Saturday 2nd December saw the third match of the Chiltern League Cross Country season at Stopsley Common, just outside Luton. As usual for a cross country weekend, the attendance at Parkruns was much reduced. Oddly Vince Ellerby wasn’t seen at a Parkrun for the second consecutive week, at the time of writing it is unknown why he didn’t make his weekly trip to Black Park. Elsewhere, Nick Crowther and Helen Cook ran well at Rickmansworth, Matt Watt put in a fast run in the mud at Gadebridge and Susie Ivin and Helen Heathcote were spotted at Grovelands Parkrun, Enfield.
The main business of the weekend was of course at Stopsley Park. GVH had performed well across the men and women in the opening two races of the season to be in 12th place (out of 16 with 2 to be relegated) in Division 1 with a cushion of 266 points to 13th place Silson AC and 281 points to 15th placed Buckingham and Stowe. As the early arrivals were discussing the prospects for the day, ladies captain Kim Morgan delivered the bad news that perennial team leader Teresa Reason was injured while men’s captain Andy Wells confessed to being injured himself and cast doubt on various other runners taking part.
As is always the case, the women’s race got underway first, at 1:15 while the men were nervously waiting for the full complement of 10 athletes to arrive (more on that later). With Teresa absent, the team would have to lean on other sources of points and, unlike the men later, the women did not let GVH down.
Heather Timiss continued her return to fitness after her first baby a few months ago and was first home for the GVH women. She finished 24th in the Division 1 race and picked up 113 points. Captain Kim wasn’t too far behind and she picked up 100 points. The slightly lower points totals compared to the previous fixture reflected that attendance was down across all teams, not just GVH, which is often the case for the December fixture.
Naomi Carey was only 15 seconds behind Kim, picking up 95 points just ahead of club legends Vicky Crawley Wise and Claire McDonnel who picked up 82 and 73 points respectively. Sam Raffety, having finished just outside the points scoring positions in the first fixture in October, and missing the fixture at Teardrop Lakes last time out, scored points for the first time for GVH this season, finishing just under a minute behind Claire and gaining 60 points for the club.
Robyn Lower was next home for GVH, finishing just outside the points scoring positions for the third time this season (it is only a matter of time before she makes the top 6), only 5 seconds behind Sam. Sandra Flynn, Kitty Cole and Katie Ellis weren’t far behind Robyn as the women again showed their strength in depth. By my calculations, Robyn, Sandra, Kitty and Katie all took at least 15 points from other clubs and in total cost the teams around GVH in the table around 75 points.
After Katie there was a bit of a gap to Angeline Cottrill, she finished in 32:10, would have picked up 20 points for many other clubs and still finished high enough to take points from Tring and Vale of Aylesbury. Mary McCluskey was next, only 19 seconds and 5 places further back. She said afterwards that “I thought I was speeding up with every mile but then I looked on Strava and I wasn’t. I was happy with my run, thought I might get Ange but she was a bit too strong, well done her.” I’d had a few beers, not sure if I have the tone exactly right here.
Claire Bowers, running her first ever cross country race (fresh from her first race of any sort last weekend), Sarah Everitt and Helen Pollard made up the GVH women’s team on the day. As noted after the previous fixture, every one of the GVH women would have scored points for several other teams, this time including two, Marshall Milton Keynes (top of the table) and Leighton Buzzard AC, who both sit higher than GVH in the updated league standings.
While the women were racing the men were hanging around the tent getting very cold and wondering if we would even have enough bodies to fill the 10 scoring positions (spoiler alert: we didn’t!) Matt Ashby was unavailable because of a family commitment (Jenny’s family we were told, I haven’t asked how the atmosphere was around the table), Andy Law was absent owing to a hangover following his company Christmas party, captain Andy Wells, despite being present in Luton, was without any kit and was claiming invalid status because of an achilles problem and Lewis Ellerby was also absent with injury. This meant that GVH would go into the men’s race missing their top 4 finishers from the previous round in Milton Keynes.
Michael Linden was running, however, and as usual made his dislike of cross country generally known. He hates the cold, he hates the mud, he pretty much hates running so it’s always a bonus to see him. It’s a double bonus if he doesn’t moan about anything as well, at least I assume it would be if it ever happened. He overcame his personal feelings to finish first for GVH, just inside the top 100 in 37:50, picking up 132 points for the team. Jon Roberts was next home, 42 seconds further back, and picked up 121 points.
Gareth Tucker, who had missed the previous fixture through injury, was next finisher for Gade Valley. He had followed James Birnie around for about the first half of the course, passing him just before the start of the second long lap. He said afterwards, “My game plan was to keep close enough to James so that I could overtake him on the last lap.” He managed to execute that pretty well but since James was in a bit of pain from his own Achilles injury (Achilles, Wellsy!), it probably wasn’t too difficult to get past him. Gareth picked up 105 points and James picked up 97, finishing 18 seconds behind Gareth in just under 40 minutes.
Chris Dowling was the next finisher for GVH. Amazingly for a man of such vast experience, this was Chris’s first ever cross country run. He picked up what looked like a very painful, and possibly serious, calf injury in the early part of the race and valiantly fought through that pain (some go through the pain barrier for the club, Andy!) to still pick up 91 points. We can only tip our hat to him. Even if it does, as seems likely, turn out to be his one and only appearance in the Chiltern League, it was a good one.
Next home for the club was another club legend, Steve Newing. He had a bit of a battle with relative newcomer, and current rapid improver, Roland Kendall. They exchanged places several times during the 9.5k race with Steve getting ahead of Roland for the final time within a mile of the finish to eventually finish just a single place in front. Roland commented afterwards on the importance of footwear, saying, “it’s amazing what a difference spikes make when it is muddy.” Funny that.
Another relative newcomer, Simon Morris, was the 8th points scorer for GVH. He finished just outside the points in his only previous appearance, last time out in Milton Keynes, so he was happy to have improved up to 8th position for the club in only his second cross country race. As my step-dad always says, “it isn’t your fault if the faster runners don’t turn up.” Phil Bowers, running in his first cross country race also had the honour of scoring points for GVH. He scored 25 points and by all accounts thoroughly enjoyed his first outing in the mud.
After the mud cleared, the hangovers dissipated and the injuries still smarted, a sober look at the updated league table revealed that our position hasn’t changed too much. We remain in 12th overall position, but the gap to 13th has halved from 266 to 130 points. On the plus side, the gap to the last relegation place, 15th, has widened from 288 to 333 points. So clearly it wasn’t just GVH that struggled with getting enough men to the line. Hopefully the New Year’s Resolutions, and the closeness of the fixture in Cassiobury Park, Watford, will combine to improve our men’s turnout (nothing wrong with the women) next time out.