Commemorations at Casterbridge … BAC athletes run for fallen heroine Vikki

Bev Strong writes:

A contingent of 19 runners from Biggleswade Athletic Club headed to Dorset to compete in a punishingly hot Casterbridge Half Marathon last Sunday. For several this was their first attempt at 13.1 miles, pushing themselves as a tribute to beloved member Vikki Vowles, who competed in last year’s race – her first and only half – but passed away in August at the age of 47.

All the first-timers had only started running through the club’s Couch to 5K programmes within the last two years, and for the step up to half marathon distance they found themselves on an extremely challenging course, with testing uphill sections far outweighing any downhills, exacerbated by the hot and humid conditions on the day where temperatures had reached 25 degrees by mid-morning.

Paul Cooke at the finish. Photo by Dorsetbays
Paul Cooke closes in on the finish. Photo by Dorsetbays

Paul Cooke led the Biggleswade team home in 27th position with a chip time of 1.37:28 and was followed by Marcus Davey in 59th position with a time 1.43:36. First lady home was Vicky Berry with a time of 2.17:51. Out of the runners competing in their first half, Jo Hornby was first home with a time of 2.52:00 closely followed by Jackie Warren with a time of 2.53:50 and Emma Bell in 2.54:02. Unfortunately Helen Steward had to pull out early on due to a recurrence of an injury.

Biggleswade’s men came third in the team award standings, with Cooke, Davey and Malcom Steward being the first three club men home.

John Stott, Malcolm Steward and, behind, Giles Hawthorne. Photo by Dorsetbays

The runners were all cheered on by a small support team from the club who had entered the event but were unable to compete due to injury. The event, hosted by White Star Running, added a bit of fun by having a “Love Station” just after the halfway point where athletes are given a welcome hug and a cool down with a wet sponge. There was also the added bonus of a small beer and snacks to help them through the final stages.

Rachel Stott, who finished in exactly 2:52, said: “It was a beautiful day, a little warm but this did not stop the smiles and the BAC buzz. I knew that this was a hilly course from last year, but I had forgotten how relentless some of them were … it seemed that every conceivable hill in Dorset had been put on the route just for fun. Despite this I just wanted to enjoy the run and remember the great times that we all had last year, celebrating our first half with great friends, especially Vikki. There were a few tears of sadness and joy along the way as we remembered her.”

Corinne Calligan, Helen Steward and Rachel Stott. Photo by Helen Jones of Dorsetbays
Corinne Calligan, Helen Steward and Rachel Stott. Photo by Helen Jones of Dorsetbays

Jacqui Thompson crossed the line in 3:50:59 and added: “I personally ran this event just for Vikki and knew for a tortoise like myself it would be tough. I had heard all about the hills, especially the last killer hill, but round every bend you were met with a climb and some of them were beasts.

“As I knew this would be my only ever half marathon – lots say this, but it definitely will be – I decided to make mine a sponsored event using DKMS as my chosen charity raising £1122.50. I am very proud to have completed this in Vikki’s memory and also proud of all the others who took part, especially Helen for attempting the run even though she was injured. Julie Cooke did her run for charity raising a substantial amount for Ataxia, Malcolm Steward for knocking off about 20 minutes from his last years time and for Corinne Calligan who flew back for a few days from Peru, interrupting eight months travelling, purely to take part in this with us, again for Vikki. A fitting tribute to a truly inspirational and much missed friend.”

Julie Cooke and Jacqui Thompson. Photo by Helen Jones of Dorsetbays
Julie Cooke and Jacqui Thompson. Photo by Helen Jones of Dorsetbays

Julie Cooke added: “I expected it to be tough … however, it was much harder than I thought, and hot too. In all my training I rarely walked but I needed to walk the hills. This, however, made it harder as the walking interrupted my stride and flow.

“Having said that, I am over the moon having completed it. I ran this for the charity Ataxia UK and raised over £720 (+ gift aid) and this alone kept me going as I remembered all the comments from the donations. This charity is close to my heart as we have a hereditary condition in my family. The memory of Vikki also kept me going on the day and in training.”

