The latest Dorset Road Race League fixture pitched Bournemouth AC in Sturminster Newton for a tough, undulating half marathon in the sweltering heat as this unprecedented summer of sizzling sunshine and soaring temperatures continues.
Thoughts of fast times and PB performances went out the window when the weather forecast showed how hot it going to be and the warmth of the sun could be felt lightly singeing the skin as the runners made their way from the race HQ in the Sturminster Newton High School fields to the start line on Station Road.
It was more a case of hoping that the body would hold out without overheating throughout the course of the 13.1-mile country road route. Much of the course was over similar ground to that of the North Dorset Village Marathon that took place on the first weekend of May. Some of the Bournemouth AC members were familiar with it from that.
With Rich Nelson away on holiday in France, Rich Brawn stepped in to deputise as team captain for the race and assumed the duties of organising and assembling a team that could hopefully be in the running for a vital league victory.
With the margins at the top of the league too close to call between Poole AC and Bournemouth AC in the Men’s Division One, the points in this fixture were absolutely crucial.
With a lot of hard work chasing up various team members and looking to establish a strong line up of at least five high standard scorers, Rich Brawn now has a new-found respect to what Rich Nelson does for every race. It is certainly an unenviable task.
Come the day of the race it wasn’t looking overly promising, with Steve Way, Josh Cole, Stu Nicholas and Graeme Miller having signed up but the notable absence of a high quality fifth scorer. Rich had a feeling that he himself was going to have to step up and bear the burden of being fifth scorer for the team.
Then, whilst he was in the car on the way to the race, Rich received a message from Steve Way saying that he’d had to abort his long run and call his wife to pick him up. That meant that from the place where he’d ended up, there was no way he was going to make it to the start line in time.
Steve has been suffering from a calf injury that kept his training runs down to a minimum over recent weeks. Unfortunately, the prominence of that injury looks as if it might rule him out for the World 100k Championships, which is in # weeks’ time. That would be hammer blow for Steve after working so hard to achieve his 3rd place finish at the Comrades Marathon and earn his place in the GB squad.
Rich was desperate to register a BAC win for the fixture so he could go back and deliver the good news to Rich Nelson but it was beginning to look as if that might be in doubt. He tried to remain positive though as he jogged over the start line with Stu Nicholas and Andrew Brookes and prepared to do his bit for the team and give it absolutely all he’s got.
Just as they arrived at the start-line meeting point, out of nowhere, Craig Palmer and Dave Long suddenly turned up. Rich was hugely received to see them as he had been in discussion with both them in the build-up to the race and had been hoping they would be able to make it.
Dave had been part of the Bournemouth Athletics League team that had famously sealed promotion to Division One and had competed in the 5000-metre race at the track meeting at Kings Park the previous day.
It was the final fixture of the season and after that the lads went out for a hugely well-deserved celebration, meaning many a beer was sunk over the course of the evening. As a result, Dave was still half cut when he arrived just before the start of the race.
Having also been out on the razz the night before, Craig was also feeling a little worse for wear as he prepared to take to the start line. They’d both put the team first though and showed up anyway with the aim of ensuring Bournemouth AC would win the fixture.
Needless to say, Rich was very pleased to see them and that had cast a completely different complexion on the race now. There was now a very realistic chance that BAC could come away with the points.
Once the race got underway, a small lead group was quickly established, containing both Josh Cole and Stu Nicholas. Graeme Miller wasn’t far behind them, with Rich just slightly further back.
There was quite a bit of downhill in the first mile, so it was a good opportunity for the runners to settle into a good early pace. When Rich came up behind Graeme, he thought perhaps he might be going a little too fast so nestled in behind his BAC teammate.
It soon became apparent though that Graeme wasn’t going at his normal pace. Rich then manoeuvred round him and pressed on. In fact, Graeme had felt a tightening of the hamstring right from start, preventing him from striding out.
Although he wasn’t in complete agony, he knew if he had continued he would have done himself some real damage. Reluctantly, he was forced to pull out, meaning for the first time in 18 years of running, he had to come to terms with a DNF.
It was a double blow for BAC as Graeme was also down the for the Round the Rock 10k race in Portland the following weekend. Unfortunately, with his hamstring in a bad way, that also rules him out of that fixture as well.
Not realising that Graeme had pulled out, Rich spent the entire race expecting him to come up and overtake him at any point. As he reached the latter stages of the race he started thinking he must be having an absolute blinder to still be ahead of Graeme.
About four miles into the race Craig and Dave, who had started the race very steadily, caught up with Rich. The three of them ran together for the next two-to-three miles. They were trying to work out what they needed to do to ensure BAC got the win in the Dorset Road Race League. Craig figured at that point they’d probably done enough if things stayed the same.
