Friday, 22 December 2017

Striders review of the year 2017

As another year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on how it's been another successful one for St Albans Striders!

We’ve welcomed new members, hosted races with rave reviews and even beat Nike to a World Record!

Here are some of the highlights, with thanks to chairman Graham Smith for pulling the information together for his AGM speech...




This year we had some closer competition than we’ve become used to in the Mid Week League, in the form of Orion Harriers, but in the end we triumphed to retain our title as overall winners of Division 1.

Individually Blake Vivian finished 1st for the men, Helen Cartlidge was 1st V35, Liz Walls 1st V55, and Graham Foster was 3rd Vet 50.


In the Chiltern League we haven’t done as well as recent years and had a lower attendance than in other years: an average of 8 women and 17 men at each fixture, compared to 14 women and 19 men the year before.

Men - 7th / 14

Women - 10th / 14

However, the overall position of St Albans for all age groups in combination with the Athletics Club was 4th reflecting a superb cross country season for the AC.

We finished fourth in the Chiltern League despite a lower turn out

Notable individual performances from:

James McMurray – 1st Senior Men

Liz Walls - 4th V55



It was a better story in the Sunday League, as we improved on last year’s results.

Men's team - 4th / 19

Women's team - 5th / 19
We improved on last year in the Sunday League

Paul Adams was 1st in the Senior Men category, Wendy Walsh 1st V45, Deirdre Heydecker 2nd V55 and Graham Foster was 3rd V50.


On the track we were very pleased to be able to help the Athletics Club take the top spot in the SAL League Division 3 North out of 24 teams. We also had some good results in the Masters League, where numerous new club records were set. 

Records were set by masters on the track


Striders men won the Herts Cross Country Championships for the second year running. 


The men won the Herts County XC trophy again

We performed well in our club champs races, in which 297 Striders took part, and thank you to Clair for organising these. Results included:

· Bearbrook 10k - winning both the men’s and women’s team prizes

· Festive 5 – 16 of the top 20 finishers were Striders

· Berkhamsted Half Marathon – Paul Adams 1st overall

· Fairlands Valley 3k Relays - we had a large contingent and dominated the medals.
Martin Whitworth ran a club record in the London Marathon

We did well at our own Fred Hughes race – with Tom Crouch 2nd and Steve Buckle 3rd overall - Pete Crowdell, Anna Ward and Penny Habbick took individual county medals and we won 1st women’s vets county team.

At the St Albans HM – Tom Crouch and Paul Adams came 1st and 2nd overall. Anna Ward, Deirdre, Jonathan Scott and Colin Singleton were all top 3 in their age categories.

At the London Marathon - Martin Whitworth was the fastest male Strider and set a new V40 club record. Anna Ward was the first woman, and both Jenny Maddocks and Charlotte Teare ran under 3:15.

Steve Buckle, Joe Dunn, Simon Fraser, Tim Searle – won the team of four prize in the St Albans Stampede. Laura Hicks (second claim) was 1st Female Solo and 2nd overall, Clair Drage was 2nd Female Solo and Alison Campbell 3rd.

Blake Vivian won the London Winter Run 10k in a field of 17,000 runners.

And more recently Deirdre Heydecker ran on the England Masters team coming 2nd V60 in the Chester Marathon.


A good number of club records have been set this year both on the road and the track.

James McMurray has been chewing up the men’s senior club records, this year setting staggering times of 14:48 for 5k and 30:31 for 10k beating his own record of last year.

James McMurray (centre) ran 30.31 to set a new 10k club record on the roads

Deirdre Heydecker broke her own previous 20 mile club record with a time of 2.35.20 at Bramley (which also made her the fastest female V60 in the country at the time).

Martin Whitworth’s 2:41:02 at the London Marathon was a V40 club record by three seconds, and Martin Halling knocked nine minutes off the V60 marathon record, a record which has stood for 13 years!

Last month, Anna Ward set a new V35 5 mile record at Hatfield in a time of 30.38.

Tom Crouch has improved his club records on the track since moving to Australia

On the track, Tom Crouch had a fantastic season setting PBs in the UK over the summer before moving to Australia with his family where his good form has continued. Still competing in his Striders vest Down Under, he’s set impressive club records of 14.57 for 5k and 31.08 for 10k - also a club record for the greatest distance from St Albans when achieved!

