STOURBRIDGE STUMBLE

Dave Norman reports "Five years ago I ran the Stourbridge Stumble and then went to the pub to watch Mo Farah claim a gold medal in the London Olympics. Five years on and not a great deal has changed, I’m still running the Stourbridge Stumble, admittedly about 45 seconds slower although I keep trying to convince myself that’s down to the conditions rather than the inevitable passage of time, Mo Farah is still winning gold medals in East London and the race is still as challenging as it always has been.

 

A brief look at the results from five years ago make interesting reading as at least four of the top six have changed clubs at least once, if not twice, in the intervening period. The roll of honour from 2012 reads Robin Sedman-Smith down as Newport & District as the winner, followed by Ian Mansell listed as Centurion, Richard White still in a Halesowen vest, Dave Long down as RSC, Paul Thacker as Wolves & Bilston and James Jefferson in the maroon of West Bromwich Harriers. Mo Farah is still competing in the Great Britain vest but not many of the above are still pulling on the same kit as they were five years ago. Times change but the Stourbridge Stumble remains the same.

 

The course never seems to change. A lap around Mary Steven’s Park to thin out the field, the steep climb and sharp downhill spreading the competitors out before they pass through the rear gates, cross the road to run alongside football pitches on what turned out to be a warm Saturday night despite earlier torrential downpours. A brief twisty turny section through the streets before taking a path alongside a cricket pitch and then across the golf course before crossing Norton Road and going out into the country following paths and tracks alongside fields, ups and downs with a few little gates to break up what little rhythm you can build up. Any rhythm is ruined when you reach Slop Gully, a short pull through ankle deep mud if you put your foot in the wrong place to sap the strength, a brief flattish section before another steep, but this time dry, gully, a long drag along a sandy track and back across the golf course, out the way you came and into the park to finish. Hopefully before the ice cream man has decided to call it a day.

 

Five years ago the green and white hoops were nowhere to be seen but Tipton Harriers claimed most of the prizes in 2017 with Gary Whitehouse taking victory in 37.39 and club mate Steve Brookes finishing runner up in 38.20. Wolverhampton &Bilston’s Rob Cartwright was 3rd in 38.42. In the ladies race Emily Lagomarsino of San Domenico RC claimed first place in 40.35, Tipton’s Lynne Hill was 2nd in 42.44 and Birchfield Harrier, Elizabeth Watters was 3rd in 45.05.

 

In five years’  time most of us will probably still be doing the same thing, flogging ourselves around the Worcestershire countryside on a Saturday night and it will be interesting what vests the main protagonists are wearing in 2022. It appears five years is a long time in the local running scene, at times tonight 40 minutes seemed like an awfully long time. Long enough for the ice cream man to have driven off to do whatever ice cream men do when they’re not being ice cream men."

ANDY HOLDEN MEMORIAL 5m

Dave Norman reports "There’s always a danger naming something after someone, the danger that the something becomes bigger, more recognised, than the someone it was named after. Anyone who fancies popping up the Abraham Darby is more likely to be grabbing a pint in a Weatherspoon’s pub that shin up the leg of a Victorian industrialist and Telford is the town in Shropshire rather than the engineer and road builder, Thomas, who tarmacked most of it. The same may be true in years to come of the Andy Holden, the race around the canals of Tipton that the local legend called his own, but not if Tipton Harriers have their way. There are many legends about the legend, that he would drink as many pints in a week as he ran miles, that he got sent the wrong way twice when leading the Belfast marathon and ended up finishing in the runners up spot only to comment philosophically that these things happen. He was the hardest of the local hard men and a great Tipton stalwart and there were plenty of Tipton stalwarts to commemorate him in the race that bears his name.

 

Just warming up it was clear that the host club would be cleaning up where prizes were concerned. Running around the field and up and down the canal towpath you were passed again and again by sheer class and that class made the race their own from the off. The two laps around the grass soon stretched the field out as the green and white hoops took off at a relentless pace with the remainder strung out behind like washing on a line. Thinning the field out was essential as a brief tree lined incline led runners alongside the canal, passing was possible but not in large numbers and barriers in places made it a little more of a necessity to pick your way carefully. A blast alongside the back of new houses brought runners to a left turn, plummeting down a ramp onto a second stretch of canal, through a barrier, or over for the more adventurous, and off again past the backs of factories before the short sharp incline over two bridges and back towards home alongside the Wolverhampton to Birmingham stretch of the waterway, past Dudley Port station, across the aqueduct and onwards at as fast a pace as you could maintain. Reaching the Barge & Barrel pub you were directed over another bridge and back towards your starting point a mile or so distant, down the wooded slope and onto the field for a lap and into the finish.

 

Ian Williams was first across the line in 24.32 leading home a procession of Harriers with Martin Williams taking second place in 25.00 and Richard Carpenter taking 3rd place in 25.42. Only two of the top 10 were not sporting the green and white hoops of Tipton and only seven of the top twenty were not representing the host club showing the strength in depth Tipton can call on when required. It was a similar story in the ladies race with Lynne Hill claiming victory in 29.37 having to curtail her round the field cool down to pick up her prize, sprinting through a guard of honour to collect her trophy as her name was called. Catherine Holden was 2nd in 30.37 and Sue Street-Hall was 3rd in 31.32 making it a clean sweep for the host club.

 

In true Tipton fashion every finisher was presented with a bottle of beer and a bag of pork scratchings and sent home happy, the only disappointment that the course came up significantly short but there is only so much you can do with canals when half your field has been built on. And the bottle of beer sported a special label showing Holden at his best to ensure he isn’t forgotten, as long as this event continues he won’t be."

WYRE FOREST HALF MARATHON

Dave Norman reports "When race director Craig Lewis of Amazing Feet RC advised that the first two miles were predominantly downhill he wasn’t lying, what he failed to mention, or what we probably failed to hear in the excitement of a two mile downhill start was that there would be a two mile uphill finish. I suppose one would cancel out the other but the worrying part was the nine miles in the middle, but that was far into the future, a little too far for some people.

 

The Wyre Forest Half Marathon takes advantage of an area that could have been designed with the sole intention to run around….or ride around on mountain bike or horse….trails, tracks, fire roads, twists and turns through forests and along wide gravel paths. An absolute joy at a leisurely pace with no pressure, but the triple hit of pace, gradient and temperature made this a particularly difficult test. Pin a number to a vest and whatever the intention to go steady soon evaporates in the heat of battle and a two mile downhill start only makes it evaporate more quickly. All the good intentions of going off steady vaporises in the frenzy of that initial charge. Two miles in and you are pointed left along a track that would have been muddy if it hadn’t been for the baking hot conditions in the preceding fortnight. Now baked hard and rutted you try to avoid the grooves and get into a groove and find a decent rhythm, what follows are some biting gradients, some brutal climbs, the joy of that first downhill couple of miles soon forgotten as the miles tick slowly away and the path turn from the enjoyable pine needle covered trails to what now feel like dusty scars across the landscape. As the race progresses you start to notice the heat, the temperature appears to rise dramatically, the trees almost sucking the oxygen out of the air leaving what’s left as a thick soup that leaves you gasping, although that could have been the pace and the hills that just made it feel like this.

 

As the miles tick slowly by you reach a long almost paved stretch and pass a 9 mile marker, only 4 to go, and you realise that the finish isn’t too far away. Then the realisation kicks in, of that four remaining miles the last couple must be uphill if the first two were mostly down, well here goes. The gradual climb from that point seems to go on for ever, two miles uphill seems more like four miles as the gradual incline from this point gets increasingly steeper, each step taking you closer to the finish passing walkers who appear to be going only a little slower than you. You round a bend and find a short, sharp downhill which sweeps left and then starts to climb, head down you hear the rattle of the Go Ape ropes to the side of the path, can’t be far now, a slight kink in the path keeps the finish just out of sight, as you round that final turn you summon enough energy to get over the line and then you can collapse and some did. The finish resembling a mobile field hospital as many sat slumped on the grass, crouching in the dirt, leaning against tress, too tired to move, the blank eyed stare testament to the effort they had expended. Continuous cups of water, keep your cup and get a refill, and flapjacks gradually bring people back to life, for some it’s a much longer process than others.

