Friday, 7 October 2016

Hills, heat and following in the footsteps of a brave Canadian amputee: Jack Brooks' June to September 16 race highlights

Running with Striders during Leila's Run, one of my race highlights of the summer

Whittington Charity Challenge Trail Marathon: 16th July 2016: This was a four lap trail marathon near Lichfield, which was organised by my friends Bill and Pauline Howes. The route was undulating and by the fourth lap the hills were hurting.

It was also extremely humid throughout the day, which made for somewhat difficult running conditions. However, it was an ideal event for me as it enabled me to gauge how my post injury recovery was coming along and I knew that if I felt bad at any time I could always drop out at the end of a lap.

As it was I felt fine throughout, although by 18 miles my legs were feeling very tired. Given that I was not back to full fitness I was happy with my finish time of 5:14:51.

Summer Around the Reservoir Trail Marathon: 24th July 2016: The usual course for this marathon comprises six laps around Brackmills Reservoir in Northampton with around half the route running along a tarmac cycle path and the remainder along a mixture of grassed footpath and stony track.

Unfortunately, shortly before the race date the Environment Agency closed off part of the route for flood prevention works and the course had to be changed to eight out and back laps along the side of the reservoir opposite the tarmac cycle track.

The temperature at the start of the race was around 20 degrees and increased to around 25 degrees by the finish. There was no shade and everybody appeared to be suffering in the heat. I finished in 5:25:57 and was exceptionally grateful that my car had air conditioning as I drove home. I had just about cooled down by the time I made it back to St Albans.
An enjoyable day out at the Darnley Challenge

Darnley Challenge Trail Marathon, Kent: 13th August 2016: This event was a two lap off-road marathon using the Gravesend Cyclopark as the race venue. The route was much more picturesque than I’d anticipated passing as it did through Jeskyns Woodland, The Darnley Estate and Ranscombe Wildflower Reserve.

The route was unmarked and unmarshalled so we had to rely on a written route description. Fortunately this had been meticulously prepared ensuring that it would be extremely difficult to get lost.

There was about 1,500ft of ascent and a few paths were somewhat uneven and difficult to run on, but overall I had a really enjoyable day out and finished in 5:30:55.

Leila’s Run Trail Marathon: 21st August 2016: This local race starting in Wheathampstead provided runners with the options of running one, two, three or four laps. I opted for four, but there were quite a lot of Striders running the three lap option. I ran with Gladstone, Katie, Carol, Mandy and Howard for a few miles, but they were running at a faster pace than I was comfortable with and soon departed off ahead of me.

It was great to see a number of club members out and about around Heartwood Forest while we were running, amongst whom were Andrew Maher, Pete Blackaller, Graham Smith, Sheryl Norman and Colin Braybrook. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and finished in 5:18:50.
With Dave King after Leila's Run wearing our unusual medals

Heart of America Marathon, Columbia, Missouri: 5th August 2016:
Tom Detore, a running friend who I’ve known for around 20 years, invited me and Roger Biggs from Stevenage to stay with him for a week. This marathon is one of Tom’s favourites as well as being his hometown marathon. What he failed to tell us was that for many years it was classified as the hardest non-mountain road marathon in the USA!

We could tell as soon as we arrived in St Louis airport that we’d be in for a hot race and the conditions on Labor Day Monday as we lined up at the race start did not disappoint. By the time we reached the last six mile stretch the temperature had risen to around 90 degrees, the humidity was crushing and we had run out of shade. I crossed the line in 5:00:03 and was mighty happy to find a shaded area where I could sit until Tom and Roger finished.

This was probably the toughest marathon I have run in the States since Mount Rushmore marathon in 2005, and I was a lot younger and fitter when I ran that.
Roger and I with Tom at his favourite Heart Of America Marathon - he hadn't warned us how tough it would be!

