Biggleswade Athletic Club’s Leonie Brunning soared to a superb silver medal at the English Schools’ Championships in Birmingham, thanks to a new lifetime best height that propelled her to third in the UK rankings.
Leonie, of St Thomas More School in Bedford, was in a Bedfordshire and Luton Schools vest at Alexander Stadium, competing in the Intermediate Girls (Under 17s) category. Aged 15, so towards the lower end of the age group she was competing in, she had arrived in the Midlands on the back of a few below-par competitions, but soon put jitters behind her.
She said: “I was a bit more nervous than usual because there was qualifying rounds which is something I hadn’t done before – let alone in a competition as big as the English Schools’. I had a few disappointing competitions in the weeks leading up to it, only clearing 1.55m and 1.50m at events since a combined events competition in which I jumped 1.69m.”
Lining up in a field of 25 split into two qualifying pools, she found her form early and secured one of the 12 spots for the final. She said: “Once I was safely through those I was optimistic about the finals as I felt I had jumped really well.
“I had taken my practice jumps and was feeling pretty confident. However, a few minutes before the competition started the officials decided the high jump beds needed to be swapped, so that was slightly off-putting.”
Still, she entered at 1.50m and has a trouble-free progress over that mark, then at 1.55m and 1.60m. “Having first-time clearances at the first three heights made me less uneasy and as soon as I cleared 1.69m – which equalled my PB – I was buzzing and determined to clear higher so that I could medal. At this stage there were only five of us still left in. I did not want a repeat of last year where I lost out on a spot on the podium due to countback!”
At the new height of 1.72m, she failed her first attempt – but second time around she was delighted to clear the bar for a new personal best. More was still to come, however, and at the third time of asking she cleared 1.75m to take the silver medal. “I ended the competition with a new PB and second place – as well as very tired legs as overall I had a total of 14 jumps during the competition!”
Countback once again told, with the first-placed athlete Temi Ojora of Buckinghamshire clearing 1.75m at the first time of asking giving her the gold, but the silver medal was secured, along with an invite to wear an England vest at the Schools International in Scotland this weekend. Leonie – who broke BAC’s club record in Birmingham – has leaped up 20 places in the British rankings in recent weeks, and is now 2cm above the national standard for U17s in the event. To put the performance into further context, 1.75m was good enough for fifth place at the recent senior British Championships, in a lineup headed by Team GB’s Morgan Lake and Katarina Johnson-Thompson.
Bedfordshire and Luton Schools had fielded their smallest ever team – just 17 athletes – in the Championships, and Leonie was among a quartet from the squad who qualified for England duty.
Josh Watson, Morgan Webster, Cameron Rayner, Sarah Ridley and Dan Steel took first places in the latest round of the Southern Athletics League, which took place at Biggleswade AC’s track at Sandy. Their victories formed part of another excellent team performance, which saw the victorious men’s 4x400m squad also broke a club record that has stood for a quarter of a century.
Darren Janssen was the first to take to the track in the 400m hurdles A string, finishing in 73.4 secs. Both him and Josh Watson in the B string finished in excellent fourth places. Darren and Josh then went on to do a variety of events over the course of the day, with Josh leaping over 1.78m to claim first in the men’s high jump as well as the 110m hurdles, and Darren taking fourth place in the discus with a throw of 29.30m and second place in the B-string shot put with 9.12m, on his way to competing in all four throwing events.
Up next on the track was the 800m.
In the women’s race, Hannah Ridley clocked in at 2:28.5 on her way to second place in the A string, while Emma Bailey, in her first track race for the club, came in at 2:44.7 to claim second place in the B string. The same pairing was seen a couple of hours later in the 1500m, with both athletes taking third place in their respective strings. Hannah finished in 5:30.3, while Emma stopped the clock at 5:42.0.
In the men’s 800m, Stephen Day had a great run in the A string to claim a PB and fourth place, coming in at 2:15.8. Marcus Davey filled the B string spot, coming in strongly at 2:39.0.
