Spring has sprung for Marathon Prep

The weekend of 25th and 26th March saw Gade Valley Harriers continue their Parkrun tour, the return of a local favourite trail race and some more marathon preparation races.

On Saturday, the club’s Parkrun tour visited Harrow. Unfortunately, a combination of reluctance to travel outside of the local postcode, and perhaps a lack of awareness of the schedule (even though there has been a link directly to the winter schedule pinned to the top of the club’s Facebook page since January saw a rather disappointing turnout.

One who did make the trip to Harrow was Parkun, and particularly Black Park Parkrun regular, Vince Ellerby. In his own inimitable fashion he berated the membership at large thus: “Harrow parkrun, what’s not to like about a fast, three lapper. I counted three of us. Ed, if you are going to plan these you have to understand, these people don’t really respond to anything outside a seven mile radius. I mean it’s a Tour, but a tour without travelling!”

The GVH team at Harrow, (courtesy Vince)

The three that did make it to Harrow were Lewis Ellerby, who finished 7th overall in 19:35, Vince himself, who managed 16th overall position in a time of 20:52 and Steve Newing who came in 19th in 21:11. Head coach Ed Price later added, “It was more my fault for not publicising it more. Next month’s is even further away!” For those that need help reading the spreadsheet, the schedule says that the Parkrun Tour will visit Buckingham Parkrun on 22nd April.

20 or so Harriers took part in various other Parkruns on Saturday, including a group of 7 who definitely didn’t get the memo as they congregated at Cassiobury Park in Watford. Given that the performance of the day was probably by Lewis Ellerby none of the non-tourists merit any mention.

Also on Saturday was the Ashridge Boundary Trail Run. As the name suggests, this race is a trail race that follows the boundary of the local Ashridge Estate, the country seat of the Brdigewater family of 18th century canal building fame and fortune. The race used to start at the Bridgewater monument before picking up the boundary trail and returning, eventually, to finish by the monument, the direction of the trail alternating between clockwise and anticlockwise each year.

Instructions on Andy’s hand…?

For the first time though, the race started in the nearby village of Aldbury. Nearby, that is, if you look at a map. Not so nearby, however, if you look at the contour lines on such a map. Although only around 1km or so from the monument, the change in elevation from Albury village up to the Ashridge estate is such that the race climbed around 100m in the first horizontal mile. Club legend, and many times Boundary Trail veteran, Vicky Crawley Wise summed up the new course, saying, “Clockwise route with new start down in Aldbury that added a stonking up (but also down) hill & another mile and a half to the route.”

Vicky loves a stonking!

Five GVH athletes took on the 17.5 mile circuit at Ashridge. Nick Crowther was the first to finish, in 18th overall place with a time of 2:18:35. Chris Dowling, a veteran of many trail races and ultra marathons, was next for GVH about 8 minutes behind Nick, he said, “Pretty much as expected. Pushed the first half but nothing in the tank for the finish. A good training effort nonetheless. Still my favourite run.”

No photos of Chris D. Shame on you, Wellsy!

Vicky Crawley Wise was the first of 3 GVH ladies across the line in 2:56:37, adding later that she was, “thoroughly chuffed to be sub 3!” Claire McDonnell, still feeling her way back from long term injury, was next in 3:13:32 with Michelle Wells completing the GVH team, finishing the course in 3:29:46.

Claire loves a trail. Any trail.

This year the UK’s big city marathons have all returned to their more accustomed Spring berths, having been held in the autumn in the past two years due to the lasting effects of the pandemic. With the marathons returning to the spring this means, of course, that every scribe’s least favourite race, the 20 mile race, also returned to the spring. 3 GVH athletes decided to take to the streets of north London for the notorious 4 laps of the Hillingdon 20 while 2, slightly more sensible, Harriers made the longer trip to the Bedfordshire countryside for the Oakley 20.

It rained in Hillingdon but she still smiled at the end

Hillingdon got underway at 9:00AM on the morning of Sunday, the day the clocks went forward, making the early start even more awkward. Sam Richards was the first GVH runner to finish the course, in 2:34:56, in 68th position, 27th in his age category. Sam’s partner Mel Hardy was next to finish, she clocked 2:56:02, finishing 8th in her age category. She said afterwards, “Few tantrums before but luckily the rain eased off and super chuffed with the run. 4 weeks to go!” The other harrier at Hillingdon was Lizzy Andrews. She managed a similar time to that which she achieved at Milton Keynes two weeks ago, finishing the race in 3:05:23.

Over in Bedfordshire, meanwhile, James Birnie and Gareth Tucker huddled together against the cold and driving rain for the 9:30 start to the Oakley 20. After his diatribe against 20 mile races in general and the Hillingdon 20 specifically, James had chosen Oakley on the recommendation of other Harriers. Oakley has 2 different loops, one of around 12 miles and one around 8, which share about 5 miles of road in common. Starting and finishing in the beautiful village of Oakley, the course visits the villages of Pavenham (twice), Felmersham, Chellington, Carlton and Stevington (twice) while gently undulating through the beautiful countryside.

James had been advised by head coach Ed Price to “stick to 7 minute miles then see how you feel after halfway”. The early part of the race was extremely difficult as the course inexplicably took in two laps of a mainly waterlogged field before going out onto the roads of Oakley. It didn’t seem to do James too much harm as he found himself gradually building up speed through the race. He went through the first 10 miles in about 1:09:30 before going through the gears to complete the second half over 3½ minutes quicker, for a total time of 2:15:19. He finished 12th overall and first in the M45 age category. He said afterwards that he was “slightly stunned to have run a negative split and my first PB at any distance since 2018”.

Gareth running through a muddy field

Before the race, Gareth was lamenting his bad luck in having gone down with a cold a couple of days earlier, thus preventing him from undertaking a true test of his marathon speed. He had said he would be “happy to finish” and would treat the first 15 miles or so “as a normal long run, about 8 minute miles” before trying to accelerate for the last part of the race. He executed this plan brilliantly, completing 15 miles in around 2 hours before reeling the last 5 miles off in about 35 minutes. He finished 64th overall (out of 401), 12th in the M45 age category in a time of 2:34:46, a new PB.

Gareth running on a wet road

The verdict on Oakley (from James) is that it is by far the least bad 20 mile race that he knows of. The two loops are sufficiently different to not feel like laps, the countryside views are immeasurably better than suburban Hillingdon of the red routes of Milton Keynes and getting a brand new hoodie at the end beats any cheap medal any day. The hills are nasty at times but no worse than those at Hillingdon. Definite thumbs up for this race. Shame about the terrible weather.