Early 2016 I completed couch to 5k and promptly stopped running being confident that I was not ‘built’ for running and that it was not something I could ever enjoy.
Fast forward to 2017 and I decided to mark my 40th year by ‘ enduring’ the St Michaels 10k race – ie do something I have no natural ability for, in front of people that I am likely to know. Bizarrely as I made this decision a few friends pointed me at the 10 weeks SMM beginners course.
So on 4th January 2017 I put on my big girl pants and crept in to club, heading straight to the back of the crowd with my head down feeling pretty sure the ‘real’ runners would be smirking at this ‘new’ girl who would obviously never be an athlete. I was quickly welcomed and given the appropriate forms to fill in. And then Bill starting speaking – no idea what he said apart from for the beginners would be running 3ish miles!!! (I text my husband at this point and got a laughing response) And we were off, I approached it very slowly, with Ann as back marker being very supportive and kind, and the various runners who mustered back multiple times all smiling and giving encouragement (they could actually run and speak – I was in awe!), I left feeling amazed with what I had achieved.
This was the start of my beginners journey – I turned up each and every Thursday, and quickly got to know most of the other runners who were all positive, encouraging and keen to share knowledge – and very slowly it got a tiny bit less painful. I also went out twice a week alone to do 5km as advised to try and improve – although I had to do this in the dark as I was terrified someone I knew would see me being very purple faced.
After a few weeks I realised 3ish could be very ish, and learned that a ‘long’ run was required if I wanted to get up to 10k – so I started running alone on a Sunday morning – in the daylight!
By the end of February I ran my first 10k distance one Sunday morning – and then, because I had been so inspired by the SMM members I decided that I might as well enter a race – and on 26th March I completed the Cheshire 10k at Arley hall (the flattest one I could find – I’m still scared of hills) – it took me 1 hour 11 minutes and 48 seconds and afterwards I was amazed and delighted that I had done it, I had earned some bling and even more amazingly I wasn’t last, various expletives were however muttered not so quietly during it…
The 10 weeks had flown so I joined SMM as a member, and after various conversations before and after runs (still hadn’t mastered speaking during) I decided that my original challenge wasn’t enough – it wasn’t a challenge anymore, I had already done one race – and so I decided to make it a ‘proper’ challenge and so 10 10ks in a year it had to be, and could I manage to keep up this new hobby for a whole year?
I carried on coming on a Thursday – taking advice, sharing turns in motivating each other, being cajoled by Bill, and making some really nice new mates – I even mastered running and talking. And by the autumn I felt brave enough to join the Tuesday night speed sessions.
And all year I kept entering 10ks… by the end of the year I managed to earn bling at the following:
26th March Cheshire 10k
14th May Delamere forest Race for Life 10k
21st May RAF Shawbury 10k
25th June St Michaels 10k
16th July Chasewater 10k
3rd Sept RAF Cosford Spitfire 10k
24th Sept Stafford 10k
4th Nov Cheshire 10k
11st Nov Tatton 10k
25th Nov Chasewater 10k Pudding run
I started off entering races alone, a bit further from home and being supported by my little family, but as the year went on I got braver, I started wearing my SMM top to races and started to bump into other SMM along the way.
The best 10k for medal alone has to be the Spitfire 10k at RAF Cosford (and I found a few bats at the start line too). I’ve entered again this year and really recommend it – know lots of other Bats are going.
But my favourite 2 races are the last ones, not for the races but for the fact that I’m a member of our lovely club, and I had fun with people that support and challenge you to be your best.
Tatton 10k: Some of the ‘fast’ runners extended an offer go to Tatton 10k with them and make a weekend away out of it, pretty sure I heard a whisper of Prosecco so I was in – and turning the corner to the final stretch to cheers from Ros, Pip and BGW, who had all had to hang around for quite a while for me, was lovely – and I’m pretty sure the fact that these ladies make it look so effortless was what inspired me to dig a bit deeper and get my current PB. Bizarrely our Chair seems to think I survived a weekend with them – but I’m pretty sure it was the other way round 😊.
And for my very last 10k in 2017 several of the beginners group booked just to support me, and I was so grateful of the camaraderie at the start and the end – particularly as it snowed and was probably the coldest I have ever been. Not a PB for me but Dave offered great support on the way round and it was awesome to see Matt’s result in the 5k.
I’ve learnt that I do actually like running, and that all the ‘real’ runners want to be better (even the ones that make it look easy!).
However I’ll be honest and I really don’t understand the difference between running and racing – I’m still working on keeping my legs actually moving and breathing at the same time – so I’m happily still a beginner and I will be for some time to come – and that’s absolutely fine. While I’d love to be a racing snake (I’m naturally pretty competitive), I don’t think I’ll ever win a race – but I am beating me each time I get back out there and I’m very proud to belong to our club.
So if anyone wants a challenge 10 10ks is actually achievable for anyone new to running and comes with a pretty awesome sense of achievement at the end.
I’ve already been asked several times what my new challenge is, and the current answer is to do stuff that scares me (2 half marathons, Thunder run and a Hilly 5 mile) – not quite sure that’s enough yet – but it is only January….
Running (or as I called it, jogging) was something I’d see people do early in the morning, quite often in dreadful weather conditions and I’d just think…why? What can you possibly gain from putting yourself through this, and by choice?
That was until I started running. As with many of us in the running community, this was initially as an attempt to improve my mental well-being. There’s no doubt that for me, the benefits were almost immediate. A change in routine, combined with physical exercise, a sense of achievement and self worth were literally just what the doctor ordered. Now that I’d seen the light, I was happy to put myself through the pain of early morning weather-beaten runs.
I’d been trying to build up distance on my runs (with music as my only running companion) and so decided I would enter my first race, the 2016 Stafford Half Marathon. The performance will never go down as my finest hour but it was enough for me to catch the racing bug!
My sister, Kirsty Stephenson, a seasoned campaigner in the Staffordshire running scene, eventually persuaded me to join her club, The Stone Master Marathoners at the end of 2016. I’d been hesitant about joining a club for fear of being too slow or lacking long distance stamina. But the support, encouragement, training and most importantly, the banter provided by The Bats has been invaluable!
By January 2017, talk at The Club had turned to who was going to be competing in something called Road Runners. As a new member and a relatively new runner, I didn’t think this was something that concerned me and so contentedly waited for the next Stafford Half to come around (as far as I was aware, there were only a couple of local races – The Potters’ Arf, The Stafford Half and the St Michael’s 10k).
Then, on a club training session, I spent a while speaking to Victoria Hughes about what exactly Road Runners was and whether it was something in which I should be competing. I didn’t have long to decide – the Alsager 5 was a week away and I figured I’d be better front loading the races to the first half of the year.
And so it was, on a cold February morning, with my “E” firmly pinned to my back, I lined up with the other runners in Alsager ready for the off. Not only was this my first foray in to the world of NSRRA, it was also my first race for The Club. I chatted nervously with Fiona Bradley (who was also running her first race as a Bat) while trying to identify other runners in our groups. Thirty six minutes later and I’d crossed the line, 48 points the richer.
Celebrating the start of the NSRRA season with my fellow Bats in the pub, I was thinking “1 down, 11 to go!” My intention was to pick 12 races and just see how I got on with those – this being my first year, I just wanted to find my feet. With that in mind, I entered the Knighton 20 and Newcastle 10k. I didn’t have “a great day at the office” on either of these, but was still happy to pick up a couple of 49s.
Next up, The South Cheshire 10k – a nice, flat PB course. Such was my love for The Bats, I‘d been toying with getting inked with the Stone Master Marathoner’s distinctive bat logo and decided that I would only do this if and when I achieved a group win. As I crossed the finish line, I was handed a group winner’s mug and so didn’t have to wait to find out if the 50 points were mine. Over the moon with the group win and a PB, I headed to Raymondo’s tattoo parlour to get my bat-tat / battoo – short of an appearance on Tattoo Fixers, I was now a Bat for life!
It wasn’t until later in the week that I discovered my good friend and fellow Bat, Indira, who had finished just ahead of me, had quite rightly been promoted to group E and so my precious 50 points became 49 and the tattoo should never have been!
