Jane did it twice on national service and local

Once again the great multi-tasker SAM WHALLEY has done the honours with the reporting duties after another weekend of success for the club…

READING Roadrunners’ veteran women have retained the Arthur Killbery Shield at the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Cross County Championships.

Mel Shaw, Helen Pool and Sarah Dooley were fifth, seventh and ninth in the over 35s competition, which put them level on points with Newbury AC, so it was the position of the third scorer which determined the outcome at Prospect Park.

The senior women’s A team of Chantal Percival, Laura Peatey and Mel Shaw was sixth. Laura seemed to have been unhindered by her lack of running spikes on such a muddy and hilly course, and Chantal commented that she had forgotten what these short races are like, especially with the advertised 6k actually measuring under 5k. 

It’s not really far enough for some of our long-distance runners to get into their stride, so perhaps next year’s race, which has been equalised with the men’s, and will be 8k, will suit the team better.

Jane Davies (left) was 12th vet, which is fantastic considering she had hot-footed it down from Liverpool, where she had been third FV60 and in the winning England FV60s team in the British and Irish Masters XC International the previous day. 

Jane remarked that the course at Prospect Park was certainly more interesting than the outer laps of Aintree racecourse.

Also putting in good runs for the women were Chloe Lloyd, Lesley Whiley, Claire Raynor, Sam Whalley, Toni McQueen and Claire Seymour.

In the men’s (slightly less than) 10k race, Jack Gregory (below) led the senior team to third place, with an individual third placing of his own. Jack said that he had been racing the winner, Alex Muir from Newbury AC, since he was a child, so knew what he was up against, but had enjoyed the battle the top three had fought throughout the race.

With six to score in the senior men’s race, Jack was backed up by Seb Briggs, Brendan Morris, Sibrand Rinzema, Jamie Smith and Chris Burt.

Seb also took home the medal for third vet overall, and led the vets team to second place, with Jamie Smith and Tony Page completing the over 35s team. It’s worth mentioning that Jamie had run a half-marathon PB at Dorney Lake 24 hours before.

Not in the scoring team, but also having strong runs for the men, were Lance Nortcliff, Pete Jewell, Andy Blenkinsop, Richard Usher — running his first BBO race for 20 years — and Ian Giggs.

This was an amazing performance for the club, and the effort put in by everyone is very much appreciated.

Far away from the mud and chill of Prospect Park, there were Roadrunners who found it too hot to produce times they were happy with.

The usual suspects of Paul Monaghan, Caroline Jackson, Pete Morris and Martin Bush were in Cyprus for the Larnaca Marathon, from where there were any number of excuses.

The race was run in 28-degree temperatures… there was a 1k kids race on the course at the same time forcing the marathon finishers to dodge 400 little ‘uns… and Pete Morris’s race was disrupted by the need to stop to feed pelicans. No, we’re not making that up. So, do Roadrunners back home feel sorry for them competing in that heat?

“Caroline and I ran rubbish times at about 4:40,” said Paul. “I was moaning about my dodgy calf injury and Caroline was suffering heat problems so we nearly pulled out at half way.

“Bushy did about 4:53 and Pete 5:05 despite splashing it all over Facebook that he would do sub-4.30.”

Next weekend the intrepid foursome will be heading to San Sebastian on Spain for yet another marathon and Paul said: “At least Morris shouldn’t have any pelicans to worry about this time.”

In rather cooler climes, there was a PB of over two minutes for David Clay at the Gosport Half Marathon where he finished in 1:31.32. “Coming after terrible runs at Maidenhead and Berlin this autumn it was a welcome confidence boost to run well,” said David.

Other Roadrunners enjoying a view across the Solent to the Isle of Wight (you don’t get that in Cyprus) were new member Pragash Nantha (1:35.33), stalwart Kevin Jones (1:40.10, six minutes quicker than last year), Liz Johnson (1:48.45) and Jim Kiddie (1:56.08).

It was Jim’s 17th appearance in the event and he finished fourth M70. “It was a bit fresh when we arrived,” said Jim, “but this is a very well organised race. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but very addictive.”

Pictures: Peter Reilly, Chloe Lloyd, Claire Woodhouse.

Results: https://bbocca.uk/files/results/2000-2049/2019-BBO_Champs.pdf

Worringham’s warriors tops again as new girl Freya shines

AFTER another busy weekend of cross-country action, ladies captain Sam Whalley wraps up all the Roadrunners’ news from at home and abroad…

As if standing around volunteering at a local parkrun in the cold wasn’t enough, 24 Reading Roadrunners made the journey, through driving rain, to Winchester, for the second Hampshire League fixture of the season. 

Sparsholt College was a new venue, and promised grassy fields and woodland. I don’t believe anyone had mentioned hills, although these were to be expected, or steps. Steps? Even the flat bits looked to me like they were on a camber. And of course there was mud, plenty of it. Even heading to the area allocated for club tents was pretty slippery, and one of two may have taken a tumble.

