Regal Performance From Ultra-Harriers

The Coronation weekend will be remembered for the coronation, millions of hangovers and a group of Gade Valley Harriers who sat through Saturday’s show without touching any drinks as they kept their coronation powder dry for the Chiltern Ultra 50k trail race on Sunday May 7th. The addition of the extra bank holiday certainly proved useful for some as they celebrated their ultra success, many of them having experienced their first ultra marathon race the day before.

Oh my! What are we volunteering for???

The race started at Fuzzy’s Farm near Potten End at 9:15AM, before descending down into the Gade Valley, up again through Gaddesden Row and Studham, crossing over the valley again to Little Gaddesden and Ashridge before the climb up to Ivinghoe Beacon at around the halfway point. The almost entirely off road route then tracked the Ashridge Boundary trail for a while before going back into the estate around Berkhamsted and Frithsden Beeches before descending to Great Gaddesden and the final climb back up to the finish back at Fuzzy’s Farm. By general consent, the heavy rain of the coronation day had made the course “bloody difficult”.

Er…. Mud??

Sam Raffety is a veteran of multiple previous ultra marathons and was hoping that she would be sufficiently recovered from her recent injuries to tackle the course. Unfortunately the heavy conditions made it just too difficult and she was forced to pull out just after the first, 10 mile, checkpoint, saying “Felt my ankle by mile 10 checkpoint and just didn’t feel that it was sensible to continue”. What she said later, after an unexpectedly early start on the Prosecco, was not recorded.

The speck in the distance is Katie

Chris Dowling and Nick Crowther, both veterans of many ultra races and both having completed road marathons (at Milton Keynes and London respectively) in under 3 hours in the weeks preceding the Chiltern Ultra, were the first to finish the 50k distance for the Harriers. Chris finished the race in 4:45:22, with Nick only a minute behind, in 4:46:32, in 6th and 7th places overall. After the finish, Nick said “keep digging” in response to a question about the conditions and whether that had contributed to a slightly slower pace over the 50k.

Looking strong, still no sign of any mud

Club chairman Andy Cook was dipping his toes into the ultra waters (or the knee deep mud in places) for the first time after he and Antony Beamish had trained together for the race through the winter and spring. His debut at the distance was a superb effort, he finished in 33rd overall, in 5:27:49. Andy’s self assessment read: “Pleased with that first Ultra. Very muddy, had a few falls. I take my hat off to runners who can do that regularly.”

No hat to take off

Charlie Cadogan is a veteran of several ultra races and he ran strongly to finish next for the club, 41st overall in 5:34:17. Roland Kendall, who seems to have gone from strength to strength to such an extent over the past year that his improvements seem almost mundane, was running his first ultra race. He finished 43rd in 5:34:46, saying after the race, “Awesome running! Let’s do it again next year.”

You need both for it to be jazz hands

Darren Burke and Dylan Wendleken are no strangers to the longer races. They both managed to complete the course in just under 6 hours, Darren in 69th position and Dylan in 80th. Vicky Crawley-Wise was the first of the GVH women to finish the course, in 6:05:36, 3 places behind Dylan. She was unnecessarily self-critical after the race, saying, “Not the best day in the office, much slower than last year. It was much boggier and having been off poorly for over 2 weeks I was lucky to make the start line.” Most would agree that it was a great performance by Vicky.

Great performance, no question

Antony Beamish was the next for GVH to finish. The conditions, and perhaps a degree of naivety about the scale of the challenge, made it a very tough (but ultimately rewarding) day for Antony. He finished the course in 88th place, in 6:09:17. Asked immediately after the finish, “how was it?”, his reply of “f***ing awful”, left the listeners in little doubt how he felt. He later shared, through his instagram account @BeaMoments, a picture of himself recovering in the bath with some scented candles and a gluten free Peroni. He was unavailable to comment on the authenticity of the image.

You wouldn’t be smiling if you knew how this ends.

Phil Mercer was next to finish, in 92nd place (6:11:05), just ahead of a group of 3 Harriers who had started and finished together. Gary Kingsley (fresh from taking nearly two hours off his marathon PB and running his first ultra marathon), Claire McDonell and Kim Morgan, set off together and went through the first, 10 mile, checkpoint in close order. By the time of the second checkpoint, around 20 miles, the group had dispersed with Kim just ahead of Gary and over a minute ahead of Claire. By the finish, however, they had come back together to cross the line with the same finish time of 6:28:20. Aftwards, Kim said, “Absolutely loved that run! Huge well done to everyone who ran, especially Claire and Gary who put up with me for most of the run.” For his part, Gary, who may have been taking media training from Gareth Tucker, said, “That was tough”.

