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.

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