Queen City Marathon, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada: 11th September 2016: We flew into Regina airport on the Friday and met up with our friends Rich and Jeanne Holmes from North Carolina. Our flights were via Chicago and Calgary. The flight from Chicago was an hour late and we passed through immigration fairly quickly. After that everything went pear shaped. We had to pick up our bags, but the airport advised that these were being unloaded on a different carousel to the one they were actually unloaded on.

After a long delay we managed to locate the bags, but then were told we had to recheck them in at the Air Canada desk, which was two floors above and a fair distance away. We rechecked our two bags within 15 seconds of each other, but only one bag arrived in Regina. Apparently the other one “had been checked in too late”. It was delivered to our hotel around 1.30am that night.

Moving on, race registration went smoothly and the predicted rain and cold winds failed to materialise on race day. I had looked up the course description for a different Queen City Marathon and so was delighted as the race progressed to find that (whilst the altitude was around 1,900 feet) the whole route was on well surfaced relatively flat roads and paths rather than the compacted gravel hilly course that I’d been anticipating.

I was still unsure about how much fitness I’d regained since I’ve been back running and decided to start with the five hour pace group and see how things went. It soon became evident that I was able to go faster and I spent much of the first five miles weaving between large groups of slower runners until I found space to run at my own speed.

The race had drink stations virtually every mile and gels were being handed out as well at some of these. Apparently they had one volunteer for each six competitors (impressive).

I went through half way in 2 hours 8 minutes, but flagged a bit in the second half eventually finishing in 4:31:23. I was more than happy with that result as it was my fastest finish since before my knee injury.

Maritime Marathon, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada: 17th September 2016: Apart from a mix up over seating Air Canada got us to Halifax via Toronto late on the Tuesday without too much upset and the bus from the airport to our hotel location was reasonably inexpensive.

We then had a few days in which to chill, wash clothes, sight-see etc before the 5k evening race on Friday the 16th. That race started at 7pm and I ran most of it at a very relaxed pace talking to a guy called Earl who had relatives in Hertfordshire and had seen St Albans on my race vest.

I’d started towards the back with the intention of having an easy run and with around 2,500 runners there was little scope for fast times anyway. Having failed to start my stop watch I discovered later that my time was 30:23. There was a spectacular fireworks display after the 5k, which meant that we got back to our hotel quite late on the Friday evening.

The next morning we had to catch a bus at 6am back to the marathon race start at Fisherman’s Cove (just by the Eastern Passage). I had no preconceptions about what the course would be like, but it turned out to be hilly and, with few roads closed, somewhat dangerous in places (especially in the second half, where those of us running the marathon frequently had to step off the road onto a rough and uneven sidewalk in order to avoid oncoming cars).

I ran the last 7k with a guy called Marian, who is the only person I’ve ever met who shares John Wayne’s Christian name.

My schoolboy error for this race was forgetting to switch off my stop watch. However, my published chip finish time was 4:53:28, which placed me 2nd out of 8 in the 60/69 age group. Whilst the sea views were beautiful in places for this race I was disappointed that traffic safety was such a problem for the last 12k and also that the only distance markers were every 5K.

HuffinPuffin Marathon, St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada: 25th September 2016: I was injured last year, but had already booked the trip and so I walked the half marathon. What I remembered from this course was that it was undulating and that there was one particularly vicious hill that we’d have to run up twice in the marathon.

A memorial to Terry Fox, an amputee who tried to run across Canada after losing his leg to cancer
When we went to check out the location of the Terry Fox memorial I realised why the route goes up this hill. Terry Fox was an amputee who set off to run across Canada to raise money for cancer charities after losing a leg to cancer. He never completed the full distance, but his gallant attempt inspired the nation and the fund he set up has raised millions of dollars for charity since he founded it. The memorial is by the harbour in the spot where Terry dipped his foot into the ocean at the start of his epic run and is also at the base of the really nasty hill. This once I can forgive the Race Director for designing the course to follow this particular route.