Other age group records on the track were set by Pete Crowdell, Colin Braybrook, Bobby Riddaway, Nigel Aston, Graham Smith, Wendy Walsh and Eileen Sindole.




Our flagship event the Fred Hughes 10 went seamlessly on a very cold, frosty January morning. There were 930 people entered with 758 running on the day, and a course record was set of 50:50 by Paul Martelletti, an elite runner who has previously won the Greater Manchester and Yorkshire marathons.
Paul Martelletti was Fred Hughes champ

Paul was a delight to have at the race, and his victory was made all the more impressive by the fact he was the last person to arrive having been held up by late trains and was literally run to the start by our race organisers.

Congratulations to race directors Ben Scott and Amy Heap for a successful event.
The Solstice 10k was another success



Our second Summer Solstice 10k had 285 finishers, compared to 178 in its first year. This race is really on the map now, providing a great combination of race and social event and really achieving its aim of appealing to all, not just serious club runners.

Thanks to race directors Stuart Middleton and Steve Alexander. 



The third running of the St Albans Stampede was another huge success for the club, directed by Amy Heap and Ben Scott and supported by a small army of helpers from the club.

Again, as with the Solstice 10k this was our biggest yet, with 269 entries, up from 186 in 2016.

It’s no small feat to lay on a 12 hour endurance race, and the day went almost without a hitch, the only minor drama being that our first aid support were caught up in a road accident on the way there in the morning, so we had no first aid cover for a short period, but all runners were advised of this, given the opportunity to pull out, none did, and we soon had a replacement first aider who by the end of the night was even helping to dish out pizza to the runners!
Race directors Amy and Ben pulled off another great Stampede

Feedback from runners was 100% positive, and a massive thanks goes to Ben and Amy who have now stepped down as Race Directors for the Stampede, but continue with Fred Hughes. They inherited this race as a fledgling event and now pass it on as a well loved fixture in the race calendar.

Across all these races, thanks also to Peter Blackaller, Martin Halling, Adam Mellor, Andy Normile, and everyone who helped to make these races so successful.


Our Run With Striders initiative has had a great year. This years course saw 40 participants, of which 36 successfully completed the course, both of which are records. Since it started we've introduced over 200 people to the club through Run With Striders, on top of those who join independently.
RWS introduced new members to the club

Many thanks to all the Striders who volunteered their support in some form, but specifically the Run With Striders Leaders, Andy Normile, Paul Cremins, Linda Green, Julie Curtis and Bernadette Newby.

Andy and Paul said: "It was incredibly gratifying to see so many new runners enjoy and participate in our sport, numerous personal bests, and the individual rewards all the participants achieved from their hard work. Too many accomplishments to list, but one that stands out is that two of our members in their first race as Striders (the Solstice 10k) were part of the winning women’s team.

"Just as importantly, many of the 2017 group are still regular participants in Striders events, and hopefully will be for years to come."




We set an unofficial world record at the start of the year at the Striders Starshot Marathon Relay. The idea was to beat the men’s marathon two hour barrier and for the women to beat Paula Radcliffe’s world record time, by a relay of 200 and 400m sprints. Both records were smashed, the men in 1:51:56 and the women in 2:14:39. It was a fantastic night and really brought the club together.

The marathon relay bought the club together in January


This year’s Weekend Away was in Swanage, and 43 of us enjoyed a long weekend at Swanage youth hostel. The weekend was fully catered, with activities including parkrun, mountain biking, and a trip to the local waterpark as well as a group run along the Dorset coast on the Sunday.
A trip to the seaside on the Weekend Away

Thanks to Stuart for his superb organisation of the event which continues to grow in size and popularity giving us a chance to relax and socialise together as well as being the source of many a good story.

Jack Brooks (centre) won a Service To Sport Award


Congratulations to Jack Brooks on winning the “Service to Sport” award at the St Albans & District Sports Awards this year, a well deserved achievement for all his selfless efforts over the years supporting other runners both within the club and beyond; Striders were awarded runners up in the Community Club category.


Another fun-filled Annual Dinner was organised by Emma Halldearn at Aubrey Park Hotel.

We ate, drank, danced and posed for a few silly pictures as well as celebrating our club’s achievements.

