Club spirit … BAC storm it on and off the roads in St Neots

Biggleswade Athletic Club runners racked up fine positions and a string of personal best times, while clubmates won friends around the course thanks to a superlative support effort at the St Neots Half-Marathon last Sunday. The race is BAC’s club championship race over the distance and one of the annual highlights of the local road-running calendar.

On a biting cold morning in St Neots, and faced with a challenging course which features a string of steep uphill climbs, BAC’s Jamie Hall – in only his third race at the distance – took the male club championship honours with an outstanding second place. His time of 1:13:54 bettered his 1:14.06 run last month on the significantly kinder Great Eastern Run course, and inches him ever-closer to Roger Wadeley’s club record 1:11.15 (set back in 1988).

Jamie Hall, right, on his way to second place. Photo by Frankie Byrne
Jamie Hall, right, on his way to second place. Photo by Frankie Byrne

He said: “I wasn’t sure what to expect from the undulating St Neots course. Others had told me plenty of horror stories about it, especially with previous years bringing howling winds and rain. Fortunately, today it was a beautiful crisp winter morning with barely any wind – perfect conditions for running.

“This time the tactics were to run based on feel rather than pace and try to get the best position I could. From the start, the guy who would go on to win (comfortably by over a minute) set off like a rocket and was in a different postcode from the first km onwards.

“I stuck with a group of about five others. The pace felt a little quick, but I stayed with it and by around the fifth km it was just me and a runner from Fairlands Valley Spartans. I had been warned that miles seven to nine were a tough slog and that it would be sensible to try and keep some company. This knowledge was pretty much the only thing that kept me pushing to keep with the Fairlands Valley runner.

“From mile 10 I knew that from this point onwards the course was all downhill so I pushed on to try and put some space between us. I have no idea how far ahead I got, but by mile 11 I could hear him behind me again. I was convinced that I had blown it and he would come storming past. Mercifully the Fairlands Valley runner stayed with me. I tried to go again at 12 miles and this time managed to pull away to come through in second place with a PB. Clearly running with the other guy had really helped!”

Elaine Livera, fifth female finisher and 74th overall, coasted to the women’s club title with a time of 1:26:54, with cross country challenges lying ahead next week. She said: “It was the most enjoyable half marathon I have ever run! Myself, Paul Cooke and coach Paul Davies had decided to run together at Cookie’s marathon pace. I got a proper lesson in how to run a half properly. We were such an enjoyable bunch to run with that we even picked up a few stragglers and ran almost the full distance in a pack of about five or six people.

Paul Cooke, Elaine Livera and Paul Davies. Photo by Roo Goodwin
Paul Cooke, Elaine Livera and Paul Davies. Photo by Roo Goodwin

“Having stayed at a fairly comfortable pace throughout the run, I really wanted to try and catch her before the line. Over the last 2km we slowly made up the distance between us and I found myself in a 600m sprint for the finish which allowed me to come in fifth instead of sixth woman.”

She echoed the sentiments of all BAC athletes out on the course, who were met with outstanding support throughout: “The best parts of the day was seeing Biggleswade supporters on every single street corner. I’m surprised any of them still had voices at the end of the day! It feels great to be part of such a supportive club!” The village of Abbotsley, which runners passed through twice in the race, became akin to a “Biggleswade Boulevard”, with members and their families out in force.

Rob Morgan. Photo by Roo Goodwin
Rob Morgan was 2nd BAC finisher in 1:22:19. Photo by Roo Goodwin

Running alongside, Paul Cooke, who has endured an injury-plagued season, was pleased to return to the roads: “I really enjoyed that and chuffed that I managed it after being injured for so long. The only issue for me was a slight twinge in my calf right at the end. Massive well done to all runners – some great times in perfect conditions. Even bigger thanks to the blue and yellow supporters … they were the best supporters out there.” He emerged with a time of 1:27:07.

A few minutes further up the road, Marcus Davey, had clothing and pacing quandaries to contend with. He said: “It felt cold enough for me to wear my thermal top and gloves. At the start line, coach Paul Davies looked at me and asked: ‘Aren’t you a bit warm in that?’ I wondered if I had made a mistake, and there was no time to change.

