Last weekend saw the welcome return of the Chiltern Cross Country League to the calendar after the entire 2020 / 21 season was cancelled due to the pandemic. The league takes place over 5 races from October to February and got underway at Horspath Athletic and Sports Ground, on the outskirts of Oxford. Cross Country races are not normally very long, the challenge comes in the terrain and the conditions.
As the Oxford race normally takes place in October, before the conditions can become too muddy, the organisers helpfully planned the course to include the descent of Shotover Hill, a vertical climb of around 80m in around 1km of the course, in order to make it more of a challenge. The women’s race climbs the hill once and the men have the added bonus of climbing the hill twice, just in case they didn’t enjoy it enough the first time.
Before the resumption of the cross country season, on Saturday morning, several Gade Valley Harriers took part in various park runs around the UK. Vince Ellerby performed well at Black Park while Steve Newing, Molly Rice and Ines Trent took on Rickmansworth Parkrun. The Parkrun Performance of the Day went to Gareth Tucker as he finished in 3rd place at Gadebrige Parkun, leading home 10 other Harriers.
Gareth was in attendance later to watch the 7 Harrier women and 12 Harrier men take on Shotover Hill as they bid to make a swift return to the top division of the league, having been relegated the last time the league was held, in 2019 / 20. The women’s race started at 1:15 and the Harriers were led home by Teresa Reason, she finished the tough, 5.6km course in just over 25 minutes, a full 2 minutes and 29 places of the Harriers’ second place finisher, Vicky Crawley Wise. Claire McDonnel, Tracey Cotton and Ashleigh Taylor (running her first GVH Cross Country race) all finished within 2 minutes of each other and the GVH team was completed by Kitty Cole, also running her first cross country for the Harriers, and captain Angeline Cottrill.
The men’s race got underway at 2:00PM. A few of the men (and women earlier) were still recovering from having run marathons last weekend or the weekend before so found the long, steep hill particularly challenging. Matt Watt and Matt Ashby were not amongst that group and duly finished first and second for the Harriers just under and just over 25 minutes, respectively, for the extremely challenging 8.7km route. Michael Linden and Stu Gallagher were among the marathon runners so their finishing positions of 3rd and 4th were exceptional. New club skipper Andy Wells was next, followed closely by Antony Beamish, another recent marathon finisher. Phil Heaton and Ed Price managed to complete the course under 40 minutes, while Phil Mercer and Merlin Allan completed the complement of 10 scoring runners.
Simon Wallis finished just outside the scoring group, followed by James Birnie who, quite frankly, looked like a man who had run a marathon the hour before the race, not the week before. The Harriers team was completed by Dean Kidd.
Women’s captain Angeline Cottrill summed up the mood after the races: “100 mile round trip to run 3.5 miles, (a bit more for the lads!) has never been so worth it. What a fantastic return to cross country at Oxford today. The Sun was shining, the mood was electric and there were some superb performances and sprint finishes. Kudos to James Birnie, Antony Beamish, Stuart Gallagher, Tracey Cotton, Kitty Cole & Michael Linden for taking part and finishing superbly despite having run marathons recently. Big thanks to Gareth Tucker for coming along to support despite having a wife-free Saturday and he could’ve done anything else! And great to see Bethan Heaton with new baby Sophie who really needs to be kitted out soon in some GVH kit. Welcome back to XC!”
After the results were verified and all the points added up, GVH found themselves in second place in division 2 of the league, sitting just behind the early leaders, Oxford City AC. Most clubs find their performance in the league increases as the distance from their hometown decreases. The Harriers can therefore feel confident of making up the ground on Oxford in the remaining four races, all of which are closer to Hemel Hempstead then they are to Oxford.
There were four other races with GVH representation over the weekend. On Saturday morning, Jono Marval and Dave Thompson started the Centurion Autumn 100. According to its website, the Centurion 100 “is a 100 mile continuous trail race based in the twinned villages of Goring & Streatley on the river thames. The course reflects the shape of a cross and takes runners on a series of 4 different 25 mile out and back spurs using sections of both the ridgeway and Thames Path national trails.”
Chris Dowling ran with Jono Marval as his pacer for the final leg, from Streatley to Reading and back again, a distance of around 26 miles, or just about a full marathon. Chris said “He smashed it despite his crappy pacer taking three wrong turns.” Jono completed the 100 miles in 23:13:57, finishing in 76th position out of 165 finishers. Dave Thompson also ran strongly throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning, completing the course in 26:30:46 to finish in 138th position.
Also on Sunday, Anthony Willcox made a return to competitive action, running the Cambridge Half Marathon. He ran strongly to record a time of 1:30:37. Dave Goodman was also in half marathon action, at Oxford. Dave doesn’t generally like to publicise his achievements and commented on the club Facebook page, “PB ALERT PB ALERT! First back to back marathons, then back to back half marathon with both half being under the 90 minute mark. Couldn’t ask for better weather today. My official time is 01:27:15, a new PB by just over a minute.”
Trevor Normoyle was also in action on Sunday, taking to the streets of Chelmsford for the Chelmsford marathon. Trevor ducked under the 4 hour mark, finishing the 26.2 miles in 3:58:42, crossing the line in 251st place. The race doubled as the National Police Marathon Championships and Trevor’s time was good enough for him to grab 19th place. After the race he was happy to have everything he said taken down and used in evidence, but was careful not to give too much away, commenting “Chelmsford marathon for me. Painful experience but onwards and upwards.”
Finally, Jane Percival and Sarah Shillabeer took part in the Great South Run, a 10 mile race in Portsmouth. Jane said after the race, “Sarah Shillabeer and I ran in the Great South Run in Portsmouth today. A Lovely 10 mile run in the sun. For me it was a family affair. I ran with my 2 daughters and 2 nephews, after years of them supporting me from the road side. Maybe finally I have inspired a generation!”