Category Archives: Run Reports

The British Masters 5K Relays April 2022 Sutton Park

The British Masters 5K relays
23rd April 2022
Sutton Park, Birmingham

Stone Master Marathoners decided to send a contingency of brave old farts to compete in the 45-55yr category following a certain amount of coercion from our very own master runner, Ben Gamble esq, an elite runner, coach and sports therapist (who happens to be rubbish at crazy golf, but that’ll have to wait until another time).

Bryn Holmes, Robin Williamson, myself and Paul Glover (the youngster of the pack) travelled to the event with an ensemble of Bat goddesses for support. Thank you wifey, Amy and Aggi, although it later came very apparent that, support aside, all three of them couldn’t wait to get their hands on Robin’s Haribos.

The venue was straight forward to find, a godsend for someone like me, and once parked we collected our race numbers (chipped) and confirmed our running order. Bryn, who had run the route before very kindly took us around on a recce, along with muttering and chuntering from us, the uninitiated. The route is definitely not flat and the conditions were somewhat windy. It was however dry and bright.

Bryn had the unenviable task of running first and, unbeknown to him at the time, found himself surrounded by a younger age category. When the race began, these youngsters disappeared into the distance which must have been pretty soul destroying for Bryn, but he did an admirable job and completed his leg, albeit rather pink and sweaty, ready for Robin to take over.

We all found this event really well organised, especially at the point of change over. The change over runners were corralled in a holding pen and then as teammates approached were beckoned to the start line. No need to keep on checking behind as marshals were on hand to perform this job and signalled us when to start. This all worked very smoothly and professionally.
So, Robin was next to run and also finished pink and sweaty (to be fair we all did).

I was next and as said early, found the changeover uneventful. Definitely a picturesque route but strange as runners were sharing the park path with families and ramblers eating ice cream as we were gasping for breath and eating our lungs. They certainly didn’t get in the way though and some even managed sympathetic smiles. Last 100 metres uphill with loads of encouragement from our screaming banshee support team, lovely to hear if not a little scary ( I know you can’t help it Amy, its just the way you’re designed)

Young Paul Glover last, to complete our mission.

Paul and I compared trainers whist Robin and Bryn disappeared and then came back eating burgers, replenishing carbs (there seemed an awful lot of that going on actually, even amongst the non runners, just ask Aggi)

10th place overall, 2nd of the Midlands teams so overall mission accomplished.

I think all of us would happily do this again and I would certainly urge anyone reading this to seriously consider doing it and represent SMM. It’s a great event.


Please note there has been considerable editing to create a report so as not to offend, and to make sure the higher echelons of the Bat Firm don’t censure me. I know it’s inevitable, but I’ve managed to dodge that bullet so far.
Previous versions may, sometime in the future, appear in the public domain but definitely not on this website

Mark Neeld

Blood and Mud on the Annual Alsager `Pilgrimage`

Blood and Mud on the Annual Alsager `Pilgrimage`

It was a brave set of hardy fools warriors who rocked up at the club house before sunrise on a recent cold winter’s Sunday morning.

Some were old veterans who knew what was in store, others were clueless ‘virgins’.

Our fearless band’s names? Amy Gamble, Phil Cape, Mick Downes, Mike Keeling, Mark Neeld, Tom Wilson and Yours Truly.

Our glorious leader? Mark ‘Copper’ Churton.

Our challenge? The annual “Alsager Pilgrimage”. Just 20 miles to complete in a few hours to cheer on fellow SMM-ers in the 5-mile race there.

We started well with some dull but comfortable road flat along a near-deserted A34, as the rest of the world was sensibly having a lie-in to stay out of the frosty wind.

Then up through Trentham Park Golf Club and a climb into Hanchurch village which started to separate the ‘men from the boys’ – though courteous mustering was strictly adhered to on order of The Copper. By mile 7, humiliation hit one of our number. Best not to embarrass him any more, but put it this way, he was offered some peanut butter by Phil to smear on it and ease the pain, and Amy even compassionately suggested lending him her sports bra to cover the embarrassing and enlarging red circle on his right, ahem, ‘chest’. Mark was less kind: ‘I’ve found a nipple on the floor, I think it’s yours, Andy?’ (Oh bollocks, I’ve given the identity away!)

Onward went your intrepid team, scaling up to Keele along a muddy track, the ‘virgins’ thinking the worst was over, until … A scary, steep, woody climb emerged ahead of us. Even more ominously, another group of runners appeared at the bottom like ghosts, filthy dirty and smirking at what they knew was coming for us. Mud, glorious mud. Group dynamics quickly collapsed, it was every man (and Amy) for himself “Lord Of The Flies”-style. Some sank, some fell, some cursed. It was Law Of The Jungle: the strongest got ahead, while the weakest were left behind, sinking. Eventually, all emerged, legs and arses caked in thick, grey, cement-like mud.

Then began a tour of curious little windswept hilltop villages that few roads lead to and are the butt of Christmas panto jokes: Scot Hay, Alsager’s Bank, Miles Green. Marvellous views down to the Potteries on one side and up to Cheshire on the other. Steep, terraced streets like the old Hovis ad, with yuppie houses gradually encroaching. The rest of the run was straightforward and silent as the distance took its inevitable tool and Alsager, our lovely finishing line, approached. Mick and Phil hopped on a train back to civilization in Stone, the rest of us changed – and spattered mud all over the spotless wooden floor of an auditorium while getting changed – then grabbed a coffee to watch our heroes come by.

