Race Rundown: Berlin Marathon, 24th September 2023

By Cat Miller.

I’m not a road runner and despite having run many marathons and ultra marathons, I’ve only actually run 2 marathons on road – my first in Edinburgh in 2018 and London Marathon in 2021. London Marathon gave me a flavour for running the Abbott World Majors and from then I decided to make it my mission to complete them all and earn my 6 stars.  I entered the ballot for Berlin Marathon last year not really thinking I’d get in.  We’ve all seen the year after year disappointment of London which took me 6 attempts for a place so I fully expected Berlin to be the same.  Low and behold I was successful in the ballot on my first attempt!

We flew over to Berlin on the Friday afternoon arriving in time to go straight from the airport to the Expo to collect my number before it closed.  That in itself was an amazing experience. It’s held at the old Tempelhof airport complete with more merch stalls than I’ve ever seen and a hot air balloon sitting on the airfield.  Number collected and the carb loading began with a lovely Italian meal just near our hotel.

As avid parkrun tourists we weren’t going to let Saturday pass without ticking off another country on the list, however the Berlin ones were cancelled due to the marathon so any we did was going to involve a train journey.  Looking at the parkrun map we realized that there was a Z location in the form of Ziegelwiese only just over an hour’s train journey away. Never being ones to turn down the opportunity for a Z (we have already completed one alphabet and are close to a second) alarms were set for 5.30am and off we went to the train station.  We won’t discuss how much the train tickets cost but lets just say John is still whinging about it now!  Another Z bagged we headed back to Berlin to watch the finish of the inline skating race and to check out the finish area near the Brandenburg gate. The day finished with one of the best steak meals I’ve ever eaten and a happy John as he’d sampled a few pints of Wheat Beer!

Sunday morning it wasn’t too early a start as my Wave wasn’t starting until 1030am so I had time for breakfast and an easy walk to the start area from the hotel.  When I arrived at the start area I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people! You certainly don’t see that many people on the trails.  I got quite emotional thinking about how proud my Granda would have been – he was a keen marathon runner and lived through both wars only dying last year aged 92 – and he always loved following my running and hiking adventures and this was probably the biggest one yet.  That emotion stayed with me throughout the whole race and I’m not ashamed to say I cried several times including as I crossed the finish.  The start experience was incredible, every wave got the same treatment with a celebrity starter (no idea who it was though) and music and fireworks and it was just incredible!

The race itself is one of the flattest marathons there is and I didn’t know how to handle it! My usual race mantra is slow up the hill, fast down the hill and steady the flat but I couldn’t do this on the Berlin course so I just had to run! Of course I went out far too fast and completely blew up at 10 miles when the sun came out. For the rest of the race I jeffed it 1 minute walk, 1 minute run and having this time to focus really helped tick the miles over.  It was such a hot day but the water stops on the course were plentiful as was the fresh fruit at many of the stations which was greatly appreciated.

It was also a really well supported course and I don’t remember there being any part of it where there weren’t people watching on.  The finish for this marathon is just incredible though.  For the last few miles you are weaving back through the city streets then you make a turn and head towards the Brandenburg gate.  It was interesting watching people who thought that was the finish line when in fact it was 400m further down the road! John was waiting for me right at the gate and managed to capture some great pictures which were much better than the official ones which I did not pay £30 for!  I think that last 400m were my fastest of the race! Over the finish line, medal collected and my second star in the bag.

I’d highly recommend this race to anyone just for the incredible experience.  Now I’m hoping I’m as lucky with the ballot for Chicago next year 😊

Race Rundown: Masters European Championships, Pescara, Italy. 21st and 23rd September 2023.

By Frances Barlow.

Following a pretty consistent competition season over this summer at the Masters Athletics competitions, and winning 2 silver medals at the North East Masters championships, when the opportunity came to compete at the Masters European championships I jumped at the chance! But 6 weeks before the championships I strained my Achilles tendon!

For those that aren’t familiar with Masters athletics it is a competition for anyone over the age of 35 and you compete against your age category which is in 5 year bands.  There is no upper age category. Every discipline is covered including hurdles, decathlon, steeplechase, sprints, jumps, middle distance and the longer 5k and 10ks plus marathons

Two days before my 100m race, my training friend of 27 years and I set off on our trip to Pescara, Italy.  We set off from Middlesbrough station to Manchester airport taking a flight to Milan an overnight stop at Milan then a 4.30am flight to Pescara.

Pescara is a coastal town on the east coast of Italy directly across from Rome. It doesn’t have all the history with cathedrals and ancient statues as Rome does but it has an international sized track with 2 others close by in Montesilvano and Francavilla. The championships took place over two weeks at the 3 venues due to the amount of events and age categories.  Both my 100m and 200m taking place in Pescara.

When landing in Pescara we left the airport and took the bus straight to the track to register.  In athletics you a enter race but you need to declare yourself as competing prior to the race – if you don’t you can’t compete.  In most local and national events declaration is usually on the day about 2 hours before.  But internationally, this registration needs to be 24 hours in advance.  As I was competing the next day going straight to the track to register took away the first stress.

At registration we were provided with a competitor’s bag, a commemorative medal, numbers, wrist band, information for the events and a few goodies. The wrist band got you into the track plus public transport for free.

Once registered we ventured out to see the track – it’s blue – an usual colour for a track and with four large stands surrounding the track made it made a very imposing sight and standing there looking at it certainly started my nerves.

The next day was my 100m.  This is my preferred event. I was running at 3.30pm so after a relaxing morning in the apartment, we made our way to the track.  The morning was cool but as we got to the track the weather improved and the sun came out.   Again at local competitions I can warm up on the track, but here you are only allowed on the track if you are competing so it was off to the warm up area where you rub shoulders with other international athletes.  With not much track training over the previously 6 weeks and the Achilles still not right, I was pleased with my warm up.  Not too much pain and my practice starts felt fast so I was ready to go to the call up area.  You need to be there 20 minutes before the start of the race.

