The weekend of 10th and 11th June was hot. It was extremely hot in fact. So you would think that any kind of running would be tough. It was. In fact, Parkruns, at 9:00AM on Saturday felt very difficult indeed. One wonders why so many Harriers volunteered to run 13.1 miles in the searing heat in the St Albans Half Marathon on Sunday morning. Strange indeed. Even stranger then, to think that 4 Harriers decided to take part in the Centurion South Downs Way 100, a 100 mile (!) ultra marathon from Winchester to Eastbourne, starting on Saturday.
The weekend normally kicks off at 9:00AM on Saturday, but this weekend started earlier, around 6:00AM on Saturday morning at Winchester. Teresa Reason, Sam Sparks, Martin Pike and David Thompson gathered at the start of the South Downs Way 100, a 100 mile race along the length of the South Downs Way. All four GVH athletes started strongly and by 11:00AM on Saturday all 4 had reached the second of the 12 checkpoints with no reported issues.
Meanwhile, closer to home, there were the usual number of GVH runners taking on some very hot Parkruns at various locations. At the closest Parkun of all, Gadebridge Park, Anthony Fogden achieved what might be a unique (certainly very rare) feat amongst GVH runners. He takes up the story: “My longstanding Gadebridge record set in 2022 was 25:47. My last 3 efforts at Gadebridge in the last 4 weeks have yielded PBs each week culminating in a massive 27 second drop today (98th parkrun at Gadebridge) to a new PB of 25:00. Last week I ran Leavesden and achieved a Leavesden PB and my fastest 5km time of 24:45. Not sure what is going on!” Even in such a crowded week of racing, 4 Parkrun bests in 4 weeks most definitely merits a mention.
Meanwhile, back on the South Downs Way, the intrepid 4 GVH runners were soldiering on through what became an extremely hot and unforgiving day. Both Martin and Sam struggled through the day and into the evening while Teresa seemed to deal with the heat better than most as she powered on. Martin suffered the most, with stomach pains and a twisted ankle, and was passed by Sam around 7:00PM. David Thompson, meanwhile, appeared to have judged the conditions relatively well as he managed to maintain a fairly steady pace throughout Saturday.
As anybody who has taken on an ultra marathon knows (so not me!), the later stages become a mental battle against fatigue and sometimes hallucinations (I’m getting this from books I’ve read!) so it would have come as a welcome relief to the competitors that after the halfway (50 mile!) mark, the competitors are allowed to be joined by support runners. I wasn’t provided with a full list of support runners so I won’t try to name them, but you know who you are and I’m sure the 4 competitors were enormously grateful for the support.
As day broke on Sunday morning, and mercifully before it got too hot again, the 4 reached the end of their epic effort. Teresa was the first to finish just after 5:00AM, in 23:07:14. That was enough to see her finish 4th overall female. A superb effort. Next home (or at least next over the finish line) was Sam, in 25:35:20, 13th overall female. Unfortunately for Sam, the drama didn’t end there. She was suffering badly from dehydration and was admitted to hospital in Eastbourne. After some worrying test results she was initially kept in for observation but was in the end discharged, presumably feeling tired and a bit hot, on Sunday evening. Another superb effort. Sam summed up the whole experience succinctly with, “The hardest thing I have ever done!”
Despite the trouble he had experienced on the first afternoon, Martin Pike rallied well and found a second wind on Saturday evening. After being overtaken by Sam and initially falling back from her, he managed to maintain a steady gap for the final third of the race. His finish time of 26:02:38 was enough for him to finish just inside the top 100, 96th overall, 80th male. David wasn’t far (in Ultra terms) behind Martin. Any finish time in a 100 mile race is impressive and David finished well up the field, 126th out of 192 finishers, in addition to a further 147 who started but couldn’t get the better of the course and the conditions. Congratulations to all 4 GVH ultra athletes, a truly stunning achievement in the weekend heat.
The St Albans Half is a well supported local race that always takes place in June. With the famously unpredictable British weather it could be cold, warm, wet or dry. As the week went on it became increasingly obvious that the conditions this year were going to be on the “hotter than the centre of the sun” side of the “Hot to Boiling” scale. When competitors received an email on Saturday afternoon warning of the heat and letting them know that they could opt to “downgrade” their entry from the Half Marathon to the half marathon walk (starting at 8:30AM) or the 5k fun run (starting at 9:00AM), the only question is most people’s minds was “why on Earth is the half marathon not starting until 10:00AM?”
With the curious start times obviously set in some kind of stone (maybe a fondue stone?) it was with a certain degree of trepidation that competitors lined up in what I was later reliably informed was 26℃ heat just before 10:00AM. Most of us erred on the side of caution by starting conservatively, some of us (mentioning no names) misjudged both the weather and level of hangover to endure a torrid and painful race while Stu Gallagher made the most inspired choice when he decided after a couple of miles that his niggle in the hip had not healed sufficiently to go the distance. I wonder if it was a little cooler during the 30 or so miles that Stu banked earlier in the week?
Despite the searing heat and unforgiving lack of shade on much of the course, there were still some impressive performances. Michael Linden was first home for GVH, finishing the race in 1:33:18, in 59th overall position out of an impressive 1691 who managed to finish on the day. Unfortunately for Michael, the next thing he did after crossing the line was to collapse unconscious.
Strangely, Michael had (who ever does this apart from Mary?) written James Birnie’s name and number on the back of his race bib as his emergency contact. So the medical people duly rang James and he and Steve Newing found the medical tent to take charge of Michael. He was shaky but clearly recovering. It should be noted that, despite immediately blacking out after crossing the line Michael did manage to stop his watch. Sterling work (and he was fully recovered by Monday without having to make a hospital visit).
Steve Newing was next home after Michael but without any of the drama. He judged and dealt with the conditions much better than James and duly went past James on a hellish rise toward the Hollybush Pub in Potters Crouch after about 10 miles. The comment from James was “this is f***ing horrible”, to which Steve grunted agreement, having no words to add. Steve finished in 1:36:40 just over a minute ahead of James.
Si Wallis completed a very respectable 1:42:37 while Roly Kendall continued to improve, though unsurprisingly failed for the first time ever to score a new PB. It can be reported, however, that he has stopped riding his horse to races, or he may have left it at home for its own good – horses aren’t forced to run in that kind of heat. Simon Wheeler, Phil Mercer, Andy Watt and Naomi Carey were separated by only a few minutes and completed the list of GVH to duck under the two hour mark.
Kim Morgan and Sue Crowther were just over the 2 hours on the day, with Sue finishing 5th in her age category and scoring the best age grading out of the Harrier women. Patrick Cary, Susie Ivin, Molly Rice and Helen Cook were next for the club while Jane Percival, Jack Boughton and Kelly Cox were the last to complete the race. Nobody managed a PB in what has to have been the most challenging half marathon that any of us had experienced.
Congratulations to everybody that managed to run in the heat of the weekend, particularly those the 4 ultra runners. Completing a half marathon felt like a Herculean task so I can only imagine how hard the 100 mile race would have been. Many people on Sunday were left wondering why the half marathon at St Albans needs to start as late as 10:00AM and the organisers must surely take a look at the start times in future. I for one would have given up well before the end if I wasn’t looking forward to the ice-lolly so much.
Full Club Results from St Albans Half