This might well have been his toughest challenge yet and that’s saying something when you look at Mark Hillier’s back catalogue of extraordinary feats.
He’s taken on and conquered the gruelling 80 mile trek over the Jurassic Coast they call The Oner, which featured 10,000ft of climbing over the 24 hours. To give an inkling into how tough that race is, it has a 50% dropout rate. Say no more.
He’s also done battle in the deserts of Morocco in the 6-day, 254km Marathon des Sables, an event renowned for being the toughest footrace on earth. Then there was the Pilgrim Challenge and Race to the King, a couple of tough two-day events.
In Al Andalus Ultimate Trail though, he finally met his match. Al Andalus Ultimate Trail is a 230km ultra-marathon contended over a five stage format.
Set in the Andalusian region of Spain, each stage offers a different challenge heading through the Poniente Grandino and the chance to experience the culture and the ambiance of the beautiful Granada Provinse.
The intense heat and the diverse terrain amplify the difficulty of the task but the splendour of the natural parks make it a highly thought of event amongst the international running community.
The route covers stretches of the famous GR-7 footpath and across several natural parks rich in agriculture and history including Sierras Loja, Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama.
The event began with a 39km jaunt from Loja to Alhama de Granada which featured a total ascent of 1,330m. Mark made a very good start, completing the course in a time of 3 hours 51 minutes and 56 seconds.
That put him in overall 5th place which was a promising opening stage and he was only 11 minutes behind the winner of the stage Manu Pastor.
It was the second stage though where Mark really set the competition alight. The route went from Alhama de Granada to Játar and was 48km long, incorporating 1,640m of elevation. This was where Mark really came into his own.
This stage took the runners up into the mountains and included some fairly technical climbs. It was just one of those days where Mark felt strong though and he was inspired by the amazing landscape and terrain he was running in.
With about six miles remaining, he began to realise that he was in with a chance of winning the stage so he gunned it to the end from there.
Reaching the line in 5 hours 8 minutes and 49 seconds, he’d done it. He’d come out on top, with a winning margin of 13 minutes over the previous day’s winner Manu Pastor and Sarah Sawyer who he arrived in with.
With the time gap being so big, Mark was elevated to the top of the leaderboard with that win which, after, two tough stages, was a fabulous achievement.
Mark wasn’t getting carried away just yet though. He knew there was a lot of hard running still to be done in the three remaining stages.
Stage 3 consisted of 39km from Játar to Jayena and included more tracks through the mountains with a total ascent of 980m. Despite his impressive exploits the previous day, Mark performed well, securing another top ten finish.
Completing the course in 4 hours 20 minutes and 48 seconds, Mark took 9th place on the day. He did concede almost 45 minutes to Manu Pastor though, who again won the stage in a time of 3:36:36. He was now firmly in command of the race.
Next it was onto Stage 4 and that was the big one of the event. The route from Jayena to Alhama de Granada was 67km in length (42 miles) and incorporated 2,031m of ascent.
And as if that wasn’t tough enough, it was an extremely hot day, with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees. This was always going to be a make or break day for Mark and the other leading contenders.
Could they withstand the intense heat and did they have enough in the tank after three gruelling stages to see them through such a long, arduous session? There was certainly somewhere to run on this one, but there was nowhere to hide.
For the first 26 miles of the course, Mark was feeling fine. It was going so well that he was beginning to dream of finishing as one of the top three men. That would have been an extraordinary achievement. Unfortunately though, things were about to take a turn for the worse.
By mile 29 he found himself in a severely dehydrated state and the last 13 miles of the day were complete and utter torture. After 9 hours 37 minutes and 36 seconds out on the course, Mark made it to the line, putting him in 15th place for the day.
It took a lot of support and encouragement from his co runners to help see Mark through the latter stages of the day and in particular one German dentist who dragged him along and refused to let him give up. Dentists are usually famed for being the administers of torture but on this occasion it was quite the opposite.
Having shipped quite a lot of time to the main contenders on this stage, Mark’s challenge for a top three finish in the event were now over. He’d conceded almost two hours to Sarah Sawyer who was 1st on the day in a time of 7:35:05 and Edwin Lenaerts who was 2nd in 7:39:54.
The final stage was Alhama de Granada to Loja, which totalled 37km and featured a further 1,120m of ascent to negotiate. With four testing days already completed, the runners who were still standing by this point were really taken to their limits having to get out there again and get through this last long route.
As the race got underway, Mark wasn’t feeling too bad at first. After the first three miles though, he could tell he was still suffering from the previous day’s exertions. He had very little energy and realised he’d need to take it easy to make it through okay.
He’d set off with the elites each day but on this occasion he quickly got spat out of the back. At the start of the race they’d been asked by the race organisers if any of them wanted to form a team of three. 14 miles in, Mark came across a teammate who was in a spot of bother.