On our way to view the memorial someone shouted at us and we realised that it was two other runners from Fairlands Valley Spartans who had also come over for the race. It was cold on race day, but thankfully the rain held off and I finished the two laps in 4:30:05.
The course of the HuffinPuffin Marathon takes in a route run by Terry Fox in a fitting tribute to him
It was a bonus after the race to meet up with a bunch of St John’s runners who had provided great entertainment at the previous week’s event in Dartmouth. As with any long running trip the tedious part of the holiday will be the long flights home via, Halifax and Newark.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Return of the mud! Striders guide to the 2016-17 Cross Country season

Cross country season is nearly upon us again and what better way is there to spend your Autumn/Winter weekends than running through the mud with your fellow Striders?!
There has been a great uptake in cross country running in the club over recent years with more and more of you discovering the joys of racing offroad.
Below is a fixture list of the forthcoming races we are competing in, so please put the dates in your diaries as we would love to see as many of you there as possible.
Join your fellow Striders at cross country events this Autumn and Winter
If you are completely new to the club and/or to cross country running, scroll down for further information on the various leagues we compete in and how you can get involved (it's all completely free for club members).
Cross country captains Graham Smith and Wendy Walsh will email and post on Facebook with the full details on each race the week before they take place.
Saturday, 15 October, Chiltern League, Oxford
Saturday, 22 October, Southern Cross Country Relay, Wormwood Scrubs
Sunday, 23 October, Sunday League, Cheshunt
Saturday, 5 November, National Cross Country Relays, Mansfield
Saturday, 12 November, Chiltern League, Milton Keynes (Teardrop Lakes)
Sunday, 13 November, Sunday League, Grovelands
Saturday, 3 December, Chiltern League, Luton
Saturday, 10 December, Cross Country Masters & Inter Counties Championships, Oxford
Sunday, 18 December, Sunday League, TBC (Willian or Stevenage)
The cross country season runs from October till March
Sunday, 8 January, Herts Champs, TBC
Saturday, 14 January, Chiltern League, Keysoe
Sunday, 15 January, Sunday League, Watford
Saturday, 28 January, Southern Champs, Parliament Hill
Saturday, 11 February, Chiltern League, Milton Keynes (Campbell Park)
Sunday, 12 February, Sunday League, Royston
Saturday, 25 February, National Champs, Wollaton Park, Nottingham
Inter-counties Champs – date and venue TBC (usually on a Saturday at the start of the month in Birmingham)
Herts Vets Champs – date and venue TBC (usually on a Sunday in the middle of the month)

The men's start at a Chiltern League fixture last year


Comprises clubs from Herts, Beds and Bucks, open to all abilities. 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 juniors, men and women’s scores are all combined to reach our league position.

Where & when:
Women’s race starts approx 1.15pm, men’s approx 2pm

Saturday 15 October, Oxford
Saturday 12 November, Milton Keynes (Teardrop Lakes)
Saturday 3 December, Luton
Saturday 14 January, Keysoe
Saturday 11 February, Milton Keynes (Campbell Park)

What to do: 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 message board the week before each race so please let us know then if you intend to run. On the day, collect a number from captains (Graham Smith for the men and Wendy Walsh for the women). As with the Midweek Road Race League, you must keep this number for the whole league.

NB: This season the number of female scorers for the team has increased from four to six so we need we more women than ever to take part!

More info:  

Hills and mud don't stop Striders!


Slightly lower key league so a good introduction if you have never done cross country before. It’s suitable for all abilities and just like the MWRRL but on offroad courses. 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.

Where & when: All races start at 10.30am

Sunday, 23 October, Cheshunt
Sunday, 13 November, Grovelands
Sunday, 18 December, TBC (Willian or Stevenage)
Sunday, 15 January, Watford
Sunday, 12 February, Royston

What to do: We’ll advertise further details on each race in advance. You don’t need to wear a number so just turn up and race. 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
Spikes and trail shoes at the ready!


Herts County XC: Sunday 8 January TBC

Individual and 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.

The men weaving round the Herts County Champs course in Stevenage
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 message board or via email in order to sign up. On the day, collect your number from captains.

