There was a time (a long time ago) when “Bandits at 7 O’Clock!” was a warning to look over your left shoulder for enemy aircraft. Those times have long passed. Now “Bandits at 7 O’Clock!” is the cry that goes up at Gade Valley Harriers on the last Thursday in April as we prepare for the first handicap race of the season. Some people respond to the request for a recent 5k time with honesty. Some, however, choose to interpret “recent 5k time” as “how long would it take you to run 5k backwards through a sea of treacle while having one of those dreams where you try to move fast but your legs just can’t move?” The result is always some “interesting” results in the April handicap.
The rules, in theory, should ensure something close to a blanket finish as the incremental handicaps, based on the submitted 5k times, determine how long after the start of the race each runner can start running. Thus the handicap offers the only real chance for all the runners of all the varying abilities to compete on an equal footing with each other. Or sometimes not.
The complaints and raised eyebrows were many as the start times were discussed. Ranging from accusations of sandbagging by the club’s quickest runner (“did you declare your 5k time from the Wendover Parkrun Matt?”) to various allegations of selective memory over recent performances. It remains plausible (though unlikely) that some people were genuinely surprised by the enormous uplift in their (self) predicted performance. What is certain is that handicap organiser, Helen Terry, will be imposing heavy cuts to those that outperformed their handicap significantly. As she shared the results she said “There will be some changes to next month’s start times!!!”
Once all the complaints had finished, the earliest starters started at 7:00PM and the latest starters set off 19 minutes later. Kitty Cole had started 3rd, 5:30 behind the first starters Kim Rodwell and Tracey Scollin. She passed Tracey just after the halfway mark and overtook Kim with about a mile to go. She then ran the remaining distance on her own to finish in first place, picking up maximum points in the handicap and achieving a rating of 5 bandit masks. Her running time was 33:28, compared to a predicted time of 37:15. Not far behind Kitty was Skip Phillips. He also achieved the maximum 5 masks with his time of 28:44.
Just under 30 seconds behind Skip, Paul Allen led home a group of 10 Harriers who all finished within a minute of each other on the road. Paul’s time of 27:12 was matched exactly by new member Louis Saville, 9 places behind, but the relative size of the handicaps was reflected in Paul gathering 4 masks to Louis’s 3.
Isabel Wilson led a group of 5 Harriers who finished with 6 seconds of each other. Tom Perry, Naomi Carey, Gareth Tucker and Rachel Haffenden made up the quintet. Finishing in 16th position in a time of 24:37 and outperforming his handicap by 1:38, Gareth was the last finisher to achieve a 4 mask rating.
Club captain Angeline Cottrill finished in 18th position, the first finisher to achieve the relatively honest rank of 2 masks. She was the first to finish in a group of 7 runners who finished within 30 seconds of each other. This group included Ed Price and James Birnie, who were the last of the finishers to achieve 3 bandit masks. They started together with a handicap of 14:45 and stayed close together for the whole race before Ed comfortably outsprinted James in the final 200 metres.
Ciara Barry finished in 25th position and was the first of the 13 runners who only achieved the lowest rating of a single bandit mask. Andy Cook, perhaps suffering the effects of having his horses stolen, was next, finishing in 28:40. He managed to hold off Matt Ashby in a close sprint finish even as Matt recorded the fastest time of the day of 23:27. Jon Roberts and Michael Linden joined Matt and Gareth Tucker in completing the course in under 25 minutes.
Bringing up the rear on the road, but leading the club in the honesty stakes (unfortunately there is no prize for honesty) were Sam Raffety, Charlie Cadogan and Phil Mercer. Despite her lowly finish in the race, Sam can be proud that she achieved the second fastest time (31:51) of the Harrier women, behind only Naomi Carey (31:36) and just ahead of Jenny Stubberfield (32:01).
As always, the handicap is a great event enjoyed by everybody who takes part and all those that help with the organisation. We look forward to the remaining 4 races with interest as we wait to see if Helen will apply the swinging penalties on the most brazen of the horse rustlers.
On Friday evening GVH’s Chris Dowling took part in the Seven-Ten track 5k race at Jarman Park in Hemel Hempstead. He was able to run an extremely quick PB of 17:31. In much the same way that “if it isn’t on Strava it didn’t happen”, this PB can’t be verified because, as Chris said after the race, “it was hand timed so not registered with the Power of 10 website.” That one will have to get passed on to the dubious PBs committee.
