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50 not out

A landmark passed. Jerry Shield contemplates his first 50 marathons.

In September this year I clocked up my 50th marathon – or to be accurate, 50th marathon or Ultra – 43 marathons and 7 Ultras (i.e. longer than marathons).  Fittingly the 50th was the same as my first the New Forest Marathon (NFM). Even more fittingly, Andy who had run around a third of them with me, also made it his 50th. The race itself didn’t go totally to plan. I started too fast and then just hung on. But there was excellent support to keep us going from many WACers – Julie, Denise, Wendy, Guy, Big Paul, Stewart, Michele & Eddie, Clare & Charlotte, Craig, Claire, Nicky, Nick, Nigel & Dane, Norm & Barb were all there. Sorry – I am sure there were others I’ve missed. Finish time – 3:05:57 and I was extremely happy to find I was the third M40-44 Vet for which I got a very nice mug. Also running that day was Terry in his first ever marathon, Julie Gosling in her first for a number of years and Anthony who found that his injury picked up playing rounders the week before had definitely not gone away. After the race Andy and I were given a lovely card each, which had been signed by lots of WACers and we all had some delicious cake made by Nicki and a glass, well, plastic cup, of champagne. Thank you to everyone for being there to support us!

I started running back in 1995. Having moved out of London I was no longer regularly playing five-a-side football so I felt the need to do something to keep fit-ish. I needed a goal and as we lived in Brockenhurst at the time, the New Forest Half Marathon seemed like a local, and at the time, a little bit of a crazy goal. Thirteen miles – wow that’s a long way! I can still remember that it struck me as an awesome challenge and I was chuffed to pieces when I did it, with friends and family to witness it. I was quite happy with that. I did another half and several shorter runs but that was enough for me. I have no idea why, but two years later in 1997 I was competing in my first marathon – again the New Forest. We had moved to Wimborne in 1996 and I joined WAC in 1997 but only after I had been foolish enough to enter the NFM. I can still remember seeing Barb and friends and of course hearing the bells from that day. I wonder how many more times I have heard them? It would definitely not be true to say that I caught the bug from that point on. My Mum tells me that, like most runners it seems, I declared I would never do another one. She also delights in repeating a story of my daughter, Jessica, then only 6, asking her, ‘Why are all those people are walking?’ to which Grandma replied, ‘Because they’re tired’. And Jessica replied, ‘My Daddy wouldn’t walk’. Well I didn’t – not that day at least! I have since though. My time for my first marathon was 3:46 which I was perfectly happy with, thank you very much. Job done.

I didn’t feel the urge to indulge again until 1999 when I did my first London.  And I guess that’s when the bug slowly did grab me – the big city event. Thousands upon thousands of runners, all the excitement of going up for the weekend, the exhibition, the pre-race atmosphere – and of course, WAC on Birdcage Walk. My time was an improvement – 3:35 and the goal of going sub 3:30 was set.

Those two, my first two, are my slowest road marathons – with one exception: The epic NFM 2000. Six WAC runners started that day and only three of us finished. It was an absolute scorcher and boy, did we suffer. I crawled in at 44 seconds over 4 hours – and yes I did walk that day. In those days the NFM was a Dorset Road Race League event each year so it became one of my regular events.  So far I’ve done it nine times.

My other most frequent event is ‘the London’ which I have also done nine times. In 2001 I succeeded in going sub 3:30 – in fact I surpassed my wildest dreams and went straight to sub 3:20. The following year I managed 3:13, again at London, and that remained my PB for three years until 2005 when I went under 3:10 for the first time, again, at London.

2005 was when things changed pretty radically for me. Andy and I started dabbling in ultras! We started that year with Dartmoor Discovery and Marlborough Downs – both about 32/33 miles. I followed up with the Dorset Doddle, again about 32 miles before we went for the biggy – London to Brighton 54 miles, which I managed in just under 8 hours. Nowadays that’s just a mere training run to Andy, but it’s still the furthest I’ve ever been. The training for that was phenomenal. Each weekend we were doing long runs on Saturday and Sunday. A thousand miles in 20 weeks. And somehow, breaking every training guide you’ll ever read, it actually resulted in me getting a new PB and breaking 3 hours (by 8 seconds) in the NFM the weekend after back-to-back marathon-distance training runs – and picking up a Dorset Championship medal in the process.