Next it was the turn of the sprinters. In a hotly contested 100m, Sarah Ridley was awarded second place, despite being given the same time as the first-place athlete of 13.1secs. In the B string, Molly May yet again equalled her PB of 14.5secs on her way to fourth place. Janice Amber, running as a non-scorer, also clocked the same time.
Both Molly and Janice were in action again in the 200m, but this time they were joined by Francesca Riley in the A string, who ran an excellent race and finished third in 27.9secs. Janice, who was running in the B string this time, came in at 29.5, which was good enough for third place, while Molly, as a non-scorer, also broke the 30 second barrier. In the men’s A string 100m, Morgan Webster stormed down the straight to cross the line first in 11.3secs. In the B string, Cameron Rayner finished strongly, beating athletes who were several years older than him to take second place in 12.1secs. In the 200m, Morgan streaked ahead and finished a good few metres ahead of the rest of the field to claim another first place in 22.7 seconds, which was also a PB. Cameron, not to be outdone, also finished first in the B string with a time of 24.3secs.
In the field, Sarah Ridley appeared in five events which included the shot put, where she won rather convincingly, with her throw of 9.63m being exactly 50cm ahead of her next competitor. She also took second place in the discus, launching it to 28.64m. She was joined in the throws by Sandra Ingham, who competed in all four disciplines and came away with fourth in the B string discus with a throw of 15.25m and 4th in the A string of the javelin competition with 20.08m.
Another athlete who had a busy day was Kathryn Juty. She ran in the 100m hurdles along with Hannah Ridley and both athletes came away with respectable third place finishes. She claimed valuable points for the team by coming fourth in the B string long jump, leaping 3.45m and fourth again in the B-string triple jump, with a distance of 6.67m.
Daniel Steel was just as busy in the men’s competitions, taking part in seven different field events. He jumped over 6m in the long jump, but unfortunately it was called as a no jump. His leap of 5.93m was, however, still good enough to take first place. Toby Foster nearly crossed the 5m barrier with a jump of 4.96m, which placed second in the B string. Dan also claimed first place in the B string high jump, clearing 1.78m and on the track, ran a personal best in the B-string 110m hurdles of 19.2secs to take yet another first position.
There were also some very strong performances in both the men’s and women’s 400m. Francesca Riley ran in the A string and came away with 3rd place in 62.7secs. Jessica Cooke led the B race from the start but just got overtaken with 50m to go. She still finished in 3rd place and knocked over a second off of her PB, clocking 66.2 seconds.
Callum Stokes was the Biggleswade representative in the men’s A race. He held off the other competitors down the home straight and finished in a deserved second place in 53.1 seconds. In the B string, Tristan Rayner looked strong throughout the race and came home in 56.0secs, which earned him second place as well.
The male distance runners were out in force, with Stephen Baldwin and John Frost in the A and B strings of the 1500m. Stephen, minutes after running his way to third place and 9:38.1 in the 3000m, looked relaxed throughout the race and cruised into second place in a time of 4:36.9. John showed off his sprint finish to come in third place in 5.08.5. They were joined in the race by Marcus Davey and Elliot Swinburne as non-scorers, who both put in a valiant effort to finish just behind John. Paul Davies joined Stephen in the 3000m and finished second in the B string 11:08.5.
The last event on the track, the relays, saw some of the best performances of the day. The women’s 4x100m team of Molly May, Francesca Riley, Janice Amber and Sarah Ridley got the baton round in 53.2secs, less than half a second outside the club record, and again were awarded second place despite having the same time as the winners. The men then held on to second place in their race and finished in 46.4secs. In the 4x400m, the women finished a credible third, while Stephen Baldwin, Dan Steel, Callum Stokes and Morgan Webster put in a blinding performance to finish first in 3.42.2 and break the club record by one-tenth of a second, which had stood since 1993.