Vicky Berry highlighted the importance of the “amazing” support crew along the course: “They were originally planning on running it themselves, but when they found that they couldn’t due to illness or injury they still made the long journey and turned out in force to support the rest of us. I felt very proud being part of team BAC.

“I was absolutely wiped with barely enough in the tank to get me over the line, but I came round the corner, saw the finish gantry and was staggering towards it. Then I heard the cheering, waving, whooping, clapping, shouts of my name, generally making me feel incredibly privileged to be part of a very special club. Thanks guys, you were fabulous!”

One of the support crew, Carol Garratt, said: “As a spectator it was bittersweet, having entered to run but unable to. However the enormous sense of pride seeing the Biggleswade AC team blue and gold come through was emotional and joyous.

“There is an expectation of the experienced runners to take something like this in their stride but even for them, this was a big ask in the heat and the type of hills we cannot comprehend in our flat county! But kudos goes to the first timers who two years ago were doing the C25K, they all brought in close to their expected times with sheer grit and determination and a few tears of pride were shed for them.”

Emma Bell made her debut in club colours, and did them proud with a fine performance. She said: “I was unsure about wearing a vest, mostly worried the added pressure that may come with it while out there as a representative of the club. Anyway having now got through have realised that it is not quite like that! It wasn’t a race and to be a part of it along with the fabulous support can be symbolised by the vest.”

Marcus said: “Vikki inspired and is likely to continue to inspire others to give it a go, proving anything is possible. I can see why this event appealed to her. Certainly not because it’s a ridiculously difficult first half marathon, for there are hills, more hills and one mother of a hill at mile 10! I’m sure it appealed to Vikki because of the intimate, relaxed and informal atmosphere, everyone had a smile on their face and the event was very well organised. Despite being almost rural the scenic route was fairly well supported by the cheering public, particularly through the village of Puddletown. At mile seven there was the ‘Love Station’ where not only was the water flowing but also fruit, cake, beer, hugs and kisses – all very chaotic but fun!

“Well done to all that trained for this event and ran or could not run for whatever reason, particularly those completing in their first half marathon. Remember, a half marathon isn’t just for a holiday weekend, it’s for life, so I hope all off those that ran will continue to enjoy future events.

“Just try some flatter ones, OK?”


Elsewhere on the UK’s roads, Julian Brunt competed in his first full marathon as part of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival over the bank holiday weekend, and despite more warm weather he crossed the line in a fine 5:17:24.

Casterbridge Half Marathon results
Position | Name | Category | Cat Pos | Chip Time
27 | Paul Cooke | Male 40+ | 9 | 01:37:28
59 | Marcus Davey | Male 40+ | 15 | 01:42:36
126 | Malcolm Steward | Male 40+ | 31 | 01:51:35
127 | John Stott | Male 40+ | 32 | 01:51:30
129 | Giles Hawthorne | Male 40+ | 33 | 01:52:26
468 | Vicky Berry | Female 50+ | 30 | 02:17:51
510 | Simon Strong | Male 40+ | 103 | 02:22:12
540 | Maria Merridan | Female 40+ | 63 | 02:23:55
837 | Rachel Hallam Stott | Female 40+ | 142 | 02:52:00
840 | Joanne Hornby | Female 40+ | 143 | 02:52:21
852 | Jackie Warren | Female 50+ | 86 | 02:53:50
853 | Emma Bell | Female 40+ | 150 | 02:54:02
897 | Corinne Calligan | Female Open | 178 | 02:59:22
963 | Gareth Saynor | Male 40+ | 145 | 03:11:32
984 | Sara Masella | Female 40+ | 185 | 03:26:42
989 | Lucy Rands | Female 40+ | 188 | 03:33:24
990 | Julie Cooke | Female Open | 199 | 03:34:09
1004 | Jacqui Thompson | Female 50+ | 119 | 03:50:59
DNF Helen Steward

Vikki Vowles at last year's event. Photo by Stephen Jones
Vikki Vowles at last year’s event. Photo by Stephen Jones
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