JC winds down with win at Weymouth Half Marathon

Jacek Cieluszecki surges on in the Weymouth Half Marathon
Just one week after a great run in the Barcelona Marathon, Jacek Cieluszecki was in action again, this time at the Weymouth Half Marathon

He probably should have been resting just one week after blitzing the Barcelona Marathon in just under 2 hours and 34 minutes but Jacek Cieluszecki doesn’t really do lazy Sundays. He just couldn’t wait to get back out there and get involved in another race, so that’s exactly what he did.

Weymouth was the scene for his next conquest and, after running so hard in Barcelona, he wasn’t sure how his legs would hold up but he decided to give it a go and see what happened.

It wasn’t the first time Jacek has competed again so soon after completing a big target race. In September last year he ran the Purbeck Marathon, which is one of the toughest around, just one week after completing the 7 Valleys 100k race back in his native Poland.

The 7 Valleys race wasn’t a flat, road 100k either. The route crossed several of Poland’s highest mountains, featuring an elevation gain of 4,500 metres. Not only did he compete in the Purbeck Marathon 7 days later though, he actually went and won it!!

Could he repeat those heroics at the Weymouth Half Marathon though? The route for the Weymouth Half Marathon takes the runners on a historical and scenic tour of Weymouth’s past and present landscape.

It’s a one lap course, set predominantly along the coast line, making for a fairly fast and flat surface throughout. Whether he was on the cultured, city streets of Barcelona or the understated, seaside suburbs of Weymouth, it didn’t matter to Jacek though. He just loves to run and that’s all there is to it.

Setting off at lightening speed, Jacek drove the pace forward from the get-go and was looking to see who was strong enough to go with it. Not many could to be fair.

Jacek Cieluszecki leads the way in the Weymouth Half Marathon
Back on Dorset ground and back in the familiar position of leading the race, Jacek drives the pace at the front of the field

He continued to push hard for the first five miles or so, building up a sizeable advantage over his nearest rivals. After that he began to feel the after effects of his exploits the previous weekends – and perhaps all the Spanish omelettes and cervazas he consumed afterwards.

Although he had to settle back into a slightly more comfortable pace, Jacek still looked in control of the race and cruised round, maintaining his advantage over the chasing pack.

Jacek Cieluszecki powers along in the Weymouth Half Marathon
Jacek was soon out in front on his own and he debated whether to stop off at the café for a cuppa but thought better of it

Finishing in a quite magnificent time of 1:12:49, Jacek sealed a superb victory, crossing the line 38 seconds ahead of Jo Corbett of Chichester who took 2nd place in 1:13:27. That gave JC an average pace of 5:31 for the run.

Arriving at the line together with Jo, Matt Papa of ButinSkin Runners took 3rd place, with a chip time of 1:13:28. Lee Dempster of Lytchett Manor Striders secured another big PB to finish in 4th position with his time of 1:13:43.

The first female to arrive at the finish line was Laura Trimble of Wimbledon Windmilers, who registered a time of 1:25:02, putting her in 22nd place overall.

Jacek Cieluszecki in the Weymouth Half Marathon
You didn’t need a telescope to be able to see that Jacek was best man out there on the day and he controlled the race throughout

She was followed by Kate Towerton of Winchester who crossed the line in 1:26:52 to take 33rd place overall. Rachel Astington of Running for Time was 3rd lady, completing the course in 1:27:55, putting her 39th overall.

In total there were 973 finishers out of the 987 who started the race, with one being disqualified and 13 abandoning.

It was another terrific win for Jacek to add to his ever-growing collection and it showed that even on a day when he isn’t at his best, he’s still often better than all the rest.

Considering he’d run a marathon the previous weekend as well, to be able to turn in such a strong performance is a remarkable achievement from JC and again serves to underline what an accomplished runner he truly is.

Jacek Cieluszecki comes in the the win at the Weymouth Half Marathon
Sealing the victory in a time of 1:12:49, it marked the end of a very successful week’s work for JC after performing well in the Barcelona Marathon the previous weekend

 

 

Steve Way, Simon Hunt and Matt du Cros take the plunge at the Bath Half Marathon

Matt du Cros in the Bath Half Marathon
Taking on his first half marathon in two years, Matt du Cros was one of three Bournemouth AC members giving the Bath Half Marathon a whirl, along with Steve Way and Simon Hunt

Hoping for a good clean race, there were three Bournemouth AC members present at the 2019 edition of the Bath Half Marathon and they were Steve Way, Matt du Cros and Simon Hunt.

The prospect of a fast, flat course and nigh on perfect running conditions had them foaming at the mouth as they took to the start line for one of the longest established and most iconic city centre road races in the country.

There were almost 15,000 runners taking to the tarmac and an estimated 40,000 spectators lining the streets of Bath to witness the 38th edition of the popular and much-loved event. It truly was quite a sight to behold.

Man dressed as a rooster in the Bath Half Marathon
The Bournemouth AC trio were among over 14,900 people who did not chicken out of tackling the Bath Half Marathon

After some indifferent performances of late, Steve Way was hoping to make a splash and get the result he needed to give him a boost for the continuation of his training for the Comrades.

Two weeks prior to the Bath Half Marathon, Steve had been in action at the Wimborne 20, where he finished in 3rd place with a time of 2:02:08. Most people would have been over the moon with that of course but Steve sets such high standards for himself that he wasn’t really happy with the run.

At the Bournemouth 10 he finished 4th in an event that he won convincingly last year and at the Lytchett 10 two weeks earlier he ran the course two times before the race even began, completing his third lap in the actual race.

He did record a victory in the Blackmore Vale Half Marathon in early February, but again, wasn’t wholly happy with how he felt during the run.

Start of the Bath Half Marathon
The race gets underway, with Chris Thompson (number 3), the hot favourite, already out in front

Taking on his first ever 10 mile races at the Lytchett 10 and Bournemouth 10, Matt Du Cros did well in both events and was hoping he had all his ducks lined up for a successful half marathon.

The last time he’d run a half marathon though was back in 2017 and he wasn’t quite at the level he is now back then so he knew the chances are he’d be recording a new PB at least, whatever happened.

As for Simon Hunt, he hasn’t managed to make it to training much recently but he was hoping he would be able to tap into his experience to see him through to a decent time.

The masses at the start of the Bath Half Marathon
The masses go over line to get their half marathon race underway, providing quite a spectacle

Going through the first 5k in 17:31, Steve went on to reach the 10k point in 34:19. Maintaining a very consistent pace, he then went through 15k in 51:09 before reaching 20k in 1:08:17.

Although he hadn’t quite make the waves he wanted, it was still a good solid performance from Steve finishing the race in a time of 1:12:09. That was enough to give him 31st position and 4th in the M40-44 category.

