Harrier League X-Country Returns To Durham!
Anita Dunseith …
As the majority of people who know me will be aware I unashamedly and vociferously love XC and Saturday’s ‘home’ fixture at Aykley Heads was the best XC race I’ve ever been lucky enough to compete in.
I acknowledge I’m utterly biased but I thought the course was absolutely brilliant. It had everything, even a Grand National style jump that my hubby has christened ‘The Chair’. There were a surprising number of hills crammed into the 2 mile lap; ‘brutal’ is the word I’ve heard repeatedly to describe the course by its competitors; ‘unrelenting’ and ‘a proper cross country course’ are a couple of others.
The initial part on the field was tricky given the large mounds of grass, then we descended quite gradually for a while enjoying the view over the railway and across the valley. Turn left and it was up a surprisingly steep hill to then turn right and along to ‘The Chair’ (a jump Desert Orchid would have felt at home with). Down again, this time VERY muddy and with a great hairpin right turn at the bottom, disappointingly few seem to have fallen here though! A long gradual ascent along the railway then a steeper climb (with you guessed it, mud!).
We turned left on the ascent to more of the thick brown stuff and struggled through the quagmire desperately trying to keep our shoes on until we reached the ‘piece de resistance’ of the course – a short steep descent put in purely for the privilege of running (crawling) back out of it again four seconds later! A true lung buster with the kind of mud XC is renowned for (Mudwoman’s rain dancing has worked wonders this week). After the ascent it was time for recovery back on the divetty (if it’s not a word it should be) field and on to the second lap!
The atmosphere was absolutely brilliant – the tents and banners were out in force and with pride as usual. There was purple and green face paint (war paint or go faster stripes depending on your outlook), the sun was shining, there was loads of mud, friendly marshals, many of them in purple, offering support all the way round, hugs, chats, so many laughs and even some tears.
One of the really great things about XC for me is that there’s competition at every point in the field. From the pointy elbowed whippets at the front to the super enthusiastic springer spaniels in the middle and us strong determined bull mastiffs bringing up the rear (thanks Kerry for the dog analogies), we all have someone we’re keeping an eye on at each fixture to pit ourselves against. Some days you come out on top and others it’s your nemesis who goes home grinning but (usually!) as you cross the line it’s a handshake or a quick hug of ‘well done’ before more hill reps in time for the next fixture.
There are many times in my life I have complained about how easy gents have it compared to us ladies – they can wee standing up, they don’t have crazy hormones to deal with and will never have their whole day’s mood dictated by whether their ‘bum looks big in this’. But, as I was midway through my second lap on Saturday I looked up at the clear blue sky and heaped thanks on the running gods and the wonderful officials at Harrier League that I wouldn’t have to do a third gruelling lap.
I didn’t run any faster than normal, nothing was particularly different to anything I’d normally do but Saturday was one of those days where everything ‘clicked’ and I absolutely loved every step.
I, Anita Dunseith am a XC addict.
… Danny Lim …
Say ‘cross-country’ to me and I get hit with flashbacks of forced running at boarding school with my house-master barking orders from the rear. Yesterday, I was dreading another brutal experience. At the car park entrance, I was greeted by a smiling David Shipman. “You’re not allowed in Danny”. If only he meant it!
Aykley Heads was transformed into a running festival. A city of tents had sprung up and yards of marking tape snaked around the course. I arrived just as the women’s race was under way. Their faces were etched with grim, unsmiling expressions: “Second lap?” I asked a fellow spectator, “no, just the first!” she replied. The ladies were clearly pulling out all the stops. I was inspired (terrified) to see them cross the finish, as if they were about to pass out.
It was a great course with obstacles to challenge the most seasoned runners. There was the “bad step”, a three-foot vertical bank we had to vault up. In true Grand National style, there was “the bench”, though no runners had to be put down yesterday. “Hairpin Corner” saw many a runner take an impromptu mud-bath. And who can forget the “Slide of Death”, where I suicidally sprinted down before slamming into a fellow runner and crashing into the bushes. This was finished off by that final hill, reminiscent of Geoff Davies’ “Burma road” hill sessions. At the finish there was quality male bonding as I dry-retched with Jon Ayres and David Brown, knees on the ground.
