Welcome to the second part of the 2017 Atters Goes Running Awards. Yes, I’ve split it into two parts because, like all award ceremonies, it’s all gone on a little bit too long. Don’t know why. I can’t even blame drunken guests making overly long acceptance speeches.
Anyway, enough of that. Let’s carry on with the awards. And, if you missed the first part, you can read it here.
Best opponents: Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth (Toro Dash 10k, Fort Worth, Texas, November 4)
Surreal moment: discovering, while queueing for a portable toilet, that I’m going to be racing against NASCAR drivers in a 10k race. Even more surreal moment: realising that I run a 10k at roughly their pace…
Best start location: Oxford Street, Swansea (Swansea Half Marathon, June 25)
There’s always something cool about a city centre start, and the start line for the Swansea Half Marathon nailed it. It was held on Oxford Street, which might not rival the one in London for huge shops, but is one of the town’s main thoroughfares and is within a few hundred metres of Swansea Castle, which the route goes right past after a short loop through the streets.
It was also a boon for Swansea’s cafes and restaurants, which were doing a roaring trade at an unsociable hour of a Sunday morning (the McDonalds had to stop serving every other than simple black and white coffee, because their machines couldn’t cranky out frothy coffees fast enough…). Well, all except for Swansea’s Starbucks, which had an enviable location right next to the start arch, but seemed to be the only cafe that didn’t think to open early to cash in on the rush of runners to the area. Amusingly, the girl in Starbucks readying chairs for the normal opening hour looked very confused by the kerfuffle going on outside the front door…
Also nominated: Franklin St, Houston (Houston Marathon, Houston, Texas, January 15). This might well have won on downtown location, but it lost out since starting alongside the town’s courthouse also meant runners gathering beside the neon lights of various bail bond offices. How glam. Still, the downtown image would improve 26.2 miles later…
Best finish location: Discovery Green, Houston (Houston Marathon, Houston, Texas, January 15)
Utterly perfect. A scenic part of downtown Houston, with a green park able to provide some relief from the massive city skyscrapers. A street wide enough for two separates races (the marathon and half marathon) to finish alongside each other, and still leave room for plenty of crowds on both sides of the road. And a finish line within wobbly hobbling distance of the air-conditioned relief of the Houston Convention Centre. And a finish on a flat road with nothing but a mild kink as you approach the line.
Scenic, crowd-friendly, runner-friendly and flat. We like very much.
Best finish location (non-Houston Marathon edition): Kingston-upon-Thames market square, Lidl Kingston Breakfast Run (March 26)
Like many runs based in Kingston-upon-Thames, the Lidl Kingston Breakfast Run starts early (there’s a clue in the title) largely to minimise the impact of having a major race take over a huge part of the town’s scenic market square. It’s worth the early start for the pleasure of finishing in such pleasant surrounding – and with so many cafes and restaurants nearby for the all-important post-run dining.
Strangest venue: The future site of Shinfield Meadows housing development, Shinfield 10k (Shinfield, Berkshire, May 1)
The Shinfield 10k is a long-established race in a town near Reading. And that town is going to get a lot bigger soon, with a huge housing development taking place nearby – right where the 10k route has long run. And still does, thanks to a fenced-in path that led through the bast expanse of cleared land which, one day, will quite literally all be houses.
The ‘So Near And Yet…’ award: Chichester 10k (Goodwood Racing Circuit, February 5)
The long-running Chichester 10k moved to nearby Goodwood Racing Circuit this year, giving me another excuse to run around a racing circuit. And, in theory, it was a brilliant move.
The event started just outside the racing circuit, with around 7k on nearby roads before finishing with a lap of the track. It was a great combination of road and race circuit running. With just one catch: the organisers, and the team from Goodwood Estate, seemed to underestimate how many people would turn up by car. And so, not long before the race was due to start, cars were still piling in the entrance. Which was a problem, because the start was located on the road at the circuit entrance.