More info:

Southern Champs: Saturday 28 January, Parliament Hill, London

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

What to do: Open to all club members of all abilities but you must be EA registered 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 Champs: Saturday 25 February, Wollaton Park, Nottingham

Prestigious and historic event which clubs across England take part in. Approx 8k for women and 12k for men.

What to do: Open to all club members of all abilities but you must be EA registered pre-entered by captains. The event is chip-timed so you must collect your chip and number from captains on the day.

More info:

Vet Champs: There are also a couple of Vets only championship races (age 35/40 and over for women depending on the event and age 40 and over for men) across the season including the Southern Masters Champs on Saturday 10 December in Oxford, and Herts County Vet Champs in March, date and venue TBC. You must be pre-entered so look out for email/Facebook posts nearer the time.

The Herts County Champs women's race in 2016


Southern XC Relay: Saturday, 22 October, Wormwood Scrubs

Team event involving clubs from the South which is a low key, fun start to the cross country season.

Women, 3 x 3k, Men, 4 x 5k

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.
All runners contribute to the team effort/spirit in cross country races

National XC Relay:  Saturday 5 November, Berry Hill Park, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
Well-supported national event where clubs from around England compete in teams around a course that’s not challenging and is great for spectating.

Teams: Women, 3 x 3k, men, 4 x 5k

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.

Further questions? 

Check out last year's Guide to Cross Country on the blog which has reasons why you should take part and a list of essential items. 

If you want tips on how to run well over cross country, check out this blog post.

If you need to know anything else, contact XC captains Graham Smith at men and Wendy Walsh at ladies 

Now go and get those spikes out!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Helen Cartlidge reports on her first (very muddy) long distance trail race at the North Downs Run

North Downs Run, 30k, 26 June 2016

Unique, scenic, iconic, tough, brutal, hilly, challenging, uplifting... that's how it was described on the T-shirt.

It certainly ticked all those boxes... and muddy, really muddy (it should have given me a clue when it was on the same weekend as Glastonbury!)

The day before, we drove down to my in-laws, who live 10 minutes away from the course. It rained on the journey round the M25, and when we arrived it rained a bit more. I started my pre-race-whinge ritual (often this doesn't start till race day but surprisingly for me,  I was well prepared and started the night before). 

It was going to be wet, muddy, hilly, I didn't have trail shoes, I would end up falling on my bum etc etc. Probably to stop the moaning, my hubby, Arnie, offered to buy me a pair of trail shoes. So, against all general race advice, we went to Bluewater at 8.45pm the night before and purchased my first pair of trail shoes. Gotta love a bit of late night shopping!

Race morning arrived and the weather was... raining (again!) At the race HQ the marshals were wearing head torches and finding race packs in the dark due to a power cut at the sports centre. This, coupled with the fact we met Arnie's cousin, Adam, who knew the route and described conditions as "horrendous", did little to calm my nerves.

I had decided, as this was my first reasonable length trail race, and my training had been a lot skimpier than planned, I would race anonymously, and not in a club vest. However, as I lined up at the start, I felt conspicuous as one of the few NOT wearing a club vest and wearing a new pair of trainers - all the gear, no idea.

The first few kilometres were not too testing, a lap of the sports field and over a golf course. Nothing too bad so far, or too muddy.  The first challenge came at around 7.5-8k where the first steep hill was. It made the St Albans Half look tame in comparison! 

The course was varied with footpaths, through and around fields and meadows, woodland sections, some roads through villages and tracks with gates, stiles and wooden barriers along the way. The marshals were fantastic and  gave  extra info on potential hazards, and even other people using the course, to be aware of. Through the woodland section, each protruding tree root or large rock was highlighted in neon orange spray paint and over hanging branches had tape hanging from them (not that I needed to worry about that!)

8-12k was not undulating but proper hilly! The steepest uphill sections were often a single track path through a field and most people (in my time bracket anyway) walked up. It was somewhat limited to whether the person immediately in front was walking or running, but I was not in any position to overtake anyway.