But the pain was neutralised by the phenomenal support from spectators and marshals. There seemed to be a cheering Strider at every turn, really it was unbelievable! My name was being called out so much that my fellow competitors asked, “Are you the famous Danny?” For a moment, I felt like Mo Farah as he raced to Olympic gold at London. A wall of purple chanted loudly in unison as I made my final muddy climb to the finish. I was embarrassed by it all but it made the pain all so much more bearable. Thank you all!
Most memorable of all was the hard work made by the small army of volunteers from the club, including parking attendants, marshals and course constructors, many of whom had been there since early morning. You are the unsung heroes of the day. What an honour it is to be part of such a warm and supportive club.
Stephen Jackson, in his XC debut, was the first Strider to storm back home followed closely by Gareth Pritchard. Paul Evans who started in the medium pack, came in at an impressive third place. In the ladies’ race, Penny Browell made a stellar performance, coming home seventeenth, from a medium pack start. She was followed closely by Elaine Bisson and Susan Davis.
Sally Hughes made her debut in the fast pack and gave it her all in the women’s U17/U20. But youngest Strider award must go to Zak McGowan in the U13; way to go Zak! Helen Allen, Claire-Louise Wells, Laura Jackson, Stacey Brannan and Karen Hooper also made their first XC appearances, and what a tough start it was!
The senior ladies team put in an excellent performance which saw them promoted to third in Division One. Although the men had improved slightly, we are perched precariously near the bottom of the second divison. In the words of Geoff Davis, XC captain, “things are very tight at the bottom of the table and we’ve got to pull out all the stops to stay afloat!”. So come on then, see you all at the next fixture, it’s all hands to the pump!
… Geoff Davis …
There was a magnificent turn out of current Striders at Saturday’s event but Aykley Heads was also graced by a posse of former, or less active, Striders who were once as familiar a sight at Maiden Castle as Jacquie Robson and Phil Owen are today! They included:
Alan Purvis – the founder of Striders’ website and one of the initiators of the club’s involvement in the Harrier League. Alan was a frequent ‘counter’ in the HL keeping us out of the 3rd Division right up to his late 60s.
Kim Hall – once the queen of triathlon winning many prizes at events in the UK and abroad. Would tour Europe with husband Mike picking up gongs as they went!
Linda McDermott – wonderful Linda – a veteran of the HL when the women’s field was no bigger than the Striders’ committee. Competed in road races all over the place including the Coniston 14.
Peter McDermott – Linda’s other half and a man of many, many marathons. Always happy to help new runners with his vast experience.
Tony Young – Jan’s better half and a top notch runner in his day. Achieved Fast Pack status at the HL, something most of us just dream about, and a keen runner over the fells. A man still missed by all who ran with him.
Pam Kirkup – a now retired teacher and Striders’ secretary for many a year. Kept the club on an even keel while the rest of us were busy running up and down mountains. If she was a stick of rock and you snapped her in two – you’d see the words ELVET STRIDERS running right through her!
It was great to see them all – let’s hope we see more of them at other races or Strider events.
… Paul Evans
Flags; tents; chat; inclusion; happy, smiling faces. This, for many, epitomises cross-country and we, as a club, do it well. The best comparison I can give, personally, for the lovely pre-race scene is that of being lulled almost to sleep by the rhythmical beating of rotor blades, knowing that in a matter of minutes the helicopter will flare and you will leave the false comfort of its insides. Every passing minute brings the certainty of pain and the possibility of injury closer. Bowels churn, feet tingle and rituals such as lacing and re-lacing footwear are undertaken to occupy over-active mind and idle hands. As you may have worked out, my feelings for XC are distinctly mixed.
Saturday was a long day, with the anticipation spanning many hours thanks to our hosting of Durham’s first cross-country fixture in over a decade. A true club effort in the car park and around the course saw us provide the vast majority of the volunteers needed to make it happen and, logistically, the day ran smoothly; it did, however, prolong the pre-race agony, as did the delights of seeing the thundering pack of Striders ladies attacking/churning-up the course. The pain etched on their faces did not bode well.
