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.

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