We were not to be disappointed. As we sipped and sighed, cheered and chatted, SMM-ers flew by in deep concentration, just a faint smile on their faces as they saw a motley, mud-spattered group shouting their name. PBs were had and great times recorded (see below).
Now who wants to go one better next year? 20 miles there – then you compete. Who’s up for that? Not a chance me – I’m not risking my poor nipple again!

Sara Morris – My Thunder Run Experience 2019!

I entered Thunder Run with no idea what to expect. I thought that it would be a weekend full of running with some camping thrown in. I love camping and I love running. Seemed like a good idea to get my name down.
Run as many 10k laps as you can in 24 hours. How hard could it be?!
I started to wonder how many I would manage in one go. The furthest I’d ever ran was an unofficial half marathon. Could I do three? One after another…. I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision to join in.
Roll on a few weeks. The teams were announced and I found out that Jo was my team captain in a team of 8. She explained that I wouldn’t have to run more than one at a time. It was a relay and I’d probably do three laps. Once the running order was put on our messenger thread I worked out that I’d be doing a run after lunch, one around midnight and another early morning. Didn’t sound too bad at all, except I’ve always been terrified of the dark. I imagined running through the woods alone with my head torch running out!

The Friday arrived. Our pitch had been secured by some amazing club members who rushed to the site early morning and taped off the area we would need for everyone to camp together.
I pitched my enormous tent and joined the rest to help out with the communal area where we would eat and generally hang out. We were constantly amazed by the amount of effort that was going into the SMM solo runners area. They had huge blow up beds, sound systems and fancy lights. It was obvious how much care was being taken over the crazy folks that would be doing lots more laps than me!
A friend kindly showed me the start/finish line so I understood how the wristband baton would be passed from one runner to the next. There’s a huge area set to one side that the relay teams run into to find their team mate. They then run onto the main 10k loop to start their run. All sounded pretty simple and I was starting to get more relaxed about the whole thing.

We had a walk around the stalls that were there. I wasn’t expecting to buy my first trail trainers but looking at the weather report I thought it wise to get me some. I managed to bag a knobbly pair at a great price so I was all set.
The evening rolled on with loads of fun and games at camp. We sat around with a few beers and even had a karaoke session with SMM’s resident guitar player David. I recall looking up the lyrics to ‘Totally devoted’ on Google, which I found the following morning! The kids had their faces painted by me as there was plenty of face paint and glitter to go around. Even some of the grown-ups had a go.

Race day arrived. I was a little nervous and struggled to eat much breakfast. Lots of folks encouraged me to eat and explained that fuelling up would be really important. We went to the start line and cheered everyone as they started off at bang on midday. It was so exciting. The atmosphere had a real buzz about it. I’d never experienced anything like it. The races I’ve done before somehow didn’t have the same feel. I knew it was something special to be a part of.
I headed back into camp where the race route by our communal area had been turned into a cheerleading area. There were red pom poms everywhere!

The menfolk wore the cheerleading dresses and there we stood for a couple of hours jumping up and down as all the runners passed through. Runners of all abilities and pace passed us by which made me feel more confident about my lap that was coming up.

Finally it was my turn to get changed and go up to the start line. I would be waiting for Jo to pass me the baton/wristband. I saw her coming towards me and my heart rate leaped. She slapped the wristband on to me and I made my way through the waiting area onto the race route. I tried not to get too excited with my pace as I knew from the other runners that the route wound its way through the trees and on terrain that I hadn’t really trained for.
It didn’t seem so bad for the first mile. A few little hills but nothing too serious. And then at around mile 2 the heavens opened. It wasn’t just a little bit of drizzle either. I’ve never run in rain like that before, ever. Even through the thick of the tree canopy it came down. The mud got thicker and thicker. I shouted at one point, “Give me a break!!” at the sky, like that was going to help! The rain ran down my face and I was struggling to see properly. I’m really not exaggerating here. It was nothing like I’ve seen before. I wanted the downhills to feel good so I could make up some time, but I was unsure of my footing on the slippy grass. Running through the camp lifted my spirits no end. All of the club camping had been set out along the route so people were standing in the rain shouting encouragement. Runners who passed me said how well we were doing, and so I did the same to the runners I passed.

Seeing the Stone part of the track coming in to view I felt a huge sense of elation. The cheerleaders were there jumping up and down with pom poms. Not far now. The finish line came into view and I looked for my teammate to pass the wristband too. I told him that the course had slowly turned into thick chocolate type mud and to be careful.
That’s it. My first lap done. Proud? Who me?!

My next run wasn’t until around 11.30pm so I got dry and made myself busy with the cheerleaders. I realised how important the support had been to me whilst I was running so I stepped up and shook pom poms in the rain for every single runner who passed by.
Preparing for the night run involved me panicking over the dark and trying to work out how to wear my new chest light! I made my way to the start and off we went again. This loop was much harder. People were sliding on the mud everywhere. I tried to run as much as I could but it was so hard. I walked some of the route right on the edge of the path where there wasn’t as much mud! It definitely took my mind off the fact that it was in the middle of the night. I wasn’t alone at any point. There were runners all around. Little torch lights all through the woods bobbing about like stars. When I got to 13.5 miles into my runs I let everyone know by shouting at the top of my voice, “This is the furthest I have ever run!!”. It was the best feeling to have lots of nearby runners whooping and cheering! The finish line came into view where I found my teammate still dressed in his cheerleader dress. Off he went and I was done.
Then I was ready for bed. Someone would wake me up in plenty of time for my next 10k, around 5am.

