Tuesday, 13 June 2017

A Wicked marathon, lots of hills and a milestone birthday! Jack Brooks reports on his racing exploits February to May 2017

The Punchbowl 30 mile trail ultra: 12th February 2017

I hadn’t done this LDWA event for quite a few years and when I heard that Merv Nutburn, a longtime friend, was going to be presented with his trophy for completing 500 marathons/ultras I decided to accompany him around the course.

Roger Biggs and I ran with Merv Nutburn around the Punchbowl Ultra as he celebrated completing 500 marathons
My lasting memories of this event are that it has always been muddy and that certain parts of the route are regularly flooded. I watched the snow falling throughout the Saturday with some trepidation and when Roger Biggs picked me up at 5.45am on the Sunday morning it was still snowing. Fortunately the snow never settled and there were no flooded areas this year, but there was mud aplenty.

The start is at Witley in Surrey. Three of us set off together and made reasonable progress up to about the 20 mile point, just before the approach to the Devil’s Punchbowl. Unfortunately, Roger started to have back problems about then and this also affected his balance at a time when we had plenty of large stiles to negotiate as well as some muddy downhill stretches. Consequently, our pace slowed dramatically from the 20 mile point as Merv and I endeavoured to ensure that Roger got to the finish safely. We managed this without too many disasters, but our finish time was 8:21:00, which is by far my slowest time for this event.

There were a few muddy sections to negotiate
There is usually hot food provided at the finish of LDWA events and it was great to tuck into beans on toast after more than 8 hours out in the cold. I was also able to catch up with a number of friends who I hadn’t seen for ages so the day certainly wasn’t a disaster.

100 Marathon Club AGM Marathon and Marathon Day Marathon, Betteshanger Country Park, Kent: 25th and 26th February 2017

I’m not sure what possessed me to enter back-to-back marathons, especially as both were on the top of a former colliery slagheap and comprised 12.96 laps of a tarmac cycle track. Maybe I felt I needed to make some sort of statement the week before I turned 65. Whatever the reason I was clearly deluded.

On the Saturday the initial wind speed was forecast to be around 20mph increasing to 40mph as the day progressed. Imagine my joy when I discovered that I was to be the last but one person to start the handicap marathon, meaning that with a start time of 10.05 I was guaranteed to catch the worst of the wind. As I was starting, some of the early starters were almost finished.

There was one particular stretch of about a third of a mile on each lap where everybody encountered the full force of the wind and it felt at times as though forward movement was a sheer impossibility. I was relieved to finish in 4:41:39, but apprehensive about having to repeat the whole process again the following day.

On the Sunday morning it was great to see Clair Drage there to represent the Striders. I ran the first 1.5 laps with her. I eventually finished in 4:51:34 and Clair’s time was 4:48:15. She will be doing an ultra on this cycle track later in the year. I can only hope that the conditions will be somewhat more clement then.

Malta Marathon: 5th March 2017

When I visited Malta for the 2015 marathon it rained every day. This time I flew out on my 65th birthday and it only rained on the last day I was there. There were plenty of friends there as it appeared that I wasn’t the only one desperate to flee the British weather.

Some things don’t change and the road surfaces for the race were just as appalling as they’d been in 2015. However, the weather this time was substantially warmer and after going through halfway in under two hours I faded badly in the second half and crossed the finish line in 4:32:11, which was disappointing.

Wicked Marathon, Wamego, Kansas: 25th March 2017

I flew out to Kansas City with Roger Biggs from Fairlands Valley Spartans on the Thursday before this race. We drove to our hotel in Manhattan, Kansas and the following day visited Wamego to go round the Oz Museum and then attend packet pick-up and a pasta meal. We’d also arranged to meet up with Tom Detori, who is a long- term friend, now living in Columbia, Missouri.
The Wicked Marathon starts outside the Wizard Of Oz Museum

The next morning the three of us drove to the race start in the dark, noting that it was raining heavily and that the wind was strong. The race set off from outside the Wizard of Oz Museum and it quickly became evident that the route would be hilly. After three undulating 5k loops around the town marathon runners were faced with 17 miles out and back along the old military road. Right at the outset it became evident that this road was anything but flat. By the turnaround point it seemed that most runners were suffering, including me. I eventually finished 1st vet 60/69 in 4:27:13, a time which was good enough for 18th place overall.