A family holiday in North Wales had meant the Uttoxeter Half was never going to be one of my 12. As I trained in the rain around the foot of Snowdonia, race withdrawal symptoms kicked in and I was resigned to missing out on the 13.1 miles, the Bats’ banter and the celebrations at Uttoxeter. So when Katie, my incredibly understanding wife (and I mean above and beyond all levels of understanding), suggested we leave two days early as a result of the inclement weather (in North Wales? Never!), I had the car packed and ready to go before you could say Llanfair¬pwllgwyngyll¬gogery¬chwyrn¬drobwll¬llan¬tysilio¬gogo¬goch!
Boy, was I glad I never missed this one! The course was stunning, challenging but very rewarding and I finally got the 50 points that in my mind, justified being inked. Five down, seven to go.
Even after completing the Clayton 10k a few weeks later, I still had no intention of running more than 12 races. Next in the series was the Flying Fox Marathon and I was nowhere near ready to take on a challenge like that so decided this would be one of the races I’d drop. That was until Bernie Priekulis, The Bats’ team captain and race organiser, started parading the finishers’ medals on Facebook and so it was that race 7 was entered. I knew the risk of running a marathon without training properly – Westbridge 5 and Potters’ Arf were in the following weeks and I would be putting my fitness for those races in jeopardy.
Blinded by the beauty and promise of that medal, I set off nonetheless. Accompanied by Aggi Pope, the first 18 miles flew by but the lack of training and fitness soon took their toll and as Aggi disappeared off in to the distance, I inevitably hit The Wall. I’d never DNF’d before, but this was looking more and more likely. However, with the support of the amazing Bat marshals and fellow runners, I finally crossed the line in 4 hours 2 minutes and gained another 49 points. I dare say that this will be perceived as being more than slightly biased, but from start to finish, this was undoubtedly the finest race in which I’ve competed – not in terms of my own performance, but the atmosphere, camaraderie, support, celebrations, organisation were all second to none. To top it all, fellow Bat Paul Swan had finished first male.
Time would tell what damage I’d done. Despite managing a recovery run and some hill work, I was putting on a brave face. I appreciate that marathons should be treated with respect but what was done was done and it’s not a mistake I will make again. I did manage a 35 minute PB at Westbridge 5 the following week, but had one of my worst performances to date at the Potters’ Arf – nothing felt right, physically or mentally and I found myself barely able to walk up Heartbreak Hill, never mind run.
Indira, whose speed and stamina seemed to be improving exponentially, had been picking up the 50 points in all of the recent races and this continued through to The St Michaels 10k and The Cheadle 4 – always seemingly just in front of me, I could never find the strength to catch him when required.
After a weekend of running through mud and torrential rain at Thunder Run 24 in July, it was back to NSRRA. While away, Indira and I had been examining the points situation and we’d worked out that if he won the next two races, the group was his. With this in mind and full of grit, steely determination and TR24 mud still clinging to my legs, I proceeded to finish second to Indira yet again at the Staffs Knot 5.
I was still happy with being the runner up in the group, especially to such a good friend and fellow Bat. This was my first year in NSRRA and I would learn from the mistakes I’d made and push to improve next year. So, onward to Meerkbrook 15k and I finally felt the pressure was off. I still had an outside chance of winning the group but it would mean taking 50 points in all of the remaining 8 races. Given Indira’s current form, I didn’t fancy my chances.
As I’d discovered with all of Mick Hall’s races, he loves his hills and Meerbrook is no different. Since joining the Bats, I’d learned to embrace the hills as a necessary evil and as the season had progressed, I found myself able to tackle them with greater conviction and speed (I’ve got John Clemens to thank for this!). For the first 8 or so kilometres, the race went the way of the previous few – me chasing Indira before he got so far ahead that there would be no chance of catching him. As the steep inclines took their inevitable toll on my calves, I felt the energy drain from my legs and with it, the last chance of winning the group. I’d pushed myself to collapsing exhaustion over the finish line of every previous race and so I was still proud of what I’d achieved and that I’d run to the best of my ability. In the distance, I could still just about see Indira who seemed to be slowing slightly – had the hills hit him harder than they’d hit me? There was one long steep downhill on the course before the finish and so I convinced myself if I managed to catch up before then, I might still have a chance. Luckily for me, this is exactly what happened – as steep as the inclines were, the down hills were magnificent. I’m pretty fearless on descents and so managed to get far enough ahead to cross the line and claim my second group winners’ mug and the 50 points.
Ecstatic as I was to have kept the group alive, I soon realised that I still had to repeat this 7 times, all the while aware that just one more win for my friend and it was all over. I was now going to have to complete all 20 races and the initial 12 race plan was well and truly out the window.
With this glimmer of hope, I pushed myself harder and harder in the next few races, managing group wins at The Trentham 10k, The Leek Half and The South Cheshire 20. Fortunately for me, these are undulating, country road courses with some fantastic descents – my kind of race!
Lining up at the start of The Ipstones 5, I was eager to keep up the momentum I’d gained from the previous races, but from the off, I could tell that Indira meant business. As we rounded the top of the field, I could see that he was the lead runner. There was no point in trying to chase him at this stage, I just had to have confidence in my race plan – tackle the inclines strongly and then play to my strengths by sprinting on the descents to the point whereby one false step and I’d be a goner. Thankfully, the risks were rewarded and another group win was in the bag.
I carried on with this same winning strategy through The St Thomas 7 and Congleton Half Marathon – both wonderful courses that really suited my style of racing. I’m not going to lie – by now I was thinking I did have a chance of pulling the group back. The only niggle was that being Scottish, we’re not famed for comebacks – more often than not, we’re grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory!
Going in to the last two races, it was all square in the group. Unlike other recent races, Indira and I ran The Werrington 10k together and by the 9th kilometre, it was still anyone’s race. Over the tannoy system, I could hear Ken Rushton announcing the finishers as they crossed the line, a comforting indication that the end was just around the corner. As I sprinted back through the school grounds towards the finish, I was aware of chasing feet pounding behind me. However, when I allowed myself a brief glance over my shoulder, Indira was nowhere to be seen. Fiona finished shortly after me and said she’d passed him on the last ascent, so we waited at the finish line for our friend to appear. What we didn’t expect was the chilling sight of a severely exhausted and dehydrated Indira being held up by Paul Glover and Vince Coyne as they supported him down the home straight. As the medics attended to him, it was a relief to see he was still adequately compos mentis to stop his Garmin – runners’ priorities! Thankfully, Indira recovered sufficiently to return to the race HQ at the school where he was plied with cake, Lucozade and sweet tea while being attended to by Nurse Bradley.
Needless to say, Paul and Vince sacrificing their races to help a fellow runner in his time of need is undoubtedly one of the most heart warming, endearing and selfless acts of the year. You did yourselves and the running community proud guys!
I do hope Indira doesn’t mind me writing about this, but it was such a pivotal part of my season. Seeing my friend suffering in that way was as much a wake up call as it was distressing. We’d been running, supporting and pushing each other throughout the year, but through points and PB chasing, I’d missed the bigger picture – this is supposed to be fun!
19 down, 1 to go. I am writing this the day before the Flying Fox 10. I was going to finish the report on the Sunday afternoon after the race, but there is no need – it really doesn’t matter about the result and who won the group. I still get emotional when I think about what I have taken from my first year as a runner, a Bat and being part of the NSRRA community. Putting aside becoming a running bore, it has undoubtedly changed me for the better – both my physical and mental health got a much needed shot in the arm (maybe not the best metaphor in the context!). I also forged what I consider to be some of the most important friendships of my life and their support, encouragement and ability to listen to me wittering on about the highs and lows of every race while still feigning interest is very much appreciated!
My only regret? The fact that I never ran The Rugeley 10 – so close to it being 23 out of 23! Next year.
Running the English Half last year was a real highlight of my running calendar – after completing my first marathon in July and training for the next in December, I was feeling pretty fit. Emma Phillips told me about the fast course and it really didn’t disappoint. I started (ambitiously) with the 1’45 pacers but at Mile 9 felt strong enough to push on and I finished with a massive PB in a time of 1’40’58. Signing up for the 2017 race was a cert!
Feeling the benefits of JC’s Speed Sessions, Amy’s Hill Work and plenty of advice from numerous bats, I approached this year’s race feeling hopeful that I might beat my PB and when Mr Speedy, Ryan, offered to pace me, I eventually agreed (I still suffer with the worry of letting people down so had a few wobbles before the race itself)!