Cue a lengthy delay, and much kerfuffle. Which was a real shame, because it should have been brilliant. And hopefully, with lessons learned, it will be in 2018. I’ll be back there. Just hope the traffic chaos won’t be…
Best post-race goody bag: Lidl Kingston Breakfast Run (Kingston-upon-Thames, March 26)
The folks at Lidl sure know how to pack a goody bag with, erm, goodies. From a big bag to muesli to all sorts of nuts and cleaning products, it was a wonderfully hefty haul.
Best post-race non-goody bag: Royal Parks Half Marathon (London, October 8)
In a bid to cut down on wastage, the organisers of the Royal Parks Half Marathon didn’t give every runner a goody bag stuffed with, erm, goodies. Instead, every runner was given an empty plastic bag and then directed to a tent where they could, apparently, select their own goodies.
Great idea, except the wonderfully efficient and friendly staff basically encouraged everyone to hold their bags open while they put one of everything in…
Best finisher’s shirt: Simply Health Great Bristol Half Marathon (Bristol, September 17)
The Simply Health Great Bristol Half Marathon is run by Great Run, the company behind such events as the Great North Run and, er Great South Run. You get the idea: they organise runs. And they’re great (or grrrrr-eat, to quote Tony the Tiger).
Anyway, in 2016 the finisher’s shirts offered for Great Run events were largely standardised designs across all the events, with one basic design that only varied by shirt colour and event details. All a bit meh.
But this year, the Bristol Half Marathon shirts featured some gert lush local colour, with a proper job mint picture by a local Brizzle artist (if you have to ask…). The shirt, designed by Alex Lucas on behalf of Bristol’s Affordable Art Fair, feature a big bear jumping over the Bristol Suspension Bridge. As well as being a great design, it was packed with local meaning and landmarks. Great effort.
Best medal: Houston Marathon (Houston, Texas, January 15)
Come on: it’s big, shiny, chunky and has the skyline of Houston carved out of it. It’s the sort of big hunk of metal you deserve to get after a 26.2-mile run…
Best medal (non-Houston Marathon edition): Royal Parks Half Marathon (London, October 8)
Lots of contenders for this award. Tempting to give it to my class-winning medal from the Run Houston! Sam Houston Race Park 10k, but since this category is really designed purely to compare finishers’ medals I decided not to include it.
Still, that left plenty of shiny medal to pick from. There was a gratifyingly chunky medal for the Swansea Half Marathon (which is now the only medal I haven’t kept, since I gave it to my 90-year-old Nan who lives there). The Great Run Bristol Half Marathon medal was also nicely region-specific. Then there was the Captain America logo-inspired Thruxton 10k medal, which was designed to fit the event’s (odd) superhero theme.
But, ultimately, the most refreshing medal of the year was one not made from metal: it was the wooden leaf-shaped one for the Royal Parks Half Marathon. It’s partly a statement of the run’s green credentials, and it really works. It’s stylish and different, without feeling gimmicky.
Best series of medals: Yateley 10k Series (Yateley, Hampshire, June-August)
This was genius stuff. The Yateley 10k Series features three mid-week evening races on the same course, held once a month. Previously, they’ve all featured the same medal each event. But this time, the three medals were all different. And, when you looked carefully, featured a variety of notches and holes that allowed them to be combined. A great reward for those who managed to do all three events – especially as this was the first year I managed to do all three events…
Okay then, time for the big one. Well, big two. And, as with last year’s awards, I’ll do them in reverse order, even though it will destroy any doubt about the final winner.
Race of the year (non-Houston Marathon edition): Swansea Half Marathon (Swansea, June 25)
In truth, picking a race of the year in a near-impossible task. How do you compare a big city half-marathon with a small 10k organised by a tiny running club? I don’t know. And yet that’s the task I appear to have set myself. Clearly, I’m an idiot.
Ultimately, then, it comes down to enjoyment and fun factor. Certainly, the immense challenge of the steep hills and part-trail route of the Godalming Run made it stick in the memory, even if the sheer leg ache probably moved it a bit too far towards pain for it to win.
