By Nick Myers
Why would anyone set themselves the challenge of running twelve marathons in twelve months? Especially when that individual has only run three before, so hardly a seasoned professional...
There’s no simple one-line answer to that, but it probably has its roots in the “fat kid on the bench” in school. My P.E. teachers totally put me off sport; I didn’t start playing Rugby until I turned thirty, I didn’t start running until I turned forty... I do these things for me now, challenging me just for my own satisfaction, enjoyment, and to test what I am truly capable of.
In 2017 I ran the London Marathon – I loved it, it had always been on my bucket list, but until it actually happened for me, it was just a fantasy; for years and years I had imagined what finishing the last 385 yards up to the finishing line would feel like. It was Epic, it was draining, and I crossed the line as a fully-fledged Spitfire; real life knocked the stuffing out of fantasy. Although I had no way of knowing at the time it had also sewn the seed for more challenges...
In the September of that year I ran the Mogwai Run; two Marathons back to back over a weekend – that’s when I first heard of the twelve in twelve challenge, and with my new found misplaced confidence I thought “yeah, I can do that”, and that was it, I came home and started searching for marathons.
The first one was the Chocathon. You’re probably ahead of me on this one; yes, it’s a Marathon with chocolate at its core. It’s a lapped marathon around Fowlmead Nature Reserve, and the aid station was laden down with all manner of Heavenly Manna; choc of every type, Willy Wonka himself wouldn’t believe the array on offer!
It was my first taste (pardon the pun) of what lay ahead of me, unending laps and steep inclines.
The Bling was a very chunky partially unwrapped bar of chocolate.
February was my first reunion of the year with Phoenix Running (who hosted the Mogwai Run) known as the Jaw Dropper, it was also my first run of the year with Diane Abraham; I barely managed to hang on to her shirt tails for the first lap, before I had to concede defeat and slow down Diane had a sneaky sub 4:00 finish, I dragged myself across the finish line a full hour and a half later...
The Bling was in the shape of a Shark, with a hinged mouth which gives the Marathon its name.
March ushered in the Spring Marathon, a simply named Marathon, with equally simple Bling. Just like the Jaw Dropper, it is relatively flat, running alongside the Thames Canal but in the opposite direction. This was an important marathon to me because it was the first marathon of a sub challenge within my twelve in twelve, called the Icebird Challenge – Four marathons throughout the year which culminates in the final marathon of the year and massive Phoenix medal and the other three medals hang off of it. When I signed up for it, it was apparently the World’s heaviest Marathon medal when all four parts are combined!
The Icebird lived up to its name, the Beast from the East had blown in and Snow and Ice were strewn across the entire route, of course a horde of keen marathoners soon turned the serene white into a turmoil of slush of grey and stinging cold mud!
April was run on home turf; the Southampton ABP Marathon with strong support from you lovely Spitfires! I don’t really need to say a great deal about this one because if you weren’t out there with me slogging it out in the unseasonably hot Sun, you were lining the streets, avidly shouting encouragement. “Cupcake” is coming home, he’s coming home! He’s coming! “Cupcake’s” coming home! – Thank you, it got me through.
White Star Running hosted May’s run – The Dorchester Marathon, another well-attended Marathon event by Itchen Spitfires; we camped (some more literally than others!), we ran magnificently, and we danced!
The Marathon was arduous, ridiculously hilly, hot, but then that’s what WSR do to all of their runs, they do make up for it with simply the best Love Stations though – Sweets, cakes, BEER, live music, HUGS, BEER, HUGS, cake...and then more running, much more running than is strictly necessary for a marathon – the precise distance was hotly debated, but at least an extra half mile was the general consensus. All good White Star Running stuff.
I should also add here that I also threw the Welsh Three Peaks challenge in at the very last moment to May’s antics; just for giggles! (What was I thinking?!)
Number six was absolutely my hardest, most exhausting Marathon – The Isle of Wight Needles XC Challenge, what a total git! It has a reputation as one of the World’s most difficult and challenging courses, with every battered, aching ounce of my body I found out the hard way why!
Its true evil genius lies in the way it lulls you into a false sense of security; for the first five or six miles, I sauntered along at a respectable pace, thinking all the while to myself “what’s all the fuss about?”
The “fuss” is about unending, relentless, absurdly steep hills, the kind that just won’t end. The first hill that showed me a glimpse of what I was in for was the climb, dip, climb, dip, approaching the Needles Battery (I did take a wrong turn and run up someone’s very long drive at this point – it was a very lovely posh house at the end!). Minor detour done, I was still thinking “this is tough, but on a par with Dorchester’s mean hills”. The view was worth the effort, and a well-earned walk/jog along the crest about a mile from the Needles on such a clear day was reward enough for the effort. The scenery at that moment lifted me to carry on. Despite giving the marathon its name, the closest I came to the Needles was to pass within one hundred metres of the Needles Battery, then turn in land and slog it up some steep steps up the side of yet another hill, which when you’ve already run so far is a bit of an ask!