Marcus Davey. Photo by Carol Garratt
The many-layered Marcus Davey. Photo by Carol Garratt

“Following on from this year’s Peterborough half marathon when the wheels began to wobble at mile 11, I conceded to myself I should run a smidge slower, particularly on a course with many an undulation.”

All worked out for the best however, with the chill remaining in the air throughout the race. “My finishing time was just 12 seconds outside my Peterborough half marathon PB – I was a little surprised and very pleased with the outcome.” His 1:24:10 was just under two minutes behind BAC’s second finisher Rob Morgan, who crossed the line in 1:22:19.

Martha Ford had endured sleepless nights and pre-race nerves as she feared her hopes of dipping under the two hour barrier would be thwarted on the day. As it happened, despite flagging in the closing stages she stormed in over eight and a half minutes inside target time, with an excellent 1:51:23. Two minutes behind, Stuart Goodwin took six minutes off his PB with 1:53:39, and Amy Stamp – agonisingly close to breaking the two-hour barrier in Peterborough on her debut at the distance – followed up on the tougher course by crashing through it, thanks to a PB run of 1:58:24.

Martha Ford soared well below her hoped-for 2hr time. Photo by Roo Goodwin

The club’s championship race results are based on age-gradings, which level the playing field for all competitors by adjusting times for veteran runners downwards – the older the runner, the more the age-graded time comes down.

Based on the recalibrated marks based, big movers included Clark Skerratt (1:25:13 down from 1:52:43), Ian Grimwood (1:31:12 from 1:58:16), Neil Harvey (1:31:55 from 1:50:32), Stephen Atkins (1:34:38 from 2:00:21), Andy Bruce (1:39:32 from 1:55:54), Ian Clayton (1:39:53 from 1:53:34), Vicky Berry (1:47:28 from 2:06:25), Andrew Hedley (1:56:09 from 2:17:11), Juliet Grimwood (1:56:36 from 2:17:10), Janice Blake (1:59:21 from 2:27:59) and Julia Mackay (2:09:04 from 2:31:50).

St Neots Half-Marathon 2017 results

Overall position | Name | Chip time (Age-graded result)
Note that positions are based on gun time – those running faster times may have crossed the start line further back in the field

2 Jamie Hall 1:13:54 (1:13:54) Male club half-marathon champion
36 Rob Morgan 1:22:19 (1:18:24)
54 Marcus Davey 1:24:10 (1:16:59)
74 Elaine Livera 1:26:54 (1:26:54) Female club half-marathon champion
77 Paul Davies 1:27:05 (1:18:20)
79 Paul Cooke 1:27:07 (1:22:58)
111 Jon Stott 1:28:53 (1:19:57)
238 Damien Pitts 1:36:32 (1:36:09)
242 Giles Hawthorne 1:37:23 (1:31:17)
280 Natalie Morgan 1:37:53 (1:34:08)
301 Aaron Ball 1:39:46 (1:39:46)
482 Sarah Geeson-Orsgood 1:47:23 (1:43:16)
558 Neil Harvey 1:50:32 (1:31:55)
575 Martha Ford 1:51:23 (1:51:07)
598 Clark Skerratt 1:52:43 (1:25:13)
631 Stuart Goodwin 1:53:39 (1:49:57)
634 Lucinda Shenton 1:53:42 (1:42:47)
640 Ian Clayton 1:53:54 (1:39:53)
684 Andrew Bruce 1:55:30 (1:39:32)
742 Ian Grimwood 1:58:16 (1:31:12)
748 Amy Stamp 1:58:24 (1:58:07)
853 James Rastrick 1:58:03 (1:51:32)
797 Stephen Atkins 2:00:21 (01:34:38)
836 Frank Mcloughlin 2:01:53 (1:43:12)
872 Simon Strong 2:04:43 (1:53:08)
897 Vicky Berry 2:06:25 (1:47:28)
906 Sally Jones 2:07:17 (2:01:34)
1030 Andrew Hedley 2:17:11 (1:56:09)
1031 Juliet Grimwood 2:17:10 (1:56:36)
1057 Julian Brunt 2:20:25 (2:10:33)
1118 Janice Blake 2:27:59 (1:59:21)
1136 Julia Mackay 2:31:50 (2:09:04)
1166 Tim Gardiner 2:55:31 (2:41:51)

Digging in at Delapre Abbey … BAC’s ladies retain Three Counties XC top spot

Biggleswade Athletic Club put in another excellent team performance at the second Three Counties Cross Country race of the season, with Jamie Hall finishing an brilliant fifth overall and the women’s squad combining superbly to retain top spot in the league despite stiff challenges from both rival clubs and fiendish conditions.

