As the early spring sun sets once again on a wonderful cross country season it is time to reflect on what was achieved. When things kicked off at Wrekenton back in October Striders men’s team was facing its first season in the top flight for over 20 years. Only grey bearded Striders such as Mike Bennett and Conrad White could remember those days and us younger runners were slightly nervous as to how we’d fair. We needn’t have been because with the help of new blood and determined performances we made steady progress throughout the season. The team never once finished in the relegation zone, in spite of many of our runners being promoted to higher packs, and we rounded off the season at Alnwick with our best performance of third on the day ahead of famous and successful clubs such as Morpeth and Gateshead as well as near neighbours Durham and Crook. So it was with some justification that the team celebrated their 6th place for the season with some cake and fizz at the tent and later in the Station House in Durham.
All 55 men who ran for Striders in the 2016-17 HL season contributed to that success but I feel that I should mention a few of them individually. Stephen Jackson ran in all 6 league races and finished in an excellent 8th place in the HL Senior Men’s Grand Prix completion for the season. Jason Harding also competed in all 6 races and was 11th in the HL Veteran Men’s Grand Prix competition – another first rate performance. Three other Striders turned out at all 6 races earning the admiration and gratitude of their team mates. They were regular ‘counters’ Matt Claydon and David Gibson and life-long sportsman and determined competitor Richard Hockin. Well done to you all!
The women’s team was looking to maintain their record of never having been relegated from Division 1. It was going to be a tough ask given the quality of the opposition which included Olympians Laura Weightman and Ali Dixon running for Morpeth and Sunderland Strollers respectively. But nonetheless they achieved their goal with some consistently determined performances throughout the season including an excellent 4th place at the challenging ‘Thornley 2’.
As with the men’s team, all 57 women who ran for Striders contributed to that achievement and it was great to see new faces commit to the challenge and become ‘hooked’ on the pleasures and rewards of X/C running. Some notable performances included that of Rachel Bullock who finished 18th in the HL Senior Women’s Grand Prix and Tamsin Imber who finished 19th in the HL Veteran Women’s Grand Prix as well as competing in all 6 races and enjoying her time running from the fast pack. It was wonderful to see the return of Nina Mason to X/C and Nina also ran in all 6 races as did the ever inspiring Jan Young (Nina’s mum!) and relative new comer the ever sunny Rachelle Mason. We had a sad and unfortunate incident at Thonrley 2 this year when long serving Strider Mandy Dawson broke her leg during the women’s race. We were all shocked by this and I’m sure all your best wishes go to Mandy for a speedy recovery and, knowing her as we do, we’re certain she’ll be back for more mud in 2017-18!
So, another season done and one we can all look back on with pride and satisfaction. There were some great achievements by both teams as well as each and every individual who ran. Over one quarter of the club’s membership took part and cross country running continues to be a major part of what this club is about. It is a true team activity in what can be a very individualistic sport. For many years HL fixtures have provided an opportunity for club members to come together and form lasting friendships – long may that continue!
Last Saturday’s Harrier League fixture at Herrington Park saw around 70+ Strider members in attendance. There were Strider men, women, young , old, fast, not so fast, new members, long servers, coaches and committee members all there wanting their club to do well and for everyone to have a brilliant day. It gladdened even the hardest heart to see it and it showed just what this club is all about. We Striders are able to come together no matter who we are, what we are or where we’re from and give our all in the service of the club. It was absolutely magnificent and all who were there should be incredibly proud!
The day itself was cloudy, mild and calm if a little damp and the tent and banner was soon up along with many more from our sister clubs. Some of these clubs have long histories stretching back to the nineteenth century such as Heaton Harriers; our next door neighbours for the day, while others are ‘new arrivals’ like Derwent Valley Trail Runners in only their second HL season. It was great to be among them all.
The Striders tent filled up quickly in anticipation of the senior women’s race. We had veterans such as Roz and Jan, welcome returners like Karen, Nina and Emma, fresh faced speedy Striders in Tamsin and Olivia, new devout converts such as Diane and Helen & tough campaigners like Mudwoman herself, Stef & Camilla. We also had one slightly apprehensive debutant, Carla, who quickly shed that apprehension and enjoyed her day to the utmost.
Although it was dry overhead the course was quite muddy in places with a couple of challenging hills and a long woodland section which contained a few obstacles for good measure. Not an easy course by any means. Nonetheless, well over 300 women lined up to do battle with purple vests well in evidence at the start particularly in the front rank of combatants.