By this point he wasn’t too concerned about time so Mark decided to stick with his teammate and finish together. After 6 hours 22 minutes and 11 seconds of running, Mark made it the end and he’d done it. He’d gone all the way and completed the entire event. That was an achievement in itself.
After all thoughts of time had gone out the window by the final stage and Mark had taken it upon himself to help his teammate get over the line, his overall time stood at 29 hours 21 minutes and 20 seconds. It was a hell of a lot of running for a five-day period.
That saw Mark place 15th in the overall standings out of the 37 people who managed to successfully complete all five stages. Of course, if he’d run harder in that last stage he would have been a lot higher but it didn’t matter to Mark. It was really all about completing the task and getting through all five stages. That was enough of a challenge for anyone.
After the leader at the end of the first three stages, Manu Pastor, has abandoned on the fourth stage, it was Sarah Sawyer who came through for the win in the end, emerging victorious in both the last two stages. Her finishing cumulative time was 24:32:17.
Chris Lamb took 2nd place in 25:19:41 with Edward Lenaerts in 3rd with a cumulative time of 25:33:45.
It has certainly been a rollercoaster ride for Mark. He’d gone from the highs of winning stage two and being overall leader to almost calling it quits on the fourth stage where he suffered greatly.
It was an amazing event though and Mark had found it even tougher than the Marathon des Sables, and that’s saying something. He loved it though and is even contemplating going back next year to have another crack at it.
What struck him most about Al Andalus Ultimate Trail though was that it was without a doubt the friendliest event he’d ever been part of and he met some great and truly supportive fellow ultra lunatics on the way.
Upon his return home, Mark professed that he wasn’t going to put his running trainers on for the rest of the summer. He did have a couple of weeks break after that but wasn’t able to resist the temptation to lace up his sneakers again for too long.
As far as his next conquest goes, so far Mark hasn’t got anything concrete in the diary but he’d keen on the idea of doing the Druids Challenge in early November, which is marathon a day for three consecutive days. Then he’d thinking about the Endurancelife Ultra and Coastal Challenge at the end of November.
Perhaps after putting himself through the trials and tribulations of Al Andalus UltimateTrail, these future events will seem like a piece of cake to Mark. On thing is for sure though and that’s that when it comes to running, Mark certainly likes to have his cake and eat it.
The 2019 South West Inter County Championships were held in mostly warm and sunny conditions at Exeter on Sunday 21st July. This report will be restricted, for the sake of brevity, almost solely to medal winners. Unless otherwise mentioned all the medal winners below were competing for Dorset.
Starting with the younger age groups saw Oscar Ewen Matthews win a Gold medal in U13 Boy’s Long Jump with a leap of 4.75 metres. Oscar also won Bronze in U13 Boy’s 800 metres in a time of 2.20.11 seconds.
Sofina Sommerseth won Silver in U13 Girl’s Long Jump with a jump of 4.37 metres.
Mariah Marshall won Bronze in U13 Girl’s Javelin with a throw of 15.54 metres.
Abigail Phillips won Gold in U15 Girl’s 300 metres in a time of 41.79 seconds which was a PB. She also won a Bronze medal in the U15 Girl’s 200 metres in a time of 26.72 seconds.
Brooke Ironside continued her fine summer season with a Gold medal in U17 Girl’s 100 metres with a PB and new Championship record of 12.03 seconds. Amelia Verney won Silver in a time of 12.26 seconds which was very close to her PB. BAC athletes were close to a 123 on the medal rostrum with Lana Blake coming 4th in a Season’s Best time of 12.63 seconds.
Brooke Ironside won Gold in U17 Girl’s 200 metres. Her winning time of 24.97 seconds was another PB. Amelia Verney won Bronze in a time of 25.36 seconds.
Larna Blake won U17 Girl’s Long Jump with a leap of 5.44 metres. Brooke Ironside won Silver with a jump of 5.39 metres.
Jasmin Cooke won Gold in U20 Women’s High Jump with a jump of 1.55 metres.
Chloe Burrows achieved a sprint double, thus continuing her fine 2019 season. Chloe won Gold in Senior Women’s 100 metres in a time of 12.23 seconds and Senior Women’s 200 metres in a time of 24.58 seconds. Both times were just short of her PB’s at those distances.
Isabell Shepherd won Bronze in Senior Women’s Hammer with a throw of 39.19 metres.
Joe Bacon, who now competes for BAC’s BAL team, represented Cornwall. Joe won Gold in U20 Men’s 400 metre Hurdles in a time of 55.69 seconds. He also won Silver in U20 Men’s 110 metre Hurdles with a time of 15.69 seconds, which was a PB.
I hope I have included all BAC medal winners out of over 500 entries from the day’s competition. Apologies if there are any omissions
Thanks to all officials at the event, particularly to BAC’s Wynne Munden. (Some other BAC members were officiating at the London Anniversary Games).