The weather for the race was ideal - it had eventually stopped raining and was the sort of boring, dull, offensive weather that you wouldn't really enjoy during the summer for anything other than running (or maybe cycling). It was cool, breezy and threatening to rain, although it brightened a little towards the end.

13-20k were more bearable with flatter paths through the woods, albeit with mud and ankle-deep puddles (the new trail shoes were properly tested). The scenery was stunning when it was safe to take your eyes off the ground - wild flower meadows, rolling hills, farms and villages. Around 20k there was another steep climb and (another!) Serpentine lady overtook me but then started walking. We ran at a similar pace for the next 4 kilometres and chatted briefly, until the next water stop. And then she disappeared into the distance and I didn't see her til the finish. Here I wished I had my Striders vest on, so I could try to convince her (and myself!) that I was a more stern opposition for her! Can race vests actually help you run faster or give you a psychological edge??

The last 5k seemed particularly harsh. Although I knew more or less where I was and there was "only a parkrun to go..!" it felt like a long slog. I took a walking break at each incline (only when I saw people ahead stopping to walk, so conceded it must be ok!) I had optimistically convinced myself on the way out, that the last 3k was predominantly downhill. Rather disappointingly, it wasn't, although I did manage to overtake a few runners in the last km, and finished in 2.45.

Being a new experience, I hadn't known what to expect or what target to give myself, but vaguely aimed at under 3 hours so very pleased with the result. As well as a new pair of trainers (which were fine - no blisters), I also wore a different Garmin. I looked at it once, didn't register what info it was giving me, and decided I couldn't really pace a race of this kind so I didn't look at it again. I found it really liberating not to give myself any time goals for each kilometre.

It was tough, it was brutal, ( did I mention it was muddy?) the recovery was worse than a marathon... but I want to do it again, if only to partake in the free cake and post race massage that I managed to overlook at the finish!

Next time I might even do the training I pretended I was going to do... oh, and wear a club vest.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Jack's back! Jack Brooks brings us up-to-date with his racing in the UK, US and Canada