Rachelle and Mudwoman were first to show followed by Lesley and they hurdled the fallen logs with eagerness and élan. Emma, on her long anticipated return to the Striders x/c fold, battled her way steadily from the medium pack to finish ahead of Rachelle & Mudwoman with another medium packer, Olivia, powering through at the end to finish as 4th counter. But what support they had from their team mates including the ever improving Helen, a determined Rachael, a committed Vics, a dogged Denise and many many more. No less than 30 Striderettes competed and they all ran their hearts out. But Harrier League is a savage and unforgiving arena, particularly the first division, and with some of our regular ‘counters’ absent through injury or illness our women’s team finished 9th on the day and slipped to 8th for the season just above the relegation zone. We now have a fight on our hands that we’re determined to win!
As well as fielding 57 runners across the two main races Striders had numerous members there who came along to cheer their club mates and have an enjoyable day out. An injured Conrad gave his impression of the ‘Shipman Roar’, Anna, Katy & Allan cast their coaches’ eye over proceedings while Catherine S, Jan E, Stan, Jo P & Diane W all did their best to spur on the purple hoards. Many thanks to them!
One or two of our male runners were so far into the zone during their warm ups that they failed to hear the whistles and shouts that heralded the imminent start of the men’s race. Consequently they had a bit of catching up to do after the gun was fired! Fighting through that 500+ field on what was now a very muddy course couldn’t have been easy but Striders were fielding a very strong team. An absolutely magnificent run by Stephen, coming from the fast pack, saw him finish in 35th place overall and first Strider home. Scott too did his fare share of bursting through finishing second Strider and being closely followed by Matt A (his best X/C race thus far?!), Gibbo, Phil Ray and Jason (from the medium pack).
These guys also had some fantastic support from our other fast packers Gareth & Michael M plus Michael L, Mark & Jack from the medium pack. Pictures on social medium have also shown the grit and determination displayed by the rest of the magnificent team particularly David Browbank (retaining his shoes), Douglas Jardine (putting his body on the line in his debut race), young Emil (thrown in the deep end on his first outing) and Richard Hocking (beating over 150 younger men).
This was Striders best performance in the first division so far. All 6 counters finished in the top 80 places – an excellent display but, such is the quality of our opponents, our 6th place on the day still keeps us in 8th place for the season but with a 2 point cushion over the relegation zone and now just 2 points behind the 7th place club. Like the women we too have a battle on our hands and one that we are equally determined to win.
So we have just two fixtures to go and if any one who manages to read this far and hasn’t yet run this season, particularly those for whom we already have numbers, then I urge you to turn up at Thornley and Alnwick and run for your club. You really are missing out on a fantastic experience if you don’t!
Ps I would like to give a special mention to Kerry and Denise for an act way above and beyond the call on duty – the removal of all the goose poo from the Striders tent!
A bright, cold day saw 25 Striders compete over a gentle x/c course ideal for beginners. This one off cup fixture hosted by the HL tends to attract smaller fields than the league matches themselves but, without the usual pack system, we still saw a men’s field of 379 and a women’s of 286.
Thirteen Strider women lined up to do battle with two times Olympic 1500m finalist Laura Weightman. Louise managed to get closest to her followed by Sarah and Helen and these were our counters for the Women’s Vet team (we had no senior team as no u/35 Striders competed!) As ever though there was plenty of support for them from faces old and new such as Jenny Search running for the first time this season and Jan Young running her millionth x/c supported by daughter Nina, in the race itself, and grand-daughter Leigh on the sidelines. The team received some enthusiastic support from Strider children ringing bells and waving purple and silver wavy things. It was much appreciated.
As a warm up to next Saturday’s crucial league fixture at Thornley, a dozen Strider men chose to compete here today for their club and were rewarded with 13th place in the Vet Team competition. Michael led the team home followed by a determined and grimacing James. Phil Ray was our first non vet home but once again we didn’t have sufficient youngsters to make up a senior team. That didn’t stop Richard Hockin from finishing first v60 home though!
Another great x/c day out was had by all, and it was particularly pleasing to see certain children of Strider parents perform so well in their orange vests. Potential Olympians of the future sharing the stage with an Olympian of today. If x/c is good enough for them then it’s good enough for me too!
The new x/c season kicked off this year at Wrekenton with both Strider teams competing in their respective First Divisions. With a myriad of other distractions this weekend today was always going to be difficult for Striders’ x/c faithful. Nonetheless, some magnificent performances throughout the field, not least by the evergreen Mandy Dawson, saw the teams steer clear of their dreaded ‘drop zones’. Striders women finished 8th from 10 on the day while the men finished 7th from 10.