“Sara. Sara. SARA! It’s 5 o’clock. Time to get up”
And I was off again. The sunrise had been lovely. The rain had stopped. Time for some breakfast. I’m not much of a breakfast eater. I was encouraged to get some porridge down with a cup of tea. Bleugh, but so needed!
I waited in the start area for a while until Jo arrived. Then I was off for my final run. I was going to enjoy this one. I made it more about finishing and less about getting a good time. I actually didn’t feel too bad at all. I made sure that I gave lots of support out on this run. I’d heard how tough it was for the solo runners after running through the night. I made sure that I gave out lots of compliments to anyone I passed. I couldn’t believe how they were all still going. It had been really hard going during the night with the mud and the rain. Legends. Every single one!
The finish line came into view so I gave it a little sprint before wishing my team mate a cheery goodbye. My last lap done.
Heading back to camp I chatted to other runners who had finished their last laps too. Runners from all over the country with one goal. Doing their best. Solos, teams of three, five or more. The camaraderie really was something else. I felt great going back to the cheerleading area again. I threw on a jumper and grabbed the megaphone. I was making sure that everyone got some great support out there. I shouted some really daft stuff. The hopscotch that was drawn on the floor in front of us all was a huge highlight. Most of the solo runners even attempted it after running loads of loops through the night. Amazing! Some runners were, “Too fast for hopscotch” which quickly became one of my catchphrases for the weekend!

“Top job”
“Here comes naked guy again”
“I’ve got a t-shirt like that”, when seeing the bright yellow TR t-shirts that we all got with our medal!
I was having such a laugh. The SMM cheerleaders will be forever etched on my memory!

I was so proud to see so many podium finishers from our club. Everyone did so well. No matter what size our team or what time we did our laps in, everyone felt included.
I can’t wait until next year. Maybe I have a few more laps in me. I’m hoping there won’t be as much rain though. Maybe I should do some training runs in wellies to prepare. Although I’m not sure anything can prepare you for Thunder Run with our club!

My London Marathon Experience by Rebecca Southall

My road to London started on 21st November 2018 when I was lucky enough to win a place in the club ballot.  After 3 years of disappointment with the general entry ballot I was beginning to think I’d never get a chance to fulfil a childhood dream.  I couldn’t believe it when my name was pulled out the hat and I was buzzing with excitement for days afterwards.

2018 was a terrible year as I lost my wonderful dad to brain cancer, I couldn’t find the emotional or physical strength to run for several months.  My dad was a runner, and a fabulous cyclist, and he understood why I trained.  Without him I lost all motivation.  Winning the marathon place was the boost I needed.

I didn’t follow a training plan, but in January I started increasing my long run by 2 miles a week and did 2 or 3 shorter runs in between.  I’ve previously suffered with tight IT bands that make running very uncomfortable.  I was determined not to suffer again, so stretched after every run and every night before bed.  This proved a good strategy and I was pain free through all the training.

The next 4 months passed in no time and before I knew it London weekend had arrived.  Nerves were jangling and I mentally ticked off each part of the journey.  Train journey to London DONE, check in at hotel DONE. Now time for the Expo.  I followed advice from Caroline and Matt Davies and hit the Expo on Friday afternoon.  There were no queues, lots of great photo opportunities with your newly acquired VLM race number and plenty of shopping.

I was able to spend Saturday relaxing while Rob took the boys to Oxford Street and to check out the meet and greet area for after the race.  I was getting increasingly nervous and forcing myself to eat regularly.  We enjoyed a lovely meal and I forced everyone to have an early night.

Wake up alarm at 06.30 on race day. Oh my goodness, today I’m running the London Marathon!

Breakfast was a bread roll with peanut butter and banana.  One to eat at the hotel and one for the Blue Zone.  Dressed in tried and tested race kit plus generous lashings of Vaseline, I was ready.  Rob decided this was a good time to distract me from my nerves and proposed, after a few tears I said YES!  I then set off with my fiancé to London Bridge station.  The organisation at the station was brilliant and runners are sent up escalators depending on your starting colour.  At the escalator I kissed Rob goodbye and squashed onto a train to Blackheath.

Again at Blackheath the organisation was brilliant, thousands of runners heading to blue zone, all looking slightly bewildered.  I headed straight to the toilet queue and we were kept entertained by a big screen showing the start of each race.  It was then time to hand in my bag and queue for the toilet again.  Wrapped in my foil blanket I headed to zone 4 and it was time for the final wait.

I went over the start line at 10.24 and it felt amazing. There wasn’t a section of road without somebody cheering.  I tried really hard to keep my pace steady, the atmosphere made it so easy to get carried away.  I bumped into a Trentham lady and we ran together for a while, mostly laughing that we were running far too quickly! I was surprised to arrive at Cutty Sark at roughly 10k, I don’t know London so every turn in the road was a new experience.  I kept to my planned pace and hydration strategy, taking water after a gel at 5 mile intervals. I knew a bat support team was getting close, so I was keeping a constant watch for the big balloons. The team were amazing and full of energy, they helped distract me from worrying about the distance ahead.