The award winners were:

Male Athlete: Steve Buckle

Female Athlete: Anna Ward

Most Improved Male: Chris Barr

Most Improved Female: Donna Irwin

Volunteer Of The Year: Hannah Martin

Strider(s) Of The Year: Amy Heap and Ben Scott
Deirdre Heydecker and Steve Buckle were the age-graded Club Champs winners

Male Club Champs winner: Mike Martin

Female Club Champs winner: Wendy Walsh

Age-graded Male Club Champs winner: Steve Buckle

Age-graded Female Club Champs winner: Deirdre Heydecker

Hall Of Fame: Mike Jubb and Roger Murray

Congratulations all!


In October, Ed Chaloner (treasurer), Lucy High (women's road captain), Emma Halldearn (social), Andy Auld (kit), Mike Jubb (coaching), Philippa Walton (catering), Laura Hussey (handicap) and Adam Mellor (special projects) all stepped down from their roles on the committee.

A huge thank you to all of them for their hard work and dedication to the club.

Thanks to Mike Jubb for all his track sessions

A special thanks goes to Mike Jubb as he steps down from his Tuesday coaching. As one long standing member put it:

“For as long as I have been a member, Mike has been at the majority of the Tuesday evening sessions and has been the first point of contact for many newbies. He always encourages others, even when he's been unable to run himself due to injury, and has turned out to run Tuesday sessions on cold, wet and dark nights around his own work and family commitments.

"Performance wise, back in the noughties he was representing Striders at a high level and his cross country club records from 2003 will take some beating - 12th in the Southern and 14th in the National."

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Marathon man Jack Brooks reports on his latest feats of endurance


Chislehurst Commons Trail Marathon: 6th August 2017

This was a new marathon near Bromley comprised of six laps of just under 7k followed by a shorter final loop. Each lap contained a very long descent of around 2k followed by a long ascent of about the same distance. There was enough variation in the surroundings to ensure that repeating the route each time wasn't boring. My time was 4:45:37.
Jack and friends at the Darnley Challenge Trail Marathon
Darnley Challenge Trail Marathon: 11th August 2017

I ran this race last year so I should have known the route, but I still managed to lose time by taking one wrong turning because I wasn't following the route description instructions closely enough. After some miserable weather earlier in the week I'd anticipated that the course could be muddy in places, but fortunately it wasn't. I finished in 5:37:50.

Leila’s Run Trail Marathon, Wheathampstead: 20th August 2017

This was the 4th time I'd run this local four lap marathon, which is held in memory of Leila Taylor (a former Garden City Runner who was a good friend of mine). The atmosphere is always relaxed and there are usually plenty of Striders running one, two, three or all four laps. I ran the first three laps with Lucy Stern and Mandy Attree and then ran much of the final lap with Apryl Hamnett and Beth Taylor-Jones from the 100 Marathon Club. The weather was kind to us and there can't be many more pleasant footpaths to run on than those around Heartwood Forest. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Running with Mandy and Lucy in Leila's Run

Woldingham Trail Marathon, Surrey: 27th August 2017

This two lap race started in the beautiful grounds of Woldingham School and it seemed the only flat parts of the course were the roads leading to and from the school. There were some truly brutal hills on the route and each of these had to be negotiated twice. This was very much in my mind as I set off on the second lap. Mark Travers from Striders was also running the marathon. He finished well ahead of me, but was good enough to wait until I finally staggered across the finish line in 6:16:26.

With Mark Travers after the hilly Woldingham Marathon

St Albans Stampede Trail Ultra: 2nd September 2017

I was injured for the first Stampede and away for the second so I was determined to compete this year. I managed just under 40 miles and thoroughly enjoyed the event. It is great to see how good the club is at staging events such as this.

Ouse Valley Way Trail Marathon: 17th September 2017

Lucy and Mandy from the club ran the inaugural event in 2016 and told me what a great event it was. I can only agree with what they said. This point to point race is nearly all off road and basically follows the River Great Ouse from Earith to Eynesbury. The course was well marked and marshalled and there were snacks and drinks available almost every three miles. I was third in the 60/69 age group finishing in 4:52:40. After two days of fairly heavy rain the footpaths were slightly slippery in places and when I run the event next year I'll consider taking trail shoes with me. The route was really beautiful and I lost count of the number of swans I saw that day. In addition I always enjoy seeing the statue of Oliver Cromwell in St Ives. I thoroughly recommend this race.