Thanks also to BAC and County stalwart Brian Camp who was very busy all day as Dorset Team Manager. His final duty of the day was to collect a Dorset 2019 vest left by the Long Jump/Triple Jump pits at Exeter. The vest is believed to be a junior’s size. As of Tuesday 23rd July no one had claimed the vest from Brian. If you know anyone who left it at by the LJ/TJ area or would like to have it (if no one from around Dorset claims it), please contact Brian.
In the first race of a Dorset Road Race League double header over the first two August weekends, a steely Bournemouth AC squad headed out for the Sturminster Newton Half Marathon.
Team captain Rich Nelson had once again worked wonders to pull together a super-strong men’s team that looked more than capable of challenging for top honours.
With the likes of Jacek Cieluszecki, Rob Spencer, Toby Chapman and Jon Sharkey all down on the list, it was a mouthwatering line up for the yellow and blue army.
Unfortunately, in the week leading up to race a late reshuffle was required when Rob Spencer was called out to work and Jon Sharkey was forced to pull out.
Rob was hoping to be around but works offshore in the oil industry so when he gets the call, he has to be on hand to head out to whatever the designated location. That means it’s not always guaranteed he’ll be able to make any race he signs up for.
That was a big blow as he would have been a major contender to follow up his victory at the Purbeck 10k with another win, but alas, it was not to be.
That left a void of two places that needed to be filled and it turned out to be two Bournemouth AC legends that stepped up to the plate. Having not run a longer distance than six miles since he was forced to abandon the Comrades Marathon with a hamstring tear, Steve Way was back in action.
He wasn’t expecting to run well after having been out for so long and knew his fitness wasn’t anywhere near what it normally is. He was intending to run it with a friend of his who was marathon training though, so was planning to take it nice and steady, with the simple aim of just getting round.
It had also been a while since Pete Thompson had been seen in competitive race action but he’d been getting in some decent training over recent times and was feeling in reasonable shape.
Word had got around that he was in quite good form as well and the previous day, he’d finished first at Bournemouth parkrun. Unfortunately he didn’t bring a barcode so it didn’t go down in the results, but it was a good sign that his fitness was there and he was ready to put in a performance.
They had back up as well, with Stu Nicholas, Mitch Griffiths, Richard Brawn and Matt du Cros also signed up, along with decorated veterans Ian Graham and Andy Gillespie.
There was also a ladies team expected, with Tamzin Petersen, Helen Ambrosen and Lucy du Cros all registered for BAC. On the morning of the race though, Lucy decided to give it a miss after suffering the after effects of an extremely late night the previous evening which meant she’d had minimal sleep.
She still turned out to support her brother Matt though who knew he had to run. Matt is going for the fidelity award this year which you get for taking part in all 12 of the Dorset Road Race League fixtures.
Unfortunately, with Lucy dropping out that meant there would be no scoring team for the ladies which was a bit of a disappointment. Nevertheless, Tamzin and Helen were determined to fulfill their part of the bargain and get out there and give their all.
After getting called over to Dubai on a work trip, Mitch Griffiths was also unable to make it to the race. The assignment would also keep him out of the Round the Rock 10k the following weekend as well so that was a double blow for Mitch, especially as he was to retain his Dorset Road Race League category win that he collected last season.
Realising that he wasn’t required to make up a scoring team and since he wasn’t needed for a lift on this occasion either, Ian decided to not to go in the end. He had been planning to switch his entry to the 5k instead of the half marathon but opted to save his energy for his forthcoming walking holiday across Scotland.
Andy Gillespie suffers from shingles from time-to-time and he was actually hoping someone else might step in to take his place. But there were no takers so he showed up ready to tow the line. It was a week before he was due to join the 100 Marathon Club by completing the 5,4,3,2,1 Salisbury 50k.
One good thing from a BAC perspective was that JC was there and that meant there was a good chance they’d have the race winner in their ranks. Jacek wasn’t a hundred percent confident though.
As a consequence of training for the 120km UTMB, he’d done very little speed work in the run up to the Stur Half. All his training had been geared toward lengthy and high elevation sessions as opposed to fast running on the road.
He had had one run out at Poole parkrun but had been beaten that day by both Rob Spencer and Lee Dempster. Lee was also in the line up at the Stur Half so he was liable to pose a threat.
On the morning of the race it was an overcast day and it seemed like virtually ideal running conditions. That was a stark contrast to the previous year when it was blistering hot sunshine.
Once they got going though, the runners could tell it was actually quite humid. There wasn’t that same coastline breeze that you usually get around the Bournemouth and Poole area as Sturminster Newton is a bit more inland.
The course started from Station Road, just outside Railway Gardens but rather than an out-and-back, it was more a kind of loop but finishing on the High School playing field where the race HQ was situated.
In the early going, it was JC at the front of race, setting the pace alongside Toby Chapman and Lee Dempster. They were also joined by Jamie Hinton, who doesn’t run for any of the Dorset Road Race League clubs but looked pretty useful.
Lee decided his best chance of coming out on top was to take the race on, so he laid down the gauntlet, opening out an advantage over the rest of the field.
