Stu Nicholas wins Black Knight Challenge but gets big surprise at Teddy Bears Picnic

Stu Nicholas in Black Night and Teddy Bears Picnic Challenge Runs
Stu Nicholas was faced with the task of completing the Black Knight Challenge Run on the Wednesday and the Teddy Bears Picnic the day after, both of which were on the same 6-lap undulating, off-road course

It was very much a tale of two different marathons and two different outcomes for Stu Nicholas as he embarked upon his latest quest to tick off another couple of races in his bid to reach the big 50 by the turn of the year.

He has done marathon doubleheaders of a weekend before, completing one on the Saturday and another one on the Sunday for instance, thus essentially killing two birds off with one stone. In that sense, he’s no stranger to the rigours of running two consecutive marathons on two consecutive days.

In fact, in January of this year, Stu entered the Winter Enigma at Caldecotte Lake in Milton Keynes. He took the option to run back-to-back marathons on the Saturday and Sunday of that weekend and spectacularly won both races.

This time round he was aiming to complete two events put on by Saxons, Vikings and Normans Marathons and Challenges. The first of these was the inaugural Black Knight Challenge Run which held on a Wednesday. That would then be following by the Teddy Bears Picnic Challenge Run on the Thursday.

It wasn’t Stu’s first experience of an event put on by Saxons, Vikings and Normans Marathons and Challenges. In November last year, he completed and won the Halloween Challenge marathon. Then five days later, he was victorious in the Enigma Fireworks marathon which was held on Bonfire Night.

But did he have it in him to complete the two marathons back-to-back on this occasion? And did he have the intestinal fortitude to win both of them? That was the question.

Both races were located on the same course, at King’s Wood in the heart of Kent between Ashford and Canterbury. They consisted of six 4.37-mile loops on a challenging trail route with an undulating profile.

Each loop incorporated an elevation rise of approximately 350 feet. The course was predominantly out in the depths of nature, well away from the throws of bustling civilisation.

The track leading into King's Wood
The track leading into King’s Wood

The Black Knight race started at 2pm on the Saturday, which was a scorching hot day. The afternoon start posed some problems for Stu when it came to nutrition.

Despite that though, he assumed an early lead. Due to the nutritional issues, come the half way stage he was running low on fuel and felt like binning it off. It was only the encouragement of race organiser Traviss Wilcox that kept him going.

Track through the forest at King's Wood
The course for both races consisted of 6 laps of woodland trail

He persevered though and managed to complete the 26.2-mile distance in a time of 3 hours 39 minutes. This was enough for a convincing win for the marathon distance, giving him an advantage of 14 minutes over his nearest rival Adam Austen. No one else got under 4 hours for the 26.2-mile distance.

Another path through the woods
With plenty of undulations and mostly hard surfaces, it was a very challenging route

So, it was a good first marathon of the two. Could he follow it up with another success the next day though in his second marathon? It was always going to be a tough ask but if anyone could do it, it would be Stu.

A black knight
There were no photos available of Stu from the Black Knight Challenge Run so here’s one of a black knight instead

The proceedings got off to a good start and the runners and riders were soon on their way. Just as he did in the Black Knight Challenge Run, Stu assumed an early lead and quickly built up a sizeable advantage over the rest of the field.

A track alongside the woods
A track running alongside the woods

As the old Teddy Bears Picnic proverb states though, if you go down to the woods today, be sure of a big surprise. Stu had not taken heed from this though and he hadn’t gone in disguise. He was the same Stu Nicholas who won the Black Knight race the previous day. This time though, he was in for a big surprise.

Pathway through the depths of the forest
The pathway through the depths of the forest

As he was almost ready to start his 6th and final lap, having led the race from the outset, when the extreme heat and the bludgeoning terrain finally got the better of him. He blew up massively and his hip flexors and entire core was shot to bits. He had reached his breaking point and just couldn’t go on.

It was a lovely, quiet route through the woods
It was an opportunity for the runners to be at one with nature whilst they made their way round the course

It was supposed to be marathon number 46, which would mean he only had four left till he reached his 50 benchmark. Sadly though, it wasn’t to be and Stu regretfully had to end the day on 21.85 miles.

As far as the rules of the race go though, you are actually allowed to complete any number of laps you want and provided you’ve done at least one, you get in the results, with your total distance being dependent on laps completed.

Stu completed the 5 laps he did do in a time of 2 hours 49 minutes and 26 seconds. If he’d been able to manage the last lap, he would have finished in a much quicker time than he registered for the Black Knight Challenge the previous day. In fact, he probably would have been looking at around 3 hours 25 minutes.

The fastest man who did manage to complete the 26.2 miles was Paul Richardson who clocked a time of 3:29:55, so although that was still a great time, it wouldn’t have been enough to finish ahead of Stu, had he been able to continue as normal.