Jack Brooks is back running and back on the blog after a year in which he has struggled with a knee injury...
JULY 2015 TO MAY 2016
Another medal for the collection after Vancouver
Potteries Marathon, Stoke on Trent: 5th July 2015: This marathon was brought back from the grave this year after a long absence. I had some misgivings about running it as my left leg had started to cause me problems, but I was committed to sharing a room in Stoke and had arranged to meet quite a few friends up there so I decided to give it a go. 
Unfortunately the injury flared up at about 13 miles and I finally limped across the finish line in a time of 5:23:56.
Overlander Marathon, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada: 16th August 2015: This race comprised two laps of a figure of eight course with enough hills thrown in to add some variety. I had hoped that my leg injury would have sorted itself out as I’d reduced my mileage considerably since the Potteries marathon. 
Unfortunately this proved not to be the case, but I’d invested a lot of money into this Canada trip and was determined to complete the three races I’d entered if at all possible. I finished in 4:59:13 and came 13th out of the 14 runners competing in the marathon. I had an interesting encounter with a red fox which I passed on the first lap. I was only about 4 feet away from it as it stood nonchalantly by the side of the road totally ignoring my presence. 
After the race my friend, Rich Holmes, and I flew back to Edmonton, where we picked up a rental car and set off on a sightseeing tour. On the Monday we drove to Dinosaur Provincial Park and then spent the night in the city of Brooks. We spent Tuesday in Calgary, where we spent the best part of a day in the Heritage Park Historical Village, which was well worth the very modest entry fee we were charged. After that we spent two days in the Rockies in Banff and Jasper National Parks, where the views were spectacular and the hiking was excellent. On the Friday we returned to Edmonton to pick up our race packets and meet up with Rich’s wife, Jeanne.
Beware of the bear on the Yellowknife course
Edmonton Marathon, Alberta, Canada: 23rd August 2015: I found this race really tough. Whilst the route was pleasant and the marshals were extremely supportive, the altitude and hot weather didn’t help and I was suffering with knee pain pretty much from the start. 
My eventual finish time was 5:36:53 and I was extremely relieved to see that finish line. On the Monday Rich, Jeanne and I flew to North Carolina for a few days of R&R before flying back up to Quebec.
I’ve completed marathons in eight of the 13 Canadian Provinces and Territories I’ll soon have to decide whether I want to complete the remaining five and thus become the first person from the UK to run a marathon in every State, Province and Territory in the USA and Canada
Quebec Marathon, Canada: 30th August 2015: We arrived in Quebec on the Friday, collected our race packets and spent Friday and Saturday exploring the city. I found it to be a thoroughly fascinating place and could happily have spent more than three days there. However, if I return I will need to improve my French as many of the locals barely speak any English. 
The marathon route is a point to point one commencing in the city of Levis and finishing in Quebec City right by the Saint-Lawrence River. On a couple of occasions I found myself running alongside a guy called Benoit Rancourt, who was running his 100th marathon and had noticed the 100 marathon club vest that I was wearing. Whilst I was still struggling with injury I thoroughly enjoyed the event and my limp earned me some sympathetic and supportive comments from quite a number of runners. Of course, if I spoke better French I’d have understood exactly what most of them were saying. 
As it was I finished in 5:09:58 and had an evening in which to recover before my flight home the following day. I’m glad I completed all three races, even though the process was painful. I can’t really complain about my injury as I’ve had a very long spell without any serious problems and I was fully aware of the risks I was taking by running these races. 
Now that I’ve completed marathons in eight of the 13 Canadian Provinces and Territories I’ll soon have to decide whether I want to complete the remaining five and thus become the first person from the UK to run a marathon in every State, Province and Territory in the USA and Canada.
Huffin’ Puffin Half Marathon, St John’s, Newfoundland: 27th September 2015: Having flown out to Canada for just five days I decided that, at the very least, I would walk the half marathon. This was probably a silly mistake as my knee pain made its presence known again after only about two miles. I finished in 3:13:34.
Totem poles on the Vancouver Marathon route
Vancouver Marathon, Canada: 1st May 2016: Little did I know that my acute knee pain would not disappear until 18th March 2016. Ironically I had been to the doctor the previous day to arrange a knee scan and then the pain disappeared overnight. However, I found it incredibly difficult to start running again and by the time I arrived in Vancouver I was extremely nervous about tackling a marathon on the back of a limited number of training runs, none of which exceeded six miles. 