Jack joined Rory Coleman and his friends and family at the Robin Hood Marathon

Robin Hood Marathon, Nottingham: 24th September 2017

I have known Rory Coleman for most of my running life so when he announced that he would be running his 1,000th marathon in Nottingham I felt obliged to join him. Rory has had an amazing life during which he has completed Marathon des Sables 14 times and as a personal trainer coached many famous characters such as Ranulph Fiennes. In 2016 Rory contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a crippling disease, which left him wheelchair bound and physically debilitated. The prognosis was not good, but by sheer force of character Rory has fought his way back to fitness. He warned me beforehand that this marathon would be more of a shuffle than a run, but we still made it round in 5:17:46 finishing to a great reception from his friends and family. It was a wonderful day.

Windsor Marathon River Trail Run, Berkshire: 8th October 2017

This was the first running of the marathon and I was intrigued enough to enter. The race registration and finish are in Alexandra Gardens and nearby parking (£9) was expensive, but the route out from Windsor to Maidenhead beside the Thames and the route back alongside the Jubilee River were both spectacular so it was no hardship to run two laps. The weather was kind to us and there was no wind and virtually no mud along the course. Even after heavy rain I suspect that it would not be necessary to run in trail shoes. I finished in 4:25:01 and whilst I'd had a reasonable run I believe that the full distance was nearer 25 miles than 26.2 miles.

Not the most enjoyable marathon for Jack in Birmingham

Birmingham Marathon: 15th October 2017

The plus factor for the inaugural Birmingham Marathon was that there were several out and back sections and I was able to spot and call out to numerous people who I know. The downside was that they appeared to have included every hill in the city when devising the route. I started off keeping the 4:15 pace group some way ahead. Roger Attard joined me fairly early on and we ran together for a few miles. However, he seemed to be more comfortable than me and I told him to go on as he was feeling good. By around 10 miles the frequent uphill sections started to take their toll on my legs and my pace gradually slowed. I'd been running a large part of the final miles with good friends (brother and sister) Fu-Lok Cheung and Yin-Hai Cheung. Just after 25 miles Fu turned to me and said "please make this stop Jack!" That is pretty much how I felt, especially as a large section of the last mile was uphill. I finished in 4:35:41 and breathed a sigh of relief.

Preparing for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon

Toronto Waterfront Marathon: 22nd October 2017

I flew out to Toronto on my own, but met up by chance with people I knew on the first day there, so I had no problem with the social side of things. The weather for the race was unseasonably warm and this made for quite tough running conditions even though the course was relatively flat. The route itself comprised mostly very long straight out and back sections with little variety. I didn't find the course particularly scenic, but the race was well organised and the police took an active part in encouraging all runners, which was a welcome change. My time was 4:31:50. Now I just need to run a marathon in Nunavut in order to complete one in all 13 Canadian provinces and territories as well as one in all 50 US States plus DC. That should be in July 2018.

After Toronto, Jack now has one more marathon to complete to have run one in all 13 Canadian provinces
Blackwater LDWA Trail Marathon, Maldon: 28th October 2017

It always amazes me that the LDWA can stage trail events for what they charge. The entry fee for this marathon for LDWA members was £8 (£10 for non-members) and for that three checkpoints are provided around the route, all of which are stocked with copious amounts of food and soft drinks. Also at the finish everybody is provided with a hot meal and a finisher's certificate. I travelled down to Maldon on my own, but bumped into Rob Hardy from Fairlands Valley and Bob Parmenter from Stoke when I got there and the three of us decided to form a "pensioners' posse" and go round together. All was going well until around 19 miles, when an old injury started troubling Rob. We'd started together and decided that we'd finish together. Anyway, I hadn't seen either of them for about four months and it was good to have a chance to catch up.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Bring on the mud! Striders Cross Country Guide 17-18

The nights are drawing in, the leaves are changing colour and the weather is getting cooler. Yes, autumn in definitely in the air and that means cross country season will soon be upon us!

To help you get organised, we've put together this guide with all the dates for your diaries.