 

Andrew Salt made light work of both course and conditions, the Croft Ambrey RC athlete taking first place crossing the line in 1.24.38, Ben Carrington of Tipton Harriers claimed the runners up spot in 1.25.01 and Richard Smith brought a Worcester AC team of three home in third spot to claim the team prize in 1.25.31. In the ladies race it was a win for Sarah Conway of Birchfield Harriers who ran a well paced race and looked strong at the finish crossing the line in 1.36.11, Sian Powell of Kidderminster &Stourport AC was second in 1.42.02 and Dudley Kingswinford’s Helen Tromans was 3rd in 1.43.43.

 

As humanity returned to many broken bodies there were many who were looking to return but probably an equal number who were looking for an excuse not too. There’s nothing wrong with the Wyre Forest Half, call in the Heart of England Half Marathon, charge a fortune and it would rival many of the more publicised and corporate savvy events that have cropped up in recent years, the only thing against it on Sunday was that it felt so difficult. Change a couple of letters in the title of the race and you  wouldn’t be far from the truth, the Wyre Forest Half Marathon should be renamed the Wyre Forest Hard Marathon."

LILLESHALL 5m

Dave Norman reports “Same time every year, the Lilleshall 5 mile race always seems to mark the end of a hard winters training and the start of spring Wednesday racing, the end of running round muddy fields and a chance to run on tarmac with the sun on your back, but the sun was far from the thoughts of most runners driving across a wet Shropshire in torrential rain. Luckily the rain had ceased by the time most had parked up, stripped off and got ready to race but coming in between marathons it is always interesting to see who is on the up and who is on the down and it’s always a hard test and the quality of the field always means there’s nowhere to hide. It’s probably the first gun to the head race of the year and it’s fast, or at least 50% of it is, the downhill 50%.

 

The race starts alongside football pitches on a narrow path, made narrower by the near 400 entrants, many already signed up for the overall six race series. It’s a mad dash for the first corner, a left, about 200 yards and a right where you reach the road proper, the course widens and the elbows give a little more space to ribs as runners find their place in the field. For the first mile or so you are racing downhill, the start line adrenalin pumping and the legs driving you onwards, possibly a little quicker than is comfortable, you try to forget that you’ll be running back up the same hill in another 3 miles time. As the road flattens a little it still feels like you’re flying, you reach the road junction about halfway down the driveway, turn right and take a back lane that brings you onto the main road. After a few twists and turns and ups and downs you reach the main road a turn back through the gates and head back towards the hall, 2 miles of gradual uphill that gets steeper and steeper as the Hall comes into sight. At 4 miles the hill starts to bite, the mad rush at the start begins to pay and it’s an effort to keep the legs pumping, you reach the top of the hill and pass the car park, it feels like you’re nearly there but still have a good quarter mile to go, you hang on and keep driving turning right and left still on tarmac run alongside the football pitches and a last gasp sprint towards a blessed slight downhill finish and over the line.

 

With Paul Ward absent it was left to Dan Soltys to claim first place, the Stone Master Marathoner crossing the line in 26.49, Tom Holden of Tipton Harriers took the runners up spot in 27.12 and fellow Tipton Harrier, Stuart Hawkes claimed 3rd place in 27.17, a remarkable time considering he was “fresh” from winning the Brighton Marathon only three days earlier. The ladies race was won by Telford ACs Claire Martin clocking 29.11 in 25th overall, LucieTait-Harris made it a Telford 1 – 2 by taking the runners up spot in 32.02 and Helen Tromans of Dudley Kingswinford claimed 3rd place crossing the time in a PB time of 32.24.

 

One done and five to go in the series, with the next race being a mad cap race three times around the streets of Dawley in the Phoenix Flyer 5k, another gun to the head race but at least the first one is out of the way and in a few weeks time the sun might be out. Either way most of the near 400 that turned out tonight will be out there too.”

 

SHREWSBURY 10k

 

Dave Norman reports “Shrewsbury is a nice setting for a race, the county town of Shropshire, nestles nicely in the crook of the River Severn with its largely unaltered medieval street plan, boasts plenty of timber framed buildings from the 15th and 16th centuries and its own red sandstone castle. The only problem with castles is where they are normally built. It’s rare you’ll see a castle in the middle of a pancake flat piece of land, they tend to sit proudly atop hills, escarpments, outcrops, things with a bit of gravitas, a bit of height, overlooking the surrounding countryside from a point with a bit of, let’s say, altitude. As a result you have to go up to them, as a result you have to go up to Shrewsbury.

Speaking before the race there was talk of three significant hills on the course; if the one leading from the car park by the river up to the start line in the market square was an indicator of what was to come they would be rather testing, testing to the point of brutality. Any thoughts of bashing out a good club standard sub 40 time might flounder on the gradients like many middle ages assaults of the castle no doubt did too, but there was no point worrying about the hills to come, let’s just concentrate on getting off to a decent start. And the start was reminiscent of another race held on the same day, the Stafford Half Marathon, maybe medieval market squares were all built to the same template and like Stafford there were a few tight twists and turns before hitting the open roads leading over the River Severn and out of town. At the sharp end of the field there were no significant issues but glancing behind from the start line it looked a little busy where nearly 2000 runners were crammed into streets wide enough for opposite neighbours to shake hands by leaning out of their bedrooms windows.

The course wound  its way around the outskirts of the town starting and finishing in the centre, a centre that is higher than most of its suburbs. Afterwards there was a vague recollection of climbs at around 2k and again around 4 but these were short, sharp inclines, ones you could attack and were over before you really realised, before they properly started to bite. At 7k you crossed the river and followed its path back towards the town, at 8k you approached Quarry Park, far more delightful than its name suggests, but the scene of a double hill, a sharp rise punctuated by a little bit of flat about halfway up, followed by another sharp rise, the benefit being a nice descent of similar gradient back down to the river. You leave the park at 9k and there is a thousand metres of twists and turn back to the market square finish.

The three fabled hills, a trio of torment that prompted a word of warning prior to the start were of little consequence, soon forgotten and for some not even noticed on a course that benefitted from as many downs as ups and some very scenic sections that showcased the town at its best. The spring weather and daffodils in bloom through the park certainly helped but were probably not even on the radar of the winner, Adam Peacock of Bromsgrove & Redditch who crossed the line in first place in 33.39. It was a rare defeat for Paul Ward of Telford AC who came home in second place in 34.11 confirming that Peacock must be some athlete to get the better of the rarely bested Telford AC man. Andrew Salt of Croft Ambrey RC completed the top three in 35.16. Nicola Davies claimed victory in the ladies race, the Maldwyn Harrier crossing the line in 40.27 from Belle Ward in second place in 40.41 and LucieTait-Harris claiming 3rd, the Telford AC athlete stopping the clock in 41.06.

With plenty of races on the calendar at this time of year this is one that may have failed to attract attention in the flurry of spring marathon madness with many looking for half marathons and 20s in the build up to a longer target but this is a little gem. After a winter of muddy miles and long hard slogs Shrewsbury was a welcome relief, shorter than most recent Sundays, all tarmac and the hills of little consequence failing to take the shine off the day. A race that deserves to shove its way into an already packed calendar but a welcome alternative on a day when many were racing into double figures where the miles are concerned.“

NATIONAL CROSS COUNTRY CAMPIONSHIPS

Dave Norman reports “A couple of years ago one of the Sunday broadsheets ran a story about the National Cross Country Championships under the headline “the greatest race you’ve never heard of”, it seems that two years on this is still one of Britain’s best kept secrets.

