Island Hopping Harriers

The weekend of August 14th and 15th saw some familiar sights, a Gade Valley island invasion and the return of an aspect of racing sorely missed during the pandemic and its long tail of frustration.

The weekend kicked off early on Friday as an initial group of 5 Gade Valley Harriers led by Vince Ellerby kicked off the annual pub run at Tring Station at 4:00PM. This group had swelled to 9 by the time they reached Boxmoor around 9:30 that night. The pub run is an annual fundraising event organised by Vince which usually involves dozens of Harriers combining what they do best – running and sightseeing, probably. This year, however, continuing Covid uncertainty made it impossible to plan ahead and a hard core of long term Harriers carried on the tradition outside of the traditional July Saturday slot.

A much smaller GVH contingent than in recent years at the end of the pub run

Saturday morning saw the usual numbers of Harriers taking on Parkruns close to home and further afield. Steve Newing was on holiday in the Isle of Wight and completed the Isle of Wight Parkrun whilst other exotic locations included Tamar in Devon and Worthing in Surrey. Ten Gade Valley runners went to the ever popular Rickmansworth Parkrun where Nick Crowther completed the course in 18:55 to finish 10th overall out of over 300 participants.

Several Harriers took on the Rickmansworth Parkrun on Saturday

Also on Saturday Peter Tucker and wife Nikki took part in the Dambusters running festival at Silent Valley Mountain Park in Down, Northern Ireland, where they live as Harriers-in-exile. Peter took on the 10 mile race, completing the distance in 2:05:27 while Nicki ran the shorter 10k distance, finishing the race in 1:02:10. The routes weren’t easy as Peter said after the race, “both routes had 3k of hilly trail!”

Peter and Nikki Tucker contemplate the hilly trails at Silent Valley

Dave Goodman continued his recent tour of ultra marathons at the Stour Valley Path ultra on Saturday. The Stour Valley Path, which runs from Newmarket in Suffolk to Manningtree in Essex, is 100km in length and Dave chose to take on the shorter, but still extreme, 50km race. Dave completed the distance in 6:21:43, a PB for the 50km distance by over half an hour. At the end he said “I really enjoyed the challenge. There was fantastic support from everyone involved. Maybe next year I’ll do the 100km!”

No banana costume, but another ultra marathon medal for Dave Goodman

The Kimbolton Half Marathon starts in the grounds of the historic Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire. The race proceeds through the surrounding countryside with some stunning views before returning to the grounds of the castle, now in use as an independent school. The setting for the race has attracted several Harriers to the Half Marathon in years gone by, despite the distance from the club’s base. This year the race featured the return of the mass start, replacing the staggered starts that had become “normal” during the pandemic.

The mass start at Kimbolton Castle

James Birnie took part in the Kimbolton race trying to find some fitness after several weeks of injury induced inactivity. Like all good men (and many not so good men), James started far too quickly given the level of his fitness. He soon paid for his early hubris as his pace dropped considerably after the opening miles, not helped by the sun breaking through the morning cloud adding heat to the humidity of the day. James dug in and completed the distance in 1:36:22, in 49th place out of 350 finishers. James commented after the race that “it was painful”.

James Birnie wears the “face of a suffering man”

Gareth Tucker was also in solo action on Sunday at the Lee Valley Runfest Half Marathon. He dealt with the warm conditions well to continue his recent good form, finishing the distance just outside his personal best in a time of 1:27:26. He was 5th in his age category and 13th overall out of 225 finishers. Gareth was characteristically talkative about his performance, saying after the race, “I ran the Lee Valley Runfest half this morning, chip time 1:27:26”.

Finally, Sunday saw a rather unusual island invasion by 5 Gade Valley Harriers. On hearing that Steve Newing was on holiday on the Isle of Wight and had entered the Isle of Wight Half Marathon, 4 other Harriers, led by chairman Andy Cook, decided at the last minute to enter the race. They gathered extremely early on Sunday morning, travelled down to the South coast for the ferry and made a day trip to the Isle of Wight with no more preparation than booking a table at a cafe to ensure they could eat lunch after the race.

The Elite Gade Valley Island Invasion Force

The Gade Valley five caused a stir on the island as they became the first club from the mainland in the 20 year history of the race to win the team prize. Nick Crowther was first home for the Harriers finishing 5th overall and 2nd in his age category in 1:25:15. Steve Newing was next, finishing 15th overall and 1st in his category in 1:32:29. Andy Cook rounded off the 3 man team finishing hot on Newing’s tail in 16th place (2nd in his age category) only 3 seconds behind. Antony Beamish was 18th in a time of 1:33:31 just ahead of Phil Mercer in 21st position in 1:34:55.

As the slow march to whatever the new normal is continues it was great to see the return of mass starts and more and more Harriers taking part in parkruns as the summer progresses. Hopefully 2022 will see the return of the larger pub run, alongside other summer staples, and will perhaps see a contingent of Harriers returning to the Isle of Wight to defend the prize won so unexpectedly this year.