If haven't taken part in cross country racing with the club before, scroll down for more information on all the leagues and championships we take part in and how you can get involved.
Get your trail shoes and spikes ready for the return of cross country season!
The races are open to all members of the club - whatever your speed - but you must be EA registered in order to compete in the Chiltern League, Southern and National Championships (including relays). So if you haven't already paid for EA membership and want to join in, now's the time to do it ahead of the first races in October. You must also wear a club vest in all races, and trail shoes or spikes are advised for the muddier courses.

Cross country running can be great fun with hills, mud and even water obstacles to contend with, making it much more interesting than your average road race. The undulating and uneven terrain will make you a stronger and fitter runner, while taking part will allow you to meet more of your fellow Striders and replicate the team spirit of the summer's MWL.
Club vests must be worn at all cross country races
Not only that, you get entry into all these races as part of your Striders membership.

Cross country captains Cathal Gallagher and Wendy Walsh will email and post on Facebook with the full details on each race the week before they take place but here's details we have so far...



Saturday, 14 October: Chiltern League, Oxford

Saturday, 21 October: Southern Cross Country Relay, Wormwood Scrubs

Sunday, 29 October: Sunday League, Cheshunt
The Sunday League returns to Cheshunt in October


Saturday, 4 November: National Cross Country Relays, Mansfield

Saturday, 11 November: Chiltern League, Milton Keynes (Teardrop Lakes)

Sunday, 12 November: Sunday League, Trent Park
Don't expect the Chiltern League courses in Milton Keynes to be flat! This hill awaits at Teardrop Lakes


Saturday, 2 December: Chiltern League, Luton

Saturday, 9 December: Southern XC Masters Championships, Oxford (over 40s only)

Sunday, 17 December: Sunday League, Willian



Sunday, 7 January: Herts County Champs, Watford

Saturday, 13 January: Chiltern League, Keysoe

Sunday, 14 January: Sunday League, Watford

Saturday, 27 January: Southern XC Champs, venue TBC
The infamous water obstacle at Keysoe


Saturday, 10 February: Chiltern League, Milton Keynes (Campbell Park)

Sunday, 18 February: Sunday League, Royston

Saturday, 24 February: National XC Champs, Parliament Hill, London
The National XC will be held at Parliament Hill again, go and watch if you can't race


Saturday, 10 March: Inter-counties XC Champs, Loughborough (participation by invitation only if selected to run for the county)

Sunday, 25 March: Herts Vets Champs, Royston (over 35s only)



Comprises clubs from Herts, Beds and Bucks. Men and women race separately - approx 6k for women and 8k for men. There’s also junior races earlier in the day where St Albans AC athletes compete for Striders. The scores from all races are all combined to reach our league position so it's a big team effort from young to old(er)!

There's a misconception that this league is only for speedier members but all abilities can, and do, take part! We welcome runners of all paces and your contribution could make all the difference to the team score.
Men and women race separately in the Chiltern League
When and where:

Saturday, 14 October: Oxford

Saturday, 11 November: Milton Keynes (Teardrop Lakes) including the UKA Cross Challenge

Saturday, 2 December: Luton (Stopsley Common)

Saturday, 13 January: Keysoe Equestrian Centre (home of that water obstacle)

Saturday, 10 February: Milton Keynes (Campbell Park)

Women’s race starts approx 1.15pm, men’s approx 2pm, with exception of the final fixture when the women's race is last

What to do: You must be EA registered to take part. We need to declare with the organisers who will be running the night before each race. We’ll send an email and post on the messageboard the week before each race so please let us know then if you intend to run. On the day, collect a number from the captains (Cathal Gallagher for the men and Wendy Walsh for the women). As with the MWL, you must keep this number for the whole league.

More info:



This is a slightly lower key league than the Chiltern so it's a good introduction if you have never done cross country before. Once again it is open to all abilities. Clubs from the local area take part with men and women competing in the same race which is approx 5-6 miles. If you take part in four or more races you will be in with a chance of winning an individual age group prize at the end of the league. Individual trophies are awarded as follows: Senior Men, M40, and M50 - first five places. M60 - first three, M70 - winner. Senior Women, W35, and W45 - first five places. W55 – first three, W65 – winner.
You don't need a number for the Sunday League, just turn up and run (whatever the weather!)
When and where:

Sunday, 29 October: Cheshunt

Sunday, 12 November: Trent Park

Sunday, 17 December: Willian

Sunday, 14 January: Watford

Sunday, 18 February: Royston

All races start at 10.30am

What to do: We’ll advertise further details for each race in advance. You don’t need to wear a number so just turn up and run. At the finish, you’ll be given a ticket with your finishing position on which should be handed to the captains so they can record the results.