I was super excited about the Tower Bridge section, and it didn’t disappoint.  I have never known anything like it, and I couldn’t hold back the tears.  The noise, the enthusiasm of the crowd, the charity flags and the splendour of the bridge was magical.  I knew my family were at mile 13 so I pulled myself together and started hunting for them in the crowd.  They must be very distinctive as I found them easily and started frantically waving.  Rob has captured my over excitement in several photos.


The miles seemed to pass quickly until roughly mile 17.  So much distance still left to run and the canary wharf scenery wasn’t very interesting.  Crowds still lined the route, which helped enormously.  I was still keeping pace and looking forward to seeing the boys again at mile 22.  Yet again Rob captured my enthusiastic waving.

I was getting tired and the runners around me were slowing down, plenty were stopping to stretch and it would have been easy to slow my pace.  I stopped noticing the scenery and just concentrated on getting to the end.  When the distance signs start counting down in metres you know the hard work is nearly over.  Suddenly there was Buckingham Palace and the famous finishing straight.  I’d done it, and it felt surreal.  I hugged the lady that put a medal round my neck and headed to retrieve my bag.  Everyone around me was quiet and we all seemed rather stunned by what we’d achieved.

My boys were at our pre arranged meeting place and it was cuddles all round.  They even seemed proud of their old mom/step mom.  I checked my texts and my official finish time was 4hrs and 43 seconds. So close but so far from going sub 4. We headed to Chandos to meet the other Bats, it was mega busy so I only stopped for a quick hello, and to share congratulations with marvellous team mates.  We found a quieter pub and I enjoyed a celebratory pint.

Ten days later and I’m still floating in a VLM bubble.

London marathon is a wonderful experience and I’m determined to do it again.  Best start training for GFA!

Thank you so much SMM for one of the best days of my life, and thank you Rob for all your support, I couldn’t do it without you.



Running the Virgin London Marathon, Sunday 28 April 2019 – by Helen Cann

Entering – like many others I’ve previously put in for a ballot place and got the commiserations e-mail and magazine.  I was so close and yet so far last year when I got club reserve place, but bar tripping my successful fellow bats up, which I thought might be frowned upon, it wasn’t meant to be.

Again l entered for VLM 2019.  In October, I was sent a photo from my brother – 2 magazine covers – one saying ‘Commiserations’, the other ‘You’re in!’ I didn’t know who had got in, was it Dave or Dawn?  Well, it turned out to be Dave who had got one of the bequest places.  Dawn decided to self-fund a charity place with Whizz-Kidz and I was so happy for them to be able to experience the marathon together.  Again I got the commiserations email and magazine so entered the club ballot.  I wasn’t expecting anything, but to my utter surprise and delight was drawn out first.  Amazing! – It was meant to be, us all going to London together…

Training – well, training plans were a new concept for me, I’d usually just turn up and hope for the best, my aim just to finish, but this time I didn’t want to let SMM down.  I looked at the various plans and tried to train when I could, or was supposed to.  I worried that I wasn’t training enough, I worried that I was out too long on Sundays as I really only had that day to fit in longer runs and everyone else seemed to be doing so much more training than me.  I decided to run Knighton 20 as training but I found it difficult, even with Steve pushing me every time I tried to walk, and the weather was unforgiving.  There was no way I could have completed another 6 miles on top of the 20 that day… I went out a few times on my own, making up routes as I went.  Migraines plus sore ankles and hips stopped me training on a few occasions when I should have done longer runs.  Was I ready?  Probably not, but my focus was to go there, plod around and enjoy the scenery on this ‘once in a lifetime’ experience I’d been given.

Fast forward to Marathon Day – I met Dave, Dawn and Anne early at the tube station and we followed the crowds of runners to Greenwich.  Dawn and Anne went on their way to the red start. Myself and Dave went to the Blue Start.  Our Supporters – my husband Rob and Anne’s daughter Jenny went to take up their positions on Narrow Street.  Dave then left to go and get in his zone. Then that was it, I was on my own with nothing but my thoughts and a long wait.  I wasn’t due to start until 10.48, way after all the ‘faster’ runners had gone, and just before the bulky fancy dress entrants were told to start.  I scoured the crowds for signs of any other bats, but unfortunately couldn’t see any.  Someone else from Stone (small world) saw my SMM top and wished me luck – I wished him luck back and, never to miss an opportunity, encouraged him to join SMM (so watch this space.)  I crowded into my allocated start zone, shivering from the cold, and then all of a sudden I was at the front and off, high-fiving the commentator who gave SMM a shout out as I left.

And then I ran…

The Race – I was worried about it being too crowded to run at the start.  It wasn’t.  The atmosphere was electric and I got swept along in the excitement.  From the start the crowds were wonderful. The streets were crowded, people standing on their doorsteps, playing music, bands playing, everyone cheering and encouraging, shouting out to everyone who had their names on their vests (note to self, if you ever get the opportunity to do this again, get your name put on your vest.)  The first few miles past, and we filtered in to the runners from the different coloured starts.  I began to look out for Dawn and Anne who were meant to start slightly before me, on the off chance I could catch them, but no, I was on my own.  I settled in to running.  I was running well, and feeling good.  I passed the Cutty Sark.  I kept telling myself, just get to half-marathon and you’ll be fine.  Tower Bridge came in to view – wow, I’m running over Tower Bridge, how amazing is that?  My next aim was to get to mile 14 where Rob, Jenny and the Bat support crew would be… I scoured the crowds but I couldn’t see anyone.  I thought I saw Rob in the distance, I waved, but it wasn’t him.  Don’t stress, just focus on running.  Then, out of the crowds I heard Rob shout my name; I turned, nearly tripped, but still couldn’t see him.  I was disappointed I couldn’t see him but to know he was there supporting me spurred me on.