No less than 48 Striders gathered beneath the purple banner to resume, or begin, their love affair with cross country racing. Veterans of many previous campaigns, such as Roz, Jan Y & Conrad, were there rubbing shoulders with newcomers like Andrew Davies, Phil Ray, Kirsten Fenwick, Diane Harold and Faye Bell and trying to calm pre-race nerves. The weather was very ‘un-cross country like’ with sunny skies, mild temperatures, a gentle breeze – and a bone hard course! A perfect day to make one’s x/c debut.
The women were first up and, after a disturbing absence of any of the ‘Sea of Purple’ with their toes on the start line, Mandy was first to the fore with a quick start from the slow pack melee. Rachelle and Lesley followed with Mudwomen herself keeping in close contact. But as always Striders were conspicuous throughout the 350 strong field where no less than 41 other clubs were represented. It was great to see come backs from Nina & Sue, gratifying that Camilla preferred her running to be ‘alcohol free’ and gladdening to see no less than 27 Striders giving their all for the greater glory of their club. Fresh faces and familiar faces were cheered to the echo by their club mates some of whom, like Simon, Karen, Phil and Mark, had come along just to watch.
Mandy maintained her ‘lead’ to be first Strider home, & gaining promotion to the medium pack (again), while on the second lap Mudwoman came through strongly to pip Lesley while being closely pursued by Tamsin running from the medium pack. But there were some great performances throughout the field including Jean (2nd in age group), Jan Y (3rd in age group) and Roz (4th in age group)! Some great sprints for the line too – Jill and others. Well done everyone – particularly the debutants – x/c can be a ‘savage arena’ even for us ‘old lags’ and you may feel more exposed than in say a road race, but the rewards and sense of achievement are fantastic! Let those endorphins flow!
And so to the men’s race. The final event of the afternoon and a field of 532 competitors or 1,064 elbows! Striders’ first run out in the top division for more than 20 years – bring it on! A crowded start from the slow pack and a bottle neck at the first incline showed how important it is to find a position near the front of the field if such situations are to be avoided. No such problems for James Garland who had one of his best races of recent years and sped off to head the slow pack Striders. Only two of the clubs best athletes managed to overhaul James – Michael Mason first Strider home running from the medium pack and Stephen Jackson second Strider running from the fast pack. Incredible performances! James was followed in by debutant Phil Ray – rewarded by a strong performance in a tough race – then Jason flying through from the medium pack and Matt Claydon making a very welcome return to x/c. These guys were backed up by a further 15 Striders all of whom gave their all including Danny Lim (travelling up from Teesside), Daniel Mitchel (in his second season for Striders), veteran Richard Hockin with hair flying in the wind and webmaster Dougie just making it the start line after a very thorough warm up!
Well done to you all! We held our own first time out in the top flight so there’s much to be pleased about. But make no mistake we’re going to need a battalion of purple clad reinforcements if we’re going to hold out against the top clubs in the region. I know we can do it – so come on, let’s get cracking!
Saturday’s final NEHL x/c race of 2015-16 saw Striders men’s team finish as Division 2 champions, after securing first place on the day, thereby achieving promotion to Division 1 for the first time in over twenty years! The Women’s team, already in their Division 1, also achieved their highest placing for the season of 4th on the day and 6th for the season as a whole – a solid performance that bodes well for next year. Well done to you all!
Over 120 Striders took part in HL this year and each one of them has contributed to the club’s success. They’ve done this not just by running their hearts out for Striders, but by creating a wonderfully friendly and inclusive atmosphere around the Striders’ banner whereby everyone feels part of the team, is happy to give their all when competing over what can be challenging terrain and want to come back for more.
‘They also serve who stand and cheer’ and this year we’ve had some marvellous vocal support from Striders and their families out on the course. On occasions the volume of support has been almost overwhelming although absolutely invaluable to those running in finding that extra yard of pace and determination to finish well. So thanks again to one and all, I know I haven’t been alone this season in feeling an enormous sense of pride in Striders and for what it stands.
And so to Saturday’s race. The weather was fairly benign – cloudy and cool, but with little wind and no rain, and a dry fortnight had left the undulating course in a fast and runable condition. The Senior Women were first up and a returning Helen Tones was soon near the front of the field pursued quietly by Juliet with Mandy and Steph P not far behind. And that’s how it finished as for once our medium and fast packers were unable to overhaul their slow pack club mates on the slightly shorter than normal course. Nonetheless Penny and Louise proved to be the fastest Striders on the day while Laura J ran well showing no ill effects from a very cold day at Alnwick. Jill Rudkin made her debut and displayed a very determined dash for the line and she was supported by a host of Striderettes enjoying the pleasant conditions underfoot. Among these were fellow debutant Rebecca Talbot, x/c enthusiast Catherine S, the evergreen and exuberant Jan, the regal Victoria and the bright but determined Jo R. Well done to all who ran – next season awaits with opportunities to do even better!
