Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Get ready to pass the baton! All you need to know about the Striders World Champs Relay

Back in 2012 to celebrate the London Olympic Games, Striders organised our own relay from Westminster Lodge to the Olympic Park - or as close as we could get to at the time - and all involved agreed it was a great day out.

So, with the World Athletic Championships being held in the capital this summer, we're going to repeat the run using the same route.

We hope the relay will be a good opportunity to bring the club together for a sociable run. There will be plenty of chatting and the occasional stop.
Stopping to take in the view during the 2012 Olympic Relay
WHEN?

Following our poll, the date has been set for Saturday, 5th August.

Apologies to those who can't make it. It was very close between then and the 12th so we had to go with the day when more volunteers willing to drive minibuses and lead runs were available.

We are aware the Bearbrook 10K is the following day and it is a Club Champs race. The relay is not a race, it's a fun, sociable run and you can do it at any pace you wish. So if you are racing, you could still get involved by running at an easy pace, or join in/drop out earlier on one of the legs to run less than eight miles if you can get a lift or use public transport.

The first leg will leave Westminster Lodge promptly at 8am with the aim to get to the Olympic Park by about 4 - 4:30pm. We'll then spend an hour/90 minutes soaking up the atmosphere in the park and then head for home about 6pm.

There will be options to leave earlier if you wish. For the latter legs, you will not need to catch your minibus until later in the day. The last one will leave Westminster Lodge at about 1pm, to be confirmed.

THE ROUTE

The mostly offroad route consists of five 7-8 mile legs. Starting at Westminster Lodge, the route runs roughly south of St Albans via the Colne Valley Walk and then to Aldenham for the first change over.

From there it heads to Aldenham Country Park and then Mill Hill Golf Course for change over number two. Leg three then continues east following sections of the London Loop and Dollis Valley Green Walk before heading south again to change over three near Hendon.
The route is mostly offroad (and hopefully won't be as muddy this year!)
Leg four carries on south, running parallel with the North Circular for a while and then heads south again via Big Wood, Hampstead Heath with great views of Central London. Then there is the longest road section passing through Belsize Park to Primrose Hill - again great views of London here. Then it drops down to the Regents Canal for change over four.

The final leg follows the Regents Canal via Camden Market to Victoria Park where we then follow the Hertford Union Canal all the way to the Olympic Park.

Last time as we were using a coach, we had to leave as soon as we got there because the driver was running out of driving time. This time we plan to use minibuses, driven by members who have volunteered, so we can be more flexible and spend some time in the Olympic Park.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

Please sign up here and let us know your preferred pace and any leg preference.

We will select the groups so that everyone is of a similar pace and it will be down to the Run Leader assigned to each leg to keep everyone together.
Sign up now! T-shirts will be provided
If you can't run, please let us know if you could drive one of the minibuses instead.

Please sign up before Monday, 24th July so we have time to coordinate the legs, leaders and drivers.

T-shirts will be provided so don't forget to select the size you want.

We hope to see lots of you on the day!

Friday, 7 July 2017

Combining hearts and minds: Katie Bunting reports on the club's first mindfulness run at Heartwood Forest

Katie Bunting reports on the club's first mindfulness run which was organised by Gareth Beavis in June...

I must admit I drove to Heartwood Forest thinking it would just be a great social run in a lovely location.

And it was, but I also came away thinking a bit more about myself, my attitude to running, and (not to sound too corny) how I can hopefully help a couple of people close to me who, until recently, I had no idea were having some mental health issues.

Heartwood looked beautiful on the day of the run
I think it’s easy to look at family and friends and think "they look fine, they're getting out and about, they've said they're ok" but I think the complexities of mental health issues make it hard to always know if someone is having some problems.

The day of the run was sunny and warm, very warm in fact, so I was quite glad the run was a steady 5km with several stops. Heartwood looked beautiful in the sunlight; the meadow flowers were in full bloom and recollections of running the Stampede route in driving wind and rain soon became a very distant memory.