A further two and a half minutes extended the wait further as the male race began; as a medium pack runner I find it impossible to watch the starting pack disappear into the distance without mentally calculating how far they will have gone and how long it will be before even the smallest inroads can be made into them. The time dragged…and then it didn’t. As a slow starter I struggle to keep up with what is always a rapid burst of effort in the first few hundred metres, knowing with my head that 3 x 2.1m = ‘a long way to catch people’ yet feeling with something else that the pack must be stayed with (fellow Striders particularly), even if it goes against the way I run in any other environment.
Aykley Heads is not just any environment and this was not just any day. This was a perfect course, long enough to stretch people, well-watered enough to suck shoes from the ill-prepared, hilly enough to sap legs on the ascents and destroy balance on the downhill and overwhelmingly beautiful, lit by a low, wintry sun. This was a course that beckoned you to attack, whatever your relative strengths, and rewarded you when you did so; both relentless plod and downhill gamble saw me gain places throughout the first lap, eventually catching the first Striders with Jerry Lloyd on my shoulder and Rob Everson somewhere ahead.
Running was exhausting, sustainable only by not thinking about anything other than the next vest in front and Jerry behind, then – shortly into the second lap – ahead. This was not good: the 90-degree downhill turn manned by Sophie saw him pull ahead and on the uphill stretch shortly after, Jacquie’s bellowed shout for him was coming several seconds ahead of that for me. Aggression over ‘The Chair’, down ‘The Mudslide’ and around ‘The Hairpin’ saw us both gain several places with fell shoes proving their uncomfortable worth. However, he remained ahead and pulled further away as we descended to the railway line, up the hill, around the ‘Bad Corner’ and back to the start for the third and final lap.
There was still no sign of Simon, James, Geoff or Rob in front and Gareth and Stephen were clearly flying from the slow pack, but more and more purple vests continued to be caught and passed, one by one, a brief grunt was all the breath that could be spared in encouragement. Danny, Scott, David, Mike, Jon and Graeme were all running well but were peripheral to what was now a very personal run-off, conducted to what seemed to be a solid wall of noise from the spectators with Strider voices loudest amongst them.
Elswick; Tynedale; Gosforth; Blackhill; Crook; Alnwick; Strollers; Birtley; Jarrow: runner by runner, vest by vest, we worked our way around the course, same but different by now, as each turn was all the more treacherous on the last lap of the day. Jerry still led me down to the hairpin, though he was less steady on his feet by now. Unfortunately I was no better and slightly rolled an ankle whilst dancing past a competitor for the privilege of reaching the grabbing tree one position ahead of him. I stayed upright and the dance went on – down to the railway (where Anita drowned out the passing trains), up the drag where I caught and overtook him, then on, up the big climb (which had finally turned some runners into walkers) and into a new contest with Geoff now in sight.
A forward lean into the nasty corner descent (knowing he’d be doing the same and letting gravity work for him), a slight over-shoot and up the hill, aware that Geoff, Jerry and an Elswick Harrier were somewhere not far away. Then the final grassy stretch opened up: one right hand turn, with lungs and legs competing but failing to scream louder than the purple horde and it was over!
This was not a nice race. It was a perfect race that demanded all you had and asked for more. It was hard, brutal, elemental running, elegant in its simplicity, treating all who competed equally. Several runners did not finish with falls and sprains demonstrating the risks of this form of running. This was no parkrun or ultra trudge with tea and cake halfway round. Fine margins gained by single runner contests decide Harrier League places and the efforts of both ladies (an outstanding third on the day in the first division) and men (an improved eighth, by a mere 260 points to Elswick’s 263) were just reward for the suffering endured – though we’re still second-bottom in the second division and more will be required if we’re to stay up.
This is a personal account and says nothing of the trials of Helen Allen, Laura Jackson, Karen Hooper, Catherine Smith, Stacey Brannan, Claire-Louise Wells, Stephen Jackson (first male counter) and any other newcomer who picked both the best and worst of XC races in which to make their debuts. It says little of the lovely camaraderie post-race and is not in any way a comprehensive account of a day which will probably prove the best XC fixture of the season in many ways. Finally, it also says nothing of what Jerry Lloyd experienced; Jerry, my thanks for an unforgettable (I hope for you also) 6.3 miles.