Jamie and Jacek were in hot pursuit though and were in no mood to let Lee out of their sights. Jacek in particular was not going to concede defeat that easily and sat in behind waiting for the right moment to pounce.
It was exactly at the six mile point that JC caught Lee up and went past him. There must have been a sigh and a rolling of the eyes from Lee as Jacek assumed the reigns and went hurtling off.
The same thing had happened in the last half marathon race they’d clashed in which was the Puddletown Plod, and Jacek went on to win that day. It now looked very much like it was going to happen again at the Stur Half.
Once he takes the lead in a race, Jacek invariably doesn’t relinquish it from there, so Lee knew his chances of picking up the victory had probably evaporated with that move.
Jacek carried on pushing and managed to extend his lead at the front to around about a minute-and-a-half before making it to the line in a highly impressive time of 1:14:42.
Considering his lack of speedwork, that was an excellent run from JC and he naturally he was overjoyed with the result. Lee had once again had to settle for 2nd place, coming over the line in 1:16:18.
He was followed by Jamie Hinton shortly after, with Jamie taking 3rd place in a time of 1:16:40. Then it was Andy Leggott of Lonely Goat who paced the run well to take 4th place in 1:17:19.
Weighing in with a mightily impressive performance, Stu Nicholas took 5th place and was 2nd scorer for BAC, crossing the line in a time of 1:17:50.
That was an excellent performance from Stu and showed that even though he’d been training hard for his Rat Race 100k along the South West Coast Path, he hadn’t lost any of his speed on the road.
That was a very good sign and a huge confidence booster going into his first ever 100k. It was also an improvement of almost five minutes on his time from last year.
Bournemouth AC’s leading contenders for the Dorset Road Race League title are Egdon Heath Harriers and they had their first man over the line when Paul Bullimore arrived to seal 6th place in a time of 1:18:03.
Chris Wood of Wimborne was 7th in 1:18:41 with Richard Swindlehurst of Poole AC taking 8th in 1:18:48.
Toby Chapman didn’t have one of his best runs coming in at 9th place in a time of 1:19:20. Ordinarily he would have been much quicker and would have been a lot closer to the front but he wasn’t firing on all cylinders that day.
It was still well worth the trip though for Toby as his presence had massively boosted the club’s chances of taking top spot for the fixture in the Dorset Road Race League. Plus, living in Somerset, it isn’t too often Toby gets to travel round this way for a race so it was really good to see him there.
Scott Parfitt of Lytchett Manor Striders completed the top ten, crossing the line in 1:20:35, with Duncan Ward of Dorset Doddlers arriving in 11th place with a time of 1:21:07. Then it was Bournemouth AC’s fourth man to finish, Pete Thompson, taking 12th place with an excellent time of 1:21:28.
Starting off quite steadily at first, Pete grew into race, gradually picking up the pace and moving through the field as did so. He didn’t even have a watch so he wasn’t concerned about time or pace. He just ran it entirely on how he felt and that proved to be a tactic that worked well for him.
It’s in line with Pete’s general approach to running now, which is basically just to enjoy it instead of getting so caught up with statistics and going to all kinds of lengths to get the best out of himself.
It was that competitive element that really effected Pete mentally in the past and the obsession ended up consuming him. He’s now in a much better place though and is just enjoying his running with putting any pressure on himself to deliver outrageous times.
That left BAC needing just one more member to come in to complete their scoring team of five for the men’s Dorset Road Race League points.
That man was Rich Brawn, who arrived at the finish in 1:24:34 to take 20th place in the overall standings. Rich had been suffering from a heel injury in the weeks leading up to the race and had had his foot taped up by the club physio on the Tuesday before the race, after his training session.
He’d been told not to run on it after that until the day of the race so that’s what a did. Keeping the tape on to alleviate the pressure from his heel throughout the week, Rich was full of energy come race day on the Sunday.
However, his heel soon began to hurt on the day before he’d even started running and he knew he was in for a tough morning. The pain was often manageable but over a half marathon distance he knew it was likely to effect him.
The first three or four miles of the race went okay but he soon began to experience problems. The heel was too painful to put pressure on so he had to put his weight more toward the front of the foot if possible. That made it difficult for him to use his strength to help him go quicker.
It became a bit of a slog for Rich and he knew he wasn’t running well and wasn’t going to be close to the 1:23 PB he set at the Puddletown Plod in June.
Managing to drag himself up the hill that went from mile 11 to most of the way through mile 12, Rich caught and overtook Neil Sexton from Poole Runners, which he thought must have meant he’d had a half decent run. He’d also overtaken Charlie Lawson from Egdon Heath Harriers as well, which he knew could be crucial in the Dorset Road Race League battle.
It was then just a downhill path by the side of the school field before turning in and heading down the finishing straight. As he approached he could see the time was around 1:24:30 which he was really disappointed with.