We started off by focusing on our breathing which I did find odd, especially standing in the middle of a meadow with my eyes closed but it was strangely relaxing and one of the things I have taken away from the run is the importance to stop every now and then and just take a few minutes out to draw breath.

Gareth had planned the route with a couple of sections where we didn’t talk and focused on our breathing or how our bodies felt. Yes, it was strange to run with others and not talk but it was also interesting to just focus on how my body was working and feeling as I was running.

Heartwood was the perfect location to enjoy being outdoors, and greeting horse riders, dog walkers and a couple of people running with radio aerials (I’m still not too sure what they were looking for!) reaffirmed my enjoyment of running and being a member of Striders.

All too soon the run was over and we were back at the car park, where we headed to the local pub for a well-earned drink and chat. The run had been very well organised and everyone looked hot but relaxed at the end, and I think we all had learnt a little bit about ourselves during the run.

Thank you Gareth and I look forward to the next one.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

What goes on tour... goes on the blog! Gareth Beavis reports on the 2017 Weekend Away

Striders hit the beach in May for our annual weekend away in Swanage. Gareth Beavis reports on the fun-filled trip...
Raring to go at the Poole parkrun despite a late night for some...

There’s something brilliant about the Striders' Weekend Away. The chance to hang out for a couple of days with a lot of like-minded runners, spending time chatting about our favourite topic and kicking back from the daily grind of training... with some running.

In fact, it’s so good that it’s worth the mirth and ridicule when you tell your workmates that you need a day off to go on a running away weekend.

This year, the venue was Swanage, a great little YMCA youth hostel on the beach, nestled on the south coast. Rooms allocated (#beavissuite), stuff dumped and straight to the pub for some pre-activity drinks - things were already getting feisty as the reins were off a few Striders…

After that it was straight into the evening’s activities, which consisted of a fiendish quiz put together by the darling Stu Middleton.

Things got fiercely competitive, but it was only at the end that the real prize was offered: an extra ten points for anyone that managed to get a personal best at the Poole Parkrun we were heading down to the following day.
Chilling at the beach
A lot of groggy heads appeared in the morning as the rally cross through Dorset began, a veritable convoy of Striders picking their way through the countryside to descend en masse on the ‘local’ run.

It was a strong performance with some incredible PBs from runners who should not have been able to run as fast as they did, given some of the empty beds seen at 4am.

Every person had a great time at the well-organised parkrun, and after a spot of breakfast in the local cafe (and a couple of Striders panicking when they realised they had no idea where their cars were parked) it was off to the afternoon’s activities - a smorgasbord of choices, including mooching around town, a cheeky bike ride and a trip to the local waterpark.

The latter option was very well-attended, and there’s something to be said for slipping into a tight rubber suit and jumping about on inflatables in freezing cold water. Slipping being the operative word there… even Steve Buckle’s rubber slippers couldn’t stop one of the Striders’ faster runners failing for the first time to conquer a running track (then again, it’s unlikely he’s ever found one that was filled with air atop ice-cold liquid).
A trip to the waterpark was well-attended
After that, it was back to the hostel where the weather had…somewhat turned, and the beach barbecue was called off in favour of pizza and a few more drinks at the pub. It’s always surprising to see how open people are to losing an activity when a libations are offered.

Word seeped out that some Striders headed down to the coastline to skim some stones and… get rather cold in the water. This report is, and shall ever remain, thoroughly unconfirmed.

Another late night ensued as drinks were brought back to the hostel, and the games room played host to a round of confessions that means some Striders will never be able to look each other in the eye ever again.

These excursions meant that getting up for the long run over the coastline was a struggle for some, but the excellent turnout meant that this scenic jog was one of the highlights of the trip and really blew away some cobwebs. Undulating, grey and relentless… well, that’s how some people described Andy Auld’s attendance, anyway.
Back at the beach for some night swimming?
A couple of Striders still found time to take it far too seriously, but Steve and Phill Evans somehow managed to drop in a fast half marathon distance, get lost and yet meet up with everyone at the end of the run perfectly… they maintain it was perfect planning, but the look of relief when they saw the rest of the group told otherwise.