During the build-up to the race, I made sure I ate healthily and avoided alcohol (yes, even Prosecco) and stuck to my training plan. It had been really hard to resist running the Stoke 10k the day after Ipstones 5 but after seeing Ben’s face when I mentioned it during my sports massage and a stern word from Ryan, I decided to take advice and save myself for the EHM. For me, the biggest challenge I face with running isn’t physical it’s mental – the number of times I have decided I am never running again, during a race, is plentiful!
On the day of the race, Ryan insisted we left at 3am…okay, I exaggerate, 6.45am, as he was concerned we might miss the 9am start… I was instructed to provide porridge as part of the pacing contract and was then told off when it wasn’t ready – at 6.30am!! Needless to say, we arrived in good time to pick up Ryan’s number from the Race Information point.
The start and finish point of the EHM is a fantastic place where there are myriad stalls for everything from Sportswear to Ultra races to Bacon baps (cue the arrival of new bat, Jonny Bibb stuffing his face with one)! The location has a really good vibe where everyone congregates before and after the races – there is a 10k which starts at the same time and a mile run which takes place at around 12.45pm. Those liking their race bling will not be disappointed as the more races you sign up for (including a 5k on the Friday night), the more medals you receive. The Half Marathon medal is amazing – complete with magnetic opening gates representing the golden gates at the location!
After a chat with Jonny, quite a few Stoke Fitties and a photo with Emma P, it was time for the race to begin. Realising I had left my energy gels in the car, I had a slight panic but Ryan kindly ran back to the car to collect all five…(I had failed to inform him that I only wanted one)! The queue for the toilets failed to move for around twenty minutes so I reluctantly headed to the start without going!
The start was delayed until 9.15am but we eventually got underway in the mission to get me a sub 1’40 PB! I was told not to look at my watch so I gladly didn’t – bizarrely the first four miles absolutely flew by. The start was slightly more uphill than I remembered but nothing too Meerbrookish. One highlight was when Ryan was busy telling me off for not having a drink at Mile 3 and almost trod on a squirrel – that would have ended my race there and then with hysterics! We found ourselves behind the official 1’40 pacer who had initially gone off slightly quicker than he should have and it was slightly unnerving to see the fair-sized group pulling away from us as we ran the first 7 or so miles. Ryan remained calm so I didn’t worry – he’d passed his trial(!) where he paced me on two training runs to the absolute second every mile, so I had every confidence in him – I just hoped I could keep up!
After starting on roads through the town, the race heads off onto a few closed country lanes; there is a switch back section which is actually quite nice to see other runners and it was here that we spotted Jonny hot on our heels! The water stations were very good, providing Lucozade, energy gels etc and there were many friendly spectators handing out jelly babies and high 5s! We constantly heard ‘Come on Batman’ and weren’t quite sure why until we saw that we were being followed by Batman himself! Unfortunately for him, we real bats flew off and he was left looking pretty exhausted for his last few miles…
Just before Mile 10 we came back over the bridge towards the town centre and it felt great overtaking the 1’40 pacer and his diminished group. A man turned and asked how far we’d ran and wasn’t overly impressed at Ryan’s response of: ‘9.92….or is it?’! The fact he wasn’t remotely out of breath or sweating was probably annoying for everyone!
I felt pretty good until around the 11.5 mile mark. Ryan had told me we’d be kicking in at this point and I think I’d psyched myself up to thinking I couldn’t do it! Apparently, my breathing went to pot and I was told firmly to ‘Breathe through (my) nose!’ I was beyond following any instruction and continued to pant like a dog, so I’m told! And for the first time, I wanted to look at my watch to see that there wasn’t far to go.
Returning to town must be quite misleading for those not wearing a watch or observing mile markers as you are so close to the finish but the course winds around so that you run through the stadium. I loved that part as there were drummers, spectators on the terraces and the end was near! Ryan was pulling away a bit and I had to dig deep to find the energy to keep up – I know that had I been on my own, this would have been the point where I may have eased off a bit but this was not an option with Bossy leading me!
With my eye now firmly on the mileage (not on the clock), I enjoyed my usual trick of counting down how long it would be before I could stop but still felt the urge to say I needed to stop(!) Fortunately, I didn’t have the breath, so we plodded on! Andy Pemberton from Stoke Fit enjoyed coming alongside us and saying, ‘Come on Bradders’ as he loves beating me!! With one final ‘sprint’ (possibly more of a canter) we crossed the line and, as an agreed part of the deal, Ryan did his first ever bat arms pose as I had finally achieved my PB! As I literally dragged myself through the finish area, Jonny joined us – the bats had finished within seconds of each other! My official time was 1’38’29 – a massive two and a half minutes off my previous PB – and, most importantly for me, a PB where the minutes started with a thirty and not a forty!!
Being part of the Bats means the world to me and this race summed it up perfectly – camaraderie, selflessness and plenty of banter thrown in – Ryan could have done this race at his usual ridiculously fast pace and easily finished in the top ten but he chose to prove to me that I am a bit more capable than I think and pace me to a PB that I was beginning to think was out of reach. Bill Mac started me off on my confidence course to improve and since, I have had the support, encouragement, inspiration and advice from so many of you that a little bit of me actually thinks I can do this. Keep up the great work, you are all amazing! And as for next year, this is a dead cert for Bats on Tour – PBs and Prosecco galore!
When Emma posted “can you help, we need a race report….. I reacted straight away without hesitation, almost a sense of urgency & said I’d be happy to do one, although I had no real idea of what was expected so I hope this fits the bill. The urgency came from me still feeling on a high from completing the “Dave Clarke 5” race and I felt I wanted to share the positive feeling with, well…. everyone but more so with some of the newer members of the club, in the hope it will encourage them to give a future race a good go.
And this is why:-
After only my 3rd official race with the club I arrived home and walked up my driveway with a very big spring in my step, having dropped Jools (Julie Hargreaves) off after the race, my beautiful friend that got me to do my first race some 15 years ago when I couldn’t run for a bus!!!!
On Thursday evening I had a feeling of happiness, achievement and complete elation, and absolute belief I can deal with anything that gets thrown at me. I kind of know that sounds a bit over the top but you know what it’s so true, so it doesn’t matter does it…???
I don’t want to harp on about issues I’ve had recently and goodness knows folk have much bigger traumas to deal with but life throws some pretty big emotional boulders at us sometimes so we need a coping mechanism. Running has become such a means to me.
I’ve said recently that before I go out on a club run I feel like someone has filled my brain with thick treacle…!!!! Everything is cloudy and weighs heavy. BUT… when I finish a run it’s as if someone has poured the purist spring water through my mind and everything is ok with the world. AND you know what’s even better..!!!! After a race the feeling is even more special.
You put on your club vest, fasten on your race number and become one of the team immediately. At the Dave Clarke 5k race there was a real mix of long-standing fast runners, to intermediate runners and new members that were almost scared stiff of what was ahead, but once you spot another Bat the camaraderie is amazing, old and new mixing together, it doesn’t matter about your speed or your capability, we are all one Team.
The sense of belonging is very powerful.
To all our new members, never fear about entering a race, the moment you make that decision you will experience something very special. You will feel part of a group of like minded people who will want to encourage you and bring out the best in you.
Pop on your SMM running top and start something amazing, run to your best ability, remember it’s the taking part that makes you special, feel that unique buzz as you cross the finish line with other “Bats” screaming your name and words of encouragement, ( it’s never great to finish first anyway because there’ll be no other runners there to cheer you on….lol ) collect your medal and I promise you, you will be signing up for your next race in no time…
I’d like to give a special shout out for Jacqui Bennett who posted about how nervous she was days before the race, only to go out there and absolutely smash it, and Cleo Acraman, Kay Porter and Ellie Holmes…amazing running. Sara Buckley and Sandra both had a fantastic race with their next 10k just around the corner (see it’s infectious)
I’d like to thank each and every one of the club members I run with and those I don’t, I have said on more than one occasion that becoming a Stone Master Marathoner is one of the very best things I’ve done in a long time, I feel very blessed to have made such wonderful new friends.