At around the seventh mile, Sean Edwards caught up with the trio, making it a BAC four out on the road. Sean couldn’t score for Bournemouth AC though in the league since he had already scored points for his previous club of Lytchett Manor Striders.
As Sean began to push on and Craig and Dave went with him, Rich took the opportunity to ease off the throttle a bit and take in an energy gel. He was worried that he might blow up in the latter stages of the race in the punishing heat.
Unfortunately, Graeme wasn’t the only BAC member who was forced to abandon the race. Adrian Townsend had also bailed out about 4.5 miles in suffering from stomach issues. Back in April, Adrian pulled out of the London Marathon for the very same reasons.
For years now, Adrian has suffered from IBS. Usually it’s okay when he’s running but on the odd occasion it does become a problem, giving him bad stomach cramps. Sadly, this was one of those occasions and had to stop running and shuffle back to the car.
It was a blow for Adrian but he did at least know that he had an imminent holiday to look forward to that would include some epic running in the Alps, which was very excited about.
The last three miles of the race were predominantly uphill. The gradients weren’t super steep but they were just long and enough to slow the pace a bit and force you to call on the deeper levels of your energy reserves.
Spending the vast majority of the race on his own, Josh Cole cruised in to take 2nd place in a time of 1:17:33. Iain Trickett of Dorset Doddlers had run away with it, having built up a margin of almost four minutes over Josh to take the race win in a time of 1:13:43.
It was still a good strong run from Josh though and a decent time in such trying conditions. Amazingly, it was the third time Josh has finished as runner up in the Sturminster Newton Half Marathon. In 2016 he came 2nd to Robert Mann of Exeter Harriers, crossing the line in a time of 1:14:39.
The best time he’s recorded in the race was in 2014, when he came 2nd to BAC teammate Pete Thompson, finishing in a time of 1:14;14. That was a year when Bournemouth AC dominated the standings with Jon Sharkey and Simon Munro making it a 1,2,3,4 for BAC and Tag and Toby Chapman giving them six out of the first 7 finishers.
In fact, Bournemouth AC do have quite an illustrious history in the Stur Half, boasting the race winner for four years in a row from 2009 to 2012, with Steve Way winning it in 2012 and 2010, Stu Fox winning it in 2011 and Tag winning it in 2009. Then in 2007, Mark Hargreaves claimed victory.
In the latter half of the 1990’s, a Bournemouth AC member won it for five consecutive years with Duncan Hurdwell winning it in 1999, 1998 and 1996, Larry Austin in 1997 and Billy Nixon in 1995.
Not too many of those years would have seen as hot weather on race day as the 2018 edition did though and Stu Nicholas found it a real struggle to deal with the relentless sunshine. Having run two marathons on the same day the previous weekend as well, completing a Dorset Invader and Midnight Marathon double, Stu wasn’t feeling in tiptop condition when they jogged down to the start-line.
Managing to rally well though and dig deep, he still completed the course in an excellent time of 1:22:37, putting him in 9th place on the day. Considering his previous exertions and the hot conditions on the day, plus the hilly route which did slow him down towards the end, that was a very good run from Stu.
Overtaking a few more runners as they coasted through the latter stages of the race, Craig, Dave and Sean arrived on the finishing straight together. It was Craig who strode in to win the sprint finish, taking 10th place, with Sean in 11th and Dave in 12th. All three finished in a time of 1:23:12.
By the time he got onto the last long hill of the race, Rich had been running on his own for ages. In fact, since Sean, Craig and Dave had eased away, the only person he’d really seen was Mitchell Griffiths of Westbourne RC who was quite far up the road.
On the final climb, Matthew Brown of Littledown Harriers overtook Rich, going very strongly in the final stages. He then had a bit of tussle with Chris Heckford of Wimborne AC at the top of the hill before eventually relinquishing that position as well.
With his watch having been set to pace and distance, Rich had no idea what time he was on for as he approached the finish leading into the school fields. He knew though, judging by his mile pace that he was in for good time and probably a PB.
As he got on the finishing straight he was ecstatic to see the clock ticking down towards the 1 hour 25-minute mark. It was a tremendous run for Rich, crossing the line in a time of 1:25:16, which put him in 18th place overall.
As fifth scorer for the team in the Dorset Road Race League, Rich was really pleased with his run and was a two-minute improvement on his previous best set at the Bournemouth Marathon Festival last October.
The next BAC member to arrive at the finish was Jud Kirk. Jud has his eyes on the prize in the 60-64 category in the Dorset Road Race League and is actually leading the way in that competition after all the fixtures that have taken place thus far.