Teddy Bears Picnic
Again, there were no photos available of Stu from the Teddy Bears Picnic Challenge Run so here’s one of some teddy bears having a picnic instead

Nevertheless, it was still sad for Stu, having gone all that way and having been one lap away from victory – and most importantly ticking another one off the list.

There were learnings he could take from it though and he had discovered that diarrhoea salt replacement sachets are no substitute for electrolyte tablets.

This mishap will mean that Stu has to try and squeeze in an additional, unscheduled marathon before the end of the year in order to meet his target. He’s still got five months left though so if he does one a month, including one this month, in July, he will still make it.

The Black Knight medal and goodies haul
The spoils from Stu’s first marathon of the two, the Black Knight Challenge Run

Next up for Stu it was the Portland 10 – a Dorset Road Race League fixture. This race would offer up an ideal opportunity for Stu to put the disappointment behind him and move on from it.

That’s the good thing about running. No matter what happens, there’s always a chance for redemption just around the corner. Besides, winning one out of two marathons is still a good result and one that most of us mere mortals could only dream of.

Teddy Bears Picnic medal
Stu was still more than deserving of the medal he got for the Teddy Bears Picnic Challenge Run

Phoebe Dowson, Discus Bronze Medallist at the British Champs!

The Müller British Athletics Championships took place over the weekend of 30 June – 1 July 2018 at Alexander Stadium, Birmingham.

Phoebe Dowson preparing to throw big!   Photo by Mark Atkins, Gettyimages

The best of Britain gathered to compete for the esteemed honour of being British Champion as well as a place on the British Athletics Team for the European Championships in Berlin on 7-12 August and the Athletics World Cup on 14-15 July at the London Stadium.

The Alexander Stadium has played host to numerous memorable British Championships and this trend continued in 2018 including Dina Asher-Smith’s new 100m championship record of 10.92.

A highly competitive field of throwers were lined up for the discus with the top seven throwers capable of exceeding an outstanding 50m. Phoebe Dowson (Mark Chapman, BAC) started the championships with a joint 4th GB ranking and needed to rise to the occasion. She was aware of the level of competition and a top class performance was required to reach the podium.  Phoebe did not allow her nerves to dictate the situation but instead channelled them to fuel an outstanding performance of 53.05 for the bronze medal and prestigious place on the podium.

Phoebe Dowson proudly displays her medal

Phoebe’s senior international debut in the discus was at the winter throws event organised by British Athletics in conjunction with Loughborough University. This is where she also rose to the occasion, throwing a PB of 52.37m to secure her first British vest.

Pheobe is an inspiration to BAC having realised her goal of obtaining her GB vest and being selected by British Athletics to represent the country at the European Throwing Cup. This was held in Leiria, Portugal on 10-11 March 2018 where she came 4th, an outstanding achievement.

Other notable performance include championship best performance 2018, at the Hampshire Athletics Track & Field Championships on 12-13 May 2018 at the Mountbatten Centre, Portsmouth.  Phoebe Dowson threw 52.90m, improving on her previous 2017 record of 51.80m.

Phoebe also formed part of the England’s Team victory on 20 May 2018, at the Loughborough International.   Phoebe saved her best until last with her final throw of 52.39m moving up into second position.

It’s exciting to see Phoebe improving her performances, competing for GB and heading towards the international stage.

Congratulations Phoebe!

Phoebe Dowson preparing to throw big!   Photo by Mark Atkins, Gettyimages

Majestic Maraud for Mark Hillier at Race to the King

Mark Hillier crosses the line in Race to the King
Following his successful completion of the Marathon des Sables, Mark Hillier was back in action again at Race to the King

Less than three months ago Mark Hillier was in the Sahara Desert tackling the toughest footrace on Earth in the 254 km, 6 stage monstrosity known as the Marathon des Sables.

It was the biggest challenge of his life, having to complete huge distances of up to 86km every day in 120-degree heat whilst lugging everything you need for the duration of the journey. But he did it. And thankfully it hasn’t put him off running either and he’s already undertaken his next extreme endurance foray.

This time for Mark, it was the double marathon along the South Downs Way named Race to the King. The event is actually a two-day adventure where participants can run or walk 23.4 miles on day 1, camp out overnight and then complete the remaining 30.2 miles the following day. Or, there is the option to run the whole lot in one go. Since he clearly likes a challenge, Mark of course opted for the latter.

This time his aim wasn’t simply to complete the course though. He had a time goal of under 9 and a half hours and a top 50 finish. That meant that he’d have to push himself to not only go the distance but also to progress quickly and efficiently.

The route started off at the Slindon Estate near Arundel and finishes up at Windsor Cathedral, taking the competitors along the South Downs Way, an ancient path set on a ridge of chalk hills.