At the call up area they confirm you are who you say you are, check your kit and spikes are legal and you are wearing your numbers. The thing with the call up is even though you know everything is correct and legal it’s like going through passport security. You know you’ve done nothing wrong but start to panic for no reason at all thinking someone is going to stop you!

Following the call up area, we were escorted from the call up room on the back straight of the track and walked in lane order to the start of 100m.  Being in lane one I was first to step on to the track, I stopped 30m from the 100m start line waiting to be called up by the officials. When the officials call you up there are no pleasantries “5m behind the line”  I stood there waiting for the starter and thought:  I’m stood here in my GB kit about to run internationally for Great Britain  – wow!


I walked to the start line and looked down my lane to the finish, one last reminder of where I needed to get to and thinking about what I need to do and when.  There’s a lot to think about in 100m. It’s not a case of running as fast as you can for 100m, there’s the start – this is where the power propels you forward, then once running you need to concentrate on separate elements of your technique, you can’t think of all your body parts at once, I break it down into elements – in my case 100m is 10 x 10m!  Every 10m I concentrate on a bit of technique hoping my body continues to do what I was concentrating on 10m ago.  I settled into the start position, then slow my breathing and wait for the next instruction …


Into the set position, breathe in, my body just waiting to react to the sound of the gun – once it goes – breathe out and drive my arms backwards – instincts kick in, all the training takes over and I’m on my way. I had a good start, came out of the blocks well but towards the end I was trying too hard and tightened up, the will to run well actually prevented me from running my best but I finished with a seasons best time so was delighted to have finished my 100m season with my fastest time this year.

After the race, you get your photo taken with the other competitors and then you then walk back to the start to collect your things and that’s it it’s over! In less than 5 minutes from leaving the call up area you’re off the track, your event is finished.   I didn’t get into the final so went to see the physio about my achilles to see if I was ok to run the 200m.  They used the phrase aggravated not injured, they strapped it up with tape, told me to walk in the sea as a way to ice it and reduce the swelling, stretch and I should be fine to compete in 2 days time.

After a day’s rest, watching my friend run her 100m, I was then back again to the track to warm up for 200m. I was running at 6.40pm, which is a good time for me as it’s similar to my training, so my body is used to running at that time.  I assumed it would be cooler but it got hotter and hotter.

My 200m warm up wasn’t as good as my 100m, my achilles was sore and really didn’t want me to sprint on it. Back to the call up area, less panic this time as I knew what to expect, then the escorted walk to the 200m start. For me 200m is a long way, it’s double my favourite distance. There was a delay to the start as there was an issue with the equipment, so that extra time on the track allowed my nerves to creep in, it gave me too much time to think.  Then we got the call from the official.  “Two metres behind the line”  I walk up to the start, stare at the bend and regain my focus.


Get into the start position, breathe slowly


Breathe in and wait for the gun and off I go 200m – In the next 30ish seconds my championships is over!

My bend was good I was in lane 8 not the best lane, we train in different lanes but never in lane 8 but that’s the thing with sprinting you are given a lane and you make the best of it.  Coming off the bend I felt comfortable and strong and picked up now I was running straight.  With 80 meters to go my achilles wasn’t happy and it was very painful and I couldn’t keep up on my toes so I dropped to my heals which took away some of the pain but it also took away the power. I finished with 4 tenths off a seasons best.  I was disappointed at first but given the circumstances of my injury and pre-training on the whole I was pleased.

The whole experience was fantastic watching all age groups run, seeing amazing performances and appreciating the determination of athletes no matter their age!   My favourite spectating event was watching a 96 year old woman from Finland doing the long jump.  It reminded me the track is part of me, it’s who I am. Will I be competing at 96?  Who knows but I like to think I would be!

By Frances Barlow.

Race Rundown: Salomon Skyline Lochaber 80 Ultra, 16th September 2023


Saturday 16th September 2023

Same course, familiar themes, similar outcome, no pork pies.

In various ways, I’m not really built for ultra running. However, I dipped my toe in 2022 at Salomon Skyline Scotland, with the Lochaber 80k. Marketed as a trail race, the course is nevertheless fairly lumpy, involving over 2,400m of climbing, including some sustained ascents such as a 3k slog up to the CIC hut under the towering buttresses near the summit of Ben Nevis.

My initial aim last year was simply to get around the course within the cut-off deadline. My stretch target was 12 hours and I completed the race in 11:08:24, so that itch should have been well and truly scratched. I remember a wave of relief as I finished, but the typical runner’s psyche kicked in within minutes, and I started pondering over whether I could have been a little faster. So, the itch returned and a year later, I was heading back up to Kinlochleven to have another crack at the event. Silly boy.

When I tackled the event in 2022, I used a race vest for the first time, which was ideal for carrying all of the mandatory kit that was required (a fair bit for a long day in the mountains in autumn), plus two pork pies that for some reason I thought would become necessary food. After 58k, I realised that I was never going to eat those and left them at the final support point. Other than that, my race and fuelling strategy (alternating food and gels on the hour, every hour) pretty much went to plan, which was gratifying.

Fast forward to 16th September 2023 and I intended to take a similar approach. On the kit and fuel front, there were two differences. I replaced the two pork pies with one grated cheese sandwich, and I also added the collapsible water cup that I found in a Pier To Pier Race goody bag. As for my race strategy, the first point I kept telling myself was that I was not going to ‘race’ the other participants, but simply focus on beating my own previous performance. I reckoned that I could make up a bit of time in two parts: First, in the section after the first support point at 19k; second, between the second support point at 33k and just before the start of the climb up to the CIC hut at about 50k. Best laid plans and all that.

The race started at 7:00am as the sky started to lighten. The forecast was for a sunny, fairly warm day, and that did worry me a little. I actually don’t mind running in heat, but I perspire a lot and on long runs that has led to bad cramp. As it turned out, the conditions behaved, but the cramp came anyway.

Similar to 2022, I seemed to breeze around the first section, reining myself in occasionally, as I knew what was to come, but generally feeling pretty good. I arrived at the first support point in fine spirits and lying third in the race (but knowing that it was a false position). Last year, the next section was nearly my undoing and I was determined that this wouldn’t happen again. But it did.