I pushed on.  Throughout the run I’d had the blue 5 hour marker first behind me, then in front as I attempted toilet and water stops.  I began to believe that perhaps I could do the marathon in 5 hours… I lost the marker, I thought she was behind, but no, she was in front.  Panic set in.  I told myself to calm down, it didn’t matter what time I did.  I kept on running and managed to get in front of her again.  I was still looking out for Dawn and Anne as I ran.  As the run went on, being a slower runner, I found I had to concentrate more as people would just stop in front of me to walk or stop for water, when I saw a gap to get through it would suddenly close in front of me.  As I ran through the Lucozade stops, the tarmac was so sticky from the spilt juice of the thousands before me, it felt like it was trying to stop me in my tracks, but still I ran.  I approached mile 21, the next chance to see our supporters.  Again, I scoured the crowds not being able to see anyone.  Then a hand came out of the crowd and Rob high fived me and I heard Jenny shouting, well done Helen, keep going!  5 miles to go, perhaps I can do this… 3 miles to go, I was tired, still managing to keep to the same pace but wanting to walk.  I started to calculate in my head, if I walk for the last 2 miles, what would my time be? No, I told myself, you can’t walk, keep running.  How had I gone from thinking I’d just plod around enjoying the scenery to being a running machine that could possibly do a marathon in less than 5 hours?  Just keep running… I saw the London Eye then Buckingham Palace came in to view.  I so wanted to get my camera out and take a photo of that, the Mall and the finish line, but I was on a mission.  I looked at my watch and decided 4:58 was my aim.  I ran and I ran, 800m to go, 400m to go.  Someone dressed as a teddy bear was by my side dancing his way to the finish line effortlessly. And then I was there, over the line in a daze, 4:57:09.  I’d knocked a whopping 1 hour 12 minutes off my 1st marathon time in Cambodia and I’d got a lovely shiny medal!!!  Dave was there waiting for me after the finish (of course having ran the marathon, gone back to his hotel, showered, changed and got back to meet us!)  He’d done brilliantly well, 3:31:43 and I was so proud of him.  Anne and Dawn came in together at 5:34:56, Anne putting her London Marathon ‘demons’ to bed and Dawn managing to run despite grazed knees from her fall the week before and a dodgy foot.  Incredibly I’d managed to pass and miss them on the course, but they said they’d met Andy along the way.  We began to hear how well all of the other Bats had done and I’m super proud of us all, and everyone else who achieved or even attempted to run, walk or crawl the marathon.

What an amazing day.  I was so happy to have experienced such a wonderful event.  If you ever get the chance, please do it.  Don’t worry about thinking you can’t.  Just over 3 years ago, I’d never run before.  I’m not going to lie, 26 miles is a bloomin’ long way and sometimes it hurts, but the crowds of supporters help you on your journey and when you look back on your achievement it makes you feel amazing.  Just tell yourself you can do it and go out and enjoy the experience.

Thank you SMM for the opportunity.

Helen Cann, Bib 24157.

The Road To London 2020 – Manchester Marathon by Mickey B

It has been said many times that, ‘running a marathon is not just about the race itself’ and now I would like to offer my perspective upon that belief…

2016/17 saw me training throughout the winter in preparation for the Manchester Marathon in April 2017 only to be scuppered by injury one week before the race and having to pull out.  2017 proved difficult both physically due to a herniated disk and mentally due to the frustration of not being able to run as I wanted to for the majority of the year.

In October 2017 I joined Stone Master Marathoners (SMM) after treatment for a herniated disc gave hope that I could get back to some sort of resemblance of the runner I was prior to injury (although that was not great shakes).

May 2018 saw me run over 100 miles in a month since March 2017 and this was followed by 6 more successful months of 120 plus miles all pretty much pain free.  Looking back, these 7 months of solid mileage provided the groundwork prior to undertaking a marathon training programme.

With no real intention of running a spring marathon in 2019, I was fortunate to gain a free place for the Manchester Marathon in April 2019 via the SMM club ballot after being ineligible for the Virgin London Marathon (VLM) club draw.  I was more than aware that there were a number of my fellow club members who would love to have been given this opportunity, therefore, I was going to give it my best shot which meant trying once more to achieve a ‘Good for Age’ time for VLM 2020.

December 2018 through March 2019 saw a 16-week training programme running 5 times a week and up to 170 miles a month.  Now I have always believed that I am quite a social runner in that I get just as much out of the social aspects of our great sport as I do from the actual ‘running’.

Training for a marathon saw me become very selfish with my time and running, this was possibly the most difficult aspect of my training plan.  Having to turn down the opportunity to join the Sunday club runs because the plan says 16 miles with the first 8 miles at 08:40 pace and the second 8 at marathon pace.  Whilst I attended many of the Thursday tempo runs, I ended up doing ‘my own thing’ as the plan ‘says so’.  The actual ‘being there’ on the Thursday’s helped tremendously as I was able to get some of that social aspect I love and I knew everyone else was ‘suffering’ along with me.