The crew that couldn’t be separated

Michelle Wells and Katie Ellis were never separated by more than a few seconds at the checkpoints. Unfortunately, as I didn’t see them in the pub and I don’t seem to have access to their Strava feeds, I can’t fabricate any comments from either of them. They finished in 130th and 131st position with Michelle just 3 seconds ahead of Katie. Kirstie Hardiman was the final Harrier to complete the course. Her time of 6:55:30 was a huge credit to her and the club as she finished over 2½ hours ahead of the final finishers of the race, underscoring exactly how strong Gade Valley has become at the ultra distances.

And the last person to see the poor lad alive was…

Flying slightly under the radar on Tuesday 9th May, was Merlin Allan, taking on the Veteran’s 5 mile Championship race at Battersea Park. Merlin said, “Nothing so amazing as the ultra runners, but I won Gold (34:37) in the M65 category, taking another minute off my previous club record.” Merlin went to say “I ran in my Veterans AC vest (second club) which gives me access to the British Masters series (unfortunately GVH isn’t affiliated to British Masters).”

What is THAT vest???

After yet another 4 day working week, the weekend of 13th and 14th May felt like a bit of a shock to the system, being only 2 days in length. With something approaching a return to normality, Saturday morning saw a group of about 15 Gade Valley Harriers visit Oxhey Park Parkrun, just near Bushey, to help club legend Tracey Cotton celebrate the significant milestone of 250 parkruns. Tracey finished 28th overall, first in her age category while Gareth Tucker finished 2nd overall and Sue Crowther also finished first in her age category.

How old?

The main business of the weekend took place in the hills of Wales. The Ultra-Trail Snowdonia is a three day event encompassing 50km, 100km and 100 mile distances. Three GVH athletes took on the one day, Saturday, event at the “shortest” 50km distance. This race, which seemed to be nearer 56km if Strava is any judge, took in a frankly staggering 3,300 metres of climb in approximately 32 miles. To put that into context, the Berkhamsted Half Marathon, by general consent a fairly hilly half marathon, has around 240 metres of climb in its 13.1 miles.

I my! What are WE doing???

Sam Sparks, though a veteran of several ultra marathons, was tackling her first truly mountainous race. Earlier in the week, in response to being asked if she had trained much on hills or mountains, responded with, “I’ve never gone up a mountain in my life”. Unfortunately the hills and the unseasonably hot weather on the day, took a bad toll on Sam and she was unable to continue beyond the second checkpoint. She added her own commentary, saying, “I’m absolutely devastated. Nearly passed out and got told to stop at the second aid station. Ran out of water and wasn’t prepared for the heat or the technical terrain. That second mountain finished me off scrambling all the way up!” Sam is fully expected to recover and tackle the challenge again in the future.

It’s called CLIMBING, Sam!

Teresa Reason preferred preparing and running the Snowdonia race to taking up her position in the London Marathon Championship race. She was rewarded with a superb run through the Welsh Mountains. She said, “Wow what a day! It was so hot out there, so a lot slower but the views were incredible! Loved every moment except for the knee high bog in the woods! Massive thank you to [husband] Chris and Claire [McDonnel] for being the best cheer squad.” Teresa finished in 312th overall position (out of 875 finishers and a further 250 who started but couldn’t finish) in a time of 10:29:10.

We’re smiling because we’re not taking part.

Martin Pike, also a veteran of many ultra marathons, also found the Welsh hills tough going. He finished the race in 515th position, in 11:36:16. He described the conditions as “Soooo tough”, with “brutal terrain”. The course, he said, went “…twice up Snowdon then a couple of others. It was hot. Very close to giving up on 2nd Snowdon ascent with running out of water.” Finally, he commented that, “I definitely felt my body coming back to me after the last pit stop and thought I probably had more in the tank to continue[!?!]. The hydration and fuelling side is a huge weakness that I need to work out.” We all wish Martin, and every other GVH ultra runner, all the very best in their future endeavours.

The beer at the end is ALWAYS the best part, whatever the distance.