|1||Tim Goulding||Birtley AC||S Sen||37:04|
|36||Stephen Jackson||S Sen||41:33|
|63||Gareth Pritchard||S Sen||42:44|
|175||Paul Evans||M Sen||45:15|
|182||Geoff Davis||S Vet||45:26|
|191||Jerry Lloyd||M Vet||45:32|
|209||Matthew Crow||S Sen||46:08|
|216||Graeme Walton||S Vet||46:24|
|239||Scott Watson||S Vet||46:59|
|252||Matthew Archer||S Sen||47:22|
|255||James Garland||S Sen||47:27|
|268||David Gibson||S Vet||48:02|
|270||Michael Hughes||S Vet||48:02|
|277||Dave Halligan||S Vet||48:15|
|281||David Brown||S Sen||48:22|
|283||Jon Ayres||S Vet||48:27|
|302||Danny Lim||S Sen||48:56|
|327||Conrad White||S Vet||49:52|
|329||Marc Jones||S Sen||49:56|
|344||John Metson||S Vet||50:18|
|354||Jon Steed||S Vet||50:36|
|406||David Lumsdon||S Vet||52:19|
|424||David Selby||S Vet||52:55|
|430||Eric Green||S Vet||53:08|
|478||Ari Hodgson||S Sen||55:23|
|490||Innes Hodgson||S Vet||56:24|
|500||Andy Short||S Vet||57:12|
|508||Mark Dunseith||S Sen||57:50|
|512||Phil Owen||S Vet||58:09|
|517||Peter McGowan||S Vet||58:31|
|519||David Spence||S Vet||58:34|
|528||Nick Jones||S Sen||60:09|
|538||Dave Robson||S Vet||61:39|
|541||Lindsay Rodgers||S Vet||62:41|
|544||Stephen Ellis||S Vet||65:15|
|549||Andrew Thurston||S Vet||67:19|
|1||Jo Ritson||Durham City Harriers||S Sen||28:23|
|17||Penny Browell||M Vet||32:31 *|
|23||Elaine Bisson||S Vet||32:49|
|38||Susan Davis||S Vet||33:23|
|48||Rachael Bullock||M Sen||33:40|
|53||Lucy Cowton||S Sen||33:44|
|58||Mandy Dawson||S Vet||33:53|
|70||Camilla Lauren-Maatta||S Vet||34:09|
|81||Helen Tones||M Vet||34:31|
|93||Sarah Davies||S Vet||34:48|
|96||Fiona Jones||S Vet||34:54|
|111||Rachel Terry||M Vet||35:21|
|116||Lesley Charman||S Vet||35:23|
|130||Fiona Shenton||M Vet||35:37|
|137||Debra Goddard||S Vet||35:53|
|151||Juliet Percival||M Vet||35:58|
|160||Melanie Hudson||S Vet||36:13|
|174||Helen Williams||S Vet||36:44|
|177||Stephanie Piper||S Sen||36:54|
|198||Jane Ives||S Vet||37:36|
|200||Jan Young||S Vet||37:36|
|246||Jean Bradley||S Vet||39:32|
|248||Nina Mason||S Vet||39:38|
|264||Kate MacPherson||S Vet||40:22|
|268||Katherine Preston||S Vet||40:31|
|280||Joanne Porter||S Vet||41:22|
|286||Anja Fechtner||S Vet||41:53|
|287||Claire-Louise Wells||S Vet||41:56|
|295||Jacquie Robson||S Vet||42:14|
|300||Stacey Brannan||S Vet||42:37|
|311||Catherine Smith||S Vet||43:56|
|317||Louise Billcliffe||S Vet||44:27|
|321||Karen Hooper||S Vet||45:27|
|322||Denise Benvin||S Vet||45:43|
|323||Diane Watson||S Vet||45:57|
|334||Helen Allen||S Vet||46:51|
|347||Kerry Lister||S Vet||51:14|
|348||Anita Dunseith||S Sen||51:18|
|353||Claire Galloway||S Sen||55:40|
|354||Laura Jackson||S Vet||61:32|
* Promoted to Fast Pack
U17 & U20 Girls
|1||Lydia Sharpe||Durham City Harriers||S U20||19:49|
|27||Sally Hughes||F U20||28:02|
|1||Ben Wardle||Gateshead Harriers||S U13||13:51|
|27||Zak McGowan||S U13||16:29|