It was a proud day for Bournemouth AC as two club members had been selected to represent their country in the Anglo Celtic Plate which was held at Redwick in South East Wales on Saturday over the Easter break.
Both Anthony Clark and Jez Bragg were pulling on an England vest for the British 100k Championships race and they weren’t there just to make the numbers up. They were aiming to be serious contenders for the title. And what’s more , their fellow BAC teammate Steve Way was also there, running in the 50k race.
It was Anthony’s third year in a row competing at the Anglo Celtic Plate. Last year he took home a silver medal, completing the distance in a phenomenal time of 7 hours and 4 minutes. This was 27th best 100k performance of all time by a British runner.
However, the question was, could he improve on that this time round? And more importantly, could he go one better and claim the title? It was always going to be a tough task, with so many top international athletes vying honours, but it was one that he was ready for and one he was really relishing.
Joining him this year in England colours was his club teammate Jez Bragg. Jez has has history with the Anglo Celtic Plate, winning the event back in 2009 with an incredible time of 6 hours 58 minutes. Finishing 100k in under 7 hours is the ultimate dream for any ultra runner but it is extremely difficult to achieve. That time put Jez 21st in the list of all time British performances.
Both Ant and Jez had blitzed through some monstrous training over the past few months to get into the best shape they possibly could for the race. The lead to a few 90 to 100 mile weeks for Jez and some weeks approaching 120 miles for Ant.
Unfortunately for Jez though, it was not going to be his day. With just 24 hours to go before the race, he came down with a nasty stomach bug. This meant he was confined to bed throughout the Friday afternoon and he was unable to eat. It was far from the ideal preparation when you’ve got a 100k run to do the next day.
On the Saturday morning, it was a huge effort for Jez just to get out of the hotel room and make it to the start line. Despite the horrendous state he was in, he felt like he had to at least give it a go. He figured the feeling of pulling out wouldn’t be as bad as the niggling question in the back of his mind of could he perhaps still have mustered up a strong enough run.
Incredibly, Jez still managed to run 23 and a half miles and was actually only slightly below his intended race pace as well, despite visits to the bushes every couple of miles. He was running on an empty tank though and in the end it took its toll and he was forced to pull out.
Unfortunately there is no hiding place in a 100k race and there’s no way you can just wing it. You have to be at your best in terms of fitness, which Jez was, but you also need the same when it comes to your health. That is what Jez didn’t have on his side.
At least he gave it a go though and that’s more than anyone could have asked when an athlete is in that kind of state. Obviously he was gutted to have to step off the course whilst representing his country, especially after he’d put in so much hard training to get into peak condition. It goes to show though, no matter what preparation you do and how well you are performing, there are simply no guarantees with running. Anything could happen on the day.
Ant Clark was desperately hoping all would go smoothly for him as he looked to go one better than his silver medal winning performance of last year by taking top spot. Of course, it was going to be an extremely tough challenge defeating so many international class athletes. Ant was in great shape though and had certainly put the hard graft in with his training.
From the outset, it was Ant and Scotland’s Rob Turner who were leading the way. Ant reached the 50k half way point in a time of 3 hours 26 minutes and 17 seconds, with Rob just 2 seconds behind. It looked like it could well be a two horse race, but there was still a very long way to go so anything could happen. Between the pair of them though at least, the race was on!
As the race went on, Ant and Rob exchanged positions a number of times provoking a real buzz of excitement amongst the spectators. The pair were never too far away from each other though and it began to look like it could go down to the wire.
Eventually, Ant managed to edge away slightly, building up a lead of just over a minute. He knew though, despite the advantage he had, he could not afford to let up one tiny bit and simply had to keep pushing.
On the 49th mile, Ant had a twinge in his hamstring and as he continued, it began to cause him problems. The pain was manageable but it meant that he couldn’t stretch his leg out fully, resulting in a slight drop in pace.
Seizing his opportunity, Rob began to claw the gap back and on mile 51 to 52, he made the decisive move, passing Ant and powering on to take control of the race.
This was a huge psychological blow to Ant and, at that point, he actually thought about giving up. Then he looked up the road and saw that Rob had actually stopped. It appeared he was suffering from a bit of cramp.
