Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Race Report: Fraserburgh Half Marathon

First I was going to run this race and then I wasn't and then I was again and I'm really glad I eventually did because it is a really great race :-) Basically I went off half marathons a bit after failing to get a PB at Crathes (not the race's fault, it was lovely) but I didn't enjoy it much on the whole, and first I thought I would target Fraserburgh for a PB, then my training went a bit to pot, and I thought sod it, I won't bother. Then my friend Maz said why didn't I run with her and try to pace her to a sub-2:15 (her PB being 2:17:59), and that sounded like a good idea so that's what we did.

We headed off on the Fraserburgh road trip in the Maz-mobile complete with Scott aka Tall Loon aka Mo Bro who was doing his first half, and Annie who wasn't running it but was going along to support and do a 4 mile run around Fraserburgh while we were racing.

We made good time to Fraserburgh and went to register in the manky pavilion with the horrible non-working toilets (the only downside of the day really, and not much of one all things considered), and met up with various folk.

The race started in a field and then headed out along the road and doubled back on itself for the first wee bit, which was a bit odd but gave us a good chance to survey the rest of the field as they ran back! Maz, TL and I all set off together and were very near the back at this point. TL got a "go mo bro" shout-out :-) Then headed off along the main road for a dull but short slightly uphill drag, and after that we were into country roads, parks, trails etc which was lovely. It was quite flat, but with some up and down undulations but nothing long or major.

(I am actually in this picture, just hidden behind the extreme tallness of Scott!)

I was supposed to be pacing Maz but she didn't need that much pacing really, so my pacing mainly just amounted to the occasional "Are you sure you want to be running this fast Maz?" :-) and boringly regular updates on how far we'd gone and at what average pace. Between us however I think we paced it pretty much perfectly and had the satisfying experience of picking off runners one by one over the whole second half of the race, I don't think anyone overtook us the whole way except for one girl at a water station and we soon caught her up again :-) We didn't walk at all apart from a short bit at the top of a hill for Maz to catch her breath, and a short stop at a water station in mile 7 (when my Garmin went onto auto-pause which perhaps thankfully put the kibosh on my pace updates! Note to self: turn off auto-pause for races!). And we actually managed a negative split :-)

At 9 miles TL went ahead a bit and we shouted at him to go on, he protested a bit but was soon persuaded and zoomed off into the distance never to be seen again (well, not till the end). We last saw him as a tiny fluorescent speck way up ahead. He finished in 2:08 having made up loads of time in the last 4 miles.

The last few miles back into the town were great as we kept a good pace, continued overtaking folk (lots of whom seemed to be really struggling by this stage), as soon as we saw anyone in the distance we knew we would be passing them. Back down the hill we had gone up early in the race, across some roads and roundabouts, bit of confusion at this stage about exactly where to go but we made it back into the field, saw 2:13 on the clock and ran for the finish (nearly missing the funnel in my case but let's draw a veil over that). :-)

Maz had a little cry at the finish line, and who wouldn't after 13 miles of my company ;-)

Lots of PBs and lots of fantastic running from all concerned. Maz ran really well and was very strong and great company throughout, I have no doubt she would have managed a PB anyway but it was nice to be a part of it :-)

Mile splits:
# 10:25
# 10:03
# 10:11
# 10:02
# 10:24
# 10:07
# 10:25 (this was actually 11:25 due to stopping at the water station)
# 10:07
# 10:19
# 9:55
# 9:57
# 10:20
# 9:27

Final time was 2:14:06 although it wasn't chipped so probably should've been several seconds less!

Fraserburgh Running Club who organised the race really pushed the boat out and it was the most amazing value for money, for my £14 non-affiliated entry fee we got: a long-sleeved technical t-shirt (admittedly my "small" t-shirt was more the size of a small tent, but hey), a massive spread of unlimited gorgeous free food and drink after the race, a goody bag with medal, sports drink, banana, crisps and chocolate bar, loads of fantastic high-quality pics on the website and Facebook which were free to download, etc.... Hats off to Fraserburgh Running Club, you are brilliant!

I might EVEN go back next year to try for a PB :-O

Pictures courtesy of Fraserburgh Running Club.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Book Review: The Ghost Runner by Bill Jones

The mystery man threw off his disguise and started to run. Furious stewards gave chase. The crowd roared. A legend was born. Soon the world would know him as "the ghost runner".

