Stevenage half-marathon: 'A fox being chased by hounds' - Fairlands Valley Spartan Penny looks forward to guiding runners round on her bike
PUBLISHED: 17:16 10 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:22 10 October 2017
The Stevenage half-marathon is fast approaching and if you're one of the runners taking part then you're sure to be squeezing in a few last practice runs.
But what you might not realise is one participant will be preparing not by running, but by cycling.
Penny Schenkel will be the lead bike for the race. It’s Schenkel’s job to cycle in front of the runners for the 13.1 miles, to ensure their path is clear for the race.
Schenkel, who moved to the UK from New Zealand in 1995, is a member of Stevenage’s Fairlands Valley Spartans and Stevenage Cycling Club.
Speaking to CometSport, Schenkel said: “Being lead bike is like you’re a fox being chased by hounds.
“My role is to make the trail clear for the runners – but you’re also trying to look over your shoulder to see that they’re not on your tail.”
Pemny’s been lead bike in a number of 10k series events but it’ll be her first time as lead bike for the Stevenage half-marathon.
She describes the course as a good mix of off-road, cycle paths and wooded areas. “It’s not dead flat. It’s not the fastest course, but it’s a great course. And on most runs round here you’ll find a damn good hill - my goodness, the hills - there’s plenty of mud, too,” she adds.
The terrain may not compare to her native New Zealand – as anyone who has watched The Lord of the Rings films will testify - but she insists it can still be challenging for beginners and veterans alike.
All this talk of muddy hills might make the race sound unattractive – yet the reality could not be more different.
Penny explains the Stevenage half-marathon is a community event.
“People can watch, that makes a huge difference. It’s not just relatives of participants, but passers-by who can watch and engage with the runners.”
This community ethos extends to the Spartans too.
The Kiwi has only been associated with the club for eighteen months, but she says without hesitation: “It’s changed the way I look at running”.
She was initially anxious they’d be for very competitive people but soon came to realise it’s for anyone, adding: “It’s for different levels - so you never feel you’re holding people up or being pathetic.
“It’s a great way to get yourself started, and keep yourself motivated – that’s the important thing”.
Penny recommends the Spartans’ spiritual home, Fairlands Valley Park, as the best place in Stevenage to start running. She says: “There’s a lot of different terrain, there’s a lake, there’s woods.
“You don’t feel like you’re miles away from anything, so you can always stop your run short if you want to. The cycle paths are great as well.”
Penny’s advice for any first-time runners chasing her bike during the race would be to pace yourself – but make sure you enjoy it.
“If you’re going for a personal best then you’re going to be hammering yourself.
“But if it’s your first half-marathon make sure you’ve done all your preparation.”
For if anyone knows the importance of pacing yourself it’s Penny.
After all, no fox wants to be caught by chasing hounds.