20 Miles of Pure (dis)Enjoyment

After several weeks of very little racing action through the height of the summer and the summer holidays, the Gade Valley Harriers returned to racing action in earnest on the first weekend in September. There were no fewer than 5 different races with GVH representation on Sunday, 4th September, as well as the usual cohort of runners taking on Parkruns at various locations.

On Saturday morning, 7 Harriers took on Gadebridge Parkrun, 6 made the trip to Cassiobury Park in Watford and 9 others ran at various of the other 5k runs. At Gadebridge, Jono Marval was the first Gade Valley runner over the finish line while at Cassiobury Antony Beamish was the fastest of the group. Sue Crowther again excelled for the GVH women, finishing second in her age category and scoring the highest age grading score of any of the club’s runners on the day.

The view Robert Bowler would have had if he volunteered at Gadebridge

All runners intensely dislike (some, myself included, would say “hate”) 20 mile races for several different reasons. These include the fact that a 20-miler is only ever preparation for a marathon, they often (because of the difficulty of marshalling such a long course) consist of multiple (soul destroying) laps, lack of atmosphere and the fatigue felt at the start line because of marathon training. 15 GVH runners, all of whom are planning to run a marathon in October, lined up for their own slice of 20 mile Purgatory in 3 different locations on Sunday 4th September.

Looking strong, Davie

The Hillingdon 20, previously known as the Finchley 20, claims to be the oldest continuously contested 20 mile race in the World. Well done, Hillingdon, I salute your long term dedication to causing abject misery to runners in the London area. Normally contested in the Spring, Hillingdon moved to the Autum last year and this to retain its traditional slot as a preparation race for the London Marathon, itself lodging for 2 years in a temporary autumn location.

It’s easy to float when not following Merlin

4 GVH athletes took on the repetitive 4 lap journey around north west London. Dave Goodman, no longer living in Hemel Hempstead but still a GVH legend until his membership expires at the end of the year, was first home for the Harriers, completing the course in 2:37:23 to finish 13th in his category. Not far behind was Robert Bowler in 2:46:49 (6th in his category) while Kim Morgan was the only Gade Valley female runner, finishing in 3:15:01. 

Should you look this happy after 20 miles of Hillingdon?

James Birnie also lined up at Hillingdon but found that the uneven terrain caused existing knee and ankle problems to flare up painfully. He was therefore forced to abandon the race after two of the four laps. James was less than happy with his morning’s work, saying afterwards, “I’ve never liked that race and I’m never doing it again. I know they were doing their job, but it was NOT safer on those awful pavements than on the road. Yes, I was less likely to be killed by a car, but NO it was not safer – I felt like I could break my ankle with every step.”

At the Bedford Running Festival, 10 GVH runners entered the Bedford 20. This is also a four lap affair but in a slightly more pleasant environment with less dangerous terrain. Stuart Gallagher led home the group, finishing in 2:26:54, 9th in his age category. Phil Mercer and Antony Beamish finished just over a minute apart with Andy Cook (8th in his age category) not far behind. Andy Wells ran the distance with his wife, Michelle, pacing her just under the three hour mark while Darren Burke finished about 5 minutes further back. Holly Beckett (preparing for her 1st marathon) and Helen Cook ran most of the distance together with Holly eventually finishing just 2 places ahead of Helen. Ines Trent is also preparing for her first marathon and therefore also completed her first ever 20 mile race.

Better than Hillingdon but still 4 laps

Based on the course map and the pictures on the website, the Oakley 20 is the one 20 mile race that might be slightly less disenjoyable. It is contested over what look like nice country roads, starting and finishing in the village of Oakley, not far from Bedford. It comprises only 2 loops which differ from each other for over half their duration. Teresa Reason was the sensible Harrier on the day, choosing clearly the best option. She completed the course in 2:32:15 in 41st overall position.

And there wasn’t even a medal at Hillingdon (if you didn’t finish)

Away from the madness of 20 mile races, 9 GVH runners took on the much more enjoyable Bovingdon 10k. This race has always been contested in September and follows a beautiful route firstly around Bovingdon, then in a large loop towards Flauden before returning to finish on Bovingdon High Street. Matt Ashby continued his superb recent form, finishing in 3rd overall place in 36:27. Michael Linden wasn’t far behind, finishing 5th overall, 2nd in his age category, in 37:30.

Far too fast

Lisa Newing was the first of the Harrier women home, finishing 34th overall, 6th female, in 46:09. Andrew Watt and Andy Bishop were next home for the Harriers, both recording 46:42, with Watt pipping Bishop on the line. Dan Green wasn’t far behind, finishing in 44th overall position in 47:35. Jenny Stubberfield also put in a very strong performance, finishing 8th overall female in 50:56. Karis Thomas and Molly Rice just ducked under the hour mark while Martin Storrie was disappointed to finish the course in just over 60 minutes.

Much more sensible pace

Finally, 2 Harriers took on the Big Half in London, a heavily marketed, and heavily priced, half marathon. The headline acts on show in the elite race were Mo Farrah and Eilish McColgan, neither of whom let down the sponsors by winning their respective elite races. George Einchcomb, one of the GVH coaching team wasn’t able to keep up with Farrah, but was nonetheless very happy with his time, saying “Big PB (1:48:00) for the Big Half! Great run prepping for the London marathon. Crowds were great but the cobbles were not!” Obviously George didn’t get the memo about the 20 milers. Priscilla was also pleased with her performance, finishing the race in 2:09:26.