[UPDATED November 13th, 2017 at 11:04 pm]
Mud, blood and bodies everywhere
Before the gun even went off for the Kent Cross Country Championships on Saturday, several Harriers failed to make it to the start line. Simon and Jillian Holford were struck down with a bug the night before and Jeanette White is still recovering from injury at the Kent Masters a few weeks back. More interestingly, there were several ‘strategic non-entrants’ and a few other ‘strategic non-starters’, who were either scared off by the course or by the competition – you know who you are!
In one of the junior races before the men’s event, a girl broke her ankle in the gully leading to the more technical part of the course, which included a menacing camber, a slippery descent into a fast section along the valley floor with a tough, sharp climb back up to the fields above. Due to advice from the medics, who could not get the young lady up on to the field again, the bottom section of the course was ruled off-limits. The men had to settle, with much grumbling, for six laps of slog through a mud churned, water-logged field.
At the first corner, the first Harrier went down – Andy Howey took a flailing elbow directly to the face, leaving him semi-conscious on the floor as the whole field streamed past. A marshal came to his aid, handing him wads of tissue to stem the flow of blood. Andy needed the marshal’s help again to face him in the right direction, with an “it’s that way mate”, before setting off to catch the field. By the end of the second lap, Andy had taken his rightful place ahead of the other Harriers, but playing catch-up always takes it out of you.
On the second lap, Simon Whitaker and I (Simon Howden) were running together, much to the amusement of the supporting lady Harriers, with shouts of “Go Simon! Go Simon!” followed by giggles and self-congratulation at how much time had been saved by us having the same first name. Or was it the impressive sight of us running side by side though the mud, that left them weak at the knees and in fits of giggles? What was impressive though was, one moment Simon Whitaker was on my shoulder and the next he was gone – not into the distance as you might expect – but doing an amazing face first dive, arms stretched out in front of him, sliding through the mud. The only indication that this wasn’t planned was the winded grunt as his chest hit the floor. Needless to say, as a fellow Harrier, I did the right thing, and picked up the pace and put as much distance between us as possible!
The race settled down into a tedious battle of counting laps, the course deteriorating further and further, and wondering at which point you were going to get caught by the leaders. I was passed by the first eight on my fifth lap, and watching these young athletes whip by is an envious, double edged inspiration. Dean Lacey from Cambridge Harriers won the race in 31:21, a full 50 seconds ahead of second. Andy Howey led the Harriers home in an adrenalin fuelled 37th with a time of 36:43. The full Harrier men’s results are shown below (all from the over 40s contingent!)
The ladies team set off on four laps of the same course, which we had spent six laps meticulously preparing for them, including wads of discarded blood soaked tissues and various body length skid marks (literally of course). The much depleted ladies team, was Alice, Lesley and Carol, so just enough for the three-to-score, or as Carol kept erroneously referring to it as the “three-to-win”, but we applauded her optimism. On the first lap, a group of five, including Alice, broke away from the rest of the field. By the second lap, it was clear that Alice was not catching the four in front, but was well ahead of Maria Heslop behind. The battle at the front of the race was fierce, with Amy Clements from Kent AC eventually winning in 26:24 with only four seconds separating the first three, and Alice with an amazing fifth place in 27:18 less than a minute behind.
Another special moment followed when Carol and Lesley had worked their way through the field together, refused to race each other to the finish and were gesturing to each other to cross the line first, until Lesley took the initiative and shoved Carol across the finish mat! Sweet!
Another great day of cross country and perfect preparation for the main event the next day, the Penshurst 5.