With an average pace of 5:29 for the run, although it wasn’t quite what he was looking for, it was still an impressive display and one that most runners would look at in awe.

Steve Way in the Bath Half Marathon
Steve went over the line in 31st place, clocking an excellent time of 1:12:09

Completing the first 5k in 20:21, Matt passed through the 10k stage at 40:23. That was a really good first half of the race. The challenge would be to keep it going throughout the second half.

At the 15 point, he checked in at 1:00:39, so still pretty consistent with his pacing. The next 5k took him a little longer and saw him arrive at the 20k point in 1:21:19. It was then just over a kilometre to the finish.

Crossing the line in a time of 1 hour 26 minutes exactly, Matt took 373rd position, which wasn’t bad at all out of nearly 15,000 participants. It was also a PB that he could most certainly be proud of and will surely be the springboard for greater things to come for Matt.

Matt du Cros racing in the Bath Half Marathon
Matt had a very good run, reaching the finish in a chip time of exactly 1 hour 26 minutes

Unfortunately, Simon Hunt’s race didn’t quite go so well. It started off quite smoothly for Simon though and he went through 5k in 22:33. He then reached the 10k point in 45:43, only really losing a bit of ground in the fourth mile.

Before he could get to the 15k point though, his calf muscle went and from that point on, it was a long painful limp home. In fact, he was forced to stop on the 10th mile, which took him over 24 minutes to complete.

Although he considered pulling the plug on it, to his credit, Simon didn’t throw the baby out of the bath water and give up. He pushed through the pain over the last three miles to make it to the end in a time of 2:02:01. That landed him in 4,842nd place overall and 72nd out of 209 in the M60-64 category.

Simon Hunt takes on the Bath Half Marathon
Simon was running well before his calf suddenly went on the 10th mile

It was gutting for the race to end that way for Simon, especially since it was going so well up till that point. As soon as he felt his calf go though, he had that sinking feeling, knowing that that was it. That’s running for you though. There is always that risk that an injury can strike at the wrong time and scupper your race.

No doubt he’ll come back from this though, as he has many times before and, knowing Simon, he’ll come back even stronger and even fitter.

It was Chris Thompson who claimed the race win at the Bath Half Marathon, finishing in a time of 1:03:09. He was followed by Nick Goolab of Belgrave who registered a time of 1:04:34. Peter Le Grice of Bristol & West took 3rd place in a time of 1:04:55.

Simon Hunt in the Bath Half Marathon
After stopping for a bit to nurse his injury, Simon refused to give up and battled on to complete the race

As for the ladies race, it was Kate Reed who swooped in for the win, finishing in a time of 1:12:44, which put her in 34th place overall, only three places behind Steve.

2nd place in the women’s race went to Rachel Felton of Shaftesbury Barnet who finished in a time of 1:15:53, putting her in 73rd place overall. Then it was Phillipa Williams of Bristol University who completed the course in a time of 1:18:10 to put her in 103rd overall.

Steve will be in racing action again pretty soon as he is set to take on the Manchester Marathon. That will really be just another training run for Steve though, as opposed to one he’s specifically targeted for a fast time. He’ll still be hoping for a good performance though to confirm that his training is on track to get him to where he wants to be.

As for Matt, he’s looking to run the North Dorset Village Marathon in early May and that will be his first marathon since 2016 so he will soon be stepping up his training in a bid to get into peak shape for that race.

Man in biscuit costume at Bath Half Marathon
This outfit really takes the biscuit

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louise, Tamzin and Ant Clark visit Fleet Half Marathon

Louise Price and Tamzin Petersen at the Fleet Half Marathon
Louise Price and Tamzin Petersen went to the Fleet Half Marathon in search of the fast time, knowing it was potentially a PB course

Pencilling the race in as an ideal opportunity for a fast time and a potential PB attempt, Louise Price and Tamzin Petersen set about putting in some hard training in a bid to get into tip-top shape for the Fleet Half Marathon.

After getting in on a late transfer, Anthony Clark decided to join them – and after an impressive run out in the Wokingham Half Marathon three weeks prior, he had every reason to be optimistic about his chances going into the race.

Currently in training for the Comrades Marathon in June though, Ant has already started putting in some high volume training and came in off the back of three consecutive 90 mile weeks. With no mini-taper in the week leading up to the race, it was really a question of whether or not the fatigue would catch up with him.

The training was going well for Tamzin and Louise up until Louise was struck down by a foot injury just five weeks from race day. From that point on she’d hardly been able to do any running.

She still decided to go along anyway though and support Tamzin in her PB attempt and from her perspective, just give it a go and see what happens.

Louise Price in full flow in the Fleet Half Marathon
Louise was suffering from a foot injury but decided to press on through regardless

Unfortunately for Louise, as soon as they set off, her foot was hurting and as she continued, it got progressively worse. She considered stopping several times but in the end she slowed the pace right down and just jogged round.

Finishing a time of 1:55:36, Louise was 1,655th out of a field of 2,701. She was 342nd women out of 898 and came in 33rd out of 93 in the F50 category.

Louise Price finishing the Fleet Half Marathon
Louise nears the finish of a disappointing race for her but she showed a lot of character to soldier on through the pain

It was a little bit gutting for Louise but she soon cheered up when she heard about Tamzin’s fantastic PB. Tamzin’s previous best before the Fleet Half was 1:46:28 which she did at Blackmore Vale last February.

With a good solid block of hard training behind her though, she went into the race in pretty good shape and had every reason to be confident about beating that.

She set off at 7:50 pace for the first mile and then got into a good rhythm after that, keeping the pace fairly consistent as the miles ticked by.

Man dressed as trainer in Flett Half Marathon
This guy took the idea of a personal trainer to a whole new level

Staying remarkably strong throughout the run, she kept her focus and made it to the line in a magnificent time of 1:41:32. Unbelievably, she’d knocked almost five minutes off her previous best so that was an extremely emphatic PB.

She came in 157th women and was 1,021st overall. She was 46th out of 224 in the Senior Female category and her average pace for the run was 7:45 minutes per mile.

Needless to say, Tamzin was very pleased with her run and was glad to see that the hard training she’d put in for it had paid off. Tamzin wasn’t on her own in the PB stakes that day though. A certain Mr Ant Clark had also managed to improve his Power of 10 stats for the distance.

Louise Price and Tamzin Petersen in the Fleet Half Marathon
Tamzin secured a new PB, beating her previous best by nearly five minutes

It took a few miles for Ant to settle into his stride but once that happened, it all clicked into place. He started to pick other runners off and work his way up a very high standard field.

That continued for the next 10 miles and with a very strong last three miles, Ant finished up with a slight negative split, going over the line in a tremendous time of 1:12:31.