That raised an alarm bell for Ant. All was not lost. In a 100k race, anything can happen. Even if he couldn’t catch Rob, there were no guarantees that Rob was going to finish even. He knew he had to bit the bullet and soldier on.
He managed to hold firm after that but was around 30 seconds off his planned pace. The course was a flat, 2 mile road loop, so the 100k distance meant going round 32 times.
As he reached the start of the final lap, he heard a voice projecting out of crowd. It was Steve Way, telling him to go for it and give it everything he’s got. At this point, Ant thought what the hell, there’s nothing to lose now, so he cranked the pace up and tried to catch Rob.
Over the course of the lap he managed to make up 40 seconds on Rob and gap had reduced significantly. Despite somehow finding the energy to tear through the last mile at 5:25 pace. With 400 metres to go, there was just 20 seconds between the pair making for an extremely exciting finale.
Unfortunately for Ant though, he just ran out of road and Rob finished in a winning time of 7 hours and 30 seconds. Ant crossed the line just 7 seconds later. Although he was slightly gutted not to have come out on top, he had to be proud of his new PB, which eclipsed his time the previous year by 3 and a half minutes.
It was frustrating for Ant as well as he was so close to a sub 7 hour finish but it wasn’t to be. If everything had gone a hundred per cent smoothly, perhaps he would have done it, but to get through a 100k race without any hitches would be incredibly fortuitous, it has to be said.
It was a fantastic dual though between Ant and Rob and made for some intense and and nail biting viewing for the watching crowds. Ant had certainly done himself, his club and his country proud and to secure another British Championships silver medal was a huge achievement.
Meanwhile, in the 50k race that Steve Way took part in, there was actually only three people doing it, including Steve. They set off at the same time as all the 100k runners but knew that instead of 32 laps, they only had to do 16.
Well, I say only 16, but that’s still almost 32 miles, which isn’t a piece of cake by any stretch of the imagination. Steve was viewing it as a training run though as he continues to knock out the 120 mile weeks and build his fitness up in preparation for the Comrades Marathon in June.
The Comrades Marathon is a 90km “Down run” route starting in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa and finishing in Durban. All Steve’s runs from January until then are with that in mind.
This year Steve will be looking to improve on his 9th placed finish last time out, when he completed the “Up run” course in 5 hours 49 minutes. It alternates between “Up” and “Down” each year.
Steve’s training has been going well recently, as was highlighted by his recent victory in the Bournemouth 10 mile race, where he fended off competition from BAC teammates Rob McTaggart and Josh Cole.
As far as the 50k at the Anglo Celtic Plate goes, Steve’s plan was to complete the race in under 3 hours – and to do so without killing himself in the process. He succeeded on both counts, reaching the 50k distance in a very impressive 2 hours 58 minutes and 3 seconds.
Within that run, Steve was particularly pleased to have posted a 2:29:50 for his marathon split, so it was a very good performance indeed from him. His average pace for the 50k was a remarkable 5 minutes 41 seconds and his splits during the run were extremely consistent, never going above 5:47 after the first couple of miles.
The fact he was able to do a 20 mile trail run the next day demonstrated just how good a shape he is in at the moment and bodes very well for his big target race in a couple of months time. He joked that he might even book his flight to South Africa soon if things continue in the same vain.
After he’d finished his race, Steve stayed behind to cheer Ant on for the remainder of his run and by the sounds of it, his support had a very positive impact on Ant, especially in his final lap. Another BAC member, Pat Robbins was also present, crewing for Jez and Gemma Bragg was of course also there to support her husband as he battled on in difficult circumstances.
In the aftermath of the Anglo Celtic Plate, the question for Ant will be, does he go back again for the third year running and this time, secure that elusive sub 7 hour time and who knows, perhaps take home a gold medal next time. We’ll allow him a bit of recovery time before he commits to that!
As for Jez, he’s now on the look out for another 100k race to take his frustrations out on. If he manages to find one, his contemporaries will certainly have a real battle on their hands. After such a hard few months of training in the lead up to the Anglo Celtic Plate, it’s only natural that he would want it to culminate in a race of some sort.
And for Steve, his record of the best British 100k of all time is still well and truly in tact. That performance was registered in 2014, when his time of 6 hours 19 minutes and 20 seconds propelled him to the top of list. And to be fair, that time has looked pretty untouchable ever since.