Having been ill on the Friday, I was delighted to see such an impressive turn-out of women, which meant I didn’t feel obliged to complete the team. However, I was slightly disappointed to not have been able to experience the ‘brutal’, ‘horrible’, ‘horrendous’ conditions first hand, because that’s what it’s all about, after all. I can certainly confirm that I was wet and very cold, and almost as muddy as if I had run.

First back of our nine women was new second-claim member, Freya Martin, who runs first-claim for Tadley Runners. Although she didn’t feel she had run as well as she would have liked, Freya (right) was a real asset to the team, in 23rd position, which is excellent for a race of this standard. 

Next for the club were Helen Pool, in 62nd (8th vet), and Sarah Dooley, in 70th (15th vet), to make up the women’s team, who finished eighth.

Chloe Lloyd was 94th and Claire Raynor 118th (34th vet), with Claire completing the vets’ scoring team to earn us fourth place.

Alex Bennell and Claire Seymour put in really strong performances, as did triathlete Kira Moffat, making her debut in the Hampshire League (coerced by friend of ten years, Claire Raynor, who hoped this baptism of fire — well, water really — wouldn’t signal the end of their friendship), and Cecilia Csemiczky, who had run the Nice-Cannes marathon only a week before. She kept that quiet!

We will be missing Katie Rennie this season, having switched her first and second-claim status in order to secure a London Marathon place through the University of Southampton; we cheered her on regardless, and hope to see her back with us next year.

Fourteen men made up the men’s team, in a race which was of an incredibly high standard. There were comments from some that they felt that their finishing position was not representative of the effort they had put in, such was the tight packing of teams such as Aldershot, Farnham and District, with over 30 runners in total, including six in the top ten, out of 298 men.

First to finish was Jack Gregory, in 34th, followed by Mark Worringham, in 60th (4th vet, above), Mark Apsey, in 63rd, Jamie Smith (68th) and Brendan Morris (74th). This meant the men’s team was fifth, which was a fantastic result.

Chris Burt (below) was next, in 86th, with Tony Page (105th, 13th vet) and Lance Nortcliff (115th, 18th vet) completing the vets’ team. The vets’ team was first, again, which was absolutely brilliant.

There were also gutsy performances by Matt Davies, still feeling his recent marathon in his legs, Pete Jewell, Andrew Smith, who handed me his finish token from a very muddy, bloody, hand, and Mark Andrew, an infrequent participant in the Hampshire League, but who can definitely hold his own in this field. Colin Cottell opted not to finish the race. Despite the conditions, which, it was pointed out, were almost identical to those in Aldershot on the same weekend last year, this was an incredible day for the club, and everyone gave it their absolute best. The next race will actually be in Aldershot on November 30th.

The weather was somewhat different on Sunday, for the third Thames Valley XC fixture of the season, hosted by Datchet Dashers, where 65 Reading Roadrunners were in action. I always give this race a miss — three feet of elevation, what’s that about? — and had volunteered for admin. It’s a great way to put faces to names, and you get a real feel for everyone’s race.

Not put off by Saturday’s experience, Chris Burt had a strong run on a very different course, and led the club home, in ninth place. This position alone shows the calibre of the previous day’s race! He was followed in by vets Fergal Donnelly, in 23rd, Tony Page, also still not tired from the Hampshire League, in 35th, Andy Blenkinsop (43rd), Brian Kirsopp (47th) and Darren Lewis (49th). That was enough to earn us fifth place.

Matt Davies was another who did the XC double this weekend, while Stuart Hyslop and Mike Hibberd made their debuts.

There’s no stopping Sarah Dooley at the moment, and she was first of our woman (and vet woman) to finish, in 31st, even after a bout of Hampshire League fun 24 hours earlier. Claire Marks was next, as second vet, in 33rd, with Renée Whalley in 34th. Chloe Lloyd had also ‘done the double’, and she was 45th. That put our ladies in sixth place and the club also sixth overall.

There was great running by everyone, and we look forward to the next race, hosted by Sandhurst Joggers, on November 24th.

While the two XC leagues provided some challenging conditions, the prize for the toughest task of the weekend should probably go to first-time marathoner Nicki Randall, (left), who conquered the 27.5-miles Endurance Life trail race on the Gower peninsula in west Wales.

Total elevation gain in the event was 3,115 feet which, as Nicki points out, is nearly the height of Mount Snowdon. At the start it was “lashing it down and really windy.” Nevertheless her finishing time of seven hours and six minutes was good enough to win her F55 age group!

“Thankfully the rain eased as we made our first climb from the beach up to the moor,” said Nicki. “Then the trail got muddy… proper serious mud that sticks to your shoes.”

After another couple of tough climbs, a run along another beach, a coastal path, lots of undulations and more mud, our hero in green and her husband Martin finally made it through the line.

“That was my first marathon,” she said, “but it probably won’t be my last. In fact I will probably go longer now. I love trail running, it’s such a lovely way to see the countryside.