That shattered his previous best by over one-and-a-half minutes and saw him take 11th place in the final standings. That was mightily impressive in a field of 2,700 people and considering the level of the opposition, that was a great achievement.

Ant Clark in the Fleet Half Marathon
Ant went into the race off the back of three consecutive 90-mile weeks so he wasn’t sure what to expect

The performance also netted Ant first place in the M40 category out of 280 people, so again, an excellent result. His average pace for the run was an incredible 5:32 per mile.

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of it for Ant was that he was able to do it without tapering at all and in the midst of such a huge volume of training. That goes to show, he’s on the right track with his training and will serve as good encouragement to continue working hard.

James Bellward of the RAF one the race in an astonishing time of 1:07:34. Edward Knudsen of the Army was 2nd in 1:09:31, with Michael Taylor of the RAF taking 3rd in a time of 1:09:53.

Ant Clark working hard in the Fleet Half Marathon
Ant digs in and races to the finish to seal a brilliant new half marathon PB

The first female finisher was Lesley Locks of Hart Road Runners who crossed the line in 1:18:27, putting her 87th in the overall standings. Her teammate Alexa King took 2nd in 1:19:38, taking 109th overall and Jill Collett of Datchet Dashers was 3rd in 1:19:51.

Next up for Ant, it’s the Manchester Marathon which takes place on 7th April. Again, that is not a target race for Ant and he will not be doing any form of tapering for it. He’ll be keeping up the high mileage right the way through, as everything he does is primarily centred around building up to Comrades.

Meanwhile, Louise has taped her foot up and is now resting from running for a bit and after a nice long sleep after the race, Tamzin is now back out training and working toward her next challenge.

Ant Clark nears the end of the Fleet Half Marathon
Finishing in 11th place overall out of 2,700 people, Ant was also 1st in the M40 category

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JC blasts round Barcelona Marathon

Jacek Cieluszecki takes on the Barcelona Marathon
Jacek Cieluszecki went to Barcelona in search of a speedy marathon and some sunny weather to go with it

There are two things that are becoming a very familiar to Jacek Cieluszecki every time he steps onto a running circuit. One is winning, which is a great trait to have and one we’d all very much love to have. The other, which is not so great, is horrendous weather.

Back in February he ran in the Portland Marathon. Heavy rain and ferocious winds made it a tough day out on that occasion, but Jacek refused to surrender to the weather and ended up winning the race and beating the course record by 13 minutes.

Towards the end of last year he ran the 33.3 mile distance race at the Endurancelife CTS Dorset. It was a cold misty morning that day and the runners were battered by 45 mph and sweeping rain. Again, Jacek wasn’t put off though and took the win, with a margin of over eight minutes.

Who can forget the Boston Marathon as well, where he went through hell, battling icy winds and persistent downpours that almost sent his body into shutdown mode.

Choosing Barcelona as the destination for his next marathon was one way of ensuring he wouldn’t have to face such horrible weather this time round.

And sure enough, on the morning of the race, the conditions were much more favourable than they have been in most of his recent forays, with the temperature around 16 to 18 degrees Celsius. In fact, it anything it was a little too warm for Jacek at this time of year and it came as a bit of a shock to the system.

Jacek Cieluszecki at the Purbeck Marathon
The Barcelona Marathon was a far cry from Jacek’s usual hunting ground of the Purbeck

Barcelona is quite a flat, fast marathon, offering a good opportunity for a fast time. Although he wasn’t in PB shape for it, Jacek was still hoping to finish somewhere between 2:32 and 2:35.

The course is renowned for being one of the most attractive in Europe and takes the runners past some fantastic landmarks including the Sagrada Familia, the Cast Batilo and the Camp Nou, home of the mighty Barcelona Football Club.

The race is big enough to attract some top names from Africa over as well so there was plenty of competition at the sharp end of the field. Jacek completed the first 5k in 18:08 which put him in 65th place.

He then followed that up with another 18:08 5k to move into 58th place at the 10k point with a time of 36:15. His next 10k after that was again very consistent, completing that in 36:31 to put him in 54th place after 20k.

Arriving at the half marathon stage in 1:16:38, it was looking good for Jacek thus far and he was on course to finish within his intended target range. He was in 57th position at this point.

By the 30k point, he had moved up to 45th place, going through in a time of 1:49:30. He then took a further five places to break into the top 40 by the 35km stage, arriving in 2:07:43.

He wasn’t done yet though and was finishing the race strongly. By the time he reached the 40km point, he was up to 34th place, going through in 2:25:56.

It was then just one final push to finish, during which he moved up one more place to end the race in 33rd place, registering a terrific time of 2:33:58.

Jacek Cieluszecki finishes the Barcelona Marathon
Jacek maintained his pace well, taking a number of place over the second half of the race

That was a very good result for JC, with 13,444 runners in total making it to the finish. He was 11th in the M35 category and finished up with a phenomenal average pace of 5:50 per mile.

Jacek was the first Pole to finish as well out of 238, crossing the line just under a minute ahead of Macei Lucyk, who took 37th place overall in a time of 2:34:56.

It was also a nice city break for Jacek and his wife Ela. She hadn’t come to Barcelona for the sunbathing though. Ela also ran the marathon.

She surprised Jacek by turning in a really good performance to finish to record a superb sub-four effort. Her official time of 3:55:44 put her in 5,964th position and 216th in the W35 category.

The race was won by Alemu Bekele of Bahrain in a time of 2:06:04, with Abebe Negewo of Ethiopia taking 2nd place in 2:06:49, just ahead of Anthony Maritim of Kenya who was 3rd in a time of 2:06:53.

The first lady over the line was Kuftu Tahir of Ethiopia who finished 14th overall in a time of 2:24:44. She was followed by Josephine Chepkoech of Kenya who was 16th in a time of 2:25:18 and Joy Kemuma of Kazakhstan who finished in 2:35:33 to take 17th place overall.

There was just time for the pair to enjoy a little more of the Spanish sun before they headed back to England, with Jacek preparing for his next race, the Weymouth Half Marathon which took place the following weekend.

Jacek Cieluszecki battles the Barcelona Marathon
An excellent run from Jacek saw him complete the course in a time of 2:33:58 which put him in 33rd place

 

 

 

 

Steve Parsons overcomes Larmer Tree turmoil to complete Imperial Series

Steve Parsons reaches the top of the hill in the Larmer Tree 10
Steve Parsons was looking to complete the Imperial Series but he had an uphill task ahead of him in the Larmer Tree 10 Miler

Sometimes in running things turn out to be more difficult that you first envisage. For instance, there might be unforeseen hurdles that stand in the way. Or perhaps you might underestimate the enormity of the challenge you have set yourself. Those are the times when you have to dig deep into your resolve though and find a way to get the job done.