I don’t know what it is about that section, which is by no means the toughest in terms of climbing, but it doesn’t like me, and I certainly don’t like it. I ended up slowing down significantly, partly due to the first onset of cramp, but clearly for some other reason too, which I can’t pin down. In those 14k, I conceded four or five places, and felt really rubbish. There’s a nice downhill section in the final few kilometres to the next support point, and I was able to recover a bit of momentum and spirit then, but I have to admit that I was feeling a little disappointed by this stage of the race, concerned about the nagging cramp and not relishing what was ahead.

In 2022, the next section was the crux of my race. By the time I reached the final support point at 57k, I knew that I was going to finish the event and probably faster than my stretch target. On reflection, it was probably the crux this time too, but in a different way.

I set off from the second support point in okay shape, but as soon as I started to pick up pace, the cramp intensified and simply stopped me from sticking to my original plan. There were stretches that felt hillier than I recalled, which I am sure was mainly in my head, but did send me to some dark places at times. However, one tactic that was working involved that little Pier To Pier cup, which I had removed from a pocket in my race vest and was carrying in one hand. In long races, I tend to drink more water in the latter stages, and knew that I would get through the litre that I was carrying in my race vest before the next support point, especially as the temperature was rising. So, being able to simply pause and scoop water from fast running streams as I moved made a big difference, and reduced any anxiety about running out.

The slog up to the CIC hut was every bit as unpleasant as I remembered, with added cramp. You can see the ruddy thing from a couple of miles away, but it never seems to get any closer until you’re almost at the front door. It reminds me of a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (I think). However, I managed it, at which point there’s an almost 180 degree about turn and the route takes runners gently back down part of the glen on the other side, before climbing over the shoulder of a hill and heading across and down to the Ben Nevis visitors’ centre car park, where the support point is located.

In 2022, I really enjoyed that part of the run. I was able to get moving well again heading down the glen and as I made the steep descent down the rocky tourist trail to the car park, I was feeling jubilant, as I knew in my heart that I’d broken the back of the race. The contrast was pretty stark this year. My cramp was at its worst and I just couldn’t get going. Then I spotted a group of four or five runners who were still making their way up the other side of the glen to the hut. While they were probably 20 minutes or so behind me at that point, I knew that if they were able to get running properly again in the final section of the race, then they would breeze past me and that there was nothing I could do about it. Regardless of my mantra of not racing against others, this was still dispiriting. And of course, with my overall race strategy in a bit of a mess, I was certain that a faster time than last year was no longer a possibility. Oh, woe was me!

However, as I made way down the lower part of the Ben, I did a bit of arithmetic, and realised that despite everything, I was still a little ahead of schedule compared to last year. That gave me quite the psychological boost and when Catherine and Berry (our hound) were there to welcome me at the support point, I was buoyed a little more – thanks to both! By that time, I had decided that I would definitely carry on to finish the race (it had certainly been in the balance at one point), and after devouring a few salty potatoes that event team volunteers were handing out and laughing when Berry welcomed a friendly marshal by depositing a big poo, I was on my way again.

There’s still a half marathon to complete after that final support point, including about 600m of climbing, much of which is along a fairly dull forest track early on. Like before, I didn’t recall it being so hilly for so long, but I gritted my teeth and pushed on. This was one of those sections where you can look back quite a distance at points to spot any other runners. Despite myself, I did this a few times, and was surprised to not spot anyone. While the long uphill trudge was tough, the cramp did start to properly recede at this point, and once I was back onto narrower trails away from the forest track, I was able to run a bit better. As the kilometres slowly ticked by, I realised that the pace I was maintaining meant that I could still achieve my target.

However, it was going to be tight and at one point I discovered that the distance I had completed didn’t match how much further was actually to go according to the GPX route on my watch (I can’t have been following the blue painted racing line! 😉) and I had one more kilometre to go than I had anticipated. This was galling, but I still reckoned that I could manage, as long as I didn’t slow again. With about six kilometres to go, a younger bloke who was moving very well went past me. Looking back, I couldn’t spot anyone else, but the terrain in that particular section can easily hide folk. While I had promised myself that I wouldn’t race, at this stage I needed to keep pushing anyway, and I figured that a top ten finish might be possible.

After one final – mercifully short – climb, the last three kilometres takes participants downhill through woodland and back into Kinlochleven. It’s all very runnable, though not particularly fast because of the underfoot terrain, and that part of the route is shared with a couple of the other shorter trail races at Skyline Scotland, so I actually started overtaking some people who were towards the back of those fields.

The last kilometre was along the road back into Kinlochleven and the extremely welcome finishing line, which I crossed in ninth place in 11:04:38, just under four minutes faster than in 2022. Marginal gains or lack of pork pie gains. I don’t know which it was, but I was over the moon, first and foremost to have completed the race again, and particularly to have achieved what I set out to do. I can confirm that even many minutes later the ultra itch did not return (and still hasn’t yet), though I did get bitten by a few midges that evening and am still scratching because of that.

Incidentally, I didn’t eat the grated cheese sandwich. It weighed less than the two pork pies, but unlike with them, I did carry it with me for the whole race.

Finally, a big tip of the hat to the Ourea Events team, who organised the Lochaber 80 and the rest of the Skyline Scotland races (and the epic Dragon’s Back Race that Gary Thwaites slayed recently). Everything was impeccably arranged and the volunteers out on the course were brilliant – of course, they will have had even longer days in the mountains than I did.

Would I recommend the Lochaber 80 to anyone else wishing to scratch the ultra itch? Well, it’s a bit pointless, as this year’s was the last event. Skyline Scotland has effectively outgrown its host location and will be moving to another part of Scotland in 2025, after a fallow year. Watch this space – a new ultra trail run opportunity might emerge! In the meantime, I can at least claim to have completed every single one of the editions of this particular race, albeit there were only two.

Chris Lines,

September 2023.

Race Rundown: Hamminkeln 10k, 25th August 2023

This was our twin town’s first staging of the event since the pandemic and my first visit too since 2019 (my third in total). It really was lovely to be back.

