The weekend of 15th and 16th October saw two big events for Gade Valley Harriers as 22 club athletes took on the notorious Shotover Hill in the first round of the Chiltern Cross Country League just outside Oxford while 11 took on the notoriously unhilly Amsterdam Marathon just outside the coffee shops of Amsterdam.
The weekends of the Chiltern Cross Country League tend to cause sparse attendance from local club runners at the Saturday morning Parkruns as the cross country races take place early on Saturday afternoon. This weekend was no different as only a handful of GVH runners took part in the 5k runs. Only 4 Harriers ran at our local Gadebridge Parkrun, led home by Bill Hawes as he returns to fitness after injury problems. There were also 4 Gade athletes at Wendover Woods where Susie Ivin was the first to finish.
The main club business on Saturday was the first round of the Chiltern Cross Country League at Oxford Horspath. The 2021/22 league season had ended in high farce at Shuttleworth College near Biggleswade as heavy rain (somehow unforeseen by the organisers in February) caused car parking problems which in turn led to access problems which led to tailbacks on local roads which in turn led to frayed tempers, police attendance and the famous police comment “what do you want me to do? I’m not going to run after them!” in response to the landowner asking 500 or so runners to “Get Off Moi Land!!!”
Despite the reluctance of the local constabulary to engage in the task of evicting runners, the ladies race never started and the men’s race was eventually considered void as many of the would-be competitors were stuck in the traffic chaos caused by the organisational incompetence. The result that really mattered to GVH was that, having been denied the opportunity to score points in the final fixture to perhaps rise into the promotion places, the league decided to promote GVH into the top division for 2022/23.
Causing great relief to many (not least the absent 11), 12 men and, earlier, 10 women, lined up on the respective start lines for GVH, comfortably exceeding the minimum quota of 10 men and 6 women to score in division 1 of the league.
The women’s race got underway first with the women running one “long lap” of the course including climbing the notorious Shotover Hill once. Heather Timmis was first home for the Harriers, completing the course, measuring just under 5.5km, in 22:56, finishing a superb 12th position in the division. Teresa Reason, still recovering from her heroics in the London Marathon only two weeks ago, was around 2 minutes, and 13 places, behind Heather, with Vicky Crawley Wise a further 2 minutes and 23 places back.
New women’s captain Kim Morgan was next for the Harriers, finishing 54th in 27:32, less than a minute ahead of club legend Claire McDonnell, who in turn was only 2 seconds and one place ahead of Jenny Stubberfield, who was the final scorer for GVH women. Lizzy Andrews and Kitty Cole also finished in very close attendance, 6 seconds and one place apart, while Katy Ellis and Angeline Cottrill completed the women’s team for Gade Valley.
The men’s race got underway at 2:00PM and was contested over 2 laps, both including the famous hill. Owing to changes in the flat part of the course, before the first approach to the hill, the men found that the narrow paths, and the drop in pace caused by the hill, combined to create a huge bottleneck at the base of the climb. All but the very quickest of the field (so nobody from GVH) had to walk slowly for perhaps 50 metres and stop completely 3 or 4 times before beginning the climb. Hopefully the league organisers will take note of the feedback and redesign the start of the course for next year to ensure the field is spread more before the approach to the hill.
After a gruelling race of around 9.5km, the recent natural order asserted itself with club athlete of the year Matt Ashby coming home first for the Harriers in 65th position in a time of 34:36. He was over a minute ahead of last year’s athlete of the year, Michael Linden, who finished 85th in 35:50. Chris Reason was next in 36:10, just 4 places and 10 seconds ahead of Jon Roberts. Gareth Tucker and Martin Pike finished in close order, 134th and 138th respectively, with James Birnie (another recovering from a recent marathon), a further minute back.
Club head coach Ed Price was the 8th scorer for the GVH men, finishing in just under 41 minutes in 174th place. Merlin Allan in 191st place and Simon Wheeler, 196th made up the male scorers for Gade Valley. Less than a minute further back, Steve Newing in 201st place and 2022 Bandicap winner, Roland Kendall, in 203rd, completed the team for the Gade Valley Men.
Despite the trepidation leading into the fixture as the club returned to the top division with what appeared to be a weakened team, there was much optimism to take away from the first fixture. The Oxford race is traditionally a low scoring race for GVH as it involves the longest travelling distance so the club is used to fighting from behind. Despite the circumstances, GVH do not find themselves in the relegation places as they finished the fixture in 13th (out of 17 clubs), with 1496 points, only 17 points behind Watford Harriers in 12th.
Sunday 16th October saw the focus switch from Cross Country to another country as 11 Gade Valley Harriers made the trip to Amsterdam for the Amsterdam Marathon. This trip was planned some months ago, long before the Chiltern League fixtures were published, at least that is the story that the party, which included club chairman Andy Cook, club secretary Helen Cook and men’s captain Andy Wells, are telling. Some might say that they took the fear of Shotover Hill to extremes by entering what is famously the World’s flattest big city marathon.
The performances of the day in Amsterdam came from Michelle Wells and Sue Crowther and Ines Trent. Michelle took almost 17 minutes off her previous PB, and beat the London Marathon Good For Age entry time, finishing the 26.2 miles in 3:48:54. Sue Crowther also comfortably made the GFA mark for her age group, finishing the course in 3:56:46, while Ines, only 3 years after completing the GVH Learn to Run course, completed her first marathon in 5:46:51. Head coach Ed Price commented, “…particularly well done to Michelle Wells and Sue Crowther for achieving London Good for Age times and to Ines Trent for completing her debut marathon only 3 years after doing our Learn to Run course.”
Earlier on, Antony Beamish had led the Harriers contingent home, beating his own previous best by around a minute, to finish in 3:15:55 and bag the fastest marathon by a GVH male athlete this season (though slower than the overall fastest, by Teresa Reason two weeks ago). Despite his PB, Beamo found the closing miles very hard and commented, “I got undone in the last 8k and had to reset my mind… retired!” Nick Crowther wasn’t too far behind, finishing in 3:19:04, but failed to threaten retirement.
Next over the line for GVH were Andy Wells, Stu Gallagher and Andy Cook. All 3 completed the course in extremely respectable times but each struggled in the closing miles. Andy Wells commented, “It was brutal, I was going backwards from 16 miles.” Stu Gallagher had struggled with injury recently and pulled out of the London Marathon hoping the extra time would allow him to be ready, unfortunately, he said, “I was cruising the first 11 or 12 miles. Then the leg pinged. That last 15 miles was enough to make me want to quit running.” Andy Cook also carried a variety of injuries into the race, saying, “My broken rib and hand were screaming at me by mile 20 which was rather distracting. Not sure I’ll do that again.” Rumours that Stu, Andy Cook and Antony Beamish discussed retirement long into the Amsterdam night are unsubstantiated but probably true.
Phil Mercer, who enjoyed his run around London two weeks ago again had occasion to enjoy what was, for him, a leisurely 26.2 miles, finishing in 3:44:04 but without any retirement discussions. Darren Burke expressed disappointment with the last few miles of his race, saying that his “…split times looked great until 21 miles but then they resembled Liz Truss’s approval ratings.” Helen Cook finished the race in 4:39:55 and expressed no sympathy with husband Andy’s self-inflicted pains. It might be relevant to point out that she wasn’t approached for comment.
Full Women’s Results from Oxford
Full Men’s Results from Oxford
Full Results from Deserter’s Marathon