The weekend was winding to a close, and some began departing while others huddled in gourmet coffee shops, drinking far-too-rich hot chocolate and weeping over the thought of the drive home.

But everyone agreed one thing: there’s nothing better than a Striders’ Weekend Away to get to know reams of runners that you don’t usually get to chat to, to spend time freezing on inflatables, fall asleep in car parks or question underwear choices.

Here’s to next year!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

A Wicked marathon, lots of hills and a milestone birthday! Jack Brooks reports on his racing exploits February to May 2017


The Punchbowl 30 mile trail ultra: 12th February 2017

I hadn’t done this LDWA event for quite a few years and when I heard that Merv Nutburn, a longtime friend, was going to be presented with his trophy for completing 500 marathons/ultras I decided to accompany him around the course.

Roger Biggs and I ran with Merv Nutburn around the Punchbowl Ultra as he celebrated completing 500 marathons
My lasting memories of this event are that it has always been muddy and that certain parts of the route are regularly flooded. I watched the snow falling throughout the Saturday with some trepidation and when Roger Biggs picked me up at 5.45am on the Sunday morning it was still snowing. Fortunately the snow never settled and there were no flooded areas this year, but there was mud aplenty.

The start is at Witley in Surrey. Three of us set off together and made reasonable progress up to about the 20 mile point, just before the approach to the Devil’s Punchbowl. Unfortunately, Roger started to have back problems about then and this also affected his balance at a time when we had plenty of large stiles to negotiate as well as some muddy downhill stretches. Consequently, our pace slowed dramatically from the 20 mile point as Merv and I endeavoured to ensure that Roger got to the finish safely. We managed this without too many disasters, but our finish time was 8:21:00, which is by far my slowest time for this event.

There were a few muddy sections to negotiate
There is usually hot food provided at the finish of LDWA events and it was great to tuck into beans on toast after more than 8 hours out in the cold. I was also able to catch up with a number of friends who I hadn’t seen for ages so the day certainly wasn’t a disaster.

100 Marathon Club AGM Marathon and Marathon Day Marathon, Betteshanger Country Park, Kent: 25th and 26th February 2017

I’m not sure what possessed me to enter back-to-back marathons, especially as both were on the top of a former colliery slagheap and comprised 12.96 laps of a tarmac cycle track. Maybe I felt I needed to make some sort of statement the week before I turned 65. Whatever the reason I was clearly deluded.

On the Saturday the initial wind speed was forecast to be around 20mph increasing to 40mph as the day progressed. Imagine my joy when I discovered that I was to be the last but one person to start the handicap marathon, meaning that with a start time of 10.05 I was guaranteed to catch the worst of the wind. As I was starting, some of the early starters were almost finished.

There was one particular stretch of about a third of a mile on each lap where everybody encountered the full force of the wind and it felt at times as though forward movement was a sheer impossibility. I was relieved to finish in 4:41:39, but apprehensive about having to repeat the whole process again the following day.

On the Sunday morning it was great to see Clair Drage there to represent the Striders. I ran the first 1.5 laps with her. I eventually finished in 4:51:34 and Clair’s time was 4:48:15. She will be doing an ultra on this cycle track later in the year. I can only hope that the conditions will be somewhat more clement then.

Malta Marathon: 5th March 2017

When I visited Malta for the 2015 marathon it rained every day. This time I flew out on my 65th birthday and it only rained on the last day I was there. There were plenty of friends there as it appeared that I wasn’t the only one desperate to flee the British weather.

Some things don’t change and the road surfaces for the race were just as appalling as they’d been in 2015. However, the weather this time was substantially warmer and after going through halfway in under two hours I faded badly in the second half and crossed the finish line in 4:32:11, which was disappointing.