When Steve Parsons entered the Imperial Series, which entailed running three 10-mile races in the space of four weeks, he probably thought, it’s going to be tough, but it should be fairly manageable.

Even though it’s only been just over a year since he did his first 10-mile race and hadn’t gone beyond the distance before that, Steve has come along way since.

In the first of the three 10-mile races, the Lytchett 10, Steve set himself a new PB of 74:02. That was a very pleasing result for Steve on an immensely tough and hilly course. That gave him every reason to be optimistic for the next race in the series, which was the Bournemouth 10.

Unfortunately for Steve though, it didn’t go so well that day and after the first half of the race went fairly smoothly, he really began to struggle in the second half and his body almost seemed to give up on him. He’d contracted a bad cold the day before the race and that might have just wiped out all the energy he had in the bank.

He made it through though, setting himself up with only the third and final race to complete before he takes home his Imperial Series medal. Unfortunately though, the one he had left was not such an easy one.

Steve Parsons in the Lytchett 10
The Imperial Series started off so well for Steve when he got a PB at the Lytchett 10

The Larmer Tree 10 is a very tricky, off-road course in the Wiltshire Downs. It’s held in the Rushmore Estate, a stunning and picturesque area of countryside, but one notorious for hills, mud and tough terrain. It was always going to be a battle, but Steve isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.

Still feeling the after effects of his disappointing run at the Bournemouth 10, Steve hadn’t planned on pushing too hard at the Larmer Tree 10 and wanted to concentrate on just getting round in one piece.

Setting off at a relatively steady pace and going well for the first couple of miles, it wasn’t long before the long uphill section kicked in and Steve began to struggle.

There were a couple of hills on the course that were so steep, you just couldn’t run up them so everyone just walked. That combined with the boggy ground and uneven surfaces made it a far from pleasurable experience for Steve.

Steve Parsons in the Larmer Tree 10
Steve battled hard to make it to the top of the hill but found it very draining

To his credit though, Steve dug in and fought hard and after making it up a very tough hill in the 7th mile, he then found the strength to push hard for the remainder of the race and get to the end of the 10th mile. The only problem was, that wasn’t the end of the race. To Steve’s horror, he then realised that he still had quite a way to go to get to the finish line.

This narked him somewhat, to put it politely, and he walked up the last hill, possibly uttering one or two expletives as he did so. Then to make matters worse, he his legs cramped up along the last flat section into a horrific head-wind.

Suffice to say, it wasn’t really one of those races where you get out there and enjoy every moment. It was merely about survival for Steve. He just wanted to make it to the end, collect his medals and put it all behind him.

Hauling himself over the line in a time of 1:42:33, Steve took 75th place the overall standings and was 14th in the M35 category. A total of 468 people successfully completed the course, so even though he found it a real battle, he still finished reasonably high up considering.

Steve Parsons after Larmer Tree 10
Showing a lot of character, Steve made it to the finish in the end and was very relieved to pick up his medal and complete the set

When he looks back on his Imperial Series races, he’ll probably be proud of the achievement, although he may feel like he hasn’t really done himself justice in the two races after making such a promising start at the Lytchett 10.

On the plus side though, he now possesses four medals that he didn’t have four weeks ago, so that’s always a bonus.

Rob Spall grafting in the Larmer Tree 10
Other BAC members taking on the testing course included Rob Spall

Also in action for Bournemouth AC at the Larmer Tree 10, Rob Spall finished in 105th place, registering a time of 1:47:23. That put him 20th in the M45 category.

Although he found it very tough, especially with the two big leg-killing climbs thrown in, Rob enjoyed the run. It just meant going a bit slower than he normally would.

Rob Spall reaches the top of the hill in the Larmer Tree 10
Rob found the hills pretty tough going but he made it through, finishing in a time of 1:47:23

Another BAC member who didn’t have the best of days was Jud Kirk. He was suffering from a calf niggle which had become very painful after about a mile and a half.

Attempting to walk it off and stretch it out, it didn’t seem to be getting any better so he began to trudge back to the start. Then he suddenly thought, what the hell, it’s a nice scenic route, why not walk round. So that was what he did.

Jud Kirk in action in the Larmer Tree 10
Jud’s chances of doing well were severely hampered early on when the calf injury he had became extremely painful

He got chatting to some of the slower participants and after a while he discovered he could jog a bit, so from that point on, the chase was on. It turned out after six miles, he was okay running downhill but was unable to go uphill.

In the end, Jud made it the end, completing the course in 2:02:26 to finish in 225th place and 6th in the M60 category. Once the calf pain had reduced, his ankles and toes went purple and his lower leg swelled up to nearly double the size.

Jud Kirk battling it out at the Larmer Tree 10
For better or worse though, Jud soldiered on and with a run/walk/hobble strategy, he made it to the finish

Perhaps he shouldn’t have continued after all. He enjoyed the food and beer stops on route though and had a nice bacon bap at the end so that almost made it all worthwhile.

The winner of the race was Lee Dempster of Lytchett Manor Striders who crossed the line in a terrific time of 1:11:23. That put him almost nine minutes ahead of his nearest rival who was Stephen Williams of Littledown Harriers.

That also sealed victory in the overall Imperial Series competition for Lee after he finished 2nd in the Lytchett 10 and 5th in the Bournemouth 10.

Steve Parsons' medals and numbers for Imperial Series
The nice new gleaming set of bling Steve had now accrued for completing the Imperial Series was well worth the pain and strife

 

 

Craig and Tag steal the limelight at London’s Big Half

Rob McTaggart and Craig Palmer at the Vitality Big Half
After performing well in the event last year, Rob McTaggart and Craig Palmer were back at the Vitality Big Half hoping they might each be able to seal a seismic sub-70

Whilst much of the attention was focused around Mo Farah’s exploits at the front of the field at the Vitality Big Half, there were some far more interesting events happening slightly further back.

As the cameras for the BBC’s Red Button service switched back to Steph Twell who was leading the women’s race, there were a couple of familiar faces close by that the Dorset running fraternity would recognise.

Bournemouth AC‘s very own Craig Palmer was the man driving the pace of the group featuring Steph Twell and right alongside Steph for much of the early part of the race, was the unmistakable yellow and blue vest of Rob McTaggart.

The weekend didn’t get off to a great start for Craig when he arrived in London and realised he’d forgotten to being his BAC vest. That meant having to make a trip to the shops to buy a new one.

That made a noticeable difference throughout the race as he kept hearing Tag getting shout-outs because he was wearing his Bournemouth AC top and since he was just wearing a regular black vest, Craig missed out on all the benefits from that.

Both Tag and Craig competed in last year’s Big Half race, with Tag bringing home a fantastic new PB of 70:25 which put him in 34th place. Craig didn’t have quite such a good run but still ended up finishing in 51st place, finishing in a time of 71:20.

