The restrictions placed upon all of our lives during the Covid-19 pandemic have made it very difficult for running events of any description to be held, with mass-gatherings generally discouraged and social distancing and safety at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
That has forced event organisers to really think outside the box when formulating plans for how they can successfully stage races and ensure the participants and volunteers can operate in a safe environment and that the risk of virus transmission is kept to a minimum.
The New Forest Marathon and Community Fund Team went above and beyond to ensure that the New Forest Marathon event went ahead and that runners had at least some form of racing they could go out and enjoy that would give them that adrenaline buzz they’ve been craving for so long.
The constant changing of government policies in regard to what people can and can’t do prevented enormous challenges, even forcing a late change of venue for the event which is usually held at Brockenhurst in the New Forest.
For this year’s edition though, they switched to the wide open space of the St Giles Estate in Wimborne, giving the runners and volunteer teams the perfect opportunity to compete or coordinate in safe and secure surroundings.
The event featured a Marathon, a Half Marathon, a 10k and a 5k race and also gave runners the opportunity to compete virtually, on a course of their choosing should they wish to do so. There were Bournemouth AC members taking part in each of the four distances and they couldn’t wait to dust off their trail shoes and get back out there for some real race action.
Only three of them were brave enough to tackle the full Marathon distance though and they were Heather Khoshnevis, Wayne Walford Jelks and Louise Broderick. Richard Brawn, Estelle Slatford, Ken Parradine and Jasper Todd were giving the Half Marathon a go, along with Kirsty O’Callaghan who has just recently joined the BAC training group and her partner Ed Malcolm.
Going for a New Forest Marathon weekend double-header, Rob McTaggart was looking to battle for supremacy in both the 5k on Saturday and the 10k on Sunday. Alex Goulding was also competing in the 10k race and a trio of budding BAC junior stars were in the line up for the 5k on the Saturday morning. They were Oscar Ewen Matthews, Emily Coltman and Erin Wells.
The New Forest Marathon event is sponsored by Garmin, meaning the prizes for winning any of the races included a nice new watch. That was enough of a temptation for Rob McTaggart to throw his hat in the ring. Looking the times from the previous year, he thought he’d be in a with a pretty good chance of a lucrative return on his entry fee.
Just nearing the end of a decent block of marathon training as well, Tag was in top form. He’d been working towards an appearance at the Wrexham Marathon which had been set up for any athlete capable of running a sub 2:40 marathon. It now looks like that race may not be going ahead but he has Dorney Lake as a backup plan so could find himself in action there instead.
For the 5k race at the New Forest though, Tag got round in 17:35 which was enough to see him comfortably pick up the win. Although that wouldn’t be a fast time for him in an ordinary 5k, given the terrain and the hilly nature of the course, that was actually a strong performance.
The next quickest was Ian Howard who’s time was 1-and-a-half minutes down on Tag’s effort. He came in at 19:05.
Oscar Ewen Matthews made it two BAC members in the top three when he recorded a time of 19:22, so that was an excellent result for him. Erin Wells posted another magnificent time to come in as first female and make it three BAC members in the top five.
She completed the course in a time of 19:53 which, considering she’s in the Under 15 age bracket is incredibly impressive. Her cross-country endeavours from last season may well have made her more adept to handle the rigours of a tough off-road course.
Erin competed in the South-West Inter Counties, the Southern and the National Cross Country Championships toward the beginning of the year, as well as all the Hampshire and Wessex League fixtures. And what’s more, she excelled in all of the above.
Also in the Under 15 age bracket, Emily Coltman ran well as well, getting round the course in a time of 22:02. That was enough to give her 12th place in the overall standings and she was third placed female, just behind New Forest Junior Annabel White.
That was a terrific result for Emily in a race where she was facing predominantly adults of all age groups in amongst the 69 participants who successfully completed the 5k route.
Marathons often seem to conjure up a heroic tale or an inspiring story amongst the competitors with many raising money for good causes or looking to challenge themselves to achieve a certain goal.
Having set herself the challenge to train for and run a marathon over the lockdown period, Louise Broderick was all set to give it her best shot in the New Forest Marathon.
She was also raising money for Mind, the mental health charity, which was a cause she found to be very close to heart. In fact, it was the getting out and exercising aspect that she found most helps her with her own emotional, physical and mental wellbeing and she always looks to encourage and inspire others to do the same.
After seeing the huge response she’d had in terms of sponsorship and well-wishers, Louise was determined to do them all proud – and that’s exactly what she did.
Despite the constant ups and downs and testing terrain underfoot, Louise absolutely smashed it, getting round the grueling two lap course in a mightily impressive time of 3 hours 55 minutes and 26 seconds.