Jamie Hall. Photo by Mark Garratt
Jamie Hall on his way to fifth place. Photo by Mark Garratt

On a bitterly cold morning in Northampton, athletes contended with a challenging and deceptively awkward course around Delapre Park, consisting of two multi-terrain laps taking in tricky uphills, breakneck downward sections and hundreds of hidden tree roots ready to catch runners unaware. The long finish section, run twice into the wind on a boggy hill thick with grass, proved a viciously cruel and sapping test for the legs that derailed many runners’ challenges in the closing stages.

With the first eight men and first four ladies from each club counted towards the team totals, finishing positions were key. So three top 10 placings in the women’s standings, from Elaine Livera (3rd), Juliet Nayler (8th) and Isobel Everest (9th), plus the fourth scoring runner – Hannah Broom – placing 12th enabled BAC to take second on the day, just pipped by Bedford Harriers. Holding on to the stop spot after two events of five is all the more impressive as Biggleswade’s squad of 30 was dwarfed on the day by the likes of Bedford and Ampthill & Flitwick Flyers – who topped the men’s standings – with those clubs able to field 66 and 63 runners respectively.

Elaine, who was first female over the line in race one, reflected on another fine top three finish: “I managed to stick just behind one of the girls for half of the first loop when, out of nowhere, another girl passed us so quickly I hardly saw her. She was able to make the most of the twisty turns in the section through the forest. One bit which was definitely worth mentioning was a downhill muddy section which ended with a sharp right turn. Both times I almost ended up going straight down the hill. I think I definitely lost some time there!”

On the men’s side, Jamie celebrated his 28th birthday with a superb first senior cross-country outing. With coach Paul Davies also joining him among the scoring runners, he expressed surprise at the gameplan: “I was slightly taken aback when the plan involved a sprint off the start line to avoid getting stuck out of place. I gave it everything for the first few seconds to get myself into position for the narrow first uphill section. This paid off as there was no way I could have made up ground if I had ended up too far back.”

He echoed Elaine’s thoughts on the downhill section: “I stuck with the race leaders going up the hill but completely lost them going back down through the woods. I have no idea how anyone can move that quick round such tight corners and between the trees.

“Having struggled across the open field past the start line for the second lap, I was pushed back into sixth half way up the first hill but managed to keep the guy ahead in sight. I did everything I could to make sure I didn’t fall any further back but found the constant change of pace due to the twists and turns hard work. When we finally got to the marker for the last 400m I tried to claw back as much distance as I could. Thanks to the fantastic support from those cheering at the finish line I managed to put in a sprint at the end to just edge my way into a respectable fifth place finish.”

Paul Davies, Isobel Everest and Hannah Broom. Photo by Mark Garratt
Paul Davies, Isobel Everest and Hannah Broom. Photo by Mark Garratt

In Jamie’s wake were Rob Morgan (24th), Marcus Davey (76th), Nick Haworth (79th), Paul Davies (107th), John Stott (121st), club chairman Damien Pitts (129th) and Charlie Arnold (134th). Their points total left them eighth of 13 clubs on the day, and following a sixth place finish at race one, they lie seventh overall for the season.

Marcus was one of several to find themselves running wary of the various hazards: “Running uphill and avoiding tree roots I can deal with – running downhill on slippy mud is another thing. A lot of concentration was required on that twisty muddy downhill section! Second time round on that very section of the course an Ampthill athlete I was running next to fell flat on his face.”