The rallying cry that had gone up around Striders in the preceding week was answered with gusto by no fewer than 32 senior men – one of the largest, and certainly our strongest, team in my seven seasons as x/c captain. The pre-race atmosphere was tense but optimistic as we gathered for a group photo. We knew if we finished in the top three teams we’d be promoted but, if we finished first on the day then we’d be champions – bring it on!
I felt a twinge of pride at the start as I looked around at war painted Striders both new to the club such as Jason, Andrews G&H, & Daniel and ‘old-timers’ like Keith, Mike B & Shaun the Sheep. I knew they were as determined as I was for Striders to get their ‘just reward’. Part way round the first of the three laps I allowed myself the luxury of glancing up at the front of the field where I saw two purple vests among the first ten or so runners. These vests belonged to Andrew Hopkins (making his HL debut) and Jason Harding (in his second HL race) and they maintained that position until the end finishing in 6th and 8th place overall respectively – fantastic and exactly what we needed! They were soon followed in by x/c convert Gareth having probably his best ever run in mud and qualifying for the fast pack next season! Michael M was next with a magnificent run just missing out on fast pack qual. Then came another Michael (Littlewood) and fastest Strider on the day Stephen both of whom had chosen, unselfishly, to run for their club on Saturday and their contributions proved to be invaluable.
As ever, our counters were supported by a host of Striders each fighting to finish ahead of as many of our rivals as they could possibly catch – and how they succeeded! Brave debuts came from Daniel and Richard G while there were fighting come backs from Danny and David G. There were battle royals between Striders such as that between Matt, Tom and James and magnificent medium pack surges from Mark & Jack. But I know everyone who ran tried their hearts out from the youngest to the oldest and the fastest to the slowest. I can’t tell you how proud I am of every single one of you. You are all part of this success and you all thoroughly deserve it – well done! The dark days of failing to field a full team and of relegation to Division 3 are now well behind us, we can look forward to competing in the ‘sunny uplands’ of Division 1 next season!
I hope you’ve managed to read this far because I’d also like to mention all those who came along to support on Saturday. The cheering from our purple clad spectators was very loud and inspiring not just from male / female clubmates who had, or who were about to run, but in particular from those who’d come along just to watch such as Chairman Paul, The Sage of Shincliffe (Allan S), Kate, Stan (taking photos), Conrad, Fiona K-J, Katy, Joan, Teresa & many Strider children – thanks to you all, your contributions were just as important as those who ran.
I’ll leave you with some inspiring words stolen from the Minnesotan Master:
And I, I don’t mind the pain
Don’t mind the driving rain
I know I will sustain
‘Cause I believe in Striders.
After nearly a four month gap the Harrier League resumed on Saturday at the scenic Alnwick course. Overall attendance was slightly down, after a miserable day on Friday, but Striders still managed to put 43 runners into the field, along with many valued supporters, although this represents only 11% of the total club membership. Nonetheless, those 43 were all completely committed and determined to perform well for their club, whether they expected to finish at the sharp end, or the blunt end, of the field.
The Senior Women were first up and looking to improve on their 8th place in the league for the season thus far. Seventeen Strider women formed part of the 278 strong field. Juliet Percival was first to show for Striders from the slow pack, fresh from her Ultra running insanity, and closely followed by Steph P, a recent ‘x/c tourist4’ at both the Northern and National championships. Debutant Laura J wasn’t far behind them either, although the muddy conditions and cold temperatures were to take their toll on her.
But Saturday saw some blistering performances from our medium and fast pack runners. Elaine Bisson in particular put in a fantastic performance to finish in 17th place, first Strider home and gaining promotion to the fast pack for the first time. A wonderful example of what can be achieved with determination and application – well done Elaine! Club vice-captain Penny was second Strider home running from the fast pack and showing her usual blistering pace and pride in the purple vest. Juliet’s hard won fitness was rewarded with third counter position and Tamsin completed the counters with perhaps her best ever x/c performance zooming round from the medium pack.
As ever our counters were backed up by some resolute running from the Striderettes including Louise W and Mudwoman from the medium pack, Fiona W on her long awaited HL debut, Jan Y first in her age group, Rebecca D & Caitlin both with wonderful sprint finishes, a welcome return from Stef and valuable performances from everybody else. Well done and many thanks to you all – you’ve helped your club jump two places in the league (6th for the season, 5th on the day) and we’ve now every chance of a top half finish for the season. And who knows, next season our women could be adding to the three Harrier League Championship wins that the club already holds – something a club with 400 members can realistically aspire to!
