Wednesday, 11 January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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