The Christmas Handicap came within a whisker of being cancelled this year. A few days before the deadline, I had only 6 entrants and quite a few apologies from people who would normally take part but were doing other races or Christmassy things. But then there was a flurry of last-minute entries and on the morning of the race, there were 34 runners, about normal for the last few years.
The theme for fancy dress this year was ‘Movies past and present’ – lots of scope in that, I thought. George Nicholson and David Shipman had agreed to lead off the ‘scratch runners’ so that anybody new to the course would not get lost (more about that later!) and the various turning points and ‘hazards’ were well marked with arrows and tinsel.
And so we were all set to get going at 11.00 … except that the only ‘scratch’ runner hadn’t turned up. So I had to do a quick revision of the handicapping – mostly in my head.
Where’s Allan Seheult when you need him? He’d have done it in a heartbeat! So David (alias Where’s Wally and George (alias Banana Man?) set off with the 3 new scratch runners, followed by Wendy (the Riddler) Littlewood. There were some amazing costumes including Captain America, Crocodile Dundee, a nun, a busy-bee and Conrad who seemed to be a downhill racer!
It was a good day for running – not too cold, sunny and the only bit of ice was on part of the footpath and on the corner at Houghall Lane. Everyone entered into the spirit of it – the bran tub was overflowing and Santa entertained passers-by as usual.
The first across the finish line was Fiona Harrington Hughes in 47 minutes. Fastest male was Bryan Potts in 32:07, the fastest female was Fiona Brennan in 34:56. All 3 juniors got prizes – the fastest being Lewis Littlewood in 41:01. The rest of the prizes were for fancy dress. And then we come to the last across the finish line … we waited but there was no sign. And then someone said ‘Is that not him running down from Shincliffe Bank?’. Completely from the wrong direction! He had just kept going past Houghall Lane in spite of the large arrow and tinsel directing runners to turn right. Obviously ‘in the zone’! Anyway, he saw the funny side of it.
Afterwards, we went to the Court Inn for the Christmas Carvery and the prize giving. Fancy Dress prizes went to (in no particular order) Lizzy Wallace, Conrad White, Mike Bennett, Anna Mason, George Nicholson, Lesley Charman, David Shipman, Wendy Littlewood, Tim Matthews, Lesley Hamill, Karen Byng, Fiona Kinghorn Jones, Joanne Richardson, Sam Renwick, Jonathan Hamill and Fiona Brannan.
Once again it was a very enjoyable and sociable event.
December 18th, the Sunday before Christmas and some 36 Striders turned up at Maiden Castle for our annual romp around Houghall Woods in ridiculous outfits to work up an appetite for Sunday Lunch at the Court Inn. And possibly to go home with a bottle of wine, some chocolates or a lunch voucher. Only a few prizes were for actual running – first finisher, fastest man, fastest lady and 1st Junior. The remaining 18 prizes were for fancy dress so the competition was fierce!
The theme was based on a choice of two lines from David Bowie songs, in honour of the great man who died last January: “We can be Heroes just for one day” or “Scary Monsters, super creeps” – an alternative spin on Heroes & Villains I guess.
From about 10.30 various startlingly colourful creatures just kept on arriving at Maiden Castle, to the astonishment of the reception staff. Only one Bowie but several Super Girls, Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn, three ‘Evil Sisters’, the Riddler, Ginger Spice and Tina Turner to name but a few.
Phil and Mike Hughes had been checking the course and marking any ‘hazards’ so at 11.00 we could make a prompt start. Of course there was the usual disbelief and mock horror at some of the handicap times given. Cries of, “That’s a ridiculous time for him” or “She must have a magic watch!” rent the air. However, the mockery died down and Starter/Timekeeper Sue set them off – subject to their highly suspect handicap times! Some found running easier than others who might have been somewhat handi-capped by their chosen outfits! Passing motorists were certainly highly amused.
Then after much shedding of tiaras, cutlasses and other accoutrements, runners began approaching the finish. First past the post was Mike Bennett in 38.04. Mike was absolutely delighted – in 29 years as a Strider he had never ‘won’ the Christmas Handicap. And he’s run most of them! Fastest man was Michael Mason in 30.26, fastest lady was Louise McCloy in 38.23, fastest Junior was Erin Keeler-Clarke in 38.04. The last finishers were the three evil sisters, Elaine Bisson, Lesley Charman and Katy Walton.
Afterwards, runners, supporters and marshals retired to the pub for lunch and the prize giving. Santa, ex-chairman Nick Young, presented the prizes, mainly for fancy dress as chosen by his two elves, Janice Young and Gill Wesson.
It was another very enjoyable Strider social event and I’d like to thank all those runners who took part, most in some sensational costumes. Thanks also go to the Start/finish team Sue Jennings and Phil Owen, the marshals, Mike and Phil for their work on the course and of course to Santa who always does a great job.
To bring to an end our 30th anniversary year of celebration focusing on 1985 seemed entirely appropriate. A few of us would remember fondly (or otherwise!) New Romantics, David Bowie, the end of the Punk era … Margaret Thatcher. Others would be toddlers or in nappies! However, scope for fancy dress seemed vast and the runners did not disappoint. Numbers were down from last year as it was still very close to the New Year’s festivities but by 11.00am we had a motley crew of runners, leaders and supporters ready to face the quagmire which was Houghall Woods.
At 10.30 it was still very quiet in the cafeteria at MC and then in burst Freddie Mercury in true Live Aid garb, an unrecognisable Mandy Dawson. There followed Dougie, resplendent as Adam Ant (Prince Charming mode!), Anita as a cross between Toyah Wilcox and Cyndi Lauper and George as John McEnroe. Another version of Adam Ant appeared along with Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Tom seemed to be Too shy as Limahl and Catherine Smith brought her welding helmet from Flash dance. Michael came in a chavvy shell suit and then, the piece de resistance … Margaret Thatcher in red suit and gold handbag – Mike Bennett by any other name.
The weather was kind to us – no rain and it was reasonably mild. The woods were very muddy but everyone managed to get around. Mike amused the passers-by by delicately holding up his red skirt in order to run. There was great teamwork with the marshals and helpers at the finish and I’m very grateful to Anna, Tom & Anita for leading some of the newer runners around the course.
After a successful run we went back to the Court Inn for a very well deserved lunch. Santa, alias Nick Young – a member since 1985 and a former chairman – assisted Paul in the presentation of prizes. Fancy Dress prizes were also given to Tom, Anita, Dougie and of course Santa for their help and support on the day.
Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who helped out today. It was a very happy sociable event.