On your marks! Berkhamsted gears up for the Half Marathon bonanza

Runners are limbering up for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon & Fun Run. Picture (c) Gary Mitchell
Runners are limbering up for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon & Fun Run. Picture (c) Gary Mitchell

What do you get when you bring together more than 1,500 runners, 200 volunteers, six water stations, 9,000 cups of water, 200 road signs, and 30 portaloos and around 1,750 bananas?

You get, without any doubt, the makings of Dacorum’s biggest annual mass participation event – the Berkhamsted Half Marathon and Five Mile Fun Run, which will get underway on Sunday at 10am from the start line at Berkhamsted Cricket Club.

Runners are limbering up for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon & Fun Run. Picture (c) Gary Mitchell

Runners are limbering up for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon & Fun Run. Picture (c) Gary Mitchell

Organised since 1982 by the Rotary Club of Berkhamsted Bulbourne, the Berkhamsted races are a key fixture in the winter racing calendar for serious club athletes, many of whom are gunning for a spring marathon in London or elsewhere.

But the event is also a enthusiastic gathering of runners of all shapes, sizes, ages, ability and experience.

Children and young people take part in the Fun Run to compete for their school as part of the Schools Challenge, which awards £250 each to the school with the four fastest boys and four fastest girls.

Others take on the challenge of the half marathon or the five miler to hit a new personal best, and often to raise money for charity; one local running club, Dacorum & Tring AC, has named the half marathon as its annual club championship over the distance, and will have at least 60 members lining up to compete for club medals.

The Inner Wheel ladies work tirelessly throughout the day. Picture (c) David Brown

The Inner Wheel ladies work tirelessly throughout the day. Picture (c) David Brown

The fundraising element is central to the Rotary Club’s efforts: over more than 30 years of organising the event, more than £250,000 has been raised for local charities.

This year, some £20,000 will be brought in through the race for the Pepper Foundation, the Hospice of St Francis and other local charities.

To assist in the fundraising effort, the Rotary Club is ably supported on the day by volunteers from the Berkhamsted inner Wheel, the Rotary Club of Hemel Hempstead, the Pepper Foundation, the Hospice of St Francis, the Lions club, the 41 Club, Potten End Villagers, Friends of Rotary Raiders, and Air Training Corp (ATC) Officers and Cadets.

Some 1,500 runners are expected to toe the line on the day. The keenest half marathoners will vie for the £100 top prize for first lady and first man across the line, with vouchers prizes for the remaining podium spots, the top male and female veteran finishers and the top three male and female finishers in the Fun Run.

A team shield is up for grabs for the top men’s and ladies’ teams in the half marathon, and trophies will be awarded for the top junior and senior schools.

Every finisher will receive the brand-new bespoke medal; a handsome piece reflecting the history of Berkhamsted and featuring the old castle, which was built in the 11th century.

And taking into consideration all the mums who lace up for either of the races – which this year fall on Mothers Day – there will be four prizes, comprising a sports massage, physiotherapy, personal training or pilates session, donated by Emma James Physio of Hemel Hempstead and awarded to four lucky ladies on the day.

> Course Records

Half marathon - Men: Paul Farmer, Ampthill & Flitwick Flyers - 1h.10.19 (2002); Women: Nicola Sykes, Bournville Harriers - 1.20.18 (2014)

Five Mile Fun Run - Men: Matt Salt, Dacorum & Tring AC - 26.23; Women: Ruth Bourne, Tonbridge - 30.38 (2012).

> EVENT SPONSORS: SA Law, Knight Frank, S. Dell and Sons Ltd., Tuskar Construction Services Ltd., VAH (DIY) Supplies, Gil-lec Electrical wholesalers, OnSite Maintenance Ltd., SPV Special Projects Ltd, GPS Document Management, Robertson Associate, FFEI, Berkhamsted Sports, Charmac Ltd, Specialist Building Contractors, Complete Outdoors, Sole Electrical Services, BP Sanders, Jamvan.

And what news of our group of local runners who we have been following each week for the past two months as they train for the Berkhamsted Half?

Well, the group of eight has posted another casualty: Niamh, was targeting a PB of sub-1.35 in her second run at Berkhamsted, but has sustained a calf tear which will keep her away from the start line.

She said she is “truly gutted”, as she wanted to re-visit the Berko course after a long break from the 13.1-mile distance, but has her sights set on next year’s event.

Both Kelly and Alexis are looking forward to the challenge of the five mile Fun Run after realising the longer distance wasn’t achievable following several weeks of injury and illness.

Jamie, who was looking for a top-10 finish and a sub-1h18 time, has been felled by pain in the arch of his foot and has put a halt to his training in the hope that he’ll recover by the weekend.

Richard has been having lower-back pain issues which he believes could hamper his chances of a sub-1h30 finish.

On the upside, the three remaining members of the group, Samantha, Jim and Rob, are in fine form, and only have to contend with rising nerves as race day draws closer.

Sam says that she is “the most nervous I’ve ever been before a race, putting pressure on myself to get the time I want but I’ve followed my plan and my legs are ready – I just need to convince my head of that and have confidence in the work I’ve done.”

Jim commented that “the last long run is done now and my nerves are really kicking in. I’m putting a lot of pressure on getting my time target but as its my first half I think I just need to remember that getting round is an achievement in itself.

“If I’m sensible and everything comes together on the day then the time target should be achievable.”

Coach Rob said that it was “unfortunate” that the group had suffered more than its fair share of injuries. “Injuries are part and parcel of training and racing, and runners walk a fine balance between being in top condition and being ill or injured.”

Niamh will be back running soon, he said. “Im sure she’ll run some fast times later in the year. The others who have suffered with injury and have had their preparation interrupted will need to re-adjust their targets to allow for the problems they’ve faced.”

“As for Rob, Samantha and Jim, they have been fortunate to avoid injury and illness, and have prepared well.

“Now all that remains is to fine-tune the training with some relatively light sessions where the focus is on quality over quantity.

“Then it will be a case of ensuring they are well-rested for race day and decided on a race plan.

“The Berkhamsted Half is a tough course which makes pacing difficult due to the number of hills.

“The key to fast times is to try and run evenly paced throughout the race, so their plans should reflect that, particularly at the start where sometimes runners can get carried away with the excitement and go too fast early on – which has a detrimental effect on performance later in the race.”

There is still time to sign up for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon and Five Mile Fun Run (incorporating the Schools Challenge): visit www.berkorun.com to enter.