The heat is on with under two weeks until the Berko Half Marathon 2016

Alexis Bunce has been forced to withdraw from the Berkhamsted Half Marathon through injury
Alexis Bunce has been forced to withdraw from the Berkhamsted Half Marathon through injury

Our group of eight local runners from Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted and Tring are beginning their taper for race day, which is now less than two weeks away.

Most of them have come through the weeks of hard graft with flying colours, but inevitably, injury and illness have taken their toll.

Jim Mason is raring to go for the big race after enjoying a successful training schedule

Jim Mason is raring to go for the big race after enjoying a successful training schedule

In this final week before race day, we’re focusing on Alexis Bunce and Jim Mason, two runners who are new to the 13.1-mile distance and who have experienced mixed fortunes in their preparation for the big day.

Alexis and Jim are fairly recent converts to running, having only picked up the sport in the past couple of years after making the life-changing decision to lose weight and get fit – in fact, the pair attended the same Slimming World course back in 2012 and have both joined Dacorum & Tring AC.

Both are now avid runners and keen competitors in cross country and road races for their club and are fantastic proponents for the benefits of the sport.

Alexis has stopped smoking and lost three stone over the past two years, while Jim has dropped an amazing 11 stone, and has been racking up PBs at multiple distances, from 5 miles to 10km.

Jim says: “Training has been going okay and the miles are building up nicely.

“I haven’t done as much this week as planned, due to being sore after a fall while out on a training run with my club on Tuesday night but I still went out for my long run on the weekend – a hard 13.7-mile run in the wind. It was the longest I’ve ever run in one go, and I felt awesome!

“I still can’t quite get my pacing right either – I’m always too fast!

“I’m getting nervous about the race, my number arrived this week so the reality of how close it is has hit me.

“But thanks to the support of coach Rob and all the folks at my club, Dacorum & Tring AC, I’m sure I’ll be ready and excited come race day!”

Alexis, meanwhile, has made the difficult decision to switch to the Five Mile Fun Run after sustaining a hip injury early in her training and knows she won’t have put in the training to make the half marathon achievable.

“I have definitely decided not to run the half,” she said. “I am not even sure whether I will be fixed enough to do the Fun Run at the moment.

“I had a physio session this week and have another session next Friday. I’m disappointed but it’s just bad timing to get an injury. I will run a half marathon this year for sure.”

Coach Rob Deane added that for the first tier, the half marathon can be a “daunting challenge but nonetheless a very achievable one with the right preparation.

“All the athletes are less than two weeks away, so they are now starting to taper their training to ensure they are rested and ready come race day. That means that although the frequency and intensity of their running is maintained, the volume decreases as the race approaches.

“Jim has worked hard and this has been borne out by his progress over the training cycle. His last long run was longer than race distance and should give him the confidence he needs to tackle the full distance on race day. Nerves are to be expected, but I’m sure he’ll be fine come the big day.

“Alexis has been extremely unlucky. She has made huge improvements since starting running and she was more than ready to tackle the half marathon had injury not intervened.

“It can be extremely frustrating for any runner to cope with being injured and to have to deal with the fact that the goals they set are no longer achievable.

“Alexis is no exception, and she is having to re-group in the hope that she will be fit enough to do the Fun Run as a consolation. But looking ahead, I have no doubt she will get to do her half marathon very soon once fit.”

And what about the other runners in our group?

Kelly will be joinng Alexis in the Fun Run, after missing several weeks of training through illness: “After dropping down to the five mile distance, I feel much more relaxed and training has been good this week. I feel like my fitness is picking up again”

Jamie: “This week has been up and down. I missed some key sessions and with the race getting closer I can feel my target slipping away from me and am mentally switching to Plan B which is a sub-1.20 and a PB.”

Niamh: “A week of rest saw me try out a very slow three miles yesterday. Unfortunately the second mile was a slow limp home. It feels on the mend again but I will certainly be out of the running (excuse the pun!) for my half marathon PB time. Even so, I’m still hoping to be on the start line.”

Richard: “I did a 14-mile run yesterday and it was one of the toughest runs I’ve ever done. Even though only six of those miles were at target race speed it made me realise how hard it’s going to be to run at that pace on race day.”

Samantha didn’t want to tempt fate, simply saying that everything is “going to plan so far.”

Rob S: “After last week’s cross country race, my Tuesday 6-mile club run was much easier than I thought it would be so the training must be paying off.

“On Saturday, I did parkrun at Tring, always a hilly challenge and rather muddy, but still worth getting up early for.

“On Sunday, I did my longest run yet at around 12 miles. It was hard going but worth it, and I did a respectable time. Only two weeks to go now!”