Wicked Marathon, Wamego, Kansas: 25th March 2017

I flew out to Kansas City with Roger Biggs from Fairlands Valley Spartans on the Thursday before this race. We drove to our hotel in Manhattan, Kansas and the following day visited Wamego to go round the Oz Museum and then attend packet pick-up and a pasta meal. We’d also arranged to meet up with Tom Detori, who is a long- term friend, now living in Columbia, Missouri.
The Wicked Marathon starts outside the Wizard Of Oz Museum

The next morning the three of us drove to the race start in the dark, noting that it was raining heavily and that the wind was strong. The race set off from outside the Wizard of Oz Museum and it quickly became evident that the route would be hilly. After three undulating 5k loops around the town marathon runners were faced with 17 miles out and back along the old military road. Right at the outset it became evident that this road was anything but flat. By the turnaround point it seemed that most runners were suffering, including me. I eventually finished 1st vet 60/69 in 4:27:13, a time which was good enough for 18th place overall.

Yakima River Canyon Marathon, Washington State, USA: 1st April 2017

On the Monday Roger and I flew from Kansas City to Seattle, picked up a rental car and headed to a house in Renton, which our friends from Yakima had said we could use for a few days. After a day of R and R we headed down to Yakima, braving the slushy snow in the Snoqualmie Pass. Our friends, Bob and Lenore Dolphin, are the race directors for the Yakima event and are both in their late 80s. We had promised to get to Yakima early and do what we could to help them with arrangements for the race. Immediately we arrived we were set to work and spent much of the Thursday and the Friday loading and unloading vans, hanging up banners, putting up posters and generally following orders.

On the Saturday morning a coach picked up runners from outside our hotel and took us to the race start at Ellensburg. After two days of heavy lifting my back wasn’t feeling great, but otherwise I didn’t feel too bad until I got to the first big hill at around 14.5 miles. From then on I had to grit my teeth and the race became a struggle. The steep camber on the canyon road was also a problem after the first flat six miles. I eventually finished in 4:29:43 and was 4th out of 14 in the 65/69 men’s age group. Curiously there were more competitors in this age group than in any other age group in the race.

I didn’t have much time in which to rest on my laurels. After the race there was an awards meal and then everything had to be dismantled in the race HQ and transported back to its place of origin. By the time we drove back to Renton on the Sunday fatigue was starting to set in.

Boston Marathon, Lincolnshire, UK: 17th April 2017

Because Easter Monday was the same day this year as Patriot’s Day in the USA it was possible for the organisers of the UK Boston Marathon to hold their race on the same day as the larger event in the USA. With my rail pass and a ticket booked well in advance the train fare from Stevenage to Boston was ridiculously cheap and everything was within easy walking distance of the railway station.
The UK's Boston Marathon is much flatter than its USA counterpart, held on the same day this year

This marathon claims to be the flattest marathon in the UK and I think this claim may well be correct. As usual I set off too fast, but was slightly concerned when a number of those I was running with started complaining that the mile markers were not correctly placed. I don’t like wearing a GPS watch when I’m racing, but I do rely on accurate distance markers to give me a rough idea of pace. It was unsettling to see the 26 mile marker and then find that the finish was almost half a mile away.

Apart from this the marathon seemed well organised and the volunteers were all really supportive. I finished in 4:14:33 and had plenty of time to look around the town on the Tuesday before returning to St Albans.

London Marathon: 23rd April 2017

As ever the thing I enjoyed most about London was the outstanding support around the course from the Striders. My legs felt tired from around mile 10 and I was surprised that my finish time of 4:24:53 wasn’t slower.

Roche Abbey Trail Marathon, Nr. Maltby, South Yorkshire: 7th May 2017

This was a first time event put on by the wonderfully named “It’s grim up north” group. On arriving I got a fair amount of ribbing from friends about venturing North of Watford Gap. The race comprised four laps of a fairly tough route incorporating hills, river, stepping stones, stiles, more hills and a wonderful loop around the scenic grounds of Roche Abbey. Indeed, I was enjoying myself so much that I missed a directional sign and as a consequence ran an extra mile loop incorporating one of the steepest hills. I finished in 5:08:32 and then headed off to Sheffield to meet up with some old drinking buddies.

