Club night travels across the English Channel to the second largest Channel Island of Guernsey
Guernsey Island Amateur Athletic Club was formed in 1946 and its first events were a “Church to Church” walking race over a traditional 20-mile route and a seven-mile road run. These events still exist and the latter is run annually as the Liberation Day Road Race on May 9 – the date being the Channel Islands’ national holiday, celebrating the end of World War II occupation.
Nowadays, the club is thriving with more than 450 members and has exceptionally busy training nights on a Tuesday, Thursday and weekends.
However, it was not always that way. Acting development officer Paul Ingrouille explained: “Through the 1960s and 1970s we had some good athletes such as Dave Kreckeler and Keith Falla competing at national level, but towards the end of that period, the active membership was very low. The club is in a strange position, being effectively both a club and a national body (Guernsey competes at the Commonwealth Games) and perhaps it was only the responsibility of custodian of the sport within the island that kept the club going.”
The club’s junior section developed strongly in the 1980s and 1990s with national level athletes emerging from their ranks including decathlete Dale Garland, who switched events to become the top Great Britain 400m hurdles finisher at the 2007 World Championships, and leading 2012 Olympic marathon runner Lee Merrien.
Garland and Merrien still compete, but as both are involved in the coaching set-up, it is perhaps no surprise that the current crop of leading juniors include hurdlers Sam Wallbridge (2013 English Schools intermediate 400m hurdles champion), Alastair Chalmers (2014 England under-15 80m hurdles silver) and national endurance medallists Katie Rowe (2012 English Schools junior cross country silver and 2012 English Schools 1500m bronze), Danny Ray (English Schools intermediate 1500m bronze) and Ed Mason (England under-17 1500m steeplechase silver).
The high cost of regular off-island travel has made it difficult for the club to maintain commitments to summer track and field leagues and efforts are focused on developing athletes through the county, regional and national structure. The biennial Island Games is a big target for many senior athletes, with a Guernsey representation at the Commonwealth Games a possible target. Sarah Mercier (1500m and 5000m), Tom Druce (400m) and Kylie Robilliard (100m hurdles) were representatives last year in Glasgow.
Guernsey is affiliated to Hampshire County AA and will typically send 50 athletes to the county championship events. Because of travel constraints the club organises its own popular cross-country league and road race series in the winter as well as a summer track Grand Prix series aimed at juniors. Ingrouille adds: “The Intertrust Grand Prix has proved very popular and it normally consists of six events run throughout the summer and gives athletes the opportunity to gain full electronically timed performance marks that can be Power of 10-ratified.”
The club is based at the Island’s Footes Lane stadium, which is shared with the rugby and football teams. The synthetic track was built in 1993, upgraded and relaid in 2003 and the six-lane circuit, with an eight-lane straight, has also been recently resprayed.
The groups are mixed and normally split by age, training age, athlete maturity. Their standards are major considerations. The busiest training nights are Tuesdays where at peak times up to 200 athletes are catered for. Normally two components are delivered each night in the respective groups, including mobility, core and strength conditioning, speed development drills, low-level plyometrics and event-specific work.
Nick Marley coaches the under-11s early evening. Then from 6pm the under-13s are involved and during the winter the sessions are largely speed-based, although this is delivered with a multi-event focus with introductory sessions on jumps and throws. Steve Allaway takes the under-15 and under-17 sprints. The junior endurance group is coached by Alan Rowe and split into group names of “lions” (under-13 and under-15) and “gazelles” (under-15 and under-17). Those names are a reference to the philosophy that whether you are the chaser or the chased “you’d better be running!”
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» Pictured are Guernsey athletes Dan Galpin, Ed Mason and Chris Way