Last Thursday the team travelled to Bolzano in northern Italy to run the famous BOClassic Silversterlauf. The race is steeped in history and is run around a tight, cobbled 1250m circuit in the centre of the medieval town overlooked by the impressive Bolzano Cathedral. There are always large crowds present and the atmosphere is great with the smell of mulled wine and beer as athletes negotiate themselves through the tightly packed market square. The first New Year’s Eve Run in Bolzano was in 1974. The idea for this event, the first in Europe of its kind, was inspired by the famous New Year’s Eve Run in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

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The men compete over 10km and the women 5km, and although the course isn’t particularly fast with its many twists and turns and long steady inclines it still attracts some of the best athletes in the world. The competition at the front is always of the highest calibre and provides a great opportunity for European athletes to gain experience racing world class competition. The list of winners includes Sergey Lebid, Imane Mega, Daniel Komen and Alberto Cova on the men’s side and Gete Wami, Tegla Loroupe, Vivian Cheruiyot and Birhane Adere on the womens.

Eli Kirk, Ross Millington, Lauren Howarth, Andy Heyes and Jonny Mellor travelled to Bolzano to race and had their sights set on good performances to finish off 2016 well. As we all know Christmas time isn’t always the most conducive time for elite athletes with family festivities disrupting training timetables and eating habits, in addition to endlessly washing hands and avoiding people with colds and viruses in order to stay healthy. The team however managed to get through Christmas in one piece until disaster struck on the plane to Milan with Lauren Howarth the first to go down with a nasty vomiting bug. Ryanair isn’t the most pleasurable experience at the best of times so it was made considerably worse for those sat around Lauren! After a long disrupted journey up to Bolzano it wasn’t looking good for Lauren to race 36hrs later so she was placed in quarantine in her own room!

The following morning (Friday) the team gathered for an easy run and strides without Lauren and now Ross who had also become ill overnight! Hand gels and anti-viral foam were the order of the day, along with a quick wander around the beautiful old town of Bolzano and surrounding apple orchards for those who weren’t in bed suffering.

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By Saturday morning Lauren had improved sufficiently to race but Ross was in no fit state much to his disappointment after finishing an excellent 6th last year in 29:22. Eli and Lauren were off first over the 4 lap 5km course and Eli latched onto the lead group of Agnes Tirop, Gelete Burka, Steph Twell and Etenesh Diro while Lauren sat in the second group opting for a more cautious race. The African trio pushed hard into the 2nd lap and left Eli and Steph chasing while Lauren steadily moved up from 12th to 8th. The 3rd lap saw gaps opening and the final positions almost decided. Eli finished strongly in 5th and closed down the gap on Steph Twell to just 4 seconds at the line. Lauren rallied really well over the last lap to finish 7th, an excellent result considering the illness 2 days earlier and her first race since October whilst she finished her final Doctor training!

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Jonny and Andy faced a tough field over 10km next and were gapped early on by a lead group containing the likes of Imane Merga, Muktar Edris and Jarius Birech. Jonny lead the predominantly European chase group closely followed by Andy for the first 5km and then pushed on over the final 4 laps to close down on some of the early leaders and finish 8th in 30:00 with Andy closing well to finish 11th in 30:18.

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Despite the illness hitting some of the team it was a fantastic place to spend New Year’s Eve although the sickness and hard racing meant many were in bed with a hot chocolate before midnight. Jonny and team photographer Dan Vernon were the next victims of the sickness bug….however the details aren’t necessary!

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