Unless you’ve had your head buried in sand for the past few months you’ll know that Striders men’s team are in with a real chance of promotion to Division 1 this season. The determination to help achieve that goal was almost tangible in the tent on Saturday. From debutants Jason and Chris, through to old hands like Mike B and Conrad, the desire to perform well for the club was universal – and what a performance it was!
Jack Lee, fresh from a run over the snowy Lakeland fells, skated round the now muddy course, through the hail showers to finish in 24th place (in a field of 426), first Strider home and achieve his season’s goal of promotion to the medium pack. Well done Jack – a great personal achievement and a real Striders success story. Jack was followed in by an unsung hero of Striders, Jerry Lloyd, a man who achieves success quietly and without fanfare. Promotion to the medium pack again for Jerry – well done! The other counters were made up of Jason H, with a fantastic HL debut run, Michael Mason with a typically powerful run from the medium pack, likewise Gareth Pritchard straight off a night shift and Stephen J running from the fast pack and achieving the fastest time for a Strider – fantastic!
The other twenty Strider men also served to fly the purple flag and come between runners from other clubs and higher finishing positions – a vital role in our success story. Michael L and Mark were running from the medium pack for the first time and both put in blistering performances, Paul Swinburne had his best HL run so far, Tom continues to improve, Richard H made a welcome return and Phil T was cocker hoop with his gutsy run. There’s so many more I could mention such as Alex C, Malcolm, Aaron, Captain Ayres, Mike x 2 and everyone else. They all dug deep for their club and their team. Times & PBs are of no consequence here, it’s where you finish that counts and whether you finished in front of as many runners from other clubs as you possibly could – and that’s what they all did, every single one of them and that’s why we finished first club in Division 2 on the day leaving us in second place for the season, just one point behind the leaders!
So, we’re on the brink of promotion to Division 1, somewhere we haven’t been for more than twenty years. The spirit in the team is as high as I can remember but we haven’t achieved it yet. We need one last effort at Wrekenton from as many Strider men as possible, whether they be seasoned x/c runners or novices, the club needs you all if we are to clear that final hurdle!
There was a boxer plying his trade in the 1980s & 90s who went under nickname of “The Truth”. At the time I considered it a little pretentious but after yesterday’s race I gained more of an appreciation of the message he was trying to convey. In going ‘toe to toe’ with the Witton Park course you would discover “The Truth” about many things including: your commitment; your resolve; your degree of competitiveness; your fitness; your physical condition; your running technique; your gear choice etc. All of which would be given the most sternest of tests.
Four Striders chose to undertake these tests and merrily travelled to Blackburn on the Durham Harriers coach “with the elite” as we were informed. The elite proved to be very friendly and included a number of old friends (and a new one: Tracy Henderson from Sedgefield Harriers) who were more than happy for us to use their tent which we duly helped to carry and put up. The light cast inside the tent by the bright orange material was unusual to say the least.
Anyway, the weather in Blackburn was cold and windy and peppered with the occasional snow / sleet / hail shower. The course wasn’t as muddy as we’d expected although this would change significantly during the course of the day. After watching the many junior races Steph and Susan adjourned to the ‘Orange Palace’ to prepare for the fight. The Northerns are longer than the HL (8K rather than 6) and tend to be a bit tougher – well this time they’d gone overboard with the toughness. The whole course was now covered in thick, deep mud the sort that allows no rhythm to your running. There were steep hills too where the mud made ascent an exhausting business and descent a slippery dangerous process. There were also a couple of opened gates where the mud had been turned into a wet, brown blancmange hiding stones of various sizes. All perfect for establishing those truths.
350 women set off on the three laps of torture. It was great to see Susan and Steph slugging it out along with all the other women from far flung places such as Sheffield, Liverpool and Hull. They included the very speedy & well known names, to the less speedy but equally determined women who are no doubt heroines in their own clubs and, after yesterday, to the rest of us as well. Susan and Steph both finished strongly, while being showered in hail, and felt fairly comfortable with the truths they had discovered! Many thanks to you both and well done!
The men’s race at 12k, 4 laps & 8 hills was the final ‘event of the evening’. Mike and I lined up with the other 700 plus expecting a bruising encounter and to discover the answer to those truths. We both knew we had plenty of commitment because we were there on that startline ready to go, but those other truths? Well we were about to find out!
It was thick mud from the start, impossible to get any rhythm, but I stayed upright, unlike one or two others, so technique mustn’t be too bad. Mike passed me fairly early on and I didn’t feel I could stay with him – perhaps my competitiveness was lacking. The prospect of four laps in these conditions was daunting but there was no way I was dropping out so my resolve was in good order. However, those hills, two on each lap, were testing my fitness to the utmost and, after suffering a series of niggling injuries over the past five months, fitness was proving a bit ‘wanting’ – an uncomfortable truth. Descending too was proving difficult (normally a strength). The top of one downhill bit in particular was treacherous and the heels of my ‘spikes’ provided little purchase – perhaps I should have worn my fell shoes?! Heavy hail showers were proving my decision to wear a ‘thermal’ was a good one though – so gear choice wasn’t all bad.
