Category Archives: marathon

45th BMW Berlin Marathon, Sunday, September 16, 2018

Pavlos Farangitakis

Being Happy Crossing the Brandenburg Gate

Berlin Marathon 2018. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong if you underestimate that you are still running 42.195 kilometres.

Short version/General info:

Pros: Fantastic fast course, not a lot of sharp bends so you can really go fast. The route goes through some of the most iconic places around Berlin, crosses the Wall, as well, a few times. Plenty of refuelling stations. Very well organized with info arriving on the day at their app. Hundreds of volunteers to help you. Spacious showers and changing rooms afterwards plus the unlimited (non-alcoholic) beer at the finisher’s village. Lots of big names always participate and you can meet them if you like, either at the expo or at the afterparty. The expo is huge and has a lot of things to do and spend money on (not sure this is a positive). Berlin is a lovely city with lots of historical sites to visit, very good food and everything is easily accessible by means of public transport.

Cons: Too expensive (100 euros). Not always suitable if you are aiming for a time because of crowding, however, the roads are wide enough to overtake. Hydration is a problem as they use really wide plastic cups so you practically have to stop running to drink. Timing is done via shoelace chip and not by a chip on the bib. Support is okay throughout and tremendous towards the Brandenburg Gate.

Long version:

I have to say in advance this is more of a calendar entry on how the race went for me rather than a detailed race report. I decided to put my name in the ballot for the Berlin Marathon sometime last October, having only done one Marathon prior to that (Manchester). I was hyped as I was running the Athens Authentic Marathon 2 weeks after my entry into the ballot and I wanted to make sure that I kept this self-harm addiction (sorry I was meant to say long distance running) going! So, 6 weeks later I got an email saying that I got a starting number for the 45th Berlin Marathon in September 2018.

Now I want to set the scene for what happened in Berlin. Between my signing up and being on the starting line, I ran two more Marathons. One in Athens (3:49) and one in Rotterdam (3:40). Thus, my secret hope and goal had become to aim for a sub 3:35 and a dream goal of sub 3:30.

I decided to follow a harder training schedule this time. I am using Matt Fitzgerald’s 80-20 running book which has proven to be very helpful in setting up a schedule, etc. So, I went with the top level programme this time, considering myself an “experienced marathoner”. That was mistake number one. I should, by no means, be considered an experienced marathoner. This schedule included 3 x 20 milers, and its peak weeks averaged about 70 miles a week. I never managed to completely stick to any of those two parameters. I injured myself twice during my 4-month training period: once something that felt like a stress fracture on my left leg and I was not able to walk properly for a day or two; and, once some really serious shin splints. This resulted in me doing four 16.5 milers and an 18 miler as my longest runs.

The night before the race, I slept really well and I made my call. I was going to try and break 3:30. Go conservatively the first 2-3 miles, follow an 8-minute mile pace until the halfway mark, then go for a 7:55 until the last three miles and then go all out. And that was mistake number two.

Skip to the starting line, in a 40 thousand long crowd of people ready to run the marathon distance. I had stated my only marathon time at the moment of signing up which was a 4:06 in Manchester, which put me in the second to last pen (about halfway through the crowd). I knew if I was going to go for what I was planning I was going to have to overtake a lot of people. Thankfully the roads were wide enough that this did not prove to be a major issue.

We watched the start of the elites through a big TV screen in the middle of the crowd and the roaring screams that came out of everyone when Eliud Kipchoge stepped up gave me goosebumps. Everybody was discussing it, that he was going to do a WR, and somehow, we all felt a part of that.

The gun went, the elites left at 9:15. Our start was at 9:35 so we sat there and watched the first 5k of the elite race, cheering for Eliud. Now mistake number 3 for me was to get overly excited by all of this and decide that somehow, I could smash my own 3:40 PB and celebrate joining the 3:20something club. In terms of nutrition, I had decided I would be doing an SIS gel every 4 miles and water at miles 6-10-15-20-22.5-25.

When the race started, I indeed, went conservatively for the first two miles, doing an 8:34 and an 8:11-minute mile respectively. From then onwards and until mile 14 I started averaging 8:00 (sticking between 8:02 and 7:55). The course is very flat and offered a great chance of sightseeing around Berlin. You pass around the Reichstag Building, where the Soviets declared victory in WW2, you cross the Spree River a few times on several really pretty 19th-century bridges and you get to see parts of the Berlin Wall. If you decide to do this race, look out on the road for diagonal black brick lines (two bricks wide) with the words Berlin Maurer on them. It is where the Berlin Wall used to be. Kind of asks you to ponder along the road how many great things human beings are capable of (like a marathon) and equally how many terrible things we are capable of as well.

Back to the race, at mile 6 (km 10) I decided to have my first water-stop. That is when I realised that water was delivered in plastic cups. This created two problems: a) the cups were too wide to drink water from, so it splashed in your face mostly and b) the route for 200 metres, after the stops, was wet and littered with plastic cups which make for an ideal slippery surface. I didn’t mind too much as I only needed a few sips, but I did not think of how that would affect my later race. When I got thirstier, by mile 10 I had to slow down to a fast walking pace for 10 seconds in order to get the water down. And this is where the problem started to manifest itself. Not noticing this was mistake number 4. A bit later after that, we heard on the speakers the last 30 seconds of the WR attempt. Everybody who was racing started clapping (even the non-German speakers after asking “did he do it” and finding out the answer, was yes and the time was 2:01).

My water problems happened again in mile 15 which was basically the final nail in the coffin. After that followed an 8:27, an 8:52, an 8:47 and an 8:40 mile which was basically a first mini-wall. If I had the option to drink water from a Camelbak or a bottle at that time I think I would have saved it a bit. However, once again at mile 20, I had to stop and drink and then get going again.

And that is where it happened. In my first marathon, I remember hitting the wall mentally and slowing down to 10-minute miles between miles 18 and 24. However, it was just mental. What I felt this time was nothing like it. This time it was physical. I started getting stomach cramps, which made it impossible to get the gels down (my body got them back out again) and started heading towards collapsing. The last six miles of this race was the toughest thing I have ever ran physically and mentally. I could feel my body giving up, my stride was now a hobble and the pain in my stomach almost brought me to tears.

Up to mile 25, I managed to keep at least jogging, stopping for water when necessary. I did that because I had decided that even if it meant collapsing at the finish line, I would not forgive myself for going above 4 hours.

