I don’t think there is a greater event one can point to on the cross country calendar than the annual meeting at Parliament Hill, be it the 12km Nationals or, as experienced on Saturday, the gruelling 15km Southern Championships.
Over a thousand men charge up a hill already churned to a muddy soup up by a thousand junior runners, with half as many senior ladies taking the plunge 45 minutes earlier. A sea of coloured flags accompanies the roar of the few brave spectators, dwarfed by the sounds of a footfall akin to the grand national. Do you race to the top to avoid the crush but risk blowing up early? Or do you pace yourself and clamber over fallen runners, hoping not to get a spike plate through your feet?
A gloriously clear and sunny winter day greeted us and followed the group all the way to Hamstead Heath, a welcome change to recent conditions. Climbing up and over the footpaths to the start the course was already quite evident – a brown line snaking around the fields with ducks making their home in some of the wetter parts. It was not, thankfully, anything like the previous race here nor the eventful ‘monsoon’ event of 2014.
The ground was indeed soft as expected, but the usual quagmire thankfully abated to only a few areas of the course to make it a lot faster than normal. At the start Sam stormed off along with Tom taking the option of avoiding the hill crush. I found myself settling in behind Kieran, after his superior pacing becoming the better of me in last years’ race. Here quite a few of us stayed around the 3 laps of this hilly and technical course, with the last lap finally spreading the team out (and Kieran finally taking the opportunity to make his final break away from myself).
At a well-known steep mud slope, there were calls of ‘Where’s Andy Howey?’, which I heard were later followed by ‘Still no Andy Howey?’. As the captain I could only shrug, I could no more explain his absence than explain to our chairman how few lampposts there were round the course.
Over the race I encountered 3 people who fell over (one head first into one of the muddiest sections of the course), 2 people who lost their shoes (one was running barefoot – perseverance!) and 1 runner who’s entire spike plate had detached from his shoe and was flapping around until I told him to tear the thing off before he hurt himself.
Congratulations go to Sam for a fantastic time and Tom for continuing his great run of form and somehow maintaining his early lead, despite seemingly going backwards on the 3rd lap and losing some 30 seconds to me and Kieran!
With the Dartmouth Arms still boarded up, the post race venue was again the Southampton Arms. Where a few harriers got friendly with some local ladies and others sampled the fine ales on offer. The intrepid remainder after a minor session then, as is traditional, joined Bedford and County at the Monsoon curry house before training back to the Wells. The club flagpole was in attendance as both a train and tube pole, to the detriment of Simon’s head.
Thanks to everyone who came along, it was sad that I still cannot get a team of 12 out for this to have a poke at the Camden cup nor 4 women for a team, put it in the diary for next year. Its incredibly tough, but for many is a transformative experience!
1 0:30:34 3035 N Taschimowitz SHAFTESBURY BARNET HARRIERS
177 0:38:54 3160 P Clements TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
316 0:43:57 3162 L Mercer TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
427 0:49:34 3163 C Tsang TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
1 0:49:08 J Hay ALDERSHOT FARNHAM & DAC
148 0:57:52 S Begg TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
460 1:05:59 T Woolley TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
467 1:06:15 K Fitzpatrick TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
477 1:06:32 E Steele TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
513 1:07:29 M Clements TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
597 1:09:41 S Howden TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
640 1:10:27 T Everest TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
644 1:10:34 M Clark TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
769 1:14:47 G Turner TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
929 1:22:54 A Page TUNBRIDGE WELLS HARRIERS
41st / 70 SM teams
Mens XC Captain and mud conditions reporter