The laps were getting fewer as one runner, just in front of me, went head first into the blancmange. He appeared unhurt so I just ran around him – my competitiveness and resolve was obviously ok then. But the fitness was still a problem on those hills and the truth about my physical condition wasn’t all good either. While the injuries were holding up well (hamstring, calf & back!) those few extra pounds put on during enforced inactivity and Christmas celebrations, were starting to make their presence felt. But I managed to make it onto the final lap and get up and down the final two hills. Approaching the finish I spotted two ‘local’ vests ahead: a Darlington Harrier and a Tyne Bridger. The latter had been irritating me for most of the race as he would stop and walk quite often, when I would overtake him, only for him to sprint passed me moments later. Anyway, the truth about my competitiveness was that it was in good working order as I ‘stepped on the gas’ to pass both these runners in a dash for the line. Mike was there to ‘welcome’ me having finished a couple of minutes ahead which bodes well for greater challenges ahead.
So it was all over. One of the toughest x/c races I’ve ever run, and what about those ‘truths’? Well, here’s my verdict:
Resolve: still intact.
Competitiveness: in good order although slightly diminished from days of yore.
Fitness: room for improvement and needs working on.
Physical condition: good for age but certain refinements needed.
Running Technique: adequate even under the most challenging conditions.
Gear Choice: acceptable – plenty of experience to call on.
Saturday started wet. The rain then turned to sleet, the sleet turned to wet snow, the wet snow to ‘full on’ snow and by the time the senior men’s race started there was a two inch carpet of snow on the course. Thus the scene was set for this year’s North East X/C Champs at Sedgefield.
Striders were there in reasonable strength and Sally Hughes was first out in the junior women’s race. Unable to hire a taxi from the tent to the start line she was escorted there by Mudpeople and her father. She looked a forlorn sight as she lined up with the other young athletes, most of who were shivering while others were shielded by umbrellas held by more devoted parents or club captains. The sound of the starter’s gun was almost drowned out by chattering teeth but off they went all eager to get going and get warm – or slightly less cold. Sally held her own in the challenging conditions finishing in 28th place in a highly competitive field. Understandably, she made a hasty exit from the field seeking hot food and drink and a more substantial shelter than that offered by the Striders tent!
As these races represent the North East Champs the senior men still get to start before the women and Striders were fielding a company of twelve of their finest brave men. As the young tend to know no fear Jack Lee went out at the front into the blizzard followed by two more senior comrades Neil Sleeman and Capt Evans. As some of you will know Neil hails from slightly warmer climes than Sedgefield in December but he took to the snow like a koala to a gum tree finishing second Strider home behind Jack and ahead of Capt E after an exciting tussle. Old Tom was next home holding off a challenge from the baseball hatted Aaron who was in turn followed in by James Garland making a welcome return to the fray.
Innes must be benefiting from his own grass sessions as he had a good run as did newbies Alex W and Peter H, the latter supported by his understanding family. Shaun the Sheep’s trailer had been held up in the snow bound traffic so he came out of the pen some minutes behind the rest of the flock. Once other runners were nipping at his heals though he was soon trotting merrily along, although at the end, after braving the blizzard, it looked like he’d been ‘dipped’ if not sheared! The two Mikes made up the team with Mr Bennett resembling a festive Santa speeding round the snowy fields and Mr Hughes covered in the white stuff and thinking Sally had had the best of the conditions. And, as it turned out, she had – so well done lads, a great performance – it’s what the club is all about: great days out and shared experiences in face of adversity!
Well, if the men had to face adversity then the women were facing something even tougher! By now the snow was really meaning business not only covering the course in a thick blanket but also trying to bring down the Striders tent with a duvet size overlay. A field of over 220 snow women lined up for the start. Relieved to get under way Penny of the Antarctic skied off with the front runners followed by Elaine, Sarah and Mudwoman. Debs wasn’t far behind and the hangover she was suffering was soon “washed away like the snow in the rain” as she battled through the white stuff. There was no “compromising” either by any of the Striderettes today: Catherine Elliott made a determined effort to duck the snow flakes, Steph P was making a return to form as conditions become more to her liking, our debutant Fiona Wood smiling (or grimacing) in the knowledge that “things can only get better” and Rebecca serenely floating through the white mud dreaming of Mandalay.
