Phil Withers gets the award this month for knocking 40 minutes off his marathon PB at the Gloucester Marathon in January (in a time of 3.49). He also explains what led him to enter Gloucester and his experiences on the day.
Phil explains what led him to enter the Gloucester Marathon:
"I am on such a high at the moment. I am currently training for the London Marathon. I have only run two marathons in my lifetime and both have been at London. The first time in 1998 aged 39 I completed in 4hrs 29minutes and on the second occasion in 2007 aged 48 at a time somewhere around 5hrs. (For some strange reason I don't appear to have kept a record of it.) 2007 was a very hot year and I made some fundimental mistakes like wearing shoes that were too new, and experimenting with a new style of running sock on race day, not to mention lack of training - the result serious blisters at 15 miles!
Any way why am I on a high? I find the long lonely training runs quite difficult and so decided to run the Gloucester marathon as a training run with the option of just peeling off whenever I'd had enough. Did I really intend to do that? Maybe I was just trying to trick my mind.
So I paid my pretty expensive entrance fee (well for a training run that is) and joined 373 other runners on the start line of the Gloucester marathon. Still thinking of it as a training run I didn't think of the overall distance ahead of me but instead just lost myself in thoughts on the 5 mile figure of eight and 3 lap undulating (with a caputal U) circuit that made up the 26.2 miles. I only really started looking at the miles left to do at the 20 mile marker. By this point I couldn't pull out and instead completed my third marathon, the "first out of London" AND with a time of 3hrs 49mins so under that 4hr marker that I didn't believe I could achieve."
Almost Athletes took on the early summer sun and scorching temperatures over a variety of distances, locations and terrains across the country this weekend. At the Runthrough Festival of Running at Cheltenham Racecourse, Mike Johnstone continued his rich vein of form, completing the half marathon in 1:25:15 for second in MV40 category. Not far behind was Josh Hand, who recorded a fine 1:26:24 for third MV35. Julian Brand and Ellie Haile completed the club’s quartet of half marathon representatives, finishing the challenge in 1:56:40 and 2:14:17 respectively.
In the 10k event, first home for the club in 57:29 was David Woolnough, followed just three seconds later by Ela Antosiewicz and club mascot Archie. In her first race of 2021 and coming back from an extended period of injury, Hayley Woolnough completed the exposed course in 1:01:05. The club was also well represented by Iris Mayo (1:21:03); Helen Yarnold (1:29:10) and Steve Yarnold (1:29:11).
Further north, Julie Averiss was the club’s sole representative in the Burton Leonard 10k, coming home in 1:27:17. This old school, not-for-profit event over an undulating rural course in the Harrogate area of North Yorkshire raises essential funds for the local community.
In Somerset, Cos Pearson completed the brutally beautiful Cheddar Gorge marathon in 6:44:25. The double lap course, which includes two ascents of the infamous Hell Steps, is considered so challenging that organisers recommend that runners add 20% onto their flat marathon time. Christopher Benjamin notched up his 85th half marathon over one lap of the marathon course in 2:59:55.
In Dorchester Kathy Haig and Karla Cleverley took on the Crafty Fox half marathon, another very challenging off-road event along the Wessex Ridgeway and Dorsetshire Gap, which rewards participants with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The tough course includes steep climbs and sharp descents together with a bonus mile, topped off at the finish with one of White Star Running’s legendary medals.
Going furthest of all this week Martyn Fisher seized another opportunity to wear the purple vest with pride as he competed in the inaugural 50k Greensand Country Ultra, which started and finished at Shuttleworth House in Bedfordshire, just two miles from Martyn’s doorstep. He was pleased to swap searing temperatures and cloudless skies for an ice-cold lager to kick start his recovery, having completed the long-distance event in a very creditable 6:21:39.
Long distance events near and far kept Almost Athletes and their support crews busy again this weekend. A band of six travelled to Newton Abbot in Devon to take part in the hilly Dartmoor Discovery Ultra comprising 32.5 miles and 4,100 feet of elevation. Organised by Teignbridge Trotters the event is the longest single lap road ultra marathon in the UK.
Competing in her first event beyond the marathon distance, Amy Sheer led the team home in a time of 5:15 for seventh lady overall. Strong runs by Kim Mansell (5:36) and club coach Fi Barnes (6:11) helped the trio scoop the prize of glassware for second ladies’ team.
Richard Knightley achieved his aim of completing his first ultra, his finish time of 5:38 falling well within the course cut-off of 6 hours 30. Competing in his second ultra and first race of the 2021 season, Matt Proome was pleased to record a 5:42 finish. Mark Wreford-Bush rounded out the club’s contingent, recording a 6:16 finish, comfortably within cut-off.
Picking up supporter duties from where he had left off the previous week, Matt Barnes joined Helen Fursman on two wheels to provide invaluable support to the runners out on the hilly course.
Closer to home a larger contingent of Almosts, many of whom are training for longer events later in the year, participated in the Sharpness Canal 16 mile and 50km ultra events. The club’s sole competitor in the 50km out and back event was Chaweewan Hartley, who completed the course in the scorching afternoon heat in 7:12:43, almost certainly with a beaming smile.
In the 16-mile event, starting at Sharpness Marina and finishing at Llanthony Secunda Priory and running the full length of Sharpness Canal, the club was led home by Christopher Benjamin, who completed his 84th half marathon along the way and finished in 2:46. Next in were Karla Cleverley and Coralie Pearson, who ran together in 4:00. Iris Mayo recorded 4:29, one minute ahead of Sarah Fennell and Rachael Nolan. Dave Mayo completed the course in 4:35; Helen and Steve Yarnold in 5:12 and Kim Rodway-Pugh in 5:39.
Bev and Ollie Nolan turned out to cheer everyone on from the towpath. A much appreciated ‘prosecco pit stop’ was laid on by Penny Lewis and Ju Averiss and gave our runners a well-timed boost in the heat of the morning sun.
Finally a huge round of applause to Cat Davies Perkins, who completed the virtual Race to the Tower along the challenging terrain of the Cotswold Way from Stroud to Broadway, notching up 84km over two days in memory of Tommy Squire and raising funds with her friend Georgina for the Starlight Ward at Bristol Children’s Hospital through the Grand Appeal. Way to go, Cat!