Tennyson Down was next, well over a mile along a ridge, then another mile of cross-country uphill to the Monument. The descent was gentler, but just as long.
By now I was well on my way to understanding how this run had earned its reputation, and under the strong June sunshine I was already feeling weary. What little energy I had left by now was about to be truly sapped by the next mountain, and by now anything more than a molehill was a mountain.
I wasn’t even halfway yet and I was faced with a climb whose peak I couldn’t even see. I could see in the distance a Marshall by a gate at what looked from where I was like what might be the summit. After some considerable effort at a very much slower pace now I reached the Marshall, who was casually reading a book, she opened the gate for me, I waddle-jogged through only to find myself on a small plateau before equally steep and high climb again. I had a mini meltdown; I knew I was probably at least two and a half miles from the hallway turn around point and had no idea how to carry on. At that point a very tattooed chirpy girl came past me, she wasn’t the skinniest of runners either, so the effort she had had to make to get this far was just as much as my own. She could see I was done in, but still had enough energy to tell me I could do it, and beasted me to the crest. I was so grateful, I managed a thank you, but couldn’t keep pace with her as she disappeared off into the distance on the descent.
That descent was hard, my will power was at a really low ebb, my body was really rather annoyed with me, and all the while my mind was telling me “you’re not even half way”. This was one of those one foot in front of the other moments, normally I find a positive thing to think about at these times just to get me through, but right here and now I was only able to mentally shut off, and nothing more.
When the end of the hill did come, it ended in a car park, where my lovely wife, brother and sister in- law were all waiting, there was an aid station there too, but what I needed right then and there was them. I stopped and ate the sweetest tasting strawberries I can ever remember and got exactly the mental lift I so desperately needed. There was still another mile to the halfway turn around point, I was low on energy, but that little break with my family sorted my head out, and at low points like I had just experienced that is all you need. That last mile was a loose stone, uphill (of course) grind. The Marshalls at the top were in a really exposed windy spot, I really felt for them, because although I had dropped towards the bottom of the pack, I still wasn’t the last one; they ‘d still be there for at least another half hour.
The route back was tortuous, and went back over the same horrendous hills, and I won’t lie there was an awful lot of walking by now, I only ran on flat or downhill sections. My mind was ok now, but my body was just too tired. I did manage a sprint finish, but that really was the definition of mind over matter.
Waiting for me at the finish line was my wife, my sister-in-law, and my brother with the most welcome pint of cider for me. What a mind reader!
Hooray Pantomime time; July’s Marathon was The Dorset Invader. I ran this one as a Roman Gladiator – General Farticus Nickus Dickus. I was wearing a plumed Gladiators helmet, a Toga, and a cape.
I was also wearing my running vest with drinks bottles, whose location and lid shape looked much like breasts with very red nipples. Not the enduring image I had hoped to create for my chiselled Roman hero, but very definitely the first thing all the other runners noticed, and now as history (in their memories at least) records, what I was most remembered for on that run...
August’s Marathon was the Summer Marathon. This was the second marathon in my Icebird challenge. It was the day after my Son’s eighteenth birthday, and strangely enough I don’t recall a great deal about that one! I do remember that it was another hot summer run , and that it marked a downturn in my finish times which until then had been on an upward trend.
Number nine was the Goodwood Motor Circuit Marathon. I went there with Liz Smith, it was going to be her first Marathon attempt, and I was revved up (get it?!) to running on the circuit, that I’ve watched cars zip around on YouTube.
Liz went there with a game plan and a pace per lap that was sensible, I went there with no plan and bumbag stuffed with Tangfastics. With hindsight Liz’s approach was the almost certainly the right one.
Liz and I set off at her scheduled pace, which I found difficult to stick to because it was slower than my natural pace. By mile three, I had adapted to it, and already I could see feel the benefit; I knew I could sustain this pace rather than my previous “start fast, then slow down” style. I had learnt something here, and I carried it forward in all my subsequent Marathons (Thanks Liz!).
At about half way Liz had to pull out but carried on supporting me for the remaining laps. The last two laps were tough, but Liz was tougher and even re-joined me for the last lap – exactly the boost I needed to get over the Finish line.
October found me on the Island That Time Forgot again, as I had returned to the North Island for the Isle of Wight Marathon. By now the mental and physical effort required simply to run Marathons was beginning to show, and I had done almost no running at all since Goodwood.