Bill Jones first heard of the "ghost runner" in 1984, nine years after John Tarrant's death; researching a documentary about the Salford Harriers, an interviewee pushed a slender, battered paperback into his hand. The book, an Athletics Weekly publication, was John Tarrant's hastily written autobiography, also entitled The Ghost Runner. Unfortunately John's literary talent did not match his running talent and the book was not well written, but the story was absolutely compelling and Bill Jones quickly became haunted by this "ghost", determined to learn more about him, and ultimately to tell John's amazing story as it deserved to be told.

Subtitled "The Tragedy Of The Man They Couldn't Stop", it is a moving and inspiring story, yet the character who emerges from this book is not always easy to like - "self-centred, destructive and lacking in emotional intelligence", driven by anger and a burning sense of injustice. But John Tarrant had much to be angry about. Born in London in 1932, due to his mother's illness and later death and his father's conscription in 1940 he spent much of his childhood in a brutal children's home, his only companion and support his beloved younger brother, Victor. It wasn't until 1947 that the brothers, now 15 and 13, finally left the home, moving to Buxton in the Peak District with their father and newly-acquired stepmother.

There wasn't a great deal for young men to do in Buxton and when a new craze for boxing swept the town, John took it up with alacrity. Although he was never destined to be a particularly successful boxer, his years of surviving the harsh regime and defending himself and Victor against the bullies in the children's home had toughened him up and taught him to fight, and he participated in several matches over a couple of years, receiving a total of £17 for his trouble. This paltry sum was to prove his downfall. Discovering on the fells around his home an abiding love and talent for running, when John wanted to join a running club and enter races, dreaming of the success he was sure he was capable of, he was forbidden by the authorities to do so. Thanks to that seventeen pounds, honestly if naively declared, his amateur status had been compromised; he was banned for life, at home and abroad.

Confident that reason must eventually prevail, John embarked on a campaign of letter writing to the relevant authorities, only to be met by rejection after rejection. By this time married (in 1953) to the unswervingly supportive Edie, and working as a rather inefficient council plumber - the first in a succession of jobs which always took second place to running - John, aided and abetted by his brother Victor, embarked on a drastic course of action. If he wasn't allowed to run officially in races, he would run them unofficially, heading to the start line in disguise aiming to jump into the race at the last minute, where he would quickly speed to the front and stay there until he either won or collapsed of exhaustion. His intention: to show the powers that be just what he was capable of, and his genuine desire to run for the sake of it rather than for reward. Thus the ghost runner was born, quickly seizing the imagination of the nation.

Though officialdom refused to recognise his existence, John was welcomed and warmly supported by his fellow athletes, most of whom understood and sympathised with his predicament. (Former international athlete and main rival, Arthur Keily, even wrote repeatedly to the AAA pleading John's case, without success.)

The Ghost Runner is an incredibly good read, following John's running career from his first "ghost" outing at the Liverpool Marathon, to setting world records at 40 and 100 miles, and to South Africa where he ran the Comrades Marathon - a race which became an obsession for him - as a "ghost" and later defied apartheid as the only white man running alongside the black and Indian athletes who, like him, were barred from official races. In the process he earned himself the love and respect of many who were battling for equality in South Africa.

Although Bill Jones never, of course, met John Tarrant, in researching his life he received full and warm co-operation from John's family - his long-suffering, ever supportive widow Edie, son Roger, and indispensable brother Victor, all of whom deserve medals of their own - and found that many others, including John's running contemporaries, were only too happy to talk to him, and indeed believed the telling of John's story was long overdue. Hence, a clear picture of the man and his remarkable, if all too short, life emerges from this gripping book.

You would need a heart of stone not to be moved by this story (the last few pages had me in tears), which can also frequently make the blood boil. John may have been "the man they couldn't stop" but he was also engaged in a fight he could never win, constantly knocked back by the intransigent authorities, who refused to accept that £17 earned as a not particularly good teenage boxer did not render him a money-tainted "professional" for ever after. (Ironic, when money was the one thing John never had.) John wasn't the only person to fall foul of the elitist "cult of amateurism" which was unforgivingly enforced by the upper echelons, but he was probably the most determined to resist, and became a constant thorn in the side of the AAA.

The Ghost Runner is a great read, packed with fascinating incidents and characters, and extremely evocative of the post-war social and political period it describes. There are some extraordinary descriptions of races, including an attempt at the 50-mile world record which took place on a dilapidated Durban track periodically illuminated by flashes of lightning while rain lashed down flooding the track knee-deep in places, fighting broke out between rival gangs, and a local band continued playing regardless.

I would recommend anyone to read the book; it’s a terrific and thought-provoking story of a man whose life and achievements deserve to be more widely known.