Knowing my walking pace is around 16 minutes per mile and when I started flailing around and getting blurry vision at mile 25, I decided I was going to start walking. It was the most dreadful feeling in a race ever. I felt I had let myself down, I had let my Club down, the people who came to cheer for me, everyone was going to be disappointed at what I was doing (not gonna pretend I did not get a bit emotional that few minutes).

But suddenly at km 41, I could hear a roar from the distance and I knew the Brandenburg Gate was approaching. Let me just say that finishing under that, is an amazing feeling. Finishing under that when 2 hours ago Eliud Kipchoge has done 2:01:39 is even more amazing. I realised suddenly I was running on that man’s footsteps. I was in the same course that the greatest road runner of our time had just smashed a WR by a whole minute and brought the dream of a sub-2-hour marathon ever closer. That picked me up even more. What gave me the final push was actually seeing the Brandenburg Gate in the distance and hearing a roaring crowd boosting me on. A really nice touch by the organisers at this point was that they had a guy with a microphone reading people’s names from their name tags and especially people who were obviously struggling (uhm, me). 10 meters before the gate I saw my girlfriend with her brother and her best friend cheering for me. I had told them to not come with the crowds just in case something went awfully wrong, but seeing them literally gave me the strength to go and run another 10 miles (okay maybe 3). So I went and gave her a hug and a kiss. They drove 8 hours in the middle of the night on Friday from the Netherlands to Berlin to see me run for 10 seconds in front of them so I felt this was the least I could do. Past the gate and then through the finish line in 3:54:55. My 5k splits until 40 km were: 25:49, 24:47, 25:19, 25:13, 25:46, 27:03, 29:03, 33:42 and the last 2.2 km were done in 18:18.

That is the magnitude of how slow I got towards the end.

However, although I had gone through hell and back in the last few kilometres, I finished quite happy.

I had been reminded that there is a reason it is considered an unforgiving distance and that it is no easy task what you are called to do when you line up at the start. I had run on the footsteps of a world record, I can say I was in that course. And instead of all of this making me sad, it made me humbled. Also, even if the race went really, really bad for me I still want to go and do it again. Just to prove that having learned my lesson, I will not underestimate the distance again and I will learn to plan ahead (and actually read the website for once and check if they do water bottles or cups).

Swaledale Marathon, Saturday, June 9, 2018

Nina Mason

How it all started: flashback to 1995 – me and Mum coming into Reeth

17 and counting…

I ran (and walked) my first Swaledale in 1995. I was new to running and Mum (Jan) suggested we give it a go. It was hell. We did it together, and all I remember was her going on about the beautiful views, and me swearing at her a lot. A year later I was back – fitter, 3 months pregnant with Leigh, and up for it. I was hooked.

There are many great races/runs out there, and many reasons why we each have a preference. Swaledale is my firm favourite. I’ve been back most years (though a long break between 2011 and 2017) and completed it in a range of times. With a decent pottery collection now in use around the house, this year was number 17.

For anyone thinking about doing this, I would recommend it (though you may have realised by now that I am somewhat biased!) You need to be quick getting a number (they sell out fast in January), but for £21 you get a well-organised run/walk, water at all the manned checkpoints and cake and sandwiches at a couple, a hot meal at the end, a badge and pottery souvenir, lots of great views, and the chance to share the experience with other like-minded runners and walkers. You don’t usually need to use your map if the weather is good and you’ve recced the route (though be prepared to do so if needed).

This year – I wished Mum and a few other Striders luck at the start then didn’t see her again after the initial climb up to Fremington Edge. The weather was great – not too much sun, a bit of a breeze, and fairly dry underfoot. I was aiming for under 5 hours but a little worried about post-Yomp legs (only 6 days before).

One of the Swaledale ‘greats’ (Strider RotY in ‘93 and ‘99 – and stepdad – Tony Young) once wisely said ‘the race starts at Gunnerside’. It’s true. I often fade here – that climb out is tough with 16 or so miles in your legs – but when I got there, well within the planned time, I focussed on forcing myself to run at least the flats and downs (ok, jog). This year I managed to keep my pace going and passed quite a few people between there and the end. Pushing hard down the stony track into Reeth (my favourite bit of my favourite race) I finished well under target time.

Really hard work but thoroughly enjoyed the day. Good performances from the other Striders that turned out too.

The best bit for me, 22 years after her first ‘visit’, was seeing Leigh at the end and a big hug; and then (with Tony) cheering Nanny/Mum/Jan in.

I jokingly challenged Leigh to do this next year, but I think she declined. I’d be very happy to walk/jog at her pace, perhaps waxing lyrical about the glorious views…. after all, it never did me any harm.

PosTime NameClass
103.15.00Julian Simpson
R'mond & Ze
1003.28.00Amy Sarkies
803.27.00Michael MasonM
7604.24.00Matthew ArcherM
10304.37.00Nina MasonF40
21205.46.00Andrew ThompsonM
21305.46.00Jan YoungF60
42008.22.00Margaret ThompsonF60
42108.22.00Anita ClementsonF40


Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, Sunday, May 20, 2018

Mark Foster

You’ll never walk alone ….

If somebody said to me 2 years ago that one day you could run a marathon, I would have probably just laughed at them. Well, it turns out that I actually could run a marathon; in fact, anybody could, providing you put in the hard work.

Last year, my wife ran the half marathon at Liverpool Rock n Roll, in fact, it was her first HM, and she absolutely loved it. I was told how the bands on the route were brilliant, how the atmosphere created by the runners and watching supporters was second to none (she hasn’t done GNR yet), and that the whole weekend, in general, was amazing. So given her feedback, how could I say “No”. After all, it was only the HM I was saying “Yes” to. That was until fellow Strider, Chris Edwards, stuck is oar in and tried to persuade me to join him in the marathon instead. After reviewing each run’s route, it didn’t take me too long to make a decision. The deciding factor being that the marathon goes by Goodison Park, the home of Everton, my childhood football team, as well as Anfield, a place where the other guys play. This might not make sense to many of you but as a massive football fan, this was very much the overriding factor.

Given this was to be my first marathon and having an obsession to have things planned and organised, I wanted to ensure that I had all bases covered before I started; a trusted training plan, knowledge of race nutrition, setting of race goals and strategies.