Although numbers are up, total entries this year across both genders and all age groups totaled 8116, this is still small fry compared to some of the big road races throughout the country, the ones with bigger promotion budgets, greater advertising weight, and, as a result higher entry fees. Even so the senior fields felt plenty big enough with elbow room at a premium but it’s still an event that swims a little under the radar of all but the most hard core of club runners but certainly one that all who calls themselves a runner should attend at least once. 

As an event there are few to match the history and tradition of the National Cross Country, a history that dates back to 1876 and a first race at Buckhurst Hill, 32 ran but the race was declared void. A race that has taken in such obscure locations throughout the country  as Roehampton, Croydon, Manchester, Blackpool, Wembley, Water Orton, Newark, Havant and Leeds, even Wolverhampton, West Bromwich and Himley Hall are listed as previous venues. The format these days is for the north, midlands and south to take it in turns to act as hosts. This year was the turn of the midlands so the race returned to Wollaton Park in Nottingham for the 2017 renewal and as venues go this must be one of the best. Rolling parkland overlooked by Wollaton Hall, a great gothic mansion that doubled as Wayne Manor in the recent Batman film. A hall that dominates the landscape in the way a local baron would dominate his serfs adding to the feeling of a medieval village on tour, the tented village, the flags and banners, the mud, the costermongers selling meat in a bun, the whole thing lorded over by a overpowering mansion, all a little feudal. 

All the races were run over a traditional classic cross country course featuring bits of everything to challenge the runners, twisting and turning through the park over various inclines and underfoot conditions. From the start runners charged uphill across stubbly grassland before turning right and right again, a couple of nasty bottlenecks for those shuffled back through the traffic as a 400 metre start line was reduced to about 20 yards of racing line around the first bend, before plunging downhill, crossing a marshy strip of ground and passing the finish line to go out on a first lap, the first of many for some. Each lap took runners through sections of black, clinging, foul smelling mud, areas of shin deep water and up a steep incline towards the hall itself before running along a tree lined boulevard, alongside a lake, more mud, more water, more unpleasantness. A tough course but with many runable sections but interspersed with patches of seemingly bottomless gloop that reduced all but the best to a awkward high kneed gait leaving spikes as heavy as diving boots, calves twanging and thighs like broken glass. In the later laps many may have been feeling sorry for themselves but this would be nothing compared to the self pity those in white vests would feel when pulling the dirty mud splattered rags out of stinking bags ready for the wash, vests from Derby, Wolves & Bilston, Thames Hare and Hounds, would have to be boiled and bleached and still may never be the same again. 

The ladies covered three laps of this spectator friendly course in the penultimate race of the day, three laps of a course already cut up from previous age group races that kicked off at 11.00 nearly four hours earlier. The men covered the mind numbing combination of a small lap, a medium lap, a long lap and an extra long lap, making up 4 circuits before reaching the finish. 

The ladies covered a distance of 8k in what were possibly the worst conditions of the day as the wind whipped the flags and squally rain spattered against the tent sides. This didn’t stop Jessica Judd taking the title by the small margin of 3 seconds, the Chelmsford AC athlete finishing in 29.07 just holding off Louise Small of Aldershot, Farnham and District who crossed the line in 29.10 with Claire Duck of Leeds City taking 3rd in 29.21. In the men’s race there was an even closer margin of victory as Ben Connor of Derby AC came home in 43.18 from Alex Teuten of Southampton AC in 43.20 and Sam Stabler of Oadby&Wigston Legionnaires taking 3rd place in 43.21, the same time as Chris Olley of Tonbridge AC who claimed 4th. In a close race 8 seconds covered the top 10 places. 

With another National out of the way many left the course already talking about next year’s event at Parliament Hill in London. If the last time the event was held in the capital is anything to go by more mud will be guaranteed, another big field, more stories, more memories and an opportunity for club runners to toe the line with the best in the country, and parrots, yes parrots, honestly.  All this for only nine quid, what a bargain."

WHEATON ASTON ROMAN 10k

Dave Norman reports “What do you do as runner between Christmas and New Year? Do you accept the inevitable and live like a normal person for a few days? Do you indulge in all the culinary delights and pile on a few pounds? You know you’ve earned it, you’ve trained hard all year and the rest will do you good. Or do you crack on, treat it as a normal week, enjoy the fact that you can train without the usual weekly work pressures and take the opportunity to do get out into the frosty countryside in daylight? Do you try a combination of both? It’s difficult to know what to do for the best in this peculiar period between Christmas and New Year, this time when you have no idea what day it is, when you lurch between feeling very festive and very full, this strange Crimbo limbo period. Those looking for a break from the overindulging, those feeling guilty just move the box of breakfast chocolates to one side and race.

 

 

That’s where Wheaton Aston provides a welcome respite, a focus, an objective amongst a sea of Celebrations wrappers and pigs in blankets, a reason to get back on the horse and pin a number to the vest, an excuse not to overindulge too much and an opportunity to run off some of the Xmas excess. Typically this year it was frosty, it always seems to be frosty, whatever the weather in the lead up to Christmas there always seems to be a dusting of frost on the pavements around the Staffordshire village, a crunch underfoot and a chill in the air as you walk to the registration point at the school to collect you number. Enough of a chill for many to opt for the two layer approach rather than the vest only option as the chill was no less noticeable by the eleven o’clock start.  A start which, on the road just outside the school, is always a little busy with near 500 runners crammed onto a ribbon of tarmac barely wide enough for two vehicles. A pole position is of prime importance as there is little chance to pass people early.

 

Charging past the crowds outside the school to a ripple of applause you are engrossed in a flurry of knees and elbows as you try to get up to racing speed and hold a position before turning right, then left, right and left in a dizzying dash around side streets before coming out onto the main road running through the village. The field takes a left turn after crossing the canal following a narrow lane full of mud and pot holes before reaching a junction, turning left and plunging downhill on good tarmac, the sun shining brightly in an ice blue sky. At almost two miles in you hit that sweet spot, having found your position, you have escaped the congestion and the distance is yet to bite, you can actually enjoy the moment and feel rather smug that you are out racing while others are at home reaching for the Alka Seltzer. But as the old theory holds true where hills are concerned, what goes down must inevitably come back up, you start to climb, a steady drag, before turning left, passing the water station, passing the llamas (or they might be alpacas, as again I failed to get the I Spy book of South American beasts of burden for Christmas,) reaching the 4 mile point and a facing a stretch of country lanes interspersed with the occasional farm before coming in towards the finish. A last brief uphill pull, and then a quarter of a mile where every step takes you closer to the school and the finish on the car park while the seconds tick away.

Lloyd Biddell of Mercia Fell Runners was first over the line in an impressive 32.32, James Skelton, previously of Wolverhampton &Bilston but listed as unattached was 2nd in 32.48 and Telford AC’s James Egleston was 3rd in 33.48. In the ladies race there was a win for Lindsay Browning, the Newport & District athlete coming home in 39.48, Rachel Coupe claimed the runners up spot, the Telford AC athlete stopping the clock in 41.00 with Tracie Trueman of Lawley RC took  3rd place in 41.04.

 

 

 

Wheaton Aston does provide focus, an aim, a target in a period where every meal is served from a plate covered in cling film, where it is easy to get carried away in a feeding frenzy. An opportunity, but not just an opportunity to race and race hard over a fast course but an opportunity to exorcise the ghost of Christmas, not a Christmas Carol ghost of past, present or future, but the ghost of Christmas guilt. At least Wheaton Aston means you can be face down in a box of Ferrero Rocher watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark” by lunchtime totally guilt free.

