The 20 Mile Season of Misery

The Berko half always, in my mind at least, signals the transition from the “Races I always enjoy” season (Fred Hughes 10, Watford Half, Berko Half, muddy cross country races) to the 20 Mile Season (which only those actually doing a marathon take part in). Regular readers of this column will know that I, for one, thoroughly disenjoy 20 mile races. This is because they tend to be multiple laps and you are only doing them to prepare for another race, you would never dream of a 20 miler unless you are about to do a marathon. 

Fun fact: Hillingdon is the race that I really hate, it is over 4 laps. A few years back a friend told me he was doing the “South Park 20”, which goes around South Park in Darlington. If you look at the Google maps view of South Park, you’ll notice two things: firstly, the park is really small, in fact it hosts a parkrun which is a 3 lapper around its perimeter, secondly you’ll notice, well, take a look at the map. I said, “surely that park is too small, does it just start and finish there?”, “no”, I was told, “it is 20 laps”. OMFG.

In case you don’t believe me:

So the Spring 20 mile season begins the weekend after the Berko Half, 9th and 10th March this year, and lasts for about 3 weekends (no doubt somebody will tell me about some races that I don’t know about that fall outside of this range). There has been some other action going on during this time, mostly at the various Parkruns. As ever, time and space don’t allow for listing everybody’s results, so I apologise to all those whose achievements I’ve missed while I’ve been unable to write regular reports.

On March 9th a fairly sizable cohort of GVH athletes turned up at Cassiobury Parkrun to help Kitty Cole celebrate her 100th parkrun. She, somewhat strangely, turned up and ran in the same dog (I think?) suit that she had worn at the Berko water stop the week before as can be seen in the group photo. Around 30 of us ran at Cassiobury, with Steve Newing the only person to break 20 minutes, James Birnie, running as a V50 for the first time, scoring the highest age graded score for the men, and Sue Crowther scoring by far the highest age graded score of all of us. Well done to everybody that ran, especially Kitty in the dog suit.

You can wear what you like for Parkrun

Ines Trent kicked off the 20 mile season on March 10th, taking part in the Oundle 20. Perhaps she shares my loathing of the multi-lap format, or perhaps she just wasn’t available to run on 17th or 24th March, but whatever her reasons, she travelled a long way (1hr 45 mins according to Google) to find a single lap race on what looks like a very pleasant course. Obviously she took her portable PB bell with her as she yet again smashed her PB. I don’t have the numbers in front of me but as far as I remember this time last year at Milton Keynes, my guess is that she bettered her previous 20 mile time by over half an hour, completing the course in 3:31:30.

Don’t forget that PB bell

The 20 mile season continued on March 17th in Milton Keynes. The organisers try to put a positive spin on the event by calling it “the MK Festival of running”, but that can’t disguise the fact that it is a 20 mile race, over multiple laps, that starts and finishes in a car park. I went along to watch last year and I get miserable now just thinking about it.

A small group of 8 GVH runners took on the boredom and the car parks in Milton Keynes and they were led home by Nick Crowther. His time of 2:15:56 may or may not have been a PB but since nobody cares about 20 mile races I didn’t make much of an effort to find out. The performance of the day, however, came from Nick’s wife Sue, who clocked 3:08:41 and finished 3rd in her age category.

He was winning, but was doing a Goodman and fell back

Steve Newing continued his strong form, following his PB at the Berko Half, with a more than solid time of 2:22:31. Steve must be feeling very optimistic about his upcoming Spring marathon. Also looking strong after the marathon block is Heather Timmis, she completed the 20 miles just a few places behind Steve in 2:23:17. She will be competing in the Championship race in the London Marathon and we all wish her well for that.

Championship class

Roland Kendall and Kim Morgan are a little further along in their training as they will be travelling to Paris (along with Ines Trent) for the marathon on April 7th, 2 weeks before London. Roland finished the race in 2:38:17 and Kim wasn’t too far behind, finishing in 2:39:55 to be 7th in her age category. Phil Mercer (2:45:46) and Helen Cook (3:31:55) completed the lineup for Gade Valley on the day.

