Marathon Season Ends on a High

On Saturday 22nd April the GVH Parkrun tour paid a visit to Buckingham Parkrun. With several Harriers otherwise engaged over the weekend there was still a healthy turnout of 8 athletes at Buckingham. Jon Roberts showed his enduring class, finishing 1st for the Harriers, 4th overall and 1st in his age category, in 18:30 while Helen Cook was the first female Harrier to finish the 5k, finishing 4th in her age category.

There were more people than this!

Elsewhere on Saturday morning, Gwyn Pritchard ran strongly to finish under 20 minutes at Rickmansworth, Jono Marval was first from GVH to finish at Gadebridge, with Mary McCluskey and Ines Trent running strongly as they continued their recovery from their recent marathons. Tom Langdown continued to fly under the radar at Dunstable Parkrun as he works his way back to fitness, finishing 5th overall in 21:00.

The main event of the weekend took place on Sunday as 13 current GVH and at least one previous member took on the most famous race of all at the London Marathon. The morning broke cold and wet and, as several runners lamented, there are no longer large tents in which to shelter in the start areas before the race. Having arrived very early by coach most of the contingent had to spend at least 2½ hours without shelter before setting off on the 26.2 mile journey.

Why are we here at 7:15 AM???

Starting at one of 5 different start areas in Blackheath, the London Marathon first travels eastwards to Woolwich before all the start areas merge at a large roundabout near the Woolwich Ferry. The route then follows the river, passing close to the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, through Rotherhithe and Bermondsey before crossing the iconic Tower Bridge, the highlight of the route for many runners. After Tower Bridge the runners proceed eastwards to the Isle of Dogs, Canary Wharf and Poplar before coming back past the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, along the Embankment, past Big Ben and on the finish on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace.

According to Mike Tyson (allegedly) “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”. Being a veteran of 8 previous marathons and never having managed a truly well executed race before, James Birnie went into the race with a laminated set of mile splits that would hopefully lead him to a time close to his PB and a negative split. Unfortunately, the cold weather meant he couldn’t get the laminate out of his pocket very well, not having reading glasses while running made the text hard to read and the enduring failure of Garmin watches to function close to accurately in the London Marathon combined effectively to punch that plan in the face.

Despite the loss of the notes, James managed to not panic at running the first half marathon just under a minute slower than the planned split. Feeling extremely good at that point, he abandoned his plan to wait until 18 miles into the race to accelerate for the finish, deciding instead to up the pace from the halfway point. This plan seemed to work as he moved through the field over the following 12 miles, only running out of steam slightly for the final mile around Big Ben, Birdcage Walk and the Mall. He was extremely happy to finish the course in 2:58:40 just 17 seconds outside his PB, set 6 years ago. Afterwards he said, “I don’t like to talk about it.”

I don’t like to talk about it

Nick Crowther also seemed to have a plan but unlike James, nobody seemed to punch him in the face. Before the race he had said, “I’ll see how I feel, I’ll try running a steady pace throughout and see what time I can run.” Nick certainly managed to run the distance in a remarkably even pace, barely diverging more than a few seconds per mile from the overall pace. Nick’s pacing was perfect as he also broke the 3 hour barrier, finishing the race in 2:59:14. He said afterwards, “Amazing day out – support was mind-blowingly loud even though it was quite a soggy day. Big thanks for all the support and lovely comments.”

Michael Linden perhaps suffered more than most of the GVH runners before the race as he was the only member of the team in his start area. I didn’t speak specifically to him about this but it must have been at least a minor annoyance that nobody would have been around to watch his kit while he went to the toilet before the race. Michael didn’t manage to run the distance quite as quickly as he would have liked and he felt the closing stages particularly hard, commenting afterwards: “Bit of a struggle for the last 6 [miles]. Put everything I had into it, so pleased with the outcome.” His chip time of 3:04:53 will probably be quick enough to get him a Good for Age place in next year’s London Marathon.