I called upon Anna Seeley to help produce a first timer’s training plan. Anna helped customise the plan to fit in with life’s busy schedule, which worked out perfectly. I also spoke with many others within the Club and asked them about their first time experiences (that doesn’t sound right, does it?), seeking advice about training and/or race nutrition. I knew that I had to set myself some target times, ones that were clearly stretching myself but equally achievable. I also set myself a target of losing some weight, much of which would come naturally as part of the increased training, but supported by a healthier and more balanced diet. From start to finish of the training plan, I lost approximately 1.5 stone, not quite target but very close to it (fingers crossed it stays away).

After 16 weeks of training, a period in which I saw many of my running/training buddies complete their training and run their own marathons before my own, I knew I was finally ready to give it a shot. I had worked hard for this race and I knew it was too late now to let myself down or anybody else. This was it….

Marathon weekend

The day before the big one I ran the Rock n Roll 5k run. This was purposely planned for 2 reasons; firstly, a nice gentle warm up to keep the legs warm and secondly, you get an extra ‘Remix’ medal for running on both days. It’s all about the bling, for some ☺.

The remainder of the day was spent sightseeing in the city centre. The sun was out which encouraged the crowds into town, creating a wonderful, vibrant atmosphere amongst the locals and visitors. Liverpool is such a beautiful city, one that has undergone so much regeneration and change over the years. If you’re not going to run this race or an equivalent Liverpool race then I would definitely recommend paying the city a visit at some point.

Race day

I didn’t think I would be nervous but I was. It was difficult to pinpoint why I was nervous because I had been excited and fairly confident in the run-up. All my kit had been prepped and set out the night before, so no worries there, however, I had to lacquer a couple of gallon of sun cream over myself. Maybe a slight exaggeration, but the forecast said it was to be hot, just like the previous day, so sun cream was a necessity.

We made our way to the starting line, just a shortish walk from our hotel, cheering on the HM runners who had just started. As predicted, it was warm but thankfully there was some welcomed cloud cover. A short warm-up lightened the nerves before we took our place in the corral (never heard this before, must be an American thing). Finally, we got to the starting line, the hooter went and we were underway by which point the nerves had gone.

The route initially led us around the docks (BTW, Fred’s weather map has gone) and the Liver building before leading up and out of town towards the Everton area. The crowds along the way were out in good numbers and very supportive, and the bands were loud, just enough to drown out my terrible singing. I felt that the pace was comfortable and I was on target as per my plan, and for now, there was no sign of the heat affecting me.

It wasn’t long before Goodison Park was on the horizon (about 4 miles in). I’m not one for taking photos whilst running, in fact, I don’t usually take a phone with me at all, but as mentioned this was the main reason I decided on the marathon rather than the half. I managed to take a pic or 2 at Goodison whilst trying not to lose focus on my run and pace.

The route made its way across Stanley Park towards Anfield where once again I tried desperately not to let it distract me. Just before Anfield, I reached the 10k timing point and a quick glance at my watch displayed 55:02 mins, just under 9 min/mile pace, so I was still on plan. For the first time in the race’s history, the organisers had an agreement with Liverpool FC for the route to run through the concourse of the famous Kop end.

Crazy as it might seem, being a Toffee fan (that’s Everton’s nickname for those who don’t know), this was actually my 2nd biggest highlight of the race. As I ran through the concourse I noticed there was a lit up opening, which led to the stand looking out towards the pitch, I just couldn’t miss out on this opportunity (sod the time, well it took all of 20 secs, just kind of wish I had more time to admire it the stadium and the pitch).

To top it off, as the run made its way out of Anfield, there was a band playing ‘Mr Brightside’, the best song EVER. The hairs on my arms were certainly standing up at that point.

Gradually the route rose to its highest point at about 7.5 miles in, a point, which provided wonderful views over the City Centre, although it wasn’t the nicest of areas of Liverpool.

Pace and timings were still good as we made our way towards the city centre, through China Town and then up the hill (some bloody hill) towards Sefton Park. I hit the halfway point at 13.1 miles in 1:58:08, so I was now spot on 9 min/miles with the big hill out of the way, or so I thought. It turns out there was a series of hills, one after another, but thankfully they were among some beautiful parks and areas including the famous ‘Penny Lane’ – I didn’t see any ‘fireman with an hourglass’, however, it was definitely at that point that the ‘Blue Suburban Skies’ appeared. It was suddenly like ‘here comes the sun’ but without the words or music. The heat soon turned up a notch.

I was in need of a quick pit stop before hitting the next park, I’m not just sure if doing so took its toll on me, but I slowed down somewhat after this point: most probably a mixture of sun and stopping for a wee break. I finally reached the 20-mile point before hitting the long stretch along the river towards the finish. It was at this point cramp kicked in, not just one calf, but also both calves and both quads. I was like a zombie at some points, absolutely excruciating pain, unlike anything I had ever felt before.

Unfortunately, I knew my race target and goal was over at this point, it was just a case of making sure I got to the end and completed the race, however necessary.

I was warned before the race that the last 5 miles weren’t the most exciting and it certainly lived up to those comments. There were a few bands spaced out along the path but nothing that gave me the boost I so dearly needed. The sun was still beating down which obviously didn’t help, so you could say I wasn’t feeling particularly happy at this point; however, I persevered and continued to run/walk through the pain.

My pace dropped considerably to about 11-11.30 min/miles but I was focused on just getting to the end regardless. I wasn’t the only one suffering, many others looked to be in a similar situation, but collectively we pulled each other along which coincidentally made me think of the Liverpool’s famous anthem “You’ll never walk alone”.

As I approached the last 500 meters, I heard the usual shouts of “the finish line is just around the corner”, and there’s me thinking it is but plus another lap of a track. I kept it going as much as I could but I felt I wouldn’t have the usual sprint finish within me. I honestly felt destroyed but with 200 meters to go, I heard a series of shouts from the crowd, recognisable voices too, and as I glanced over I saw Rachel Toth and Jacqui Robson cheering me on.

I then felt a euphoric feeling as the crowd pulled me in and thrust me towards the finish line. I did it, yes, I bloody did it. I finished in a time of 4:16:31. This was the definite highlight of the race. Completion!

The sense of achievement was and still is unbelievable. I had genuine tears in my eyes as I crossed the line, instantaneously realising exactly what I had just achieved. It was nothing short of remarkable (for me that is), something that I’ll always remember, but at the time thought ‘never again’.