Race day seems to come upon you even though you have been aware of the date for months and those last couple of weeks when you start to taper see the doubts creep in, ‘have I done enough’, ‘what if I blow up again at mile 20’ (previous experience), ‘I will let everyone down’, ‘I will let myself down’, ‘the end of the world is nigh’, ‘Vale are going to get relegated’, well maybe not the Vale one but you get the idea!

Race weekend sees me miss my beloved Port Vale at home to Crewe Alex (biggest game of the season) as I travel up to Manchester on the Saturday before the race to get myself acclimatised or because your wife and friends see it as an opportunity to get a few (that should read ‘many’) beers down their necks as payback for coming with me (really!), you decide which one.

Sunday morning – porridge pots, hydration and oat biscuits along with nervous toilet visits prior to leaving the hotel.  My good friend Mark Owen, my wing man at my last marathon meets me in reception before we walk the 2 miles to the start.  Leaving the hotel finds perfect weather conditions and after initially starting to walk in the wrong direction (does anybody know how to follow Google maps?) we see other runners going in the other direction and decide they probably know where they are going.

I love runners because regardless of how short a period of time you spend with them, they can always chat for England all things running so the two locals we ask directions are soon chatting with us like we have known them for years.

A quick meet up outside Old Trafford with fellow ‘Bats’ for the obligatory team photo sees everybody else has the same anxieties and now I know for definite that the world was truly going to end.

Now for those who have not done Manchester Marathon, the start area is very clearly marked unless you are panicking over all sorts of nonsense then you haven’t got a clue where you are going.  My advice would be take a responsible adult, thanks again Mark Owen.  Once in the start pen the excitement / anxiety starts to kick in, the doubts return along with the nervous urinary and bowl systems.

Last minute stretching, checking your gear for the hundredth time, checking your watch for the thousandth time, checking with your wing man if he has the same time as you, checking with your fellow runner, then before you know it you are off.

It was strange, all the nerves disappeared and I became quite emotional, thoughts drifting about those who have supported me, the training runs both good and bad and the end goal, that elusive GFA time.

The first couple of miles saw me getting settled into my target pace of 07:35 knowing that if you get carried away now I would surely suffer later in the race.  Between miles 3 and 4 I could see a fellow ‘Bat’ about 100/200 metres in front and at first I felt myself speeding up to catch him for a chat until I noticed my pace had shot up so I relaxed and put the idea out of my head.

The next 6/7 miles saw a settled pace and an opportunity to chat to my fellow runners.  The fireman based at Stone fire station using the marathon as a way to achieve a time for Boston (USA), the young Glaswegian lady who was completing her second marathon and hoping for a 3:40 and the 3 Congleton runners wishing me luck.

Miles 12/13 sees runners loop back on each other which provides an opportunity to look out for fellow ‘Bats; both quicker and slower than yourself.  Seeing our familiar red shirt approaching certainly gives you a lift.

Just past the half-way point sees me catch up with a ‘lonely goat’ Ian running in his boxing gloves and headgear.  We run and chat for a while and this can be dangerous, not the chatting but the running with someone else as you either end up going too fast or too slow, be warned.  The support the crowd gives him is tremendous and infectious, cheers of ‘Go Rocky’, for the 100th time boost him and those around him.

Miles 20/21 sees the quietest part of the course just when you really need a boost as fatigue can start to creep in.  Mile 20 sees me catch a struggling ‘Bat’ and despite the feelings that you want to slow and support your fellow team mate the selfishness of the marathon runner kicks in again and off you go after a brief, ‘good luck’.

Now for those of you who know Matt & Caroline Davies you will be aware of their uniqueness and their unequivocal support for their fellow ‘Bats’ so seeing them along with Bonnie Seabridge at the quietest part of the course was such a boost.  I can only imagine what other runners thought as they could hear them shout out for each and every one of us– love you guys.

Now the difficult part of any marathon those last few miles and again it was the Bat army that pulled me through.  Now I’ve not mentioned them before but our amazing support kept popping up all over the course so massive thanks to, Bill (at the start), Anna, Joanne, Fiona, Kirsty, Nia, Aggi and Rozzie and not forgetting the Pom Pom girls Alison and Michelle.  To see familiar faces throughout the course and especially at mile 25 when cramp in my right calf started getting the better of me really spurred me on – Thank-you.

The finish line was fast approaching, no scratch that the finish line never approaches fast especially when your watch tells you that you have completed 26.2 but you are still 200/300 meters from the finish.  Those last nagging doubts hit, will I make it, what if I cramp up, the world is going to end but none of these materialise (even Vale aren’t getting relegated) and as I cross the finish line it’s one last check of the watch 3.18.11, just under the cut off time of 3.20 for a GFA time and a lovely new PB – now where do I sign up for London?!

Nant Yr Arian Silver Trail Half Marathon by Nia Rose Nokes

Rewind the clock back to September last year… It was a Thursday night club run and Emma Phillips was telling me about a trail half marathon she had done earlier in the year in Wales, it sounded great and the very mention of red kites being fed as the race was finishing sold it to me and I thought I must go and give it a try!  ‘It’d be a nice day out if nothing else!’

So I did some research and entered the race soon after, followed by Becky Southall and Nikki Towle. Upon mention of the race to both my Mum and Glyn Pattinson, they signed up too! So with Emma and Craig also going we had a good group of us to enjoy our day trip!

Fast forward to March 2019, and having followed the Facebook updates from the event page we were all getting really excited, and a little nervous too not knowing exactly what to expect!  Once the hype of Stafford half marathon had died down it was time to hatch a plan of action (and of course check we had everything on the kit list!)