Then the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon was a memorable way to experience London, but lost a few points because the epic landmark-packed closed-road first half slightly overshadowed the second half that looped the footpaths of Hyde Park.
I considered the Toro Dash 10k, but ultimately realised that it was the novelty of racing NASCAR drivers that made that event special – the fact I overshot a turn because it wasn’t well marked definitely hurts. Then there was the Cabbage Patch 10, which took this award last year – and everything good about it in 2016 applied just as much in 2017.
Ultimately, though, the event that sticks in the memory most this year for me was the Swansea Half Marathon. It wasn’t perfect – the portaloo queues before the start were quite something – but it was definitely memorable for me, as a chance to see more of a city I have family roots in but hadn’t really visited for years. The course was good too, with some nice coastal views (and thankfully not to much coastal breeze on the day). And, overall, it was a good balance of big event vibe without too much logistical hassle.
Race of the year: Chevron Houston Marathon (Houston, Texas, January 15)
Oh, come on. As with the London Marathon in 2016, there’s just something intrinsically special about running a marathon, especially a big city one packed with amazing experiences.
Better still, unlike in London 2016, I was able to run Houston in the style I wanted, with nary a brief brush with The Wall and a much-improved time. Second time really is a charm, and all that.
Plus, in truth, I enjoyed Houston far more than London. The slightly smaller race, and the experience that comes with having done a marathon previously, meant I found it all more enjoyable and less overwhelming than London.
I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that before I’d crossed the finish line I’d decided I wanted to do it again. Hmmm, the 2018 Houston Marathon takes place on Sunday January 14. Now then…
Watch this space. Etc.
It’s that weird post-Christmas period, and it’s nearly the end of the year. Which means that newspapers, magazines, TV schedules, websites and other such things are stuffed with end-of-year reviews and awards. So why be any different?
In other words, following the success of the inaugural Atters Goes Running Awards last year (by success, I mean I enjoyed writing them, and nobody complained bitterly), they’ve returned for a second year.
Naturally, being a hugely prestigious awards ceremony there are strict criteria that must be followed. Which, in this case, involves me thinking up all the categories and deciding all the winners from the somewhat random assortment of races I’ve taken part in this year.
Oh, and while this is an awards ceremony there are, of course, no actual real awards, trophies, trinkets, medals or the like. The warm glow of mild satisfaction that some bloke you don’t know who competed on your event enjoyed it is all the reward you need, surely.
Right, with all that said, let’s begin handing out (non-existent) trophies. Some now; more, including the hugely prestigious race of the year prize, later.
The big shiny medal result of the year: First in class, Run Houston! Sam Houston Race Park 10k (Harris County, Texas, January 1)
Yes, in terms of outright results I essentially peaked on the first day of this year. I entered the slightly awkwardly titled Run Houston! Sam Houston Race Park 10k as a) something to do on New Year’s Day and b) as part of my final warm-ups for the Houston Marathon. Getting a result was a bonus – and finishing eighth overall in 40m02s was certainly a moral boosting result for a final training run.
Except it turned out to be better than that: I also scored my first-ever class win, finishing 1m 12s clear of my nearest rivals in the Males 35-39 category. A win! A class win! I even got a chunkily massive class winners medal and everything.
Of course, my path to a class win was helped by the fact that US races feature a lot more age-based classes than most UK ones. But let’s not let faces get in the way of a big, shiny class winners medal. Honestly, I never thought I’d be capable of such things.
I did repeat my class-winning feat in another race in Texas, the Toro Dash 10k, later in the year. But it doesn’t score as highly since my run time was slower and the class-winning medal was smaller…
Also nominated: First in class, Toro Dash 10k (Fort Worth, Texas, November 4); Second overall, Osterley Parkrun 205 (Osterley, London, August 26); Third in class, Trinity 5000 Summer Series Week Nine (Fort Worth, Texas, July 27)
Best-organised race: Chevron Houston Marathon (Houston, Texas, January 15)
Last year I gave my best-organised race award to the London Marathon, largely for how well they coped with the logistics of 40,000 or so runners and a start and finish in different locations. The Houston Marathon organisation impressed me just as much, but for almost entirely different reasons.