 

 

 

 

TELFORD10k

Dave Norman reports “Where can you go to see the cream of British athletics in the flesh? The Olympic stadium at Queen Elizabeth Park, Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium, the Barclaycard Arena? Possibly, but you’d have to pay top dollar for the privilege. How about Telford’s Town Park in the middle of December for free?

Maybe not the cream of British athletics but the low fat version, the Elmlea, the Cool Whip, the butter icing of the running world. In a field that appeared to be littered with Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth Games representatives, and that was just one person, a National Cross Country winner, the AAAs mile champion, a Northern cross country title holder, a former double Manchester marathon winner, a former Telford 10k winner with a 2.18 marathon time from Berlin to his name, a litter of British internationals over the track, road, country, mountains. A plethora of athletes capable of running in the low 60s for the half marathon, sub 30 minutes for 10k, sub 15 minutes for 5k. Runners sporting the vests of the athletics power houses of Aldershot Farnham & District, Shaftesbury Barnet, Sale Harriers, Enfield & Haringey, Bedford & County, Newham & Essex Beagles, Liverpool Harriers, Bristol & West added to the local heavyweights of Tipton Harriers, Wolverhampton &Bilston, Birchfield and Coventry Godiva, and even a touch of the exotic from New Mexico and Florida State University. Race director Dave Mansbridge must be congratulated for attracting a stellar field. The old adage of if you build it they will come couldn’t have been more appropriate as the Telford 10k appears to be the must do race for the tail end of the year.

Although “must do” was starting to feel like “must not do” before the start. Standing in the International Centre watching the young bucks skip and stride across the floor, stretch and twist and perform elaborate and complicated warm ups certainly made many feel out of place, the sponsored athletes in their all New Balance or all Nike kit standing out amongst the lost property basket of the local runners. A warm up of a mile or so, intended to calm the nerves, only made things worse as athletes stalked the park like gazelles in the Serengeti and after a nervous build up most of us were glad to be off. The sharp end of the elite race chock full of talent, the back end just happy to hang on, the plan of starting at the back and trying not to lose the back enough for some hoping to be pulled round to a fast time.

And a fast time was more than possible with the first half mile or so following a sweeping downhill, slightly congested but unlike most other races this was fast congestion. It may have been busy but everyone there was off like a shot so were no serious bottlenecks and as the leaders spread the field out the congestion soon eased as the competitors flowed over a slight uphill and followed the path before dropping down onto the Silkin Way, flat, arrow straight tarmac, around a cone and back towards the halfway point and the completion of the first lap. If the top boys and girls looked intimidating in their warm ups they were terrifying at race pace, a long train at express speed having rounded the cone passing those still approaching it, long striding, oozing power, with runners trailing behind them in varying degrees of distress. Our local heroes amongst the pack of those following, our weekly winners reduced to mortals but still there putting their necks one the line.

A second lap followed during which most spent most time checking on the engine, trying to hold on to the fast pace, hoping that the seams didn’t split and a gasket didn’t blow somewhere, around the cone for a second time and heading towards the finish. You see the 5 mile marker and know there is only a mile to go, a few minutes pf pain remaining, hold it together and then bask in the glory of a fast finish to the year end, a final blast of adrenaline taking you across the line accompanied by the strains of Slade banging out Merry Christmas Everybody from Wonderland World.

It was very sharp at the sharp end with Joshua Grace leading the field home, the Aldershot Farnham & District athlete crossing the line in 29.21, Tom Lancashire of Bolton coming home in second place by a single second and Jake Shelley of Shaftesbury Barnett taking third place in 29.23. In the ladies race Swansea’s Elinor Kirk claimed victory for the second year in 32.35 with Lucy Crookes of Leeds City AC crossing the line in second place in 34.02 and Nicole Roberts of Birchfield Harriers finished third in 34.09. In all 18 men crossed the line before the clock ticked over to 30 minutes, the unfortunate Chris Olley clocking 30.01 and Birchfield’s, Alex Tovey, clocking 30.02. With 18 men recording sub 30 minute times and 14 ladies coming home under 36 minutes there was plenty of quality but we also had the quality with 305 athletes  crossing the line in the elite race and a further 716 finishing the “masses” race.

It may not have been the cream of British athletics but it was certainly as close as you are going to get to full fat dairy on a Sunday morning in December and as Joshua Grace and Elinor Kirk readily demonstrated the cream certainly rises to the top.”

SUICIDE SIX

Dave Norman reports "I was asked after the race why the Suicide 6 so named? Is there actual suicide involved and where does the 6 come from? Well, no suicide, although at times that would possibly be a preferred option but the “cry for help 6” or the “self harm 6”, no matter how catchy, just wouldn’t have the same impact. As for the 6, well it’s 6 miles, isn’t it? Well, not quite. So is it 6 degrees of separation, you know that thing where you are never more than 6 steps away from Kevin Bacon, or whatever it is. Only 6 steps, how about one hundred and eleven steps? But that comes later. Maybe it’s because there are 6 different “features” to the course,  6 notable points of interest.

 

The venue, at Baggeridge Country Park, does lend itself to “features”, the race starts in the man-made bowl where, with an asthmatic blast of a seldom used hooter, the thick end of 500 runners charge up the steep grassy bank aiming for the old brickworks chimney and charge across the muddy field before skirting Bag Pool. At this point it’s a mad elbows out dash, avoiding the heels of the runners in front, trying to pick a path through the field, trying not to get shuffled backwards. Although there is still plenty of time to pick up places the nature of the course and the obstacles to be negotiated makes uninterrupted running difficult.  

 

Within the first mile you reach the first of those obstacles with the thigh burning climb up to the trig point, a short but steep ramp made harder but the irregular underfoot conditions and runners fanning out ahead of you, with lungs on fire you drop off the summit for a slippery treacherous descent, a chance to pick some people off before feature number two, the clay road, a horrible claggy clawing experience. Your focus narrows shutting off all those around you as you concentrate on the six inches of path, if indeed you can call it that, ahead of you. You can only focus on trying to stay upright, trying to keep your shoes on, trying to just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you’re through the strength sapping ordeal. And then it’s over and you’re on an uphill, single track steady climb along a bridle path towards the entrance to the park and a short spurt across Gospel End Common before finding the path past the farm and the first real opportunity to get your legs turning over at a decent rate.

 

A good stretch of track follows, over the wooden bridge and down towards Himley for number three, the tortuous climb at the back of the hall. A climb that reduces the best to a walk or at least a run that is no faster than walking pace then, with quads like broken glass, you are over the top and descending through the trees, getting closer and closer to the water crossing, the shouts and cat calls echoing through the trees. And then you’re on top of it, in it, through it and out the other side and starting the soggy run back towards Baggeridge. Number 5 may seem quite innocuous but catches out the unwary, the long drag under the brick bridge and past Whites Wood and up towards The Straits, almost unnoticeable after the torture you have already endured but enough to sap the strength even further if you’ve paced it just a little wrong.

Turning left you have a section of what should be easy running if legs were fresh following the miners track before the final test, all one hundred and eleven steps up Jacobs Ladder. Irregular, railway sleeper stairs that can either be taken one or two at a time but neither of the options feels comfortable. You reach the top and can see the finish but are unable to take the “as the crow flies” route and have to follow a parabola, a curve around the bowl, and over the line. 6 trials thrown at you to make you suicidal, a full half dozen to make you cry enough."

 

SHEEPWALKS SHOCKER

 

Dave Norman reports “The clue is in the title, it’s up the Sheepwalks and it’s a Shocker. Nothing glamorous, nothing

 

elaborate, just plain and simple, some testing inclines, some tough gradients to negotiate, parts where, for some, the

 

laboured effort of simply putting one foot in front of another becomes tortuous, but at least they give you a clue.