In summary, I wouldn’t say I loved it, nor did I hate it. There are plenty of pros and cons of the race itself. I would definitely recommend it to folk who fancy a hilly road marathon with some fantastic views and parks to run through whilst being provided with great support and excellent live bands for most of the route.

It’s not the best sort of race for those who detest the commercial type runs. The goody bag contents were ok; however, I say ‘goody bag’, there was no actual bag, so you literally had to carry everything. Not great at the end of a marathon when you just want to collapse. Signage and directions need to be worked upon by the organisers, as it took a while to figure out where to collect my shirt from, but I certainly knew where to find my free beer.

The medals are fantastic, 3 for the price of 2, providing you run both days. Having said all this, I personally don’t believe I would do this race again, but another marathon, who knows??? I’ve already changed my tune in the few days since the run. There are definitely lessons to be learned on a personal level but I guess all this comes with experience.

Lastly, many thanks to all who supported me, sending best wishes and congratulation messages, however, special thanks goes to Anna Seeley, Allan Seheult, Lesley Hamill, Peter Hart, David Browbank & Chris Edwards. You all played different parts in the process and I’m very grateful for everything.



Overall PositionNameTime
402Mark Kearney
(Official pacer)
1212Mark Foster4.16.31
1628Helen Parker4.30.25
1630Bob Gratton4.30.30
1719Chris Edwards4.33.44

Results Virgin Money London Marathon, Sunday, April 22, 2018

Anita Wright




Place overallPlace genderPlace cat.NameRunner noCategoryFinish
111KIPCHOGE, Eliud (KEN)318-3902.04.17
1511CHERUIYOT, Vivian (KEN)10918-3902.18.31
142142111Jackson, Stephen (GBR)139718-3902.39.31
45544978Littlewood, Michael (GBR)196540-4402.50.28
631621434Pritchard, Gareth (GBR)144418-3902.54.14
703692475Kearney, Mark (GBR)198918-3902.55.32
924120671155Walton, Katy (GBR)2029118-3903.58.02
106822558181Davies, Sarah (GBR)1004550-5404.05.42
129223374716Gardham, Sue (GBR)2029340-4404.16.41
251218102120Bradley, Jean (GBR)2471660-6405.09.38
2840496975229Brannan, Stacey (GBR)2029218-3905.24.56
304241071661Farnsworth, Christine (GBR)3059565-6905.35.48
355691353288Thompson, Margaret (GBR)2029065-6906.10.04

Virgin Money London Marathon, Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sarah Davies

Sweat, Blood and Tears.

Sweat. Yes, it was hot! As we waited for the start, we were all drinking water, looking for shade and paying frequent visits to the ‘female urinals’ (a bizarre experience!) Finally, our wave set off. After all the waiting and anticipation, it was great to be finally running my first marathon! Although my training had been derailed by a combination of injury, snow and work, I still hoped I might be able to finish in under 4 hours. The first miles seemed deceptively easy. The atmosphere was brilliant and there were plenty of distractions: crazily-dressed runners (Paddington costume – in that heat??), cheerful crowds, Greenwich, the Cutty Sark. It was already roasting, but there were lots of water-stations and showers, and I found I was able to maintain a reasonable pace.

Blood. About 10 miles in, with the temperature continuing to rise, I suddenly had a terrible nosebleed! What to do? This was definitely not in the Plan! I didn’t want to stop, so I carried on running slowly for a couple of miles with blood streaming from my nose onto my face, hands and legs. Not a pretty sight! It finally stopped, but by then I realised would have to abandon any hopes of a sub 4-hour time.

Tears. The second half was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. There were lots of highs: catching sight of my family by chance; spotting Striders Rachel and Michael Mason and Peter Hart in the crowds at around 18 miles; strangers shouting my name; the man running with the washing machine on his back… But there were plenty of lows too: by about mile 20 my legs were screaming at me to stop and I had to force myself to continue. By 24 miles, I knew the end was in sight. Despite the excruciating pain, I managed to pick up the pace and finish with a decent time of just over 4 hours.

I came away from my first marathon with mixed feelings. I’m really glad I did it and it was a thoroughly memorable experience, but I can’t say I’m in a hurry to do another one any time soon!

Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris 2018, Paris, Sunday, April 8, 2018

Lesley Hamill

This was my second bash at the Paris Marathon, I first did it in 2016 when I hadn’t been running for very long, and although I had followed the training plan to the letter I found it really tough, especially in the heat. Jonathan had done it last year, so this year was my turn again. It didn’t take too much effort to persuade Karen to come with me, and before I knew it, a whole group of us from Striders/DMotR had signed up. When you’ve got kids, running a marathon seems a good enough excuse for a minibreak!

We arrived in Paris on the Friday evening and immediately noticed a significant increase in temperature from Durham. All our training this year had been in freezing temperatures, ice, snow, hail, rain, so we weren’t feeling particularly prepared for running in the heat! Saturday morning was the Breakfast Run, a fun 5k warm-up for the main event. On a beautiful sunny morning, we met near the Louvre, picked up our green tops and flags and off we went! The route takes you past the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, along the Seine, finishing on the Champ de Mars beneath the Eiffel Tower. At only 12 Euros (including technical tee and breakfast at the end) I would recommend it! On to the Expo where we picked up our numbers and free Paris Marathon rucksack. It’s worth mentioning that you need a medical certificate signed by a GP to be able to pick your number up, this is the case for all races in France. I managed to get mine signed for free this year, but lots of other people had to pay. After a few photos and a quick look round the stands, we went for lunch, drinking as much water as we could as it looked like it was going to be warm the following day.

On the day of the marathon, we were up early, grabbed some breakfast in the hotel and jumped on the metro to the start. It took us a while to work out where the bag drop was as it wasn’t signposted, it turned out to be a good walk away! We just had enough time for a quick loo stop before entering our pen with Jill and Simon.

Sun was quite hot now, and it was only 09:45, but the atmosphere was great and we were all in good spirits!

It is an amazing experience running down the Champs Elysées with thousands of other runners of lots of different nationalities.

