Wacky animal routes keep racers on track

An elephantine effort near East Preston
An elephantine effort near East Preston

HOURS of relentless training for a marathon attempt can be a gloomy prospect for even the most seasoned runners, especially during the dismal winter months.

However, for a band of strangers from Rustington, Wick and Angmering, training for Sunday’s Brighton Half Marathon has been anything but dull.

Runners Chris Robinson, 43, Kevin Betts, 32, Howard Crompton, 35, and Clare Bartlett, 39, have been spicing up their workouts – by creating animal shapes from their practice routes.

The intrepid band of racers met on a social networking site for runners and cyclists called Strava, with each competing with one another to create the best piece of ‘running art’. The team had never met one another before but soon formed a firm friendship creating everything from puppies, birds, cows, giraffes and even an elephant across parts of Littlehampton, Rustington and East Preston.

Father-of-two Chris, of Pigeonhouse Lane, Rustington, said: “It’s been a really great experience. Running can be very lonely but by simply doing animal shapes and running with Strava strangers it becomes a whole lot more interesting.

“You can be buried in local maps for hours trying to find the animal’s head first. But once you’ve got that, the rest becomes pretty easy.”

The team use GPS trackers and mobile software to plot their route – although Chris admitted the shapes, which sometimes can span up to five miles, don’t always go to plan.

“Some can be really complicated to do and we don’t always get it right,” he said. “Claire’s ‘dog’ was really complicated. She made a mistake and didn’t want to show it looking like road kill on Strava so she redid it.”

The four all ran the half marathon alongside a record 12,500 other runners.

Chris, who completed the 13.1 miles in a personal best of 1hr 34min, raised £1,258 with help from his work colleagues for the Springboard Project.

The Horsham-based charity has been a lifeline in supporting Chris’s daughter Bella, who has autism. Chris said: “They’re such a great little charity and I know that this money will help make a massive difference to them; it won’t just go in a black hole and disappear.”

Speaking of the half marathon, Chris added: “It was incredible. There were loads of people out and they all cheered you on which gave you a boost. Lots of children were sticking their hands out for high-fives, too. It was a great event.”