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The St Helena Festival of running is a one of the world’s most remote fitness challenges and pushes the definition of stamina, fortitude and self-discipline. The volcanic topography makes for an arduous victory but one that is rewarded with an exquisite scenic route and doubly takes the breath away.

The Marathon.

A course set in the central St Helena highlands makes for no easy feat. Runners tackle inclines, slopes, winding ridges with occasional flats but ultimately on the race day Mother Nature’s influence can add intensity to an already demanding route.  Too hot and the exhaustion amplifies.  Too wet and windy and race pace is set with added caution. Many of the runners who have taken on this challenge have described it as the toughest marathon they have ran. Remote and daring – and so the appeal to conquer and indeed claim record holder status. The record for the St Helena 42K is held by Dr Martin Collins with a time of 3 hours 44 minutes and 5 seconds and was set 2 years ago at the 2016 Festival of Running.  Martin worked on St Helena at the time as Fisheries Scientist on the Darwin Plus funded project for Sustainable Development and Management of St Helena’s Fisheries and Marine Tourism.  Collins also holds the records for the Trail run and until this year was on the team of the previous triathlon record holders.

The 21K
The 21k starts with the marathon.  Off through watercourse road, bound for the ‘Ridges’, past (Edmond) Halley’s Mount, Hutt’s Gate church and double backing on to Watercourse for the home stretch. This race attracted 12 participants this year most of whom finished in under 3 hours. For many esteeming to run the full marathon, training for this event is a progression route to next year. For the novice (and most are) this is an extremely proud achievement. The current record for the half marathon is 1 hour 40 minutes and 46 seconds and sits with Jean Paul Van Belle. 17 years ago Jean Paul Van Belle made his way to St Helena specifically to take part in our Festival of Running and the title he secured then is safe for another year at least.

The Fun Runs
In recent years the 10k and the 3k fun run is organised on marathon day and a few hours into the 42k. Prior it had been organised on separate dates. From the same starting point these races draw the biggest entry and is a family favourite.  The 10k record was set in 2001 by Jean Paul Van Belle at 42 minutes and 22 seconds.  The 3k record of 18 minutes and 19 seconds was held since 2007 by Rocky Stroud.  This year Aiden Yon-Stevens, aged 13, took that title with a time of 16 minutes and 7 seconds, becoming the new record holder.  Aiden is a local St Helenian, who enjoys a fitness lifestyle and is a frequent participant in events of this nature. He will be one to watch in future years as his makes an eye for the 10k.

The Jacobs Ladder Challenge
The thrilling 699 step climb is without a doubt a highlight in the Festival events.  On an average day the stairway lures most tourists at their own leisure, but on challenge day it is a bustling battle to see who can top the top. Every year participants find themselves scurrying the former tramway, each to their own technique.  Some on all fours, some a steady jog, others a burst to run as far as their legs will carry and then succumb to a steady climb. About half way the gradient gets tougher and you’d have to be a fitness legend not to feel the burns at this point. Graham Doy set the record for this challenge back in 2013 with an extraordinary time of 5 minutes and 16 seconds.

The Triathlon

Every year the triathlon kicks off to an energetic start from the Seafront middle steps, participants make a speedy swim across the bay over the wreck of the Papanui and back. They tag their team member, or if doing the solo challenge mount a bicycle and cycles x 2 laps of the length of the historic Jamestown.  From the Mule Yard they dismount and make the final leg (sprint) up the steady inclining Side Path road, down over Constitution Hill and on to the finish line at the Mule yard. The individual record sits at 1 hour 1 minute and 46 seconds, held by Steve Coats. The team record was held previously at 57 minutes and 47 seconds by Colby Thomas, Anthony Thomas and Martin Collins.  This record was broken this year.  New record holders Nicole Shamier (Swimmer), Joachim Naulaerts (cyclist) and Jack McShane (runner) have now set the bar at 54 minutes and 36 seconds.

The Trail Run
From the sea to the highest point this is a cardio buster but a beautiful Town to Country climb. As the finale of the St Helena Festival of Running events it ends aptly at Diana’s Peak with stunning panoramic Island views. Tomorrow we fare our participants well as they embark the final challenge.

The Trail run record to beat is 56 minutes and 55 seconds, set by Martin Collins in 2016.

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