The Biggleswade team finished third overall on the day, a great result considering they were competing against some much larger teams. They hope to better that result at the final league match of the season, which will take place in Woodford on 18th August.
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 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.
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.”
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 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.”
Team lineup pre-race. Photo by Bev Strong
Marcus Davey heads for the finish. Photo by Dorsetbays
Giles Hawthorne. Photo by Helen Jones for Dorsetbays
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.
BAC’s race-walking expert Helen Middleton was back in the medals competing for Great Britain at the biennial European Masters Athletics Non-Stadia Championships, taking place this year in Alicante, Spain. The championships, which have been running since 1989, see veteran athletes from across the continent hitting the streets for three days of intense but friendly competition.
Despite having come away with team silver from the recent European indoor championships, Helen had been downbeat after two fourth places individually, and spent the time in-between knuckling down.
She said: “After the disappointment that was Madrid, but having put in some serious training, the hard surfaced Alicante course was unforgiving and it was hot, but I’m delighted to report that I came third in the 10k, W55 category in 1.02.04.” In addition, in the team standings for race purposes she stepped up a handful of age group categories to form part of the GB W40 squad, alongside Carolyn Derbyshire and Fiona Bishop, and the trio took fine team bronze medals.
As in Madrid, she doubled up. “Twenty hours later I was back on the same start line for the 20k race. With the support of the GB feed station crew and lots of other encouragement I finished second in 2.10.38.” Not content with going one better on the podium individually, Helen also stepped up in the team standings: “This time the declared GB W45 team of Melanie Peddle, Angela Martin and I found ourselves on the podium picking up silver team medals.”
Emerging from the pair of races without any cautions or warnings, which can leave walkers at risk of disqualification even in the closing stages, the training had paid off, best illustrated as Helen found herself overhauling Spanish walker Angeles Noell Guardiola, who had pipped her to two bronze medals in Madrid. On this occasion her rival finished fourth and third respectively. The Italian pairing of Peppina DeMartis and Mirella Patti took gold and silver in the 10k, which Patti took top honours in the 20k.
Clearing the bar … Brunning goes BIG again
Closer to home, BAC’s fast-rising high jumper Leonie Brunning competed brilliantly at the BIG Jumps & Throws Fest in Bedford. Competing as an under-17 athlete against under-20s and seniors, her best clearance of 1.65m was the second-best in her age group, and equal-fourth best of the day – just 2cm off her PB.
Her performance qualifies her for July’s English Schools Championships in Birmingham. At last year’s event she was unfortunate to miss out on a medal, having cleared the same height as the athletes who shared the bronze medal, but dropping down the standings due to failures at lower heights earlier in the competition.
Last Sunday morning saw Biggleswade Athletic Club well represented in the 30th running of the prestigious Flitwick 10k organised by Ampthill and Flitwick Flyers, a race that attracts not just local clubs but runners from far and wide. In contrast to the uncomfortable heat of the previous week’s Virgin Money London Marathon, athletes were faced with overcast and cool conditions; almost perfect for running. The course, on scenic roads around Flitwick, was undulating with testing hills to try the stamina of even the most experienced of runners.
Biggleswade’s women have been making a name for themselves in recent months at cross country, winning the league over the winter and being crowned county champions in January, so expectations were high in both the individual and team events, and they did not disappoint. Hannah Broom led the team home with a strong and well-judged run coming in 5th female in a sensational time of 41m 16s which also won her the Vets35 women’s award. Hannah was ably backed by Natalie Morgan (9th female, 43m 55s) and Emma Bailey (10th female, 44m 07s), all three coming in with massive personal bests and another title for Biggleswade’s women.