Yakima River Canyon Marathon, Washington State, USA: 1st April 2017

On the Monday Roger and I flew from Kansas City to Seattle, picked up a rental car and headed to a house in Renton, which our friends from Yakima had said we could use for a few days. After a day of R and R we headed down to Yakima, braving the slushy snow in the Snoqualmie Pass. Our friends, Bob and Lenore Dolphin, are the race directors for the Yakima event and are both in their late 80s. We had promised to get to Yakima early and do what we could to help them with arrangements for the race. Immediately we arrived we were set to work and spent much of the Thursday and the Friday loading and unloading vans, hanging up banners, putting up posters and generally following orders.

On the Saturday morning a coach picked up runners from outside our hotel and took us to the race start at Ellensburg. After two days of heavy lifting my back wasn’t feeling great, but otherwise I didn’t feel too bad until I got to the first big hill at around 14.5 miles. From then on I had to grit my teeth and the race became a struggle. The steep camber on the canyon road was also a problem after the first flat six miles. I eventually finished in 4:29:43 and was 4th out of 14 in the 65/69 men’s age group. Curiously there were more competitors in this age group than in any other age group in the race.

I didn’t have much time in which to rest on my laurels. After the race there was an awards meal and then everything had to be dismantled in the race HQ and transported back to its place of origin. By the time we drove back to Renton on the Sunday fatigue was starting to set in.

Boston Marathon, Lincolnshire, UK: 17th April 2017

Because Easter Monday was the same day this year as Patriot’s Day in the USA it was possible for the organisers of the UK Boston Marathon to hold their race on the same day as the larger event in the USA. With my rail pass and a ticket booked well in advance the train fare from Stevenage to Boston was ridiculously cheap and everything was within easy walking distance of the railway station.
The UK's Boston Marathon is much flatter than its USA counterpart, held on the same day this year

This marathon claims to be the flattest marathon in the UK and I think this claim may well be correct. As usual I set off too fast, but was slightly concerned when a number of those I was running with started complaining that the mile markers were not correctly placed. I don’t like wearing a GPS watch when I’m racing, but I do rely on accurate distance markers to give me a rough idea of pace. It was unsettling to see the 26 mile marker and then find that the finish was almost half a mile away.

Apart from this the marathon seemed well organised and the volunteers were all really supportive. I finished in 4:14:33 and had plenty of time to look around the town on the Tuesday before returning to St Albans.

London Marathon: 23rd April 2017

As ever the thing I enjoyed most about London was the outstanding support around the course from the Striders. My legs felt tired from around mile 10 and I was surprised that my finish time of 4:24:53 wasn’t slower.

Roche Abbey Trail Marathon, Nr. Maltby, South Yorkshire: 7th May 2017

This was a first time event put on by the wonderfully named “It’s grim up north” group. On arriving I got a fair amount of ribbing from friends about venturing North of Watford Gap. The race comprised four laps of a fairly tough route incorporating hills, river, stepping stones, stiles, more hills and a wonderful loop around the scenic grounds of Roche Abbey. Indeed, I was enjoying myself so much that I missed a directional sign and as a consequence ran an extra mile loop incorporating one of the steepest hills. I finished in 5:08:32 and then headed off to Sheffield to meet up with some old drinking buddies.

Bewl Water Trail Marathon, Lamberhurst, Kent: 13th May 2017

This marathon comprised two laps around the beautiful Bewl Water Reservoir. On arrival I bumped into a large number of 100 marathon club members as well as the redoubtable Ian Hirth from Striders, who had entered the 37.5 mile ultra race (which he finished in 5:46:15). Mark Travers completed the marathon last year. He warned me that the route was hilly and he was quite correct. However we were lucky with the weather and the paths were not crowded.

Once again it reminded me how pleasant it is to get off the roads and into the countryside in Spring and Summer. I finished in 4:46:30 coming 73rd out of 136 in the marathon.

Richmond Park Trail Marathon: 21st May 2017 

This is another fairly small, but well organised trail marathon and comprises one 12 mile loop around the park followed by two seven mile loops. Unusually for a trail marathon mile markers were provided and the route was very well marked, but undulating. It was another hot day and I finished in 4:33:42.

Dorchester Marathon: 28th May 2017

The organisation for this inaugural road marathon was superb. There were more than sufficient portable toilets at the start/finish, well-manned drinks stations every three miles offering both drinks and gels, traffic free roads and enthusiastic support around the course.
The inaugural Dorchester Marathon was well-organised with good support

However, being in Dorset there was no way to avoid the numerous hills and the weather was once again on the hot side. It was great to see Ben Scott, Clair Drage, Mark Travers, Jen Pickering and Noran McGovern from Striders at the start as well as plenty from the 100 marathon club. My time was 4:29:28.

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