Bewl Water Trail Marathon, Lamberhurst, Kent: 13th May 2017

This marathon comprised two laps around the beautiful Bewl Water Reservoir. On arrival I bumped into a large number of 100 marathon club members as well as the redoubtable Ian Hirth from Striders, who had entered the 37.5 mile ultra race (which he finished in 5:46:15). Mark Travers completed the marathon last year. He warned me that the route was hilly and he was quite correct. However we were lucky with the weather and the paths were not crowded.

Once again it reminded me how pleasant it is to get off the roads and into the countryside in Spring and Summer. I finished in 4:46:30 coming 73rd out of 136 in the marathon.

Richmond Park Trail Marathon: 21st May 2017 

This is another fairly small, but well organised trail marathon and comprises one 12 mile loop around the park followed by two seven mile loops. Unusually for a trail marathon mile markers were provided and the route was very well marked, but undulating. It was another hot day and I finished in 4:33:42.

Dorchester Marathon: 28th May 2017

The organisation for this inaugural road marathon was superb. There were more than sufficient portable toilets at the start/finish, well-manned drinks stations every three miles offering both drinks and gels, traffic free roads and enthusiastic support around the course.
The inaugural Dorchester Marathon was well-organised with good support

However, being in Dorset there was no way to avoid the numerous hills and the weather was once again on the hot side. It was great to see Ben Scott, Clair Drage, Mark Travers, Jen Pickering and Noran McGovern from Striders at the start as well as plenty from the 100 marathon club. My time was 4:29:28.

Monday, 6 February 2017

400 marathons and counting! Jack Brooks reports on his latest races around the world

Jack ran his 400th marathon in January

RACES OCTOBER 2016 - JANUARY 2017

PEI Marathon, Prince Edward Island, Canada: 16th October 2016

What a difference three years makes! When I ran this marathon three years ago I finished in 3:47. 

Somehow in my memory I'd convinced myself that this was a flat point-to-point marathon. Maybe senility is creeping in as second time around it seemed to be distinctly undulating. 

Apart from the last 6 miles (which are alongside busy roads) the course is extremely beautiful, but what was evident fairly early on is that I had still got a long way to go in order to get back to full fitness. 

I started off with the four hour pace group, but they disappeared over the horizon after only about 15k. I finished in 4:36:55 and my legs felt sore for the whole of the following day.

Legs for Literacy Marathon, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada: 23rd October 2016 


A 10ft tall salmon statue in Campbellton
From PEI four of us drove through Kouchibougac National Park and on to Campbellton, New Brunswick where we visited the site of the final battle for North America between the French and the English and, of course, viewed the 10ft high statue of a salmon by the waterfront. 

The following day, after a 5 mile run along the waterfront we drove across the bridge into Quebec, had lunch in Matane and then caught the ferry across St. Lawrence Seaway to Baie-Comeau, seeing a whale on the crossing. 

On the Wednesday we drove to Saint-Simeon and for my morning run the following day I discovered the meaning of “the only way is up” for the first 2.5 miles. After this we saw another whale from the shoreline before catching a further ferry across the seaway to Riviere de Loup. 

The highlight of that day was persuading some perplexed, but good-humoured Canadian and US border guards to permit us to walk across the border by the Interstate 95 and back again. 

The evening was spent in Fredericton where we walked across the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge into the old town for a meal before locating our hotel. On the Friday we drove to Moncton via Hopewell Rocks and the Fundy National Park. In addition to registering for and running the marathon we got the chance to see the tidal bore on three consecutive days and on one of these there were two guys surfing along it. 

I had run this marathon previously, but was returning to it as my friend Rich Holmes was completing his 4th circuit of all 50 States and all Canadian Territories and Provinces at this race and Rich's wife, Jeanne, was completing a half marathon in all 50 States and all Canadian Territories and Provinces at this race. Also, Roger Biggs had been injured on a previous trip and had been unable to run the race then. 

Charlotte, who had been the 4 hour pacemaker for the PEI race the previous week was taking out a 4:15 pace group for the Moncton event and I stuck with her group up to around 25k. After that I slowed down and a particularly vicious headwind for the last 4/5k wasn't helpful. 