Hannah said: “Coach Paul Davies had kindly agreed to pace me as I was trying for an ambitious personal best time. When going for a personal best time, I find it really helpful to have someone running with me that can give me racing advice round the course, tell me when to slightly ease back or when to push the pace, how to use other runners to my advantage by tucking in out of the wind and when to take recovery. I find it settles my nervous and gives me the opportunity to just concentrate on me and not think about what speed I am going as that is his job as pacer! Also having someone beside you that knows the course really well is great as they can tell you when to ‘gather yourself’ for a hard steep hill or relax over the flatter ground. Running with my coach, who knows my capabilities far better then I do at times, is a great confidence giver too.
“At halfway I was thinking we could be in for a prize, so keep pushing on. There was a bit of twisting and turning through a nice wooded section and a welcome downhill ending, but then the surface changed from road to grass! The grass was very wet and slippery but my cross-country legs came into play and I made a good sprint for the finish. I had no idea how I had done until I saw the clock as I crossed over the finish displaying 41:16 – I was delighted, I’d been trying for a 42:00 and thought I was going to struggle to hit that so to go below was a complete surprise to me!”
Charlie Arnold and Hannah Broom
Hannah, Emma and Natalie
Charlie with his award. Thanks to Hannah for the photos
Biggleswade’s men were led home by Paul Cooke, one week after running the London Marathon, in a time of 39m 41s followed by John Stott in 40m 20s and Paul Davies in 41m 20s. Charlie Arnold was next in 41m 58s, and he won the Vets60+ award with a personal best time to break BAC women’s monopoly on award-winning, and close behind was Adam Murphy with a pb of 43m 24s. Other Biggleswade finishers were Rob Morgan (43m 55s), Robin Lewis (48m 20s, pb), Neil Harvey (49m 22s), Sarah Stilwell (50m 36s), Clark Skerratt (54m 58s), Vicky Berry (57m 40s) and Colin Harries (65m 22s).
Once again, a well organised and well marshalled, friendly event with a strong and competitive turnout. Biggleswade AC once more showing their strength in local athletics against much bigger clubs.
Elsewhere last weekend, following the disappointment of having to drop out of the London Marathon at mile 15 after struggling with the heat, Simon Strong has refocused on improving his speed endurance, and accompanied by coach Giles Hawthorne on a time-trial in Willington, he romped to a new 5k personal best of 24:42.
Thanks to Charlie and Hannah for their reports from Flitwick
Biggleswade Athletic Club were thrilled to host multi-medal-winning Team GB athlete Jenny Meadows last Saturday, as she headed up a fascinating training session. On a glorious morning at Sandy Track, Jenny was joined by her coach and husband Trevor Painter, who is also GB’s Under-20 Team Leader for athletics, and between them they gave valuable tuition in running mechanics to members from the Little Bees, aged 8-10, through to juniors, seniors and veteran performers.
Jenny is recognised as one of Britain’s best, but most unfortunate athletes of the last two decades, competing in an era when systemic doping by Russian athletes denied her well-earned podium opportunities, and although she ran in the 2008 Olympics, injuries cruelly deprived her of participation at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games. Despite these setbacks, she won two bronze medals at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin across the 800m and as a member of the 4x400m relay team, and silvers at World Indoor and European Outdoor Championships in 2010. Her 800m PB of 1:57:93 set in winning world bronze in 2009 is the fourth-best time in the UK all-time ranking list.
She was retrospectively awarded gold from the 2011 European Indoor Championships after the first athlete across the line was stripped of the medal two years later, and in 2017 she lamented that Russian doping had potentially cost her at least three more medals during her career.
Two years after retiring from competition, and in spite of the mixed emotions she experienced as an athlete, Jenny says she remains passionate about her sport, and she now mentors youngsters and helps club athletes to improve.
Through a series of drills, athletes were shown how to improve their running form, and how the wrong technique meant that every stride was potentially holding runners back. Soon all were reaping the benefits, as Jenny and Trevor broke down, step-by-step, how to improve acceleration while improving efficiency in movement. In time the techniques demonstrated can help runners perform faster for longer.