Houston can’t match London in terms of numbers, but does have the complexity of also having a half-marathon starting at the same time and following the same route for the five seven miles or so. How the organisers coped with the split was really clever, especially the brilliant finish that featured the two races run alongside each other on a divided street.
The Houston Marathon also featured the start and finish in virtually the same place, allowing the use of the Houston Convention Centre as a single race base. And they made brilliant use of it, from the well-organised expo to the busy but never overly crowded finish area.
The organisers also did a good job of ensuring there was entertainment out on the course, and enthusiastic volunteers at any parts of the course where there wouldn’t be any spectators. Nice job.
Best-organised race (non-Houston Marathon edition): Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon (London, October 8)
The Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon might ‘only’ be a half marathon, but the organisation rivals any big-city marathon – which it kind of has to, given it involves closing a good bunch of roads in central London for a morning. As I noted after doing it, the clever course design means you arguably get to see more London landmarks than you do on the more famous race that’s twice the length…
Also nominated (cliche alert…): the organisers of every race, parkrun and similar group event. Even when a race has frustrating organisational flaws (troubled car parking, not enough toilets, etc), it’s important to remember that most races are organised by volunteers. We couldn’t go running without them.
Toughest uphill: Pretty much any uphill stretch of the Godalming Run (Godalming, Surrey, May 14)
Competitive category, this. Last year’s winner, the big hill in the middle of the Treggy 7, put in a strong bid for back-to-back trophies, particularly with this year’s event taking place in heavy rain. And there were some nasty off-camber uphill hairpin turns on the Hogs Back Road Race. Oh, and it’s not eligible since it wasn’t actually a race, but I can’t forget the lunacy of the massive hill on the Lone Star Walking and Running shop’s group run route (pictured below).
But honours go to the Godalming Run, largely because it features both trail and on-road elements. And, whatever surface you’re running on, very little of it is flat. An early climb up to a private school on a rough, slippery, tree root-lined dirt trail was so tough you could only laugh. Yup, laugh – and if something is so tough it’s funny, it’s definitely worthy of an award.
Then, late in the race, there was a huge uphill on a road. The fact that you were running on Tarmac wasn’t really much of a help on a brutally short, sharp climb featuring around 40 metres of elevation.
Of course, what goes up…
Toughest downhill: Pretty much any downhill stretch of the Godalming Run (Godalming, Surrey, May 14)
The rollercoaster descent from the highest point of the Godalming Run took place on similar rough, slippery, tree root-lined dirt trails as the ascent. They definitely weren’t the sort of downhill when you can get your breath back and relax after a tough climb. You didn’t so much run downhill as try to keep your momentum in check and attempt to miss the tree roots.
Quite proudly, the Godalming Run was the slowest 10k race I’ve ever done – but probably one of my best results given the effort involved.
That’s it for part one. Check back soon for more awards…
A week or so back I took part in my final race of the year, the Richmond Park 10k. And last weekend I tackled what is very likely to be my final parkrun of the year. Which kinda makes this the end of my 2016 running season.
Erm, not that I’m going to stop running between now and December 31. Quite the opposite. The Houston Marathon is less than four weeks away (eek!) – so I’ve got a good chunk of training mileage to go. But that’s effectively prep work for my first planned outing of 2017.
Still, it seemed a good excuse to do what everyone else does at this time of year – look back at the year and hand out some awards. Although when I say ‘hand out’, I mean that only in a metaphorical sense. Clearly, I’m not giving out any actual trophies or awards. What I’m handing out is some recognition, awarded entirely arbitrarily on my own whims among the 19 races I tackled this year.
So no trophies. But hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?
So, without further ado, metaphorically don your tuxedos, sit down, quaff champagne and settle back for the inaugural Atters Goes Running Awards 2016. Ooooh, aaaaah, etc.
