Ashby and Ines Fail in Berko

I’ve been pretty busy the past few weeks and finding the time to write a piece about the Berko Half Marathon has been daunting. Whereas writing about a cross country race that was more like a visit to the Somme Public Baths (younger readers should Google for Blackadder Goes Forth to understand that one) than a jog around Oxford, finding some words to describe in excess of 60 Gade Valley Harriers enjoying a familiar and always pleasant half marathon in beautiful early Spring weather, is harder.

Not only does finding an obvious headline sometimes feel extremely hard, but the danger is that without a clear historical theme to follow through the narrative, the report can end up just being a dull list of names and times that nobody wants to read (although if you do, just skip to the end and miss out the wall of text).

Black T-shirts also acceptable. Blue – no. Red – no.

So how fortunate I was this morning to walk past Jenny Stubberfield, on her way to the station, at the bottom of Anchor Lane, where it meets St John’s Road in Boxmoor. There is a chance that she didn’t see me, and I made no effort to say hello to be fair, and nobody looks particularly happy when they are walking to the station in the morning, but for the purposes of desperately groping for a theme after nearly 5 years of writing about finishing times, I’m going to assume she looked miserable because of Matt Ashby’s well documented ability to make her miserable after failing to live up to his own extremely high, and ever rising, standards.

The venue for the weekend’s main running event was, of course, the Berkhamsted Half Marathon. We all love this race for its beautiful countryside, challenging hills, proximity to Hemel Hempstead and the discount we all get on entry because of the long relationship with the organisers. This year for the first time the Social Secretariat Troika (Helen Terry, Karis Thomas and Jo Kidd) had for the first time organised an after party at at Berkhamsted Tennis Club (with thanks to Sue Crowther) with pizza and salad laid on by the club, giving the day even more of a celebratory feel.

Long before the cheap beer started flowing everybody had gathered at Berkhamsted Cricket Club for the races. The half marathon gets underway first, at 10:00AM and the 5 mile fun run starts half an hour later. Three Harriers, and one son of Harriers, took on the shorter distance. Chris Dowling was first to finish, in 8th overall position, crossing the finish line in exactly half an hour. Jon Roberts was next, 10th over the line in 31:08 while head coach Ed Price clocked 34:25. 

The standout performance in the fun run was from Harry Wells, son of Andy and Michelle, who ran his first race without the inconvenience of dragging along a parent. Despite pausing to give help to a friend (he’ll learn) he completed the 5 tricky mile course, which takes in the notorious hill of Bullbeggars Lane, in 46:00. Given that the half marathon started 5 minutes later than scheduled, around 10:05, I assume this means that Harry finished just ahead of Matt Ashby on the road.

A few years ago we were in the bar in Rickmansworth Working Men’s Club having a beer after the Ricky Road Run (a popular autumn 10 mile race that sadly seems to have been a victim of the pandemic). Mark Crabtree, at the time the club’s fastest runner, much like Matt is now, was talking to his young son. “Where did you finish today, Dad?” he asked. “Second”, said Mark. “Dad, you’re rubbish! You ALWAYS finish second!” said the young man in response. “If that be failure, I’ll take failure all the way to the bank!”, said Shakespeare at some point, maybe.

With that sentiment in mind it must be reported that Matt sadly failed on two counts on Sunday. Firstly he managed a PB for the distance. He told me that his time of 1:13:55 was a PB of over 2 minutes, beating his time in the Herts Half last November. It should be noted that he also failed to win that race, finishing 2nd on that occasion, whilst at Berkhamsted his performance was even worse, finishing 4th overall. There was a later discussion around the London Marathon Championship qualifying times and it was speculated that Matt had run quickly enough to gain an automatic place. Unfortunately this is not the case as the qualifying mark was lowered to 1:12:30 for 2024.

Misery to come later.

There was also a stunning failure in the women’s team by Ines Trent. She also managed to run a PB, in 2:04:51, shaving another few minutes off her previous best, but inexplicably failed to bring her newly acquired Personal PB Bell to Berkhamsted and so failed to post a triumphant post race picture on Facebook. I hope she remembers to pack her bell next time, it is surely only a matter of time before she ducks under 2 hours.

No PB Bell, left it at home.

