Winter League – Reflections of a Champion
We started what seems like a lifetime ago with the blustery Hornsea beach race, 66 of us lined up at the quite literal “line in the sand” contemplating the pros and cons of running around the groynes or risking laceration from the barnacles and going over them, I myself decided to follow Katy White around them, but as she fell into an unexpected delve in the sand, unseen due to the murky surf, I gained the lacerations anyway when I Instinctively grabbed for support.
This left me looking like a self-harmer for some months to come. Another memorable feature of this first Winter League race was that despite the meticulous planning around the tides, we still managed to be waist deep in water by the time the last few runners returned from Mappleton.
Race two was the shortest and probably wettest of the series, the November 3 mile handicap was a soggy affair, with lots of standing water around the farmers field giving a real issue to anyone wearing road shoes, 88 runners took part this time, the vast majority in red vests. A look at the results for this race shows how accurate Iain and Mike were in their handicapping with just seconds separating each of the returning field and making for some great neck and neck finishes.
Races three and four, the Christmas CC six mile and Club Cross Country Championship respectively, were both made more difficult than normal, by the addition of a deep trench that has been dug out across the route, and by the farmer ploughing his field right up to the edge and making running for mere mortals like me impossible for that section (The ladies were spared this for their Club Cross Country as it follows a shorter route that misses this section).
Again conditions were very wet and slippery, with one or two of us finding that running right on the edge of the drain bank, were the ground is normally firmer than in the field, a little too risky, falling in the surf at Hornsea in October, might not sound like fun, but falling into Holderness Drain in December/January is only for semi-aquatic polar animals . My abiding memory from the 6 mile race, was tiredly heading for the finish line thinking I was heading for my first ever (albeit handicapped) race win as a Harrier, only to witness the blur of Stuart Carmichael as he sprinted past at phenomenal speed.
Onto race five, the Riverbank Race, always eventful due to the fun and games that the local youth seem to enjoy inflicting upon us, this year we had the joy, as usual, of stubborn horses, piles of ready to be laid concrete sewage pipes, and bits of tree scattered across our paths in the woods by the afore mentioned youth, to keep us entertained, so the unfortunate detour by some of us to North Bransholme and the hellish wind, made this a real endurance. Usually once a race is finished and the hurting stops, I realise that I quite enjoyed myself – on this occasion the horror stayed with me for days.
The village of Paull welcomed us for race six and once again the wind was a real feature, helping us along the riverside on the way out, but really battering us when we turned at the halfway stage, we had the added obstacle of fishermen on the front, making a choice of running on the high ground behind them, or risk being garrotted by their lines, needless to say, everyone heeded the warnings given at the start of the race and avoided the hazard. This was the race, for me, which really gave me a chance in the standings for the Winter League men’s title, having struggled in the two previous races; I really gave this one last shot that fortunately proved to be enough. Passing the marshalling John Baker, I was told “run your balls off for the last mile”. I didn’t even have the energy to tell him that I’d already lost them on the first four, none the less I managed to dig deep and keep it going to the finish and score highly.
The final race was the equally loved and loathed Good Friday Hill Race; this is probably the toughest race on the EHH calendar, and one that I have heard several good runners say that they won’t do. With its seven hills in seven miles, when you’re born and bred in the flat lands of Hull, it can be quite a surprise to find such tough hills so close to home, testament to their difficulty, is the fact that they carry such names as Mount Airey and Devils Staircase. I myself love it, and have had a really enjoyable winter, with several other Harriers, doing regular head torch runs at night in the cold and muddy conditions (Always with a beer or two afterwards to reward ourselves). As a healthy 92 runners lined up on race day, there were four men in contention for the league, Nigel Sisson, Paul Nippress, Kelvin Westerman and myself. While for the ladies, only Katie Seddon had a mathematical chance of toppling Shirley Oglesby. My thinking before this race was that I needed to have had a bigger lead to stand any chance of winning the league, as I can raise my game on the flat, but the hills are just too tough for me. However I managed to surprise myself with a course pb of over three minutes and consolidate my position in top spot. Sincere congratulations to Nippy and Nigel who completed the medal positions, while for the Ladies, we have a worthy champion in Shirley, followed by Katie and then Ann Allen in third spot. Having been successful in the Winter League this year, it would have been tempting to make this report a big ego trip, but I really want to express my gratitude to those that put all the hard work in, Marshalling, Time Keeping, Handicapping, Result Processing, Advertising, Planning and so on and so on, it’s often said, but it really couldn’t happen without all the hard graft behind the scenes.