On Sunday, having earlier that day staged the annual RSSH Prep Schools’ Championships, the Hunt took a number of its members down to the London Road athletics track in search of a world record (albeit an unofficial one). Wilson Kipsang of Kenya had won the Berlin Marathon two weeks previously in an astonishing time of 2 hours, 3 minutes and 23 seconds – beating the previous record set two years ago by his compatriot Patrick Makau by 15 seconds.
As a mark of respect to these athletes – and in an effort to raise money for two charities the Hunt is supporting during its trip to Kenya and Ethiopia over Exeat (see elsewhere on the website for details) – we attempted to set our own record for the marathon by relay, hoping that by breaking the distance up into 105.5 sections of 400m sprints, we might have some hope of getting close to this incredible achievement. With sixteen of our fastest athletes, and four members of staff, we set about warming up on that rainy afternoon knowing that to break Kipsang’s time, we’d need to average less than 70.1 seconds per 400m, and that every one of us would need to do five laps or more. If you haven’t tried running 400m recently – and really, why haven’t you? – it’s worth giving it a go to put this sort of pace into context. We’d literally have to sprint as fast as we could on every lap if we were going to ‘keep up’ with world-record pace.
An over-confident start saw us take a notional ‘lead’ over Kipsang, and by the time everyone had done a lap we were streaking ahead – Kipsang was almost a minute behind by the time we’d hit 5K. This was due in part, however, to several of our number not really pacing themselves properly (including two rather over-excited members of staff) and on our second efforts, that blistering early pace proved hard to match. Split times dropped off dramatically and if that continued we’d soon find Kipsang beginning to gain on us again.
A bitter wind was blowing down the home straight that day and after 300m of all-out effort, it greeted us like a brick wall as we turned towards the change-over. Out of our athletics-season training, the technique for baton changeovers was also against us (often with comic results, especially when Sean Sawyer or Mark Huang were involved). Crucial time was lost as several relay hand-overs were completed in a style reminiscent of a Marx brothers film. Nevertheless, the fitness of this group of athletes was beginning to shine through, as gritty performances from all kept the split times from tumbling too far. Freddie Huxley-Fielding showed what great shape he’s in by running like an automaton, hitting splits of 66 seconds for each of his first four efforts (though a shocking inconsistency from him in his fifth and final effort saw him hit 65.9).
As we neared the half-way stage, a nervous glance at the watch showed us that we’d only just managed to beat the world record for the half marathon (set by Zersenay Tadese, since you asked, in 58:23) by about twenty seconds, but we were comfortably up on Wilson Kipsang, who theoretically trailed about four minutes behind us. That said, tiredness was definitely kicking in on our third and fourth laps and it was by no means certain that we could maintain a pace even closely resembling that set on our first laps.
Early on, there had been a queue of eager boys and girls hopping up and down wanting to be picked. After the hour mark, the queue had disappeared and Mr Haworth had to scout around for those willing to put themselves through another gruelling sprint. Mr Gunnell was among those wishing to give themselves ‘a bit more rest’ before stepping up again, though with his first two sprints well below 60 seconds, this was entirely understandable. Many of our most regular Hunt members were redoubtable however, and consistently bashed out 400m reps in times that kept us in with a very good shout of breaking two hours. Our regular Friday-afternoon intervals sessions on the river – though usually the subject of much bitter complaint at the time – were paying dividends at this stage.
With some Herculean efforts in the last few kilometres – and a fiercely competitive battle between Oscar Dickins and his Housemaster, Mr Middleton, for the lowest average split time – we approached the last few laps with time to spare. The nervous tension had gone, as we realised that not only was the world record likely to be beaten, but we were in all likelihood going to break it by a distance of a few minutes. Everyone wanted the glory of completing the final lap, but that honour went to Dr Oakley, who had been frantically entering split times every lap for nigh-on two hours. As he rounded the last bend and sped down the straight, the other athletes lined the track to congratulate him and each other on a job well done. Our time was 1:57:03.9.
More than anything, this exercise impressed on all of us the incredible speed that top marathon runners maintain for over two hours, and we left the track – though certainly with a great deal of satisfaction – feeling absolutely in awe of the athletic prowess of world-class marathoners like Wilson Kipsang. For those of us about to embark on our journey to Kenya and Ethiopia, it gave us a real insight into the speed these people can hold and the training and commitment required to achieve it, and whetted our appetite for the wonderful opportunity to meet such sporting heroes. Moreover, members of the Shrewsbury community have donated very generously to sponsor this event and we will be able to make donations to our two chosen charities for a total of around £1500.
Congratulations to all the members of the Hunt and athletics squads who participated in this event, and for the money they’ve managed to raise for such good causes. It was a truly great effort. And thanks to all those who have sponsored us!
The Hunt runners were raising funds for Running Across Borders, which supports running programmes for young people in Ethiopia. The Hunt will be keeping a blog while touring Kenya and Ethiopia over half term: