Happy New Year Harriers

Whilst there is no Christmas break to the running season, in fact there isn’t a running season (it goes on endlessly), individuals have Christmas breaks and there don’t tend to be many big events from about the second week in December until the second week in January. Thus it was that the GVH massive got together for the first time in anger in 2023, at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes, for the latest round of the Chiltern Cross Country League.

While some of us were having a break from running (or writing about it), or were on holiday, or perhaps were unfortunate enough to have to move house, and then spend the whole holiday period making it barely livable, there were still some things happening in the meantime. So with apologies to all of those who might have expected a little more love to be heaped on their athletic performances, a lightning summary of the previous 4 weekends ensues…

On Saturday 17th December a group of GVH die-hard Parkrun tourists made the short trip to Dunstable Downs Parkrun. This is never an easy Parkrun, being one of the more hilly offerings on the circuit, but was probably (I assume, I didn’t have time to ask) made very much more difficult by the snow that fell overnight over most of the country.

Annual GVH ski trip

Sometimes one’s childhood memories can be deceiving, or plain wrong. I remember learning in primary school that Ivinghoe Beacon is the highest point in Hertfordshire. A simple Google search, however, debunks this by the simple expedient that Ivinghoe Beacon is “…a prominent hill and landmark in Buckinghamshire, England, 233 m above sea level” [source: Wikipedia]. Perhaps my memory was flawed, perhaps the Beacon is the highest point in the Chiltern Hills? Another quick Google Search reveals that “…The highest point in Hertfordshire is 244 m above sea level, 400 m from Hastoe within Pavis Wood in the Chiltern Hills.” So not only is it not in Hertfordshire, it wouldn’t be the highest point in Hertfordshire if it was.

Notwithstanding poorly remembered childhood factoids (or perhaps ill informed primary school teachers) it is not in dispute that running straight over Ivinghoe Beacon is difficult. So the existence of the GVH tradition of running the Beacon on Christmas Eve could be considered baffling by some. 7 Harriers (and the Wells’s dogs) embraced the tradition and posed at the top of the Beacon to prove it.

NOT the highest point in NOT Hertfordshire

With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday last year there was the opportunity to run two parkruns in a weekend as many Parkruns laid on a Christmas Day special. At least 8 Harriers, and one baby, took on Gadebridge Parkrun that day, always a great way to prepare for a day of gratuitous excess.

I pushed Will round the course, why am I not in the photo?

December 30th saw the latest round of the club league with about 10 Harriers taking on the Buntingford 10 (mile) race. I haven’t managed to study the results but looking at the photos (and reading the Facebook captions) I’m going to guess that Michael Linden picked up maximum points for the men and Vicky Crawley-Wise probably was the first lady home. Apologies to anybody that took part that I have no idea about and apologies if my guesses / assumptions offended anybody. Well done for taking part.

They held the race in the ballroom at the front of the mansion??

Also on the last weekend of the year, St John’s Church, just down the road from the Harriers’ base, holds an annual 10k fun run. We were told in the introduction that 2022 was the tenth running of the fun run. Apparently the first running had been from St Albans Abbey back to St John’s, around 10 miles, but very quickly they realised that 10 miles was a bit much and changed it to a 10k affair. At some later point a 5k walk was also added. Over 100 runners, mainly from Dacorum AC (the “other” running club in Hemel Hempstead) and GVH took part in the fundraiser which raised over £1000 for the ongoing Organ appeal (I’m sure we’d all like to make our organ more appealing). It was properly throwing it down with rain and generally all round fairly miserable but it was still fun according to those who expressed a preference.

It being a holiday weekend, New Year’s Day also saw many Parkrun venues double up on staging over the weekend. One such venue was the notoriously difficult (I would think especially so with a New Year’s Day hangover) Wendover Parkrun through Wendover Woods. Congratulations to anybody that roused themselves to start the new year in the best possible way, especially to the three that ran around Wendover.

Was New Year’s Day the only day it didn’t rain this year?

And so to Campbell Park. Campbell Park is generally accepted to be the toughest of the 5 regular venues of the past 7 cross country seasons being hilly, over varying terrain including grass, mud and cinder tracks, including many steeply cambered sections and incorporating several areas of standing water and running water (of various depths depending on recent weather). Constant rain and no sunshine in the week leading up to the race left most of the runners anticipating a true cross country classic of mud, trips, stumbles, falls and generally difficult running.

“I love mud. NOT here because I’m captain, NOT here because I’m captain…”

After unexpectedly finding themselves in Division 1 of the Chiltern League for the 2022/23 season, GVH even more unexpectedly found themselves in the relatively comfortable (from the threat of relegation) position of 13th out of 17 clubs in the top division after 3 of the 5 fixtures. With a comfortable looking gap of 329 points to 18th place, and over 1400 points to what is believed to be the first relegation place, GVH need to do little more than field enough runners in the remaining two fixtures to maintain their division 1 status.