Julie Cooke attended the session alongside husband Paul and her daughter Holly, who is one of the club’s Little Bees. “We really enjoyed it and I’ll take away some tips which I’ll remember when I’m running. Jenny and her husband were so down to earth and easy to learn from.”
BAC committee member Stuart Goodwin watched from the sidelines, and was delighted with how the members responded. “Jenny was brilliant with the youngsters in particular, and it was a real thrill for them to be complimented on their technique by someone so decorated on the international stage. At first everyone was finding some of the coordination needed really hard to master, but suddenly it seemed to just click, and the development throughout the session was incredible.
“At one point she complimented club secretary Hannah Broom on her speed – ‘You’re pretty nippy!’ – and Hannah’s face was an absolute picture. When a world champion and multi-medal-winner tells you you’re decent, that’s got to be a good moment in any club athlete’s life!”
Hannah, who organised the session, said: “I found both Jenny and Trevor to be encouraging and engaging while remaining informative and fun! My apprehensions of ‘performing’ in front of a world class athlete and coach were soon put to rest and I found myself at total ease through the session.
“The way in which Trevor explained the techniques and technical bits were put into language that every age group could understand. My biggest takeaway is I need to think about running specific activities in the gym!”
Alison Ridley was fascinated to see how the techniques could translate to all areas of athletics. She said: “From my point of view as a coach I found the session very informative. I have taken away from it drills I can incorporate into the throwing side of the sport and what a difference they can make to the overall performance of an athlete.”
Jules Mackay, one of the club’s run leaders, added: “I found the session so useful, and both Jenny and hubby Trevor were very approachable. I learned loads that I immediately started to share with my Monday night group, and for me, personally, I am hoping to use it to improve my Parkrun/5k times.”
Initially pencilled in as a two-hour session, Jenny and Trevor were delighted to stick around for much longer, fielding questions and posing for selfies with athletes young and old. Afterwards Jenny praised a “superb club and exemplary members”, adding: “The dedication and enthusiasm left us both very inspired by you all! I really hope that we can come to visit you all again at some point in the future and work on some different things with you.”
More feedback from members:
Colin Harries: “A very good session run by Jenny Meadows and her coach, made us think again about the exercise we do to improve how efficiently we run and how to improve our core.”
Madison Ball (age 12): “I thought it was helpful and fun and I learnt a lot of new warming up exercises as well as Jenny being a nice person.”
Neil Harvey: “It surpassed my expectation. I found the coaching fun and relevant, and made me realise this was a part of my training regime that i really needed to put focus on. The training was excellent and fast paced with both Jenny and her partner enthusiastic and fun. The training was delivered at a good pace for everyone and in addition it was great to hear about her history
The Q&A session was also excellent. The personal and general encouragement was great, so thank you to them and the club for arranging this session.”
Nigel Bush: “The session was very informative and full of useful information. Jenny and Trevor were a great “double-act” and kept everyone enthralled by their knowledge and understanding of the sport. Many years ago when I first started to run seriously, there was very little information about drills, running styles and efficiency, and that lack of knowledge is now contributing towards injury problems. I would urge all aspiring young athletes to incorporate the exercises Jenny & Trevor showed us to help prevent injury layoffs and improve their running style, efficiency and ultimately ‘speed’.”
Athletes from Biggleswade Athletic Club fought against searing heat for last weekend’s London Marathon, in a race where times across the board suffered, and runners by the thousand fell by the wayside in the hottest conditions the race has ever seen.
With temperatures recorded as 24.1C, but even hotter on the course itself due to the heat absorbed by the London roads and generated by the massed runners, many found themselves throwing race plans out of the window and simply clinging on. On Monday it was announced that 29-year-old Matt Campbell, an experienced distance runner from Cumbria, died in hospital after collapsing near the 22-mile mark.
So for BAC’s competitors, taking the start line was no mean feat, running any kind of distance on the day was commendable, and finishing suddenly became a serious achievement.