Shouldn’t have tried to balance that wheel on his nose!

Jack Marshall is a fairly recent addition to GVH, having first run with the club last summer. I didn’t manage to approach him for a comment so I can’t say if his excellent time of 3:33:54 represents a PB or not. Judging by the number of gold badges on Strava, there is a decent chance that it was a PB.

Sam Richards was the next Harrier to finish, again there was no opportunity to obtain a quote from him, but judging by his split times, he felt the second half of the race very hard going. He completed the first half marathon in 1:44:11 but slowed markedly in the second half, taking over 2 hours from the halfway point and finishing the race in 3:50:01. Sam’s partner Mel Hardy was able to run her race much more evenly than Sam, she took 1:53:42 for the first half and slowed only slightly in the second half to finish the course in 3:51:49, nearly catching Sam before the end, and actually catching a new PB, in the process. Rob Humphreys was the next GVH finisher, and another who struggled on the North side of the Thames, recording an overall time of 3:51:53, just 4 seconds behind Mel on the chip timing.

Sue Crowther was the next GVH athlete to complete the course, and the last of the 4 who managed to run quickly enough to be able to apply for a Good for Age entry in next year’s race. She completed the course in just over 4 hours, giving her just under 5 minutes’ leeway on the GFA qualification, which should be good enough to book her place for next year if she wants it.

Always one that gets on the telly

Sam Sparks is one of the growing number of GVH athletes who prefer to run ultra marathons rather than the “shorter” 26.2 mile distance. She was a late entry into the race as she was invited in March to be a Flora (margarine) “influencer” as she has the requisite number of Instagram followers to qualify for that program. Despite her annoyance at several people pointing out that “only” 26 miles is “a bit of a short jog” for her, she managed to run an extremely good race. She joined James on the day as the only other Gade Valley runner to manage a negative split, completing the first half in 2:04:20 and the full distance in 4:07:59. She also managed to take a large chunk, 9 minutes in fact, from her previous PB time for the distance.

Neil Harper was the next from the club to finish, and another who struggled in the later stages of the race. He completed the first half in just over 2 hours but felt the pain in the second half, completing the race in 4:48:12. Priscilla Pathak, a veteran of many marathons, was very happy with her performance on the day, coming in just outside the 5 hour mark, she said, “Gut problem unfortunately and missed sub-5! However I’m proud of this achievement, 7 weeks before my 66th birthday. From now on downhill!” My assumption is that Priscilla didn’t manage a PB as she later commented, “Perhaps I’ll get a PB when I grow up.” I’d like to get a PB one day, but I don’t intend to be a grown up.

Club coach Angeline Cottrill was next over the line for GVH and, after expressing some initial disappointment about her performance, which was badly affected by an illness in the week leading up to the race, seemed to brighten up (much as the weather did) in the pub at Euston Station in the afternoon. She did still manage her trademark star jump after the race in Horse Guards Parade though, perhaps the very shiny (and heavy) medal had worked its magic by then. Angeline said, “Haven’t been well this week so it is what it is. I held on tight and clung on until the finish!” She managed an extremely respectable 5:04:19.

She only does it for the bling

Chrissie Mooney was running her first marathon in London and perhaps the superb crowd and the occasion got to her a little as he set off a little too quickly. She completed the first half of the race in 2:22:46 but then found the second half hard going as she completed the race in 5:25:26. Of course, it being her first marathon, she banked a new PB. In addition, and putting in perspective the efforts of all the runners from the club who had worked hard since Christmas to prepare for the marathon, Chrissie’s time meant that she finished the race over 6 hours ahead of some competitors and beat over 8000 runners on the day.

And so the 2023 Spring marathon season draws to a close (except for the Milton Keynes festival of running over the Bank holiday weekend). As GVH looks forward to the different challenges of the summer months, shorter distances, trail running and some ultra marathons will account for most of the club’s activity in the coming months, everybody can look back on their marathon achievements and be proud of them.