It is always a special moment for Bournemouth AC when the club sees one of its members representing the country at international level. It’s something that has only happened on a handful of occasions in the past.
There was that time when Steve Way famously represented England at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. That was after he shocked everyone by appearing out of nowhere to break the qualifying time in the London Marathon.
Then there’s Pat Robbins, who has represented Great Britain in the 24-Hour World Championships and European Championships. Ross Smith has represented Great Britain on numerous occasions in major Cross Duathlon events and is set to compete in the European Championships this October.
Both Anthony Clark and Jez Bragg have represented England multiple times in the Anglo Celtic Plate, the UK Championships for 100k, as did Jon Sharkey in 2015.
When the selections for the IAU 100k World Championships were announced, it was exciting to see two Bournemouth AC names among those selected in the Great Britain team. Both Ant Clark and Steve Way had been picked.
Ant earned his selection after finishing in 2nd place at the Anglo Celtic Plate, losing out on victory by the smallest of margins. Frustratingly he was also only 38 seconds away from a sub-7-hour time, which is considered to be the ultimate target for a 100k race.
Steve earned his place off the back of a stunning performance at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, where he secured a sensational podium position, finishing 3rd with a time of 5 hours 35 minutes and 26 seconds. That was a mightily impressive effort, even by his high standards, for a distance that was just over 90 kilometres.
As soon as he got the call, Ant set about making plans for an intense and rigorous training routine that could help prepare him to mix it with the world’s elite.
Steve had every intention of doing the same thing but unfortunately picked up a calf injury that prevented him from getting out and running. At that time he was doing most of his cardio on the cross trainer in a bid to try and maintain his fitness.
On the morning of the Sturminster Newton Half Marathon, Steve went out for a long training run, which he was hoping would incorporate the race as well.
Unfortunately he never made it that far and was forced to call his wife Sarah and ask her to pick him up after the injury flared up. He knew then that his hopes of making the World Championships were over.
As for Ant, he wasn’t satisfied just to be picked to run for Team GB. He was determined to work hard and get himself in the best shape possible the race. He wanted to measure up against the best in the world.
His training schedule included a block of four consecutive 120 mile weeks and in his last big week before tapering he packed in 127 miles.
It wasn’t just the long runs he was doing. It was also high intensity interval sessions often consisting of 1k efforts. He was often seen at Poole parkrun running round the course several times, sometimes still ending up as first finisher on the round where everyone else does it.
He was training like a machine but yet the most human kind of machine you could get, always willing to stop and talk to people before he set of on his next run. And he was always doing it with a smile on his face, despite how hard he was obviously working.
Never once did he complain about the huge workload he was taking on, or moan about being tired or having any niggling injuries. He just got on with it and continued to push through, regardless of the stresses and strains he was putting on his body.
He even went on a low calorie diet whilst training in a bid to get himself in as leaner physical condition as he could. As he progressed with his training plan, he began to look stronger and stronger and appeared more and more shredded.
In the week leading up to the race he went through a carb depletion process for the first three days of the week where he consumed no carbs at all before entering the loading phase for next few days.
When it came to the big showdown, Ant was in the best shape of his life and was absolutely raring to go as he boarded his flight to Croatia, where the 2018 World 100k Championships would be taking place.
There was a real buzz of excitement as he met up with his Great Britain teammates for the event and it was an emotional moment for Ant when he participated in the opening ceremony. That really brought home what it means to be representing your country on the world stage.
When the day of the race arrived though, it was strictly down to business for Ant and he was looking for a big performance. The course consisted of a 2.5km loop to start off with. That would then be followed by 13 laps of 7.5km.
Making a solid start, he reached the 10k point in 40 minutes 34 seconds, putting him in 29th place. Being able to do this same distance another nine times, at that same pace, was a tough ask but one thing was for sure and that was that Ant would give it his absolute best.
Reaching the 25km point in 1 hour 41 minutes, with a quarter of the race down, it looked like a sub-7-hour finish would be a real possibility for Ant. Of course, it was still a long way to go yet and maintaining the pace for the duration was always going to be difficult.
Ant continued banging out the laps with tremendous consistency, never faltering and never wavering until, after completing his 8th lap, he reached the 55km point. By this time he’d climbed up to 20th place in the standings and was gradually working his way up the field as the laps went by.
By the time he’d completed his 9th lap he’d taken a couple more places, putting him in 18th with a total time thus far of 4 hours 11 minutes and 29 seconds. This was at the 62.5km point.