I had waited over nine months to attempt my 382nd marathon, which was significant to me because it would take my marathon mileage raced past the 10,000 miles mark. My plan was to adopt the Jeff Galloway method of taking regular walk breaks right from the start of the race. Fortunately I had no knee pain throughout the event, although everything else hurt. 
I managed to overtake Badger from Fairlands Valley Spartans at around 23 miles and finished in 5:29:13. One of the few advantages of taking walk breaks was that I was able to fully appreciate the beauty of the course. 
All in all I found Vancouver to be a spectacular city. On our final day there Jean Champoux, a running friend who lives there picked us up from our hotel and drove us out to Whistler, where he is a ski instructor. After he’d given us a full tour we returned to his flat in Vancouver where his wife Julie had prepared a sumptuous meal for us. On the Thursday we flew to Washington DC to pick up a rental car and commence our long drive up to Delaware.
The Wilmington river front
Delaware Marathon, Wilmington: 8th May 2016: Unfortunately whenever anyone mentions Delaware my thoughts automatically gravitate towards the song, which starts “What did Delaware?” and then runs through various lines all referring to US States. So Dela “wore her New Jersey” etc. Irritating! 
Wilmington has a pleasant boardwalk area along the Christina river front, which was where the marathon started and finished. The course comprised two laps with the first two miles or so beside the river and the remainder along fairly hilly terrain. There was not much support out on the course, but there were a few people I knew there and I ran with Steve Boone from Texas for a little bit discussing mutual friends and our mutual lack of stamina. 
I finished in 5:12:12 and was happy that this run felt marginally more comfortable than Vancouver had.
Maine Coast Marathon: 15th May 2016: From Wilmington, Roger Biggs and I drove to Bar Harbor, which is one of the prettiest places I have been in the USA. We spent three days on the Island exploring the town and the Acadia National Park. Everybody told us that we were there at the best time of year because tourists had not yet started arriving in large numbers. 
On the Friday we drove via Portland to the Biddeford area and were able on the Saturday to pick up our race numbers and explore some of the beautiful coastline that this point to point marathon follows. 
On the race morning we parked in Biddeford and were taken by bus to the race start at Kennebunk. There were no big hills, but the route was certainly undulating and my legs were feeling pretty tired at a fairly early stage. Cheri Pompeo from Washington State overtook me, as she usually does, at around 18 miles and her husband, Greg, was way in the distance with the front runners. 
I was generally pleased with my time of 4:58:47 as it showed a significant improvement on what I’d achieved in the previous two races.
Mainly Marathons New England Series Connecticut Marathon, Simsbury: 20th May 2016: We drove to West Hartford, Connecticut on the Monday to stay with our friends Scott and Anna Falk, who we’d last seen in 2004. Since then they’ve acquired two daughters, Abbie and Zoe, who are 10 years old and identical twins. I was only able to tell the girls apart because they have slightly different hair partings. They certainly kept me on my toes all week playing chess, bombarding me with questions and playing their violins. It was really nice to spend time with the family and they entertained us royally. We went to see the girls playing with a full orchestra on the night before the marathon.
A selfie with Patricia during the Connecticut race
Somehow Roger had found out that the Mainly Marathons organisation was offering runners the opportunity to run one of their New England races free provided that they entered the race at least three months prior to it taking place. Consequently Roger and I received free marathon race entries and Scott received a free entry for the half marathon. 
The Connecticut race was the 6th race in this seven day series (seven races in seven different States in seven days). The organisation specialises in picking short out and back routes in different States and runners then run a specified number of laps in order to complete their requisite race distance. 
For the marathon we had to do 12 laps of a 2.184 mile out and back route about nine tenths of which was a paved footpath and cycleway and one tenth comprised a mixture of slightly soggy grass and rough ground. The cumulative effect of the previous three races caught up with me at Connecticut and I really struggled, finishing in 5:15:10. 
I was mightily surprised to find that we received a t-shirt and medal even though we’d paid no entry fee and found the event to be as friendly as the Mainly Marathons event I ran in Minnesota last year. 
There were a few familiar faces there all of whom were on their 6th day of racing. Larry Macon from Texas is someone who completes well over 50 marathons a year and was cheerful as ever. Foxy from Milton Keynes was struggling, but garrulous and Patricia Groombridge-Klein, who was running her 6th consecutive 50k race looked fresh as a daisy throughout and insisted on taking a selfie with me as I was on my final lap. 
That evening the Scotts threw a party for us, which was a great way to wind up the holiday.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Fun in the sun: The Striders (or was it the Minions?) weekend away in the New Forest