It was Sam Rudd’s first visit and we made it into something of a boys’ road trip. It could be summarised as a few days of hearty eating and drinking actually, with a run thrown in for distraction. We took the Hull-Rotterdam ferry and appreciated two very calm crossings. On the way out, Sam’s alarm buzzed at 5.15am. He was on the bunk above and I was already awake, fortunately.

“Was that your normal work alarm going off?” I asked him later.

“That wasn’t my alarm. It was my irregular heart beat alert on my Garmin.”

“You have an irregular heart beat?!”

“No. I’d just taken my watch off and rolled onto it in my sleep. It was probably the vibration of the ship. Or my kidneys.”

Hamminkeln is just over the Dutch border so easily reachable in about 2-3 hours from Rotterdam or Amsterdam. We arrived the day before the race and so went to look around the nearby historic town of Xanten first. We then had a walk along the Rhine and watched the industrial barges go by. The Rhine is a proper river, dwarfing anything we have in this country. Our accommodation was a self catering holiday let attached to a farm on the outskirts of Hamminkeln (with electric car charging…) and the hosts explained that tomorrow’s 10k started only 500m from the farm. I knew this not to be true as it was at least a mile walk into town and to the event area, but politely nodded.

The weather had been very muggy so far and we awoke on Friday to heavy rain. Very English, but much warmer. We had a soggy walk into town, stopped for selfies at Sedgefield Strasse and then went to the Town Hall. I was slightly disconcerted by the lack of activity. Normally on the day before the race it’s a very busy area, with lots of people helping with the event setup. Today there was no-one around at all. Even the Town Hall was spookily quiet. A local chap asked us what time it opened, the town hall, and we explained who we were (he spoke good English) and so although we couldn’t help him, we had a lovely chat about the race and about Sedgefield. The rain wouldn’t stop and so we took shelter in a café.

It was whilst in there and a bit of online research that we discovered that this year’s event, as well as being on a different day (Friday evening, not Sunday morning, it’s okay we knew this part) also had a new route and a different start/finish area. Right! So as the rain eased we headed out to the town’s (very impressive) sportplatz where it was all going off, some 500m from our accommodation. Few people were around this early still but we introduced ourselves to Jörg the new race director and then went back to our digs for some pasta.

Carb loading before the event. Sam is suggesting it’s my turn to do the washing up.

Staying just 500m from the start was great. We wandered over just before the first races began and met up with Phil and Alda. The Hamminkeln event always punches above its weight with a number of different races in junior categories first, followed by the 5k then the 10k. They set up a timing gantry and PA system and have a range of other family activities also going on. We met up with my old host Rolf, who was doing the 5k with Alda and Phil as well as Hermann, who was previously the RD for the event. These names won’t be familiar to everyone but their faces may be. Hermann and a large group are making the return journey for the Serpentine next month. In 2019 we all ended up in Coxhoe Club on the Sunday afternoon after a walk around Durham. In there the guys started to play darts and this is something they’ve continued back home, forming their own team such that Alda was recently tasked to recce a pub in Consett and the Navy Club in Darlington for two fixtures for them. Cultural legacy, what?

A reminder that we were there for the running. Alda and Phil gave their excuses (Alda something about not running since whenever and Phil about still feeling the effects of a spiked bottle at Hardwick Live). They weren’t going to run it all they said, but their finish time and the extended view we had of them for the last kilometre clearly disproved that. They both did very well and were obviously chuffed with it. Rolf also ran a good time.

Then onto our turn and the 10k. Sam always talks his chances down and in similar fashion I explained I’m in lousy form generally at the minute and have struggled with a dickie stomach for several weeks too. I did strangely feel the pressure of representing the club though and despite the downplay, I did want to run well. We started near the back and Sam kept just behind me at the start. The normal route for the event is four urban laps of the town, but in this new-style evening race, it was two 5km laps out in the countryside to the west. The rain had long stopped, it was very warm and we got into our running. We saw a number of people out marshalling and clapping who recognised the Sedgefield vest (or occasionally me) and gave lots of lovely support and encouragement. If they didn’t immediately recognise the vest, I generally helped them by pointing it out, which meant they were ready on the second lap. Hamminkeln 2018 remains my 10k PB and whilst I was nowhere near that form, I was quite pleased with how I was moving. Sam didn’t come past in the first kilometre or so and I began to realise this would be like a number of training runs we’ve done together. He’s very modest but is a great sprinter and at a number of sessions, he’ll come bounding effortlessly past on the final rep or so, often with a dry comment. So we got onto the second lap and still he hadn’t overtaken. It kept me right.

The route was flat but not uninteresting. Think Sedgefield East Park, with connecting narrow country lanes. It actually took us right past our accommodation too and the whole host family and their neighbours took the time to come out and cheer us, which was lovely. The second lap was really quite tough but I settled in with several other guys and ground it out. I’m not in race shape at all but the terrain and the knowledge that 10k doesn’t last forever were enough. There were also enough right angle turns for me to realise that Sam wasn’t in view and therefore wouldn’t come bounding and mickey taking past in the final stages. I finished exhausted in an okay 51 minutes. Sam had struggled a little, he said, and came in a couple of minutes behind, pleased in the circumstances.

Hamminkeln isn’t just about the running though. It’s about the guy who saw our running vests afterwards and brought his daughter over to show her, keenly explaining they lived on Sedegfield Strasse and wanted to make the link. Was there a Hamminkeln Street in Sedgefield, he wanted to know and we showed him the Google Street images of Hamminkeln Place. They thought that was cool. It was about the feller who’d talked to us earlier in the day outside the Town Hall and then decided to come along to support at the race and chat to us again. It was about getting to know Jörg the new Race Director and congratulating him on a super job. It was about going for a late meal afterwards with Rolf, Hermann and their partners, once it had all quietened down and the chance to catch up properly. I was really pleased to have made the effort to go out there again.

On the drive back the next day, Sam and I spent an enjoyable afternoon in Rotterdam, going up the Euromast amongst other sights and then a North Sea crossing home, during which all of his organs behaved normally.