In addition to Matt and Ines there were at least 15 other PBs amongst the Gade Valley runners. Andy Law bagged a PB, surprisingly this was his first half marathon, by completing the course in a super speedy 1:21:03 and finishing in 19th overall position. Michael Linden was just over a minute, and 5 places, behind Andy, clocking 1:22:09. The next runner to manage a PB was Gareth Tucker, who managed 1:23:40 and finished 33rd.

All by himself. Just the way he likes it.

Nick Crowther and James Birnie were both happy with their runs without managing to score PBs (despite what Strava claimed). Just like last year, however, James was able to record his fastest time since his PB, back in 2018. Unlike last year, it took slightly less than the whole of the rest of the day to explain to Mary why “fastest time since my PB” is NOT the same as saying “my second fastest ever time”. Tom Evans did manage a PB, 1:26:49 and, by finishing in 50th position made it 7 Gade Valley Harriers to finish inside the top 50 places.

Thanks Kitty

There is no official category in our club records for running with a baby in a buggy. Perhaps there should be, there are, after all, official world records for the category. As far as I can tell James Timmis, if the category existed, would now hold the record, his time of 1:26:57 comfortably eclipsing the time of 1:32:17 that I managed at Knebworth last year. Perhaps more importantly, certainly to the Timmis family, was that James overtook his wife Heather on the final descent back down to the finish, eventually finishing 18 seconds ahead of Heather on the road. Heather did have the considerable consolation of finishing on the podium as 3rd overall female.

Don’t get any ideas, Dylan.

Lewis Ellerby had been disappointed in last year’s Berko half to miss out on going under the much coveted 90 minute mark, finishing the race in exactly 1:30:00. He has been recovering from injury recently and wasn’t back to his best at the Watford Half last month, but was getting there. He finally managed to duck under the 90 minute mark on Sunday, scoring a new PB in 1:28:07. He wasn’t far ahead of Steve Newing who also managed a PB, finishing in 1:28:51.

Strong finish

Rob Hawkes, Gwyn Pritchard and Guy Wollett all finished within 40 seconds of each other a couple of minutes ahead of Simon Morris. Roland Kendall was next over the line and he managed another PB. He told me afterwards that he, “didn’t smash it to pieces this time, just took a few seconds off.” He seemed to think he had somehow failed (much like Matt and Ines), so I explained to him that this was “just how things work”. One day, Roly, you’ll find that PBs don’t just automatically happen every time you put your trainers on.

Club captains Kim Morgan and Andy Wells came over the line virtually together. Anybody who saw the photographs on social media will have seen that the two were together for much of race. On speaking to Andy, however, I learnt that they didn’t run the race together. He told me that he “caught her on the hill up to Little Gad. She was walking so I started shouting at her. Annoyingly she then started running faster than me so I was never quite sure who was dragging whom for the rest of the race.” The results show us that Kim got to the line first, a second ahead of Andy, despite her chip time being nearly a minute slower. As we all know by now, gun time is king.

Who’s the weirdo in the back in red? And why is Paul Mosely in this picture?

Charlie Cadogan (1:37:24), Dylan Wendleken and Alice Cook (both 1:38:24) and Patrick Carey (1:39:29) completed the list of GVH runners who managed to duck under 1:40:00. Dylan had been pacing Alice throughout and Andy Cook told me afterwards that Dylan had been “too honest with the pace notes to Alice. When I paced her round here I got her to a PB because I kept lying and telling her we were going slower than we actually were.” So unfortunately Dylan failed.

Phil Mercer was next over the line for GVH, finishing the race 5 seconds ahead of Andy Cook, who of all people knows very well that gun time is King. The photos never lie. Andy Bishop was next in a very creditable 1:40:57, just ahead of Dan Green who managed a new PB of 1:41:09. Rob Bowler and Simon Wheeler were next across the line for GVH with Jack Boughton following shortly behind and managing a new PB 1:43:24. I spoke to Jack in the tennis club afterwards, largely about cricket, but I think I remember telling him that it was a really good time and I think he told me he’d taken about 10 minutes off his previous PB.

Nothing to see here. Gun time is king.