On a Friday afternoon at the start of May, an intrepid (have you ever tackled the M25 on a Friday afternoon?) bunch of 38 Striders left the comfort of suburban Hertfordshire for the New Forest for our now annual weekend away, buoyed  by the news that temperatures were set to rocket and be higher than in Spain.

Our humble abode in Beaulieu
Home for the group (not sure what the collective noun is for a bunch of Striders – a Farah maybe?) for the next two nights was a school field centre located at Beaulieu in the heart of the New Forest. Initial impressions were that our temporary home was comfy, clean, and cosy i.e. small, especially the child-size bunk beds, although what else would you expect at a school field centre.
After an initial visit to the local pub, the first job was to unload the contents of Cathal’s TARDIS van, which despite its small appearance on the outside, contained at least 17 bikes, and copious boxes of food and drink. Dinner consisted of a delicious pasta bake, pizza, (necessary carbs for the following morning's parkrun) salad, fruit and cake – let's face it no Striders occasion would be complete without cake.
Keeping hydrated ahead of the morning runs
Friday night entertainment consisted of a further visit to the pub and then drinking/socialising in the hostel swapping stories of running glories, making new friends and future plans. Thankfully the games cupboard at the hostel only had children's games, snakes and ladders, monopoly...and, luckily, not Twister.

On Saturday morning, we awoke to the sight of some rather tired and weary looking Striders - due to the small beds, or possibly the effects of the previous night’s alcohol - and over breakfast we played the game of trying to recognise people in their pyjamas rather than running kit.
We then set off to the local parkrun at Brockenhurst with an advance party on bikes, followed by the majority in a convoy of cars, guided by a mixture of map/GPS/local knowledge (local knowledge proving to be superior). The 15-minute journey was punctured by stops, firstly to allow the wild ponies and even cows to meander across the road - quite a sight for us townies - and then secondly stopping for in-car selfies with said ponies and cows (not sure where that is covered in the Highway Code).

The local runners of Brockenhurst were pleased to see us and very welcoming - as is usually the case with parkrun. The course turned out to be four laps of the local college playing field, not the most inspiring, but maybe a reminder of how lucky we are at St Albans. 
The 'Minions' at Brockenhurst parkrun
A good performance by Striders (dubbed the Minions by one local wag) filled seven of the top ten places with Cathal our first finisher in 2nd place (but then parkrun isn't a race), and at least one PB. Most impressive performances came from Ben and Amy, who remembered to run, rather than be Race Directors, and most definitely from Charlotte who completed an exceptional jog/walk whilst heavily pregnant. 

We then moved en masse to the local coffee shop, which proved to be rather traumatic for the woman in charge, as it was the one day when her boss thought they would be quiet, so had taken the day off, and left her in sole charge. But she coped admirably and we were in no hurry!

Some hardy souls then departed for a bike ride or for a further run, which included having to cross a raging torrential river (well that’s what they told me) and having that agonising moment that every runner dreads of seeing their brand new trainers get dirty.
A group run in the sun
Saturday afternoon was spent on smaller group activities, the Striders Facebook page keeping us informed of each other's activities with regular updates and photos. The activities included mountain biking, a trip to the beach to see expensive yachts, Mike’s walking expedition which included the unexpected log challenge, the Aqua park group (surely a classic example of Hobson’s choice), and a further bike ride for some, which proved to be longer than expect due to some dubious map reading.
Once back in the hostel and showered, we journeyed into the neighbouring town with heightened appetites from our excursions. As per the rest of the trip, the logistics of managing 38 Striders into a series of taxi/mini buses/restaurant/meal choices was excellently marshalled by Jen, with help from Stu. A delightful meal, with interesting and varied conversation.
Further drinks were then consumed - well, we had to clear the fridge of the various bottles of alcohol before Sunday’s departure.
A Saturday afternoon bike ride for some, while others hit the beach
The final activity for the weekend on Sunday morning was a gentle run to the nearby harbour of Buckler's Hard (insert your own gag here), with several people appearing to be sweating pure Prosecco, and being met on our return by Tina's cooked breakfast – surely the perfect way to start a Sunday morning.

The rest of the morning was spent clearing the hostel, the cleaning team making the Wombles (70's children TV characters who were OCD on cleanliness) look like a bunch of work-shy students, so much so, that we actually left the place (once the last bike group had returned) in a cleaner state than we had found it!
As the sun had now materialised the majority of us stopped back in Brockenhurst, for a well-deserved beer garden/sun bathing/recovery session and to begin planning next year's trip.

A fantastic weekend away, spent with some wonderful people. Superbly organised by Jen.

Already looking forward to next year.

Andy Normile