The ‘blimey, I’m on the podium’ finish of the year: Luke’s Locker Run The Woodlands 5k (The Woodlands, Texas, August 27)
Okay, this gets the nod since it was the only time I’ve ever claimed a top three finish in a race. And given it was a friendly, $1 entry fortnightly event, it’s not like I was competing against a world-class, highly motivated field. Still, a podium’s a podium, right?
Let’s just not mention how I ran in second for most of the race before being outsprinted in the final 100 metres. I consoled myself that I only dropped the spot because as a Brit I was disadvantaged in the Texan humidity – until I learned the person who beat me was also from the UK…
Also nominated: Erm…
Best organised race: London Marathon (London, April 24)
Given this is one of the biggest races in the world, it’s hardly surprising it’s superbly well organised. But it’s not until you see it up-close and first-hand that you really appreciate just what a great job the London Marathon team do to ensure virtually every one of the 40,000 or so runners feels cared for and looked after.
Aside from the cheery, supportive and enthusiastic marshals and volunteers, the best example was this: before the start I handed my bag in to my assigned bag drop – one of nine lorries in my start zone in Greenwich. Around four hours and 26.2 miles later, I was staggering down The Mall past a big group of lorries. By the time I was within 20 feet of ‘mine’, a volunteer had spotted my number, found my bag and was holding it out for me.
Best organised race (non-London Marathon edition): Cabbage Patch 10 (Twickenham, October 16)
Exclude the London Marathon and picking a winner is really tough. Most running events in the UK are organised by volunteers from clubs, who put in hours of painstaking work and effort to make them happen.
I’ll narrowly give the nod to the team from the Cabbage Patch 10 (organised by the Stragglers and BeaRCat running clubs). Despite a year off from running the event, it went faultlessly, despite a difficult start that effectively involved stopping the traffic in Twickenham town centre, and a open road course that required plenty of traffic control.
Also nominated: the volunteer organisers of pretty much every race, ever.
Strangest venue: East Malling Research Station (Larkfield 10k – East Malling, Kent, May 8)
East Malling Research Station is almost certainly somewhere I’d never have been if it wasn’t for running. It’s an agricultural research station in the Kent countryside. Unusual, sure, but a good place to have a 10k race. Plenty of parking, and lovely countryside.
Still, running past Sainsbury’s experimental pear orchard was certainly odd.
Toughest uphill: rise out of the Embankment underpass (London Marathon – London, April 24)
The Embankment? A tough hill? Really?
Yes. Yes indeed. Okay, I doubt the total vertical climbing involved in a short uphill section on the Embankment reached double figures in metres. Most days, it probably wouldn’t feel like a slope. But in the 24th mile of a marathon, when exhaustion was setting in and my legs achieved the seemingly impossible state of simultaneously feeling as wobbly as a jelly and as heavy as lead weights… in those conditions, it was tough.
It wasn’t just a small rise. It was a mountain.
Toughest uphill (non-London Marathon edition): the climb to Tregadillett (Treggy 7 – Launceston, September 4)
This hill shouldn’t have been a surprise. I was warned about it. Heck, my mate Matt had been bugging me to head to Cornwall for the Treggy 7 since I’d taken up running, specifically for the challenge of taking on the hill.
And what a hill. After a largely downhill run out of the town of Launceston into the Cornish countryside, the course suddenly turns sharply left – and starts to go up. And up. And then up some more.
It is brutal: something approach 85 metres of climbing in little more than a kilometre, on a tight, twisting road with little false flat to provide any relief. Somehow I ran the whole thing. Although run was a relative term – by the end my effort at running was so ungainly, it may have been quicker to walk…
Toughest downhill: Ware Park Road (Ware 10 – Ware, July 10)
Running downhill? That’s easy, isn’t it? Not really.
Not when the downhill is particularly steep.
Not when the road has several sharp turns in it.
Not when the road is slippery underfoot.