We started off at our planned 10min/mile pace, jumping into the shade when we got the chance and taking on water at the refreshment stations, which were every 5k. As well as water, there was a good selection of food on offer, dried fruit, orange segments, cut up bananas and sugar cubes. The route is truly spectacular, and signs point out the main sights along the way. I love the fact the French firemen come out in force at certain points to support the runners, although I suspect this is more of an attraction for the female runners! There are quite a few hoses you can run through to cool down (amazing!) and at regular intervals there are tables with big bowls full of water which you can use to cool down too.

On we went towards the impressive Place de la Concorde, Rue du Rivoli and Place de la Bastille. Arriving in the Bois de Vincennes was a nice change of scenery, especially as the refreshment station was opposite the rather impressive Chateau de Vincennes. We heard someone call Karen’s name out, and it turned out to be a family she knew from Durham who were on holiday in Paris! After a quick chat, we were off again and enjoyed running through the park, even though there was less support here.

There are lots of fantastic bands on the route too, which really lifts your spirits when you are starting to feel tired. We now headed back into the heart of the city and reached the halfway point at the Rue de Charenton where we had a quick loo stop. The route now follows the course of the Seine, passing Île de la Cite, going under the Pont Neuf before going through a couple of tunnels.

At the 16-mile point, I started to struggle a bit in the heat, I remember doing the same two years ago. Karen was feeling strong so I told her to go on ahead while I dug in and battled the demons in my head which were telling me to walk for a bit. Luckily, I got through this and picked myself up again, somehow managing to catch up with Karen at the 20-mile point.

The tunnel was a bit of a strange experience; every year there is a different art installation to look at. Two years ago it was a tropical paradise complete with sounds and smells. This year it was ‘Welcome to Hell’!

The hardest part of the race for me was the last 10K, although I felt a lot stronger than I had done two years ago. Running around the Bois de Boulogne away from the city streets, every K seems to get longer and you wonder if you will ever see the finish! Lots and lots of people were walking now, I was trying to stick to the green line which was becoming more and more difficult. Then suddenly out of nowhere, I hear someone shout ‘Come on Strider!’, and it turns out to be Helen from Bishop Auckland who knows a couple of members of the Club. This gives me a boost to finish strong, especially now I can see the crowds again and can hear shouts of ‘Vous êtes tous les champions!’.

Onto Avenue Foch and the finish line is in sight – enfin! I even hear my name shouted out by the commentator! I crossed the line in 4.32, two minutes slower than I would have liked, but still a 24 minute PB! Karen was just ahead of me and I catch up with her once I have my (amazing) medal and finishers’ top. Job done! A few photos in front of the stunning backdrop of the Arc de Triomphe, then off to the nearest bar to refuel with Coke and chips where we waited for the others to finish.

All in all, I would highly recommend the Paris Marathon, although If you don’t like running in the heat it may not be for you! The route is absolutely stunning, and it is very well organised. I will definitely be back, just maybe not for a couple of years…

NN Rotterdam Marathon, Rotterdam, Sunday, April 8, 2018

Georgios-Pavlos Farangitakis

The Finish lineShort read:
Overall a very good, flat, fast course (5th fastest in the world), with amazing support but quite narrow on some crucial points. Would definitely recommend it as an international race.

Long read:
This was the most spontaneous decision to run a race I have ever made. I made the decision to sign up for it over a coffee with a Dutch friend in Rotterdam while I was telling her that I was preparing for the Athens Authentic Marathon back in October. She said to me “Oh there is a big one here every April why don’t you sign up for it?” and I just did.

Despite this being my third marathon, training had not gone ideally since I had to do about two weeks’ worth of running (including two of my 16-mile long runs) on the treadmill on the very snowy days because (a) I’m Greek and I don’t function in snow and (b) I have no shoes or balance that could provide traction on it. However, I did feel stronger and all the indications from a club time trial and from a tempo run which broke my 5k PB were that I could bring down my Marathon PB of 3:49:15. So I was contemplating a sub 3:45 with the assistance of a pacer as I had told Jack Lee over countless lunch runs (by the way Jack, thank you for joining me for all of those, your help was much needed).

On Saturday I had to go to Rotterdam to pick up my bib number which is a bit of a hassle, especially if you reside away from the city. Nevertheless, the Expo was really nice, with lots of interesting stands. I got a bit too excited about all the other international marathon stands that I might have accidentally signed up for a ballot for a free marathon in Svalbard in the North Pole!

Later that day, the race organisers announced that because temperatures might rise to around 19 degrees, they would have water stops for the last 10 km for every 2.5 km instead of 5 and also wet sponge stops to cool you down.

Race day was on. Woke up around 5:45 with my girlfriend’s home being about 2 hours away. Changing trains at Schiphol Airport meant that we witnessed tourists looking curiously at the hundreds of people dressed in shorts and vests boarding the Rotterdam train.

We arrived there around 9:00 (race start was at 10:05 am). In terms of the bag drop, it is pretty straightforward and relatively fast, with the only exception that due to security measures you are not allowed to drop your own bag but a designated transparent one you receive at the Race Expo along with your finisher shirt.

The starting pens were easy to find, but my only complaint on this was that there were toilets inside the pens which meant people queued very disorderly to use them. Regardless, I was ready, gels packed (one every 4 miles), the temperature was meant to be nice (15-19 degrees) and sunny, I had planned my water stops and also had the 3:45 pacers in sight.

The race start was given under the sounds of “You’ll never walk alone” which was sung by runners and spectators and a Dutch singer on a microphone. However, with all the queues in the toilets, I realized I had lost the 3:45 pacer that I wanted to follow. Nevertheless, I decided to stick to running by feel and knew that I wanted around 8:30 min/miles in order to be happy. So the first thing you see after the first 500 metres in the run is this:

The famous Erasmus Bridge (Mile 1 and 16.5 of the race).

This is the famous Erasmus Bridge and is quite a spectacle to cross and also have the tugboats hosing water around it. This is also the only part of the race where there is an apparent elevation change.
The first 16 miles of the course, are on the southern part of the city, which has quite a few changes in order to keep you entertained.

In the first 2-3 miles, you cross the area around F.C. Feyenoord’s football stadium and there was quite a large group of people dressed in their colours cheering us up with brass bands and drums. Also, the race organisers had provided with a band every 3-4 km in order for the runners to remain entertained. In no time the first 10k were in, in a comfortable time of 52:53 with a pace of about 8:29 mins. At that point I gauged how I felt and I thought I could maybe cut off another 5 secs per mile up to the half marathon point.