My finishing time was 4:34:26, but I consoled myself with the fact that I felt stronger for longer than in the previous week. My time three years ago had been 3:46.

La Rochelle Marathon, France: 27th November 2016


La Rochelle Marathon was Jack's fastest time following a knee injury
Eight of us met up at Ebbsfleet and headed to La Rochelle by Eurostar and then an ordinary train from Paris. Like St Albans, La Rochelle was occupied by the Romans. They produced salt and wine in large quantities, which was then re-exported throughout the Roman Empire. It was also the last French city to be liberated during the Second World War. 

My first impression of the city was that it was flat, had a beautiful harbour and some very interesting architecture. We picked up our race numbers on the Friday, spent the Saturday sightseeing and then, on the Sunday morning ambled to the race start, which was about five minutes walk from our hotel. Apparently this is the third largest marathon in France and it was certainly very crowded for the first 6 or 7k even though there were two race starts and the two groups only merged at around 5k. 

There was also a considerable amount of street furniture, unmarked road humps etc along the course. As the groups merged I saw a pacemaker's flag around 300m in front, but couldn't make out if it was for the 4 hour group or the 4.15 group. 

By the time I got to half way in around 2:02 I'd worked out that I'd been following the 4 hour man. I tired fast on the 2nd lap. The 4:15 group passed me at about 39k, but I managed to catch them up in the last mile and finally crossed the line in 4:13:34, which was my fastest time since I started back following my nine months off with a knee injury. 

There was much cause for celebration on the Sunday night. We returned to the UK on the Tuesday.

Lanzarote Marathon: 10th December 2016

I went out to Lanzarote in 2015, but could not run because of my knee injury, so this marathon was unfinished business for me. Word must be spreading about this event because this year there were many more UK and Irish runners there than last year. 
Ready to celebrate after the Lanzarote Marathon

The event is particularly user friendly for large groups as, in addition to a marathon, there are half marathon, 5k and 10k races. The out and back marathon route starts at Sands Beach resort in Costa Teguise and heads out along the coast with the turning point being in Puerto del Carmen. 

I was expecting the course to be flatter than it was, but what got most people was the temperature for the second half, which was about 24 degrees. Consequently I had a fairly strong run up to the turning point and then really struggled on the way back finishing in 4:26:11. 

However, the race was very efficiently organised, the route was scenic and the post race food was plentiful. Food and drink are exceptionally cheap in Lanzarote and the UK contingent's celebrations were very much in evidence for a few nights after the race. It was good to catch up with so many people I hadn't seen for a while.

Pisa Marathon, Italy: 18th December 2016

I have had mixed fortunes with Pisa. The first year I tried to get there snow at Gatwick (and Pisa) prevented all flights and the marathon was cancelled. 

Last year the person I was travelling with lost his passport in the airport so we just got the train home. I do know that, unless it is windy, it is a fast course as, on the two previous occasions I've run it I ran 3:39 (2013) and 3:41 (2014). 

The start is a short walk from the leaning tower and the finish is right by the tower so there are some excellent photo opportunities for those runners who have spectators accompanying them. 

The first quarter of the race can be quite congested as the half marathon starts together with the marathon. These days I find this quite helpful as it prevents me from setting off too fast. 

Once the half marathoners peel off the field thins out considerably as marathoners approach the coast on a pancake flat road. My aim for this race was to see if I could stick with the 4:15 pace group so I was delighted that I managed to cross the line in 4:12:09 (my best time since June 2015). 

I am now starting to think that I should be able to get below 4 hours again sometime in 2017 so long as I can stay injury free. I need to get under 4 hours as a 65 year old to qualify for a Good for Age place at London Marathon 2018.

First Light Marathon, Mobile, Alabama: 8th January 2017

After the usual chaos at Houston Airport our connecting flight finally got us to Mobile late on the Friday evening. The temperature remained at around -2 degrees until the Sunday evening, but with the wind chill taken into account it felt much colder. 
In cold Mobile where the Mardi Gras ceremonies originated

Fortunately a friend from North Carolina had acquired four dozen pairs of industrial gloves for us at a cost of 23 cents per pair and had chosen this weekend to deliver them to us personally. 

