Helen Cook in Bad Admin Shocker

On 28th October the club’s monthly Parkrun tour took a short trip to Verulam Park for the St Albans Parkrun. A strong turnout for the club saw nearly 40 Harriers taking on the course and the club filled the first three finisher places. New member Andy Law was first finisher, in 18:32m, with Michael Linden only 4 seconds back in 2nd overall position and Lewis Ellerby only a further 4 seconds behind Michael in 3rd. Women’s captain Kim Morgan continued her recent surge in speed, finishing the 5k in 21:50 to be first home for the club women. With nearly 40 club members running, head coach Ed Price said, “It was wonderful to see such a strong turnout at St Albans on Saturday for October’s parkrun tour.”

After a week spent “working” in Chennai and week spent recovering from the week spent “working” in Chennai, the Results Fairy made a reappearance this weekend and could be seen plodding around the country lanes near Knebworth House for the Hertfordshire Half Marathon on Sunday 5th November. This is a popular, roads closed, event with a friendly atmosphere and usually some fairly decent crowds around Old Knebworth village.

Stop swearing Chairman!

The real story of the day, however, took place back on the A414 between Hemel Hempstead and Hatfield. Club secretary Helen Cook, veteran of over 4 years in the job, has run a very tight ship. Throughout the Covid period she kept the club admin running flawlessly despite the many challenges of running a running club that wasn’t allowed to run together as well as the additional handicap of having to keep the chairman (her husband) in check. So it can only be described as a shocker that Helen forgot to bring her number with her, only discovering the error whilst en-route to Knebworth causing the pair to almost miss the 9:00AM start time.

I was hacking the Tesla at this point

I approached Andy for comment after the race but he looked too angry and pained by the memory to comment beyond some incomprehensible burbling. Not to worry though, as I once went to a talk at a Cyber Security conference about how to hack a Tesla car. So I hacked into the Cooks’ car to playback the conversation at the Hatfield roundabout and it went something like:

“Go all the way around the roundabout Andy.” (very calm, secretary voice)

“Er, what, we need to head up the A1 don’t we?” (slightly confused tone)

“Ordinarily, yes, but I forgot my number so we have to go back home.” (still very calm, secretary voice)

“WHAT???? **** me! You’re ******* joking! Jesus ******* Christ! I told you to get the ******* numbers while I was cleaning out the **** in the ******* stables! One ******* job!”

In fact, the Cooks weren’t the only people to arrive late for the 9:00AM start for the Half Marathon (the 10k race started a bit later, at 9:30). Knebworth is notoriously bad for traffic with only a single track road leading into the site. Despite the organisers threatening to close the entrance before 9:00AM, this didn’t happen as cars were still arriving. This situation was further complicated by the first mile of the race using that very same access road.

Still got there in time, what’s the fuss?

As cars were still on the course the start of the race was eventually delayed by around 10 minutes and it got underway around 9:10. One Harrier who found this situation particularly taxing was James Birnie, who was for the second year in succession, running the race whilst pushing (not so little anymore) baby Will in the buggy. After getting stuck behind slower runners for the circuit of Knebworth Park in 2022 and being forced at times on to the wet grass to pass them, he had started much nearer the front of the field this time. This worked perfectly well until the field encountered the stranded cars of the late arrivals, causing several bottlenecks in that first mile. Fortunately, this didn’t cause too much distress to father or baby and James went on to smash his Half Marathon with a buggy PB (set in last year’s race) by over 7 minutes, finishing the 21.1km in 1:32:17.

Lost the plot of “I”, “he”, “James” today, sorry all

The route includes a section of around 2 miles from Old Knebworth Village towards Hitchin which then switches back around a traffic cone and returns whence it came for the same couple of miles. This allows the runners to see where everybody else is in the field. As I was travelling down the hill I saw the lead bike and then, following closely behind, the familiar figure of Matt Ashby’s long languid strides leading the race after about 3 miles. At that time he was, to my estimation, around 30 metres clear of the runner in second. Sadly for Matt he wasn’t able to hold on to the lead, when I saw him afterwards he said, “I was better on the flat and down the hills at the start but he was stronger up the hills. He passed me at about 10 miles and I couldn’t stay with him, unfortunately. He finished about 10 seconds ahead of me.” It can only be a matter of time before Matt goes one better in a race.