A special thank you to Bill Clarke for all your time and encouragement, I’m becoming a more accomplished runner because of your coaching and guidance and the absolute ability to make me feel guilty whenever I miss a session…..lol and of course a special mention to Anne Griffiths who was amazing, staying towards the back of the group as a support to runners who are new to racing.
My new racing mantra….” Keep the spring water flowing to melt the treacle”. Ooooh and Jane Weston, “It’s your fault”….. x
The first thing I will say in this report is wow! What a weekend, what an atmosphere, and what was the weather playing at?!?
Before we get to the exciting stuff, here’s a little about me, how I got into running and joined the club.
During my childhood, I was one of the least athletic, active people you could ever meet, always finding any excuse to get out of PE. My idea of a good time was sat inside playing FIFA, watching TV, practically allergic to fresh air and exercise. About 4 years ago I realised the pounds were piling on sat around in an office based job, completely inactive.
That’s when I made the mistake everybody has made, signed up for a gym for a year, went for 6 weeks and gave up. Although a fairly costly mistake, I discovered that I enjoyed running on the treadmill.
At the same time, I was part of a development programme at work, and we had chosen to raise money for the Donna Louise Hospice who were holding their annual 10k run at Trentham Gardens. A bit of peer pressure later, I signed up for the run with 3 weeks to go, only having run 5k on a treadmill before this. 3 weeks training for the first time on roads is not a solid training plan, however it stirred something inside me, and I was very proud of my accomplishment.
Fast forward to March 2017. I had trained quite a lot more in 2017 than any year before, determined to improve my running and get a decent time at Stafford Half. Ran it, got a decent time (by my standards), once I’d finished retching after the finish line headed towards the free massages and bumped into a bat. I know most of you know will Fiona as a bit of a shrinking violet, but I would never have guessed as we had a good chat in the queue. Joining a running club hadn’t really been an option for me, being a bit nervous about whether I’d be considered a bit ignorant on the runs due to my hearing loss. Fiona took my email and gave me a bit of confidence to get myself to the club and give it a go.
If you are reading this, uncertain, nervous, apprehensive about giving it a go and joining a running club. Trust me, go for it, you will surprise yourself! Joining Stone Master Marathoners is one of the best things I have ever done. I have made many friends in just a few short months, and improved my running considerably gaining PB’s in every race I’ve done (until this weekend). There are closer clubs to my home, but SMM is close to my heart.
Now to the Thunder Run 2017
I was a bit of a latecomer to this party. It was an event that was so popular it sold out in minutes. My first thought turned to training, for what I guessed would be 3 or 4 10k laps in the 24 hours. That’s almost marathon distance, which is further than any distance I had done before.
The great thing about SMM is that everywhere you look there is experience and knowledge. There is support everywhere so I felt confident that I would be ready for the distance and terrain that Thunder Run would throw up. I made sure I had a good mix of off-road training in my schedule, and got multiple runs done in a day to prepare.
Nothing could have prepared me fully.
In the weeks leading up to the TR there was a great buzz around the club, with plenty of teasing from the club’s higher echelons over the teams. The weekend finally came round, I got there on Saturday morning to set up camp, thanks to all those who put in the effort getting the camp set up on the Friday. I can’t report on the happenings on Friday night but I was informed we had somebody serenading and winning the hearts of all clubs around.
The atmosphere was brilliant, there were bats as far as the eye could see, and many supportive family and friends. I was especially grateful that my wife and little girl came to support me even if it was only for a few hours. We got together for a club photo, then those kicking off for their teams got to the starting line for 12:00.
If you don’t know how Thunder Run works: it is a continuous 24 hr race, on a set 10k off-road course. The aim is to do as many laps in the 24 hours as a team as you can. Only 1 member of each relay team is allowed on the course at any time. SMM was one of the biggest clubs there in terms of runner numbers. We had 5 teams of 8, an all-girl team of 5, 2 pairs, and 2 solo runners. 51 runners in total, and the famous red of SMM was everywhere to be seen.
I was in the Vampire Bats team, led by Captain Paul Phillips and kicked off on the first leg by Mike Keeling. All teams were there to do their best, and we could see from early on that our A team (Flying Fox) had the ability to be one of the best at the whole event. I’d like to say more about each team that entered as everybody was awesome, but there was so much going on to keep track. Thankfully those of us running didn’t have a lot to think about, all our thinking was done by the brilliant support team. They kept us organised, hydrated and fed so that we could just enjoy ourselves. Thank you to everybody that helped to make this happen.
Due to the organisation of the support team, and their estimates of lap times, as I was 4th in the list to go out my ETA for the first lap was around 3pm. My first lesson, and advice to anybody who wants to take part next year. Try to rest, and don’t pace around in excitement for over 3 hours! I was begging to go down to the pen and wait for my relay. Captain Paul relented and told me to go and wait. Half an hour of pacing on a different patch of grass to before, I saw the fantastic Aggi racing towards the finish line/pen, on snapped the relay band and off I went.
46:47 was my first lap time, a time I was happy with as I came to realise that it was quite a hilly and difficult course, and in context this was a time that would have been a 10k PB before I joined the club! Next up was the determined and speedy Indira! The laps settled my nerves and excitement enough to be able to rest my legs a lot more between the laps. About half way through my lap it started to rain. Take note of what time that was, about 15:25.
Time flew all afternoon, we had a fantastic cheerleading team with lead cheerleader Grahame putting in an endurance performance that the solo runners would have been proud of. As the afternoon wore on, we were hearing more and more stories about the condition of the course. I was due to run around half 8, and rain hadn’t stopped pouring since. I pulled on my bat t-shirt, puffed my chest out, and got to the start line to hand over from another great run from Aggi. This was my first run with a head torch as rules state that any run after 20:20 must be run with one. My lap time was 50:13, again, a time I was satisfied with as once I got going I only had a target of an hour knowing what the course was like.
The legs felt surprisingly fresh after the second lap, and everybody was still in great spirits around the camp, and course, with the cheerleading squad still putting in a sterling performance. I thought this would be my opportunity to freshen up, have a shower and clean off all the mud before my next leg. Since having my little girl, it is very rare to see this party animal up past 9pm, so thought best to get a few hours kip around this time. I let the support team know I needed a wake up call, and that I would be leaving my hearing aids in so that when they shout me I could hear. I honestly do not know how all you normal hearing people get any sleep! The sound of runners going past, and the patter of rain on my tent ruined any hope of getting any sleep. If nothing else I’m determined though, which is why I spent 3 hours staring at the roof of my tent.
My wakeup call came, and up I shot, already eager to get my next lap in. I pulled on my fresh running kit and headed towards the communal tent to a stern faced captain. The conditions were somehow worse than my previous run from an additional 6 hours of rain fall. I had the option, some teams had sensibly delayed their next runner until there was a bit of daylight, and I know that had I said no that nobody would have thought any less of me.
So I said yes, there’s nothing more I’d like than to run in the pitch black, up and down hills in wooded Staffordshire countryside at 3am. Everybody’s time had been affected by the conditions on the course, with everybody expected to arrive in 10-15(at least) longer than normal. It was chilly, so I kept wrapped up in the bat cave resting until my turn. Thinking I had around another 5-10 minutes before I had to head down, there was a shout coming from the track next to our camp…
“AGGI, AGGi, AGGi”
I think Aggi was expecting an “OI, OI, OI”, instead of “was that really Aggi? Oh ****”. For those that weren’t there. The bat cave was set up just a short killer hill and corner away from the finish line. I didn’t expect to have to sprint to the start for my 3rd lap. All credit to Aggi for a great time in the pitch black in those conditions.
This was probably the most dangerous of the laps, as for me the pitch black actually gave a false sense of security, which meant my lap time was quicker than the following one in the morning. In the dark, you can’t see that you are about to leap into a foot deep puddle, or step over one of the many fallen bodies on the course (kidding), you focus more on what’s further ahead in front so you don’t clatter into another competitor, a tree, or a barbed wired fence, all of which I was extremely close to doing. Don’t let this put you off if you plan to do it next year, it was great fun! Despite the many false alarms, I only ended up slipping just the once when I was trying to avoid wading through a very slippy patch next to a barbed wire fence. The option was to run alongside it and pretty much guarantee if you fall to your left you’re going to get caught, or run a little bit up the hill with a greater risk of slipping, but a chance to hang over for dear life before you get to the fence. Getting back up was a challenge in itself, and I’m glad it was too dark for anybody to see me.