Not when there are unmarked speedbumps right after a tight turn.
The downhill section of the Ware 10 had all of those things in one tight, twisty descent. It was fun, but utterly nerve-wracking.
Tedious running gag of the year: Ware/where (Ware 10 – Ware, July 10)
Running gag of the year? See what I did there?
I did a race in Ware. Where? Yes, Ware. But where? Ware, that’s where. Sorry, where? Yes, Ware.
Repeat ad infinitum.
If you can bear it, you can read a full drawn-out version of Ware/where obfuscation here.
Best start location: Greenwich Park (London Marathon – London, April 24)
The perfect place to start a big marathon: plenty of space so it never felt crowded, lots of drinks, and lots and lots and lots of portable toilets. And a huge, wide road for the pre-start holding area, along with a big wide road for the first section of the race.
Best start location (non-London Marathon edition): National pit straight, Silverstone (Silverstone 10k, May 4)
What’s not to love about starting a race on the start/finish line of Britain’s biggest race circuit?
This gets the nod for the excitement. The fact the wide track just helps accommodate the thousands of runners only adds to the genius of the location.
Best finish location: The Mall (London Marathon – London, April 24)
Come on, it’s The Mall! It’s in central London! It’s in front of Buckingham Palace! It had grandstands!
Yes, it’s a predictable pick, but still.
Best finish location (non-London Marathon edition): Sam Houston Park, downtown Houston (Houston Half Marathon – Houston, October 30)
This one’s also kinda predictable, but for a person used to running in little old Britain, finishing under the shadow of Houston’s downtown skyscrapers was a real thrill. Plus, the park was a perfect place for the post-race party and free taco stand.
Best post-race free Mexican food: Houston Half Marathon (Houston, October 30)
Okay, this was the only race of the year I did that offered free Mexican food at the finish, courtesy of the lovely people at Taco Cabana. All I had to do was redeem the free taco ticket on my race number.
One small point of order though… it may have been a free taco ticket, but the choice was actually from a range of burritos. Not that I’m complaining: they were proper tasty after a 13.1-mile run…
Best post-race baked goods: Ware 10 (Ware, July 10)
Take a race, and stick The Great British Bake-Off at the end of it. That’s what the organisers of the Ware 10 did, with volunteers cooking up all manner of cakes which were sold to runners and spectators at the finish. And the choice was simply incredible. The hardest part was choosing…
Strangest finisher’s goody bag contents: The Treggy 7 (Launceston, Cornwall, September 4)
The Treggy 7 was sponsored by Ambrosia, so I guess the inclusion of pots of rice pudding and custard in the post-race perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise. But when you compare it to the pile of bananas and chocolate bars most races proffer, it was an odd but welcome change. Bonus points to the event for also handing out thermal travel mugs instead of medals.
Best medal of the year: London Marathon – London, April 24
Yup, utterly predictable. Other medals may be funnier, shinier and bigger, but there’s no other medal I’m as proud of. And likely never will be.
Best medal of the year (non-London Marathon edition): Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon – Hampton Court, March 20
It was big, shiny and featured a cartoon King Henry VIII doing a Usain Bolt impression. Genius.
Also nominated: Houston Half Marathon (a seasonally appropriate sparkly halloween pumpkin with the outline of Texas in its eyes).
And, finally, it’s time for the big one…
Race of the year
Woah, woah, woah. Just hang on a moment. This is probably going to be a bit predictable, so let’s do this in reverse. You know, to build the tension or something.
Race of the year (non-London Marathon edition): Cabbage Patch 10 (Twickenham, October 16)
Maybe I’m a bit biased towards any run that starts near the office I work, passes right by my house and is rooted in the roads I train on every day. But the Cabbage Patch 10 was a simply brilliant club event.
It had the wonderful vibe of a club-level run put on by enthusiasts, yet mixed with a big event feel that befits the race’s long history. Simply great fun.
Also nominated: Houston Half Marathon, Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon, Treggy 7
Race of the year: London Marathon