I had thought as the Marathon started and ended in Cowes that it might be a lot less brutal the than the Needles challenge. It would be fair to describe it as the NC’s little brother; mainly on the roads, and only marginally less hilly. Honestly the highest of the peaks were so high, that getting to the top of them I felt that running amongst clouds and low flying aircraft would have been perfectly possible.
The finish line also happened to be at my brother’s favourite bar, so as I crossed the line, he was waiting there with a pint again.
There had also been a cock-up with the medals; they had got lost in transit so there none to hand out. My brother therefore had made me one out of a bit of string, Sellotape, and a Casino chip. The real medal has since been delivered to me, but his original one takes pride of place alongside it on my medal wall.
November and Marathon eleven; I was so close to completing twelve in twelve that I could almost smell it! The Riverside Marathon was also the third Icebird challenge, so its importance and significance were not wasted on me. Failure was not an option, but as I had not run at all in the last month, I knew it would be a big ask. It was tough and was as much about mental endurance as it was about running the miles. I managed a sprint finish but scared my wife and step-daughter because apparently, I went deathly grey!
Victory! This was the culmination of an entire year’s adventure, and the pinnacle of my personal challenge. This was the appropriately named End of Year Marathon, and my final Icebird challenge marathon too.
I had in mind that I might also finish in under 5:30:00, and until about mile fifteen that seemed achievable. Then a combination of heaped Christmas dinner plates, mince pies, and (possibly) just the lack of running in between began to tell and my physical endurance tailed of a little. No matter; I already knew I could go the distance and settled into a pace which I maintained to the end .
This was my last Marathon for a while, and I gave the sprint finish everything! For any of you who have seen the video of my sprint, the terrifyingly loud breathing wasn’t captured well, but everyone at the finish line was in no doubt that even at fifty metres away I was approaching! I crossed the line arms raised in Spitfire form, and bursting with pride!
I gave myself five minutes just to recover from the exertion of sprinting at the end of a marathon, and to get my head around what I had just accomplished. I could remember them all, the cold crisp winter runs, the sapping heat of the summer runs, the hills, the epic scenery, my running companions, the Bling, every single bloody mile fifteen my consistent Nemesis, and the support from my friends, my family, and from so many Spitfires – either at the events, congratulating me after each one, or wishing me luck for the next one to come, and being genuinely interested in what I had to say!
The presentation of my certificate, T-Shirt, and both medals from Rik Vercoe of Phoenix running cemented forever in my memory just what a Herculean effort this had all been and I can honestly say that although it damn near broke me it was worth it! (But for the record I won’t be doing it again... not this year anyway!)
By Alana Williams
Photos thanks to Gil McClure
Now with a name like Badger Farm, you’d be forgiven for thinking you might encounter some badgers en route… however this time we were greeted by a herd of stampeding cows! It certainly made some of the front runners get a move on as they were being chased, some interesting Strava personal records to be had ;-)
Conditions were so much better than last year, and actually quite favourable; however the course had been elongated for some unknown reason – meaning the uphill finish just kept on giving!
The day before was the Hampshire XC Championships, so a few of us had very heavy legs to run on, meaning the hilly course was not all that fun. 14 of our men, and 9 of our ladies all turned up to enjoy a sunny Sunday cross country.
I love the support you all give one another, some great pairings up around the course to help get through is totally what our club ethos is about, this league doesn't let us score as much as the RR10s so it's nice to be able to help others out.
Our ladies team all had very respectable finishes, and a special mention to Susan who finished top ten in 8th with her lowest position ever, and I believe our lowest ever finishing position for our first female home – well done! Also it’s really great to see Aisha make our A team, well done! :-D
|Susan Bryan||8 (season’s best)|
|Aisha Murphy||80 (season’s best)|
|Alana Jayne Williams||97|
|Kate Hart||101 (first appearance)|
We finished 10th on the day, and are currently sitting at 10th overall slipping behind Eastleigh so if we can overtake any, please do :-) Special mention to Susan for being our only lady to have run them all so far.
Our men’s A team finished 11th with Steve leading us in, sitting currently at 10th overall behind Hardley:
|Steve Williams||23 (season’s best)|
|Cameron Hewitt||45 (season’s best)|
|Tim Baker||80 (first appearance)|
|Simon Beer||86 (seasons best)|
|Daniel Lovell||95 (season’s best)|
|Jonathan Barnard||100 (Mr Consistent, finishing both races at 100!)|
Special mentions to Cam, Simon and Darren who continue to have 100% attendance records!
Big thanks yet again to Simon for the hot chocolate, Tim for the lamingtons, Sara for the chocolates, Hannah and Gil for results taking and also Gil for the photos.
- Cap’n Lana
Just a reminder that the new club membership year will commence on the 1st of April. If your membership includes England Athletics affiliation, before that date please can you log into the EA "myATHLETICS" portal website, and ensure that your contact details are correct.