James Felstead, Paul Williams, Vicky Crawley-Wise and Andy Watt all had good runs but all failed to record new PBs. Nick Joseph was next over the line and he did improve his PB, set at Watford last month, by some distance. He said, “3 minutes faster than Watford, which was two minutes faster than Milton Keynes [Winter Half, last December].” 

Claire Mcdonnell, Samantha Raffety, Jenny Stubberfield (but who may have had other concerns, obviously), Susannah Crowther, Katie Ellis and Kirstie Hardiman all failed to score a PB (but all succeeded in completing the race under 2 hours). Naomi Iles and Ashleigh Taylor similarly failed, finishing just ahead of Ines, whom we’ve already discussed had inexplicably failed to bring her PB bell.

Only 3 miles to go.

Holly Beckett had exactly the same gun time and chip time as Ines, so I can only assume they ran the race together and they finished a few seconds ahead of Gemma Tucker who managed a new PB. Molly Rice finished just a few seconds behind Gemma, another case of Gun Time is King. Helen Cook was a further 30 seconds or so behind on the road but clearly hasn’t learned from Andy Cook at Abingdon 2016, as her chip time should have seen her finishing ahead of the previous 5 Harriers.

They kept us all going at the top of the course.

Anthony Fogden was just a second, and a place, behind Helen in recording a new PB of 2:04:42. He told me a few weeks ago, after a previous column had commented on him starting too far back that he, “wasn’t going to make that mistake again”. Clearly he wasn’t listening to his own messaging as he, like Helen, should have finished ahead of 5 other GVH runners. Aside from not knowing where to position himself at the start it is great to see that Anthony’s training is going well and he is therefore taking full advantage of the club’s London Marathon ballot place.

Great work, doesn’t look like a cat though.

Jane Percival, Christeena Mooney, Susie Ivin and Natalie Wheeler all managed to finish inside 2:10:00, with Chrissie managing a new PB and Natalie also recording a PB by virtue of this being her first half marathon. Jade Evans was a couple of minutes behind Natalie and took the award for the most isolated Harrier at the finish, as she was nearly 7 minutes ahead of the next finisher, Jenny Brown, who finished the distance in 2:19:47. Jade also managed a new PB, but encountered the non-existence of the magic results fairy for the first time in her running career as I didn’t know about it until she told me 8 days after the event.

Kim Yeates was next over the line for GVH and she also managed a new PB, 2:21:14. Coach Angeline Cottrill was the next finisher, in 2:24:48. I saw a message on Monday that the organisers had run out of medals, presumably the unseasonable weather had increased the number of entrants. I was quite near the finish area when Ange finished and I didn’t hear her turning the air blue, so I can only assume they hadn’t quite run out of medals before she got there. They also ran out of goodie bags, but perhaps that was a good thing as I would assume that Ange would have been disgusted to receive just an Aldi cereal bar, a banana and a leaflet for the Aldbury 5.

Peter Green (Dan’s dad) was running his first, and Dan told me his last, half marathon, so his time of 2:25:03 is therefore his PB. Peter finished just ahead of Mary McCluskey who was very pleased to finish in just under 2½ hours. She had been mysteriously and very suddenly ill (not a hangover, honest) throughout Saturday and was pleased just to be able to run at all.

It’s a drinks station, NOT a drinks stop.

According to the official results Phil Robbins was next to finish for GVH, in 2:36:32. I didn’t see a bloke dressed in weird fancy dress, and even in fancy dress I’d expect Phil to do a half marathon about an hour quicker than that, so I can only assume that either Phil was accompanying somebody else or he gave his entry to somebody else, or there is another Phil Robbins that I don’t know.

Club legend and president Andy Newing was running his first Berko Half for a few years as he continues to prepare for what he says will be his last marathon. He has enjoyed his return to regular running, helped in part no doubt by coach Ed’s initiative to introduce shorter routes to the club’s collection, and it was great to see Andy in racing colours again. Finally, another old friend, Charlie Costin, was also running in GVH colours for the first time in some time. I saw Charlie on a Tuesday session recently for the first time in several years, so it was great to see him back to racing.

Great running Mr President

As ever the Berko Half is a great event and one that many of us look forward to at this time of year. It was a great day, I hope we all got something out of it, despite the failures (I’m pointing at you, Matt!) and I, for one, am already looking forward to doing it again around the same time next year.