In fact, it wasn’t much of an improvement on his time of 1:25:16 from last year and he felt he should have been on a different level to what he was then. It was also a minute-and-a-half down on his time at the Puddletown Plod on what should have been, if anything, a slightly easier course, so that was disappointing for Rich.
The silver lining was though that BAC had taken out the team win and that was the most important thing so in that respect, he was pleased.
Next to make his presence felt on the home straight for BAC, it was the great Steve Way. He’d run it with his friend Tim Jones from Poole Runners at roughly the pace he said he was going to, crossing the line in 1:35:49. That put him in 71st place overall.
Since it was his longest run since being sidelined after Comrades though, Steve was pretty happy with that and it was certainly a step in the right direction. No doubt he’ll be back fighting fit looking more like the Steve Way we all know and love some time soon.
Coming in not too far behind Steve, and as the next BAC member over the line, it was Matt du Cros, who finished 77th in a time of 1:37:47.
That was nowhere near as fast a time as he’s capable but with very minimal training behind him, he was relatively pleased with that effort. Plus it was another notch on his way to the fidelity award which was the most important thing from Matt’s perspective.
Next in for the yellow and blue army and first lady for the club, it was Tamzin Petersen. She’d found it pretty tough going in the humid conditions, especially since the course seemed to be mostly uphill. That left her feeling pretty tired by the time she reached the latter stages.
With her energy levels low, the final climb seemed like a real drag and it she found it difficult to haul herself up, but she did it in the end, reaching the finish in a time of 1:52:39.
That put her in 152nd place overall and 22nd lady on the day. She was also 2nd in the Senior Female category. Although it was 10 minutes slower than the half marathon PB time she’d set at the Fleet Pre-London earlier in the year, it was still an improvement of 7 minutes on her time from last year. That might have been partly due to the fact she didn’t stop at the aid station for ages eating sweets and drinking Vimto this time round though.
Next over the line for BAC, it was marathon guru Andy Gillespie, who came in at 1:54:09. That put him in 157th place overall and 9th in the V60 category.
Having been fairly adamant that he wouldn’t be running any sort of a fast time on the day, it was actually a fairly pleasing performance from Andy and he was glad to make it through unscathed.
There have been times when Andy has sacrificed his entries in races for the good of the team, enabling someone else faster to take up the place. He’d sometimes found that to be detrimental to his own performance in future marathons and coastal challenges though so it was good that he’d kept his number for this fixture.
Completing the Stur Half meant that he could now switch his focus to the impending Salisbury 5,4,3,2,1 race, where he would finally become a marathon centurion.
After starting off too fast, Helen Ambrosen found herself in troubled waters as the race progressed. Her pace soon began to wane when the hills came into play and the humid conditions did not help her plight.
She was finding it so tough that she even stopped running on a couple of occasions. Luckily she found the character to continue onto the end though, despite the difficulties, and ended up crossing the line in a time of 2:00:42.
Whilst it wasn’t her finest hour, or rather, her finest two hours, she still took 2nd place in the women’s V60 category and was 188th overall and 42nd lady over the line.
As far as the team prizes for the race went, it was a victory for Bournemouth AC, with Jacek, Stu and Toby emerging as the top trio. Lytchett Manor Striders took 2nd with Lee Dempster, Scott Parfitt and Mark Ormonde in their top three. Then it was Egdon Heath Harriers, with Paul Bullimore, Arthur Simon and Charlie Lawson.
For the Dorset Road Race League men’s first division, it was a resounding win for Bournemouth AC, with the team of JC (1st), Stu (5th), Toby (7th), Pete (10th) and Rich (15th) reigning supreme. Egdon Heath Harriers took 2nd with Dorset Doddlers in 3rd.
The first female to cross the line on the day was Kirsteen Welch of Sidmouth RC who completed the course in 1:24:56. That put her in 23rd place overall.
Alexandra Door of Egdon Heath Harriers was 2nd female, stepping over the line in 1:32:39 to put her in 56th place overall. Then it was Gemma Russhard who took 3rd lady in a time of 1:35:20, putting her 66th overall. A total of 309 athletes successfully completed the course.
Egdon Heath Harriers were victorious in the women’s team competition, with their top three of Alexandra Door, Sophie Elford and Hannah Martyn. Poole Runners were 2nd and Poole AC third. The same also went for the Dorset Road Race League ladies first division.
In terms of the league positions, that left Bournemouth AC in a healthy position at the top of the men’s first division with four wins and two 2nd places to their name.
Egdon Heath Harriers were sitting in 2nd place, with two wins and four 2nd places. After failing to get a team out for the last three fixtures, Poole AC were now languishing well behind in 3rd place and it looks every bit a two-horse race for the title. BAC are though, very much in the driver’s seat it has to be said.
In the ladies first division, Poole Runners are top, just ahead of Egdon Heath Harriers but only by one point. Then it’s Littledown Harriers in 3rd and Bournemouth AC in 4th.