Marcus Davey, right. Photo by Roo Goodwin
Marcus Davey, right, makes his way through the woods. Photo by Roo Goodwin

Charlie also found a neighbouring runner come a cropper, and he found himself running cautiously: “Mud puddles, rabbit holes and tree stumps added to the dangers to be avoided as we twisted and turned round the trees on an undulating path before finally getting respite downhill. Not being a great one for running down, especially with the difficult terrain, I had to give way as others ran by me.

“Clubmates passed, to whom I was happy to concede position, before, finally, I reached the end to my great relief. Not a run to be proud of and not one that I can say I enjoyed, but these things happen and I did score for the team which made it all worthwhile.”

Deb Bryant, 31st female finisher, returned to the course for the first time in over a decade, nervous having left last time around with unhappy memories. “I hadn’t done it since around 2006 -I didn’t complete it that year as I tripped over a tree root and twisted my ankle. It took me out of running for a while. However once I got going past that section the day was all good. It’s a lovely course, the sun was out and it was a great race.”

Action at the start with Emma Bailey (482) and Deb Bryant (490). Photo by Roo Goodwin
Action at the start with Emma Bailey (482) and Deb Bryant (490). Photo by Roo Goodwin

Club secretary Hannah returned after an injury-plagued spell to round off the ladies’ scoring. She said: “I had one strategy – go out hard and try to hold on.That field and hill was a little much and I had to drop off the pace. Two girls passed me and I was furious with myself, I needed to get back in the game. I hunted the first down and overtook her then started to hunt the second. She had a male team-mate running with her, and through the trees there was no room to pass. I tried this way and that but her team-mate blocked my efforts. My legs were done – the finish was metres away but I did not manage it. I’ll get her next time!”

Start of race with Charlie Arnold and Hannah Broom. Photo by Roo Goodwin
Charlie Arnold and Hannah Broom in the stampede at the start. Photo by Roo Goodwin

Throughout the morning all BAC competitors enjoyed fantastic support from a tireless support crew, who braved the biting cold, and many finishers stuck around to cheer their team-mates over the line. One who enjoyed a particularly warm welcome was Carol Garratt, one of the club’s Couch to 5k graduates, and Marcus rejoined the course after finishing to act as a windbreak for her the closing stages, as conditions worsened. She said: “It was my first cross-country run ever! The grass sapped my legs before the killer hill. I loved the woods but did the ‘gentlemanly‘ thing, pulling over to let the front-runners pass, so I lost a bit of time but that was never really going to make a big difference.

At the end of the first lap I really wanted to give up, but I thought ‘No! You have to take one for the team, grit your teeth and dig in.’ It didn’t make that hill any easier but at least I had a clear run back through the woods. To my superhero Marcus, who was the ‘Wind beneath my wings’, as he ran me home, a special thank you! Will I do it again? Well, my number is on the mantelpiece. Did I enjoy it? Actually, I think I did!”

The combined team scores mean Biggleswade now lie a clear fifth in the standings overall. With many runners in the lineup for the St Neots Riverside Half-Marathon this Sunday – BAC’s club championship race over the distance – preparations immediately turn to race three of the season which takes place in Dunstable’s Green Lanes, Tottenhoe Knolls and the Maidenbower on 26 November.

Wootton cross country results

Overall position | Name (gender position)
5 Jamie Hall (5)
24 Rob Morgan (24)
72 Elaine Livera (3)
82 Marcus Davey (76)
85 Nick Haworth (79)
107 Juliet Nayler (8)
116 Isobel Everest (9)
117 Paul Davies (107)
131 Hannah Broom (12)
135 John Stott (121)
143 Damien Pitts (129)
148 Charlie Arnold (134)
155 Natalie Morgan (15)
191 Emma Bailey (25)
211 Deb Bryant (31)
264 Neil Harvey (207)
268 Kathryn Juty (58)
273 Stuart Goodwin (211)
280 Gary Baldwin (214)
303 Robin Wynde (224)
343 Simon Strong (244)
347 Ian Grimwood (246)
377 Georgia Barker (119)
379 Jess Godfrey (121)
389 Ricky Byrne (254)
394 Juliet Grimwood (134)
426 Helen Kapur (160)
431 Julie Spavins (163)
449 Ruth King (179)
450 Carol Garratt (180)