No Toilets at Teardrops

The weekend of 11th and 12th November was a Chiltern Cross Country League weekend and, as is usually the case, the Saturday cross country fixture dominated the weekend for GVH.

There were still a handful of Gade Valley athletes at various local parkruns. A much reduced cohort of 7 were at Rickmansworth where club chairman Andy Cook took advantage of the absentees to be first home for the club on the day. Stu Gallagher had the kids for the day hence wasn’t at the cross country and he completed Ricky Parkrun with his daughter in a PB time for her. Back home at Gadebridge Andy Bishop was the first GVH runner home with Emma Gray the first GVH lady, while Vince Ellerby of course made his weekly trip to Black Park.

Later in the day at Teardrop Lakes, Milton Keynes, 15 GVH men (and a couple of spectators) and 18 GVH women eventually met for the second (of 5) cross country league fixture of the season. The race had been in some doubt earlier in the day when the league website (or maybe it was a Tweet – are they still “Tweets” or are they “X-Ray” or “Xs” now?) mysteriously communicated that, “the toilets haven’t turned up”, and further that, “the races will go ahead but they may not count”.

You can’t have too many women!

Various theories as to why the absence of portaloos should void any league race flew about. These ranged from health and safety concerns, some previously obscure rule around the necessity to provide toilets, reluctance of people to make the trip (and therefore the reduced turnout) and other less printable suggestions. As it was almost everybody turned up (some with spades, many with Andrex) and the league announced, far too late to influence any decisions that, “we have two toilets, the races will go ahead and they will count.” All told it is fair to say that the league’s communication was about as clear as Lester Piggott after a brutal session on the Irish whiskey.

Despite the confusion, and some chaos on the M1, a very healthy turnout of Harriers arrives at the park in Milton Keynes in plenty of time to take part. No definitive records were kept, and no names shall be mentioned, but I only heard of one person who chose not to travel because of the lack of toilets. To be fair, going by the size of the queue before and after the races, that could have been a sagacious choice.

At 1:30PM the women’s race got underway and a group of GVH men, having more time to wait for the start of the men’s race than is usually the case, decided to make their way to the bottom of the steep (and very slippery) hill that they know follows shortly after the start of each lap. As the women came through for the first time it was clear that Teresa Reason was still at the front of the pecking order though it was great to see Heather Timmis (attending with husband James and their 12 week old daughter) very close behind and clearly returning to fitness, alongside Kim Morgan, who seemingly was continuing her improvement and getting closer to Teresa.

The really fast women

As the field went up and down the (in)famous hill it was clear that the very wet underfoot conditions were going to make it even more difficult than usual. There was standing water at the bottom of the descent and it was clear that almost the entire width of the course had largely turned to mud by the time of the women’s race. With many competitors all through the field picking their way very carefully down the hill, it was great to see none of the GVH team hesitating (well, not much) at the top, and taking the plunge as well as anybody could given the conditions.

This wasn’t in the brochure!

The women’s race was around 6k and consisted of one short lap followed by one long lap. While making their way back towards the start the GVH men parked on a corner to watch the women go through for the second time. Unfortunately, it became evident quite quickly that Kim had pulled out of the race after the end of the short lap. She had suffered a recurrence of her recent calf problems and wisely decided that discretion was the better part of valour on the day.

This second vantage point coincided with a crossing point for spectators and competitors alike to get to and from the tent village. It was while the middle part of the field was going through that several of us (sadly not captured on camera) witnessed the undoubted highlight of the race. 

A group of two girls dressed in athletics kit and a grown up woman were clearly about to cross the line of the runners without looking. Coach Ed shouted “mind the course ladies!” in his politest posh voice, with the opera singer projection of course, to give plenty of warning. The young women, presumably having earlier competed and being more aware than the grown up, managed to stop whilst the grown up lady continued obliviously. 

A few competitors made a detour around the unfortunate lady but Ines Trent clearly felt she had right of way (of course she did) and applied a solid elbow / forearm between the shoulder blades of the trespasser. It should be noted that the woman apologised immediately and was clearly embarrassed about the incident. At no point did she complain about her treatment. That was all good because it meant we were able to laugh openly at what we had just seen.

The woman in the black coat did it.

Those making their debut at Teardrop will have been forgiven for thinking that the hill on the first lap was as bad as it gets. Unfortunately it isn’t. In the case of the women’s course, that hill is climbed twice with the really big bad hill being climbed only once, at the back of the single long lap. It is fair to say that this obstacle can take some by surprise and even if you know in advance about it, that doesn’t make things any easier. Debutant and recent Learn2Run graduate, Sarah Everitt was clearly shocked by the toughness of the course commenting afterwards that she “asked every marshall if it was the end next!”

Come the actual end of the race, it was yet again Teresa who led the GVH women home. She finished in 29th position in 26:04 and picked up 150 points. Just under a minute behind, with surely more to come as she returns to running, was Heather. She finished in 43rd position and gathered 136 points. Naomi Carey was a further 30 seconds back, collecting 126 points. There was a bit of gap to the other 3 points scorers, Vicky Crawley Wise, Jenny Stubberfield and Claire McDonnell as they finished within a minute or so of each other and picked up 96, 93 and 78 points respectively.