For obvious logistical and financial reasons, a Hamminkeln visit can’t be for everyone, I realise that, but considering I don’t even live in Sedgefield, I really do recommend it. It’s good to have a reason for maintaining the twinning and Harriers are always made to feel extremely welcome.

We’ll be back. Cheers!

Race Rundown: London Marathon, 23rd April 2023

I didn’t start running (semi) seriously until my early forties so completing my first London Marathon in 2020 was a massive achievement for me. However, like all runners we set targets and at any race distance there are the big “sub x hour/minute” goals. For me finishing my first marathon in 4 hours and 3 minutes always left me thinking about the “what ifs?”. What if I had have started faster, not gone to the loo twice or slowed to meet my running buddy, could I have gone sub 4?

This was all pretty irrelevant as although I had entered the London ballot for 2023 I had missed out. Well that was until Rory Letts picked my name out of the hat for the Harriers LDM place draw! Thanks Rory👍👍

(Now I will admit here that initially I thought this was a “free” ticket for the marathon. It’s not, so if you enter the LDM draw make sure you have some savings set aside…London is not cheap, especially on marathon weekend!)

Back to the running, with the draw made in December I had 4 months to get into some sort of shape. I had spent most of 2022 injured so I felt a million miles from the (relatively) decent shape I was in back in 2020. I didn’t really have a fixed training program in mind, my plan was to try to get to as many Harriers sessions as I could and then complete some longer runs on a weekend. Throughout January I was following Lisa and Mark’s training runs on strava and although kindly invited to join them I was nowhere near their pace, so I completed most longer runs solo.

Things were going well until I stepped up the distance too quickly and an 18 mile run to my Mum’s in Middlesbrough resulted in a foot injury… Disaster… It was February and I had to rest for 3 weeks until getting back onto the road. I’m sure nearly everyone has had this feeling, where you know race day is coming and you need to get the training in but training could result in making injury worse. I was gutted and pretty low… But through March I abandoned long runs and just completed shorter more frequent runs.

On the 2nd April I joined several Harriers at South Park in Darlington for the 20 mile race. This was a first for me and I was dreading 20 laps of the one mile circuit, the thought of the same lap 20 times! Eurgh! I was also worried that my foot wouldn’t hold up to the longer run. It did though and I was really pleased with my time of 2 hours 50 mins, well on target for a sub 4 hour marathon. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone preparing for a spring/summer marathon. Special mention to Jane and Lisa who lapped me several times on their way to 3rd and 5th places respectively👏👏

With 3 weeks to go I was on the down taper, so concentrating on attending Harrier training sessions with shorter runs on weekend. The week before the marathon was the inaugural Wynyard Parkrun, and as I live in Wynyard I thought it would be perfect event to run to and from. It was a great event with over 400 runners. Turns out it was 16km there and back, not a massive distance but enough to feel a little sore the next day. Sooo, I thought if I go for an easy 10k it will test the sore legs and I’ll be ok. Wrong…. The bruised/sore foot returned…What a muppet! What had I done….? I spent the week leading up to the marathon limping, regretting the stupid 10k and thinking I had ruined the marathon.

I travelled down to London with my wife (Lucy) on Saturday morning, still limping a little but with foot feeling better than earlier in the week. I spent the train ride rolling my foot on a can of ice cold cider  (Lucy’s not mine!) before getting to London and heading straight to the Excel centre to pick up race number and bag. 2 years ago this was a bit of an ordeal with huge queues meaning a 3 hour wait… This time it only took 15 minutes! Efficient! After grabbing a photo outside the centre our plan was to go to hotel, check in and go for a wander around the sites. However, my foot still felt sore and worse from the walk from station to hotel. Special shout for my lovely wife Lucy, her Saturday London sightseeing consisted of a trip to Tesco Express Covent Garden to get me a bag of frozen peas… I spent the rest of the afternoon icing foot on hotel bed and kicking myself for doing too much the previous week… Lucy was also not best pleased spending the afternoon holed up in the tiny room!!!

Later that evening we went to an Italian across the street and I loaded up with carbs, then for an early night. I checked the forecast for the morning it was not looking great, rain all day, but I didn’t mind that. The foot was feeling a bit better, it might be ok…. I set alarm for 6.30. Got to be well rested for race day!

April 23rd Raceday

02:56… That was the time when the hotels fire alarm went off… It took us a few seconds to work out what was going on, no lights in room other than a flashing red beacon in the centre of the ceiling and the near deafening screech of the alarm.  Lucy and I hopped around the room grabbing coats and slipping on shoes, just as we left  the room the alarm stopped. Back in bed just after 3, for 3 hours broken sleep until the my phone alarm went off.


Not the perfect prep! And although improved my foot still didn’t feel right. I wasn’t very good company for sure….

My spirits were lifted by what is my favourite part of the ‘London Marathon Day’, the trip to the start line at Greenwich Park.  After filling my boots at the breakfast bar Lucy and I left for a direct train from Charing Cross to Blackheath and the blue start area. I love the way the number of runners builds in the empty London streets, slowly at first from a handful outside the hotel, then to a few dozen walking into the station, then hundreds on the train. By the time we reached the Blackheath the short walk to the blue start line there were thousands of runners and supporters walking to the start line. It’s an incredible scene and great to be part of!

It seemed the forecast could be wrong as it was actually quite bright, warm even. Lucy grabbed a couple of photos of me on the heath.

I’m still worried about my foot, what happens if I have to drop out? How will we meet up? Will I get another chance to do London? Lucy reads my mood and quickly intervenes with a ‘man up and get on with it’ lecture.  After the not so friendly but much needed encouragement I enter the start area and get ready for the race. 10 minutes later it goes very dark, it gets cooler and cue the rain…. D’oh!

“Man up and get on with it Matt.”

It seemed an age until it’s time to join my wave and we are led to the start area before we walk/jog off the heath onto the road and past the start line. I start my watch, this is it… My foot actually feels ok! About 200m in and I even see Lucy in the crowds and give her a wave. 1km in foot still feels good, I could be ok here I think and get into a comfy pace. My aim was to go at about 5min/km to ensure by the time the wheels inevitably came off over the last 5-10km I could comfortably get sub 4 hours.