First home was Paul Cooke, one of the club’s best and most experienced distance runners, and it was a measure of the heat that his hopes of a sub-3hr finish were recalibrated mid-race to factor in the conditions, as he crossed the line in a still-impressive 3:23:22. Shortly behind was the first of Biggleswade’s female runners, Isobel Everest, in 3:37:01.
Further back, BAC’s athletes were suffering, and at 15 miles Simon Strong wisely called it a day as the heat became too much. Having suffered appalling luck with injuries in the last year – his entry in the race was in fact deferred from 12 months ago as niggles disrupted his preparation for 2017’s race – it was another cruel blow, but hopefully his training in recent months will stand him in good stead for other challenges this season.
Stuart Goodwin took the line having undergone treatment for a knee injury, which flared up during a recent half-marathon. Despite finishing that race, he was aware it was unlikely to keep itself to itself for 26.2 miles. “It flared up in the first 15 minutes – the second mile,” he said. “My training had been geared to try and break 4 hours, my PB is 4:21 set last year, but due to missed training and the conditions on the day, that went out of the window fairly early on.” During mile 12, his knee seized and he found himself slowing almost to a walk.
“Such a horrible feeling – you don’t want to stop, everyone’s chanting your name from the front of your vest, you’ve got 15 miles still to go, and even if you do stop you’re in the middle of nowhere and your bank card’s on the back of a truck at the finish. I kind of felt obliged to carry on, almost against my better judgment. I’ve found myself run/walking bits of marathons before when injury or fatigue has hit, but never anywhere near that far, and certainly in nothing like those kind of conditions.
“I knew how bad it was going when a guy sailed by with a washing machine strapped across his shoulders. People were on their backs all over the place, completely done – it was unbelievably brutal.”
He went on to finish in 5:14:44 – “The 44’s important. I did a very dicky sprint at the end to ensure I was inside my ‘personal worst’ marathon time. I got there with 14 seconds to spare! So glad I toughed it out – lord only knows how long it would have taken me without encouragement from the crowd.”
BAC are provided with two club places to the race each year, which are allocated after eligible athletes enter a ballot. Goodwin took one place, and the other one went to Cat Marriott – she was the next BAC competitor home in 5:30:26, with her eyecatchingly tall headwear offering an additional challenge in the face of the heat.
Next up was Ricky Byrne, originally aiming for 4:30, which he soon realised wasn’t on given the heat, but he still had plenty of wiggle room to snare a personal best time. Up to halfway, all was going well, and he even allowed himself time to enjoy the celebration station with his chosen charity – Ambitious About Autism. Soon after, however, as the temperature continued to climb, he also began to struggle. “That first half had taken its toll and there was no way i could keep it up in the heat for the remaining miles,” he said. “At 19 miles I hit the wall and sobbed my heart out – I’d seen people fainting and convulsing.”
In spite of this, and with some timely hugs and encouragement, he dug deep for the remainder and made it round, crossing the line in a PB of 5:46:08. He raised a superb £2176.20 for charity. Nicola Perrin was another running for charity, raising money and awareness for Phab Kids, and she stopped the clock at 6:48:30 to fulfil a lifelong ambition of taking part in the race.
Support crews from the club were stationed at miles 14, 21 and 22, and they enjoyed a great day out supporting all competitors, including the elite athletes, seeing David Weir on his way to winning the men’s wheelchair race, and Mo Farah breaking through into world-class marathon-running by taking the long-standing British record.
“People bang on about the London Marathon, about its unrivalled atmosphere, and the power you get from the crowds, and to be honest I was sceptical,” Goodwin said. “But it’s not hyperbole – it absolutely lived up to the hype. I hated every second, but loved every minute – I was muttering when the pain was at its worst that I never want to put myself through anything like that again, but as soon as I crossed the line I was looking to see when entries for the 2019 ballot open. I’ve done a lot of races, but it’s unlike anything else.”