More info: There’s no official website for the league but results and pictures will be posted on


Herts County XC

Individual and team county medals up for grabs here and the chance to qualify to represent Herts in future races. Approx 8k for women and 12k for men.

When and where: Sunday, 7 January, Cassiobury Park, Watford
We're the reigning men's county champs, can we retain the trophy this year?
What to do: You must have been born in Herts or have been a resident in the county for at least nine months prior to the race to compete. Captains have to enter teams in advance so look out for details on the messageboard or via email in order to sign up. On the day, collect your number from captains.

More info:


Southern XC Champs

Regional event made up of clubs from the south of England. Approx 8k for women and 15k for men.

When and where: Saturday, 27 January, venue TBC (Unlikely to be at Parliament Hill, London, as that's where the National XC will be held this year)

What to do: Open to all club members of all abilities but you must be EA registered and pre-entered by captains. Look out for posts/emails to sign up nearer the time. The event is chip-timed so you must collect your chip and number from captains on the day.

More info:


The National XC Champs

A prestigious and historic event made up of clubs across England. It's suitable for all abilities with elite athletes at the front and those who might have to walk sections at the back. Approx 8k for women and 12k for men. If you can't take part then go along and watch, seeing all the runners charge up Parliament Hill at the start is quite a spectacle!

When and where: Saturday, 24 February, Parliament Hill, London

What to do: You must be EA registered and pre-entered by captains. The event is chip-timed so you must collect your chip and number from captains on the day.

More info:
The women's team at Parliament Hill



Southern Masters XC Champs

A chance for veteran athletes to compete for glory without any youngsters getting in the way!

When and where: Saturday, 9 December, Oxford (same course as the first Chiltern League)

What do do: Women must be aged 40 plus to take part and will race 6k. Men must also be aged 40 plus and will race 10k, with the exception of men over 70 who will run at the same time as the women. You must be EA registered. The captains will submit entries in advance so look out for details nearer the time.

More info:
There are plenty of opportunities to run for Striders this cross country season

Herts Veteran XC County Champs

Another chance to gain an individual or team county medal, this time without having to compete with the younger generations!

When and where: Sunday, 25 March, Royston

What to do: Open to anyone aged 35 plus who was born in Herts, or has been a resident in the county for at least nine months prior to the race. Captains have to enter teams in advance so look out for details on the messageboard or via email in order to sign up in December. On the day, collect your number from captains.

More info:



Southern XC Relay

Team event (women, 3 x 3k, Men, 4 x 5k) involving clubs from the South which is a low key, fun start to the cross country season.

When and where: Saturday, 21 October, Wormwood Scrubs
What to do: Open to all club members of all abilities but you must be EA registered and pre-entered by captains. Look out for emails/posts from the captains in the near future.

More info:


National XC Relay

Well-supported national event where clubs from around England compete in teams around a course that’s not challenging and is great for spectating. Women, 3 x 3k, men, 4 x 5k

When and where: Saturday, 4 November, Berry Hill Park, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

What to do: Open to all club members of all abilities but you must be EA registered and pre-entered by captains. Look out for emails/Facebook posts in the near future.

More info:

Further questions?

If you need to know anything else, email the XC captains - Cathal Gallagher and Wendy Walsh: crosscountrycaptains at 

Friday, 25 August 2017

Jack Brooks endures border checks in Belarus, dodges grizzly bears in Alaska - and fits in some scenic trail races with Striders - in his latest races around the world

Jack Brooks reports on his races at home and abroad in June and July 2017...

Jack at the finish of the Manitoba Marathon in Winnipeg, Canada
Maritime Marathon, Manitowoc, Wisconsin: 11th June 2017

On 11 June I eventually (thanks to a puncture on my hire car) arrived in Manitowoc in the middle of a heat wave with temperatures around 80 degrees and around 82 percent humidity - and those were the prevailing conditions at the start of the marathon.

