As April turned to May Gade Valley Harriers took some more small steps back towards what we all hope will be something like our “normal” life.
2020 was of course a year like no other in modern times. One of the casualties of the pandemic was the annual summer handicap series in which the Harriers run a 4 mile course with varying head starts designed to ensure a blanket finish. Social distancing rules as they were in the first lockdown meant that the handicap series was run as a virtual event, as were many events last year.
So it was with a sense of joy that 39 Harriers met (socially distanced and no earlier than 5 minutes before their designated start time) for the first handicap race of 2021 on Thursday April 29th. Much as with social golf, there is always a degree of guesswork, artistic license and straightforward lying in the calculation for the appropriate handicaps. With there having been no parkruns and barely any races for over a year, the handicap committee had very little data to go on. The pre-race banter and eyebrow raising was therefore more intense than usual.
Despite starting last with a handicap of 26 minutes Michael Linden produced the run of the day to overtake the entirety of the field and finish first. His time of 23:33 places him sixth on the all time list of GVH runners for the handicap. Gareth Tucker also produced a storming run from a handicap of 25 minutes to finish second. Lizzie Andrews produced a fine run, finishing the course in 32:15 to finish third. Only 24 seconds separated the next 7 runners with Matt Ashby coming in fourth and Andy Wells rounding out the top 10 finishers.
Illustrating the beauty of the handicap the next 16 finishers were separated by only 69 seconds led by Natasha Gibbs and Andy Bishop, who was running with the Harriers for the first time in a couple of years. Vicky Crawley Wise was only a second ahead of Kelly Cox who in turn held off Kitty Neale by 3 seconds with Andy Cook and Robert Bowler only a further second behind. New member Priscilla Pathak put in a strong performance to hold off Jane Percival and Isabel Wilson who were both finishing strongly.
Further down the field Kim Morgan, Angeline Cottrill and Sam Raffety, both in fine form recently, seemed to pay the penalty for their honesty to the handicap committee while those finishing at the back of the field know that they will enjoy a more generous handicap next time. In any case, the egalitarian design of the event meant that there was only just over 5 minutes separating the first finisher from the last which ordinarily would mean something of a queue at the bar of the Steamcoach. Hopefully the traditional trip to the pub will be possible after the next handicap race on 27th May.
Come the bank holiday weekend there were a couple of races emerging from the lockdown fog, rubbing their eyes and blinking. First up on Saturday was the Country to Capital Ultra. This race starts at Wendover, winds through the countryside before picking up the Grand Union Canal, following it into London and finishing at Little Venice, near Paddington Station in London.
The Harriers were led strongly by Al Flowers who finished 44th overall in a highly creditable 6:33:59. Finishing hot on his heels (in ultra terms) was Phil Mercer who continued his excellent recent form. He finished in 6:42:00 in 52nd position.
Always one to sniff out a race, particularly if it’s a marathon or ultra marathon, is the evergreen Dave Goodman. Dave started strongly but found the going tough as he paid for his early pace and suffered a fall around the 20km mark. He recovered his composure and rhythm to complete the 43 mile course in 8:30:53.
On Sunday Robert Bowler and James Felstead took on the wonderfully scenic undulating Henley Trail Half Marathon.The course takes in Temple Island Meadows, the start line for the Henley Rowing Regatta and follows the Thames tow paths.
The race is multi terrain, with a few nice up and down hills, lots of gates and a few turnstiles to negotiate. According to Bowler “there is nothing in this race to worry anyone in GVH who is used to running around Hemel and Berko; after all our terrain is great training”.
The course was well run by James Felstead in 1:38:13, looking fresh and relaxed as he finished 41st overall and 8th in his age category, showing the benefit of the club resuming the Tuesday training sessions. Robert Bowler, who turns 60 later this year and is rumoured to have his eyes on some of the club’s V60 records, crossed the line in 1:41:07 to show that there is still life in the old dog yet.
Hopefully as the summer progresses and life continues to return to normality, we will see more and more Harriers enjoying the thrill of the chase once more.