Last Saturday and the day before many were helping or running at the Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon, 11 harriers trekked up to Hamstead Heath for the 128th National XC Championships back at the infamous Parliament Hill.
Despite the horrendous conditions experienced at the Southerns in early 2014, the wet weather over the Winter period had not been kind to the park and left the course in even more of a sorry state (or more ‘entertaining’ depending on your point of view). The saving grace being the much-welcomed brilliant sunny weather during the Senior Men’s race, part of the course was blinding as a result.
Transportation was thankfully much better this year with no major difficulties and the flagpole/tubepole came in handy as always, many turned up early to watch the young Master Clark run well for Tonbridge AC in the U13 race. Despite the shorter distance, quite a sight to watch so many keen and upcoming athletes slogging out on such tough ground.
2 harriers ran in the Senior Women’s 8k race alongside a 865-strong field charging up from the penned start. It was first time on the course for ladies captain Lesley Mercer, coming in 506th and followed by Carol Tsang in 633rd. 3 were needed for a scoring team.
It was also first time for many harriers in the Senior Men’s 12k race, alongside a number of veterans to it (including myself). The largest field in recent history lined up in the start pens, a sea of over 2000 multi-coloured shirts. shorts and faces. The usual move forward, pre-start, caused a false start for many and the hushed voices were drowned out by a cacophony of Garmin’s being reset. Seconds later, the field charged off up the hill like the thunderous sound it is often compared to.
There was more of a crush than I’ve experienced before on the course, with huge bottlenecks both up and downhill, leading to an early and painful forefoot-spiking for myself and a lot of early field movement for position. Overall the going was very, very tough, with the only respite in the short forest sections due to their lack of total quagmire. Kieran ran very strong and overtook me by the second lap with a pace I could not keep up with, leading the harriers home in 885th. I was next in 952nd, without realising I’d been chased down all race by Matt Clark in 960th. Simon Howden (983rd), Stephen Woodruffe (1143rd) and Alan Collard (1409th) made up the 6.
Dry conditions allowed us to venture back to the usual haunt of the Dartmouth Arms, finding it unceremoniously and permanently shut after us using it for decades! The Southampton Arms was a welcome, although crowded, substitute and had serendipity when former captains Chris and Becky Smith ventured in as well. No questionable showers were required and the night finished in the Monsoon alongside the second-place men’s team Bedford and County, a repeat of our 2012 night there.
Thanks to everyone who came along and yes, the Southerns is there next year and its another lap longer …
Senior Women – 8k
506 0:44:56 Lesley Mercer
633 0:48:13 Carol Tsang
Senior Men – 12k
885 0:53:32 Kieran Fitzpatrick
952 0:54:08 Edward Steele
960 0:54:12 Matthew Clark
983 0:54:27 Simon Howden
1143 0:56:18 Stephen Woodruffe
1409 0:59:34 Alan Collard
1673 1:04:12 Andrew Page
1781 1:06:46 Derek Harrison