The second weekend in February, just before Valentine’s Day typically, normally marks the fifth and final fixture of the Chiltern League Cross Country Season. 2023 was no exception as GVH, and runners from 38 other running clubs, took part in the fixture at Keysoe Equestrian Centre, near Bedford.
The Chiltern League hasn’t visited Keysoe since January 2020, just before the pandemic, as the 2021 race was cancelled (as was the whole season), and the 2022 fixture was replaced by the disastrous visit to Shuttleworth College. Needless to say, the league and all the competitors (and probably the owners of Shuttleworth College) were keen to return to Keysoe, which has always been a popular venue, endowed as it is with a car park big enough for a Chiltern League fixture.
Since the last visit, Keysoe Equestrian Centre has changed hands and the course layout was significantly changed from previous years. As the runners arrived to look at the course it was clear that the changes had been necessary in order to avoid the multitude of new horse obstacles installed by the new proprietors. Thankfully, the course still included the famous water feature – an adapted equine obstacle, but this time included a long detour around the water for those that wanted to avoid getting wet feet. It should be noted that no GVH athletes opted to keep their feet dry.
In all but the last fixture, the ladies’ race takes place before the men’s race. For reasons that remain opaque to me, although I’m told it is something to do with having to collate the results before the prize givings which immediately follow the race, the men’s race traditionally sets off first at the final fixture. There were accordingly many photos of both men and women taking on the famous water feature.
The solid performances by both the women and men in the earlier 4 rounds meant that GVH was virtually assured of its place in division 1 for next season thus removing any sense of jeopardy and leaving the runners to enjoy the surroundings and, surprisingly, the warmer weather.
As happened in every race this season, Matt Ashby led the men’s team home, finishing in 65th place and earning 156 points. Michael Linden was nearly 90 seconds further back, picking up 134 points, just ahead of captain Andy Wells and Jon Roberts who finished only 2 seconds apart. There was a two minute gap back to James Birnie who picked up 100 points for the team. Stu Gallagher was next, 30 seconds further back and continuing his return to form and fitness just ahead of Martin Pike who had complained of a severe hangover before the start of the race.
Anthony Willcox was next home for GVH on his return to action after serious illness, just ahead of head coach Ed Price and Jono Marval, rounding out the 10 scoring positions for the Harriers. The final 4 members of the team, Steve Newing, Phil Mercer, Roly Kendall and Merlin Allan, making his last cross country appearance before returning to Australia in the summer, finished within a minute of Jono to complete the best overall performance of the season by the GVH men.
For much of the season the women’s team has outperformed the men in terms of numbers and would have outscored the men had the rules allowed (only 6 women score points compared to 10 men). Lisa Newing ran strongly for the women to finish first for GVH and pick up 82 points. Vicky Crawley-Wise was only 13 seconds behind and closing on Lisa as she scored 79 points. Claire McDonnell was next for GVH looking something like her old self after all her injury problems.
Sam Raffety was the next Harrier across the line scoring 42 points. She was only 13 seconds ahead of Susie Ivin who in turn was just over 30 seconds ahead of Kim Morgan who completed a fine debut season as women’s captain and completed the scoring positions for Gade Valley. Relative newcomer Katie Ellis missed out on the scoring places by only 4 seconds while Kitty Cole, Angeline Cottrill and Mary McCluskey finished in close order.
GVH knew their club position was secure and also (somebody did the maths) knew that club legend Teresa Reason was guaranteed to pick up an individual award in the division 1 V45 individual category, even though she couldn’t run at Keysoe. So it was left to captain Kim Morgan and coach Angeline Cottrill to wait for the numbers to be crunched to see which gong would be making its way to Teresa.
Angeline summed up the general feeling by saying afterwards, “Well done, and thank you to everybody who has participated in some way towards this fantastic team event. ￼ I totally appreciate the dedication you have shown, giving up your Saturdays for the love of GVH and your teammates.” She continued, “Special, mention to Teresa Reason for finishing first in her age category of V45!” Well done indeed to Teresa for a magnificent achievement capping off a superb cross country season for the club.