Thursday 24th June saw the latest round of the Gade Valley Harriers Summer Handicap Series. As usual the handicap format provided some excellent racing with 37 Harriers racing over the 4 mile course.
After some confusion in the May edition leading to an overly harsh handicap, Anthony Fogden had trailed in last. This time the committee had assigned a more generous time and he turned the tables to finish over a minute and a half ahead of the May winner, George Einchcomb who was second. April’s winner, Mike Linden struggled to match his earlier time and finished down the field. The handicap system should ensure a blanket finish and this time it worked brilliantly as 33 of the 37 racers finished within 3 minutes of each other.
Although Parkrun has not made a full return yet, with the weekly 5k runs scheduled to resume on 24th July, the junior parkruns for children aged 4 to 10 resumed 2 weeks ago. Young Jack Sparks, son of Harrier Sam Sparks, took part in the Leavesden Junior Parkun this Saturday and finished the 2k course in first place in a time of 8:17, a time that most senior runners would be proud of.
The Aldbury 5 is a local favourite race starting and finishing in the beautiful village of Aldbury, near Tring. The race is just over 5 miles in length but the sting in the tail is not the distance, but the geography. After a very short road section, the remainder of the race is run on trails. It first climbs steeply up to the Bridgewater Monument in Ashridge and then, after a short downhill section, up and over Pitstone Hill, the little sister of the nearby Ivinghoe Beacon. After all the climbing, the route descends back towards Aldbury through tricky wooded trails before finishing back in the recreation ground in the village.
Women’s captain Angeline Cottrill is well known for her liking of bling in general and race medals in particular. On the approach to the race start Angeline spoke to a man who was marshalling cars to ask if medals would be awarded. She was told that there were no medals for the Aldbury 5 but every participant would receive a commemorative mug. “Oh lovely!”, she responded, “I love to have nice mugs.” She may have fooled the marshall but she was not fooling any of the Harriers. Indeed, as soon as the marshall was out of earshot Angeline turned the air blue with her recollections of “rubbish gifts” from races past. The highpoint of the rant was “an effin’ tea towel and a corporate tie from the Ricky Road Run one year!”
When the Harriers gathered on the field with the imposing backdrop of the hill up to Ashridge it was clear that there was a decent turnout as 12 Harriers posed for the photo before Trevor Normoyle appeared to swell the turnout to 13. Matt Ashby and Heather Taylor were the undoubted class of the field while it was good to see Anthony Willcox making a return to racing after all his injury problems.
Matt Ashby and Heather Taylor quickly pulled away at the start. James Birnie had said beforehand that he would be trying “to hang on to Heather today” but he realised on the first hill that wasn’t going to happen as Matt and Heather disappeared into the distance. Anthony Willcox showed that his recovery is going well as he was looking strong at the midpoint of the race, just before the big climb up to Pitstone Hill. GVH head coach Ed Price was waiting at the top of the course to cheer the runners on and his encouragement was gratefully received.
Matt Ashby was the first Harrier home, finishing 5th overall in a time of 35:52. Heather Taylor was next, completing the course in 38:14 and missing out on the first female prize (if there was a prize, “it may just have been a large spotty handkerchief” according to Angeline) by just 20 seconds. Anthony Willcox finished 10 seconds ahead of James Birnie, in 34th and 36th places, respectively. Trevor Normoyle was next in for the Harriers, just ahead of Kim Morgan, who was in turn only 5 seconds, and a single place, ahead of Rupert Cavanagh Mainwaring.
Sam Raffety was pacing Angeline Cottrill around the course and they finished in consecutive places, just outside the top 100 with Michelle Wells and Natasha Gibbs not far behind. Helen Cook, having already run 10 miles from Hemel Hempstead to Aldbury with Kim Morgan and Sam Raffety before the race, was next in. Ines Trent, following up her recent excellent form including a new PB in the Summer Solstice 10k last Monday completed the line up of Harriers at the finish.
This weekend also saw the MK Marathon Weekend in Milton keynes. In previous years (the 2020 version was cancelled) the Marathon Weekend has taken place over the long weekend of the first May bank holiday. This year’s version was planned for late June to ensure that it would be possible to stage the events under the prevailing Covid restrictions.
On Saturday Trevor Normoyle took on the half marathon distance. He completed the course in 1:44:41, 186th out of 1072 competitors. “I was happy with the run”, said Trevor, “but really I was just looking forward to Aldbury on Sunday. I love a free mug.”
On Sunday Dave Goodman took part in the full marathon in Milton Keynes. Dave is a prolific marathon runner so it was surprising that MK was only Goodman’s second marathon of the year. Dave completed the course in 4:31:47. At the end Dave said “…despite having a slight issue around the 19 mile mark I somehow managed to finish in 4:31:47. I’m happy with the time, but the medal was a little bit of a let down. I think I’d rather have got a mug. Maybe even a tea towel.”
Sunday also saw Al Flowers compete in the Runthrough Brixton in the “very undulating and humid Brockwell Park”. He finished 5th overall in a superb time of 36:52, taking over a minute off his previous PB. At the finish, Flowers said, “It was quite a low key event for a London 10km, very well organised and a fun way to start a Sunday!”