“These events are so friendly and inclusive and there’s a mobile buffet at the checkpoints.”

Another brave Roadrunner competing on the Gower coast was Maddy Smith, who described the 14.8-mile half marathon as “definitely the hardest race I’ve ever done.”

Maddy (pictured right with boyfriend Dan) finished in a time of 2:56.39 and was 34th female. “It was the first trail half marathon I’ve ever done,” she said, “and the furthest I’ve ever run.

“Luckily it stopped raining for about three hours for our race and the sun came out to allow some stunning views. I’m feeling incredibly sore now but it was a great experience.”

Conditions were a lot better in Athens, where the great and the good of the local running scene gathered to celebrate the 100th marathon run by Roadrunners” second-claimer Mary Wilson.

A veteran of nearly 200 volunteering stints at local parkruns, Mary has also competed in marathons in the United States, Thailand and Spain.

She’s pictured with Roadrunners’ chairman Phil Reay, his partner Christina Calderon, Reading Joggers chair Jayne Woodhouse and Steve Harlowe.

Phil described the run as “one event too many for Christina and me. It was a “long and painful slog on a very hilly course.”

Nevertheless Christina survived to finish her second marathon in a month just after completing the Grand Slam in the Centurion 100-mile series.

Results: http://www.tvxc.org.uk/results/team?race_id=91

Pictures: Chloe Lloyd.

Dutch courage pays off with big PB for Swinda in the Big Apple

Roving reporter SAM WHALLEY brings you up to date with all the news from the weekend races at home and abroad…

THE unique Marlow 7 was the place to be if you wanted to pick up some bling this weekend.

Three of our amazing veterans — Ed Dodwell (M60), David Dibben (M70) and Carrie Hoskins (F50) — picked up prizes at this reportedly well-organised, value-for-money race, although for Carrie it was the trophy for second female overall.

Rita Dykes was unlucky not to get the F70 prize. She was quickest in her age group by 22 seconds but she lost out because it was awarded on the ‘gun’ rather than ‘chip’ time.

David said: “Last year in this race I was pleased to knock three mins off the course record for an M70, previously held by the great Jim Kiddie.

“Today I knocked another three and a half minutes off that. My wife Jill improved her personal best at this distance by 72 seconds and was over four minutes quicker than this race last year.” First Roadrunner to finish was Fergal Donnelly, following his excellent form throughout an autumn of tough trail races and half marathons. Just goes to show how good off-road training is for your overall performance!

Marlow 7 results link: https://www.racesonline.uk/results/2019-results/marlow/marlow-7/

In the Marlow half marathon, Richard Usher was first RR back, in 1:32.06, while Katie Gumbrell brought it home for the women, in 2:12.25. This is a tough course!

Marlow Half results link: https://www.racesonline.uk/results/2019-results/marlow/marlow-half/

The prize for the Roadrunner taking part in the toughest race of the weekend went to Gary Tuttle in the Mission Mount Somers Half Marathon in the south island of New Zealand.

The clue is in the title… ‘Mount’. This is basically a trail race up a volcano. The degree of difficulty can be gauged by the winner’s time, 2:06, and the final finisher’s.. over SEVEN hours. In the full marathon staged simultaneously, the winner ran 4:13 and last man over TEN hours.

Gary (right) finished 16th in the Half in 2:44.59 just a fortnight after his sub-3hr PB marathon in Auckland. “No PBs here,” he said. Never mind, that should toughen him up for a spot of XC action when he returns to the UK.

Meanwhile, over in the United States, Roadrunners’ Dutch star Swinda Falkena was celebrating a 10-minute PB in the notoriously tough New York City marathon. Swinda ran 3:47.38 and her boyfriend, Sibrand Rinzema (top picture), was the first Roadrunner to finish in an impressive 2:51.56.

“It was a tough course,” said Sibrand, “but I really enjoyed the ambience. It was good until 25k, on a pace for 2.35 but I had a hunger knock and needed to walk/run after 32k.

“Swinda really enjoyed it as well, and didn’t even think the bridges were too bad. The final part in Manhattan just slightly uphill was tough, but she managed to not slow down too much.”

Like Sibrand, David McCoy also managed a sub-3hr time, finishing in Central Park in 2:58.35, but it wasn’t such a great day for the veteran marathoner Dave Wood, who struggled round in 5:42.05. “That was horrible,” said Dave. “Having been injured throughout the summer and only doing three training runs I got what I deserved.”

Over in France, first Roadrunner home in the Nice-Cannes marathon was Tony Walker (right), who was delighted with 3:12.01, a time he said would be good enough to renew his Good For Age status. Andrew Butler finished in 3:45:11, David Walkley in 4:06.02, Pete Morris in 4:33.18, and ‘marathon man’ Martin Bush, struggling with a foot injury, in 4:51.37.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cartoon: Veronica Andrew, from her personal collection.

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