Report by Paul Cleasby

In about 2014, a group of New Marske Harriers began training together for a Spring marathon, perhaps inspired by my incessant raving about the attraction of the marathon or perhaps inspired by the thoughts of, ‘If he can do it [Sub 3] anyone can,’ Whatever the drive, the group developed.

Conscientious training for the first year led to some spectacular results that have, on the whole, been improved year by year. From the training group, 5 out of 7 achieved that club runner’s holy grail of the sub 3 hour marathon.

Meet the Amsterdam Striders:

Neil ‘Wagner’ Walker

The elder statesman of the group – supreme focus for his debut marathon at Manchester in 2015 led to a 2:57 finish only to be robbed by a short course measurement scandal. Had someone bothered to add the extra bit onto the course, Neil would still have finished well under the 3-hour mark.

A revisit to the same marathon in subsequent years, adopting a more relaxed approach to training and pre-marathon build up, led to less speedier marathons and his entry being recorded as Neil Wagner –an error he was happy to live with as the wheels fell off well before 20 miles. From the debris of that marathon the ‘Wagner Striders’ relay team name was born.

Allan ‘Lucky’ Wilson

The most enthusiastic member of the group, Allan is always in possession of a training plan he then ritually ignores by smashing out every session faster than he needs to. When it comes to racing though, luck deserts him. Arriving late for York 2016 resulted in a DNS (did not start) forcing a late entry to a cobbled together Morpeth to Newcastle Marathon 2016 (now defunct). Training for Amsterdam had been less problematic but contracting shingles two weeks before the run put paid to yet another genuine race attempt.

Mike ‘The Face’ Smith

If we were the A–team – Mike’s good looks would certainly have him cast as ‘The Face’. Mike had completed one marathon previously and remained scarred by a four hour plus finish at Chicago in 2005, back in the dark ages before training for a marathon was believed to be a good idea. Mike decided never to do another marathon again. He was happy to do the training with the group but resisted the peer pressure to have another crack. Thus all his training runs were run with a relaxed and smooth style giving him the title of “The white Kipchoge”

Glenn ‘Guns’ Farrell

Glenn’s job takes him off shore and to the envy of those of us with puny arms – Glenn has the motivation and self discipline to keep himself in tip top physical shape, even to the extent of doing his long runs in isolation on an oil rig treadmill.  A debut Marathon in 2015 of 3:02 on the Manchester short course was quickly put to bed smashing a speedier 2:55 in London in 2016, which he further improved in 2017 with a 2:54.

Michael ‘The Critic’ Lyth

Another novice marathoner in the group, Michael has a background in cycling and possesses calves that have no right being seen on any human distance runner, being much more suited to hill climbing cyclists. Michael did his debut marathon in 2016 at a trail event in Ambleside. Underwhelmed by his performance in that hilly race, he struck lucky in the London ballot for 2017 and smashed a debut road marathon time of 2:59. Rather than doing summersaults with his time he described it as ‘alright’- a harsh critic!

James ‘Speedster’ Allinson

James is the fastest marathoner of the group. Debuting in Manchester 2015 with a 2:59 on the short course, he bettered that the following year at London running 2:55 and the last 6 miles with a pulled calf muscle. Still feeling he’d not done his talent justice, he improved yet again in 2017 running a comfortable 2:50 with room still for more to come. The only thing James does faster than running is drinking.

Stephen ‘The Ringer’ Hepples

Married to our very own Cheryl Hepples, Stephen was the least experienced marathoner in his family having run zero previous marathons compared to Cheryl’s running total of three! For those of you who don’t know Stephen, he has a very specialist set of skills. A member of Newham and Essex Beagles, Stephen has a 1500m pb of 3mins 46 seconds, a 5km pb of 14:37 and a half marathon pb of 64 minutes. He is currently enjoying a break/retirement (delete as appropriate Ste!) from competitive racing. When asked about his current level of fitness Stephen always responds with – ‘just ticking over’ (a bit like a Rolls Royce engine!)


My marathon debut was at Edinburgh 2010, finishing with a time of 3:49, followed by multiple marathons nearly every year thereafter, culminating in a pb at Berlin 2016 of 2:55. A veteran of many a foreign marathon, Amsterdam was marathon number 21 for me.


The Amsterdam Marathon

The Strider’s trip to Amsterdam was always designed to be a social event rather than a serious pb attempt for most of the group.

The only exceptions to this were Allan and Mike. Mike fancied the idea of attempting a 3:15 to obtain a good for age qualification for London and Allan fancied the idea of being lucky and running a time that rewarded his training efforts. Neil was disgruntled with his latest Manchester performance and wanted to lay a few Manchester ghosts to rest by running a speedier but sensible race. His aim was to re-conquer the marathon distance.