Could they go one better in this year’s race though and get that illusive sub-70 time to really put them up there with the elites. There was only one way to find out and that was to give it a try.

The Vitality Big Half is a great prelude to the London Marathon, covering much of the same ground but doing so in a reverse direction.

It’s also now the British Half Marathon Championships, guaranteeing a highly competitive field. A sub-75-minute half marathon on your CV gets you into the British Championships sector.

The proceedings got off to a slightly rocky start for Tag though as he hit the deck going round a corner on the third mile. It also just so happened that the BBC coverage had flipped back to Steph Twell at the time so Tag’s tumble was broadcast live to the watching millions.

Fortunately, his experiences of going to ground during various National and Southern Cross Country races in the past seemed to pay dividends as he was somehow able to bounce back up in one free-flowing movement and continue without losing any ground on the pack he was running with. There was even a suggestion that it may have just been a stunt for the cameras.

Craig and Tag appearing on the BBC Red Button coverage
Craig and Tag seemed to get more air time than Mo Farah as they featured heavily in the BBC Red Button coverage

The race rolled on through the streets of London, fast and furious, with Craig looking really strong at the front of the group and Tag looking fairly comfortable alongside Steph Twell. The pair stayed with Steph up until around the 10 mile point when they began to edge away.

Steph was starting to struggle a bit without the BAC boys around to pace her and her lead soon looked under threat. Charlotte Purdue was closing the gap on her fast and once she caught Steph up and breezed past her there was only going to be one winner in the women’s race.

Craig and Tag in a pack during the Vitality Big Half
Craig and Tag were in a competitive pack near the front of the race

Finishing with some super-strong miles in the latter stages of the race, Craig went on secure a stunning new PB time of 69:37, putting him in 32nd place.

The last two miles were a death march for Tag but he could see that a sub-70 was still within reach. He knew the pace of those last two miles would have to be quick though to stand any chance of doing it.

Craig Palmer completing the Vitality Big Half
Craig makes a final push to the line to record a spectacular time of 69:37

When he got to the line he was overjoyed to see that he’d finished in a time of what he thought was 69:58. His heart then sank for a minute when Craig’s official time came through and they’d rounded it up by two seconds. If the same thing had happened to Tag, he would have kicked off. To miss out on a sub-70 after all that would have been devastating.

When his time did come through though, it was confirmed as 69:57, which was a cracking result for Tag, putting him in 41st place in the overall standings.

Tag races toward the finish of the Vitality Big Half
Tag races toward the finish line in last gasp bid to nip under the 70 minute barrier

To hit that level of performance and get such great times despite the windy conditions bodes extremely well for Tag and Craig’s prospects at the London Marathon.

In fact, if anything, Craig was actually a touch disappointed with his time as he feels that on a calmer day, he could have done it in 68:30. That shows the sort of high standards he sets for himself.

The only thing missing from Craig’s perspective, besides his BAC vest of course, was the beers afterwards. He had to do a five-to-six mile cool down afterwards so there was no opportunity to celebrate with a nice cold one.

In this kind of form though it will certainly be interesting to see what Craig and Tag can achieve on marathon day. One thing is for sure though and that is that they’ll find their way into the spotlight one way or the other and Craig has vowed to ensure he remembers his club vest for next time.

Rob McTaggart and Craig Palmer after the Vitality Big Half
This was just a taste of things to come for Tag and Craig as they build up to the London Marathon at the end of April

 

 

 

 

 

Caroline Rowley achieves Six Star status at Tokyo Marathon

Caroline Rowley after the Tokyo Marathon
In the final piece of her World Marathon Major jigsaw, Caroline Rowley was taking on the Tokyo Marathon in a bid to secure that coveted ‘Six Star Medal’

The Abbot World Marathon Major ‘Six Star Medal’ is something most runners could only dream about. The prospect of running the London, Berlin, Boston, New York, Chicago and Tokyo Marathons almost seems like a fantasy. It’s a great idea in theory, but in practice it’s often unattainable.

However, if you want something bad enough, nothing is unattainable, and one lady who has proved that is Bournemouth AC’s very own globetrotting marathon enthusiast Caroline Rowley.

As the date of the 2019 Tokyo Marathon came around, it was set to be one of great significance to Caroline. It was indeed her 6th World Marathon Major, meaning she was in line to pick up her ‘Six Star Medal’. It was going to be a momentous occasion for Caroline – and one that even she herself couldn’t quite believe was about to happen.

Of course she had the small matter of completing the Tokyo Marathon first. The ‘Six Star Medal’ isn’t something that just gets given out willy-nilly. You have to earn it. Like she had done on the previous five occasions though, Caroline was more than willing to do that.

Although it’s a huge marathon, with over 35,000 people taking part, there were actually over 330,000 applicants wanting on it, so that gives an indication of just how popular to Tokyo Marathon is and how difficult it is to get a place.

Somehow, she managed it though and Caroline took to the start line knowing once she’s completed the 26.2 miles, she would be awarded one of the most coveted pieces of silverware in running folklore.

The back of Caroline Rowley'd Bournemouth AC top from the Tokyo Marathon
Caroline had her World Marathon Major list printed on the back of her Bournemouth AC vest for the Tokyo Marathon

It was never going to be about time for Caroline in this particular marathon. Her achievement was an altogether different one than going for a specific target time. In a way, it went beyond that. It was about the experience.

Each one of the six World Marathon Majors she’d completed was about the experience. Travelling across the world, meeting so many different people and getting a taste of so many differing cultures.

That said, whenever she pulls on the yellow and blue, she has a natural inclination to give it her best and put everything she’s got into it and this occasion was no different.

Starting off at a good but conservative pace, Caroline went through the 5k point in 29 minutes and 42 seconds. She then arrived at the 10k stage in 1:01:05. The next 5k was her fastest of the race, getting her to the 15k point in 1:30:29.

As she continued on, she kept a remarkably consistent pace, reaching the 20k point in 2:00:53 and going on to arrive at the half way maker in 2:07:51.

Reaching 25k in 2:32:08, it then began to get a little tougher for Caroline and her pace slipped slightly. She arrived at the 30k point in 3:04:11 before arriving at the 35km marker 33-and-a-half minutes late. It was then onto the final 5k checkpoint, where she registered a time of 4:12:47 for 40km.

It was only a short distance from there and Caroline soon found herself racing down the finishing straight. She’d done it. The dream had been realised and it was a fantastic moment for Caroline.

Crossing the line in 4 hours 27 minutes and 11 seconds, Caroline has taken 14,151st place. That put her in 2,208th place out of 8,202 women and 2,811th out of 6,328 in the 45-49 age category. Out of the British runners taking part, she was 270th out of 451.

