The Oakley 20 Mile race on 23 March was the latest entry in the LBAC running diary, with an impressive nine runners from the club making the trek to the far reaches of north Bedfordshire. The event is staged by Bedford Harriers and also doubles as the Bedfordshire 20 Mile County Championship.
Oakley's reputation precedes it – at least, the famous hoodie for all entrants does. Although this year's choice of white wasn't overly well received from the practicality brigade!
With last year's event cancelled due to snow, runners were greeted with a mostly clear day with a fairly strong breeze that gradually whisked away any chance of rain. The logistics of filtering 1000 runners through the Lincroft Middle School hall meant that the race started five minutes late, with the stampede down the opening straight getting underway at 10:05.
A cursory glance at the entrants list is always a bit of a red herring in terms of predicting finishing times, because many of the runners in this event do it as a final fast "training" run before London or the various other spring marathons dotted around Europe. Or at least they claim to until the gun goes off and white line fever kicks in. In any event, the undulating and sometimes hilly course around quiet country lanes is still a demanding prospect. With the exception of miles 2, 12, and 20 which are relatively flat, the route is constantly undulating with longer climbs at mile 3 and 7.
The course takes runners out of Oakley and on a 12 mile loop that returns to the school, with runners then heading back out for a slightly different second loop of 8 miles. This design means that faster runners overtake slower runners, which was notable for the amount of encouragement that was exchanged between runners. It gave the race a really good atmosphere and no doubt contributed to many people exceeding their own expectations. After all, as Kate Johnson will testify, every second certainly does count!
At the front of the field, four runners set off at a blistering pace on their way to finishing the course in just shy of two hours.
As for the fortunes of LBAC, unfortunately Amy Inchley made the (correct I am sure) decision to succumb to a niggling chesty cough and abort her race after about 8 miles. No doubt hindsight will show that she made the right call, and luckily for Amy her family were on hand to provide medicinal champagne and hot tea!
As for the rest of the ladies team, Helen Crossland ran solidly to finish in 3:55. And special mention must go to two of the club's newest members, Nikki Elvin and Kate Johnson, who have stepped up their distances enormously over the past six months. Kate ran a 20 miler just one week prior to the race and was worried she wouldn't finish inside the four hour cut off. However, despite having run so far the previous week, her fears were laid to rest as she paced her race perfectly to cross the line in 3:59:57. And Nikki, whose longest run in her whole life was a 16 mile trail run in the Lake District six months ago, comfortably completed the course in 3:17. However, given that she ran the last mile in 8 minutes, put in a sprint finished and smiled most of the way around, suggests that next time she will be running a little quicker now that she knows the distance.
Glen Turner was the first Buzzard home in 2:02 to finish 8th overall and take 2nd in the Bedfordshire championships, followed shortly after by the ever present Chris Norman (21st) and Andy Inchley (22nd) who both had storming runs to stop the clock at 2:10. With the teams event taking into account the first three runners from each club, this was good enough to give LBAC the men's overall team prize.
Andy's performance was even more impressive given that he only decided to run at the last moment, following Pete Mackrell picking up an injury in the lead up to the race. Andy was also the first finisher at MK parkrun the previous day in 17:40, so at least some of that run would have still been in his legs.
Simon Coombes was next home, clocking 2:12 on what was very much a training session for him. Nonetheless, he was still quick enough to finish 26th overall and pick up a trophy for first Bedfordshire Male Vet 40. Another Beds Male Vet 40 to accompany the others on his mantelpiece.
Not to be outdone, Fred Watt put in a stomping performance to finish in 2:52, which was good enough to claim the medal for first Bedfordshire Male Vet 65.
All in all it was another excellent performance from LBAC, with a great team result and some notable individual performances.