Looking forward to Paris

Granted there may be more 20 mile races to come in the Spring, but as far as I’m concerned, the 20 mile season concluded on 24th March (which was also the second and final MTR – many thanks to all those who took part in marshalling, organising and general helping), with the Oakley 20 and the Hillingdon 20. For the first time in living memory, well, my memory, there were no GVH runners at the Hillingdon 20 (previously known as the Finchley 20), with the last clutch of Gade Valley 20 mile runners taking to the Bedfordshire country roads for the Oakley 20.

Some of the gang at MK

Before Oakley, on Saturday 23rd March, was the Ashridge Boundary Trail run. This is a great race that everybody who has ever taken part in thoroughly recommends. Pre-pandemic, it started and finished close to the Bridgewater Monument and did what it says on the tin, that is to say it went all the way around the boundary of the Ashridge estate, through some beautiful countryside and up and down some great hills, including Ivinghoe Beacon.

The post pandemic course is slightly different. It starts in a field in Aldbury, goes straight up the hill to the monument, then around the boundary, then back down the hill to Aldbury. The extra distance makes it a very challenging 18 mile race (it was previously around 16) which I, for one, am considering in preference to a 20 mile road race next year.

Chris Reason was the first GVH runner to finish the Boundary Run, he finished 14th overall, 5th in his age category, in 2:13:04. There was a long gap back to Simon Morris, who completed the circuit in 2:41:53, about 10 minutes ahead of Phil Mercer. Jono Marval was a further minute and half back, just ahead of Vicky Crawley Wise. She was followed home by Dan Green who was just 2 places and 12 seconds ahead of club legend Claire McDonnell, who was the last GVH runner to make it home under 3 hours.

Chris Dowling, presumably preparing for a marathon or an ultra marathon, seemed to be taking it fairly easy as he took just over 3 hours for the race. He was some distance ahead of Kirstie Hardiman, who was the next GVH finisher in 3:19:20, not far ahead of Tom Perry who finished in 3:24:24. Michelle Wells (3:43:20) and Ines Trent (3:47:59) were the last GVH runners to make it home under 4 hours, which was the official cut off time.

No photos from Ashridge…

Not worrying too much about the cutoff time, Holly Beckett, Ashleigh Taylor, Mary McCluskey and Chrissie Mooney ran most of the race together. My feeling was that “they are hardly going to stop you running on all those public paths” and so it proved as nothing much seemed to happen and it didn’t really seem to matter that they didn’t finish in under 4 hours. They stayed together for almost the whole race, the group becoming fragmented only on the final descent back to Aldbury. Holly’s time was 4:10:46, Ashleigh managed 4:10:51, Mary was 4:10:55 and Chrissie finished the course in 4:11:08. Mary told me she loved it and wants to do it again.

The final 20 mile race of the season came at Oakley, near Bedfordshire on March 24th. A crack team of three, consisting of Robert Bowler, Gareth Tucker and James Birnie made the trip over to Oakley. The course is largely on nice country roads through beautiful countryside but the mystery of why it starts with 2 laps of a very wet field, when there are perfectly good roads, some of them closed, nearby in the village, is one I can’t get my head around. 

I have been struggling with a hamstring strain since the Berko Half and I had thought that I’d magically be OK to run something like I did last year. Sadly that wasn’t the case and I found myself struggling badly after about 12 miles. After fighting through the last few miles, I managed to finish in a very pleasing 2:21:53, third in my (new) V50 age category. Gareth was treating the race as a practice run with a few miles of marathon pace. He executed his plan perfectly, finishing in 2:27:24 in 63rd position. Robert also executed his plan well, treating the race as a marathon rehearsal, having run the first 6 miles on Saturday. He managed a superb time of 2:43:55, finishing 5th in the V60 category.

And no photos from Oakley either

And so to the marathon season. Apologies to those who took part in races that passed me by. All that remains for the Spring marathon runners is, in the words of our esteemed coach (whom I saw on BBC1 on Gareth Malone’s Easter Passion earlier today) Ed Price, is to “trust your training!” Good luck everybody.