That saw her finish up as the 9th fastest woman out of 119 and put her in 74th position overall in a field of 409. She was also 6th out of 33 in the F40 category. It was a result that even she herself was amazed by.
Then, after completing the race, when she found out she’d raised over £1,000 for Mind, she was overwhelmed. She’d never imagined she’d attract anything close to that amount and it made the pain that she went through and the loss of a few toenails all the more worthwhile.
She’s now contemplating doing a road marathon once everything is back to normal and supporters are allowed out to watch, just for the experience. Judging by her effort on the St Giles Estate course, she’ll do pretty well in that if she does get the opportunity.
As a bit more of a seasoned marathon connoisseur, it seemed a long time to Heather Khoshnevis since she’d run her last marathon, six months ago, so she was glad to be back out racing and putting her endurance to the test again.
Seeing herself as more of a road runner though, despite enjoying some lovely trail runs of the summer, Heather wasn’t really ready for 26.3 miles of rough!!
The course at the original venue was 50/50 between road and trail, so that would have suited her better since she fines the rugged paths tough to contend with.
Feeling that she’d perhaps been a little over complacent about her endurance and not having put in enough longer training runs, she began to get into difficulty at around 18 miles.
She had been going very well up till that point at a pace of 3:40 per kilometer. Then it all fell apart somewhat from there. It is difficult though returning to something you previously took for granted.
That said, Heather soldiered on well and managed to grind out the remaining miles to finish in a time of 4:06:29. That was enough to see her pick up the F60 category win and place 13th woman. She was 113th in the overall standings.
That was still a decent result for Heather even though she may have felt it wasn’t the vintage display she’s become accustomed to. Nevertheless, it was good to put some mileage and marathon muscle memory back into the legs before she takes on the Isle of Wight Marathon in just over a week’s time.
People take part in marathons for all kinds of different reasons though. For Wayne Walford Jelks, his main goal at the moment is just to shift some timber and he knew this was a race that could certainly help him in that respect.
Driving buses and coaches for a living and the unhealthy eating habits that come with it have caused Wayne to put on a few extra pounds but running could well be the catalyst to help him get back in shape again, as it has been for so many.
Managing to stay in his fat burning zone throughout the entire run, Wayne completed the tough two lap route in a time of 5:53:54. That put him in 383rd place overall.
Ty Farrer of Huntingdonshire AC picked up the win in the Marathon race, getting round a tremendous time of 2:46:38. Only four men finished in under three hours which goes to show how hard it actually was.
Sunday’s proceedings began with the 10k race which saw Tag return to the St Giles Estate, already with one victory in the bag. Could he repeat those heroics a second day running though?
Opting for a tactical start, Tag let many of the other runners in the wave go before him, knowing he’d then have the incentive of having other athletes to chase as he worked his way round the course.
He did actually end up overtaking all the runners except one. The one he wasn’t able to catch was the man who emerged with the fastest time of all. That was Nick Harris-Fry of Orion Harriers. He got round in a phenomenal time of 35 minutes 40 seconds.
That meant Tag had to settle for second place on this occasion, finishing in a still impressive time of 36:35. It may not quite have been what he was hoping for but still, a win and a second place wasn’t a bad return for the weekend.
The other Bournemouth AC member in the race was Alex Goulding and he finished in third place, getting round in a time of 38:38.
Alex had been hoping for a bit more tarmac but there was none of that. The whole route was trail but there was quite a lot of variation in the terrain which kept things interesting at least.
Having looked at the course map beforehand, Alex was expecting the route to be quite flat but of course, looking at a 2D map you don’t really get much of a sense of the elevation you’ll be facing. Thus, it turned out to be very undulating which made it difficult to keep the tempo high.
Much like Tag, Alex wasn’t really a fan of the new format of racing. Usually he relies on other competitors around him to help him work out what sort of pace he should be going at. In this case though, he didn’t have that.
Many of the runners who had started before him were much slower than he was so he couldn’t get a gage on how fast he should be running in comparison to them. He just had to look at his watch and try to find the right pace that he’d be able to sustain for the duration and with so many hills on the route, that wasn’t easy. In fact, quite often he found he was going too slowly and needed to speed up.
It was also difficult to find which was the best path to run on. There were often three tracks where you could choose between the indented left-hand side, the right-hand side which had loose stones, or the raised bank in the middle.
Overall, Alex felt he did okay, although it would have been nice to have gone a bit faster. The terrain was just too tough though. When he reached the line, he was pleased to have got to the end.
Later on that day it was the turn of the Half Marathon runners to shine. That gave Rich Brawn and Estelle Slatford the chance to take centre stage. The star of the show though, was undoubtedly the rawest talent of them all in Jasper Todd.
