The tiny picturesque village of Redwick, deep in the heart of rural Monmouthshire, proved a popular setting for the 18th staging of the Anglo Celtic Plate 100 km, on Sunday 22 July. The race, which is effectively a Home Countries international, is based upon a 5 to run, 3 to score format for men, and 4 to run, 2 to score for ladies (on cumulative time). Also incorporated into the event was the 24th edition of the UK 100 km championships, as well as the Scottish and Road Runners Club 100 km championships.
Emily Gelder 23, Jen Salter 24, Keith Whyte 21 and Allen Smalls 5 pictured at the start. Pic by TZ Runs
The circuit is well known to local road runners as the Rose Inn course, named after the community pub which hosts the popular 2 lap, 4 mile event on the second Tuesday of the months of May, June, July and August. However, there is clearly a world of difference between 2 circuits and the 32+ circuits required to make up the 62.2 mile (100 km) distance. Race start was 7.30AM, and there were already cloudless skies. Great for spectators, tortuous for athletes.
There was a total of 33 starters, including 23 internationals.
The early stages of such a long event are fascinating, because they reveal much of athletes’ individual perceptions of the race, and their personal strategies. The hot weather was clearly going to play a significant part in proceedings, as was each athlete’s attention to essential details like pace judgment, clothing, hydration and nutrition. The part of the athletes’ handlers was critical too, enabling competitors to obtain the right help or advice at the right time.
From the outset, a group of four broke away – the four being Allen Smalls (England), Keith Whyte (Ireland), Paul Fernandez (England) and Thomas Loehndorf (Scotland). In the ladies, Emily Gelder, winner of the event for the previous two occasions, started aggressively, and immediately opened up a lead from Karen Hathaway and Heather Foundling-Hawker (England).
With each lap being an inexact distance, the first opportunity to gauge the pace came at 10km. At that stage, Allen Smalls led in 41:41, from Keith Whyte 41:45, Paul Fernandez 41:58 and Thomas Loehndorf 42:08. There was then a gap of almost two minutes before the English trio of Marcus Scotney, Craig Holgate and Terry Conway came through together in 44 minutes exactly. This gave an estimated winning finish time, based on even pace, of 6 hours 57 minutes.
Emily Gelder came through this checkpoint in ninth position in 45:28 – giving an astonishing estimated finishing time of 7 hours 35 minutes. Given that Emily is a very experienced athlete, but her best from last year was 8:00:37, this gave the clearest possible indication of her mindset. Heather Foundling-Hawker followed in 46:50, Karen Hathaway 46:59 and Jen Salter 48:20.
Keith Whyte joined Allen Smalls at the front of affairs, and began to assume control. Meanwhile Emily Gelder was already in control, and looked in no mood to relinquish it.
The day got hotter and the gaps continued to open. Athletes were lapping each other regularly, which does require the viewer to pay strict attention to the progress of the race. By 50 km, Keith Whyte recorded 3:27:36 – even pace for 6hours 55 minutes. Even given the fact that he was likely to slow, his personal best of 7 hours 22 minutes looked as if it would require serious revision. He now had a lead of 2:54 from Allen Smalls (3:30:30). Thomas Loehndorf came next in 3:32:30 with a minute advantage over Paul Fernandez (3:33:37). The English pair of Craig Holgate and Marcus Scotney were still together on 3:36:10 and looked frisky. Over such a long distance, any of these six was still in with a great shout.
By comparison, in the ladies race Emily Gelder had lapped the entire field and came through at 3:46:47 – still looking extremely comfortable and capable of running close to seven and half hours. But the scrap for positions 2 through to 6 was fascinating. Jen Salter had edged her way through to second and clocked 4:06:52, just 31 seconds ahead of Karen Hathaway. Isobel Wykes looked effortless in fourth with 4:08:30, followed by the Scottish pairing of Isobel Knox 4:10:43 and Gail Murdoch 4:10:45. So with five athletes covered by less than four minutes, the ladies race looked fascinating.
Keith Whyte continued to move away, building up a lead of over seven minutes, but around five hours he began to seem less comfortable. It transpired that he hadn’t been getting enough to eat, and needed take time out to take additional food and fluids on board. His lead initially began to dwindle, and with six laps to go his advantage was down to 4:36. After that, the effects of the nutrition began to kick in and the advantage widened accordingly. The outcome was then never in doubt, and he came home an ecstatic winner in 7:16:42. Keith had finished 7th in this race in Perth in 2011, and a six minute improvement on his personal best was a great bonus. As far as the men’s race was concerned, the excitement transferred to a titanic battle for second. The significance of a cautious opening strategy was becoming increasingly apparent for Craig Holgate as he caught Allen Smalls for second and they took the bell lap shoulder to shoulder. However, Smalls was not to be denied. Allen has a most impressive record of consistency at the event, having been in the medals in the last three editions of the Anglo Celtic Plate. Although decisively headed by Whyte, his reward was a first UK 100 km title. Holgate followed him home in third, just over a minute in arrears.
Thomas Loehndorf ran a consistent race throughout, and was only two minutes down in fourth. His reward came in winning the Scottish 100km title which was incorporated within the event.
Meanwhile, the Emily Gelder show was continuing unabated, and she lapped the entire ladies field for a second time. A clocking of around 7 hours 40 minutes still seemed feasible, and the statisticians amongst those watching began to debate as to how highly she might rank on the UK All-Time list if this progress continued. Sadly, the uncertainties involved in ultra distance running are such that one should never take anything for granted until the athlete crosses the finish line. Although still running strongly, Emily was clearly in some distress with a hamstring problem which necessitated repeated massage. This was quite concerning for everyone, but each time she was away again, seemingly unimpaired. However, more importantly, Emily’s priority changed from maximal time to simply finishing – and of course, winning – for a hat-trick of titles. This she achieved in emphatic style, and although the 8 hour barrier and a personal best proved tantalisingly elusive, the margin of victory, at 40 minutes, was, to say the least, decisive.
As in the men’s race, the destiny of the runners-up spot was closely fought and fascinating to view. After five and half hours Jen Salter still held a 2:45 advantage over Isobel Wykes, who had moved up into third. Slowly but inexorably, Wykes began to close the gap, and subsequently make second place her own. It was an excellently-judged effort by the Truro-based athlete, and she established an eleven minute advantage by the end, clocking 8:45:09. Jen Salter had good reason to be pleased with her bronze medal in 8:56:05, improving on the fifth place on her debut at Perth in 2011.
In the team competitions, the English mens trio of Smalls, Holgate and Scotney were clear winners in 22:31:43 over a strong challenge from the Scottish team of Loehndorf, Consani and Williamson. The Welsh team of newcomer Jason Scanlon, Sean McCormack and Jeremy Mower closed in for third.
Last year, the Welsh ladies won for the first time in the persons of Emily Gelder and Jen Salter by the tiny margin of one minute fourty-seven seconds. Here the same two athletes triumphed by over one hour and seventeen minutes from England (Wykes and Hathaway) and Scotland (Knox and Murdoch). In all, 26 athletes completed the distance from a total of 33 starters – 79% - surely the strongest possible indication of the training and resolve required by all.
Report by Mick McGeoch.
Pics by TS Runs.