I generally don’t run well in the heat and like many others I was wilting before we reached the 5 mile mark. However, I persevered and with the distraction of pelican spotting along the shoreline of Lake Michigan I made it to half way in 2:10 and finally staggered across the finish line in 4:37:29.

Given the conditions, survival (rather than time) had been the objective in this race so I was not too disappointed.

Manitoba Marathon, Winnipeg, Canada: 18th June 2017

I hung around in Wisconsin for a few days after the marathon visiting the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame (in Green Bay, of course) and making several trips to the ice cream parlour in Two Rivers, which not only housed a fascinating museum, but also served some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.
Visiting the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame while in Wisconsin
After driving back to Chicago we flew to Winnipeg, picked up our numbers for the marathon, explored The Forks area of the city and then drove up to Selkirk (to visit Lower Fort Garry) and Lake Winnipeg (to look around the Icelandic settlement of Gimli).

Fortunately, there was light drizzle on the morning of the marathon, which suited me down to the ground, as did the relatively flat course. I set off with the 4:15 pace group, but parted company with them just after 19 miles, finishing in 4:21:33.

The finish was in the city’s Canadian Football League’s stadium and, with only the marathon runners being allowed to finish in there, there was more than enough free food and drink for everybody. I also took advantage of a free massage at the finish, where I was advised that I should do something about the tightness in my upper left leg. I had been thinking the same thing myself from around the 20 mile mark!

Herts Hobble Trail Marathon, Bramfield Village, Herts: 25th June 2017

This is one of my favourite annual events. Adam Mellor and I ran round together taking the time to admire the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside and chat to other runners, finishing in 5:40.00

Ashridge Trail Half Marathon, Herts: 2nd July 2017

This is another local event, which passes through some spectacular hilly countryside. Adam Mellor, Carol Ransom, Mandy Attree, Lucy Stern and I went round together. We didn’t treat this as a race, but merely a chance to have a morning out appreciating our surroundings and having a good chat.

A great day out with Adam Mellor, Carol Ransom, Mandy Attree and Lucy Stern at the Ashridge Trial Half
The weather was kind and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, especially when Adam bought us all an ice cream at the finish. An extra bonus is that all the proceeds from the race go to charity.

Grodno To Druskininkai Marathon, Belarus/Lithuania: 9th July 2017

This trip came good more by luck than by judgement after my initial travel plans had to be rearranged. I discovered after booking a flight to Minsk I would need a visa to cross the border into Lithuania so I had to pay for another to Vilnius instead.

Once there I met Rich Holmes, a friend from North Carolina, and we were taken to our hotel by a charming lady called Virginija, who we subsequently discovered is a member of the Lithuanian parliament.
With Lithuanian MP Virginija at the Grodno to Druskininkai Marathon
We also discovered that Brent Weigner (another friend from the USA) and Jim Manford (from the UK North East marathon club) were both staying in our hotel as well as a number of Finnish and Danish runners. Amazingly, on the Saturday we all obtained our visas without a hitch and boarded the bus to Grodno, Belarus.

It took around two hours to get through the border checks and into Belarus after which the bus deposited us at the sports stadium in Grodno for race registration.

When we went for dinner that evening we quickly discovered how few people in Belarus speak or understand English. I attempted to order a vegetarian mushroom pizza at a restaurant but the first two pizzas they brought me both had meat on them - and then they claimed that they had no mushrooms.

After an hour of this I finally demonstrated to them that I’d be happy if they just gave me a pizza base with some cheese on it and after a further wait this did materialise.

The following morning we had to arrive early to have our visas and passports checked and then surrender them to the border officials so that they and our baggage could be transported to the finish area in Druskininkai, Lithuania.
Feeling victorious with friends in Belarus
The race commenced at 8am. I was impressed that the road surfaces were excellent and that the road (the main road across the border) was closed to traffic for just 141 runners. It was humid from the start and got progressively warmer throughout the race, but I was interested in seeing the countryside and the many officials lining the route (and running through the 2k long border control area was a real experience).

After around 30k in Belarus we entered Lithuania and I finally crossed the line in 4:32:55.

The main observation that I had after the race was that very few people in Belarus smile, whereas as soon as we crossed into Lithuania people seemed much more cheerful.

After a shower and a free meal (all provided within an entry fee of 20 Euros) Virginija drove Rich and I back to Vilnius. Considering how little information we had prior to embarking on this trip I am stunned that everything fell into place so well and I would certainly recommend Druskininkai as a place to visit for a few days for anyone touring around Lithuania.