Through the first 5k in 25 mins, all good. 10k in 51 mins, still good. By know I knew the peas had worked a treat and my foot was healed! With added confidence and the amazing support through several sections of the route I managed to keep up the pace. I remember Tower Bridge being nearly bang on half way and I felt good passing that mark at 1:50 (although Strava awarded me a Half Marathon PB at 1:49! 😊). I’ll digress a bit…. Tower bridge is one of the 4 or 5 major landmarks I remember in the marathon. Others are:

  1. Cutty Sark – Winding through 90 degree turns through unbelievable crowds
  2. Switch back – Horrible on way out (13 miles) great on way back! (22 miles)
  3. Canary Wharf – The noise from big crowds in the shadow of skyscrapers is something else
  4. Westminster – Trying to still look like a runner on mile 25 as the crowds get bigger and noisier towards the mall

My previous marathon had taught me that the real half way point is at the 20 mile mark, which is just after canary wharf, I felt lifted by the crowds in this section and pushed on again. My 5k splits were still good, 30k in 2:37 and trying to take my mind off the increasing aches and pains I started to work out in my head how long I had left to run the remaining 10k in… I then used this as a comfort blanket for how slowly I could run the last 10k and still break 4 hours!

Heading back towards London city and the finish line now, the route joined up again with runners heading from the switchback into Canary Wharf. After what seemed like an eternity reached the mile 22 and the end of the switchback, it was sooo much nicer being on this side of the road!

On I pushed past the tower of London. I was beginning to feel tired now, and aches and pains were growing by the stride. Throughout the race there is so much noise an encouragement it’s hard to pick out individual comments, but it was somewhere near here that I heard a lairy spectator shout in a thick London accent “Come on Matt, your loving this!”… I can confirm I was not…. I had developed stomach cramps after the third gel and just wanted to get to the finish line. From the first time I ran London in 2020 I knew there was a couple of tunnels to go through at the embankment, then Westminster, then the Palace, then the Mall and then the FINISH! I was feeling spent at mile 25 as I passed by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament but just kept thinking hold on for the sub 4.

I resisted the urge to walk as the crowds got thicker and louder, everything was becoming a blur of sound, aches and pain. Running alongside St. James Park and I looked at my watch 3.44…. Yes! Yes!  Less than 1k to go, I can do that in 16 minutes I thought. This is the point where I had hit the wall, at the weirdly marked out “650m to go” sign I began thinking I actually don’t need to run, I can walk… I should walk because everything is hurting…I slowed down took a few steps, gathered my thoughts, tried to settle my rumbling tummy. Then I came to,  just a few hundred metres and I would be over the line, MUST RUN! It wasn’t graceful but I was moving again.  Later when I met up with Lucy it turns out that she saw me at Tower Bridge and then at the 650m to go sign… She said she was shouting encouraging comments, I’m glad I couldn’t hear them over the noise form the rest of the crow.  In a 26 mile race I walked for 20 metres, and this was the part she saw me! Unbelievable!

As I passed Buckingham Palace I knew it was only a couple of hundred metres and I thought about crossing the line either with arms outstretched or with the Pete King Point™. Before I had made my choice I noticed the guy next to me was dressed as a very passable Mrs. Brown (without her boys though!). All I thought was that I don’t want him in my finish line photos! I swerved to the right of the course and picked up what pace I could muster over the line. Finished and sub 4. Watch said 3 forty something but I felt spent, dazed and had to thank a marshal for taking my photo, then guiding me too the medals area and getting me a drink and foil blanket. I looked again at my watch 3.48.38! I was buzzing.

London sub 4, done! For now, marathons done!

My official time 3.48.01 a 15 minute PB!!

Special mentions to the 2 other Harriers who both finished with incredible PB’s.

David Bentley – 2.33.38 Pos 235 (out of 48,000 finishers), wow, just wow!

Lisa Darby – 3.13.58 Pos 5182, another race another PB. Great season for Lisa.

Last comment from me… Just to say good luck to next Harrier who draws the place for the London Marathon, enjoy! It’s a special race.

by Matt Cooke.

Race Rundown: Manchester Marathon, 16th April 2023

My first Marathon was back in 2019 in Manchester and it didn’t go completely as planned so felt I had unfinished business.  I got carried away at the start and tried to race the distance, which was fine until the 22nd mile when I blew up and shuffled the last four miles.  In the words of many – Lessons had been learned!

Fast forward a few years and with the Valencia Marathon under my belt a few months earlier, I approached the weekend feeling a lot more confident and prepared.  I’d read somewhere about setting yourself a target so I had Gold, Silver and Bronze times in mind (Sub 3, London Good For Age and Boston GFA times).  I also had the added incentive that if I didn’t run well Chappers would let surface a photo of one of my life’s low points!!

The morning of the race arrived and Beth and I set off to the start area at the Trafford Cricket Ground where we met up with fellow runners Sean and John.  The event is well organised and the queues were small, helped by the massively staggered start interval.  Sean and I set off to the start pens leaving Beth with a 90 min wait before she started.

The first few miles went by quickly and smoothly and I soon got into a good rhythm. I had a plan to try and stick with the 3hr pacer and knew he’d gone off too quickly so had a little in hand.  The first few miles went back into the city before returning to the Start Area and a still waiting Beth. At this point feeling good I thought I’d get ahead of the pacer and worry about it later.  The furthest point out is at Altrincham, which has added some elevation since I was last there!

Now we are heading for home, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. Around mile 18 was probably my low point. Although I was still keeping a consistent pace another hour of running seemed quiet daunting especially as the demons of 2019 were starting to play on my mind and to be honest I was getting a little bored.  Then the thought of Chappers’ photo spurred me on and if I finished well, Lisa might let me skip a few mid week runs for a bit!

So the dreaded mile 22 came and went and I knew I could do it.  One more gel and a slug of water and I was fast approaching the finish.  Marathon distance came and went on the Garmin but I still had a good distance to go but I knew I was on for a PB. Ten metres out  I punched the air and really started to smile, which my legs assumed was job done, so with just five metres to go they decided to throw some cramp into the mix and I crossed the finish line with legs out at all angles and a face of pain. It soon passed, a 13 min PB was achieved and the demons of 2019 were gone.

