Biggleswade Athletic Club has been stunned by the sudden and tragic death of much-loved member Vikki Vowles, who passed away at home on 30 August. A marketing manager at chemistry firm CAS, she was just 47 years old.
Despite only having been a member of the club since last summer, having come through BAC’s first ever Couch to 5k programme, Vikki – whose funeral took place on Thursday – impressed from the start. “She had decent turnover and used her arms well,” said club coach Giles Hawthorne. “A coach’s dream – untapped talent.” She took on a host of road races and became renowned for a new-found love of running in the mud when she threw herself – in every sense – into cross country.
Her first outing in the Three Counties XC league last season, at Croyland Park in Wellingborough, has become infamous within the club. “There is a muddy stream crossing – it’s not easy,” Hawthorne added. “By chance I happened to lap Vikki the second time they went through the stream. As I prepared to barrel into it as fast as my legs would carry me, Vikki was basically being manhandled out of the other side. There was a guy on the bank pulling her out by her arms and another in wellies in the stream with both hands on her backside pushing her out. She was covered from head to foot in mud.”
After she crossed the line, officials almost had to squeegee down her race number in order to identify Vikki for results purposes, but despite her muddy mishap, she was thrilled by the experience. Corinne Callligan, a fellow C25k graduate who was running alongside her that day, added: “There are going to be lots of extra BAC members making a very large muddy splash into the Croyland Park brook this year, inspired by Vikki.” Indeed, the forthcoming season kicks off at that venue on 22 October.
Having upped her distances impressively since graduating from the programme, Vikki took on the challenge of preparing herself for a first – now sadly only – half marathon on the anniversary of completing the course this May. “I have never met someone who was more determined and so ambitious to complete anything that she set her mind to,” said Rachel Stott, another in the lineup that day at the Casterbridge Half Marathon. “I absolutely adored that about her.”
“My proudest memory of my friend would be seeing her run past me at mile seven as I supported the team in Dorchester,” added friend and clubmate Jacqui Thompson, “and again at the finishing line with her usual smile.”
Vikki proved an inspiration and became a friend to many new runners in and around the club, and allied to this she had recently become a qualified run leader – the first rung members take on the route to becoming a coach.
Helen Steward, another close friend, said: “She was a great mentor and would encourage people to make them believe they can do anything. I ran with Vikki a lot over the last few months of her life and she would always tell me when we came to a hill: ‘Head up and pump those arms.’ Since her passing, when I’m struggling up hills I will always hear her voice making me more determined to finish.
“Vikki was a great friend and always saw good in everyone, she always lit up the room with her beautiful smile. She was a true inspiration to a lot of people – including myself – for how far she had come in her life.”
Alongside her newly found love of running, Vikki was also a highly active and successful member of her local Slimming World group, and aided by her flurry of activity since starting her running journey she lost a whopping five stone. Shortly before her death Vikki was announced as Woman of the Year after a vote by others in her group.
Group leader Joyce Millson said: “Each week in the group she got support with her weight loss journey and shared with us her progress in running. So much so that she encouraged and later mentored many other Slimming World members to take that first step.”
Immediately after news of her passing broke, the club cancelled all training for a day, with coaches and clubmates bereft at their loss. But BAC members regrouped in force 24 hours later to gather for a tribute outing, on Vikki’s favourite place to run – the Route 51 cycle path from Sandy towards Blunham and Willington – and at her training pace of choice: 12 minutes per mile. They then repaired to The King’s Arms pub in Sandy to share memories of their friend.
Three days after her death Vikki had been due to run the Glorun 5k in Stanwick, Northamptonshire. Originally envisaged as a fun, low-key local race which only a handful of members had entered, organisers were inundated by a barrage of late entries as BAC members suddenly made up over a fifth of the entry list, and they accosted EastEnders and Gavin & Stacey star Larry Lamb – race starter on the day – to join them in a team photo. The club ended the night with three runners in the top 10: Jon Stott was fourth in 20min 33sec, and took the honours for top veteran athlete, while Daniel Steel – making his road racing debut – was eighth in 22:52 and Stuart Goodwin ninth in a personal best 23:35. Lower down the list, a host of her friends had opted to walk the route, drinking to Vikki’s memory with Pimms and Prosecco in celebration of her dual love of competing and the new-found social life she had enjoyed so much with clubmates and running buddies.
Vikki was a dog lover and a frequent sight pounding the streets with three dogs – Scrappy, Marley and Riley – in tow. She spoke at length upon beginning her running journey that she wanted to be able to “run with her hounds”, and had found the experience of finally being able to do so a highly emotional one. In her honour, family and friends will be leading a memorial dog walk around Stewartby Lake at Millennium Country Park in Bedford at 11.30pm on Saturday 21st October.
Her sister, Katrina, said: “Vikki enjoyed her new-found love for running and also the social side where she had made loads of new friends – some very close – and they would go away participating in various adventures. Her three dogs all miss her and will be very well cared for. Vikki was very much loved and respected by so many people, and sadly missed by her two nephews Chris and Michael, her two nieces – Chris’s two girls – me and her mother.”
Many members of the BAC family have already entered next year’s Casterbridge Half Marathon, in tribute to their friend, with some set to tackle the distance for the first time. “The running was important but the friendships she had built were everything to her,” said Hawthorne. “I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time running alone with Vikki chatting, getting to know her, and it was always fun. I’m going to miss her.”
Vikki “VV” Vowles, 1970-2017