By Doug Alsop
28 March 2016
In March 1986 I ran my first race, the Fleet half Marathon. With 2016 being the 30th anniversary I returned to do it again and meet some old friends. In 1985, the Fleet Half Marathon had been running for 5 years. 4000 competitors were passing within 400 metres of our house and I didn’t even have the inclination to go and watch. Then, that summer, standing round a barrel at a garden party, the dads in our street decided it would be a laugh to run it next year. I had dismissed this pledge as “Real Ale bravado” until in the autumn, Martin phoned to say “training starts next Tuesday night”.
I purchased a pair of “Hi Tech” trainers and on Tuesday night Martin was knocking on the front door. “Where are all the others” I asked? Martin gave a catalogue of excuses but ultimately it was down to the two of us to fulfil the pledge.
We set off jogging into the town. I doubt we had managed a mile before we were hanging out of a lamp post gasping for breath and feeling sick. This was October and we had to get up to 13 miles by March, the reality hit us, this wasn’t going to be a stroll in the park. We continued jogging for a few weeks then Martin developed chronic back pain. A trip to the doctors confirmed that running was no good for him and he was advised to stop. By this time I had started to feel that perhaps I could manage it, and could envisage an entry in my diary – “Ran a Half Marathon Once” end of story. I continued on my own till in November we were at a bonfire party on the other side of town. On the back wall of the Loo was a massive picture of the Great North Run, so I surmised, (correctly it turned out) that someone here was a runner. I introduced myself to Paul Taylor who suggested I went along to Fleet and Crookham Athletic Club. The name worried me as I have never considered myself an athlete but Paul reassured me I would be OK with the Road Running section. That was the start of a long and rewarding association with the club. My ambition was just to do one race but I fell under the spell of the runners there who were doing two or three races a month. The training and the long Sunday runs brought me along quickly. So by March 1986 I was aerobically fitter than I had ever been and very excited at the thought of tackling my first race.
The Fleet is the services half marathon and Chris Brasher had given it permission to title itself the “Pre London Half Marathon”. It was a suitable period of time before London to check pacing over a flat course. It had an entry limit of 4000 and was always sold out before Christmas. It started and finished in the Army training area of Rushmoor Arena and then ran through Fleet town before taking a few switchbacks back into the arena for the finish.
In 1986 the race was won by Roger Hackney in a time of 1:04:07 closely followed by Bernie Ford 1:04:33 there were three other runners who beat 1:05. The first female was Paula Fudge 1:12:47 and 2nd was her sister Anna Ford 1:13:47. I finished 548th in 1:26:29.
I was 16th home for the club but some considerable way behind our front runners Pete Cause 11th 1:06:42 and Tony Cousins 65th 1:12:34. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it confirmed my life as a runner. Whilst I still lived in Fleet I ran the race most years and in 1993 it delivered me a PB under the 1:20. So with 2016 marking the 30th anniversary of that first race I planned to go back. My running in 2015 had not been great. However, I had a reasonable 10 mile race at Stormforce in January. The plan for February was to build the long miles at the weekends ready for London and concentrate on the speed midweek for the Fleet. I entered the Bideford half in early March with the intention of doing Bideford,
Falmouth half then Fleet, giving me three half marathons in three weekends. The theory being I should be fit and knowledgeable about racing half marathons by Fleet and could then use that speed to launch for London. Plans are one thing, being able to put them into practice is something else.
I developed a foot problem in January which stopped my training, a run of a few miles meant that I would be limping and unable to run again for about a week. I tried resting then running through it but it persisted. When it came time for Bideford I hadn’t run for the 10 days previous and was still undecided the night before whether to do it. I drove up there and did it and whilst it wasn’t great, it boosted the confidence that I could run on memory. However, I tried to run the Tuesday afterwards but couldn’t. I was down to attend Falmouth as Adjudicator but I hadn’t entered. The weather was glorious and I decided to enter on the day. I really struggled round what is a beautiful but tough course. The good news was that I was able to do a run on the Tuesday night afterwards and then another on Thursday night so hopefully I had turned the corner, albeit rather late for Fleet.
So on Sunday morning in main field at Fleet I was catching up with old friends Penny, Dave, Andrew, and Richard. More I knew would be out on the course, I was in a sort of happy daze but felt pretty good to be back at some of my old haunts and I knew that this course was flatter than my last two half marathons.
The field is not so big nowadays but still 2500 finished and with road closures, chip timing and pacemakers it has the feel of a big event. Having lived and run in Cornwall for 17 years I had almost forgotten the joy of a flat course. I was able to run the first seven miles at a constant pace before my lack of fitness slowed me down. The conditions were ideal, cool with no wind. Surprisingly I felt quite good and was happy to be running on familiar ground. Along the high street I met my old running friend Graham Davies marshalling. Graham had inspired and helped me when I first joined the club and it gave me a great boost to see him again. I managed to finish in 1:42:40 which under the circumstances I was pleased with. I came second in my age group by only 23 seconds but was happy to be able to give it a reasonable shot. Back at the finish I met Anne and Paul Taylor who had suggested I joined the club back in 1985 little did they know what they had started. The winner 2016 was Michael Kallenburgh in 1:07:49. The first Female was Mel Woodford 1:22:53. My position was 819th. It is still a great race for a PB and essential speed pacing training for London. Many thanks to Penny and Fleet and Crookham Athletic Club.