 

 

In previous years this was never the case, the Sheepwalks Shocker is an amalgamation of two races, the Kinver10k and

 

a race from some years past, the Enville 10k, both took in various parts of the Shocker course but neither gave you any

 

indication of the horrors to come.

 

Last year these two combined to form the Two Villages 10k but even then this sounded like a rather quaint little jaunt

 

around the countryside, the Shocker at least spells it out right from the outset.

 

If the Kinver 10k and the Enville 10k had children then the Two Villages 10k would have been the well behaved one who

 

always did their homework and always tidied their room while the Sheepwalks Shocker would be the bad tempered,

 

leather jacketed, peroxide dyed child who stuck two fingers up at the world.

 

The possibly illegitimate son, and appropriately this was a bastard.

 

 

 

At least it was a nice morning to suffer, the sun shining brightly in an ice blue sky the DJ spinning the discs, the air

 

reverberating to the sound of the 1980’s favourites, the bacon sandwiches selling like hot cakes and the hot cakes not

 

doing too badly either.

 

Near the start people wandered around smiling and happy, most unaware of the horrors to come, and they came early.

 

The race started on the drive in front of Enville Hall and ran between paddocks before reaching a muddy, puddle strewn

 

path through the trees then finding the tarmac and the climbing started.

 

A right turn and a slight incline before reaching the foot of Sheepwalk Lane and the hurting started, for the best part of

 

a mile the road stretched out ahead, meandering slightly but always going up, the views of the surrounding countryside

 

would have been worth the effort but it was hard to lift your eyes from the tarmac six feet in front of you, there was a

 

brief respite about three quarters of the way up before a final brutal climb before you turned left and plummeted down

 

the hill to take in a circuit of quiet country lanes before inevitably coming round to the foot of Sheepwalk Lane again but

 

this time you are not expected to do a full climb.

 

 

That is of little consolation as by now you are more than 5 miles in and the legs are screaming in protest, if the marshals

 

at the bottom pointing you up Sheepwalks Lane for a second time could be called all the worst names under the sun the

 

ones pointing you through a gates and across the fields were the most welcome sight in the world. If you had enough

 

left and could summon the energy there was a final charge across the grass, talking the well trodden path, the walk the

 

sheep tend to follow hence the name, through a gate, across a paddock and onto the tarmac in front of the hall and

 

over the line.

 

 

 

Dave Smith was first to finish in 37.13, the Wolves & Bilston athlete, fresh from a masters mile victory 24 hours

 

previously in Cardiff, showing a fine turn of foot over the longer distance and more tricky terrain to run away from Dave

 

Nation of Dudley & Stourbridge Harriers who claimed the runners up spot in 38.36 with Ian Mansell, this time in the yellow

 

and blue of DASH, taking 3rd place in 39.36.

 

 

There was victory in the ladies race for a former Stafford Half Marathon winner, Debbie Walters of Birchfield Harriers in

 

41.00 taking 7th overall, Dudley Kingswinford’s Helen Tromans took 2nd place in 45.05 and Emma Walton was 3rd in 46.27. 

 

It’s not often you find a race that truly lives up to its name but this one certainly does, despite that there were plenty of

 

people willing to embrace the pain and for anyone with a phobia of hills this could just be the shock treatment required to

 

get over that fear.

 

 

 

It’s certainly a shocker, a bastard, the illegitimate son of two far more pleasant parents, but like most rebels, you can’t

 

help loving it." (thanks again Dave for report  - pictures above)

HARPER SCARPER

Dave Norman reports “It’s been said before but it needs repeating, this is an endurance event. Not this race in isolation but the whole Sexarathon Series, six months worth of top class racing against some of the best the local scene has to offer, over different, sometimes difficult terrain, it takes speed to perform well but stamina to reach the finish.

 

The cream of the crop in April may have curdled by August and tonight’s culmination of the series would be the final decider. Some will have fallen by the wayside already before we have even reached Harper Adams University in Newport, others may have been trying to hold things together only to fall apart just before the final hurdle, most of the races will seem like a sprint rather than a marathon but the event is a marathon rather than a sprint.

 

 

There were plenty of furtive and not so furtive glances, at the start as runners weighed up the opposition looking for age group competitors and considered what they would need to do to turn a 4th into a 3rd or prevent a 3rd becoming a 4th.

 

Is so-and-so here? Has what’s his name made it? All a bit of added spice for the final race of the series and the earlier start at 7.00 also potentially having an impact as people juggled an early finish at work or a frantic drive to get to the venue on time. With Paul Ward and Stuart Hawkes separated by a single point at the top of the tree there was a lot at stake, Claire Martin could have stayed at home and still probably won.

 

The race started with a mad, slightly up hill, dash on tarmac before turning right and taking a road across farmland, a road that included a couple of roller coaster inclines, the first mile ticked off, before reaching a junction, turning right and then right again before reaching mile 2 and being directed through a wooded action, a few twists and turns, before coming out onto the tarmac again and running down towards the starting point. At this point many were blowing hard and hanging on, trying to protect their position in the field, trying to stop haemorrhaging places, the slight downhill at least providing some benefit before flattening out for the last charge across the grass to the finish.

 

 

At the front of the race there was little to choose between the 1st and 2nd place runners, Tipton’s Stuart Hawkes holding off Paul Ward of Telford AC to take the victory by 2 seconds, 15.43 to 15.45, a victory that levelled the points leaving both with a share of the series, Daniel Soltys was only a few strides behind, his time of 15.52 securing the Telford athlete 3rd place on the night. Claire Martin was far less troubled taking the ladies prize and the overall series title finishing in 25th position in 17.58, the host club’s, Michelle Clark chased her home in 18.32 and Shrewsbury’s Sara Willhoit claimed 3rd place in 19.48.

 

There were plenty prepared to hang around to see the overall prizes distributed and a few surprises as tonight’s result produced some shuffling of the pack, but as the dust settled on another successful series many were already looking towards next year. Who will have moved into a new age group, who will be missing from the start line in Lilleshall, who’s in and who’s out? It won’t be long before we’re all lining up again for another six months of fun.”

 

LEEK HALF MARATHON

 

Dave Norman reports “For the last few years the Leek Half Marathon has been the benchmark by which the gradient of all other races is set, the standard that all other half marathons are held up against. When asked the question “is it hilly?” you always consider Leek before replying. Is the Coventry Half hilly? It is but it’s no Leek Half. Is the Wyre Forest Half hilly? It is but it’s no Leek Half. Is the Potters Arf hilly? It is but it’s no Leek Half. You get the idea. With 1220 feet of up hill running and 1210 feet of downhill you know it’s going to be a roller coaster of a half marathon and you’ll know that whatever gradient a race may throw at you in the future it’s nothing compared to this.

You know what to expect when all the suggested car parks are at the bottom of a hill making the walk to the start the first of a series of serious inclines. Inspecting the first half mile as a warm up you are met with a nice long descent away from the start line in Brough Park bringing smiles to runners faces, smiles that rapidly turn to frowns as they are brought back down to earth by the thought that they will have to finish up the same incline.

With the overdressed Leek Town Crier sending us on our way we tackled the same hill at race pace, some with the reckless abandon of the unknown hills to come, others a little more warily knowing what’s in store. Within a mile you start to climb along country lanes, passing the Abbey Inn and following the undulating road past Tittesworth Reservoir before turning right through the 4 mile point and  onwards before reaching the Buxton Road. Running in the gutter alongside traffic cones the road drops away in front of you at a comfortable gradient, you can relax and let gravity do some of the work but then looking up you realise how steep the road becomes once you reach the trough and start to climb again, the sort of incline on which many cyclists out for the day run out of gears, an incline to turns the quads to jelly. Mercifully the course takes a left turn at Upper Hulme but only to find a different hill and the thighs are soon the consistency of Rowntrees Strawberry as you cover the best part of two miles of climbing past the evocatively named Hen Cloud and alongside The Roaches before plummeting, and it’s a definite plummet, towards 8 miles. The course reaches familiar territory once again at Meerbrook, taking the field past the reservoir and up and down back towards the finish. All that is left is that final thigh mashing, lung burning climb to the finish, a climb that makes a respectable time less respectable leaving all but the very best spent.