By Alana Nairn
Photos thanks to Jamie Foster, Adam Ruddy and Dave Bray
On Sunday 27 January 25 plus Spitfires braved the windy conditions of the Romsey 5 Miles at Broadlands.
It has to be said that these 25 plus Spitfires also don't know how to look at a camera at the same time - I could have sworn I heard "it's like herding bubbles!"
The race organisers, Challenge Events, had one of the most "challenging" weeks due to issues with the posting of the race packs. I do believe they were up to contingency plan C at one point. Thank fully most of the packs started to land on our doorsteps on the Friday, big sighs of relief all round. But that wasn't the end of it! Due to the weather being frightful on Saturday night the Start line blew away! Luckily the timing mats were secure, as we know it's all about that chip time!
To say it was a cold morning was an understatement! There were many mutterings of "Why am I doing this? Why am I not in bed cosy and warm?" And the only replies were "We are mad and there is bling!"
So after all of that we finally crossed the "start line" and the sun made a blinding appearance especially heading into the first lap.
Romsey is a two lap-per with a run out and back and another half lap. The course is relatively flat with PB potential. However, on this occasion many found the windy conditions tough going as Broadlands is quite exposed. So big WELL DONE to those who did achieve a PB, including Jamie Foster who didn't even run!!
Massive shout outs to all who supported by taking photos and cheering us on like the loons that you are, especially in the freezing cold! Knowing that you were all there certainly made me pick my feet up at times! Hearing the Spitfires cheering you home is one of the best feelings in the world and really does make you feel like you belong to a great club.
After all the race course expletives were uttered and the medals proudly displayed around our necks a number of us headed for breakfast at the Luzborough House pub. We did not look dodgy at all sat in our cars waiting for the pub to open!! I think I spied a few extra sprints into the pub once we were allowed in, myself included, to get a warming drink. Thank you to Alana for organising the breakfast to celebrate her Birthday and also Kerry's. A fantastic way to debrief after the race and maybe it could become a Spitfire tradition…
Would we want to spend a Sunday any other way? Nah - Together As One.
By Alana Williams
Photos thanks to Alana Williams and Alex Garrod
Most people think of this one as ‘the one with the uphill finish’. I don’t know who thinks of these routes, but what a horrible finish it was! The day itself was pretty chilly, but all in all not too bad. We pitched up without too much hassle and wished Dan a happy birthday!
Both Hedge End and Lordshill had their end of season parties the night before, perhaps accounting for the slightly lower turnouts, and green faces! However that worked in our favour; let’s make sure our end of year next year doesn’t clash!
Finally we had mud; the downhills were epic fun slipping about.
Nine of our lovely ladies turned out to run with Susan, Gabby, Clare and Hannah leading us in as the A team. Hannah finally made her first appearance of the season with new trail shoes, better late than never for our VC and scores on the doors extraordinaire!
|Alana Jayne Williams||78|
We finished 7th on the day, and are still sitting in 10th overall – well done everyone :-)
Of our ladies that have run 4 races already, our current individual rankings are:
|40||Alana Jayne Williams|
Well done! We still have two races to go, so things can inevitably change but we’re in there :-)
A small but perfectly formed men’s contingent also did well finishing 11th on the day, and sitting also at 10th overall led home by Cam, Ruddy, Simon and Jonathan:
At the moment, our gents that are eligible for individual rankings are:
There are two races to go, so all placings could well change!
Big thanks to Ian for being our results man, team Ashton for the cheer squad, Hannah for processing and to Dan for the cakes. Ruddy abandoned us before taking the tent down and those of us who were left were useless so we succumbed to asking for help from Hedge End. I think we all need a crash course on how to do it!
Our next race is 17 February in Totton, see you all there.
- Cap’n Lana
Congratulations to everyone who got a new PB this month!
Heather Leeming is January's Spitfire of the Month. She runs in 'A' group, and is a supportive member of the group. Always with a smile and encouraging all. She is now helping the run leaders supporting the C25K runners.
When did you take up running & why?
I started running at last years C25K. I started because I wanted to be a Spitfire and the only way to do that was to run. I’d been working away from home for the previous 4 years but was back in Southampton and able to sign up.
How did you first hear about the Itchen Spitfires, and what made you want to join?
I knew about Itchen Spitfires through Paul and wanted to join because I could see what a positive difference it had made to his life, and wanted that for myself.
What’s the best thing you’ve gained from running?
The support and encouragement is unbelievable and I have made some good friends.
What’s you most memorable running moment?
Completing my graduation parkrun with the help of Julie Mills and Kerry Murray.
What’s your favourite bit of running kit?
At this time of the year, my Provis top. Be safe, be seen.
Click on the links below if you are interested in any of these events
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this month’s newsletter.