One winner, and Matt

Stu Gallagher made a late decision to enter the race and for some reason his time doesn’t appear in the official results. Based on his Strava feed, I estimate that he finished around 35th overall, possibly about 5th in his age category (I think he is in the same category as me), in a time of 1:27:24, give or take a few seconds. He seemed happy at the end, anyway. Steve Newing finished just behind me in a time of 1:33:32.

Got bored waiting at the start

Kim Morgan was next to finish for the club. She bettered her existing Half Marathon PB by over 7 minutes. Her time of 1:35:29 was good enough for her to finish in 107th overall place (out of 1407), 8th female and 2nd in her age category. On her Strava feed Kim commented, “Yay! PB by over 7 minutes!” Roly Kendall, having executed perfectly his race plan of, “going off too quickly, starting to blow up after about 3 miles, then properly blow up around 10 miles to trail in slowly and in great pain”, finished just behind Kim, having been overtaken by her after around 10 miles. He did manage a new PB of his own, however. 

Too quick for the camera

Antony Beamish also arrived slightly late, getting to the start pens just after the scheduled start. He has recently suffered from finding training time hard to come by with his current work commitments (which for him means drinking, sorry “client entertainment” commitments) and was quite some way down on his usual form, finishing in 148th position in 1:38:02. Andy Cook, still turning the air blue, also managed to duck under the 1:40:00 mark, 6th in his age category.

Gary Kingsley and Andy Bishop were next home for GVH, both managing times around the 1:45:00 mark, just inside the top 300 finishers. Natasha Gibbs, Jenny Stubberfield and Sam Raffety all finished within a minute of each other, the latter two having run the whole distance together, they all finished in just under two hours. Helen Cook and Kirstie Hardiman also ran together, finishing in consecutive places in identical times of 2:00:48, while Michelle Wells and Kitty Cole also finished in close order, though far enough apart for me to conclude (eithout having spoken to them) that they weren’t running together, at least not at the end.

Ines Trent and Chrissie Mooney also finished near each other, with Ines finishing 7 seconds ahead of Chrissie on both chip time and gun time, strongly suggesting that they ran together and Ines outsprinted Chrissie over the last few hundred metres. Given that Ines is getting quicker and quicker every week, and this time she took a massive chunk out of her existing half marathon PB, I would suggest that right now she could probably outsprint anybody, up to and including Matt Ashby.

Sprint, Sam!

Holly Beckett and Mary McCluskey decided in the car on the way over that they were going to run together. This decision was based on neither of them feeling too great about their prospects and both, but particularly Holly, feeling under the weather. I can, however, attest to the fact that Mary wasn’t drinking on Saturday and got a nice early night. At one point after a few miles Holly considered not continuing as the uphill sections took a particular toll on her corporation. She managed to soldier on and keep Mary company right up until the last 50 metres or so when she outsprinted Mary to the line. They finished in 2:21:53 and 2:21:54, respectively, still managing to beat around 250 athletes on the day.

Also at Knebworth Park, starting slightly later at 10:00AM, was a shorter, 10k race. Lisa Newing, Claire McDonnel and Martin Alexander elected to take on the shorter distance. Lisa did so with great aplomb, finishing in 44:49 and scooping the prize for first female finisher. Martin also finished first in his age category, not far behind Lisa, in 45:14. Rounding out a trio of excellent results, Claire also finished well up her age category, in 2nd place in 51:11.

On fire, everybody!

Elsewhere on Sunday, a few thousand miles away in New York, to be precise, Tom Langdown was taking on the iconic New York marathon in his continuing quest to complete all 6 parts (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York) of the Abbott World Marathon Majors. Tom completed the course in 3:25:55 and said later, “I supported 2 charities (US Charity, St Jude for first 13.1 and second half for UK Charity, WWF-UK). Injury prevented a PB attempt but I was delighted to make it around to claim my 3rd star from World Marathon Majors.” Well done Tom.

Didn’t know World Wrestling Federation was a charity