Easter weekend saw the long awaited return of organised racing as 14 Gade Valley Harriers took on the St Albans 10k on Good Friday and 6 Harriers took on the Dorney Lake Marathon on Easter Saturday.
After the government announced that outside sports could return on March 29th several Harriers rushed to enter the St Albans 10k and one Harrier made a late decision to put his lockdown training to good use by taking on the marathon at Dorney Lake. Such was the frenzy of excitement over actual (not virtual) races, that Matt Ashby and Jenny Stubberfield managed to enter the St Albans race twice while Stuart Gallagher paid the fee for both the St Albans 10k and the Dorney Lake Marathon.
On Good Friday there were some excellent times and some excellent racing. The requirement for social distancing, particularly at the start of the race where ordinarily the whole field crowds together jostling for position, means that start times are staggered and as a consequence race results are reported in order of chip time (the time elapsed between crossing the start and finish lines) rather than the order of finishing the race. This (hopefully temporary) racing rule affected the first two Harriers home as Michael Linden and Stuart Gallagher raced together over the second half of the race with Linden holding Gallagher off in the race to the line only for the official results to show Gallagher finishing two seconds ahead, in 36:28. Both took a sizable chunk out of their existing PBs.
Probably the best run of the day was by Heather Taylor who managed a new PB with the superb time of 38:56. That was good enough for her to finish as 7th overall female and 3rd in her age category. Matt Ashby (38:03) and Steve Newing also managed to break the 40 minute barrier.
Isabel Wilson, Ines Trent and Leona Flaherty also set new Personal Best times with Isabel coming in second in the W60 category in 49:19, breaking 50 minutes for the first time. Ines ran superbly to take nearly 3 minutes off her previous best time while Leona set a new mark of 54:42.
Leona shows off her medal in St Albans
Robert Bowler (43:52), Tracey Cotton (48:27), Angeline Cottrill (53:55), David Goodman (49:15), Jenny Stubberfield (49:18) and Ashleigh Taylor (50:20) all enjoyed their return to competitive action.
Dorney Lake was the venue for the rowing events in the 2012 Olympics. Accordingly, it is a 2.5km long flat piece of Buckinghamshire with very few trees or natural shelter. On a calm day Dorney can yield up some very quick race times, on a windy day the lack of shelter can make the course more challenging. Easter Saturday was a windy, cold day. The Dorney Marathon consists of 4 “laps” which each combine running along the length of one side of the lake and back, then the length of the other side of the lake and back, so 16 times up and down a similar piece of featureless terrain. If that sounds boring, it is because it is very boring.
As with most races in the Covid era, runners were set off in waves. James Birnie and Karen Hogan set off in the early, 9:00AM wave, Sam Sparks and Roland Kendall started at 10:00AM and Phil Mercer and Teresa Reason were last to go in the 11:00AM wave. The staggered start times and the fact that most parts of the course were parallel and close to other parts of the course, allowed the 6 Harriers to wave to each other at various points to relieve the boredom.
James Birnie fights the boredom of Dorney Lake
Teresa Reason without a doubt put in the performance of the weekend for the Harriers. She ran a fantastic time of 3:13:58 which was not only a new PB but also broke her own club W35 record, set 8 years ago in the Brighton Marathon and took the club W45 record from Claire McDonnell who’s mark of 3:31:49 had stood for five years. But the biggest prize of all is that Teresa qualified by 2 seconds for the London Marathon Championship race in 2022. Congratulations to her as she becomes the first female Harrier, and only the second Harrier, to qualify for the Championship race this century.
Sam Sparks was running her first marathon. Her time of 4:16:05 was a superb run in the challenging conditions and a just reward for 4 months of hard work including 3 months of alcohol avoidance. James Birnie also worked hard since Christmas, including a month of non-drinking, and clocked a creditable 3:01:57 which should be enough to get him to the start line of the 2022 London Marathon as a Good for Age qualifier. The new Covid rules allowed Sam and James to attend the same post race celebration where they spectacularly ended their abstinence.
Roland Kendall, Phil Mercer and Karen Hogan were the other Gade Valley athletes at Dorney Lake. Roland and Phil both banked new PB times, with Kendall taking nearly an hour off his previous best to set a mark of 3:55:46 and Mercer clocking a swift 3:06:17. Karen Hogan completed the distance in 4:10:51 to finish an excellent 10th in her category.