Support at this point of the race was not ideal as there were parts where you were running through the banks of a canal on a narrow cycle road so people were not able to reach it in order to cheer. However, on every major intersection of public roads, there were huge crowds which made deafening noise and definitely pushed you on.

As I said before, in terms of city geography, the Rotterdam Marathon is a nice one as the first 26 km are basically done in the south part of the city, which is the relatively rougher area. This is because the old harbour was located there, so this led to seeing the what was considered a poor part of the city with the towering concrete blocks around miles 9-15. These areas are however now up and coming, as there is a lot of renovation occurring with the old storage houses being turned into food halls, cafes or restaurants. There are even hotels and student halls made out of old containers! However, me being a tourist while running also had another effect which was going quite faster at a pace around 8:15-8:20 having gotten my mind off the running. This meant my HM time was at 1:50:32!

At that point I realized that all I had to do was run the other half 64 seconds faster, and I would have broken the 3:40 barrier. So I geared up mentally for that and pushed onwards. I had only to do what I was doing so far and I was on track for it.

Now between mile 16 and mile 17 is the part where you cross back to the central part of the city again going through the Erasmus Bridge where I managed to get my first “feet off the ground photo”.

Picture after mile 17.

Another quite funny thing about that bridge is that, as I said before, it is the only part that has a noticeable elevation change in the race. It is about 60-70 feet over 500 metres of distance. For an average Strider, who runs in Durham daily, this is like a walk in the park, but it turns out that for most Dutch people, it isn’t. I noticed quite a few people stopping running while going up the “hill”. On the other side of the bridge, my girlfriend was waiting for me to cheer me up and she made me push on.

However, the race was far from over. Back to around 2 weeks ago and me sitting in my office looking at the race map and saying to Jack Lee that “miles 19 to 24 are around a park, so support will be significantly less and this is when I also hit the wall in Manchester”. And that was the case. Although you first go through miles 17-19 which are absolutely packed with supporters, you then have to run around the Kralingse Plas which is a big reservoir to the north of the city. There, support was much sparser, especially in the first two miles and as if that was not enough, the sun came out and the temperature went to around 22-24 degrees.

All of this, plus my mind telling me to quit, forced me to go through a “mini-wall” of 5 miles where I was averaging 8:28-8:30. Not enough of a slowing down to be called a proper bonking/walling but enough to put a dent in any chance of breaking 3:40. Still, when I realised I was approaching mile 25, I pushed myself as much as I could.

By then the route has gone back through the city so you cross areas with thousands of people making support amazing. Similarly to what I had seen in Manchester, people were bringing out jellybeans, oranges, bananas and water to hand to basically random strangers running past them. This, I think, is something that motivates me the most in such races. Seeing people who do not know you just scream out your name, as they can see you struggle, or offer you some food or even a thumbs up and a smile. Just because they at that moment respect what you are going through and want with their own way to push you forward.

Now by the end, I was again in the 8:10 min/mile region and was hoping for a chance in a good sprint in the last two km. However, in the last water stop, at km 40 because of the sheer volume of spectators, the course was narrowed down to a few metres width, resulting in not enough space to overtake having grabbed your water cup. And the guy in front of me stopped dead on his feet to drink water. And I had to stop.

Now if you’ve run a marathon, you know that stopping at mile 25 is practically game over for any pacing plan you had before. I might have stopped for about 5 seconds, but it was enough to make it hard sprinting again. As an example, in Athens, I managed to do 8:12, 7:57 and 6:38-minute miles for miles 25, 26 and the 0.2 finish. That was an 8:38 min/mile overall marathon. In Rotterdam, I did 8:15, 8:21 (water stop incident) and 7:37 and the final average pace was 8:22 mins/mile. I reckon it was at that moment that I realised I was not going to break 3:40. Still, it would be a PB in the region of 7-8 minutes so I should still be happy.

Picture in front of the famous tilted cubed houses of Rotterdam (around km 40.5)

And so I did, I gathered my biggest smile and ran that last km. And then it hit me for some reason: I was finishing my third Marathon in a third different country, having brought my PB down by 25 minutes in a year, having lost 20 pounds of weight, running in a running club’s colours. I realised that this is definitely not a bucket list thing. This is a part of me, something that defines my everyday life, it has taught me things about myself I would have never known. All the miserable winter miles that I so hated doing were worth it just for those last moments in the famous Coolsingel road, where your ears literally hurt from the roar of the crowds. I tried really hard for the third marathon not to get shorter breathing (a.k.a. cry) because of all of those emotions coming to me (and to look suave in the finishing picture). The final time was 3:40:55 (turns out I did run the second half faster by 9 seconds).

I would definitely recommend this race to anyone. It was a bit unlucky that I got 23-degree heat which made things a bit harder, but overall it is a very fast course. Support can be a bit lonely in that last part, but if you plan for it I guess you can counter that. It takes you through a very nice tour of the city as well, crossing that wonderful bridge, seeing the historic building in the city centre and the rougher part of the harbour in the south as well. I would definitely consider re-doing it in a couple of years since it is well organised and very fun.

Endurancelife CTS Northumberland Marathon, Bamburgh, Northumberland, Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lesley Hamill

When Karen asked me if I fancied signing up for this race last year, I automatically assumed she meant the half marathon. After all, we were already booked to do the Paris Marathon in April…When she told me she’d entered the marathon, I was a bit apprehensive, but having checked with Kate Macpherson (who wrote my last marathon plan) that it wasn’t a completely mad idea, I signed up.

Training began in November, I dug out the training plan we had used for the Liverpool marathon last year, (the one I didn’t get to run as I fell and broke my wrist a few weeks before the race). Karen and I decided to run the long runs easy, as neither of us had done an off-road marathon before, and certainly weren’t going for a time.

Many of our long runs were done in some awful weather conditions – snow, ice, wind, rain. We kept telling ourselves this would stand us in good stead for the race itself, which it did! Luckily the weather on the day of the race was really kind to us.

When my alarm went off at 05.10 on the morning of the race, I did wonder what on earth I was doing! I crept out of the house to get picked up by Karen’s husband who was driving us to Kate’s house. Kate had very kindly offered to drive us up to the start at Bamburgh, for which we were really grateful! It was a freezing cold morning, but the heated seats in Kate’s new car warmed me up nicely!

