Jack Brooks continues to travel with his trainers and Striders vest running marathons around the world. Here's his race reports from events between December 14 and March 15...
Malaga Marathon: 7th December 2014: After 3 very wet running weekends in Nice, Cleethorpes and San Sebastian it was great to arrive somewhere warm and dry. Over 20 members of the 100 Marathon Club had chosen to run this marathon and there were also plenty of other familiar faces there including Kathryn Hall from the Striders. 19 of us went out for an evening meal on the first night there and it was pleasant to be able to eat outside for a change. The course was fairly flat and included several long out and back stretches. The first half followed the shoreline, but after 21k we moved inland. I had a reasonably comfortable run and finished in 3:48:14.
Pisa Marathon: 21st December 2014: There don’t appear to be any good areas for training runs when in Pisa, but when it comes to staging a marathon they put on a fine event with the finish just by the leaning tower and the start only about a minute walk away. I’m glad I ran this race for the second time and can’t complain about a 3:41:30 finish time, which placed me 3rd in the Vet 60/64 category. If you are looking for a fast, flat course in Italy I recommend this race. Flights from Gatwick are reasonable, food and wine were inexpensive and the locals are friendly (although they’ve yet to persuade me to buy a scale model of the tower). With just over 1,000 competitors the course is never too crowded and pace groups are provided.
Phoenix Year End Marathon, Walton-on-Thames: 28th December 2014: This was a low key trail marathon comprising 4 out and back laps along the Thames towpath. There were about 75 runners and, as I knew a good many of them, it was great to be able to exchange comments with both faster and slower competitors at fairly frequent intervals. The running surface was a mixture of concrete, tarmac, mud, gravel and grass. Whilst there were quite a number of puddles along the route it was warm enough that the ice in them was already beginning to melt by the time the race started at 9am. We were also lucky that it didn’t rain and that the wind wasn’t too strong. I had a relaxed run and finished in 4:05:54.
Bahamas Marathon, 18th January 2015: An American friend of mine recently started up a new running club called Marathon Globetrotters and chose this race for the club’s inaugural race meeting. The thought of a week in the Bahamas obviously appealed to quite a few of us. Consequently the members of the club made up about a quarter of the 174 competitors in the marathon. The race started in the dark at 6am at Junkanoo Beach, 3 blocks west of Downtown Nassau. After running through Nassau we crossed from New Providence Island over a large bridge to Paradise Island and after about 100 yards we then crossed over another bridge which returned us to New Providence Island. From there we ran back through Nassau following which we began a long out and back run along the coast alongside some beautiful beaches and sea views. It had been warm at the start of the race, but by 8.30am the temperature was creeping up to around 80 degrees and in the very humid conditions many of us were struggling. I finished in 3:56:10 (37th overall) and was 3rd vet 60/64 for which I won a cowbell (apparently the Bahamian cowbell symbolises strength, spirit and endurance). I thoroughly enjoyed the whole week and particularly the marching flamingoes at the zoo and the boat trip we took with Carl Blades of Bahama Boat Tours. It was great to catch up with a number of old friends and to meet so many other like-minded people. Needless to say it was a shock to my system when I returned to zero temperatures in the UK.
Watford Half Marathon: 1st February 2015: The 2nd half of the route was different to last year and most people I spoke to thought that it was hillier. My time was 1:45:59, which is my fastest time for Watford Half since 2005. The cold wind was a shock to the system in places, but overall I had a fairly comfortable run.
Valentines Trail Marathon, Stratford upon Avon: 14th February 2015: The first 4 miles of this marathon are straightforward as one simply runs alongside the canal. The trouble started at mile 6 when several of us weren’t paying as much attention to the route description as we should have and went seriously wrong. Instead of finding ourselves on the edge of the village of Walcote we found ourselves some 2 miles off route. After flagging down a man on a horse and cart we were put right and managed to get ourselves back on course. It was then that we started to encounter some serious mud. It had rained heavily the previous night and parts of the route resembled a quagmire. In quite a few places staying upright was a problem and running was not feasible. After various misadventures I was pleased to finish and wasn’t too upset that my time was only 5:39:30.