A bit of advice for anybody wanting to take part, try to plan your nutrition properly as I had an SIS energy bar before this, and nearly had a visit from the poo fairy. Not sure why I was too concerned though as my backside was already brown.
I completed this lap in 57:23, and to be honest, it was the proudest 10k I’ve ever ran! Handed over to Indira with a truly emphatic and heartfelt good luck.
Fatigue was starting to set in now, but it was around half 3 in the morning, and I didn’t feel there was much point trying to get some more sleep. I headed over to the showers and waited for around half an hour before giving up, the water had ran out, and the tanker changeover was taking a long time to complete. When I headed back to camp, Indira had decided instead of cleaning up and then going back out, to run again after the next team member. It was a good idea as it had started to get light, and meant we could get our 4 laps done, and enjoy the last 4/5 hours cheering everybody on.
After a last minute check-up on the dodgy stomach, with just an hour between my 3rd and 4th lap, off I went. I could tell within 5 steps that it was going to be one of the most difficult runs I had ever done. My legs were tired, I was hungry and the conditions meant that this was no normal 10k, it was going to be rough! The only positive is it has just stopped raining, meaning that 12 hours of non-stop rain had pounded the route.
It was this lap when I fully realised how bad the course was when I could see it, and it made me much more apprehensive about approaching at speed when you can see fellow competitors hanging off trees. It’s very hard to describe what it was like to people that weren’t there, hopefully this picture is a bit of a taster…
If I had to describe, I’d say it was like a muddy ice rink. There were many times that I had to slow down from a jog, and walk around corners, or over sections. It also gave me a bit of rest from jogging as I was really struggling with this last lap. Another note about the course that a few of us had agreed on, was that the first 5k felt like it went on for ages! Once I had got to around 6k, there was light at the end of the tunnel and then I started buzzing about the achievement of doing 4 laps of this course, I could sense the finish.
I was extremely glad to see that Grahame and his cheerleaders had come back out in force after a couple of hours of much needed rest, they helped me get around that last corner and hand over to Indira who was also going out for his second run after only a short break.
1 hour 4 minutes and 15 seconds is my recorded time for this last lap. Which for me (no disrespect to anybody) is slow on a normal 10k run. I still put it up there as one of the most arduous and challenging 10k runs I’ve ever done. In fact, give me Potters ‘Arf over that last 10k any day.
I got cleaned up, and treated myself to a bacon sausage and egg bap (my egg fell out), and a latte from the stalls, then settled in to the bat cave for what promised to be an exciting last 4 hours!
All throughout I had tried to cheer on any solo runners I saw around the course, I have so much respect for these guys that braved this course nearly non-stop for the 24 hours. There were 2 solo runners that represented our fine club, Phil Cape and Paul Glover. Well done to both of you on your amazing achievement, you are an inspiration to all of us.
As we went into the last stretch, although we already had an inkling, we were getting word that we had 2 potential winning teams at this year’s event! The Flying Fox were flying, and kept pounding the course, looking for their win, and Phil Cape, although retired from the course, was leading by most laps.
It was obvious now watching the runners with a nice warm cup of coffee, that although the rain had mainly stopped, the conditions were not getting any better, and that fatigue was getting to a lot. It was also funny to watch the reactions of many runners that they ran through the cheerleading squad. Many loved it, some ignored it! There have been a couple of messages from other clubs saying how much they loved it. The 24 hours were up, but under the rules of the event, anybody on the course within this time, is entitled to finish, so we stayed and cheered the last runners through, each and every one of them amazing.
So, on to the awards. My team finished 28th out of 226, and completed 24 laps between 8 of us, which we were happy about. The main boys and girls in the Flying fox team however, were looking for that podium place! From what I can tell, there was a bit of controversy about a lap not being recorded for Flying Fox, but thankfully it got sorted, which meant that they were crowned Thunder Run team of 8 champions!!!
Well done to captain Ben Gamble, Tim Hulse, Ryan Nokes, Michael Downes, Tom Wilson, Phillippa Steele, Mark Neeld and Craig Pilsbury on your amazing achievement. Also, well done to the beast Phil Cape who won the solo male category, with an unbelievable 17 laps (100 miles)
Well done to everybody that ran and supported this event, we can’t all be on the podium, but we should all be proud of our achievements this weekend. It was honestly one of the best weekends I’ve ever had, and I’m already anticipating 2018. I’m so glad I joined the club, so if there is anybody out there that is in two minds to give it a try, please do.
I’m a broken man today, so it’s been a treat visit to Oatcakes and Milkshakes, then my feet up to write this essay. I may see some of you to put in a recovery performance at Tuesday’s FUN session.
St Michael’s 10k 2017 Race Report by Marianne Stopka
In June 2015, after running for about 4 years, on and off on my own, I entered Stone St Michaels 10k. I had never classed myself as ‘a runner’, I had completed Stafford Half Marathon 3 times and had trained hard each time, my first one after only starting to run 3 months before. I’d also completed a Race for life and a 5k race with friends (both of which were very wet and muddy), but generally wasn’t very consistent with my running. Stone St Michaels 10k was to be my first 10k race. I had no doubt I could run the distance, just hadn’t bothered entering many races. I was a 13 minute miler who walked up the slightest hill, but that didn’t bother me, as I was still enjoying it. After training for Stafford Half Marathon in 2015, I decided I needed to give another race a go, and wasn’t brave enough to enter a different half marathon that I wasn’t familiar with the course. I saw Stone 10k advertised, which was described as a flat course so I thought I’d enter, as it would keep me motivated to carry on.
It was a hot day, and I remember thinking on the first slight incline ‘How the hell am I gonna get through this, I thought it was flat!’ I’d trained by running consistently 4 times a week, but concentrated on distance rather than speed. I got through it, although I’m not gonna deny it was really hard work, somewhere I hadn’t ran before, but I completed it in 1hr 11min s11secs and I was happy with that. When I finished the race someone handed me a flyer with details of a running club on, Stone Master Marathoners, I had never heard of them before. I’d thought about joining a running club but I also thought that I wasn’t good enough and that they would be really expensive to join. I also wanted a change of scenery from running round near where I live and to meet new friends with similar interests. I’d been through a difficult time in my life, running had helped but I really needed more from it now. I kept the leaflet, had a look at the website, along with other running clubs, I eventually plucked up the courage to contact the club secretary and ask if I was good enough, and find out more about the club a few months later. I was shocked to discover that runners of all abilities could run with Stone Master Marathoners and it was a lot cheaper than joining a gym then never using it which I always did. I went along on a Sunday morning, everyone was so welcoming and friendly!
I’ve since made lots of friends, my running has improved , I’ve entered many more races including lots of 10k’s and I’ve grown in confidence. However in 2016 I was unable to run Stone 10k, due to being on holiday at the time, but this year I entered it, and so glad I did cos I got a PB of 58:28 it was no where near as hard as it was 2 years ago either and yes it was flat. I’m so glad I joined SMM.
Flying Fox Marathon 2017 Race Report by Laura Slack
May 27th 2015. This is the date that will stick in my head as it was the date that I, (all by myselfJ) went for a run of my own accord. Not running to catch a bus, not running around teaching PE at work. A run. An actual I want to improve my fitness run….and I hated every last second of it! It was a measly mile that took me 10:43 to complete. That mile as much as I despised it started something. It started my love affair with running. I say love affair as I do so often feel guilty going out on a training run with my other man (coach Bill Mac) whilst leaving my partner at home on his lonesome!
Fast forward to 2017. January 2017 to be precise. I had completed 32 races since that May 2015 and was looking at how I can push my running further. This is when after toying with the idea of joining a running club I became a Bat! Stone Master Marathoners newest recruit. To accompany my new ‘affiliated runner’ status I also joined the NSRRA and after submitting my previous year’s race results I was placed in group ‘M’.
So I had my support in place and now I needed some target races to train for. So I signed up to race the Flying Fox Marathon.
