Sidmouth runner Matt Szala bags Elite status after superb run at Weston-super-Mare

Sidmouth RC were out in force at the recent Weston-super-Mare Grand Pier half marathon, writes Justin Ashby.

Starting and finishing on the Grand Pier itself, the two lap route incorporating Kew Stoke Woods and Weston ‘prom’ suggested a picturesque, flat and fast course. We were not to be disappointed. Well, actually, that’s not quite true!

With a 9am start, Team Sidmouth arrived on the North Somerset coast a little bleary-eyed. Weston, how shall I say, is not exactly St. Tropez and as the daylight emerged on a wet and blustery morning, the low tide revealed the famous mud flats of the Bristol Channel and the air was filled with the scent of English breakfasts wafting from the budget hotels lining the sea-front.

“Where has the sea gone?” enquired a puzzled Matt Szala of Poland. This was to prove the least of his concerns!

As the near-500 runners gathered on the start line, the rain increased in strength and the organisers’ attempts to kick off a mass warm-up met with some resistance from those wearing just a vest and shorts. Runners just want to run!

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Once away the runners headed north along the coast road out of Weston and into Kew Stoke Woods before returning back along the same road back to the pier. By this time the rain and wind had eased off and brought a few supporters out to cheer runners on – that always helps morale!

On a two-lap, out-and-back course, you always get a chance to glance at other runners and assess positions. Matt Szala was looking strong as he established himself in the lead group of five. Justin Ashby found himself in the next group of three runners alongside arch-rival Milan Goc, now running in the yellow vest of South West Road Runners (SWRR).

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And then something strange happened. Justin’s group watched the leading 5 follow the motorbike and loop-back on the sea-front to launch into lap two. Meanwhile, as Justin’s group reached the same point, they were instead directed to carry on to the very end of the sea-front! Somewhat confused, they ran on as instructed and at the next marshalling point, sure enough, they discovered they were the first runners to reach this point. A major marshalling error had occurred!

The following group of three calculated they’d run approximately one mile further than the lead group and quite clearly they now had no chance of catching them. But this frustration was nothing compared to that faced by Szala and the leaders who by this point realised their splits were way too fast and something had gone wrong.

So, just over half an hour later, Szala crossed the finish line in a brilliant third place having completed the race in 69:47 but a quick check of the GPS showed 19-something kms covered, rather than the traditional, some might say ‘official’, 21 kms needed for a half marathon. Having identified this race as a PB, trained hard to get there and run well on the day, this is hugely frustrating.

Given that he was clearly in such good form and was on target to beat his PB, he now has to try all over again to reach a new milestone for the distance!

In sixth place, and actually the first runner to complete the whole course, was Ashby in a time of 1:17:46 which was a new PB, and by a couple of minutes!

One aspect of his run so satisfying was dropping friend-and-nemesis Goc at the half-way point. You’ve gotta enjoy your victories…

Tim Mitchell ran a superb race with a top 10 per cent finish in a time of 1:32. Mitchell had trained hard for this event and an M50 (I know, he does look it too) he’s sure to be featuring in age-category prizes in 2015.

Jennifer Bentley’s improvement continues. This was her first ever half marathon, one she finished in 2:27, successfully resisting a self-confessed urge to ‘hide in a bush’ at the end of the first lap.

Jennifer, we all have our demons to conquer during a race. Colin Bentley, fighting off man-flu, demonstrated what a gentleman he is by finishing his race then joining his wife for the final flourish!

Jennifer, Colin, we love your infectious enthusiasm and we salute you!

Post race it was again discovered that, of course, every cloud has a silver lining, even in Weston Super Mare. In a bizarre twist of fate, Matt Szala’s incredible time of 69 minutes earns him Elite status and the chance to run the London Marathon 2015! The Dream is on!

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