So what did I learn? Have a pace in mind and stick with it. Take on plenty of fluid and earlier than you think.  If Lisa asks if you want to go for a run, come up with an excuse quicker than I do!!!

Thanks for all the training runs Lisa.

What about the others you’re thinking?

Beth 4:32:56 PB

Sean 3:38:58 PB

John 3:45:49 (A sterling effort carrying an injury)

P.S. If you’re still intrigued about the photo, come along to the Annual Dinner where I’m sure it”ll unfortunately make an appearance!

Race Rundown: Derby 10k, 26th March 2023

There has been a number of sparkling performances by Harriers recently, both individually and teams. This rundown isn’t about another so please feel free to click on something more interesting or inspirational if you prefer.

My good friends Gary and Steph persuaded me to participate in my home town 10k for the first time last year and after enjoying it, we all did so again this time around. Gary and I have history; we were at Derby College together and then Hull Uni (where he exchanged roommates for the much lovelier Steph) and nowadays they are both Tadcaster Harriers and quick. This year I asked Mark if he fancied it too, to which he said yes and we had a good trip to the Midlands. We stayed over at my Mum’s and went out for a very nice pub meal on Saturday evening with her, my Uncle Malc and another good mate Roo and his family. Sunday morning began with a 6.30am alarm, 5.30am if the clocks hadn’t gone forward. It was a damp, cold morning but my mum said she’d come along too. She is 83, I am 53, it’s still nice when your mum comes along to watch you on a Sunday morning.

The race starts and finishes at Derby County’s Pride Park Stadium and all proceeds go to the club’s charitable trust. This trust includes providing a luncheon club at my mum’s church so I know they do good work. Derby County as a football club is struggling in the third division at the minute but it’s just a temporary thing. It is still the centre of the footballing universe and not just my universe because Roo once told me that it is the club most geographically central to all other clubs in the country and Roo knows some stuff so I believe him.

I’ll get to the race in a minute, honest. Pride Park is not just the stadium name but for the whole former area of railway industry and sidings, reclaimed in the 1990s. It was also on the national shortlist of four venues for the Year 2000 millennium park. I had moved to the north east by then and so despite the local excitement, recognised that it never quite had the cache of the Greenwich Meridian for ushering in a new age. We got a nice football stadium out of it though.

My running over the last few months has been garbage. Full of  self pity, I’ve had a ‘thing’ down my left side for a couple of years and recently it has been very sore in a sciatic kind of way. I made it to last week’s Thursday session for the first time in ages and in Ean’s 2 x timed 1 miles, I managed an average of 8:13. Painful and rubbish. Mark also had flu in the week so between us we were rattling with ibuprofen and paracetamol on the start line (don’t try it kids, drugs are never cool) with no expectation of running well at all. We didn’t see Gary and Steph but knew they were there somewhere, and then spied them after about a mile on an early switchback. They were about 50 seconds ahead.

The rain stopped and though windy it was really quite pleasant for racing. Mark and I began deliberately steadily but at 2k I realised he was getting restless and off he went. The course took us away from the stadium and into the city centre. Mark never really pulled away that far and at 4k I noticed I was catching him again. On the way down St Peter’s Street I closed right up and at the junction of St James’ Street I caught him with some trivia about my dad. My Dad – who passed away on Easter Sunday 2017, a week before my maiden marathon in London – was Derby born and bred, Derby County daft and for most of his career was Derby’s tallest policeman at 6’8”. I don’t remember it, but as a younger bobby, he used to do traffic duty at the corner of St James’ Street. He was very visible apparently. Mark, it turns out, wasn’t in any frame of mind to receive this trivia and so I eased on realising I was feeling quite a lot stronger than anticipated.

I’ve always liked this picture of my dad. Taken in 1978, it featured on the front page of the local paper and was part of a police promotion with the Jobcentre. The late, great and very tall Don King.

The only problem with overtaking your best running mate at the half way point is that you then have to stay ahead of him. We swung past the cathedral to a drinks station and a PA shout-out point. I heard a “Well done Sedgefield Harriers!” on the tannoy, immediately followed by “And well done to another Sedgefield Harrier!” so I knew he was still there. The route back to the stadium followed a coned off section of Brian Clough Way (the A52 dual carriageway between Derby and Nottingham, the two clubs once managed by the great man, though he had sense and always lived at western end…) and I felt I had put some distance between myself and Mark. You can’t look around too often though, that’s not cool. I began to think about Gary and Steph too. I knew Steph was after a PB and wondered now if I might catch them. A couple of guys ran with me for about a mile, one pacing the other to his first 10k. The pacer was from Manchester, they told me, though his younger novice was local. I told them I was once local but now living in exile in the north east. Was it a job that took me north, asked the pacer? No it was a woman, I explained, and later this week we celebrate 27 wedded bliss years so it’s all worked out alright. I’ve no idea what happened to those guys, but I was grateful to the distraction.

Good picture Mum!

Last year the second half of the event was really tough. This year, amazingly, given all my recent hypochondria, it was actually quite pleasurable and also my favourite part. Negative splits too. What’s that all about? My Mum gave me a shout-out in the final straight and I finished in a very ordinary but pleasing-in-the-circumstances 51:24. Only a few seconds slower than last year. Gary and Steph had also just run through the line with an excellent PB for Steph, and so with Mark finishing less than a minute behind, we were able to do the final celebrity walk-up together.

A shower and a bacon sandwich at my Mum’s, followed by a nice drive home, if a little sore once the ibuprofen wore off. Mark was definitely a bit under the weather but I think he enjoyed his first visit to the home/centre of English football. Me, I’m back again next weekend with Grace for the Ipswich game. I had a good time.

Race Rundown: Tawawera Ultramarathon, 11th February 2023

By Chris and Abie Hearmon.

11/2/23  Rotorua New Zealand.