Next it was onto the following Dorset Road Race League fixture which was the Round the Rock 10k, where a very depleted and makeshift BAC men’s team would look to give it their best shot and a ladies team of three were hoping to reinvigorate their challenge in the women’s first division.
In one of his final acts for his former club Dacorum & Tring back in July 2016, Rich Brawn went over to Hornchurch Country Park to compete in the Spitfire Scramble 24-hour event. That was a month or so before he relocated to Bournemouth.
It was a great way to sign off for Rich, by spending some quality time with his clubmates and doing what they all loved doing most… Socialising and running.
Three years down the line, Rich was back again, reunited with his former clubmates for another 24-hour extravaganza. It was only in the days leading up to the event though that Rich learned of his inclusion.
The Dacorum & Tring men’s team captain Jamie Marlow had contacted him to find out if he was available. His team had had a member drop out so they needed to find a replacement.
Since he didn’t actually have anything planned for that weekend, other than a marathon training run on the Sunday, it was the perfect opportunity for Rich to catch up with his old running buddies so he agreed to join the team.
Of course, there was the small matter of running quite a lot over the 24 hours but that was something to worry about later down the line. At that moment he was just excited that he was going to see his D&T friends again.
Back in 2016, Rich competed as part of a men’s team of eight. As it panned out, each member of the team completed four 5.9 mile laps, which equated to almost 24 miles per person. That was by far the furthest Rich had ever run at that point in time and the team finished 2nd in their category.
This time they were doing it a mixed team of five, which would inevitably mean more running, more miles, more fatigue and a far more challenging experience. Rich’s running had improved a lot over the three years since he was last there though so he was up for the challenge.
The only problem he did have was that he seemed to have developed a soar heel over recent times which noticeably flared up when he was running and after he’d finished a run. That was a bit of a worry, as he knew, in a 24-hour relay event, he would finish a lap and would then soon be back out there doing another lap, so he couldn’t afford to be in pain when heading out for his next run.
On the way to Hornchurch Country Park the traffic was quite bad so it took Rich a bit longer than anticipated to get there. He arrived just in time to see Jamie Marlow set off on the first lap.
Rich got his stuff out of the car and put it in his tent. He was going to be on the fourth leg, so had a bit of time to catch up with his D&T friends before he had to get read to run.
Jamie Marlow ran a blisteringly quick first lap, finishing in 35 minutes which set a precedence and left Rich and the other members of the team wondering how on earth they were going to follow that up.
Jamie Saunders then took over for the second leg before handing over to Chris Marriott for the third leg. Rich then took up the reigns and set off the fourth leg.
Rich wanted to go at a reasonable pace but he wanted to conserve his energy, knowing there would be many laps and many more miles to come.
It was quite a testing course in places, with quite a few mild inclines and one tough gravel section on the fourth mile that Rich found really energy sapping.
Once he was over that though, it was a nice drive down the hill and back toward the field where everyone was camping and where the changeover would take place.
Completing the lap in 37 minutes and 23 seconds, Rich then passed the baton onto Ania Gabb who was running the fifth leg for the team. After she’d ran, it would then be back to Jamie Marlow and the process would be repeated.
Rich and Ania had ran together in a couple of 20-mile races in the lead up to their Spring marathons so it was nice that they could team up in this event.
The next time round Jamie Marlow took it a little more conservatively before handing over to Jamie Saunders who set off on his second lap. It was a gap of around 2-and-a-half hours from the time Rich finished his last lap to the time he had to start his next one.
That made it quite tricky as it wasn’t really enough time to eat any proper food or get a decent amount of rest. He was feeling okay for the time being though and was soon back out there on his second lap.
This time Rich took it easier over the first couple of miles and saved his energy for the mid to latter part of the route. That seemed to work better and he felt like he had a much better run, coming in in a time of 37:27, which was almost exactly the same time he’d run the first lap in.
By the time they’d all finished their second laps, the team were way out in front in the mixed teams of five category. They were already a lap or two ahead of the team that was currently in second place.
That was good as it afforded them a bit of breathing space and meant to pressure to keep banging out fast laps was off, to some extent. None of them wanted to let the team down though so they kept going at a relatively fast pace.
Rich and Ania had heard them say over tanoy that there was a prize for the most consistent laps and for that you just had to get three laps in in as closer time as possible.
Since Ania had somehow managed to run exactly the same time for her first two laps and Rich had only a four second difference between his, they both fancied their chances for that prize. All they had to do was run one more lap of a similar time.
Unfortunately though they both slowed down a touch on their third lap. Rich came in around about 50 seconds slower, which he was a bit disappointed with.
It had started to get dark by the time Ania got her run underway which made it a bit more difficult. Randomly she also got a nose bleed on the way round as well which had never happened to her before.
She came in a minute down on her times for the first two laps, which left both her and Rich thinking they’d probably missed out on the consistency prize.
The next time they went out, they were all going to be running in the dark and knew they’d be needing their head torches to help guide them on the right path and navigate safely through the wooded sections. This was where things started to go wrong for the team.