Caroline Rowley with her Six Star Major Marathon Medal
Caroline proudly parades her Tokyo Marathon medal along with her prestigious World Marathon Major ‘Six Star Medal’

None of those stats really mattered to Caroline in the grand scheme of things though. What really mattered was putting that tick in the box next to name of her final World Marathon Major.

She was elated to have done it and to have realised her dream of completing all six of the World Marathon Majors. It had been a quite incredible journey that had seen Caroline combine her love of running with the opportunity to spend time in six wonderful cities.

The challenge for Caroline began back in 2013 when she completed the London Marathon in a time of 3:20:20. She didn’t even know back then though that that would form a piece of a much bigger jigsaw.

It was only after she ran the Boston Marathon in 2015 that she found about the ‘Six Star Medal’. From that moment on, the challenge was set.

A year later she would make the journey to Germany to conquer the Berlin Marathon, without even hitting the wall in the process. It was then New York in 2017 and her penultimate World Marathon Major of Chicago in 2018.

After spending some time in Tokyo, exploring the delights of what she found to be a beautiful city, Caroline returned to Bournemouth as World Marathon Major legend, adding her name to that prestige list of runners fortunate enough and dedicated enough to have managed to complete all six.

She hung her ‘Six Star Medal’ up alongside each of the six individual medals from each marathon, taking pride of place on the wall and serving as a reminder of some great times, some amazing experiences and a truly remarkable achievement.

Caroline Rowley's World Marathon Major medal rack
Caroline’s impressive medal rack was completed with the edition of the Tokyo Marathon and ‘Six Star’ medals

 

 

 

Chris, Helen and Rich Brawn in Half Marathon action

Rich Brawn at the Berkhamsted Half Marathon
Rich Brawn returned to his old stomping ground to battle it out at the Berkhamsted Half Marathon, whilst Chris O’Brien and Helen Ambrosen took on the Oakhaven Hlf Marathon

As the stormy weather raged on, so did the running, as marathon season entered an excitingly busy phase for runners up and down the country. 177 participants turned out for the Oakhaven Half Marathon in the New Forest, including Chris O’Brien and Helen Ambrosen from Bournemouth AC.

On that same day, Richard Brawn had travelled back to his roots to get reacquainted with the venue of his first ever half marathon, Berkhamsted, in Hertfordshire.

Back then Rich completed the course in just under 1 hour 35 minutes. That was a fair few years ago now though and he’s seen a steady curve of improvement since then and was hoping to better his time of 1 hour 25 minutes from the Sturminster Newton Half Marathon last August.

Using Oakhaven as a marathon paced training run, Chris O’Brien knew exactly what he wanted to achieve out of the race. What he hadn’t factored in though was the lack of a marshal at one key turning point on the course near mile 11.

Chris O'Brien in the Oakhaven Half Marathon
Chris O’Brien was setting out to run the Oakhaven Half at his marathon pace

That meant a lead group of around 15 runners ended up doing an extra two miles as well as taking a bit of additional time stopping to try to figure out where to go.

Fortunately it didn’t matter too much to Chris, since he wasn’t really racing it for a position anyway – and in fact, it may have actually worked in his favour, getting an extra couple of miles in. He successfully achieved his target pace, completing the course, along with his additional detour, in a time of 1:45:39.

That put him in 10th place on the day and 3rd in the Vet 40 Male category. His average pace for the 14.88 miles he ran worked out as 7:05 per mile.

Chris O'Brien finishes the Oakhaven Half Marathon
Although he’d completed an extra two miles due to missing a turning, Chris managed to hit his target pace

As for Helen Ambrosen, she also saw Oakhaven as the perfect stage for a good training run, enjoying the scenic surroundings despite the wet and windy conditions.

Fortunately the rain had stopped by the time the race began and the route was fairly sheltered, until they got out onto the exposed airfield at least.

It was a fairly flat course across gravel and stony trails. Helen ran well, reaching the finish line in a time of 2:01:20, which put her in 83rd place overall.

Helen Ambrosen in the Oakhaven Half Marathon
Helen Ambrosen ran well to complete the Oakhaven Half Marathon in 2:01:20

She was 25th lady on the day and took 3rd place in the Vet 60 Female category. That capped off a very good week of running for Helen which saw her exceed 50 miles in total.

The race was won by Paul Russhard in a time of 1:21:24, with James Baker of Chichester Runners taking 2nd in 1:25:08. The first lady over the line was Emilia Montagu-Scott who finished two seconds ahead of Chris, taking 9th place in a time of 1:45:37.

Helen Ambrosen at the Oakhaven Half Marathon
The race marked the end of a high mileage week for Helen as she continued with her tough schedule

In the Berkhamsted Half Marathon, the conditions weren’t as bad as they had been in previous days and the wind had died down a little, providing the potential for a decent run.

Using it as a marathon training run, Rich was hoping to get some additional miles in before and after the race as well. He hadn’t actually officially entered the race yet but knew there would be entries on the day so just rocked up on the morning of the race to acquire a race number.

He managed to get four easy miles in before the start of the race and was feeling in pretty good shape despite having completed the Bramley 20 the weekend before as well a tough marathon schedule session on the Tuesday.

Knowing it was a tough, hilly course, Rich had to be careful not to overcook it in the first couple of miles. There was a massive hill on the third mile which he knew would be tricky to negotiate.

Taking it pretty steadily up the hill, Rich did get overtaken by a few runners but he knew he couldn’t afford to take too much out of himself on that hill as there were a few other ups and downs to come afterwards.

Rich Brawn in the Berkhamsted Half Marathon
Rich knew the Berkhamsted Half course well and was aware there were some tough hills to contend with

Managing to pick the pace back up again in the 5th and 6th mile it was then onto Asheridge and another testing climb on the 7th mile. Up until then, Rich had had the first lady, Rachel Doherty, right behind him.

It was at this point in the race though that Rich started to feel really strong and he began to pull away from Rachel and started to reel in and catch other runners in front of him.

Once he’d gone through 10 miles, Rich began to feel like he could really afford to put everything he had left into the last few miles. Just before the 11th mile he caught and overtook Tom Dixon, who runs for his Dad’s club, Chiltern Harriers.

Rich’s Dad had come out on his bike to watch the race and was there to support him at a number of different spots on the course which served as a great encouragement to Rich.

The final climb on the 12th mile was tough to get up and Rich really had to dig in and show some steely determination. Knowing that the last mile was all downhill though did help and Rich began to accelerate in the final stretch toward the finish, flying past several of the 5-mile fun runners as he did.

Rich Brawn taking on the Berkhamsted Half Marathon
Rich started to feel good at around the 7 mile point and began to progress through the field

Crossing the line in a time of 1:23:40, Rich was very pleased to secure a PB, improving on his previous best by one-and-a-half minutes. That put him in 21st place out of over 1,000 competitors.