When we arrived in Bamburgh it was the most beautiful morning, the sun was just coming up and it looked like it was going to be a lovely day. It was still windy and freezing cold, but we’d soon warm up once we started running. We headed to registration, and as we’d arrived in good time there was no queue, so we picked up our numbers and timing chips (which we had to wear on our wrists) and could get ourselves ready without any stress. There was even no queue for the (proper) toilets – bliss!

It was lovely to meet up with some other runners from Durham, and at 08.30 we were told to gather in the courtyard for the briefing. This was really informative and light-hearted, we were told which signs to look out for so we didn’t get lost, what to do with our timing chips at the checkpoints, and what to do in case of an emergency. We then boarded the coaches which took us to the start at Alnwick Castle. We climbed over a fence, headed for the flags, luckily didn’t need the toilet again as there were none, and at 09.30 we were off! We ran along by the river Aln, a bit claggy in places, but nothing too bad. Crossing the river on the stepping-stones was a bit nerve-wracking, but luckily I didn’t fall in! We then ran under the Alnmouth viaduct, where a nice runner from Finland offered to take our photo. We were on the roads after this and headed for Alnmouth harbour where the first checkpoint was. It was nice to be able to stop at the checkpoints, put our timing chips into the machine, fill up water bottles and grab a bite to eat. We were off again, following the extremely well-marked course, and onto our first beach of the day at Almouth.

Just wow, so beautiful! I felt really lucky to be running on such a beautiful day in such a stunning setting. We ran through Boulmer, found a toilet (phew!) and off we went again to Longhoughton and then lovely Craster. Soon we could see Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance – yay!

Another stop for some photos (it would have been rude not to!) There were quite a few people out on the paths here, so we slowed down a bit, it was also quite challenging terrain so we were happy to take it easy!

We ran through Low Newton and on to Checkpoint 3. This was the key checkpoint as you had to make it here before 2.20 – luckily, we were much earlier than this. Another stop to chat to the very friendly marshals, fill up bottles again and grab some more food. I had brought loads with me. Normally I would use gels for fuel, but chose a Clif bar and shot bloks for this race, which worked really well.

We ran on to Beadnell beach – this was a particularly stunning part of the course as there were quite a few kite-surfers in the sea, which was an amazing sight! Cue another photo stop – why not! I felt like I was on familiar territory now as my parents have a caravan in Seahouses and it was lovely to run on the beach and through the town. Fortunately, we didn’t have to run past the fish and chip shops!

Back on to the beach now and the final stretch towards Bamburgh castle. The marshals at the final checkpoint confirmed it was only 2 miles to the finish – brilliant! I picked up a bit of speed on the beach, the wind was behind us and the tide was out (thankfully!). I hit 27 miles, but no sign of the castle? Had someone moved it? Had I missed a sign somewhere and gone the wrong way? Luckily, I passed a few other runners, some doing the Ultra (who had to get to the Castle then do an additional 8 miles on the roads to make up to 35 miles).

A man who was supporting his brother on the Ultra told me to aim for the white flags, which finally I reached, phew. But the castle is at the top of a hill of course, which meant climbing up the dunes to get there, aaaaaargh. After 27 miles, my legs were not up for an uphill sprint finish, so I power walked up, cheered on by Jacquie Robson and lots of supporters at the top. Round the corner and there was the finish – at last!! Gave in my timing chip and got a printout with my time on straight away, very efficient!

Medal, t-shirt (nice colour blue!) and cheered Karen in. Quick change (well as quickly as our aching bodies would allow), on with lots of layers and into the café to refuel – lovely! No post-race medal photo as we were too cold!

All in all, I would recommend this race to anyone. There is a 10K, half marathon and ultra (all on the same day). The race organisation is superb, the course is extremely well marked so no chance of getting lost, and the whole route is absolutely stunning.

Gran Canaria Marathon, Sunday, January 21, 2018

Dougie Nisbet

The expo was a two day affair so I expected things would be quiet when we turned up around opening time. Sadly no. A strange one-way system was in operation and it was clearly VIP time too. And I didn’t know which queue to join, because I didn’t know my bib number, because I wasn’t on the start list. I was paid and registered and everything, but on the sheet lists pinned to noticeboards there was no mention of me.

Still, shy bairns get nowt. So I joined the shortest queue. The queue for bib numbers 1 to 100. I was viewed with some suspicion (can’t think why, don’t I look like someone who’d wear the numero uno?) but who cares. The front of the queue came soon enough and I tried to explain. In English. The volunteer’s English was a million times better than my Spanish but we still struggled. Eventually they found me, on another list, and I walked away happily with number 922, and a mental note not to go to expos the second the door opens. Wait for other runners to find the bugs.

We were staying, more through accident than design, at roughly kilometre 37 of the marathon, as it prepares for its final fast approach to the finish. This, with the hotel serving breakfast from 6am every day as a matter of routine, meant I had a very civilised start to marathon day. I looked out the window and got that strange marathon tingle you get when you start seeing other runners, in ones and twos and groups, drifting in from all directions and making their way to the start. I eventually joined them and was wandering around the start in good time trying to find the baggage drop. It was elusive, time was ticking, and I began to get anxious. I spotted a runner who looked like he was on a purposeful baggage drop trajectory so I tapped his kit bag and yelped Dónde?! He pointed up and replied Arriba! That was all clear enough and I reflected that I may have learned more Spanish from watching Road Runner cartoons than from text books.

The sun has got his hat onBy start time I was quite relaxed and chilled waiting in my pen. Away we went and I settled down into a comfortable pace in the cool morning sunshine. My training put me around a 4:15 marathon and I knew better than to try deceive myself that I was capable of faster. Still, it’s nice to experiment and after about 10km I began to test my pace. I was feeling comfortable but I’ve learned so much from my hot marathons last year, especially Lanzarote  where I pushed too hard and ended up blowing it. So for the first half of the race I gently pushed the envelope, testing how I felt, recognising my limits, and easing back. I was running without a heart-rate monitor but I trusted my instincts on perceived exertion and kept within my limits.