Consequently I turned up at the start of the marathon wearing two pairs of gloves and three running tops. Even so my fingers were freezing for the first 5 miles. I started off slowly, but the first 9 miles of the course were relatively flat and I had obviously sped up fairly quickly because I went through half way in just under 2 hours. 

From 9 miles through to 21 miles there was a continuous series of hills before the course flattened out again as we returned into the city. The hills slowed me down a bit in the second half, but I was quite happy with my finish time of 4:08:30, which was good enough to win me the 3rd place award in my age group. 

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that both the city and the countryside around it were much prettier than I'd anticipated and a pleasant route compensated considerably for the freezing temperatures.

Mobile is an interesting city and I was surprised when I was informed that Mardi Gras ceremonies originated in Mobile and not (as I'd always thought) in New Orleans. The first recorded event in Mobile was in 1703. Consequently, a visit to the Carnival Museum was a must and proved to be a really eye-opening experience.

The Louisiana Marathon, Baton Rouge: 15th January 2017

We left Mobile on the Tuesday and drove to New Orleans where we'd booked accommodation on the edge of the French Quarter, close to Armstrong Park. We spent the next two days exploring the city and checking out the music and the running routes. 

Half of one day was spent doing a guided bus tour of the city and visiting the famous above ground graves in a couple of cemeteries. I hadn't realised that before they “buried” people above ground they used to drill holes in coffins and then weight them down to prevent them floating off whenever an area flooded. There was still some evidence of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, but the French Quarter was much as I remembered it. 
Exploring New Orleans before the Louisiana Marathon

From New Orleans we drove on to Baton Rouge, where we registered for the marathon and then did a swamp tour to experience Louisiana wildlife in the 1.4 million acre Atchafalaya swamp. 

On the Sunday I was a bit nervous as I lined up at the start of the marathon. I knew the course was fairly flat, but 98% humidity had been forecast and had materialised and I don't normally run well in humid conditions. However, this was to be my 400th marathon and it had to be done. 

I started off too fast and went through half way in 2:00:53, but the wheels came off the wagon in the second half and my finish time was 4:18:55. I can't complain. The route was pleasant, the marshals and police were great and the organisers had also taken the trouble to let me have 400  as my race number, which was a nice touch.

Funchal Marathon, Madeira: 29th January 2017

It is just as well that I got marathon number 400 out of the way earlier in the month because as soon as I got back to the UK from Louisiana I went down with one of the worst viruses I've had in a long time. 
The over 60s group at the end of the Funchal Marathon

I spent most of the week prior to the flight to Madeira semi-comatose on my settee and I seemed to have no energy at all. 

The Funchal marathon is described by the organisers as being flat, but only someone who lives in Madeira could agree with that description. The race started with three roughly 7k out and back loops with each loop comprising roughly 3.5k downhill followed by 3.5 k uphill. After this there was a long more or less downhill stretch to the sea front followed by four out and back loops each entailing a small climb up to the cathedral and a stretch of cobbles. 

I felt terrible throughout the race and was just happy to drag my carcass across the finish line in 4:59:34. All in all I've had better races.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Oh, what a night! Striders smash records in the marathon relay

Coach Mike Jubb had a dream of the club coming together to smash the marathon world records, and last night thanks to our speedy runners, super organisers and enthusiastic supporters, it came true!
 

Inspired by Nike's bid to get a man to run a sub two hour marathon, Striders joined forces with St Albans AC to beat them to it by forming a relay made up of runners who could do a sub 66 second lap.
 


Meanwhile, the women teamed up to have a crack at Paula Radcliffe's incredible world record time of 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds, which would involve running 400m splits of sub 77 seconds.
 

As we love to be an inclusive club, we didn't want those who couldn't quite hit the pace to miss out, so we also included some 200m legs.
 

Proceedings got under way at the track at Westminster Lodge at 6.45pm with the young AC athletes stepping up first to show us how it is done with their impressive turn of speed.
 