After the race, Rich did another four easy miles as a warm down run, brining his total mileage for the day up to 21 miles. That was not a bad morning’s work for Rich and he was very glad to have made the trip.

It was also a good confidence booster for Rich and helped reassure him that his marathon training is going well and that he’s on track for a good tilt at a sub-3 in London at the end of April.

After the race Rich bumped into a few friendly faces from his previous club of Dacorum & Tring as well, who he ran for when he was living in Hemel Hempstead a few years back so that was another positive that came out of it as well.

Plus there was the added lure of one his mum’s home cooked roast dinners afterwards. He knew it was always important to replenish the calories after a hard training run anyway.

Rich Brawn going well in the Berkhamsted Half Marathon
It was a good confidence boosting PB for Rich as he continued his preparations for London

 

BAC stars weather the storm at the windswept Wimborne 20

Steve Way takes on the Wimborne 20
Continuing his quest towards Comrades, Steve Way was one of several Bournemouth AC runners viewing the Wimborne 20 as a piece of a much bigger puzzle

With some members preparing for Spring marathons, some striving toward those much coveted Comrades medals and others simply wanting to test themselves over a longer distance, the Wimborne 20 provided an outlet for many Bournemouth AC runners to assess their form as the winter regime roars on.

The opportunity was of course taken away last year when the race was snowed off, playing havoc with the marathon preparations for a lot of runners. Ironically, it went on to be one of the hottest London Marathons on record less than two months later.

The entries for this year’s race were carried over though so those who missed out last year and had to settle for a day of sledging and building snowmen instead got the chance to take their place this time round.

The Wimborne 20 is run along the rural, scenic roads of Wimborne, featuring an undulating profile that is a challenge in itself on any ordinary day. With storm Freya passing over though, there was the added caveat of strong winds and persistent rain to contend with, making conditions tricky for the 232 runners taking to the start line.

Amongst those taking part were Steve Way and Ant Clark who will both be featuring in the Comrades Marathon this summer and are currently undergoing rigorous schedules with that in mind.

They were planning to run together along with Chris Wood of Wimborne AC, the club who were hosting the race. Unfortunately that plan went out the window when Ant was stuck in a long queue for the portaloos before the start of the race.

Just as he finally managed to get in there, the race organisers decided to pull everyone out of the queue and get proceedings underway. Unfortunately, those who were currently occupying the portaloos at the time were unaware of this and they got left behind as the race began.

That left Ant playing catch up as he got out and suddenly realised everyone had gone off without him. He then had to revert to plan B, which was just to get round at a reasonable pace without his hamstring giving him any cause for concern.

Thankfully, he successfully managed to achieve that, keeping a good steady pace throughout the run, crossing the line in a time of 2 hours 5 minutes and 41 seconds. That gave him an average pace of 6:18 per mile and put him in 5th place.

Ant Clark at the Wimborne 20
Ant Clark’s original plan was flushed down the pan when the race started without him, leaving him to play catch-up

Just up the road, Steve and Chris had already completed the course, with Steve taking 3rd place in a time of 2:02:08. That put his average pace at an impressive 6:06 per mile. Chris filtered in shortly after to take 4th in a time of 2:02:14.

Although that would be a terrific run for most runners, Steve wasn’t overly pleased with his performance and had expected to be going faster than that in a hard 20-mile training run.

Steve Way in the Wimborne 20
Steve completed the course in 2:02:08, putting him in 3rd place

His heart rate told him that he was working hard enough though so he knew he couldn’t afford to go any faster. Otherwise, it would have been likely to have an adverse effect on his training in the aftermath.

At the moment he’s not feeling as strong as he perhaps was at this point last year but since the Comrades Marathon doesn’t take place until June, there’s still plenty of time for Steve to pull it round and get back on track.

Steve Way races to 3rd in the Wimborne 20
Although he didn’t run as well as he would have liked, it was a decent effort from Steve in some very trying conditions

No less than six Bournemouth AC women were in action at the Wimborne 20, with Emma Caplan, Nikki Sandell, Gemma Bragg, Kirsty Drewett, Estelle Slatford and Sam Laws all taking to the start line.

Currently training for the Boston Marathon in Lincolnshire which she’ll be taking part in in April, Emma Caplan was looking to run the Wimborne 20 in a progressive fashion.

Looking towards the London Marathon on the last weekend of April, Nikki Sandell was hoping for a smooth run to help her build some momentum and get her training moving in the right direction.

As for Gemma Bragg, she was just doing it for fun really. It would be furthest she’d ran for over year though, since she picked up a bad injury that kept her on the side-lines for quite some time.

She was really pleased to be in a position to put herself up for this kind of distance and it would represent another big milestone in her journey back to top form.

The three of them ran together for the first 10 miles of the race, having a good old natter as they went along. Emma then began to ramp up the pace, showing great strength and moving through the field well in the second half of the race.

Emma Caplan in the Wimborne 20
After running conservatively for the first half of the race, Emma cranked the pace up a notch for the second half and ran strongly

In the end she capped off a superb negative split to finish as 3rd lady in a time of 2:24:38, putting her in 43rd position overall. She was also 1st woman in the V40 category.

Emma has certainly been putting the mileage in in training of late and has remained remarkably disciplined in her racing, using all her experience to ensure she’s in the best shape she can be for her target race.

Also running a really good second half of the race, Gemma Bragg arrived at the line as 5th placed lady, registering an excellent time of 2:26:41. That put her 48th overall.

Gemma Bragg in the Wimborne 20
It was the furthest she’d ran for quite some time but Gemma Bragg made it look easy, cruising over the line as 5th placed lady

Gemma was surprised at how comfortable she found it having not run that far for such a long time. That certainly bodes well for her future prospects as she continues to progress.

Finishing as 10th placed woman, Nikki Sandell completed the course in a time of 2:32:34. It wasn’t quite as quick as she’d hoped for so she was a tad disappointed with the run and felt that she should have been able to crank the pace up more the second half of the race.

Nikki Sandell in the Wimborne 20
Nikki Sandell didn’t quite have the run she wanted but she got it done in a respectable time and that was the most important thing

There’s still a while to go before she does her marathon though so if she can get some god solid training in between now and then, she may still be able to get close to where she needs be come race day.

Nikki Sandell comes round the corner in the Wimborne 20
Nikki was hoping that the Wimborne 20 would help her turn a corner with her training for the London Marathon

Also remaining close to each other throughout the race, Kirsty Drewett and Estelle Slatford ended up finishing in 162nd and 164th places respectively.