I was down at the ‘Bat Cave’ as much as possible, training with the Wednesday group and completed a dozen or so races to keep my legs fresh. One race in particular that comes highly recommended would be the Market Drayton 10K. Well marshalled race; well supported race and for me it gave me my coveted sub 50 10K time I had been chasing since last year.
The month of May arrived in no time and soon enough it was 27th May. This was now my 2 year anniversary since my first mile run, and it was now the eve of my first road marathon! How time flies when you’re having fun!
My wonderful parents have supported me so much in the past two years, and they have just recently started to partake in the strange sport of ‘marshalling’ or standing around in high-vis jackets and pointing left and right to runners. So of course they had agreed under the watchful eye of Bernie to marshal the Flying Fox Marathon. We all arrived at Knighton Social Club including the one and only Sammi ’the bat’ dog to begin what would be a long day.
Although the weather during the week had been positively tropical, it was seeming like near perfect running conditions for the race. A nice breeze and cloudy… still being a red-head, the factor 50 sun cream would be needed as all I have to do is hear the word ‘sun’ and I burn to a crisp.
Race ready and on the start line, I can see the newest addition to the ‘Bat Cave’ Aggi Pope is here. But trying to run along with her is near impossible…the lady has got some serious speed in those legs! So I stick to the back where I will be able to run and not have a cardiac arrestJ
The route starts the same as the Knighton 20 which I completed earlier in the year. This also meant that I knew that at the finish I would have an incline to compete with…but best not to think of that at the minute!
I had my times in my head and an overall time I was aiming for, sticking around the 9:30minute mile mark to get a finish time in the region of 4:10-4:15. I did a comfortable first mile and then another but then the runners ahead started to spread out. This continued for another mile until at mile 4 I had no runners in sight either in front or behind. Then my brain starts to pester me. ‘You sure you’ve gone the right way? There’s nobody else here. You must be going really slowly to have lost the other runners.’ So, myself and I argue with each other whilst smiling and thanking the marshals along the way.
I am approaching a water station and I can hear whistling? I am certainly warm but I don’t think that I am suffering from heat exhaustion or any other condition that would make me hear things. Yes there is definitely whistling. But in a 90’s rave style rather than the wolf-whistle of a pervy builder (apologies to any un-pervy builders). It’s Penelope (aka Victoria Hughes) dancing around with her high-vis, first aid bum bag and blowing a whistle! A truly welcome sight and utter bonkers at the same time. After not seeing another runner this has lifted my spirits and stopped the arguments I was having with myself in my head. Carry on Laura. Keep going.
Now as much as I enjoy road running, my natural inclination is to be out trail running, x-country or just being anywhere that’s green and away from civilisation. The Flying Fox marathon although packaged as a ROAD marathon is an ideal compromise. Yes there is the road to run on but the views that surround you mile after mile compare far better to your city marathons. Rolling fields and tiny lambs bounding around to make you feel almost at one with your surrounds. It was at this joyful thought that I realised I would now need to become one with my surroundings and dodge into the hedgerow for a wee! Relieved, I carried on to the shock horror that had I miss-timed that by a mere minute I would have given some oncoming cyclists an eyeful…oh dear.
It was now coming to mile 12/13 and I can hear heckling in the distance…Fiona Bradley. Fiona and I joined Stone together in January and are coached by Bill Mac. From my brief recollection of my time at Fiona’s drink station she managed to tell me I was on target for my time (1:52 at the moment) and that she had been having a dog jumping all over her. I didn’t question that and she looked happy enough about it so I let it be.
So now I had just passed the halfway point, in the distance I can see two runners. I was going the right way after all! Two gentlemen with 100 marathon runner vests on. They congratulate me as I run past, on the fact that I am able to run up the hill we’re currently tackling. Again in the distance I can see another runner.
The miles roll along and then there is yet another delightful hill to climb. The temperature has increased and I am feeling strong but too damned hot. Around mile 18/19 I can see another marshal in high-vis at a water station…with a bike. Oh no. Now I’m in for it! Bill Mac. Coach.
If I had any plans to ease off on the pace or complain I was feeling too hot or tired, they went out the window when I saw Bill. An outstanding runner and coach, Bill was the one who came up with the times and pace for today and so there was no chance now that I wasn’t going to achieve it. Imagine having ‘Jiminy Cricket’ on your shoulder for the last 7 miles and that would sum up how the rest of the race was going to pan out.
We saw some more runners as we went along and then I knew I was approaching my holy grail… the focus point that I was hoping would give me enough of a boost to get me through the final few miles. My Mum, Dad and Sammi-dog were marshalling at water station 8. As I came round the corner I saw them and got my usual jeering from Mum. Quick re-fuel and a kiss off your parents can do wonders for the energy levels. In fact the pace for that next mile dropped to 8:54. Still on target.
The miles kept coming, I kept running, Bill kept coaching and the sun kept shining. Mile 25 and the last hill. This is the finishing hill of the Knighton 20 so I knew it was coming. Up the hill and left into the Social Club past the 26 mile sign. 0.2miles to go. 0.2 of a mile seems like nothing after just running 26 miles right? Wrong. That 0.2 miles felt never-ending. Past the caravans to cheering campers. Around the outside of the field and I can see the finish line and stood next to it my running-widower partner Scott. Keep going. Last push.
There was a good show of Bats out running the course who all did amazing. Our very own Paul Swan was first male finisher with a winning time of 2:53:27. For the ladies we had Joanne Bentley coming in third lady finisher with a time of 3:22:45; And as I mentioned our newest bat Aggi Pope earlier has some serious speed in her legs, well she didn’t disappoint with a 3:59:50 finish.
So what’s next for this flying bat…..well let’s see what all this ‘Thunder Run’ talk is about!
At the beginning of October 2016 I received a letter informing me that I had been unsuccessful in the ballot for the 2017 London Marathon. I was relieved and disappointed in equal measure.
However, the following day I realised that actually, this was something that I really wanted to do, so I applied to Refuge for a charity place and five days later found out I had been successful with my application – now I was properly worried!
Every year I would sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and bacon sandwich watching the marathon with a lump in my throat, marvelling at all the amazing people and thinking, “I’d love to do that one day” but now I’d got the actual day – Sunday 23rd April, 2017.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with an aggressive stage 3 cancer and spent most of that year having surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Ironically, I walked the Race for Life at Trentham in June and the effort required literally, nearly killed me. The following day I was admitted to hospital with Sepsis and had to have emergency blood transfusions. It was after that little blip that someone said to me, “You will have to run a marathon once you’re better”.
That comment settled somewhere deep down and was never quite forgotten.
A year or so later I started walking and those walks turned into very long walks. When I completed a walking marathon in Manchester for the Shine Cancer charity I thought that was the peak of my athletic achievements and the marathon mission was accomplished. But like Forrest, I kept on walking further and further (London to Brighton, round the Isle of Wight in 24 hours and the entire Cotswold Way in 3 days).
Then almost three years ago in the summer of 2014, I downloaded the Couch to 5k app and thought I’d give running ago. I stuck religiously to that app running/walking/wheezing up and down the canal towpath and the day I ran 30 minutes without stopping I thought I was an Olympic athlete. (Clearly delusional, everything hurt and I had purchased the entire range of neoprene support bandages in Boots, but I kept at it). The following summer I completed the St. Michael’s 10k in Stone and as I crossed the finish line, a friend I knew from school thrust a leaflet at me for the Stone Master Marathoners. Well, I was pretty chuffed with my performance that day but thought it was stretching it a bit to consider myself a “Master Marathoner”.
I gathered all my courage and went along on my own one Thursday night “just to see what it was like”. From the moment I got out of the car looking a bit lost, I was met with friendly faces who invited me in, made me feel welcome and assured me that they wouldn’t all point and laugh at how slow I was – in fact they like slow, plenty of opportunity for “mustering”.
I survived that first night, people spoke to me and ran at my pace and they seemed genuinely pleased I was thinking about joining – so I kept going – and became “A Bat”.
I saw other people who I ran with entering races and so I found the courage to do the same and completed 5k’s, 10k’s and then the Stafford Half Marathon in Spring 2016. Approaching 50, the thought of a full marathon became vaguely possible rather than a pipe dream.
So there I was in October, with a confirmed place and a training plan stuck to the kitchen wall.