They all contributed to another great performance by the women’s team who, cheered on by Jan and many of the men’s team, finished in the top half of the table in a race where the first three finishers were all international runners and household names (they are in our household anyway). What a great day! Yes it was cold, wet and uncomfortable and the race was hard and tough but that’s what makes x/c so rewarding – the harder it is the more we enjoy that post race glass of wine or beer and the more we feel at one with our club mates. We can’t wait for the next time!
The Harrier League road show moved on to Druridge Bay for the first time on Saturday. Mudwoman and I arrived in good time, with the Striders tent and flag, only to see another club’s tent (identical to ours) flattened by the strong gusty wind. Flags and tents were flapping and leaning alarmingly as we unpacked our faithful shelter. With careful planning and speedy execution the thing was up in quick time without (major) incident and ready for the arrival of the Striders bus.
The course was situated within the Druridge Bay nature reserve just behind the coastal dunes. With undulations rather than hills it promised to favour the speedy road runners – if it hadn’t been for the copious amounts of mud, a wind that was gathering in strength and heavy showers that were rattling through every few minutes. A surprisingly large field, given that Aykley Heads was just a week before, and a Strider turnout of 42 runners promised a competitive race and that’s just what we saw in both the Senior Women’s and Senior Men’s races.
Olivia Neal running for Striders for the first time (but as a non-counter while her ‘transfer’ goes through) had a brilliant run being first Strider home in 18th place and achieving promotion to the medium pack. Well done Olivia! I’m sure this will be the first of many great achievements in the purple vest! Not far behind Olivia was the experienced Sarah Davies battling through the tough conditions to also achieve medium pack status for the first time. Sarah was followed by the even more experienced Mandy who’s been competing in x/c since she first broke into a run as a toddler. The counters were completed by Elaine Bisson running from the medium pack (excellent!) and our international veteran x/c runner Fiona Shenton – a role model for the younger women (and men) in the club.
These front running Striderettes were supported as ever by the ‘sea of purple’ putting in some brilliant performances such as Rachelle Mason showing great promise, Lucy Cowton a welcome return and brimming over with enthusiasm, Diane Watson – straight back on board at the earliest opportunity, Jan Ellis showing grit and determination and Jennifer Cowen on her HL debut bravely fighting through the challenging conditions. Well done to you all! An eighth place finish on the day and likewise for the season so far but things are very close and the Striderettes are just one point behind the fifth placed club – so come on, we know you can power up that league table during the second half of the season!
The course was at its muddiest for the men’s race but this didn’t put anyone off! Least of all Simon Gardner who had the x/c race of his life leading the team home and qualifying for the medium pack for the first time. Well done Simon! Rumour has it you were even heard to say you ‘enjoyed it’. Just a few seconds behind Simon was Mark Warner – Striders’ ‘Flying Dentist’ who in just his second HL also achieved medium pack status – brilliant! Third counter was the impressive Michael Mason, also running in just his second HL for Striders, Michael just missed emulating Penny’s achievement of last season, of going from slow pack to medium to fast in successive races, by six seconds – an incredible run. The counters were completed by the ever improving Jack Lee and Matt Archer and finally by ‘Old Tom’ – no not a real ale but a tough, determined & committed runner – well done the lot o’ya!
Just as in the women’s race the counters were supported by a team to make the club justly proud including Stephen running from the fast pack (and 500m further than the rest of the field!), Shaun the Sheep back in the fold (pun intended) on a regular basis now, John Hutch – part of the Striders’ furniture grafting once more through the mud, Adam Bent – seeming to enjoy his running far too much, Dave Spence – a very respectable performance from Striders’ ‘senior’ man and Stephen Ellis making it a family day out. Many thanks to you all and well done! The men’s team put in a brilliant performance to finish in third place on the day and an incredible third place for the season so far – just one point behind the second place club and just two behind the leader! This is our best start to the season for many a long year. Wouldn’t it be great if we were one of the two clubs to be promoted to Division 1 in this our 30th anniversary year?! It’s in our own hands – we need our runners to commit to turning out for the final three fixtures and running their hearts out – come on, let’s go to it!
… Dave Spence
Mud, Mud glorious mud nothing quite like it for …
Saturday 28th Nov dawns dry. But the weather forecast suggests rain and strong wind but maybe not in the sliver of Northumberland where Druridge Bay lies. This was to be my second ever cross country.
But with a confident step I made my way to the bus pick up.
The weather seemed to be holding up as we arrived at Druridge Bay and made (plodged) our way to the tent encampment. Things were not looking good with people in purple fighting to erect a tent which wanted to fly across the North Sea to Scandinavia. In the end defeat was acknowledged and the prospect of changing in the now near gale winds and rain in the open looked likely. But behold it wasn’t the Strider tent. This had been erected earlier by our two tent professionals Susan and Geoff next to this errant one. Phew!!!