And the very best was Ryan Holroyd, the City of Stoke athlete running away from the field to claim victory in 1.17.30. Daniel Soltys of Stone Master Marathoners claimed 2nd place in 1.19.44 and Derby Triathlon Club’s, Chris Nicoll, took 3rd place in 1.22.00. In the ladies race it was a win for Gemma Barnett of Vale Royal AC in 1.34.56 from ChorltonRunners, Raquel Gutierrez, who finished in 1.37.46 and Jennifer Rich, the Steel City Strider stopping the clock in 1.39.15.

As races go you’d struggle to find a race as tough but the toughness of the race is rewarded with some fantastic scenery. Running across The Roaches you are compensated with a spectacular view of the Staffordshire countryside, fields stretched out like bed sheets in the valley like an Ordnance Survey map come to life, but then you spot the reservoir in the distance and realise you still have to get there and it seems an awfully long way. The Leek half is tough but with its rewards and once you’ve raced it no race will ever be the same.”

 

SHIFNAL HALF MARATHON

 

Dave Norman reports “After a 12 month break the Shifnal Half was back on the calendar and its return was certainly welcomed by many. This has always seemed to be a best kept secret of a race, it’s small and friendly reminding many of races that schools used to put on in the late 1980s and early 90s when a race could be organised with the minimum of fuss by those that knew what they were doing, with no clamour for road closures and chip times, without the hullabaloo and hoopla that seem to be associated with races these days. As a result for a few die-hards its return has to be applauded and many returned after the enforced break to take part in this resurrected version.

 

The course was the same as in previous years, a bit of a variety pack with a bit of everything. Mainly road, along country lanes for the most part with a few nasty little ups and downs but with some tricky little off road sections to link the Shropshire villages of Ryton, Beckbury and Kemberton together over the 13.1 mile route before finishing back in Shifnal.

 

As the church bell was striking the hour and calling worshippers to the Sunday morning service the race got underway, a few little twists and turns around the back streets of Shifnal before a long downhill stretch, a left turn alongside fields and past the first water station, through a wooded section and out the other side into Ryton, coming to a crossroads and taking the left fork uphill towards Beckbury. At 5 miles the field runs past the church in Beckbury and the Seven Stars pub before climbing again towards Harrington Hall. At this point the weather was warming up a little and the high hedgerows were turning idyllic country lanes into uncomfortable ovens, there was a little bit of shade through Kemberton and out the other side but not much. With a couple of miles to go you leave the tarmac for a view of Shifnal sewage works, through some woods, through a gate and out into open country again for a brief section before reaching the main road into Shifnal, a mile through the town and out the other side to a finish on the school field while an ex member of staff shouts your name and number through a megaphone.

Martin Williams claimed a relatively easy win coming home in an untroubled 1.12.13, the Wolves &Bilston athlete finishing some three minutes ahead of Telford’s Paul Ward who claimed 2nd place in 1.15.24 with Robin Sedman-Smith of Newport taking 3rd place in 1.18.08 just ahead of James Egleston of Telford, 4th in 1.18.27 and Dave Smith, who was only talked into the event earlier that morning and still took 5th place in 1.19.46 despite running the best part of a dozen hard miles the previous day. The ladies race proved to be a straightforward training run for victor Claire Martin of Telford AC who claimed an easy win in 1.27.40 finishing in 9th overall, Vikki Siverton of Malvern Tri Club was 2nd in 1.39.22 and Rachel Simms of Telford was 3rd in 1.50.18.

 

It looks like it will be back to stay as next years renewal is already being discussed, let’s hope so but doing tell everyone. Best kept secrets should remain just that, secret.

 

MARKET DRAYTON 10k

 

Dave Norman reports “A wise old sage commented before the race that it was better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt, it was like standing next to Yoda, but maybe you should change that to it’s better to sit in the garden with a beer than run round Shropshire on the hottest day of the year. Foolish words can lead to all who hear them forming an opinion but foolish deeds are there for all to see, particularly when they are photographed. Actions speak louder than words and there were certainly a few people who regretted their actions on Sunday morning as the mercury continued to rise resulting in unpleasantly warm conditions and some people seriously wishing they had stayed at home and relinquished their finish line goodies.

 

 

The lure of the finish line generosity meant the race had sold out within days of the final participant crossing the line 12 months ago, a bit of unexpected sun would never keep the field away from their pork pies, rain, hail, sleet and snow would not deprive a man of his rice puddings, to achieve those treats there was the small task of running a 10k in blistering heat. As start time approached runners embarked on elaborate, and possibly unnecessary warm ups in view of the conditions, criss-crossing the school fields like a pedestrian version of the Red Arrows. Runners were called to their starting pens in plenty of time for the 11.00 start, already uncomfortably warm, sweaty of brow and dry of throat, before being sent on their way, the fast boys, and girls, streaming away across the grass, Phil Nicholls already building a sizeable lead even before he reached the tarmac, a kaleidoscope of colour stretching out for some distance behind him.

 

 

The massive field of over 2100 took advantage of the closed roads to spread across pavement to pavement as the field left the field and wound around the local streets before streaming through the town to the sound of drums and choice words of encouragement from the locals who were out in force. The first few kilometres involved twisting a turning through side streets before reaching the Shrewsbury Road just before the 4k mark, more twists and turns before the downhill of Quarry Bank Road just after 7k before the short sharp climb up Stafford Street and into the town before a final kilometre and the finish on the school field.

 

 

Phil Nicholls made light of conditions to streak away at the start, in his words a poor final kilometre or so resulting in him missing the course records by seconds but still claiming victory in 30.42. Former GB Olympian at marathon distance, Dave Webb, of Telford AC was runner up in 31.51 and Salford Harriers, TarusElly claimed 3rd in 32.47 with last year’s winner, James Skelton of Wolves &Bilston just missing out on a podium place in 4th in 32.59. Tessa Clarke made it double delight for Wolves &Bilston claiming 1st place in the ladies race in 36.31 from Rachel Parker of West Mercia in 39.08 and Shrewsbury AC’s Sara Willhoit who claimed 3rd place in 40.57.

 

 

By Monday night next year’s race was already full and a waiting list was put in place for those disappointed souls who had missed out. If the weather is as warm as it was for this year’s renewal there will be plenty of fools, but fools laden with pork pie and rice pudding.

 

LILLESHALL MONUMENTAL 10k

 

 

Jane Holt reports “A 70-foot high obelisk had the starring role in the Lilleshall Monumental 10K on Sunday (17 April). The race was scenic, multi-terrain and an uphill struggle in the true sense of the word! 
 

This was a well-supported rural event with a friendly, village fair atmosphere. Scenic views of Lilleshall form the backdrop to its most famous resident, the soaring monument that dominates the skyline. It proudly sits at the top of an energy-sapping steep hill that challenges even the fittest runner! 

 

 

This race is one of the most scenic 10k’s in Shropshire featuring the iconic Lilleshall Hill and Abbey, not forgetting the attractive village of Lilleshall itself. It was the 7th year running of this event that raises funds for local charities as well as promoting health and fitness in the community. This event also included the very popular 1-mile fun run. 

 

 

The race started and finished at the cricket club where there was a bar, BBQ and cake stall, providing ‘recovery fuel’ for the runners (and their supporters). First man across the line was Gareth Briggs of Wolverhampton & Bilston AC in 38:35. Robin Sedman-Smith of Newport & District RC came second in 38:40 with Joe Phillips also of Newport & District RC taking third place in 38:52.
 

