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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Friday Track Schedule

Friday Track Schedule/Track Friday

Friday night sessions are for runners of all abilities, i.e. target splits for runners of 10 minutes per mile to seasoned 5 minute milers. Sessions are laid out in the schedule but if you prefer to do your own session you are more than welcome, just make sure you do not clash with the main group. We welcome runners who just want to have a social jog around the outside of the track within the safety of the facility. If you prefer training tailor made to suit your personal needs, just ask the coach in attendance for advice and they will assist you. This is a friendly and safe training session.

About 4 times per year we also have our special Track Friday evening.

Horse sense prevails in search for club championship points

ROADRUNNERS’ ladies captain SAM WHALLEY reports from the wilds of Hampshire after the first of the three five-mile races in this year’s club championship…

THE eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the Hurstbourne five-mile race on the club championship calendar was listed as ‘by request’.

This had appeared in the champs last year, and although it is around an hour’s drive from Reading, it was so enjoyable that Tina Woffington (below) asked for it to be included again. She then forgot to enter until the day, but that’s another story!

The course has everything: farm tracks, grass, uneven ground, a big hill, woodland paths (up and down hill), bluebells, fallen tree hurdles, the big hill again, more grass…. you get the picture. 

It’s hilly (see profile below) and you really need to watch your footing to avoid tripping up or turning an ankle. It wasn’t as muddy this year, so most of us found our times to be a couple of minutes faster.

There was a good turn-out of 20 green vests, enough for a bit of friendly competition, and it also felt good to be supporting such a small event. There were 266 finishers overall.

First Roadrunner to finish was Ben Whalley (above, right), in third overall, achieving 50 points in the MV40 category. Next in that category was Tony Page, who also picked up the prize for first MV40, followed by Bryan Curtayne.

The MV50 category was as competitive as ever. Mark Andrew took everyone by surprise by by-passing the pre-race banter and turning up on the start line.

Rumour has it that he arrived early for an on-the-day entry, and then caught up on some sleep until race time. He was first of our MV50s home, bagging himself 50 points. 

He was followed by the Davids, Caswell and Fiddes, Tony Streams (still with broken toe in-tow — that was interesting on the downhills, ouch!) and George Nyamie.

Alan Freer picked up the prize for first MV60, and with he, Andy Atkinson and Jim Kiddie being the only competitors in the MV60, MV65 and MV70 categories, respectively, each could also take away 50 points. Ben Fasham was the only senior RR male in attendance, so he too was able to take home an easy 50 points.

For the women, it was Katherine Sargeant who was first RR home, as fourth female, and first in the FV45 race category.

As far as the club championships were concerned, it is rare that Katherine doesn’t pick up 50 points, and Saturday was no exception, in spite of changes to the female age categories to bring them in line with the men’s. Katherine was followed by me and Caroline Hargreaves.

There were grumbles in the FV50 category, following the removal of the FV55s. “Where’s the incentive now?” asked Sarah Bate, as she scooped the full 50 points, ahead of Catherine Leather. 

Sarah will have to take solace in the fact that not every club member takes interest in the club champs, and there’s still everything to play for.

In the FV60s, Tina Woffington took the 50 points, followed by Sandy Sheppard, while Liz Atkinson was the only contender for the FV65s. Liz had the grace of a carousel horse as she came into the finish. “That was tough,” she said afterwards to Katherine. “Why would a thoroughbred like you want to enter something like this, where you could injure yourself? Leave it to us Shetland ponies.”

A great event, and with many of our runners only a week post-marathon, some impressive performances too. 

The remaining five-mile races in the championship are the Marlow 5 on May 12th (also a Berkshire Road Running Championship race), and the Headington 5 on August 25th. Don’t miss out.

Results: http://www.hurstbourne5.org.uk/shared/attachments.asp?f=1fa511bc-dd1c-4c31-bcf3-508b17f44ca9%2Epdf&o=HBT5-Results-2019%2Epdf

Pictures: Emma Caswell

Tough French connection, but now we’ll always have Paris

GLOBE-TROTTING runner-writer ANDY ATKINSON follows up his dispatches from Berlin, New York, Bilbao and Verona with this report from the Paris Marathon…

QUESTION: What activity do you come out of feeling worse than when you went in? 

ANSWER: Not running a marathon, but going to the doctor to ask for a medical certificate to run one! 

The French ask for conformation from a medic prior to allowing you to enter the Paris Marathon and I went into the surgery confident that this would be a formality.

After much sucking of teeth and comments about high cholesterol and blood pressure my doctor said no! She would have to get confirmation from the senior partner before risking a signature on the form. 

Fortunately, it turned out that the senior partner is a parkrunner and after a few questions and agreeing to appropriate medication I was in.

Liz, my wife, had similar problems — her doctor flatly refused to take the risk and sign the form, leaving her to find a more enlightened medic at a bureau in Paddington. Charlie Macklin submitted the form all right, only to have it thrown out for having the wrong wording. It turned out that the words were right in the end, but this only came clear on collecting bibs at the expo.

The medical certificate obstacle surmounted, a small group of Reading Roadrunners independently took the Eurostar to Paris. We consisted of David Walkley, Charlie Macklin, Anthony Eastaway, Liz and myself, supplemented by our neighbours, Joelah and Linda Flintoff.  Unfortunatley, Sev Konieczny was unable join us, but her sister, Véronique Chalmandrier ran in support.

We also had the backing of supporters in Paris — Anthony’s husband Jeremy and Charlie’s children, as well as the warm good wishes of a large number of Roadrunners following us back home on the event app.