Fairlands Valley Challenge Trail Marathon, Stevenage: 16th July 2017

I ran to the first checkpoint with Carol, Mandy and Lucy from Striders before their 18 mile route took them in a different direction. After that I continued with Gina Little, a friend from the 100 marathon club.

We didn’t fare too well following the written instructions and took several wrong turns (one of which took us out of our way by over one mile).  We eventually finished in 6:44:13.

Big Sky Marathon, Ennis, Montana: 23rd July 2017

I flew into Montana with Roger Biggs from Fairlands Valley Spartans. Roger had entered races on both the Saturday and Sunday and whereas I had opted just to run the Sunday race.
Under the big blue sky at the start of Big Sky Marathon
We spent the first couple of days exploring the area and I particularly enjoyed visiting the old “ghost towns” of Virginia City and Nevada City. Their population has shrunk from well over 10,000 people at the height of their gold rush to around 150 today.

Things didn’t go well for Roger on the Saturday. He fell and was rushed to hospital, where he had two lots of stitches/staples administered to his scalp and was also advised that he had a broken finger. At least the hospital was directly opposite our motel and the treatment he got was first class.

On the Sunday I was taken by bus to the Big Sky Marathon race start, which was at an altitude of 8,641 ft.  The race started at around 7.30am by which time the sun was already rising and the views were spectacular.

The first 15 miles was on a stony dirt track (which the organisers described as a gravel road).

Knowing what had happened to Roger the previous day I ran extremely cautiously. At around mile 8, just after the main descent commenced, the girl in front of me took a tumble. She was fairly blood spattered, but she told me to go on when I stopped to see if she was OK.

There were some very steep descents as well as a few uphill stretches before we joined a tarmac road at around mile 15. By this stage it had become much hotter and I was starting to suffer. It didn’t help that I missed a couple of water points (bottles left by the side of the road) between miles 13 and 19.

From mile 24 we ran along the very narrow edge of the main highway until we were diverted off onto a series of mainly gravel roads leading to the finish. The total net overall elevation loss for the race was 3,651 ft, but much of this was on surfaces that were not easy to run on and, given the conditions I was reasonably satisfied with my finish time of 5:23:57.

Juneau Marathon, Douglas Island, Alaska: 29th July 2017

It was raining when we arrived in Juneau and our sombre mood persisted as the shuttle driver who collected us from the airport regaled us with a tale of a tourist who’d recently had his head bitten off by a grizzly bear.
At the finish of the very wet Juneau Marathon
Jeanne and Richard Holmes from North Carolina joined us on the Friday morning and we spent the day visiting the Mendenhall Glacier and the Glacier Gardens. We had to take the early start for the marathon on the Saturday as our flight to Wrangell was scheduled to depart at 1.41pm.

The course was an undulating out and back one along the coastal road on Douglas Island. It rained more or less continuously, but there were some glorious views. We had been warned that there had been a lot of recent bear activity in the area, but the only wildlife I saw was fish jumping and a sea eagle, which flew in about 10 feet above my head.

I finished in 4:29:12 (first in the over 60 age group) and as soon as Rich finished we made a hectic dash for the airport.

Bearfest Marathon, Wrangell, Alaska: 30th July 2017

We arrived in Wrangell on the Saturday afternoon just in time to pick up our numbers for the marathon.

As Roger had badly injured himself on the first of the four marathons he’d entered he was determined to complete the Bearfest race. I was concerned enough to insist on going round with him, just in case there might be any after effects from his accident in Montana.
Getting close to grizzly bears in Anan
There was persistent rain throughout the race, but it was only cold when we were heading into the wind. This was another undulating out and back course along the coast and, once again, the Alaskan scenery was breathtaking.

I allowed Roger to dictate the pace and we eventually crossed the line without mishap in 6:40:47.

The highlight of the Alaska trip was visiting Anan the following day to see numerous bears and bald eagles feasting on the salmon. The four of us paid a guide to take us by boat on the one hour journey and then escort us to the viewing area.

At times we were only a few feet away from bears as they concentrated on extricating fish after fish from the fast-flowing river. It was truly an experience to remember and a fine way to end our trip.