Full Results from Berko Half

Gun Chip
Matthew Ashby 206 MSEN 01:13:57 01:13:55 PB
Andy Law 706 MSEN 01:21:04 01:21:03 PB
Michael Linden 412 M40 01:22:13 01:22:09
Gareth Tucker 152 M40 01:23:44 01:23:40 PB
Nicholas Crowther 491 M40 01:24:31 01:24:23
James Birnie 234 M40 01:25:28 01:25:24
Tom Evans 602 M40 01:26:58 01:26:49 PB
James Timmis 752 MSEN 01:27:41 01:26:57 BUGGY PB
Heather Timmis 441 FSEN 01:27:59 01:27:51
Lewis Ellerby 637 MSEN 01:28:14 01:28:07 PB
Stephen Newing 366 M40 01:28:55 01:28:51 PB
Rob Hawkes 655 MSEN 01:31:02 01:31:02
Gwyn Pritchard 483 M40 01:31:34 01:31:25
Guy Woollett 213 M50 01:31:49 01:31:41
Simon Morris 138 M40 01:33:42 01:33:32
Roland Kendall 304 M50 01:35:28 01:35:19 PB
Kim Morgan 208 F40 01:37:19 01:37:09
Andrew Wells 364 M40 01:37:20 01:36:16
Charlie Cadogan 244 M50 01:37:35 01:37:24
Alice Cook 730 FSEN 01:38:36 01:38:24
Dylan Wendlelekn 540 M50 01:38:36 01:38:24
Patrick Carey 427 M40 01:39:56 01:39:29
Phil Mercer 382 M40 01:40:21 01:40:07
Andrew Cook 444 M50 01:40:26 01:39:20
Andrew Bishop 809 M40 01:41:09 01:40:57
Daniel Green 434 MSEN 01:41:19 01:41:09 PB
Robert Bowler 383 M60 01:41:27 01:41:17
Simon Wheeler 398 M50 01:42:33 01:42:07
Jack Boughton 801 MSEN 01:44:29 01:43:24 PB
James Felstead 761 M50 01:44:38 01:44:11
Paul Williams 317 M50 01:44:49 01:44:08
Victoria Wise 531 F40 01:46:07 01:45:56
Andrew Watt 363 M50 01:48:58 01:48:45
Nick Joseph 72 M50 01:49:34 01:49:20 PB
Claire Mcdonnell 239 F50 01:50:25 01:50:15
Samantha Raffety 475 FSEN 01:51:13 01:51:01
Jenny Stubberfield 1003 FSEN 01:54:09 01:53:37
Susannah Crowther 452 F50 01:54:56 01:53:51
Katie Ellis 497 F40 01:57:34 01:57:21
Kirstie Hardiman 394 F40 01:58:52 01:58:40
Naomi Iles 880 FSEN 02:03:49 02:02:17
Ashleigh Taylor 367 FSEN 02:05:02 02:03:29
Ines Trent 395 F40 02:05:24 02:04:51 PB
Holly Beckett 277 F40 02:05:24 02:04:51
Rachel Haffenden 977 F40 02:05:32 02:05:01
Gemma Tucker 258 FSEN 02:05:40 02:05:15 PB
Molly Rice 938 FSEN 02:05:47 02:05:13
Helen Cook 445 F50 02:06:13 02:04:41
Anthony Fogden 379 M60 02:06:14 02:04:42 PB
Jane Percival 740 F50 02:06:38 02:06:04
Christeena Mooney 855 F40 02:08:47 02:08:14 PB
Susie Ivin 368 F40 02:09:30 02:09:00
Natalie Wheeler 772 F40 02:10:26 02:09:47 PB (first time)
Jade Evans 754 FSEN 02:13:14 02:11:41 PB
Jenny Brown 269 F50 02:20:00 02:19:47
Kimberley Yeates 409 F40 02:22:48 02:21:14 PB
Angeline Cottrill 466 F40 02:25:01 02:24:48
Peter Green 316 M60 02:26:38 02:25:03 PB (first time)
Mary Mccluskey 442 FSEN 02:29:56 02:28:24
Philip Robbins 315 M40 02:38:25 02:36:32
Andy Newing 209 M50 02:39:17 02:37:33
Charles Costin 666 M40 02:57:41 02:55:52