On the eve of the race Anthony, Jeremy, Liz and I ventured to the top of the Arc de Triomphe to view the start and finish of the course, while Charlie opted for a view from the Eiffel Tower. We also managed an evening rendezvous to enjoy a meal together and talk race strategy before retiring early in preparation for the next day.

Weather on the day was ideal for running — cool to the point of being cold, bright and sunny. The course is flat and fast, provided you watch your feet on the notorious cobbles and can squeeze through streets sometimes alarmingly narrowed by pressing spectators. 

But you don’t run Paris just to get a personal best… the course takes in all the major tourist landmarks of the city. 

We started in the Champs Elysees, passing L’Opera, La Bastille, through the Bois de Vincennes, back past Notre Dame, the Musée d’Orsay and the Tour Eiffel.

The last five miles is a tough slog through the Bois de Boulogne, but relieved in the end by the sight of Frank Ghery’s magnificent Louis Vuitton building. The finish culminates along the Avenue Foch in front of the Arc de Triomphe — a fitting end to an exhilarating tour of the town.

We all felt we had good runs, and caught up afterwards to compare notes over a beer or two. David in particular turned in a well-deserved PB at 3:40.46 and Charlie was very near her best at 4:23.18.

Anthony ran a solid 5:49.36 and Liz, relaxed as ever, cruised in at 5:41.14, just under two minutes behind her PB scored at Berlin last September. Véronique achieved a creditable 5:17.46.

As for me, I was pleased, not so much with the time of 4:34.24, but with my state at the end — managing a strong finish and a little sprint over the line with a noisy squad of ‘London to Paris’ marathon-running nutcases pulling me along.

After the run, most of us stayed on to do a little sightseeing and relaxing. Paris can be an expensive place to eat and drink, but once you get the feel of the city, not really any more than London. Liz and I certainly enjoyed visiting some new sights and discovering interesting cafés and restaurants.

In common with many great cities, Paris has a fantastic metro system and it is easy to get to most landmarks, so it is a good place to combine running with tourism. We saw some signs of gilet jaune damage to the shops in the Champs Elysees, but there was no trouble.

Much more distressing was, as we left, the reports of the fire at Notre Dame. Television pictures of the fire and the distress of Parisians were very moving, but I have no doubt that the resilient French will bounce back and soon have this eternal monument restored.  Overall a great race and I think a few of us are keen to return next year.

King Carl: Capital guy who put Roadrunners into the capital

NEW chairman Phil Reay led the tributes to his predecessor Carl Woffington last night as the Roadrunners showed their appreciation for the long-serving ‘Marathon man’.

Carl stepped down at the club’s annual general meeting after more than five highly successful years at the helm.

As Carl took his place in the audience, the stresses of leadership at last behind him, Phil asked for members to indicate who had either marshalled at the London Marathon or obtained a club ballot place to run the big race in the capital.

An almost unanimous show of hands shot up from the packed attendance at Sutton’s Bowls Club in Lower Earley.

Phil said: “That is only possible because of Carl and his work with the London Marathon organisers going back over 23 years.”

He added: “Carl has been a member of Reading Roadrunners for well over 20 years.  Before becoming chairman he was the Bramley course director and also the event director for our TVXC fixture for many years. 

“He has been the course director at the Mortimer 10k for many years and remains in the role.

“Carl will also continue to be the club’s ambassador and point of contact for the London Marathon and will carrying on leading future club ballots on the matter. 

“He has given so so much to this club and the club has also been kind to him.  It’s here, at Reading Roadrunners, where Carl met Tina. They fell in love and the rest is history….

“Five and a half years ago the club found itself mid-term without a chairman.  According to the club constitution the general secretary is to deputise for the chairman, however Roger Pritchard, the Gen Sec at the time, thought he would apply another of the rules.

“That was to co-opt Carl on to the committee, and after a beer and a chat about club affairs, Carl agreed to be co-opted on to the committee and was then asked to become the chair.

“He’s involved himself with anything and everything to do with the club and he’s overseen a 20 per cent growth in membership during that period.   

“He also introduced the XC championships and arguably as impressive as anything else, over the course of Carl’s leadership the club has contributed over £100,000 to local charities.

“It’s no surprise that Carl is also a lifetime member of the club. Carl, on behalf of Reading Roadrunners, thank you. You’re certainly a hard act to follow.”

Then we all said a warm thank-you with a standing ovation for Carl, the man who took the club into London.

Phil (above) leads a 2019 team which includes five ladies new to the committee… Jill Dibben (treasurer), Liz Johnson (social secretary) and ex-officios Alice Carpenter, Claire Seymour and Vroni Royle.

They’ve taken the places of Roger Pritchard, Tom Harrison, Hannah McPhee and, of course, Carl himself.

Bob Thomas will continue in his role as the club’s general secretary alongside long-serving membership secretary Anne Goodall, social media guru Paul Monaghan and ex-officio Simon Denton.

The new men’s captain will be the flying Welshman, Grant Hopkins, who will serve alongside current ladies’ captain Sam Whalley.

Sam announced during the meeting that she has nominated Gemma Buley in the ‘improver’ category in the Reading Sports Personality of the Year awards. Watch this space for first news of nominations from our men’s section.

Meanwhile Kerri French will take over as race director of the Dinton Relays, to be run this summer at Woodford Park, Woodley.

Our picture shows (from left): membership secretary Anne Goodall and general secretary Bob Thomas with the committee new girls Jill, Alice, Claire and Liz. Picture: Colin Cottell

 

A Royle command performance in the city that never sleeps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muddy marvels! Roadrunners triumph in an Eton mess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full results of the women’s race are here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full results of the men’s race are here:

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

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

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

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

The scoring teams were as follows:

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

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

Full results are now available at:

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

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

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