This hill is fun, uphill AND down

First to finish outside the points scoring positions, but still, as with last week, denying points to those teams that finished below, was Robyn Lower. She completed the course in 31:40. Ahsleigh Taylor and Sandra Flynn finished 1 second and 1 place apart while Amanda Barker and Katie Ellis were not far behind, with all 4 finishing within a minute of each other. By my (very rough and very dodgy) calculations, those 5 runners denied the teams below GVH in the table a combined 30 or so points.

Ines Trent was next finisher for GVH, continuing her recent meteoric rise in speed. Sam Sparks and Mary McCluskey were next, with Sam having paced Mary around the course to finish a second ahead of her friend. Mary wasn’t over the moon with her performance or with being paced, declaring afterwards that, “I don’t think it helped really. I think I just want to have my own space in a race. I’m not going to ask to be paced ever again.” That’s a shame, I was going to offer to pace her for her marathon in the spring, I’ll concentrate on my own now.

No help Sparks!

Millie Grundy and Sarah Everitt, competing in their first ever cross country races were next home for GVH. Clearly as recent converts to any kind of running, they will get much quicker as they gain more experience. Millie said afterwards, “Thank you for all being so encouraging and supportive! You’re all amazing!!”, so it seems fair to assume she’ll be back for more. Helen Pollard was last home for GVH. It should be pointed out that every GVH runner would have scored points had they been competing for Bedford & County AC or Watford Harriers.

Showing her experience here

The men’s race started at 2:20PM, not leaving much time for queuing for the toilets and possibly contributing to a larger than usual count of men making excursions into the trees around the course. The men raced over about 9.5k, taking in the “small” hill three times and the “big” hill twice. Just as in the women’s race earlier one of the men failed to finish. Phil Mercer hasn’t been feeling great recently and he managed a short lap and a long lap before being forced to pull out. He said afterwards that, “I ran a women’s race, I was just pleased I could move at all.”

Nobody important was missing from this photo

Teardrop Lakes can be a chaotic course as the men stampede towards the hill for the first time but there was no repeat of the incident in 2019 when a competitor failed to make it to the first corner and was trampled underfoot, presumably resembling a teabag afterwards. There was, however, a truly bizarre incident at the bottom of the hill when a competitor (thankfully from another club) dropped his phone (why did you have it???) somewhere on the hill and then fought his way back up the hill to retrieve it, presumably being treated like a spectator in the path of an Ines.

The new guy was too fast!

When the chaos calmed, some order was restored to the finishing order of the GVH men with Matt Ashby finding himself in his accustomed position of 1st Gade Valley finisher. His time of 35:33 was good enough to see him in 33rd position and to pick up 223 points. Not quite so familiar was our second finisher. Andy Law has recently joined the club and was seen at the front of the field from his first training session. We were excited to see Andy’s debut for the club and he didn’t disappoint, finishing 67th and earning the club 189 points.

The other new guy loved the tiffin!

Club captain was 3rd home for GVH about 30 seconds ahead of another Cross Country debutant, Lewis Ellerby. Lewis acquitted himself extremely well in the tough conditions and picked up 143 points. Michael Linden was next home, just 14 seconds ahead of Jon Roberts. James Birnie was our 7th scorer and picked up exactly 100 points in just under 42 minutes.

First time I’ve done the Ashby floaty thing

Gwyn Pritchard had executed a race plan somewhere between a standard Vince Ellerby and a Roland Kendall, but not at the same level of uber fast starts as a Goodman. He was out of sight of James for the whole of the short lap and half of the first long lap before James caught and passed him at the start of the final lap. By the end Gwyn was hanging on but was then pushed to the line by Steve Newing, managing to stay just one place, and 4 seconds, ahead of Steve. Patrick Carey, making only his second appearance for the club and not having to borrow a vest several sizes too small this time, was the last of the 10 scorers for the men, just 20 seconds behind Steve.

Up there with Roly, not as bad as a Goodman

Simon Morris was also making his cross country debut for the club and he finished just outside the scoring positions.It was later speculated that he had underestimated how much the conditions, or cross country in general, takes out of the body as he hoved into the tiffin (which is there to be eaten so nothing to be ashamed of!) Simon Wallis, head coach Ed Price and Roly Kendall made up the men’s team on the day. As with the women’s team the men not scoring denied significant points to our rivals. In fact every member of our team would have scored points in at least 6 of the other 15 teams in Division 1.

The unmistakable Kendall Arms

It was a great day at the races for Gade Valley Harriers with the feel good stories of the new competitors, some excellent performances across the board and, of course, the unforgettable Ines Elbow. After the results were collated GVH had consolidated its place in 12th overall position, 106 points behind 11th placed Tring and a very healthy 266 ahead of Silson AC who sit 13th.

Right at the T-junction Ed