Yesterday’s Butterfield Half Marathon attracted 525 entries for the L’Eree to Town race and while simply completing 13.1 miles is no mean feat, the stakes were particularly high for the front-runners given that the winners would gain priority for next year’s home Games.
Dawes and James stamped their authority to triumph in Games A standard times – but what a race it was.
In fairly fast conditions, James Priest mounted a cracking challenge to secure runner-up and a personal best, while 22-year-old Sammy Galpin smashed his own best to join his proven rivals in the A standard club. Ulrike Maisch and Sarah Eagles completed the women’s podium.
Overall winner Dawes had to defy a Covid hangover that left him indecisive about turning up.
But his decision to race was vindicated when he started stretching away from Priest around Grandes Rocques, four miles in, and gradually extending that lead.
The veteran athlete broke the tape in a quite solid 70min. 19sec., far from discontent despite being 2min. outside his season’s best.
‘I’m really happy,’ he said.
‘It’s a funny old race. I don’t go into a race thinking all I want to do is win, but because it’s an Island Games selection race, that’s what I wanted.
‘When I got ill with Covid I was kind of like “oh, brilliant”, but before I had Covid I was in really good shape, so I guess I kept an amount of it.’
Priest had never slipped too far behind, repeating last year’s runner-up placing but in a significantly faster time.
Priest had been the one pushing the pace initially, which prompted Dawes to reflect on his winning break: ‘I thought he’d come back to me.
‘I was thinking I’m not going to put the foot down, because he’d come back to me, then I’d pay for it.
‘I just stayed on the pace he had set, which was about 70min. pace, and I just gradually inched away from him to the finish line.’
Forcing himself into the Games equation, the currently Derby-based Galpin ran a terrific 72-17 in what was very much a solo effort.
The youngster compared it to his 76-15 run two years ago, the first modern Butterfield Half, and said: ‘I remember being so happy with that.’
‘If you told me in two years’ time I would run that time, I would not have believed you.’
Although he has left his fate in the hands of Games selectors, stepping out on home soil next year would clearly mean a lot to him.
‘For it to be my first Island Games, it would be pretty special,’ he added.
‘It being a home Island Games is the cherry on top. I would really love to do it.’
The experienced Pete Amy and Nick Mann completed the top five, both running lonely races.
Meanwhile, the improving Andrew Zabiela (78-32) and Will Rutherford (79-17) both ran great PBs at the head of a large group contesting sixth place.
Top woman James had also found some good company, running most of the way with a primarily male group that had formed around fellow veteran Maisch.
After a slower start, the 2020 winner made the decision to speed up and catch the group – which paid off.
She pushed on in the last two miles as the elastic began snapping, allowing her to take women’s honours in 84-56.
‘That’s much more than I was expecting, so I’m delighted with that,’ she said.
‘Home Island Games has been the target, but women’s running is getting even more competitive and I’ve been struggling with injuries and illness, and to get some consistent training going has not been very easy.
‘I’m surprised, but delighted, to have run that time today.’
Now 45, one-time European marathon champion Maisch had rekindled some great form only to run into injury struggles before race week.
She nevertheless finished solidly second in a B standard of 86-09.
Also a veteran, Eagles ran a committed race to post her own B standard and PB, running 88-15. Rosie Williams and Caroline Barby completed the top five.