It’s been a while. A cursory glance at the Latest News page on the club website shows that the last time a weekly report was written, it was also a cross country weekend, back at the start of December in Luton. What happened since? Well, there was the Milton Keynes Winter Half on December 10th, a load of Parkruns, the Christmas Eve Beacon Run (thanks to Vicky Crawley Wise for the organisation), the Pednor 10 and the St John’s Church fun run on New Years Eve and probably some other races as well.
Unfortunately, due to Christmas parties (and hangovers) in the week beginning December 11th, then moving house the week after that, then Christmas and New Year, then still not having broadband into January (won’t have it until at least January 23rd according to Sky / Openreach), it has just been too hard to put (virtual) pen to paper to report on the week’s running. But given that “what has happened to the reports? I really miss them!” has been said to me by, well, nobody, I felt like it was time to catch up.
Well, when I say “catch up” I mean it is time to just say “sorry” to everybody that ran hard and set great times in the past few weeks. Let’s face it, there are only so many times I can say that Ines ran a new PB, Kim continues to get faster, run PBs and “accidentally” pick up V45 prizes, Matt beat everybody from the club, Michael Linden moaned about something and Wellsy had a phantom injury.
So this will very much be like the return of Eastenders after the first lockdown, where nothing happened in the interim period and nobody mentioned a thing. You all have Andy and Helen Cook to thank for me being able to do this at all. When I return the 5g router they lent me, it will have a sophisticated trojan installed in it that will enable me to eavesdrop all the conversations that take place in Cook Hall and all his cars, even the Dino.
So on to January, specifically January 13th, when the Chiltern league Cross Country season resumed for the 4th (of 5) matches. In fact, there was a lot of drama in the Chiltern Cross Country League before the match as the league committee indulged in a psychodrama seemingly triggered by rules confusions but that had been, judging by the emails that flew around, simmering somewhere below boiling point for some time. No doubt there is more to come as the league committee deals with the fallout and we have only really heard one side of the story.
The story I heard was about a magic cheesemaker called Lilton Cheag. A new young wizard came to help the council of Wizards with lots of promises to make their cheese making easier. His magic included Barcodes, the ability to use a new fangled thing called “compewtas” and even the ability to advertise instantly via something called the Interweb. Sadly though, the established wizards didn’t trust this new stuff, some called it “technollergee” and they plotted to take back control of Lilton Cheag. Their opportunity arose when it turned out that the young wizard was unable to cast a spell to control his 40 year old daughter. Who knew that was a thing in this day and age?
But back to reality, and a novelty – a Chiltern League Cross Country fixture in Watford, based in Cassiobury Park. This is the closest GVH is ever likely to come to a home fixture and the turnout was accordingly pretty strong by the club, with 21 women matched by 21 men in the Harriers’ team on the day. For the record, this is 3 short of our overall attendance record of 45, set in Milton Keynes in November 2018.
As is usually the case, the women raced first, their race of about 6k getting underway at 1:15PM. Starting at the top end of the park, near the very familiar Parkrun course, the route went downhill to the canal crossing, then up the fairly steep path towards, and then across, West Herts Golf Club. The route then passed into Whippendell Woods for a single loop of around a mile before returning back through the golf course to finish back up the hill in Cassiobury Park. By general consent, despite the course being surprisingly dry, it was a tough, but scenic and enjoyable, route.
Teresa Reason was back performing for the club, having missed the December outing in Luton and she led the team home again, finishing in 23:06 and picking up 133 points. Club captain Kim Morgan, however, was not far behind and is officially closing the gap. She finished only 35 seconds behind Teresa, closing the gap from 41 seconds the last time the two both completed a league fixture, back in match 1 in October. Kim picked up a personal record 128 points.
Naomi Carey was next home for GVH, picking up over 100 points for the first time, just under a minute behind Kim. The last 3 scorers for the club finished in close order, Vicky Crawley Wise and Claire McDonnel showed their enduring class, picking up 85 and 81 points respectively, whilst Jenny Stubberfield was just one place behind Vicky. All three were separated by only 32 seconds at the finish.
