Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Jack Brooks tackles the UK's toughest road marathon, follows in the footsteps of Steve Prefontaine and avoids a grizzly bear in his latest races


Run Around the Reservoir Trail Marathon, Northampton: 5th April 2015

This is a 6 lap trail marathon organised by my friends, Dave and Linda Major. Graham Ridley, who used to be a driving force in St Albans Striders when I first joined the club and who emigrated to Australia around 2000, had run the race with me 2 years ago and wanted to run it again this year whilst on a short return visit. Consequently we both entered the race and decided to run the first 3 laps together. After this we had a right battle with probably no less than 200 metres between us for the rest of the event. I led until about mile 25, but then Graham swooped and finished a whole 28 seconds ahead of me. His time was 3:48:48 and mine was 3:49:16. We were both overjoyed to get under 4 hours for the first time on this course.

Huddersfield Marathon: 19th April 2015 

This marathon bills itself as “possibly the toughest road marathon in the UK”. After the 2nd mile there were some brutal uphills and some equally vicious downhills and we had the extra thrill of knowing that with a 2 lap course we’d have them all to contend with a second time. From early on I decided that this was a race where pacing myself would be really important. I finished the first lap in 2:05 and then gritted my teeth. On the second lap only one person overtook me and I found that I was steadily passing other runners. Most commented on the difficulty of the route and one joker pointed out that even one of the underpasses was sloping upwards. I was extremely relieved to get to the finish line in 4:26:43. This won’t be a marathon that I rush back to run a second time.

London Marathon: 26th April 2015 

As usual there was great support around the course from the Striders contingent. However, my legs still felt heavy after Huddersfield Marathon and I finished in 3:50:01.

Milton Keynes Marathon: 4th May 2015 

The course was described as gently undulating, but I found the relentless ups and downs pretty testing. I rediscovered in the second half why I hate underpasses and the hill at 24 miles was a killer. All in all I didn’t enjoy the race although once again the support around the course from a large Striders contingent was greatly appreciated. My time was 4:04:00.

Riga Marathon, Latvia: 17th May 2015 

After travelling to Macedonia and turning up for the start of Skopje Marathon only to be told that the Government had ordered the race to be cancelled for “security reasons” (which we later found out to be a major gun battle north of the city) it was nice to find that Riga Marathon definitely was going to proceed. I’d picked up a slight cold in Skopje and this stayed with me for Riga, where it was perpetually chilly and rained every day (particularly on the day of the marathon). There were around 1,400 runners taking part in the marathon and 4,000 in the half marathon. The start was close to my hotel so I didn’t bother with a drop-bag. There are no hills in Riga so my race plan was to start off with the 3:45 pace group. However, by about 16k I realised that I was going too fast and dropped back. I eventually finished in 3:57:00, grabbed my finisher’s medal and walked back to my hotel to get dry and warm as quickly as possible. 

Walled City Marathon, Derry, N.Ireland: 31st May 2015 

I enjoyed this marathon so much in 2014 that I decided to make a return visit this year. In addition my friend, Rich Holmes from North Carolina was running his 500th marathon at this event. The race was as good as I had remembered although it was windy in places. My time was 3:53:10 and I was 2nd vet 60/64.
Heartland Series Minnesota Trail Marathon, Great River Bluffs State Park, Winona, USA: 7th June 2015 

Roger Biggs from Stevenage and I spent a couple of days in Wisconsin visiting friends before driving down to Minnesota for this trail race. We’d been advised that trail shoes would be required, but I don’t think anybody had anticipated quite how bad the weather would be on race day. After a night of continuous thunder and lightning we drove to the State Park ready for the 5am race start. Fortunately both the thunder and the lightning stopped about 20 minutes before the race start, but it was still raining cats and dogs. The fact that it was raining heavily and that the race route was largely through a wood made visibility difficult and underfoot conditions hazardous and after virtually everybody had fallen at least once the organisers switched the route to a gravelled track, which wasn’t too badly potholed. I’d run 4 laps along the initial course, which left me with 13 laps of the out and back “revised” route to run. About halfway through the race the sun made an appearance and the heat became the new problem. I was relieved to finish in 4:51:31 (15th out 0f 83 runners and first vet 60 plus).

Dam Trail Marathon, Oakridge, Oregon: 13th June 2015 

After flying from Twin Cities to Seattle we picked up a 2nd hire car and visited friends in Yakima, Washington for a few days. We then drove to Oakridge for their marathon. Our friends, Rich and Jeanne Holmes had been keen to find an event in Oregon after the Eugene Marathon switched dates. Rich was planning to complete his 5th marathon circuit of all 50 States and Jeanne was due to complete having run a half marathon in all 50 States. We’d also arranged to meet Tom Detori and his wife, Eileeen at the race. Tom is an old friend who I’ve run with many times and who helped me get round Des Moines Marathon in 2007 when I was injured and really struggling. The majority of the marathon route comprised a circuit of Round Hills Creek Lake and about 40% of the course was on rough potholed gravel tracks and footpaths with the remainder being on tarmac roads. It was hot at the race start and remained so throughout the race. However, the scenery made up for this and I thoroughly enjoyed myself finishing in 4:05:13 (14th out of 46 runners and 1st vet 60 plus). From Oakridge Roger and I drove to Coos Bay for sightseeing and to visit the birthplace of the legendary distance runner, Steve Prefontaine. The Oregon coastline was spectacular and I also got to talk to someone in the Tourist Information office who had taught Prefontaine when he was at school. 

Mayo Midnight Marathon, Mayo, Canada: 20th June 2015 

We drove from Coos Bay to Seattle Airport where we met up again with Rich and Jeanne Holmes for our flights to Whitehorse in The Yukon, which appears to be the furthest airport in the North of Canada to which Canadian Airways fly. We spent 2 nights in Whitehorse exploring the area and visiting the longest wooden fish ladder in Canada before driving around 250 miles North to Mayo on the Friday. The race was at 8pm on the Saturday night so in the morning we drove further North to visit Keno, which is still a large silver mining area. With sunset at around 12.30am there is pretty much 24 hour daylight in Mayo at this time of year and it was still very warm at the start of this marathon. The route was effectively 13.1 miles out to a turning point along an undulating highway and then back. What gave the race a slight edge was the fact that this is grizzly bear territory. I suffered in the heat, but fortunately I didn’t encounter any wildlife along the route. However, a bear crossed the road in front of the runner who was 3 places behind me. I’m glad I only found out after the race had finished. The only downside to finishing the race after midnight was that mosquitoes were out in force and as a result I returned to England with plenty of very itchy “souvenirs”. Unusually the largest age group in the race was the 60 plus age group and I was 3rd vet 60 plus in a time of 4:20:12 (10th overall out of 15 runners), having been pipped to the post by a couple of Polish runners. 

Herts Hobble Trail Marathon: 28th June 2015 

This year’s Herts Hobble started from Buntingford. It is a route-description event and took us through some beautiful countryside and picturesque villages. While Liz Walls disappeared into the distance Adam Mellor and I ran round together finishing in 5:49:00. This was a good day out.

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