When Rich set off on his lap, he soon realised that the head-torch he had didn’t give off much light. That made it very difficult for him to see where he was going.
It would have been too much of a risk to attempt running at a fast pace in the pitch black, so he slowed right down. He was also finding it difficult to see the arrows telling him which direction to go in and it wasn’t long before he took a wrong turn.
The path he was running on took him back to the path that all the other runners were on. The only problem was, they were running in a different direction to him. This really confused Rich but he thought, he best turn and run in the same direction as everyone else.
Then, just after he’d gone through 2-miles on his watch, much to his dismay, he saw the 1-mile marker. He realised then that he must have taken a detour of about a mile when he went off piste. It was very demoralising, as the last thing you want to be doing in a 24-hour race is running additional miles.
He had no choice but to carry on and bang out the rest of the lap so that was what he did, eventually reaching the changeover point after having been out there for just over 50 minutes.
It was frustrating for Rich as he knew it would mess up his average lap time as but what was done was done. He couldn’t change it now. What made matters worse was that when he finally arrived to hand over the batten he couldn’t find Ania and because it was dark and he had his head torch on, she couldn’t tell that it was Rich either.
He trundled up towards camp to ask if anyone had seen Ania and they said she’d gone down to the changeover point. Rich went back down and it was then that they managed to find each other and Ania set off on her way.
After that mishap at the start of her leg, Ania was thinking things could only get better from there. She was wrong about that though. She too ended up veering off course and getting lost for a while. Luckily she was with another runner when it happened.
She also fell over a couple of times as well whilst she was out there so she was relieved to get back to the changeover point in one piece and put the disastrous lap behind her.
After his leg Rich had retired to his tent to have something to eat and try to get some rest before he was due to head out for his next one. He’d found fueling to be a bit of a problem as there wasn’t really enough time to eat anything substantial and every time he did have something it gave him a stomach ache during his next run.
After his last experience he was praying he wouldn’t have to do another lap in the dark. By the time he took over for his next lap it was 3:45 am. It was still dark when he started running but over the course of the lap, it gradually began to get lighter, which was a huge relief.
Feeling a little more energised after the rest that he’d had, Rich managed to get round his next lap without any hitches. Finishing in 43 minutes, he was pleased with the run. That meant he’d now covered 29.5 miles in total, having completed five laps.
He immediately retired to his bed, knowing it would be a while till he’d have to be back out there again. After a good two hours of sleep he felt much better and almost felt ready to go again when it was time to head down to the changeover area.
It was a bonus to be running in broad daylight again as well and that spurred Rich on to put in a good shift, getting round in 42 minutes this time, which was an average pace of 7:23.
It was certainly not as quick as his earlier laps the previous day, where his average pace was around 6:30, but it was still a decent effort considering it took him up to a total of 35 miles.
What was most relieving was that the end was in sight as well. He now knew there was only time to do one more lap each. On his sixth lap, Chris Marriott had really struggled with an ankle injury and he’d been forced to slow down dramatically and even walk some sections.
Ania was also injured by the time she embarked on her sixth lap and she ended up having to walk the majority of it. Plus she was completely exhausted from doing so many miles and her body was telling her enough is enough.
That left just the two Jamies and Rich still going for the seventh and final lap. Both Jamie Marlow and Jamie Saunders got through their last laps okay which left Rich to head out on the course for the last time.
Knowing it was his final lap was a real boost for Rich and, although it was tough, he felt relieved knowing he could rest afterwards and it would essentially be mission completed.
With that in mind he found the strength for one final push and ended up completing the lap in 41 minutes which was a minute quicker than his previous lap.
As he approached the finish he sprinted towards the line, elated to have finally made it to the end. In fact, he finished so strongly that he got 10th overall for the Spitfire Scramble home straight segment on Strava.
In total the team had completed 33 laps over the course of the 24 hours. That equated to 137 miles in total. It was a quite staggering effort from each of them. Their average lap time was 42 minutes 14 seconds, which was pretty impressive given how difficult it got towards the end.
They finished 7 laps ahead of the team that finished 2nd in the Mixed Teams of 3 to 5 category, so it was a very comfortable victory in the end. They even finished fourth in the overall team competition which was a considerable achievement considering that included teams of eight, where each member would have needed to run a lot less often.
After the event had finished, Rich and his teammates stayed behind to be presented with their trophies for 1st place in the Mixed Teams of 3 to 5 category. It was a great way to end a fantastic weekend for Rich and his Dacorum & Tring friends.
Individually, Rich had covered 42 miles over the course of the 24 hours which he was really pleased with. He felt it would be good marathon training as well to do such a laborious endurance event.
The best thing about the weekend for Rich though wasn’t even the running part. It was actually seeing and catching up with all his friends and former clubmates from Dacorum & Tring. They always hold a special place in his heart so to be back with them again was a great experience.