Others were beginning to fade and tire but Ant stayed strong, consistently knocking out each lap in around 30 minutes. It was a truly amazing show of endurance. At the end of the 10th lap he was up to 16th place, having now completed 70km in a time of 4:41:46.
After his 11th lap, Ant had risen to 13th place on the leaderboard, reaching the 77.5km mark in 5 hours 12 minutes. It wasn’t that Ant was speeding up when overtaking his competitors. It was more a case of, they were slowing down, and he was keeping his lap times consistent despite having run such a long way.
Once lap 12 was complete, he’d moved up to a staggering 8th place. He was now in the top 10 of the World Championships. This would be a truly phenomenal feat if he could see it through. He’d now completed 85km in a time of 5:42:39, meaning he had just 15km left to go.
Running his penultimate lap in 30 minutes and 32 seconds, he’d once again nailed another consistent lap, bringing him to 92.5km, leaving just one 7.5km lap to go. He was now at 6 hours 13 minutes, meaning if he could manage another lap of roughly 30 minutes, he would be comfortably inside 7 hours.
It was all beginning to get very real for Ant. This was it. It was the performance of his life. He had exceeded all expectations. Of course, he didn’t let the ecstasy he must have been feeling inside impact him on his last lap and refused to allow any slackening of the pace, completing the final 7.5km in 30 minutes 11 seconds.
He grabbed a Union Jack flag as he approached the home straight, holding it aloft as he went over the finish line. It was a very proud moment for Anthony, as was it for his dad who was in the crowd supporting.
As he reached the line, despite having run 100km, he somehow managed to find the energy to jump for joy, thus creating an iconic image that will live long in the memory for Ant and anyone who knows him.
Not only had he taken 8th place in the 100k World Championships, he was first M40 over the line, making him officially the M40 World Champion. He was also the top Brit and the 2nd European to come in, after Giorgio Calcaterra of Italy, who was 7th.
It was a history making performance from Ant and he’d got his name well and truly etched in the record books. His finishing time of 6 hours 43 minutes and 22 seconds landed him 7th on the list of the best 100k runs of all-time from a British athlete. That’s the very same list that is topped by a certain Steve Way.
His average pace for the full 100k was a staggering 6 minutes and 25 seconds per mile. Imagine running that for 62.72 miles without slowing down one iota for the entire duration. It was a simply phenomenal run and his mile splits for the activity on Strava illustrate just how impressive it was.
Ant finished just ahead of Fritjof Fagerlund, the Swede who often does the Comrades Marathon, running for the same Nedbank team as Steve Way. In fact, in the 2017 race, Fagerlund finished one place behind Steve when they were 9th and 10th.
At the front of the field an enthralling end to the race had ensued when Comrades 2018 winner Bongmusa Mthembu, who had been leading since the half way point, began to run out of steam. With around 10k left, last year’s champion Hideaki Yamauchi took the lead.
Yamauchi went on to take a dramatic victory, crossing the line in a time of 6 hours 28 minutes. His Japanese compatriot Takehiko Gyoba was 2nd in 6:32:51, with Mtehmbu holding on for 3rd place in 6:33:47. Koji Hayasaka made it three Japanese athletes in the top four when he arrived at the finish in a time of 6:36:05.
Next there were four men all within the space of a minute, with Geoff Burns of the USA and Nao Kazami of Japan finishing neck-and-neck in 6:42:30. Burns took 5th place with Kazami in 6th. Then it was Calcaterra in 7th with a time of 6:42:35 and Ant, of course, in 8th with his time of 6:43.22.
For Ant, the feeling of elation was immeasurable. He could scarcely believe what he had achieved. To be the 8th best 100k runner in the world was a tremendous accolade. To be M40 World Champion was unreal. To be the top Brit and 7th best of all time was simply mind-blowing. He just couldn’t get his head around it.
Ant’s success in this event will no doubt inspire many other Dorset-based runners to strive to go on to achieve big things. Such is his gravitas and popularity within the running community, everyone in the area was buzzing about his performance.
When you meet Ant he comes across as a very warm and friendly guy. He’s always approachable and looking to share a laugh and joke with others. But inside him there is a steely determination to want to do well. A yearning to push himself to be the very best that he can be.
That’s a lesson to all of us really. Having the talent in the first place is one thing but having the application to go out there and maximise your potential is quite another. It takes hard work, dedication and sacrifice but, as Ant will testify, when you achieve that goal and realise that dream, the reward at the end makes it all worthwhile.