With Glenn, James and Michael smashing great pbs in the Spring, their marathon work was done. Sociability all the way was the order of the day for them.

With Stephen– his ambition was being able to field the question always asked of any runner – have you done a marathon yet? No sweat was going to be broken in the running of his race.

For me, plagued with injury all year (yes over use injuries and all my own doing) I had begun to get some decent weekly mileage in and was at least confident of getting around and had hoped I’d manage 3:15 with the group.

As with any training group nothing ever goes smoothly for everyone. Allan fell ill two weeks prior to race and was advised not to run. Mike had a cracking training block up until July before a 3-week family holiday interrupted probably the strongest form he’d ever been in. When he returned to resume training, a calf injury struck making him unsure whether he was even going to make the start line.

Pre – Race preparation




Easy flights from Teesside to Amsterdam make this an attractive European marathon. We flew on the Friday morning and by lunch-time we were at our hotel. A quick lunch and then we were off to the Expo to collect our numbers. Number collection was as efficient as you could wish for; the expo didn’t take long to look around with no one daring to buy any merchandise for fear of being slated by one of our number who has a particularly critical view of marathon merchandising.  Paperwork done and it was time to enjoy the social aspect of the weekend. No one was injured for this aspect of the weekend with everyone putting in a decent effort on this front.

Saturday was a day for recovery for most of us, consisting of rehydrating and refueling. Evening meal was Italian at perhaps the rudest restaurant ever experienced by any of us. Having made no excuses for not ordering dessert or leaving any tip, we decamped at 8pm and were at a loose end in Amsterdam the night before a marathon! The sight of eight blokes ordering hot chocolate in a street café on a Saturday evening in Amsterdam must be a first.


Race Day

Our hotel had kindly agreed to start breakfast earlier on race day morning. They’d also organised taxi transport to as near to the start as possible for those guests running the marathon.

The forecast for race day was bleak, cloudless skies and temperatures quickly rising to 21 degrees. Useless to me but the Kenyans who won it in a course record 2:05 didn’t seem to mind.

We all started in the same pen so at least we could all start together. The plan was that Allan would do his own thing. He knew he shouldn’t be running but just planned on taking it easy. He had his tunes and just wanted to see how it went. Allan having the luck he does, lost his gels in the first mile but enjoyed his run up to 16 miles when he retired from the race feeling good that he’d got a long run in and better for not putting his health at risk by trying to run the last 10 miles.

For the rest of us, we set off as a group, a first for me in a marathon. The aim was to run even paced splits of 7:15s knowing we’d tire in the latter stages but hoping to finish between 3:10 and 3:14:59.

We ran together until mile 16, when Neil and Stephen started to drift ahead. Michael was flitting backwards and forwards, clearly well within his comfort zone.

Mike began to fall off the pace. James and Glenn, putting their own runs aside, stayed with Mike every step of the way even when his pace fell way off target. Their selflessness was, without doubt, the most sporting act of the weekend. It was obvious that Mike had been in a whole world of pain just getting to the finish in 3:37. Not the time he was hoping for but a 25-minute pb achieved in difficult conditions with interrupted training. I was expecting a ‘never again’ from him. It never came. He knows he is capable of speedier times.

Personally, I never found the pace as comfortable as I was hoping to. I hate running in the heat and by mile two I was a soggy mess with my face dripping in sweat.

By 19 miles, I just wanted the run finished. I knew my lack of training was catching up with me and the last 6 miles were an ugly mess of running and walking. I saw Neil in the distance and it was obvious the last 6 miles were not being kind to him either. No matter how many marathons you’ve done, the last 6 miles always hurt and are never easy. There are no shortcuts in training and if you’ve not done your long runs or you have misjudged your pace, the marathon will always find you out.

The route itself was varied and very flat. The race takes place in the city, countryside, riverbanks and parks. The quirk of this marathon is that it runs through a museum, a part of the run that completely escaped James’ notice. For a city marathon, I think Amsterdam is hard to beat. It’s probably my favourite ‘non-major’ marathon. Good crowd support and a stadium start and finish are particular highlights of this race. Regular musical entertainment is provided throughout the course and the city does appear to embrace the event. Water and sports drinks are served in paper cups so be prepared for that.

Finishing times for the group were of no real significance to any of us, but for completeness:

The Results

Stephen Hepples 3:12:58,amst3

Michael Lyth 3:13:04,

Paul Cleasby 3:17:48,

Neil Walker 3:18:44

Glenn Farrell 3:37:22,

James Allinson 3:37:23

Mike Smith 3:37:24







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