Stu Nicholas starts his Spring Larmer Half Marathon race

Stu Nicholas was featuring in a very hilly Spring Larmer Half Marathon

If you’re a fan of going off the beaten track and immersing yourself in the natural world, with all its ups and downs, mud and mayhem, then the Spring Larmer could be the event for you. With a 20 Mile, a Marathon, a Half Marathon, a 10 Mile and a 7 Mile race on offer, plus Dog Friendly versions of the 10 Mile and 7 Mile races, there truly is something for everyone.

The Spring Larmer is a White Star Running event staged on the Wiltshire Downs, over Salisbury way. Based at Larmer Tree Gardens, it would have to go down as one of Britain’s poshest race venues. The most notable aspect about the Spring Larmer races is the ample hills. They are steep, long and very demanding!

In this year’s event, Stu Nicholas and Lea Lohk had entered the Half Marathon race and Graeme Miller was in action in the Dog-Friendly 10 Mile race along with his fast and faithful companion Chester. Graeme was coming off the back of a win in the Maverick Hampshire 17km race in which he ran with Chester and was still able to beat anyone else, including those who didn’t have a dog!

Also in action the previous weekend, Lea Lohk competed in the Hampshire League Cross Country race at Kings Park on the Saturday before taking on the Up on the Downs Half Marathon the following day.

She struggled a bit in the Upon the Downs Half Marathon with breathing difficulties which meant that it hadn’t gone quite as smoothly as she would have liked. Nevertheless, she had the intestinal fortitude to make it the end and lived to fight another day. She was hoping for better fortunes at the Spring Larmer.

Stu Nicholas’s only race so far this year had been the Ryde 10, which he finished 6th in a time of 58:12. That was a very hilly race though on a course like that, it was an excellent time. He’d been up to his old tricks at parkrun though, finishing 1st in seven out of his eight attempts thus far and taking 2nd in the other one.

There were basically three major climbs to contend with on the Half Marathon route. Stu took the race by the scruff of the neck though and soon found himself way out front on his own. The first climb started about a mile in. It was gradual at first and then steep at the beginning of the third mile.

Stu Nicholas leading the Larmer Half Marathon

Stu was straight into the lead and never looked back

One reaching the top of that climb at 2.7 miles, it was back down for a bit before climbing even higher for the next hill which stood at 735ft. That was 4.6 miles in. Then it was back down again before starting the next major climb, which would take him even higher. That one took him to 832ft before a long descent from 6.5 miles to around 8 miles.

It was so far so good for Stu and he was well out in front and looking strong with just one more major climb to go. That was when things started to go awry. Looking up at the hill that he was about to climb, he wasn’t watching his footing which resulted in him tripping over. It wasn’t a particularly elegant fall but since he was so far ahead, there was no one else around to see it! That was one of the blessings of being so fast!

No real damage was done though. Just a minor scrape to the elbow and he was soon back up and scaling the hill which was strewn with sheep. Stu must have taken an unusual route though because he seemed to bypass all the directional markers. He was expecting to see one on the farmer’s fence at the top of the hill but there was nothing so he took a punt and went right.

Seeing some other runners and an aid station that he’d already been through confirmed that he have taken a left, so he ended up backtracking to get back onto the correct route. That mishap probably added another kilometre to his run but he was so far out in front that it didn’t matter anyway.

Stu Nicholas in the Larmer Half Marathon

Despite the humungous hills, Stu was still hitting a good pace per mile

Hitting a very good pace as he traversed back down the hill, Stu now had just two more miles left. They contained a couple of smaller inclines but nothing he couldn’t handle. Crossing the line in 1 hour 40 minutes and 16 seconds, it was an emphatic win for Stu. In fact, his nearest challenger, Daniel Baldwin of Southville Running Club didn’t arrive for another eight and a half minutes!

With an average pace of 7:02 despite the 1,850ft of elevation, it was no surprise that Stu dominated proceedings with that kind of performance. Daniel Baldwin’s time was 1:48:43. Then it was James Filkins sealing 3rd in 1:50:56. Westbourne man Kevin Drayson was 4th in 1:51:44. Gemma Russhard finished as first female in a time of 1:56:18 which put her in 8th place overall.

Judith Vlaarkamp of Lytchett Manor Striders was 2nd lady, getting round in 2:02:10 which put her in 13th place overall. She was just ahead of Lucy Wells who was the next person over the line in 2:02:23.