Malta Marathon: 22nd February 2015: The main aim of this holiday was to get away from the British weather. The flight was £90 return and a twin bedded apartment on the waterfront was 50 euros per night. Unfortunately the weather could have been more cooperative as it rained every day. At least it was warm rain! The marathon started outside the impressive Mdina Gate and, after one long loop, headed to the finish on Sliema waterfront. The road surfaces were generally pretty appalling and there was no shortage of puddles along the route. The weather yo-yo’d between sunshine, strong headwinds and driving rain throughout the race. To make life interesting, at 26k we merged with the tail-end of the half marathon and found ourselves having to weave around groups of slower runners at regular intervals. My time of 3:46:21 placed me 248th out of 645 marathon finishers. For the remaining days of the holiday I managed to squeeze in some really pleasant early morning runs along the waterfront and didn’t get wet once.
Mill Hill Trail Marathon: 1st March 2015: What better way can there be to kick-start March than to run the muddiest trail marathon I have ever competed in? This race comprised 4 loops of 9k each followed by a shorter 6k loop. It was organised by a friend, Anna Hatton, to raise money for a local hospice and entries were limited to 50 people (most of whom it turned out that I knew). Whilst the course was well marked I still managed to get myself lost once through not paying attention. There was no shortage of hills with the route comprising 2,415 ft of climbing, but the real challenge was the mud. Whether going up or down or even across flat fields the mud was inescapable. This made the event a real challenge, but also fun. I finished eventually in 5:36:21 having had a brilliant day out. Kate, who finished about a minute behind me in Malta the previous week, ran a couple of laps with me and was the subject of constant jibes from her friends about her use of a pacemaker for this event.
Zydeco Marathon, Lafayette, Louisiana: 8th March 2015: I flew into Houston with Roger Biggs from Fairlands Valley Spartans. Cliff Burgess (a longstanding friend from Waco) picked us up from the airport and we drove to Lafayette along the I10 Interstate Highway taking note of the signs for the Jack Brooks Regional Airport on the way. On the Saturday we did a bit of sightseeing and met up with various friends from the 50 States Marathon Club at race registration. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone else from the UK, but one of the first people I bumped into at the race start was Lisa Walbridge from the UK 100 Marathon Club. She’d won a trail ultra race the previous day and was still destined to whip my butt at Lafayette. The weather on the Sunday morning was perfect for running. I ran the first 10 or so miles with a friendly bunch in the 3.45 pace group and then went ahead of them for a while. At around 23 miles the pace group leader caught me up and it was due to her encouragement and help that I was able to cross the finish line in 3:43:53 (2nd out of 15 in my age group and 56th out of 400 overall). On the Monday we drove to Waco and spent a pleasant few days with Cliff and Cyndie Burgess. When in Waco I always visit the Dr Peppers Museum where the café serves the best root beer and ice cream floats that I’ve ever come across. After picking up a rental car, Roger and I drove to San Antonio, where we spent a couple of days visiting The Alamo and exploring the amazing River Walk complex. Contrary to popular belief I learnt that the battle for the Alamo only actually lasted about 45 minutes from start to finish according to eye witness accounts. From San Antonio we drove to Seabrook, Texas via Goliad and the Fannin Battleground. On 20/03/1836 Col. James W. Fannin surrendered to Mexican forces at the Battle of Coleto Creek. General Santa Anna ordered that Fannin and 342 of his men should then be executed in nearby Goliad and it was possibly this event more than the defeat at the Alamo that inflamed the Texan fight for independence.