Fastest lady was Helen Stokes of Mercia Fell Runners in 46:52 closely followed by Amy Jayne Wakeley of Telford Athletics Club in 46:57. Kathryn Morgans of Wolverhampton &Bilston AC was third in 47:44. 

A new addition to the event was a 'tots and toddlers' race where budding Paula Radcliffe’s and Mo Farah’s had the opportunity to copy the adults in a safe environment.”

LILLESHALL 5

 

 

Dave Norman reports ”And so the madness starts all over again. The madness of the Sexarathon Series, the madness of  too many people trying to enter on the night, the madness of that first downhill mile and the additional madness of parking where availability was restricted due to building work. But despite questioning our own sanity not many would let a Wednesday night in April pass us by without turning out for number one in a series of six and kicking off another Sexy Series.

 

 

For Lilleshall regulars the course is….let’s say challenging, the first challenge is not to get caught up in the excitement of the first downhill mile and then the challenge is to try to keep the legs turning over at a fair old lick for the return uphill. Despite the best intentions it’s hard not to go off fast, if you don’t you’ll get swamped so a fast start is almost an act of self preservation rather than one of stupidity. As runners charged away from the start they were faced with the lead car which was parked only a few hundred yards from the line discussing the situation with the driver of a white van facing in the opposite direction, the majority of the field were squeezed trough an awkward bottleneck and on their way with the lead car left far behind.  As the adrenaline of the start began to dissipate gravity started to kick in, the first mile was ticked off at a frightening speed as the field raced down the drive towards the cross roads where the course turned right, a slight incline, a downhill and all still a little mad cap, with people still taking advantage of gravity, and out onto the main road for a brief spell before turning left into the Lilleshall grounds for the long drag to the finish.

 

 

Where the excitement of the start fuelled the first couple of miles and the favourable incline only assisted the field to go a little quicker there were no such benefits for the return, the ribbon of tarmac stretching out ahead with runners strung out like multi-coloured washing on a two mile long line. Not many positions changed hands, a few of the spent slowed, a few of those that had been a little more sensible at the start took advantage, but most just tried to hold it together as long as possible before turning right as the incline turned to flat and then slightly downhill towards the finish line. A finish line that still seemed to be further away than it should have been. Five miles doesn’t seem that far, particularly when a large proportion of the field have been training for spring marathons,  but five miles is still a long way, particularly if you try to run it at 5k pace.

 

 

Telford AC’s  long lost Chris Davies made a welcome return to the series taking first place in a speedy 26.20 with club mate Paul Ward taking 2nd in 26.32 and Stuart Hawkes of Tipton Harriers taking 3rd place for the whippets in 26.49. In the ladies race there was a win for Claire Martin, the Telford AC athlete finishing in 20th overall in 29.12 from Hayley Jennings listed as unattached in 2nd place in 30.50 and Sara Willhoit of Shrewsbury AC finishing in 31.45 to take 3rd place.

 

 

One down and five to go, the next race, the Phoenix Flyer, in a few weeks time around the streets of Dawley will be a different challenge altogether. At least in this one there will be less chance of us being destroyed by racing at 5k pace as more than a handful did tonight, but that’s only because it’s a 5k.”

 

MIDLANDS 12 STAGE ROAD RELAYS

 

Dave Norman reports “There’s something about the Midlands Road Relays that heralds the spring, like spring lambs, the sprouting of daffodils and creme eggs the relays are the first real sign that spring is here and summer is only around the corner. Gone are the winter long slogs around muddy fields, the clocks have changed, the nights are getting lighter and charging around Sutton Park on a Saturday afternoon makes you glad to be alive, at least on the brief downhill section away from the start line.

 

 

The relays is one of the “must do” events of the calendar with the programme listing previous winners and fastest long and short legs – Ian Stewart, Paul Davies-Hale, Tony Milovsorov, Dave Moorcroft – an illustrious list who have trod the tarmac in past years, and as this event annually draws a line under the cross country season it seems right that it should always be run in warm spring sunshine. That certainly seemed unlikely as the first clubs arrived at Sutton Park at the fag end of a cold grey morning, pitching tents in drizzly rain, a cold wind whipping the multi coloured flags to attention on their poles, but things improved as the start time approached and the first leg runners assembled under clearing skies and rising temperatures.

 

With the order of long and short legs amended from previous years to four consecutive long legs of 5.38 miles followed by eight consecutive shorts of 3.1 rather than alternates, it was always going to be different and bring different tactics into play. Who would play their cards early, who would keep them close to their chest? Who had 12 good men and true? Who had a handful making up the numbers? Who would start strong and fall away and who would time their charge up the rankings to perfection? Only time would tell over the best part of the afternoon.

 

Defending champions Notts got off to a flyer with Aaron Scott leading the first leg home in 26.44 from William Richards of Birchfield in 2nd place in 27.12 and world class marathon runner, Dave Webb of Telford placing 3rd with a 27.45 leg with Luke Evans of Bristol & West in 4th, Tipton’s Ian Williams 5th and Oliver Mott of Cheltenham & County Harriers, the day’s dark horses, handily placed in 6th. Leg two saw Notts maintain their lead with Stuart Spencer running 27.38 but behind things were already getting interesting at Benedict Westhenry moved Bristol up into 2nd place, overtaking Birchfield’s Jonathan Goringe who kept hold of 3rd, Ian Mitchell of Tipton gaining a place moving the whippets into 4th spot from Harry Bishop of Cheltenham and Joe Rainsford of Heanor AC breaking into the top half dozen places.

On leg three Notts were still in control with Dale Annable maintaining top spot but Phil Wylie was leading the Cheltenham charge bringing the Gloucestershire club into 2nd place while Bristol’s Owain Jones slipped down a place into 3rd,  Yousf Al-Lathaa of Birchfield in 4th, Heanor breaking into the top half dozen through Matthew Bickerstaff and Tom Holden of Tipton just holding on to 6th place. A quarter of the way in and the pot was bubbling away nicely and with the final long leg Cheltenham moved into first place with Graham Rush charging in what would prove to be the fastest long leg of the day in 26.32 to overtake Tim Hartley of Notts who slipped back to 3rd with Tom Merson of Bristol coming through for 2nd place, Rory Grant maintained Birchfield’s 4th place, Stuart Hawkes moved Tipton up a place into 5th with Shan Rice maintaining Heanor’s top 6 spot.

 

With the four long legs out of the way the field was staring to spread out with the top 3 clubs some distance ahead of the rest with the medallists more or less decided, but it was unclear in which order they would finish. Cheltenham continued to look strong maintaining their position in 1st place with Ben Price, Richard De-Camps, Marc Fallows, Richard Dare and William New keeping them ahead of the chasing pair, while Bristol & West were still able to hold on to the runners up spot through Rob Stewart, Mark Edwards, Ben Robinson, Jack Millar and William Christof and Notts were still in the bronze medal position through Matthew Williams, Alex Benfield, Jarratt Perkins, Tom Bailey and Douglass Musson.

Some distance behind them the remaining teams in contention were getting strung out and little was changing in the way of positions with Orlanda Corea and James Trollope keeping Birchfield in 4th from Gareth Griffiths and Luke Vine keeping Tipton in 5th and Gordy Smith and Corey Parker keeping Heanor in 6th but over the next two legs things changed a little in the minor places as Lee Abrahams moved Tipton into 4th and Aaron Brown, Jonny Carter and Liam Roberts were able to consolidate their position with Harvey Maguire and Mike Aspinall, who claimed the third fastest short leg of the day in 15.58 to put 4th spot beyond doubt. Birchfield dropped back a place into 5th but held that spot through Ben Griffiths, Simon Rhodes, Alex Parker, Conall Green, Mike Morley and Pete Dimbleby but Heanor slipped out of the top 6 to be replaced by Telford AC, Josh Burrows putting them back in the top half dozen on leg 7 and Chris Bagshaw, Rhys Furlong, Rob Hughes and James Egleston holding that spot to leave Jake Milovsorov to bring them over the line.