The weekend proper got underway on Saturday morning as several Harriers took on Parkruns. The run of the day belonged to Rachel Haffenden as she finished 2nd overall female at Gadebridge Parkrun with a time of 25:54, finishing ahead of all 5 male members of the club who took part. Elsewhere, the pick of the Harriers men on the day, Anthony Willcox, continued his return to fitness and form by finishing 7th overall in 18:53 at Cassiobury Park. Helen Heathcote was the week’s Parkrun tourist of the week as she took in the beautiful surroundings of the Eden Project down in Cornwall. She said afterwards “Parkrun tourist today. Lovely course and free entry to the Eden project afterwards.”
Later on Saturday morning, at 10:30, Mary McCluskey and Ines Trent took on the somewhat verbosely named “Mid Sussex East Grinstead 10 Mile” race. This race is a 10 mile trail race that takes place in East Grinstead, which is situated in Mid Sussex (I had to Google where East Grinstead is). This race is part of the 3 race series known as the Mid Sussex Marathon that takes place over the May Bank Holiday weekend. The series consists of a 10 mile race on Saturday, another 10 miles on Sunday and a 10k race on Monday which adds up to almost exactly the same distance as a marathon.
Mary and Ines chose to do only the first leg of the marathon as family commitments, and common sense, prevented them from making 3 trips to Mid Sussex in one weekend. The weather was lovely and the views were spectacular as the GVH ladies took on the undulating trails. Neither was too concerned about recording a fast time as they were more interested in making friends with the marshals and enjoying the day. Running together and despite stopping to chat at each water stop, they still recorded a very respectable time of 2:09:39 for the 10 miles.
After a strangely quiet Sunday, the bank holiday weekend was rounded off with the Pednor 5. This is a 5 mile road race of a single lap course in the countryside in between Chesham and Chartridge. At least 7 Harriers were taking on the challenge which started at 7:00PM. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, there is no news of any performances, so we’ll have to wait until next week to hear about Matt Ashby’s latest, shoe assisted, PB.
Full Handicap Results
|Handicap||Finish Time||Running Time||Bandit Rating|
Bandit Rating Key
5 Bandit Masks
These runners are the proper bandits. They are Che Guevara, Dick Turpin, Billy the Kid and Al Capone’s henchmen all rolled into one proper bandit package. Not only were they seen tying up their horses behind the pavilion before the start, but they were observed stealing those horses from Andy Cook’s paddock on Thursday afternoon.
4 Bandit Masks
Not in the uber bandit class but would probably still be in the first wave up against the wall during the Mexican revolution. Some respectable horse stealing antics and some expert mask tying on show but grand larceny might be slightly out of reach.
3 Bandit Masks
These bandits are the ones that appear in the background while Eastwood chews on his stogie and tosses his poncho over the shoulder. They won’t be the first to get gunned off their horse when the shooting starts but they’re unlikely to make it to the end of the film. On a decent day they might merit a close up shot of their anguished face and a Wilhelm scream as they meet their maker.
2 Bandit Masks
These runners aren’t really bandits at all. Their outperformance of their expected time can be attributed to an acceptable margin of error. So at most they are accidental thiefs. Probably happy to pocket a £20 note that they see lying on the floor, but only if they genuinely didn’t see who dropped it.
1 Bandit Mask
These are the saints of the handicap competitors. Think Elliot Ness and Mother Teresa in a sleek, well toned, athletic body. Nobody will begrudge these non-bandits finishing higher up the order next time and Helen will always look favourably on their future handicap claims. Or maybe Phil was just sandbagging for next month.
Bandit Rating Methodology
Helen worked out our “expected” finish times by multiplying the 5k times we submitted by 4/3. This is a decent enough estimate as 5k is about 3 miles, and the handicap is about 4 miles. At least, if everybody submitted honest times it would be decent enough. The handicaps always seem a little more generous to the slower runners, but I always thought this was the right way to do it since the faster runners don’t need to have their egos stroked any more than they already do every time they run a race.
Obviously, many of us outperformed the handicap that Helen assigned so my methodology for assigning the bandit rating was to calculate the percentage of outperformance of the handicap and then I assigned arbitrary bandings to get to the all important bandit mask rating. So a 10% or higher outperformance got you 5 masks, 4 masks were awarded for anything between 6% and 10%, 3 masks for 4% – 6%, 2 masks for any outperformance at all and 1 mask was awarded to anybody that didn’t beat their expected time. So I guess that anybody who got one mask only will benefit from a more generous handicap next time while everybody else will suffer a cut to their handicap which will be more severe the more masks you earned.