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.

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

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 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.


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


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.