The sun had very much got its hat on by now and I reckoned it was time to get the sunglasses on and turn the cap round backwards. The sweat was dripping in my eyes but, oddly, it wasn’t stinging. Very odd. Then with a start I remembered something important that I’d forgotten! Despite the leisurely start to the day I had managed to leave the Factor 50 untouched on the bed side table. I’m normally very particular about this and now suddenly I was worried. Wear Sunscreen! There wasn’t much I could do about it now, and in the Old Town of Las Palmas there were decent slabs Wear Sunscreenof shade if you chose a good line. Roberta had realised the same thing around the same time and despite heroic plans to unite me with some sunscreen she realised that it was an impossible task. Our hotel was on a narrow strip of land that the course zig-zagged through in the final kilometres and was effectively locked down to taxis and buses.

Kms 9 to 16 are a bit dull. The marathon course was, on the whole, a bit unremarkable. This is the 9th running of the race and much fanfare was made of the fact that the marathon would be a single loop. It sounds good but the single loop often involved running a long way up a dual carriageway, around an orange cone, then back again. In fact kms 9 to 16 were so astoundingly dull that the organisers didn’t even put it on the map.

But that was all behind me now. We’d also left the interesting streets of the old town and were heading back towards the city. I was still pushing the envelope from time to time but I knew to trust my instincts and not crash and burn as I knew I would if I chanced my luck. With about 10km to go I saw Roberta waving a bottle of suntan lotion but by this time I was more interesting in scooshing water over my head and letting fate take its course.

The finish straightAlthough I thought the course overall had been a bit dull at times, it makes up for a lot of that in the closing stages. The last few kms are a fast belt down the lovely Playa de Las Canteras. I wasn’t as fast as I’d like to have been, but I hadn’t blown it either, and I managed a strong controlled finish without the nagging doubt that I could’ve or should’ve gone faster.

I finished in 4:16, marginally faster than Lanzarote, but I ran a poorly executed endgame in Lanzarote, whereas today I had got it about right.


NEMC Mo Charity Marathon, Newcastle upon Tyne Town Moor, Sunday, November 5, 2017


Kerry Barnett

Continuing my quest to complete 50 marathons/ultras before I’m 50, I signed up for the North East Marathon Club charity marathon; all entry fees are donated to the Movember Foundation.

Run on the same day as the more commercialised Mo 5k and 10k’s at Newcastle’s Town Moor, our event started at 8 am so we were finished before the larger races in the afternoon.

A very early start, picking up another runner from Durham,  myself and Rob set off at 6:30 am on Sunday morning, to be sure we were there in plenty of time. We were indeed. Traffic is very different at 7 am on a Sunday morning…. Arriving at Claremont car park at around 7:15 am, we sat in the car for a while as the boathouse wasn’t opening up til 7:30 am. It was very cold; not windscreen scraping cold, but still around 3 degrees C.

Arriving at Claremont car park at around 7:15 am, we sat in the car for a while as the boathouse wasn’t opening up til 7:30 am. It was very cold; not windscreen scraping cold, but still around 3 degrees C.

Bundled up in around 5 layers, we made our way over to the boathouse to collect our numbers and moustaches (mandatory kit to start the marathon). Visiting the loo and stripping down to running gear, we lined up (all 39 of us), all hoping to complete varying amount of 5k laps around the Town Moor (with an additional 2k at the beginning to make 26.2 miles if you completed 8 laps).

Yes, 8 laps of the exposed, windy, cold, Town Moor. I’ve run on the Town Moor before, but never more than 10k at a time, so I’m thinking its pretty flat, but make no mistake, when you’re doing the same undulations time and again they become more troublesome. Also, because of the Living North Christmas Fair, we had 2 road crossings each lap, as well as the 3 gates which we had to open and close ourselves. It wasn’t an easy course!

The first 2k was a dream, pretty much, because it didn’t actually go onto the Moor. My moustache didn’t even last this short lap due to the need to blow my nose, so off it came and into my pocket. I did, however, see a few moustaches around the route at later laps.

The real work started. The first half marathon I kept to a strict 3-minutes running, 1-minute walking, strategy, which worked well. This took me pretty much exactly 2:30 and that was the first 4 laps over with. I was pretty pleased and still feeling good. My fuelling strategy, with a shot block every lap, was keeping things under control and coke at the start/finish/lap area was lovely too.

Now the hard work really starts. It’s still cold, the wind is picking up on the exposed Town Moor and traffic is picking up at the Christmas Fair car park. Luckily, our coaching coordinator, Anna Seeley, laps me at this point. With her own troubles to think of, she completes lap 5 with me. It’s nice to have company. It’s a desolate place the Town Moor. A small marathon like this has no support on the route, except for Rob popping up here and there to cheer me on. We run/walk and chat lap 5 away and now I’m onto the last 3 laps, which are really tough. My right hamstring keeps ‘pinging’, the wind is getting stronger and I’m envious of the people who can keep running into that wind which slows me to a brisk walk. I’m doing 2:1 on the Moor, then 3:1 back on the road around the Moor back to the lap point. Coming up to lap 6 and Rachel, who is tracking the laps, says ‘2 to go’. I know this isn’t right because I’m only at 17 miles, so I correct the chart and keep going.

Lap 6, Rob joins me to keep my spirits up. He’s in his jeans and waterproof jacket, which probably looked pretty incongruous to see us going around the lap. He’s good company and soon another 5k is ticked off. Now there’s 10k to go. Really, really tough work. Walking a lot of the time on the Moor and putting runs in when I feel I can, then back to the 3:1 on the road part again. Rob has stayed at the lap point, getting his shorts on ready to join me on my last lap. I’m going to need all the encouragement I can get now. My hamstrings are tight, my hip flexors are tight, my glutes are tight, my lower back is suffering from pushing against the wind.

So last lap with my number 1 supporter, Rob, is down to lamp posts. Run 1, walk 1 over the Moor into the wind, once that part is over, it’s run 2 lamp posts, walk 1. Where there are no lamp posts, it’s 50 steps running then 20 walking. At least this way I know I’m running more than I’m walking and consistently moving forwards, There are loads of people arriving for the Mo runs now, and apparently, lots of them turned up to our little outpost thinking it was where they needed to be.

Coming up to the boating lake now for one last time. It’s nearly over. I’ve gone past the 5 hour cut off. I’ve missed a PB, but it’s done and the lovely NEMC folks have kept the finish open for me. I’ve finished my 23rd marathon, collect my moustachioed medal and finally sit down for a cup of sweet tea.

The NEMC raised £1000 for the Movember Foundation which is fantastic.

That was hard, and I’ll be running another Town Moor Marathon in 2 weeks – same people, different route. Hopefully less wind next time!