It was an early start for us all, the weather was looking good and on arrival we were welcomed by friendly marshals and race signs in both Welsh and English which made me smile. The scenery was stunning, overlooking the lake and once out the van for a better look, it was clear we were in for a treat.

Over to the tent for registration and on the board were the names of the 150 entrants. I collected my number and saw I was for once not the only Nia on the start list, this was when I knew I had arrived in Wales! The drawstring goody bag had energy chews, reusable cup, an energy drink and the race t-shirt. We bumped into Emma scoffing a sausage bap who was so excited and got us all hyped up! It was back to the van to get kitted up and meet Glyn and Becky for a team photo!

The race briefing followed and then it was a walk up the hill for the start. Surrounded by what looked like many seasoned trail runners we were off! The first few miles were easy to run on and myself and Glyn got swept away. I could definitely feel my legs were still somewhat weary post Stafford Half but it wasn’t going to stop me enjoying the event (it didn’t however stop me moaning… Poor old Glyn)!

Our feet and legs were quickly muddy/wet but it was all part of the fun. 3/4 miles into the race and we took a steep climb through the forest then out onto an open field with the most spectacular views. 5 miles in we stopped for a quick drink, energy chew and a photo opportunity.  This set the tone for the race and we decided to take numerous photo stops as it was just too beautiful not to!

As the race continued the terrain became more varied, lumpy grassland, boggy fields, shale paths, cattle grids, stiles, gates and woodland were all featured. Oh and a man running barefoot who overtook us! The marshals were just wonderful, so encouraging and upbeat. The course was clearly marked so any worries we had about getting lost were quickly forgotten!

One of my favourite sections was running down through a stream and some quite technical trails then at 10.5 miles we entered a steep grassy field. We walked here taking some pictures and when we turned around I said ‘S**t a photographer, run!’ Needless to say as soon as I passed him I walked again! The field flattened out and we got going again knowing we didn’t have far to go!

The final push through what seemed almost pitch black woodland and steep climb for the last half a mile or so was tough going but wonderful, the views once again were incredible and hearing the noise from the finish area pushed us on! A steep descent and into the finish! What time did I do?! It didn’t matter, it was great!

The sun was out and a short while after we spotted Nikki and Becky with beaming smiles heading downhill to the finish! Bat wings and all! They held hands and crossed the finish together! The atmosphere at the finish was just lovely. My Mum was next, she entertained us by doing her own version of bat wings on her downhill finish! She had been poorly prior to the race and wasn’t sure traveling up if she would even run, so I was so proud of her for getting though it! Emma was a tail runner and she was equally as happy as the rest of us as she finished. We didn’t see Craig as he was still out on course assisting a visually impaired runner.

The presentations took place and we were in awe of the winning times! Next were the red kites being fed over the lake so we all assumed our positions. (Ours was by Nikki’s van with a brew and a Jaffa cake). It was an amazing sight and Emma had been lucky enough to feed them herself the day before, a thank you gesture from the organisers.

We said thank you to the race organisers, Karen and Ian, before heading back with a full heart. This race was simply stunning, well organised and made us all remember why we run. We all have goals and PBs to beat but sometimes appreciating your surroundings and friendships through this wonderful sport is all that really matters.

To quote Emma Phillips ‘This race was not about times, pressure or conventional racing, it was simply about running for the soul’. 

See you next year Silver Trail!


Putting A Demon To Bed – Stafford Half Marathon by Dawn Watkins

Stafford Half Marathon 2019

By a Stone Master Marathoner /Runner (!)

There have been a few announcements in recent months (usually from Dave B or Helen) suggesting that I was the 3rd lady of Meriden (Escape from Meriden Ultra 2018.)  These announcements always exclude the real fact that there was not much running at speed involved on my part in this event and it was purely the true desperate need to get back to the comfort of a heated seat in the car that gave me and my joint 3rd friend the last dregs of energy to do that final mile.  Not any actual athletic ability or drive.  Partly as a result of this, I remain surrounded by people who genuinely believe that I am a person that can do this running thing.

Fast forward exactly 4 months on from that Meriden day and it’s the morning of the Stafford Half Marathon 2019. I have entered this year to put to bed a demon from 3 years ago when I started but didn’t finish this race – when I got to 4 miles and gave up after setting off too fast and running out of steam. I gave up and did the walk of shame back to town. I wasn’t injured, I just didn’t know why I couldn’t run any further and I was truly gutted having to walk back to town in my running gear and wait for Dave. I wasn’t a BAT back then, so I didn’t know that other people had gone through similar things but had teammates to help them through. Yet they do. Or at least they do when you have an SMM top on.

8.25am and despite our usual lack of race preparation (except a visit to Pasta di Piazza the night before) Helen and I arrived into Stafford telling each other that we were a) going to finish and b) going to beat our old PBs. We carried on with this wild exaggeration as we held court in the safety of the upstairs section of McDonalds. Other bats joined us and shared their aims of new PBs too. It seemed to be a day where we were all setting the bar high. As we went outside to join many more bats for the club photo, everyone was so positive and full of enthusiasm that I got swept up in the emotion of it all. I really felt part of this club and because of that, it was truly possible that I could finish this race today!