Under the glare of the floodlights, pumping music played, Jez Cox took to the mic to give some expert commentary, and our statisticians worked their socks off to keep up with the hand overs and record the times.
 

By half way, the men were well-inside the two hour target but the women were told they were four minutes down on Paula's time. A quick recalculation established it was in fact a four minute lead!

The rain started to fall but it didn't dampen the spirits of our supporters on the home and back straights, who stayed all night to cheer on the runners and add to the exciting atmosphere.



The support also came in on Twitter with Paula Radcliffe herself liking a tweet about the women's efforts, while celebrity marathon runner Nell McAndrew and the Marathon Talk podcast urged us on, along with other runners following our progress online.



As we approached the last quarter of the challenge, technology started to fail. Laptops lost power and the clock stopped working, forcing us to rely on good old stopwatches and pen and paper.
 


But the energy of the runners and supporters didn't wane and the baton exchanges continued (almost) seamlessly.
 

Our runners were leaving it all out on the track with most crossing the line gasping for breath and some clutching hamstrings as they gave their all. Many ran multiple laps despite the build up of lactic in aching muscles.
 

As the men continued to speed down the home straight, we entered the last few laps and it was clear we were going to smash the two hour mark – as long as nobody now dropped the baton! 


Cross country captain Cathal Gallagher took the baton as the bell rang for the last leg, handing over to chairman Graham Smith to bring the team home for the last 200m in 1 hour 51 minutes and 56 seconds. Two hour marathon? Smashed it!
 

Meanwhile, it was getting closer to the wire for the women's team who had lost their lead on Paula's time and were now in danger of finishing outside her record.
 

With a quick re-organisation of the running order to switch to 200m legs rather than 400m, there was hope we could still do it.
 

Supported by the men's team who cheered the women on like it was an Olympic final along the back straight, by the last lap the record was back within reach.

 

Laura Hicks took the baton for the final 200m, after doing a number of previous legs, to bring the team home in 2 hours 14 minutes and 39 seconds. A triumph!
 

The records were both achieved despite doubts in the build up that it could be done, proving the difference teamwork can make – and just how fast those elite runners go over 26.2 miles.
 

There has been fantastic feedback from runners and spectators with everyone saying how much they enjoyed it and how proud they feel to be part of Striders.
 

While the runners did their bit, it couldn't have been done without the organisers so thank you Lucy High for her great work organising the women's team, with Gillian Jubb for the AC, and Clair Drage, Jen Conway, Laura Hicks, Sallyann Cox and others for rallying around to help with timing.
 

Thanks to the legend that is Mike Jubb, who organised the men's relay so professionally (he could do this for a living), and our chair Graham Smith for overseeing the whole event from start to finish.
 


Thanks also go to Andy Normile, Bernadette Newby and Philippa Walton for keeping us warm with a steady supply of hot tea, Chris Barr and Matthew Childs for their photography,  Deborah Steer, Peter Poulain and all the girls and boys from AC that gave us such a great start to the evening with some incredible lap times, Cathal Gallagher for organising the gazebo and race clock, Jez Cox for his superb commentary that kept spirits high and Will and Dan at 1Life for supporting our endeavour by letting us stay on the track beyond nine... we didn't need to!

Not only was the event a chance to bring the whole club together, thanks to the efforts of Si Fraser and Laura Hussey we were also able to support some local causes with collections for the St Albans Foodbank and Herts for Refugees – thanks to all who contributed.
 


Thanks also to everyone who came along to cheer and support - the atmosphere was amazing.
 

And finally, thanks to all who ran - around 150 of us in the end - together beating both our relay targets. If you enjoyed speeding round the track then don't forget there are opportunities to compete for Striders over the summer in the Southern Athletics League and Southern Masters League.
 

The evening highlighted what a great club we have - Nike may one day help an athlete run a sub two hour marathon, but they won't beat our team spirit!

It is perhaps best summed up by Binh Tang on our Facebook page: "I love how it started as a flip comment, turned into a joke/dare, then actually materialised into a Striders Classic, truly inspirational."