Mark Hillier waving in Race to the King
It was a double marathon in store for Mark as he set himself the target of a sub 9 and a half hour time and a top 50 finish

As well as incorporating some breath-taking, panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, there are also numerous historical sites to take in as the participants progress on their journey.

The highlights of the course include The Devil’s Jumps, Queen Elizabeth Country Park along with the infamous Butser Hill, the HMS Mercury, Old Winchester Hill, Beacon Hill Nature Reserve, Cheesefoot Head, St Catherine’s Hill and of course the magnificent Winchester Cathedral.

Mark Hillier jumps for joy in Race to the King
The route was set along the South Downs Way and featured some spectacular scenery throughout

The path actually follows the journey taken by visitors in ancient times to the burial place of the very first kings of England, hence the name ‘Race to the King’.

Although it was a warm day, there were plenty of shaded areas along the course which provided respite from the sun. Mark completed the first 26.2 miles in 4 hours 7 minutes and a that point he thought he might even be in for a sub 9 hour finish, although that was based on a total distance of 52.4 miles when the event was officially billed at 53.5 miles.

Mark Hillier is almost there in Race to the King
After completing the first half of the race in 4 hours and 7 minutes Mark was shaping up to exceed all expectations

Despite taking on plenty of fluids though as well as consuming salt tablets left over from the Marathon des Sables, the threat of cramp reared its ugly head at around mile 17 which hampered his progress severely throughout the second half of the race. It was somewhat disappointing for Mark as he had hoped the salt tablets would act as a remedy to that problem.

Mark Hillier arms out stretched in Race to the King
For much of the race Mark was teetering on the brink of cramp which was a situation he had to manage carefully

As he spent much of the second half of the race managing the situation an attempting to keep the cramp at bay, he lost a lot of time as a result and consequently, heading into the last 3 or 4 miles it began to dawn on him that he might not actually hit his sub 9-and-a-half-hour target after all. Coming past the 1 mile to go marker though he had 10 and a half minutes in the bank so he knew he was home and dry by that point.

Mark Hillier goes through a field in Race to the King
As he neared the end of the race Mark began to worry that he might not hit his sub 9 and a half hour target

Finishing in a time of 9 hours 27 minutes and 11 seconds, Mark ended the race in 20th place overall, out of over 700 people who started the race with the intention of completing it non-stop. That’s a really good result for Mark and he could certainly be pleased with his efforts. His total mileage after stopping his watch was 54.1 miles, so he’d covered even more distance than was officially proposed.

The next venture for Mark is the Purbeck Marathon in September so he’s planning on taking some time out from doing anything too strenuous until he goes into any sort of training regime in around 6 weeks’ time.

Mark Hillier nears the finish of Race to the King
Clocking a magnificent time of 9 hours and 27 minutes, Mark managed a top 20 finish

BAC Masters Athletes Triumph at the Hampshire Vets League in Basingstoke

Winners at the Hampshire Vets League

A contingent of five BAC masters athletes headed to Basingstoke on Monday 25 June 2018 to compete in the Hampshire Vets League as 2nd claim for Southampton AC. BAC made a significant contribution to secure an amazing win for both the men and ladies teams.

The Veteran’s ladies team secured their second win of three matches with a score of 137 points, a good 14 points clear of Winchester. Winchester ladies have historically been dominant in this league and Southampton ladies have only ever secured one match win in the league prior to this season.

Stand out performances came from BAC’s Janet Dickinson with a convincing win in V50 100m in 14.0, 400m in 67.2, Javelin 26.61m and High Jump 1.30m. Also Joy Wright won the V35 400m in 62.3, high jump 1.25m and 2nd place in the 100m in 13.6, just dipping at the line to beat the main rivals, Winchester.

The night was rounded off with an impressive win in the medley relay consisting of 2 x 200m, 1 x 400m and a final 800m leg. Janet ran a fantastic 200m 1st leg and the baton was handed to Joy for the 400m with a close lead alongside Winchester. Joy managed to open up the gap and get the baton to the 800m runner who did a fantastic job to maintain the lead and win in style. Many described it as an exciting relay to be a part of as well as witness. It’s always a great event to bring the team together and the close the match, especially as the winners!

The men were on form yet again and won their match with 147 points, just 4 points ahead of Aldershot, Farnham & District. BAC’s Andrew Sheerin won the M45 Shot with a 9.89m throw and Stephen Dobson came 3rd in a very close competition with an outstanding throw of 10.35m.

Andrew Sheerin sealed another victory in the Hammer with an impressive 37.25m, only just behind the M40 winner (37.69m) and Andy Turner won the M50 Hammer with 34.06m.

The final match in the series is almost upon us on Monday 9 July 2018 in Aldershot. The men won the league and final last year and are looking to repeat this champion performance streak.
A win for Southampton ladies in the final match would secure them a season’s league win and a much desired place in the Southern Counties Finals in Ashford, Kent in September. Come on team, you can do it!