Saturday, 16 March 2013

Striders' cross country season: muddy good fun!

As the cross country season draws to a close, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on what has been a successful and fun six months. From the first to the last race, members have taken part with great determination and team spirit regardless of their speed - proving that cross country really is for everyone. 

Striders ladies at Southerns, Feb 2013
It’s been wonderful to see so many people giving this often over-looked branch of running a go, from our speediest members to some of our Get Started graduates including Caroline Skyrme, Catherine Turney, Jean Webb and Lucy Martin. We’re sure the strength and stamina you’ve all have gained from the muddy courses will lead to many PBs on the roads and track this summer. 

The club’s trophy cabinet is also now bulging as we won Division Two of the Chiltern League, came a close second in the Sunday League and the men’s and women’s teams took gold and bronze respectively at the Herts County Champs – not to mention all the individual prizes won in the leagues. Here’s a quick recap of how it all unfolded… 

The first fixture of the Chiltern League with St Albans AC teaming up with the Striders for the first time took place in Oxford. Thanks to Linda Powell organising the ‘fun bus’ to take the team to the venue, we had an excellent turnout to face a challenging course. With a metre wide flooded ditch to negotiate, a 1000m long steep hill to ascend and descend and a mile-long stretch of thick, sticky mud to run through, this really was a baptism of fire for our cross country virgins! When Alex McSloy commented after racing that she’d found it ‘harder than the Ironman’ we were worried some may have been put off cross country for good! 

But thankfully the next fixture – the Sunday League at Cheshunt – was a drier affair with the ground much firmer under foot. As a club champs race, points were up for grabs to decide who would walk away with the runner-up spots as Colin Braybrook and Deirdre Heydecker already had the titles in the bag.

At the start of the month, Deborah Steer, Gill Jubb, Lucy Waterlow and Linda Powell travelled to the Midlands to fly the flag for St Albans in the National Cross Country Relay and were rewarded with some delicious cupcakes for post-race recovery! The second Chiltern race took place in Shuttleworth where it took Gill Jubb several attempts to explain the not-that-complicated figure of eight course to Lucy Waterlow and Wendy Webster! Twenty-nine men from the club and 16 women took part with everyone battling to the line to make each place count thanks to the downhill into the finishing funnel. 

Later the same day, everyone scrubbed up well, swapping their trainers for dancing shoes to attend the annual dinner and awards - where Doug Bates won the prize for drinking the most shots and DJ Hallam got everyone on the dance floor. The next Sunday League at Grovelands saw Tom Crouch take an easy victory not long after welcoming daughter Kirsten into the world while Pablo Plaza Lastras ran well while sporting an impressive moustache grown for ‘Movember’. 

The third Chiltern League took place in the shadow of Windsor Castle but one male Strider, (who shall remain nameless!), was a bit too keen for this one, arriving at 10am when his race didn’t start until 2pm. The following week a number of vets took part in the Southern Masters Champs at Claybury where the course had to be altered to avoid a steep hill that was deemed too dangerous to run down thanks to the muddy conditions. Gill Jubb and Wendy Webster also earned their first vests running for Hertfordshire competing in the Southern Inter-counties at the same venue. 

The Sunday League this month was on home turf and a successful event was staged at Verulamium Park thanks to the organisation of Colin Braybrook and Pete Blackaller and the many members who volunteered to marshal. This was the only race in the league Tom Crouch didn’t win this season – but we still had a Strider victor thanks to teen talent James McMurray, coached by Deborah Steer. Striders and AC are agreed that one of the many advantages of our recent link up is that young athletes like James now have a clear path to tread from junior to senior level, while still running for their home city. 

The mince pies and alcohol consumed over Christmas and New Year were burnt off for those taking on the Herts County XC at the start of the month at Haileybury College (or Halle Berry College as some of us came to call it!). It was another difficult and muddy course with steep down and uphill sections but the teams fared well with the men winning gold county medals and the women bronze. 

At the Chiltern League the following week thermal vests were needed (perhaps kitman Gladstone can arrange for us to get some in Strider colours?!) with low temperatures and a strong, cold wind facing the runners in Luton. But the winter weather didn’t deter members and once again we had a strong team performance consolidating the club’s position at the top of division two. The following day, the Sunday League took place over an undulating course in Royston where Tom Crouch achieved another victory and Colin Braybrook put in a heroic effort finishing despite getting a large stone impaled in his shoe! ‘I could feel it digging into my heel in the last mile or so of the race but decided to keep going!’ he said afterwards. 

The last Chiltern League took place on the toughest course yet around extremely muddy farmer’s fields in Wing. Thick, boggy patches throughout sucked many people’s shoes off while some runners got stuck in the mud themselves! Super trooper Andy Maher still managed a smile and a wave every time he passed Strider supporters despite the shin deep mud and catering chief Tina Tremaine went beyond the call of duty to attend, even though she wasn’t racing, to give the finishers some delicious cake. An excellent team performance meant we sealed our place at the top of division two earning promotion to division one next year (where the challenge will be to top the table again against tougher opposition!). 

The Southern Cross Country, rescheduled from January when it was cancelled due to snow, was then held at Parliament Hill with more mud, glorious mud to contend with. Deirdre Heydecker, Gill Jubb, Wendy Webster, Wendy Walsh, Katie Chilton, Amy Tanner, Christine Pout and Liz Walls made up the female team while Gary Warren, Colin Braybrook, Steve Smith, Peter McDermott, Richard Derrick, Kevin Brookman and John Warren completed the 15k long men’s course – a stray dog also joined in for one lap! 

Steve Smith at the National XC 2013
It was then the last Sunday League of the season at Watford where a valiant effort was made to win the team prize – just two points separated us from Trent Park at the top of the table. Cathal Gallagher even took a break from a stag do to take part; Pablo Plaza Lastras towed the start line after only having four hours sleep following a night out in London; while some who had done the Southern XC the day before pulled on their spikes again. Tom Crouch took another victory while Penny Habbick, who has only recently taken up running, continued her excellent Sunday League form as the first female Strider to finish. Unfortunately the last charge wasn’t enough to win the title overall but that didn’t dampen the spirits at the end of season social at the pub that evening. Then at the end of the month, Steve Smith was the club’s lone representative at the National Cross Country tackling a snow-turned-to-mud course in Sunderland. 

So that’s nearly all folks except for the vets Herts Champs on 17 March. From your cross country captains Lucy Waterlow and Ed Blake and club chairman Sheryl Norman, thanks to everyone who has taken part for the club this year whether you were the first or last to finish. Now you can hang up your spikes until the new season begins in October – roll on the track season and Midweek League! 

Lucy Waterlow

PS - If you want to see how the elite fare, the World Cross Country Champs will be on BBC TV on Sunday 24 March. 

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