Meanwhile things were hotting up at the front, Cheltenham were still ahead with three legs remaining but were seeing their lead diminish with Bristol and Notts hot on their heels. Anthony Bailey kept them ahead on leg 10 with Rob Smith moving Notts into 2nd place at the expense of Brsitol’s Harry Lane and as runners left the start line on the penultimate laps it could still go either of three ways.

 

 Andrew Van Kints of Cheltenham was able to hold off the two pronged challenge and hand over in 1st place with the positions yoyo-ing again in their wake as Miles Chandler moved Bristol into 2nd relegating Notts Martin Whitehouse into 3rd. With one leg remaining and almost four hours of racing completed only seconds would separate the top three and it was Bristol’s Adam Speake who charged up the hill to take the title with Cheltenham’s Dave Roper holding onto the silver medal spot and Steve Long of Notts claiming bronze. With Brsitol finishing in a total time of 4.01.48, Cheltenham in 4.02.00 and Notts in 4.02.19 there were only around 30 seconds separating the medallist after nearly 50 miles of racing. And while the top teams congratulated themselves the all bar the top few clubs sent their last two, or maybe three, runners out on a mass start to bring the day to a close, a day that had started wet and miserable finished in glorious sunshine, it was certainly glorious for the day’s victors, Bristol & West, who timed their charge to perfection.

 

STAFFORD HALF MARATHON

 

Dave Norman reports “People as a rule tend to vote with their feet. The most popular football matches always boast the highest attendances, the big gigs are always a sell-out, on line tickets for popular events are snapped up within the blink of an eye. The Stafford Half Marathon is similar; a complete sell out many months before race day and boasting 2735 finishers just proves its popularity and rubber stamps its position in the calendar as a big event.

 

 

Stafford has always been popular, as a stepping stone towards a spring marathon or as a race in its own right for those looking to record a quick time. Despite not being pancake flat it always seems capable of being a PB course, the numbers help as a decent sized field will drag runners round to quicker times as long as they can get off the start line without any hassle, without too much traffic. And that’s where the start has improved, although starting in the centre of the town you are soon out of the narrow streets and onto the wider boulevard of Newport Road passing the first mile point before turning left onto West Way through Risingbrook and heading back towards the town twisting through terraced back streets before the first significant climb up Radford Bank and reaching 5 miles. Rather than having the long descent towards Milford Common as in years gone by the route takes runners towards Baswich crossing the River Sow reaching the University site at Beaconside just after 7 miles. More than half way into the race and the speed is staring to bite at this point, a long straight stretch of the best part of 3 miles follows, some gradual steady inclines, some long drags as the route skirts the town before turning towards the finish, with about 3 miles to go and heading down Stone Road. A slight downhill before crossing traffic and picking up the Isabel Trail, a gravel path towards the town, passed the Broadeye Windmill, through Victoria Park alongside the river, a brief lap of the town spiralling towards the finish, 800 to go, 400 to go and rounding the last corner for the first sight of the finish in Market Square and over the line.

 

Paul Little of Droitwich AC was first over the line in 1.14.27 from Cannock & Staffs, Chris Hollinshead, in 1.14.46 and another Cannock & Staffs athlete, Phil Wolfe taking 3rd place in 1.14.58. In the ladies race Rebecca Harrison claimed victory, the Cheadle RC athlete crossing the line in 1.22.54, Lichfield RC’s Sarah Dauncey claimed the runners up spot in 1.25.53 with Jane Bartholemew of Sparkhill Harriers taking 3rd place in 1.28.42.

 

With just shy of 3000 taking part Stafford always puts on a good show and its popularity seems undiminished. With plenty of choice around this time of year, Coventry, Ironbridge, Silverstone Halfs, and even Cardiff this year boasting the World Championships, plenty of 20 milers for those looking to fine tune their marathon plans on offer at Ashby, Knighton, Rhayader and Gloucester but Stafford is still able to attract large numbers. People certainly vote with their feet and there were plenty of feet pounding the Staffordshire tarmac this year as in previous years. Next year’s version will be advertised soon, and like all popular events entries will fill up fast, make sure you get in quick or you will be left kicking your heels while others are turning their feet over at a fair lick from Market Square and back.”

 

IRONBRIDGE HALF MARATHON

 

 

Dave Norman reports “Ironbridge is always a challenge, even more so this year than in the previous few, a challenge first of all to get there. The Ironbridge half impacted upon by the iron horse as many competitors got caught up in traffic travelling to an “Ultimate Dubs” show, whatever that was. It was certainly popular as tailbacks from The International Centre had those in lycra caught up with those with in hoodies and baseball caps, those excited to pin a number to their chest were snarled up with those exited about bringing together the Ultimate VW, Audi, Seat & Skoda Show Cars from all over Europe under one roof, according to their website.

Parking difficulties resulted in runners approaching registration from all four points of the compass as cars were abandoned on grass verges, in side roads, at car parks on the other side of the park itself. The start delayed by 15 minutes to ensure the field was full putting people’s preps a little off with many, warm up done, now kicking their heels for another quarter of an hour. What to do? How about another couple of miles warm up?

 

With the additional 15 minutes soon eaten up runners were called to the start and were sent on their way turning right up the slope and streaming over the line before turning left towards the Telford Hornets rugby pitches and left again down the steep slope and back into the park proper once again. A mile in and runners were starting to find their place within the field before joining the straight as a die path out of the park towards Madeley and beyond. This is where the Ironbridge Half gets tricky but the tricky part isn’t so obvious, the tricky bit is that it appears easy. The first half a dozen or so miles being slightly downhill allowing the field to pick up some pace, racing possibly half a yard quicker than normal, using up valuable petrol that they would need to call on during the second half. Runners tick along through the early miles through Madeley and past the VictorianTown at Blists Hill and on to Coalport before crossing the River Severn and heading towards the focal point of the race through Jackfield, before crossing the river once again over the construction that gave the town and ultimately the race itself name. And this is where it gets more difficulty, difficult in the first half to pace it right, to keep your powder dry to enable you to fire in the second half, and difficult as the second half starts to go uphill, the race a classic game of two halves with the half time oranges coming out at the Ironbridge itself.

 

 

A bright and sunny spring morning bringing everyone out, the dug up pavements full of people, the roads full of cars, and at one point mopeds as the Quadraphenia brigade give their scooters an airing causing a taxing couple of miles for the marshals. All marshals were good providing support and encouragement, but those through Ironbridge itself were the best. Leaving the town those who knew the course were more than aware of what was coming, a steep incline towards Coalbrookedale, a couple of mountain bikers running out of gears on the lower slopes and being passed by runners. A brief downhill followed before the tarmac ran out as the course headed through RoughPark, the reverse of the old Madeley Matchmaker route, before you reached the outer fringes of the park and a mile or so of pancake flat tarmac towards the finish. Four hundred metres to go and the course ramped up again, two hundred to go and the lactic in the legs started to bite, lungs burning, legs churning and over the line for the finish.

 

 

Despite racing in Shropshire colours in the Inter Counties Cross Country at Cofton Park, Birmingham Paul Ward claimed victory in 1.17.22 from Telford club mate, Christian Evans, runner up in 1.18.18 and Shropshire Shufflers Richard Price who crossed the line in 1.20.29. In the ladies race the Queen of the Telford Parkrun, Kim Fawke took the crown in 1.27.54, Lauren Draper finished runner up in 1.30.04 and Tracie Truman of Lawley RC claimed 3rd in 1.31.12. 

Challenge completed, Ironbridge Half done, the next challenge for many was to try to remember where they’d parked their car.”