A well organised and well executed line-up

As is normally the case the women’s race was the first of the two seniors races to get underway, about an hour before the men’s race. The women’s team fielded 10 runners, led expertly again by Teresa Reason, who finished the 5.6km two-lap course in 26:00. She finished 26th out of 131 in the Division 1 standings, picking up 105 points for her efforts and placing her 2nd overall in the F45 age category for the season with one race to go. Vicky Crawley-Wise finished not too far behind Teresa in 28:14, picking up 86 points, a long way ahead of Sam Raffety (31:54, 55 points). 

Mud? Pah! I laugh at mud! I drink it instead of coffee!!!

Katie Ellis, enjoying an excellent first season of cross country for GVH, finished as next scorer in 33:48, picking up 34 points. Kim Morgan has previously described cross country races as “horrible” and commented that “I’m only doing them because I’m captain and I feel I have to”. She thoroughly enjoyed her race last Saturday, however, especially the part where she failed to negotiate the famous (and very swollen) water jump, executing a spectacular, if involuntary, head-over-heels move, sadly not captured on any GVH camera, and a face covered in mud until at least the point that she got home. She still finished as the 5th GVH scorer. Kitty Cole continued her excellent cross country season, rounding out the scoring positions and picking up 21 points.

Solid march! RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT!

Only 15 seconds behind Kitty was Anita Fenoughty, continuing her spectacular rise from Learn to Run Student in Summer 2022 to seasoned athlete by Spring 2023. She was followed immediately by Angeline Cottrill and Helen Cook, 15 seconds and 23 seconds further back, respectively. The last GVH athlete to finish was Mary McCluskey who found the conditions not to her liking. As the club’s men watched the women pass at the end of their first lap she was heard to comment, “This is rubbish, I hate this!” Readers can guess which words have been changed or omitted in order to protect the innocent.

“This is shit!” (said the man on the right)

The GVH men also started with 10 runners, James Birnie having pulled out with illness at the last minute. According to Merlin Allen, “more importantly, he made the tiffin before he got ill and brought it with him.” By the time of the start, the last race of day, the course resembled a series of awkwardly angled mudslides punctuated by areas of standing water and one wide strip of fast moving water all bounded by areas of green grass tantalisingly situated just outside the boundary tapes. The race promised to provide entertaining viewing for the ladies who stayed behind and it didn’t disappoint.

A disorganised rabble including one man clearly looking for a fight and one who looks like he already fell at the water jump

Most of the spectators decided to wander down to the water jump to wait for the men to tackle it at the end of the first and second laps. Most years, the water jump is nothing more than a small ditch which can easily be jumped without breaking stride. Falls are therefore rare and talked about years later (just ask Vicky). This year, it was clear from the moment the second runner went through on his hands and knees that it wasn’t going to be a trivial obstacle.

In close order and relatively unmuddy as yet

Matt Ashby led the way for GVH as he so often has this season and looked serene on both his passages over the water. Andy Wells and Jon Roberts also negotiated the hazard safely though not necessarily with the same serenity. Michael Linden wasn’t far behind Jon on the first lap but became the first GVH man to look very foolish at the water jump. He mistimed his jump, slid along on his knees and elbows for some distance before struggling back up and staggering on. Gareth Tucker was the only other GVH man to come to grief on the water jump (nobody reported any falls elsewhere on the course), his mishap coming on the second visit.

MIke Linden causes widespread mirth with his misjudged leap

After all the slipping and sliding Matt Ashby managed to stay ahead of all his teammates to finish the 8.4km trial in 34:48, in 58th position, picking up 172 points. Club captain Andy Wells looked strong throughout and managed to stay just ahead of Jon Roberts, Andy finishing 81st, 15 seconds ahead of Jon in 83rd place. Michael Linden didn’t look like the happiest camper after his Devon Loch moment earlier but was strong enough to finish 4th for GVH and pick up 125 points. Gareth Tucker was next for the Harriers, looking far less unhappy with his mudsliding antics, also picking up over 100 points.

Some models and influencers tackled the water jump with gazelle like grace

After Gareth there was a long gap back to head coach Ed Price, who finished at the front of a group of 4 Harriers, all within a minute of each other. Stu Gallagher was just one place and 2 seconds behind Ed (Ed having stormed past him in the final 50 metres), with Merlin Allen 15 seconds further back and Steve Newing 30 seconds behind Merlin. Phil Mercer was the final GVH finisher, still picking up 31 valuable points.

Even with all the mud, the beauty still shines through

After 4 of 5 races the gap between GVH and Bearbrook Running Club in the relegation places is up to over 2100 points. To put that in context, Bearbrook have averaged just over 900 points per race so far and Gade Value have banked just under 1450 points per race. It is reasonable, therefore, for the club to have a fair degree of confidence in their ability to retain their top division status for a further season. Unfortunately it doesn’t rain any less in the first division.