Seabrook Lucky Trails Marathon, Texas: 15th March 2015: This event was everything that is good about a trail marathon. It was a relatively small, friendly event with a party atmosphere throughout. The 4 lap course was principally along footpaths of crushed granite between Meador Park and Pine Gully Park. It was mainly flat although there were a few areas through woods where there were some extremely sharp turns. Because of the out and back nature of some of the trails I got plenty of encouragement from my Houston friends, Steve and Paula Boone whenever I saw them. I ran most of the race with a girl whose name I never discovered, but who I called “coach”, because that was what was written on the back of her shirt. There were regular mile markers, but I wasn’t paying too much attention to my pace and was pleasantly surprised when I finished in 3:44:23 (1st in my age group and 21st overall). I hadn’t realised that this race had also been selected by the Road Runners Club of America to be their State Marathon Championship. It was a pleasant surprise to be advised that I had just become the RRAC Texas Male Senior Grand Master Marathon Champion for 2015. I celebrated with some of the free beer and food that was in plentiful supply at the race finish. On the Monday we spent most of the day at the NASA Space Centre and I can now truthfully say that I have touched an actual piece of rock that has come from the moon. On the Tuesday we flew to Raleigh Durham in North Carolina and stayed a couple of days with good friends Rich and Jeanne Holmes. I also got the chance to see my godson, David October (who is on a soccer scholarship at the University of North Carolina) and take him out for a meal before we departed for Virginia Beach on the Thursday. I noted from the map that we passed an area called Great Dismal Swamp en route. It reminded me of a road called Big Ugly Creek Road that I’d driven past when I ran the Hatfield/McCoy Marathon in 2008. Maybe giving places such inspirational names is a Virginian thing.
Townbank Shamrock 8km race and Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, Virginia: 21st and 22nd March 2015: On the Friday we went to race registration and picked up our numbers as well as a number for Rich Holmes (who was due to join us to run the marathon on the Sunday) and then spent a relaxing day alongside the beach. The 8km race on the Saturday morning was a huge affair. It was cold at the start and with over 8,000 runners and chip timing we were sent off in waves. Essentially we ran down one of the main streets in Virginia Beach and then returned on the concrete Boardwalk with a small loop at the finish. There was a fairly strong headwind when we turned to head north up the Boardwalk, but the race was well organised and enjoyable. I finished in 38:17 (5th out of 118 in my age group and 410th out of 8,889 overall). It was much warmer than originally forecast for the start of the marathon on the Sunday morning. The marathon course was fairly flat. First we headed south through various neighbourhoods and the Camp Pendleton military base before turning north and heading towards Fort Story military base along some very long straight roads. In Fort Story we ran a long loop passing the site where the original Jamestown colonists first landed in America in 1607. We also passed the Cape Henry lighthouse, which is the oldest still-standing lighthouse in the USA. After this we headed south finishing on the Boardwalk. I could certainly feel that I’d raced the day before, but managed to stay with the 3.45 pace group until about 19 miles. The next miles were a struggle and I was relieved to cross the line in 3:50:36 (4th out of 42 in my age group and 408th out of 1,239 overall). On the Monday morning we flew to Sarasota via Newark, where John Wallace (a friend who I’d first met at Liechtenstein Marathon in 2010) picked us up from the airport and drove us to his fairly palatial canalside residence near Siesta Key. John’s wife, Nicole, was away visiting grandchildren, but John was a most generous host and the accommodation he offered us was certainly considerably more luxurious than what I’d provided him with when he stopped at my house a couple of years ago on his way back to the USA from the Isle of Man marathon. On the Tuesday John gave us a full guided tour of the Keys and local beaches and on the Wednesday he lent us his car so we could visit Myakka State Park to see alligators, turtles and other wildlife. On the Wednesday evening we met up with members of John’s local running club and then on the Thursday we took his kayaks out amongst the mangroves along the inter-coastal waterway. On the Friday the 3 of us drove to the beachside apartment we’d booked at Ormond Beach.
Tomoka Marathon, Ormond Beach, Florida: 29th March 2015: This was a relatively small marathon along a scenic route known by the locals as the Tomoka Loop. Most of the course was alongside water and included unobstructed vistas of 2 rivers, inland creeks and marshes, barrier island dunes and beach as well as some historic sites. The only difficult bits were a 2 mile out and back stretch on soft sand starting at about 19 miles and a large bridge at about 25.2 miles. Once again we were lucky that the weather was relatively cool (for Florida) and I had a comfortable race finishing in 3:45:33 (1st in my age group and 70th out of 320 overall). On the Monday morning we drove back to Sarasota and on the Tuesday morning John dropped us off for the long flight back (via Chicago) to the UK. The whole trip had been a blast and was a great way to start off my 63rd year.