The training plan was for 16 weeks, starting on 1st January and taking me all the way to “the big event”. It assured me that if I followed this plan, I would give myself the best possible opportunity of crossing the finishing line, so that’s what I did. At the end of every week I put a shiny gold star on the plan after the Sunday run (because I’m that childish).
Although the plan required you to run four days each week, the only really long runs were on a Sunday so it didn’t seem that bad. But by week six, heading out on a freezing Tuesday night to run around the streets and industrial estates of Stone was losing its appeal. Getting out of the door was the hard part and I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t have been running with such a great group of people, and Bill, who would shout mild abuse at me if I slowed down.
Who would have thought a year on, I was looking forward to the Stafford Half Marathon 2017 being a “fall back” week in my training plan?
The two low points of the training were the Sunday I first ran 16 miles and suddenly and inexplicably my legs felt were about to explode with pain, meaning I had the embarrassment of walking back through Stone in my SMM t-shirt looking like an arthritic tortoise. The second was the Sunday we did 18 miles and it lashed down with freezing rain for the entire duration making me think – is it worth giving up my Sunday lie in’s for this. But it was too late, I was committed, I’d told everyone I was doing it and short of breaking a leg, I was going to have to see it through.
I took a day off work to complete the final long run of 20 miles and with Anne, Julia, “ultra Dave”, Paula and Jayne on her bike. We had a lovely morning in the sunshine running along the canals and across fields –and discovered the magic restorative properties of dried mango. At the end we felt good and were reassured that we might just be able to do this.
Two weeks of tapering allowed the doubts to creep back in and I spent the last week convinced that I’d done nowhere near enough training (despite all those gold stars), my foot and knee started to hurt for no apparent reason and I felt more than a bit nervous.
On the Saturday I travelled down on the coach with Julia and lots of other runner and supporters. Fortified with a cheese and bacon oatcake the nerves seemed to abate, I was committed now so I just had to “man up”.
Fast forward to 8.30 Sunday morning, we were dropped off at Blackheath Common and heading towards the Red start with the rest of “the masses” as we were affectionately referred to. This is the start area where the majority of people were running their first marathon and raising money for every conceivable charity you can think of. Whilst I’ve got nothing to compare it to, I can honestly say this was the best and most supportive environment I could have imagined. The organisation was amazing, (just how many portable loos are there in this world?) everyone was smiling and chatting. I was looking out for the other “Refuge” runners in their pink and white vests, as we had become Facebook friends throughout the training and to meet them in person was just great, hugs all round, like long lost friends. We’d shared our stories and training agonies on-line for the last four months but this was the first time we’d actually met in person. Just as important, we then met up with Anne and, although not in our Bat colours, the three amigos were together and ready to “do this”.
I have never stood in such a diverse, focussed and happy crowd of people as we made our way to the start line and after half an hour we were finally able to break into our 5 hour lightning pace! 26.2 miles was a bit of blur in places but some of the things that have stuck in my memory are;
The noise of the police helicopters overhead
Seeing Scooby Doo relieving himself in a hedge about 1 mile in
The 7 foot drag queen in a gold lamè body stocking conducting a choir (my kind of church)
The “comedy gold” home-made signs of the people lining the route
The very old man playing his trumpet on his front door and being cheered by the runners
The drummers under the fly over
The children reaching out for a high five
Complete strangers smiling and shouting your name and encouragement
Other runners smiling and chatting and patting each other on the back when the hard miles set in
The showers (how welcome were they)
Mile after mile the crowds never stopped, sometimes it was a blur, at other times we could focus no further ahead than the next mile marker and the reward of a jelly block.
Of all the memories I will take away from London, three are very special;
To enable me to come to London, my two boys were staying with my friend back in Salt and watching the Marathon on the telly. They had never seen me run in any kind of competitive race. As I came down off Tower Bridge I became aware of my name being shouted amongst the general noise, I turned to look and there were my boys shouting at the side of the road. It took a couple of seconds to register, but then I ran back to hug them both, together with Mandy and her family. I was absolutely amazed and overjoyed and the boost it gave me at the half way point was indescribable.
Secondly, as I ran on towards mile 14, I thought I would have an energy gel and a little walk. There I was happily walking down Narrow Street still smiling about seeing the boys, when more shouting alerted me to the official SMM supporters squad. Emma shouting and Michelle recording me strolling along – excellent timing!
From about mile 20, Julie and I decided that “scouts pace” was the way to go, so we had a run/walk strategy to make sure we kept going at a reasonable pace. At mile 25 I saw the “Refuge” supporters along the Embankment and told Julia I was going over to say hello. Refuge is a fantastic charity and I will always be grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to experience the London Marathon. After a run of high fiving and more hugging, I ran back to where I thought Julia was but couldn’t find her anywhere, how could I have lost her in the space of 30 seconds! I couldn’t see her and didn’t know if she was in front or behind, so I made the decision to run for the line.
As I approached Big Ben, it started to bong and I finally realised that I was nearly home and I was running the London Marathon. The third memory and one that will remain with me forever, is the roar of the crowd as I turned into Parliament square – it was like running into a football stadium and from that point I wasn’t going to stop and it was head down towards Buckingham Palace and The Mall. 800m, 600m, 400m – I could see the statue of Victoria come into view and then finally the “385 yards to go banner”. I will probably only do this once in my life so, head up, eyes forward, I ran for the line with arms in the air, full victory finish. Unbeknown to me, my moment in the spotlight was also on the big screen outside Buckingham Palace and Harry and Ed were in the crowd to witness the moment their mum punched the London Marathon on the nose!
So that’s my story and every cliché is true, the crowds, the atmosphere, the memories, if you want it enough you can do it.
I couldn’t and wouldn’t have done this alone and the best decision I made was to join the Stone Master Marathoners.
I had really looked forward to Uttoxeter Half, as I had heard of its reputation as a tough course with plenty of undulations. My preference is for hills, as although it’s tough going up, it’s a lot of fun on the descents! I’m not great at half marathons as I never seem to know how to pace them, but with two 10K PBs in consecutive weeks at Newcastle and South Cheshire, I was fairly confident in my racing form. Unfortunately, the two weeks prior to the race saw me struck down with a chest infection and I wasn’t certain I would be able to run. After a doctor’s visit on the Thursday and a prescription for Doxycycline, I felt decidedly better and resolved to make it a steady one to bank the points. The fact that I couldn’t drink alcohol also probably helped with my race preparation! One thing I didn’t bank on, however, was a warm day after a week of much colder weather. Another contraindication of Doxycycline is sunlight, as it can make your skin very sensitive and prone to burning. So on the morning of the race, I was covering myself in Factor 50 and doing a rain-dance in the front garden. I also abandoned my usual race kit of vest and shorts in favour of T-shirt and capris, thereby running the risk of the dreaded comedy tan. The things we do for running!
We arrived at the start nice and early, which gave us plenty of time to socialise with running friends, both fellow Bats and our old teammates at Trentham. Roger was wondering why he had decided to do a half marathon a week after London, but I knew he would be fine. In the event, he had what he described as a fairly solid race, and finished in 1:26 (19th place). Lots of banter with him and Mick Downes, who was in the ascendancy today – but apparently he won’t get him on Flying Fox 🙂 Also some amusing moments when David realised that Indira had been promoted to D, not E – his dreams of 50 points in every race having been previously shattered, his whoops of joy could almost be heard out on the country lanes we would soon be hurtling along!
Lining up at the start, I positioned myself somewhere in the middle as I wanted to get away cleanly, but not get pulled along too quickly. The aim was to run steadily, so my breathing never became laboured. Coming out of the town and up the first little climb, I was hovering at around 9 min pace, which was probably a bit too quick for what I wanted to do, but I felt fine and I was in amongst people I often run with in races, Bonnie, and Bobbie Hickman from Trentham. Bobbie and I always have a good chat on races (when I can breathe!) and it makes the miles go by quickly. Through the first water station and I felt good holding my pace, and was enjoying the undulations. JC had told me about the big climb at 6.5 miles, so I was grateful for the big downhill that came before it! By this time, my quads were starting to feel a bit heavy and my breathing more difficult, so I opted to tackle the hill like I would on the fells – hands behind the back, head down and power walk. This technique pleasingly saw me pass people who were running and I reached the top in fairly good shape. The next little climb, however, felt just as hard and my pace began to slow. Thank goodness for the steep downhill at 8 miles, I thought, as I let myself fall down it and recover slightly. I was able to use the momentum of the hill to keep a nice even pace through Mile 9, but from 10 to 12 I really struggled and lost touch with both Bobbie and Bonnie, as well as a few other girls from Group W. As I reached the top of the lovely big descent back to the racecourse, I felt relieved as I knew that it was downhill all the way and I could stop running in about 10 minutes! Heading back in towards the finish, I was delighted to see some fellow Bats, including Bonnie, and Fiona Bradley, who’d had a great race to finish first L35 in a time of 1:46:05. She ran in towards the finish with me, as did Roger, bless him, but he couldn’t even keep up with me as his hamstrings had seized up! Crossing the line in 2:10, I was pleased with a time only four minutes outside my PB on a flat course. Hopefully more to come from me this season.