Although a foot injury stopped me running for the latter half of 2022 my aim for 2023 was to be fit to walk two of New Zealand’s multiday hikes on our retirement holiday. During our trip as well as the walking we did a few parkruns, Christmas eve in Napier and New years eve in Queenstown! We completed the 54km Milford track and a week later the shorter but steeper 32km Routeburn. Later on in the itinerary Abie had planned to do her first ultra – a 50km trail run in Rotorua. However after falling off a mountain  bike and breaking her arm requiring surgery, training was somewhat interrupted, although she was back running parkrun (Blenheim this time) only 10 days post op. Disappointed not to be joining her friends in the 50k, she suggested we do the 21k event as we had already booked our accommodation for the event and the cut off time was 9 hours which we were pretty sure we’d make, even if we walked the whole way! We ran a 10km once and that was training complete.

The UTMB event had races ranging from 21km to 100 mile. Sadly due to recent cyclones and flooding the longer races were rerouted but half marathon course was unaffected. The 100milers had started at 4am, whereas ours was a civilized 9am. Angus dropped us off in the bus queue to get to the start and went off to do the Rotorua parkrun around the corner. As in all races, wherever in the world you are, there was a long queue for the loos. We were entertained by the last bus driver demolishing a few bollards as he tried to turn around, then there was a karakia (Maori prayer) before the race started. Our 1st section was a circuit of Lake Tikitapu, and was mainly flat and a good surface. Then we headed into the beautiful Whakarewarewa (Redwood forest), on walking and mountain bike trails. There were some tough uphills and a lot of tree roots which sent a few people flying, but we both managed to stay on our feet. At times some speedy 50k runners zipped past us, and occasional bikers had to pull over as a sea of runners came towards them. The Aid stations were well stocked, not that we needed much, but those doing the longer events were being well supported. The volunteers were all very enthusiastic in their support. At 15k we left the forest, having descended a lot of steep steps and headed towards Rotorua. Though flat, this section headed towards the lakeshore at Sulphur Point. There were some lovely rotten egg smells to complement the bubbling thermal pools and interesting mineral deposits. Lack of training was now telling for us both and Abie was trying hard to keep me motivated.

However we reached the grass of the event village and crossed the finish line in 2 hrs 57mins 52 seconds, having run much more than we’d expected to. Medals received and post race snacks eaten then there was the opportunity to foam roller on the grass. Post race ice cream then beckoned and we spotted Kate Avery, formerly from Shildon who had come 3rd lady in the 50k event. We saved our post race beer token for after lunch when we returned to see Abie’s friends, Hannah who finished the 50k in 7 hrs 30 and Immy passed through the half way point in her 102k run. At 4am when Immy finally finished she was welcomed by Abie and Hannah who dragged themselves back out of bed to see her home. Next day we all took advantage of the Rotorua thermal waters for some well deserved recovery. Amazingly our legs felt fine after the healing waters! The following day Cyclone Gabrielle hit, causing extensive flooding and damage to roads throughout the North Island and we had to stay sheltered indoors, no running possible!

Race Rundown: Run Nation Valentine’s 10k, Town Moor, 12th February 2023

I targeted this race just before Christmas …. I fancied having a crack at a 10km PB and so I devised a 6 week training programme with a mix of running, cycling and Pilates. All runs to be done easy (in order to avoid injury), all effort sessions are to be done on the bike (to avoid injury) and a daily Pilates session (to avoid injury). There was definitely an over riding theme to this plan.

Plan is written out and 2 weeks in, things are going great. My Functional Threshold Power on the bike has increased and I’m happily ticking off the sessions and really enjoying doing them too. Then I had a horrible cold. I’ve heard that a lot of people have had it this winter. Normally I would still run with a cold but not this one. I didn’t do any exercise for a week. I was so grumpy.

When I felt well enough to run I couldn’t find the piece of paper with my plan on it. Where has it gone? I couldn’t download another version of it as I had made it up and the scrappy bit of paper I had written it on was my only record. Annoyed with myself , I resigned to thinking that my grand scheme to target a PB had been quashed and I decided to abandon the idea. But, a week before the race I ran a PB at parkrun ….. I’ve only ever had 5 parkrun PBs over the last 11 years and so they are a fairly rare occurrence . This made me think that maybe all is not lost after all , and that, perhaps I should still give it a go.

I didn’t have any photos from the Town Moor event but here I am the week before, getting a rare PB at parkrun.

All going well again until Friday night…… Rob asks, ‘Jane, do you want this salmon for tea? It’s two days out of date, but it looks ok; I’m having it’ I eat the salmon. By the next morning I’m regretting it ….. and so is Rob. I manage to get myself round at parkrun and eat my regular cheese scone in the cafe afterwards but it feels like there’s a dance party going on inside my stomach. This continues for the next 24 hours .

Race Day and now my main concern is how long the queues for the loos are …… I count them, 5 in total and 200 plus people . Oh s*?t. Got to the front of the queue. No toilet roll. Fortunately my golden rule on any run of any distance is to carry toilet roll. It’s my best piece of running advice that I never give out to other people , instead I say stuff like, ‘helium balloons’ , ‘run tall’ , ‘drive your arms’. Nope, ignore all of that. The best advice is ‘always carry toilet roll’.

The run itself is 2 laps of the Town Moor which is quite exposed but wasn’t too windy that day. The footpaths are mainly good but there’s a couple of sections with huge potholes and a run along the side of a road where you constantly dodge tree stumps. I had targeted bang on 7 min miles. This would bring me to the finish in 43.30 which would be a 90 second PB and it also made the mental maths easy to add up as I clocked up the miles.

I set off fast , far too fast, but strangely felt comfortable. Went through the first 5km in 20.38, a 5km PB …. What am I doing? I knew I had to be disciplined and not get too carried away, otherwise the last few miles would be torture. I felt ok though. Then the dance party returned, after about 4 and a half miles. Not now, please not now. Without too much detail, enough has been said already …. I finish. I don’t know how , but I finish, and I’m delighted with my time of 42.02.

I head straight back to the loo. On reflection, I decide that it’s time to write a training plan, keep it somewhere safe and refrain from eating Rob’s out of date dinners. I’m so after sub 42 next time.