Even though he’s in the Under 17 age bracket, Jasper is fast proving that he can mix it with the best of them and this half marathon would be a great opportunity for him to showcase what he can do on the big stage.
Once the race start was announced, Rich made his way over to the start area with Kirsty O’Callaghan and Ed Malcolm. Each runner was set off on their own using a traffic light system where once it turned from red to green, they were good to go.
Looking to use the Half Marathon as a training run for his impending Dorney Lake Marathon, Rich was hoping to string a good sequence of miles together at marathon pace.
Having not been running at full capacity over the lockdown period, Kirsty knew she wouldn’t be anywhere near her top form but she was excited to get that racing buzz again and also to gage where her fitness was at.
As for Ed, he made an impromptu entry on the day so hadn’t even known he was going to be running it. Since he was there with Kirsty anyway though, he thought why not give it a go.
The course started on a long, slight uphill curve and it soon became evident to Rich that he wouldn’t easily be running every mile at marathon pace. He just about managed it for the first couple of miles but then hit a very steep incline on the third mile.
On the way up the hill, Jasper had pulled up alongside Rich and Rich asked him what sort of time he was looking to do. Jasper said around 1 hour 23 minutes, which would have been extremely impressive on a course like that.
Jasper went on looking very strong and Rich hung back, conscious that it was more of a training run that a race for him and ensuring he wasn’t expending too much energy as he progressed.
On the sixth mile, Rich was caught up by his mate Neil Sexton who represents Poole Runners and Vegan Runners. The pair had often ran together in previous road race league fixtures and they decided to adopt that same strategy in this race.
They chatted as they went along throughout the remainder of the race but were still keeping to a decent pace given the ups and downs and energy sapping gravelly paths they were often running on.
Eventually they reached the long, grassy straight where they could see the inflatable finish line in the distance. It was still quite a long way away though.
They had a Fareham Crusader just in front of them and did consider putting in a sprint finish to try to catch him up. Since they’d all been set off at different times though, it probably would have been pointless as they still may not have finished ahead of him in the final standings.
Crossing the line together, Rich finished in a time that he’d recorded as just under 1 hour 27 minutes but it was given as 1:27:11 on chip time. That put him in 11th place overall and second to Sam Davis in the M30 category.
Since he’d run much faster than Rich over the first five miles, Neil had completed the course in a time of 1:25:13 which put him in 8th place in the standings.
Before they’d arrived at the finish though, Jasper had continued on his way in a very strong and solid fashion. Despite the tough and varied terrain, he’d managed to power through with extraordinary aplomb.
His earlier prediction of 1 hour 23 minutes turned out to be bang on and he concluded his race in a chip time of 1:23:01. That was enough to see him take third place in the overall standings. It really was a magnificent run from Jasper and outlined the huge potential he has for future road races.
Having been in the lead for virtually the whole race, Charlie Palmer of Bedford & County AC thought he was cruising towards victory. But he hadn’t realised that behind him, Andrew Siggers of Kenilworth Runners was actually going quicker.
In the end Andrew managed to catch up and sweep straight past Charlie so he knew at the point he’d been relegated to second place. It did kind of highlight the possibility though that in this format of racing, you could actually be the first finisher and think that you’ve won the race but yet still not be winner if someone that started much later had got round in a quicker time.
Andrew’s winning time was 1:19:12, with Charlie having to settle for the runner up spot with his time of 1:20:02.
Kirsty posted time of 1:55:09 which was way down on what she’d be capable of producing at her best. Having not raced for such a long time though and on such a difficult course, it was a decent effort from her.
She was 18th placed woman out of 219 and 5th in the F20 category. Overall she was 127th quickest out of the 551 who participated.
As for Ed, he wasn’t too far behind, coming in with a time of 2:08:48 which put him in 258th place overall and 3rd in the Senior Men’s category which was for anyone in between 20 and 30. Considering it was a spur of the moment decision for him to enter, that was a pretty satisfying result.
Finding the course very challenging, Estelle finished up with a time of 2:08:34, which was her slowest ever half marathon time. She didn’t care though really. She was just pleased to be back out there and to have a proper organised race to take part in. That was the most important milestone of all on the day.
She was 54th placed woman in the race and was 17th out of 72 in the F40 category. In the overall standings she finished up in 255th position.
Despite the grueling nature of the course, Ken Parradine wasn’t going to be stopped in his tracks and he made it round successfully, posting a time of 2:23:58. That saw him take 5th place in the M65 category and 373rd position overall.
Once again it was nice to see a running event going ahead with no hitches and with everyone doing what they could to make it as safe an environment as it conceivably could be.
The organisation from the New Forest Marathon team was impeccable and they can certainly hold their heads up high after this weekend, knowing it was a job well done.