Some superb performances across the categories today on a tough course. Some of the highlights for SMM were Fiona, as mentioned, with her L35 victory and Staffs Champs Gold. Also winning their categories for the ladies were Victoria Hughes (L40), with an outstanding 1:34:25 (PB). Ros Bould took the honours in the L50 category with a great run, coming in at 1:46:42. Many of us were delighted to see Paul Swan returning to his best following a spell out with injury – he took the V50 prize in a time of 1:23:09. Kevin Uzzell won the V65 category in a time of 1:43:59. Stone Ladies also took second place in the team prizes.
Relatively new to club running compared with some of my inspirational running veterans, I was completely naive to the racing scene and thought that joining a running club was a bit like going to a fitness club at a gym.
It was only after entering a few local races, then running my first Marathon (London) and transferring to Stone Master Marathoners in July 2016 that I was ‘actively encouraged’ by my fellow BATS to try NSRRA. I also felt inspired after the club Gala Evening when Amy Gamble made a lovely speech addressed to Ken, recognising him for all of his efforts and the time he puts into NSRRA. To be honest I was always nervous of the additional pressure of league tables, as I tend to fall foul of the occasional unplanned pitstop. I’m still nervous of how this could impact on my times and points, but of course, I’ve learnt I’m not alone in that, and I figured life is too short.
In 2015 I ran 10 road races and last year I ran 13 road races 8 of which were NSRRA races anyway so I technically only need to race another 4. I therefore made the decision to drop a couple of the other non NSRRA races I had planned to do and support this great local running initiative instead.
As I had already entered Manchester Marathon this year, the first three NSSRA races of the season didn’t fall into my training plan. However, Knighton 20 was a perfect marathon training run. Although I didn’t ‘race’ it and I had convinced myself I hate laps (who doesn’t? and not forgetting Cheddleton Pudding Run a couple of years ago) I actually really enjoyed Knighton and the new 3 lap course.
So, onto my first official NSRRA ‘race’ – South Cheshire 10K, with Manchester Marathon still in my legs, and 2 weeks of very easy occasional recovery runs, I didn’t really know what to expect or what I was capable of on a 10K. My last 10k was Trentham back in July 2016 (my first race as a Bat), and the four 10K laps I ran on the 24hr Thunder Run. Oh, I hate 10K races too and to top my day off, this was 2 laps but at least this race was flat, I was reliably informed, which also meant it would be fast!
Strange also to return to my student days as I studied at Manchester Metropolitan Uni. The Student Union (Race HQ for the day) was a more civilised area resembling Costa than I remember with a lovely selection of homemade cakes on offer. Last time I was here, I was ordering a Green Monster from the Bar and dancing on a sticky floor to Stone Roses and now I’m queuing for the ladies facilities for the 3rd time before a race. Ironic that this University was and still is a centre for Sports Science and yet the closest thing I ever got to experiencing exercise here was riding my bike to Kwik Save for my ‘No Frills’ loaf of bread and baked beans.
As there was also a 5k fun run, my husband and I wanted to make it a family day and take our two boys. My eldest has started running for Trentham Juniors and he really enjoys the fun runs. Unfortunately, we didn’t read the small print and as he is under 12, he needed an adult to accompany him on the course. I wasn’t too keen on a 5K warm up so my husband had to step in. This wasn’t too big an ask as he can actually run but he had a slight handicap wearing jeans, his chunky walking shoes and the additional challenge of getting our youngest around the 5k course. Quick change into the nice blue Air Products race T shirt and although a little on the tight side (as I had requested the smallest size for myself), he looked the part, well at least his top half! He deserved a medal for pushing our 5 year son in a pushchair that isn’t really designed for running let alone the weight of a 5 year old. In all the last minute organisation, we had missed the 5k start but at least it was chip timed and it is a ‘fun’ run, after all.
Meanwhile I am reminded why I get more stressed taking the kids to races as I now only have a few minutes to get back to race HQ for another loo stop and to find my fellow BATS for a decent warm up and the all important pre race team photo. A quick warm up accompanied by the usual ‘Booooo’ from Mr Pickles (Dave Pickstock TRC) for wearing red (he just won’t let it go). A great turnout from the club again although with many now tapering for London it wasn’t a full colony of Bats flying.
Conditions were good, cool, overcast with a little wind. Quick chat and usual banter with some of the BATS about pace or more accurately who I was going to try to hang on to, as well as whether I should have Indira’s race number (No 2, due to my reputation of pitstops). My running buddy Kathryn Ambrose had already kindly advised me I should be doing at least 7s at my level and my wing girl for the day, Anna Hollingworth (Anna Longlegs) thought we should aim for 6:50s as we could always slow down at the end. True to form, Anna flies off and I’m left watching the Bat on her back. I tend to be a slow burner
and ideally need my 43 year old legs to warm up a bit before tackling what ended up being 6:32 pace in my first mile. I settled into my own pace and actually hung on to
6:50s for the rest. The course was a little ‘industrial’ but it was traffic free and flat. There was a little section where we went off the road and onto a winding public footpath with a couple of footbridges which was a welcome break from the long stretch of pavements. I tried not to focus on the race signs informing you of 7kms when we had only ran 3kms or the points of interest that I was going to have run past for a second and most likely more painful time.
Lots of support and shout outs from the marshals, fellow runners from South Cheshire Harriers and other club runners who were also possibly tapering for London and not forgetting Bryan Dale, really helped to keep me pushing. I wasn’t aware of any other runners in my group around me, so I focussed on 3 ladies I was running behind on the 1st lap and most of the 2nd lap. After taking the first 2 ladies, the 3rd looked over her shoulder and she put her foot down. My lungs and legs said ‘fair play, let her go and save yourself’, my head said, ‘no way, Penelope, use her’ and I somehow managed to sprint past her after the last roundabout, just before the finishing stretch.
I made the usual school girl error of not really familiarising myself with the course or the location of the finish (ignorance is sometimes bliss and I lack navigation skills anyway) so before I know it, I hear the shouts from the supporters and our fun coach John Clemens and I have a decent amount in the tank to sprint the last few metres.
My 10K PB was 45:35 on St Michael’s back in June 2016 (another flat PB course) and I knew with all the training I had done for Manchester I was capable of a PB, so I was over the moon to finish with 41:38. Another bonus was to be presented with a Group Winner’s Mug. My first proper NSRRA race and my first group win. I wasn’t the only BAT to smash a PB and win their NSRRA group or age category.
Congratulations to my fellow Bats
Mick Downes – 37:26 – PB
Paul Swan – 37:41 – 1st M50
Mike Keeling – 40:06 – PB
Anna Hollingsworth – 41:27 – PB
Indira Natarajan – 43:57 – PB and Group F winner
David Dunsmore – 44:05 – PB and Group E Winner
Kevin Uzzell – 44:14 – 1st M65
Ros Bould – 44:35 – 1st F50
Lisa Ashton – 49:15 – Group W winner
Emma Dutton – 50:59 – PB
Bonnie Seabridge – 52:11
Kathryn Ambrose – 53:05 – PB
Michelle Miles – 56:29 – PB and Group X winner
Joyce Edwards – 63:23 – 2nd F65
Thanks to South Cheshire Harriers for a great PB course, to Ken for another well organised race and HQ. I’m looking forward to my next NSRRA race. No doubt there will be more competition on the courses after London!
Victoria Hughes (Penelope Pitstop)
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