30 of our top Marathon racing athletes met for a training day at Willen Lake, Milton Keynes on Saturday 17th January, in freezing but calm conditions. This was the third of four winter training days for the group, comprising those who have represented GB at a major international in the last two years, and a group of athletes invited to train with the team on the basis of their performances at assessment and National Championship races last year.
With six weeks until the first assessment race of the year at Thameside 2, many of the group are still deep into their winter training programmes, but the training day gave athletes an early opportunity to gauge how well their main domestic rivals are going, but most importantly to test themselves in high-pressure racing situations.
Our first session included three 4km races in three groups, matched according to their latest Handicap score (the system developed many years ago by Roland Lawler at Elmbridge, and now adopted by the national team training group as a reliable way of gauging individual performance levels versus the national and world standard).
The athletes on the start list included most of our world top 10 competitors in marathon: Lizzie Broughton, Fay Lamph and Jenny Illidge; Magnus Gregory and Zyggy Chmiel, and among the senior men, Keith Moule, Ed Rutherford, Tim Pendle, Andy and Tom Daniels. The invited athletes proved to be hot on their heels, especially the strong Chelmsford contingent including three members of the Johnson family: Melissa, Matt and Dan.
Keith Moule continued his dominant form since the World Championships, winning all three of his races. Zyggy Chmiel, a junior in 2015, proved the strength of the Norman Mason coached group at Nottingham by staying with Keith to record a HC1 time along with Tim Pendle and Ed Rutherford. Matt and Dan Johnson were dominant among the U23s suggesting they will compete well with our current group of U23 internationals in the coming season. Zyggy’s performance along with that of Mags Gregory (suffering from a session including 1,000 bench press reps the preceding week) suggests that our 2015 junior vintage could be very special too. Lizzie was her usual imperious self among the women, recording an extremely impressive HC6 time.
After a bit of a muddy run and lunch, the second session of the day was designed to develop group position and tactical awareness. Split into evenly matched groups of four (and two separate races for those above and below HC4), the aim was to finish with the best aggregate finish position from the team’s four finishers. Coloured training bibs helped the paddlers and handful of hardy spectators appreciate what was going on, as paddlers worked together to put their competitors into disadvantageous positions and to protect their own.
In the first race, the Pink team (Chmiel/Gregory/Cresser/Hicks) looked well placed at the first turn but in their haste failed to capitalise, so the Amber team (Moule/Russell/T Daniels/Sharpe) managed to engineer a break away, but without their top junior James Russell. Andy Daniels (Green team) joined them. A few places behind, the Blue team (Pendle/D Johnson/M Johnson/Plummer) grouped themselves into a tight four and proceeded to work their way back while preventing anyone else from benefitting from their washes. No-one was entirely sure what the Green team strategy was, perhaps the failure of the management to supply them with bibs prevented A Daniels/Rutherford/Duffield/Wilkes from working out who they needed to work with!. Amber’s brave attempt to dominate ultimately failed, as Green’s Andy Daniels took the win and Russell retired, which allowed Blue’s lock-out of places 5 to 8 to win on points.
The second race proved a little more fragmented, with teams only able to defend in pairs for the most part after a hard day on the water. Orange (Strong/Broughton/Lamph/Butler) prevailed on points ahead of Light Blue (Smithson/Peters/Parkes/Petersen) and Red (Smith/Walsh/Westwood/Illidge), with the Yellow team (Hansell/English/Littlewood/Thompson/M Johnson) just behind.
The team have six weeks of hard work ahead of them before the first assessment race of the year at Thameside 2, after which our development team for the Waterlands Marathon will be chosen.