The next 6 GVH runners, Sandra Flynn, Ashleigh Taylor, Katie Ellis, Amanda Barker, Ines Trent and Kitty Cole, were separated by just 61 seconds and each of them (according to my brief, in my head while hoping nobody at work notices that I’m writing this, calculations) took at least 13 points off other teams, despite not adding to our overall total. Ines deserves another special mention as she continues to climb the charts, this time finishing only just over 2 minutes behind the last GVH scorer. To set that in its context, in match 2 this season Ines was over 5 minutes behind our last scoring athlete.
Natalie Wheeler was the next finisher for the club, looking oddly isolated, over a minute behind Kitty and over a minute ahead of the next finisher, Helen Cook. Helen was part of a much more sociable group, with Clare Bowers, Kelly Cox, Holly Beckett and Christeena Mooney all finishing within 62 seconds of Helen.
Jade Evans, competing (I think) in her first cross country race for the club, led home the last tranche of GVH finishers, just ahead of Anita Fenoughty and Mary McCluskey. With a massive turnout of 21 GVH women, it is satisfying to report that every single finisher finished ahead of at least one points scoring athlete and thus made a material contribution to the club’s overall league position. Mary’s comment after the race was, “I overtook her coming up the hill at the end!”
The men’s race for the GVH team was an intriguing mixture of new and old. On the new side, Dan Green was making his cross country debut for the club (despite having been a member for a couple of years) as was recent new member Tom Evans. On the other side of the ledger, club legend Guy Wollett came out of cross country retirement to take part in his first league fixture since before the pandemic. Rumours that the proximity to home were a key part of the decision were denied by Guy who said that, “I’ll run again if they have a fixture in Bovingdon Woods”.
The underfoot conditions and the route had caused some debate on what footwear was appropriate for the race. Spikes were discouraged by the league’s communication that there was a section of “about 100 metres” where the route crosses the canal but recent wet weather suggested otherwise. Some inside knowledge of the condition of the paths through the woods (very stony) made most people settle on trail shoes, which seemed to be a good choice. Some people were less than happy with this, in particular James Birnie who said, “if I can’t wear spikes and get muddy in January, it doesn’t feel like a real cross country race!”
When the 10k race (start and finish as the women’s race, 2 longer laps through the woods) did get underway, the leading GVH runners took on a familiar look. Matt Ashby finished 29th, gathering 208 points and was a second under 3½ minutes clear of the next GVH finisher, Michael Linden. Lewis Ellerby and Stu Gallagher weren’t far behind Michael, separated by just one second and one place from each other. Tom Evans made a very fine debut for the club, being our 5th scorer with 122 points.
The club legends Jon Roberts and Guy Wollett were the next scorers, both picking up over 100 points. Steve Newing had a very fine race, finishing 16 seconds ahead of club captain Andy Wells. They picked up 95 and 93 points, respectively. Last scorer for the club was James Birnie. I felt terrible all the way round, probably suffering from a lack of alcohol and a surfeit of training in dry January. Having read the emails flying back and forward from the league, I couldn’t resist pausing at the end of the finish funnel and loudly asking, “Are you not scanning barcodes today?” By the looks on their faces, and the terse response, I don’t think my question was well received.
Simon Morris was the first non-scoring runner for the team, just 8 seconds (but 6 places) behind me. Showing his healthily competitive streak he told me that he was gutted to not catch me and then doubly gutted when he realised that he was that close to scoring league points for the first time. Simon does have the consolation of finishing ahead of 20 scoring runners from other clubs.
Roly Kendall was next finisher for GVH, just ahead of Gwyn Pritchard who also complained of not feeling great on the day as the second lap of the woods took its toll on him, as it did on many of us. Patrick Carey was just over a minute behind Gwyn and exactly a minute ahead of head coach Ed Price. Ed led a group of 3 GVH runners in consecutive finishing positions, 10 seconds between them. Simon Wheeler and Phil Bowers were the others.
Dan Green and Jono Marval were next home, both comfortably under the 50 minute mark for the 10k distance. Andrew Watt and Phil Mercer completed the 21 strong GVH men’s team on the day. As with the ladies team, all our non-scoring athletes took points off other clubs (at least 5) and therefore all 42 members who ran for the club on the day made a positive contribution to the club’s success. On balance, I’ll leave aside my no-spikes objection and be more than happy on the grounds of proximity, and the effect it clearly has on our ability to score points, to visit Cassiobury Park for a cross country race in future.