In 2007 I had another season of ultras – doing Dartmoor Discovery, Marlborough Downs and the Doddle again. I’d like to do them all again but it’s finding the time! Dartmoor Discovery is on road. It includes running up and down 1 in 4 or 5 hills. It’s brilliantly organised and very, very hard! The two times we’ve done it we’ve combined it with a half-term camping trip with the Horsley clan and had a great time. Marlborough and the Dorset Doddle are both off road monsters. Both are nearer home, brilliant scenery, especially the Doddle, and you certainly know when you’ve done them. For our first trip to Marlborough it must have rained for five and a half of the six hours it took us to complete it!

Up until the start of 2009 – I managed another 6 sub 3:10 marathons but never repeated the sub 3. I was beginning to think it would never happen and with a few doubts put in my mind from county-course measurer and WACer Stewart that maybe the NFM had not been the full 26.2 miles I made a consolidated effort this year to try and reach those heady heights again. And it paid off. I’ve done five marathons this year and they make up five of my fastest 11 – including a new PB set at London this year in 2:55:12 and a week later at the North Dorset Village Marathon in 2:59:12. Who says you get slower when you get older?!

I’ve done several races that combine shorter events with the marathon event: Robin Hood, Taunton and Dartmoor Vale all have half marathons (the Dartmoor Vale also has a 10k) and the Duchy Marathon has a 20 mile event. These are strange events. The first lap always lulls you into a slightly too fast pace and the second lap tends to be quite lonely as the runners doing shorter distance disappear. I’ve done Robin Hood in Nottingham, home of the in-laws, twice. I really liked the course but neither time did I do as well as I was hoping. I’ve also done Taunton twice. The first time with Andy in 2004 when we decided it was not one to do again, although when I was looking around for an event at the right time this year it was the only one that fitted so I was back. On the first lap round I thought this isn’t as bad as I remember but on the second lap all those undulations become major hills. The Dartmoor Vale Marathon which, considering it’s in the Dartmoor area, isn’t as bad as you might think, is held at Newton Abbot race course in October. Andy and I went there in 2006 during a four marathons in six week spree and I would recommend it. I did the Duchy Marathon for the first time this year – on my birthday. In appalling weather I had a fantastic race and came home third male, first Vet, and bringing home a pile of trophies so I obviously have positive feelings about that one.

Fourteen of my marathons – and four of the ultras have been off-road. In many ways I think that despite the fact they are always harder courses, the off-road routes are more enjoyable as I don’t get hung-up on times and just run to enjoy it. They always have a friendlier atmosphere to them as well. The Neolithic, Salisbury 54321 and Beachy Head, I have all run three times – never in particularly fast times and I’ve also done the Clarendon five times. Of the off-road ones I’d say that Beachy Head is the best, but also the hardest. Three attempts and only once under the 4 hour mark. You run a very scenic 20 mile loop and then the last 10k consists of running the Seven Sisters! The Clarendon is one of my favourites. The first time, with Ian, was my first, albeit unofficial, ultra, as we got lost and added four miles or so. It involves running from Winchester to Salisbury or more recently the other way. Like some of the road events it combines other events – a half marathon and a 4-stage relay. However in this case being combined with the half is rather different as the half marathoners run the second half of the route and set off 90 minutes after the marathoners – meaning that you end seeing quite a few and that the last half of the race is less lonely than it would have been. The Neolithic does something similar but I don’t recall seeing any half marathoners – although you do see plenty of walkers. It’s another point-to-point race, in this case from Avebury to Stonehenge. I absolutely love the first half of the Neolithic – but the second half, over Salisbury Plain, is rather boring and unfortunately that’s the half that the half-marathon route is over.

What does that leave? Isle of Wight, which is probably the hardest road marathon I’ve done.  I’ve done that one twice, first time as part of a mini-break on the Island and the second time as a quick day trip. It’s very hilly and there aren’t many runners so it can be lonely. It’s also the cheapest. They were still only charging £8 this year! Two of the most fun weekends have to be the two WAC trips to Dublin in 2003 and 2007. Cheap flights from Bournemouth, a weekend away with friends, big race atmosphere and a good, fast-ish course. The evening after with excellent music and, obviously, the well-earned Guinnesses are an absolute treat. The first time we did it I thought the organisation was a bit lacking. We were stuck in a little side road when the gun went off! But the second time we did it they seemed to have that all sorted. Which, I think, just leaves the North Dorset Village marathon which only started up this year. I had a great run. The first 15 miles Anthony kept me company until he contrived to get lost! It was an excellent course – 100% the opposite of the London the week before as they only had 100 runners competing and I loved it – I’ve already entered for next year.



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