Stu’s wife Anna also took part in the Half Marathon race, clocking a time of 2:13:59 which put her in 33rd place overall, 8th placed female and 2nd in the 35-39 category.

Stu and Anna after the Spring Larmer Half Marathon

Stu and his wife Anna both completed the Half Marathon race

Although the hills were insanely high, Lea Lohk enjoyed the spectacular views that came with them and that was the real charm of this run. Even if you couldn’t run it well, you could still appreciate the splendour of the scenery.

Completing the course in 2 hours 34 minutes, Lea finished 81st overall out of 180 participants. That put her 1st in the Female 60-64 category so it was another good age category win for Lea.

Lea Lohk in the Larmer Half Marathon

Lea found the climbs tough going but it was worth it for the sensational views

It was an interesting start to the Dog Friendly 10 Mile race that Graeme Miller was competing in with his dog Chester. There were lots of dogs barking at each other the owner’s were often having to hold them back with all their might so they didn’t race off for a false start.

Once the race got underway though, it was strictly down to business and Graeme and Chester weren’t looking to ease their way into it. They wanted the win! Going through the first mile in 5:33, it was a lightening quick start from Graeme, although that was mostly downhill. He then followed it up with a 6:08 second mile though, even though that was on an incline.

The Dog Friendly Larmer 10 race gets underway

Graeme Miller prepares to get his Dog Friendly 10 Mile race underway

The steep part of the climb was undertaken in the third mile. Graeme stayed strong though and was still under 7 minutes per mile. Graeme was battling it out for the lead with Bobby Jackson and they were quite evenly matched. They were way ahead of anyone else so it was a two-horse race for the win, or should that be two dogs – and two men?

It was a valiant effort from Graeme and Chester but in the end it was Bobby Jackson and his dog who came out on top, clocking a time of 1:07:24. Graeme and Chester arrived 17 seconds later to take 2nd place in 1:07:41.

Graeme’s average pace for the run was 6:49 which was impressive given that there was 1,100ft of elevation to tackle. This is Graeme’s first season doing Canicross with Chester though and it’s still very much a learning process. He’s really enjoying it though.

Graeme Miller and Chester in the Dog Friendly 10 Mile race

Graeme and Chester had already shown they had great pedigree in the Maverick race the previous weekend

Arriving at the finish four minutes after Graeme, Robert Henderson finished 3rd in 1:11:43. Jo Scott was first female and 5th overall in 1:22:59.

68 runners took part in the Dog Friendly 10 Mile race and a further 60 in the 7 Mile race, underlining how popular canicross races are becoming.

Sam Pociecha won the Dog Friendly 7 Mile race in 45:58 with  Ellie Monks taking 2nd place overall and 1st female in 47:04. They were quicker than anyone who the standard 7 Mile race. That was won by David Wood of Poole Runners in 48:32 ahead of Peter Newman of Andover AC was took 2nd in 49:29. Poole Runners had three out of the top four runners in that one.

No one in the standard 10 Mile race was as quick as Graeme and Chester, with Lee Thomas emerging victorious in a time of 1:08:53. Littledown Harriers has nine of first 11 runners in that race.

Ed Knudsen won the 20 Mile race emphatically, recording an excellent time of 2:09:35. That would be good in any 10 Mile race but on that particular course, it’s out of this world.

Anna Patrickson of City of Salisbury was next to come in but she arrived 46 minutes later in a time of 2:55:39.

Morgan Curry of Taunton AC spiced things up in the Marathon, getting round in 3:44:26. That was too hot for anyone else to handle, with Peter Grandon having to swallow 2nd place in 3:49:22.

Graeme Miller and Chester after the Dog Friendly Larmer 10

Graeme and Chester took 2nd place in the Dog Friendly 10 Mile race

Graeme and Chester were set to be back in action the weekend after in a Canicross 10k race at Hinton Admiral, making it three races in three consecutive weeks.

The week following the Spring Larmer, Lea was jetting off to the Algarve for a running training camp. No doubt the weather would be much warmer for her there than it is here.

Stu was viewing the Larmer Half Marathon as part of his preparations for the Giants Head Marathon which takes place in June. He’ll be battling a huge amount of elevation in that one but on the strength of his Spring Larmer performance, he should have no troubles. Providing he goes the right way of course and watches where he’s going!