Along with the team Rich was in, Dacorum & Tring had several other teams competing across the various different categories including a mixed team of seven. They all gave it everything over the duration of the event and there was a great spirit and togetherness around the camp.
Some other members even turned up to man the marshalling posts as well doing some long shifts out in the woods helping to ensure the smooth running of the event.
Overall it was a terrific weekend for Rich and he was grateful to be a part of it. Not only did he return to Bournemouth with a gleaming trophy, he also came back with some fabulous memories to cherish.
How do you follow up a 14 lap, 70-mile supreme endurance escapade over a 24-hour period? That was the question Chris O’Brien was faced with after he and his ever-willing running partner Emma Draper put together a tireless and relentless display to finish 3rd in the mixed pairs category at Endure 24.
Most runners would probably look for something a little easier for their next event. A nice, flat, gentle 10k perhaps might tickle the temptation buds. That wasn’t what Chris had in mind though. He’d decided he was going to go hardcore again, which led him to the premise of another endurance special. This time, it was the 12-hour Unicorn Frolic, organised by White Star Running.
Teaming up with a new running partner, Rebecca Gardiner, Chris was again going to tackle the event as one half of a mixed pair. In this particular event though, it was just simply a Pairs category.
That meant once again, he’d be looking to complete as many laps of the 5.2 mile trail course as he could physically manage over the allotted time. To put that into perspective, around about every 1 hour 40 minutes, Chris would be setting off on another 5.2 mile lap. It wasn’t going to be easy.
As seems to be par for the course for Chris in these sorts of events, he wasn’t going into it with the best preparation behind him. In fact, he’d been feeling ill going into the event and wasn’t even sure if he’d be able to manage any more than a lap. He absolutely had to give it a go though.
The original plan for Chris was just to treat it as a bit of fun and make the most of the opportunity to promote RunTeach, which is the company Chris devised to help runners improve in all aspects of the sport, from nutrition to technique to coaching to injury prevention.
Of course, what tends to happen in these situations though is you soon get wrapped up in the spirit of the event and the team camaraderie, which invariably infuses that competitive edge.
In truth it wasn’t the easiest of courses to run on and it was a roasting hot day which made it significantly more difficult. The terrain was quite technical in places with lots of tree routes to avoid, along with lumpy grass and loose stones.
The event started at 8am, running through to 8pm that same day, which at least meant the competitors would always be running in daylight over the 12 hour duration.
Getting the proceedings underway for the Run Teach pair, Chris completed his first lap in 42 minutes, which was an average pace of just under 8 minutes per mile. He then handed over to Rebecca who set out on her leg before handing back to Chris again.
Rebecca runs for Lonely Goat RC and is also one of the coaches at RunTeach. She completed her first lap in around 47 minutes.
Taking it slightly more conservatively on his second lap, Chris was back at the changeover point in 44 minutes and 38 seconds, giving him an average pace of 8:34. Then it was Rebecca’s turn again to pick up the reigns.
51 minutes later Chris was back out there again for his third lap. This time Chris got round in 46 minutes and 14 seconds, giving him an average pace of 8:47.
Before he knew it, Chris was embarking on his fourth lap, which took him up to a total of 21 miles so far. Completing that in 50 minutes 34 seconds, he was still going well, although his average pace had now dropped to 9:35.
By the time Chris set off for his fifth lap it was 2:36pm so over half of the time span had elapsed. At this point it was turning in a real competition and as the pairs kept churning out the laps and adding to their totals, Chris and Rebecca were faring well and were amongst the front runners.
Ticking off lap number five in 53 minutes 45 seconds, Chris had now gone further than marathon distance. What started out a bit of fun had once again descended into fierce competition with the Corny Devils turning out to be Chris and Rebecca’s main rivals in the pairs category.
Getting out for his sixth lap just after 4:30pm, the end was now in sight for Chris. He knew there wouldn’t be time for too many more laps and he was probably quite thankful for that at this point.
He soldiered on well though, completing the lap in 54 minutes and 43 seconds, bringing his total up to a staggering 31.4 miles. Rebecca was still going strong as well and after she’d been out for her next lap there was just time for Chris to do one final lap.
Finishing his seventh and final lap in 1 hour and 4 minutes, Chris brought it home for the team, amassing an individual total of 36.6 miles over the 12 hour period.
With Rebecca contributing 6 laps, that gave team Run Teach an impressive total of 13 laps, which equated to around 68 miles. That was enough to see them seal a sensational victory in the pairs category, with the Corny Devils finishing as runners up on 12 laps.
It had been an extremely hard fought contest but they did it in the end and it was a sweet reward for Chris and Rebecca after all the hard graft they’d put in and thoroughly well deserved.
There were 59 pairs in total taking part in the event so to come out of top of the pile out of all those was quite some achievement.
Hopefully Chris has since taken a well earned rest as we await to see what he has up his sleeve for his next challenge. Knowing Chris though, whatever it is, it won’t be an easy one.