Nigel Haywood of Purbeck Runners is hot on the heels though and in the Stur Half, it was Nigel who came out on top, finishing in 52nd place in a time of 1:33:43. Jud hadn’t actually realised Nigel was ahead of him and when he crossed the line in 57th place with a time of 1:35:07, he assumed he’d taken top spot in the MV60 category.
That wasn’t the case though and it was the first race ever that Nigel had finished ahead of Jud. Jud was cursing his luck after the race finished as, had he known Nigel was ahead of him, he would have made more of an attempt to chase him down.
In the DRRL standings though, Jud still leads the 60-64 category, but it’s incredibly tight, with Jud on 199 and Nigel on 203 (lowest score wins). That means it’s all to play for in the next matchup at Round the Rock if Nigel has entered.
After having what he described as “a horror show” Ben Walliman crossed the line a time of 1:40:45, putting him in 78th place. It was all going okay for Ben after the first four miles but the wheels came off soon after that and he found the rest of the race a real struggle.
The uncompromising heat took its toll on him, as did the tough hills over the last few miles. Ben is certainly capable of better though, having clocked a time of 1:32:41 in the Stur Half back in 2015, as well as 1:30:07 at the Bournemouth Bay Half that same year. Sometimes as a runner though, you have those days where it just doesn’t quite click and this was one of them unfortunately for Ben.
The next BAC member over the line was Andrew Brookes, who came in 90th place registering a time of 1:43:41. Again, Andrew found it tough going on such a hot day and with so many undulations to contend with. It was about 6 minutes down on his time at the RunThrough Lee Valley Park VeloDrome Half Marathon that he’d run the previous weekend, so he is capable of quicker. Given the conditions and course profile, it was still a solid run from Andrew though.
Crossing the line in 114th position, Andy Gillespie crossed the line in a time of 1:50:44. It could be said that a half marathon is a bit too shorter distance for Andy as he much prefers his longer races, but it was a good training exercise in preparation for the Salisbury 5,4,3,2,1 event where he is set to take on the 50k Ultra Marathon this Sunday.
Completing his longest race for quite some time – and longest run in fact to be fair, at the ripe old age of 71, Ian Graham showed he’s still got it, crossing the line in a good, solid, sub-two-hour time.
Taking 162nd place with his effort of 1:59:05, Ian was 3rd MV70 over the line on the day, fending off tough competition from Roberto Panter of Egdon Heath Harriers, who came in shortly after with a time of exactly two hours.
Unfortunately, it was another fixture where the BAC ladies failed to get a team out, meaning they’ve now slipped down to fifth in the First Division table out of seven teams. Hopefully more ladies will be available in the remaining fixtures, otherwise the threat of relegation could be a looming large on the horizon.
The only lady who turned out at the Stur Half was Tamzin Petersen. Having not done many long runs recently and perhaps not having been training as regularly as she would have liked, Tamzin was treating the Stur Half as more of a training run than a race. She was hoping to use it to kickstart her journey back to her best form.
With the pressure off a bit, Tamzin ran the race in a fairly relaxed mode, stopping at each water station to ensure she remained well hydrated in the intense heat. She also found one aid station that was offering fizzy drinks, sweets and cakes so she stopped off there for a while to make the most of what they had on offer.
In spite of that, she still managed a sub-two-hour finish, reaching the line in a time of 1:59:35, which put her in 166th position overall. That made her 27th female on the day. Hopefully that will be a springboard for her to push on from as she prepares to take on the Round the Rock 10k this Sunday.
When the prizes were handed out at the end, Josh was given a massive brownie cake for coming 2nd overall. The BAC trio of Josh, Stu and Craig scooped some bottles of wine for taking 2nd place in the team competition behind the top three of Poole AC who were Brian Underwood (3rd in 1:18:11), Gareth Alan-Williams (4th in 1:18:53) and Chris Alborough (6th in 1:21:06).
In terms of the league positions for Men’s First Division, Bournemouth AC came out on top quite comfortably in the end, with the positions of Josh, Stu, Craig, Dave and Rich giving them 45 points. Poole AC took 2nd place in the fixture with their top five, including who came 6th, accumulating a total of 60 points. Again, the lowest score is the better in the DRRL.
With the day starting off with a worrying situation for Rich Brawn as stand-in captain, it had turned out to be a rip-roaring success in the end and he was very grateful to each member of the team who came out to battle the hellacious heat.
With the next fixture, the Round the Rock 10k in Portland, taking place this Sunday, Rich will be hoping the team will be able to carry that momentum through and can put in another strong performance and perhaps even seal another Dorset Road Race League victory.
The ladies also have a pretty strong line up of four for the Round the Rock race as well so hopefully they will be vying for top position as well and can give themselves something to build on for the remainder of the season.