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John Ghent's Backyard Marathon Challenge. 12 Months On







Outlook at the back of my house on what should be Tarbes and Barcelona day

As I sit here on July 5th in my rear reception room, staring out of the window through a light imprint of a pigeon which must have hit the window at some point, I am like a coiled spring waiting for news of the Barcelona and Tarbes pigeons - and I haven't even sent. The rain is teaming down against a backdrop of terraced houses. A tree in my neighbour's garden breaks up the monotonous red brick and UPVC window scene which is repeated both left and right to the ends of the street which then twist at 90 degrees to continue their journey across Newfoundpool. Well, I call it my neighbour's garden, they back on to me really but the house is close enough for me to smell their bacon that they cook for breakfast sometimes!

12 months ago I was stood in a compound on the outskirts of Barcelona, blue sky for as far as the eye could see, the Mediterranean Sea on one side, lapping up at the shore. Opposite this, as my eyes move across the open space of the compound, it's black bitumen-like surface only interrupted by 8 transporters that the birds have called home for the last 6 days, is an array of tall buildings, with dual carriageways and small side streets weaving in and out of the large structures. And beyond these buildings... the Pyrenees. The greatest obstacle that the pigeon fancier has to face, the Becher's Brook of the avian world. What a difference a year makes!

The fact that I am more interested in the two marathon events taking place this weekend as opposed to my own birds away at Ancenis is mainly due to this very typical British weather which we have been blessed with this morning, I will be surprised if my birds aren't held-over. I have already told the wife I am racing on Sunday so won't be able to come shopping that afternoon. Holdovers do have some uses you see! This weekend is really my main race this season although 3 weeks ago I didn't think I would be sending, after a very tough MNFC Fougeres which saw myself, amongst others I might add, with no pigeons on the day from 295 miles. This season has been a massive learning experience and without a doubt progress has been made, as well as a few mistakes! The biggest thing I have learnt is simple - patience! I thought I had patience before this year and I did, but only about 50% of what is needed to become a true 'Marathon Man'.

My channel season started with a high and a low. Eight pigeons were sent to Falaise with the BICC, only the 4th race of their lives and whilst I clocked 2 in 20 minutes, it was a very tough race up into the Midlands and apart from those 2 I have not seen feather since! The first pigeon was bred for me by Alan Baker and the second was a gift from Gilbert Chappell in Bude, both of Jim Emerton origin although the bird from Alan is a cross with it being 50% Emerton and 50% old Scottish bloodlines. So, these 2 birds, which were at 265 miles in the BICC for a real baptism of fire in early May, have been put aside as they don't need to prove me anything else as yearlings.

It was then a simple case of preparing some birds for MNFC Carentan. This year has really been about finding my feet with the old birds, working out what I can and can't do. I prepared 2, and in a really fast race I got one on the day and the other came a week later. The main thing for me is she survived the week out, lost very little weight and has made it over the Channel at some point. The other bird is the most laid back pigeon in my loft. He's in his own world all the time, not overly interested in his mate although he is paired and sitting, not bothered about going looking for fights, though he will defend his box/boxes with some ferocity when required. He generally speaking just keeps himself to himself and seems pretty content most of the time.

So, three weeks passed and it was onto Fougeres. I had brought out another 6/7 birds in readiness for their first Channel crossing of the year but had unfortunately lost what I thought would be my best hope on the first training toss at 15 miles! They came in singles all day so I can only assume that a hawk has had him away. He navigated from BBC Carentan last year in his first ever race so he was earmarked for greater things this year, but alas it was not to be. After a couple of inland races with these birds there were 5 ready to go to Fougeres and the laid-back cock made it 6. He hadn't been in a basket since the Carentan race 3 weeks before. As already stated a tough race was the order of the day and it seems very few pigeons made the Channel crossing at what would have been the expected time. Those fanciers who clocked multiple pigeons on the day deserve a big pat on the back! I was somewhat disappointed as it was an ideal type of race/test for my birds and I was already writing off the season when I went bed that night. Up early the next day, let the birds out, and when I went to call them in 2 of the 6 were here, the laid back cock who looked like he had never been away, and a grizzle hen which is 50% Fabry, my Grandad will be pleased to here! It was the 5th race of her life so I was really pleased with her. I went to work and as the morning passed by 2 more came, both two year olds. One, a mealy cock, is the nestmate to the bird I lost at the training toss, and he looked like he had been hit by a train. He is physically fine now and probably could have gone back to Ancenis this weekend but he has been having a real ding-dong with a cock next door to him who is spare and I don't think he is mentally in the right place so he is probably done for the year, my patience is improving you see! The final one of the four is a very interesting case. The reason I say this is that I have been patient with this bird without really knowing it or setting out to do it! He is a 2012 bred red grizzle cock, fairly lightly trained as a baby, he then messed up a trainer from Lincoln in preparation for going to BBC Carentan in 2013. I left him and as I wasn't sending any other old bird races that year he was trained with my youngsters and entered into two young bird races as a trainer, he nighted out at the first one and was 2nd pigeon on the second race. I then got married, had a week away, then the Honeymoon was a few weeks later so again he was put aside. 10 months on he is one of my birds in the basket for Ancenis. He has been to two inland races and the Fougeres race and is now at Ancenis at two years of age in his 6th race ever, I shall update you in the next article as to whether he comes or not!

Well that brings the Backyard Marathon Challenge right up to date. I have to say splitting the team across so many different events has been very tiring and time consuming with training, planning nest cycles, that damned thing called work being very busy and unbelievably my wife also wanting some of my time. Anyone would think we were married....oh wait......bugger! I have had some precious compliments on the Backyard Marathon Challenge, some people even saying they have been inspired. Lol Turner has said he may have a crack at Barcelona, Drew Callan in his latest NFC notes talks of "feeling a bit Ghenty" and needing a lie down (it doesn't work Drew, you need a good stiff whisky to calm down, trust me) and at marking for Ancenis on Thursday members of the MNFC Committee said how much they enjoy the series. Having started this journey nearly two years ago, I have certainly grown as a person and I think I have improved as a fancier as well... only time will tell! I have also made some great friends so far and long may that continue. Mike Link at Hereford is my double and we are forever bouncing ideas off of one another and the one thing we seem to agree on more than anything else is to have patience, especially as a small team man, when wanting to get birds out to 650 miles plus. A person I met this week with an excellent record at Tarbes and Saintes when sending very small teams is without a doubt the most meticulous planner of pigeons I have ever met, and he reaps the rewards through being patient with his pigeons. There will be exceptions to the rule. My good mate Nic is one of them - he has 15 yearlings at Tarbes this weekend and 6 birds at Barcelona! When I asked him what old birds he had left his reply was, "none in the loft but a few in the phone-book!" Make of that what you will! If you doubt mine and Mike's conclusion then just look at the reports on Elimar or the BICC website from Gareth Watkins and take a look at the work these birds have had, or haven't had in a lot if cases, on their route to being three/four/five years old.

Just about to wrap up now and have just heard the MNFC have held-over, no shopping for me tomorrow, and the Tarbes liberation news will be updated in the afternoon. Stay calm Drew, it's going to be a long weekend! As seems to be becoming the norm for my articles now, I will finish with this, a quote by Arnold H. Glasow.

"The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it."


John Ghent

83, Newport Street



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Elimar - July 2014