10am, I set off with Helen at my side, and Jo and Anne R by us. Like 3 years earlier, I set off faster than I should have, and kept that pace up all the way past the 4-mile point where I stopped the last time. This time, stopping wasn’t even a consideration as Bill Clarke appeared out of nowhere, ran a few hundred metres with us and told us we were running well (an actual first!) Surpassing the point of previous failure, I astonished myself continuing towards Radford Bank. As we passed Alex Yendole (in the only time I shall ever pass him in a race – but then he was there spectating with his dog!) we did Radford Bank with almost ease and into the water station for a 10 second drink. After that, Helen kept us running faster than I would have done and if I did think about slowing down then it was a waste of a thought. She was so focussed on her aim for us that I just had to keep running…

By the beginning of Beaconside it was getting harder and harder to keep up with her, and going along Beaconside, in what seemed a bit of a cold wind, it got even harder. This road seemed never ending and I was really starting to struggle. Fortunately, just when it was needed the most, the Bat support was truly there in the guise of Lynda and Sarah, and Ben & Amy, and many others who just said well done to those in Stone MM tops! The support carried me through most of that road, but I did slow down, and thankfully Helen pulled away so I could finally take the opportunity to walk for a moment – something I had wanted to do for miles! Alas, it wasn’t to be for long… As I walked into the water stop along the A34, Jo Yendole came past and told me to get running again. The cheek! How dare she! Suddenly, a ‘previously unknown runner’ in me came out and there was no way I was letting her get away with that …. Instead, I found myself running after her and once caught up with her, vowing to stay by her side. Jo didn’t seem to mind – she didn’t like this section, so I think was happy for the company. We then caught up with Jenny, who incredibly, told us she had a back injury and yet she was still running despite this but now struggling more. We made a pact. The three of us would make it through together.

I think those last couple of miles were hard on all of us – Jenny with her back, Jo with that part of the route and me… well I was now genuinely running out of my comfort zone to keep up with Jo and Jenny, but as the 3 SMM vests stayed together, it felt so very right. So, we kept going to that last mile. Then that last 400 metres. When we finally turned that last corner to head to the finish line, we even found a little sprint still in us (see the great Mick Hall’s photographic evidence!) to make it through the finish line together. As we crossed over the timing mats, it didn’t just feel right, it truly felt amazing!

Today, for me this was a great race. I finished on a high, knowing I ran faster than I had before (one of those elements of a race I previously seemed to avoid!) I not only got to put the old ‘flunked it demon’ to bed by finishing but I also got a 12 min PB on my previous half marathon time and Helen got a 16 min PB on hers. Walking back through Stafford we got pelted by a ridiculous hail storm, but even that couldn’t take the sense of achievement away. We saw other Bats who had achieved new PBs and read of many more through the afternoon and even where there may not have been PBs there were other achievements – the finishing of an event despite other factors (Jenny!) and of course, those who didn’t run but were there supporting with great smiles on their faces despite the weather as we passed by! (Alison – thank you!) For me, being an SMM club runner in this race today epitomised everything the ‘Great Club Chairman’ aka Tim has been known to harp on about… the Inclusiveness of runners of all abilities, the Camaraderie amongst those runners of all abilities at the start line and during the race and that bit of Competitiveness by the real runners in the club for a ‘proper running club’s’ sake!


3rd Lady of Meriden /694th Lady runner of Stafford Half 2019

Isabel Trail Parkrun Takeover – Saturday 9th March 2019

Isabel Trail’s 14th Parkrun certainly tested the mettle of all runners and volunteers as the rain clouds loomed! Undeterred, however, a record number of 347 participants donned their Lycra and were ably supported by volunteers Stone Master Marathoners on their first Isabel Trail takeover.

Based just a few miles away, it’s important to know Stone’s running club is affectionately known as the Bats, so apologies in advance for any overuse of bat-related clichés!

Isabel Trail is a superb, flat, out-and-back course that has tantalising personal best potential. The pre-event briefing was a wet and windy affair however, as if like magic, the sun shone on the righteous literally as the event started and the rain held off for the duration.

Watching the wonderful gathering of Parkrunners start the event is always a proud moment, no matter what their personal motivations and goals. For example, we had the pre-race course analysis by 2nd place male Adam Guy on his first time visiting Stafford. He was interested to know exactly where the finish was, and marshals were pleased to explain the finish is around the corner, so he’d need to keep his bat wings a-flappin’ as he swooped towards the finish!

Buoyed by a cancelled event at Cannock Chase this week, there was an abundance of first timers over in Stafford, including numerous dogs and little ones in buggies. Welcome to all tourists from near and far. Other highlights include watching the many young pups (still working in the bat terms, stick with me!) and beginner runners getting involved and giving their all to the line. Whether you’re a racing snake or more social runner, you’re a winner!

The sense of achievement is generally palpable irrespective of a finisher’s placing in the results at Parkrun. Indeed, every performance out there today was fantastic given the inclement conditions pre-run. As we all know, just getting up and fastening your trainers can sometimes be the hardest part and everyone should be proud of their efforts today.


Huge thanks to Paul Glover for drumming up a large colony of Stone Bats to support the core Isabel Trail volunteers. Everyone from Stone Master Marathoners had a fabulous time and we look forward to coming back again soon!


*Stone Master Marathoners would like to welcome all runners to join their off-road 5-mile series of races, Spring Treble. Held on consecutive Thursdays in April, it’s a fabulous way to build up your distance and you’ll enjoy all the same support and camaraderie on display at today’s Parkrun event. Full details can be found here >