Kirsty really enjoyed the course and said she’d definitely recommend the event as a first foray into a longer road run. There were lots of water stations on route and the fact it was a lapped course makes it less lonely for those at the back of the field.

Her time of 3:05:05 made Kirsty 49th placed lady and 12th in the V40 category.

Kirsty Drewett in the Wimborne 20
Kirsty Drewett refused to let storm Freya dampen her spirits at the Wimborne 20

Currently in training for the London Marathon, Estelle had reservations going into the race, both about the weather and about the fact that it was a three lap route, meaning she might be tempted to stop at two laps.

As it panned out though, the three-lapped course worked out quite well as it meant, after completing the first lap, she knew exactly what to expect going forward.

Since it was quite a hilly course, she wasn’t trying to keep to a certain pace, she was just running it on how she felt and that she was able to just keep going. It was nice to have Kirsty for company most of the way as well.

Estelle’s time of 3:05:43 made her 50th female on the day and 13th in the V40 category. Last year Estelle had to defer her entry to the London Marathon due to injury so she will be looking forward to having a good stab at it this Spring.

Estelle Slatford in the Wimborne 20
Estelle was able to push on through despite the testing hills and treacherous conditions to finish in 3:05:43

Joining Estelle on the start line at London will be Sam Laws who managed to secure a place via the ballot, much to her delight. Since January, she’s been working to a very rigorous training routine in a bid to get herself in the best possible shape for it and give herself a chance of a sub-four-hour finish.

Fighting well in a less than ideal conditions at the Wimborne 20, Sam managed not to get blown away by the wind and enjoyed the camaraderie between her fellow runners as she went along.

Crossing the line in an excellent time of 3:16:28, Sam recorded a new PB for the 20-mile distance and had every reason to be pleased with her efforts.

She was 69th placed lady and came 6th in the women’s V45 category. There were sure signs that the hard training she’s been putting in his beginning to pay off and she’s well on the road toward achieving her target in the big event.

Sam Laws at the Wimborne 20
Saw Laws has certainly been working hard in training of late and her run showed the signs of progression she was looking for

The race was won by Michael Gregory of Stubbington Green, finishing in a time of 2:01:24. He was followed by James Gilfillan who went over the line in 2:01:43 to take 2nd place.

The clear winner in the ladies race was Erica Fogg of New Forest Runners who registered a time of 2:20:12 to take 30th place overall. Francesca Rawlings of Clevedon was 2nd female in 2:23:14 which put her 37th in the overall standings.

The following day, Ant Clark did his bit for the environment, going round the course again with Chris Wood and the rest of the Wimborne AC crew to collect up all the empty bottles of drink and gel wrappers that had been cast aside by the competitors during the race.

Ant Clark picking up litter the day after the Wimborne 20
After a rubbish start to the race, Ant managed to get a decent run out of it in the end and even went round the course again the next day to help tidy up the neighbourhood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Hillier and friend make the journey at the Pilgrim Challenge

Mark KIngswell and Mark Hillier at the Pilgrim Challenge
Mark Hillier (right) accompanied his friend Mark Kingswell (left) in his first ever ultra at the two-day, 66 mile Pilgrim Challenge

This time last year Mark Hillier was taking on the Pilgrim Challenge as a training run in preparation for the Marathon des Sables. That meant running the entirety of the course with a heavy backpack to simulate how it would be when he battles the toughest footrace on earth.

This time round though his goals were very different. He was aiming to complete it with a friend of his, Mark Kingswsell, who only took up running a mere 12 months ago. What he’s achieved in such a short space of time is nothing short of amazing.

The Pilgrim Challenge is a 66-mile race split over two days and is run across the picturesque North Downs Way. The route follows the footsteps of pilgrims travelling to Canterbury in ancient times, featuring stunning landscapes steeped in history.

Day 1 was very much a winter wonderland with a few inches of snow on the ground for the first 15 or so miles. It was a truly beautiful scene to run through.

Snowy scenery at Pilgrim Challenge
Conditions were all white as the two marks set off on their Pilgrims journey

Once up and over Box Hill, it was the inevitable thick slippery mud that greeted you. It was difficult to walk on in sections, let alone run. Mark and his friend Mark made it through the day unscathed though and were in high spirits when they reached the finish and were ready for some serious food!

The two Marks completed the first 33 miles in 7 hours 33 minutes and 32 seconds putting them in 119th and 120th places after Day 1. The task now was, first and foremost, to get through the second day and secondly, to try to either improve or maintain their positions in the standings.

Because the Pilgrim Challenge often represents a final multi-day training session for those heading over to Morocco for the Marathon des Sables, during the evening the organisers had arranged for some speakers to come and share insight in to their experiences of preparing for and running multi-day races. Much like last year, Mark found it very interesting to listen to.

Overnight temperatures had dipped down to a few degrees below zero and, since they were setting off at 9am on Day 2 for the return leg back to Farnham, they knew there would be a good chance that those muddy sections would be frozen and rutted. That meant, in theory, they should be easier to manage.

Church at Pilgrim Challenge
The two Marks were praying that the low temperatures might harden up some of the mud but knew they would still have to dig in to make it to the end

The weather was beautiful again on Day 2 and the views across the North Downs were absolutely stunning.

At one of the checkpoints, Mark was surprised to find that one of my tent mates from the Marathon des Sables, Derry Whitehead, was marshalling. It was great to see him again for Mark and brought back a lot of amazing memories from the MdS. It was also very appropriate that he was there at the end of the event to present Mark with his medal.

Completing the 33 miles on Day 2 in 8 hours 27 minutes and 55 seconds, Mark and Mark came in 121st and 122nd places on the day, so that was pretty much in line with where they were on Day 1.

Their total combined time for the two days and thus, the full 66 miles, was 16 hours 1 minute and 27 seconds, giving them final positions of 120th and 121st places. That was out of a field of 161 participants.

Mark KIngswell and Mark Hillier at the Pilgrim Challenge
The two Marks ran the entirety of the race together, finishing in 120th and 121st places in a time of 16 hours 1 minute and 27 seconds

All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience for Mark. Completing 66 miles in two days was the biggest challenge to date for his running friend Mark and crossing the finishing line together, still smiling, was what it was all about.

Next up for Mark is a race called The Oner, which is organised by Brutal Events. It takes place  in mid April and consists of an 82-mile course with over 10,000 feet of climbing along the South West Coastal Path.

That makes it the longest non-stop event that he’s ever attempted. He actually considers it to be a tougher test than the Marathon des Sables and with a 50% DNF rate, he’s genuinely scared about the event. You don’t know what you’re truly capable of unless you try it though and he can’t wait to be on the start line.

Mark Hillier and Derry Whitehead at Pilgrim Challenge
Mark (left) bumped into an old friend of his, Derry Whitehead, who he met at the Marathon des Sables last year