So with as many clothes on as possible and the women huddled in the tent we waited the start of the senior races.
Having cheered on the women’s competitors and taking note of the reports they reported back from the front of the mud and warm running conditions we reported to the start and after a rather chaotic beginning settled into the race. Having started near the back I made forward progress by sliding, squelching, sinking, splodging, slurping through the many stretches of muddy gloop. But I managed to pass a number who were even slower than me. Then on the last lap I saw Adam Bent ahead of me and to my surprise I was closing on him. As I got up to him I cheekily suggested we should finish together but somehow he found something extra and I couldn’t so I watched him disappear ahead of me. Maybe next time.
I did however pick up my pace in the finishing straight with a rare burst of speed ( well humour never goes amiss) when voices told me another Strider was after me. Oh stupid pride thou willst be the death of me!!
Then it was back to the bosom of the tent, cake of all descriptions and changing on a wet field. I declined changing in the tent since there was a danger in my exhausted state of falling over and drowning in the lake inside the tent. Back to the bus with a well prepared driver already with clean plastic bags to put our shoes in and a relaxed drive home.
So did I enjoy the race? I must admit enjoyment is not a word I would use but I am glad I did it and now roll on the Town Moor. But after that I must remember not to put my smartphone in my rucksack and then put the rucksack and phone in the washing machine. Did I mention it was an expensive experience?
Striders’ home x/c fixture at Aykley Heads saw an excellent turn out of purple clad runners – 68 in total, with no less than 16 making their debuts, and what a performance they put in! Cheered on by an army of high-viz clad Strider marshals the men’s team finished in a magnificent first place in Division 2 while the women maintained their 5th place in their highly competitive Division 1. What a fantastic day!
First up for Striders was Sally Hughes in the junior women’s race. Home for the weekend from Loughborough University, where she rubs shoulders with international athletes and coaches on a daily basis, fast packer Sally showed us all how it’s done by floating over the mud and finishing in an excellent 24th place. Well done Sally and we’ll see you again soon for the North Easterns!
Things were pretty cold on the exposed former police sports ground by the time the senior woman’s race got underway. Some of our women had been marshalling for a couple of hours before the race and they must have been nithered! They didn’t show it however, and Tamsin, on her debut, was quick to head the Strider charge. By now the course was in a well worn state – to put it mildly! Tight muddy turns and mini quagmires, interspersed with long up-hill stretches and nasty little ups and downs, were what the sadistic course planners had provided! Tamsin maintained her ‘lead’, was first Strider home & ran straight into the medium pack! There was a battle royal behind her with Mandy, Sarah and Jules fighting it out for the other counting places closely followed in by Penny from the fast pack (fresh from being presented with the Alan Purvis Cross Country Quaich for 2014-15 by the man himself shortly before the race).
But the main drama was being played out by the other 28 Striderettes seven of whom were making their debut on the toughest course in the league. So well done to Rachelle Mason, Victoria Brown, Kath Dodd (returning after a nigh on 30 year gap!), Laura Beacham, Helen Hall, Aileen Scott (wonderful finish) & Karyn Pyle (so relaxed). You all deserve a medal for completing that race – it was genuinely tough providing conditions normally only encountered in regional or national championship races and you were lining up with international athletes. I hope you are proud of yourselves because you should be!
Other performances of note included that by the ‘evergreen’ Jan Young – first v60 home, Louise Warner – a fine first run from the medium pack and Catherine Elliott showing she’s made of stern stuff! A fifth place finish on the day for the team and fifth place for the season so far – a good platform to build on.
By the time the men’s race was due to start at 2.15pm things were pretty cold and the course was at its muddiest. Striders men’s team was also packed with debutants (9 no less!) and when one politely asked Mudman for ‘any tips’, years of x/c experience were called upon to offer up the gem of ‘start near the front’! Anyway, it worked because the debutant asking for the tip was Michael Mason and he had an absolutely magnificent race finishing in 18th place overall, achieving immediate promotion to the medium pack and being first Strider home – what a start! Not far behind was another Michael (Littlewood) making his debut. Fairly new to running Michael too achieved medium pack qualification with his 39th place – an incredible performance that he should be very proud of. Well done to both of you! Third Strider was yet another debutant – Mark Warner. Mark didn’t quite achieve medium pack qualification but it will just be a matter of time before he does. Could these three performances represent a new beginning for Striders men’s x/c? Let’s hope so.
Other counters included the more experienced heads of Jerry, Chairman Paul and Simon with Neil, Jack, Matt & Stephen (from the fast pack and fastest Strider on the day) not too far behind. Our other six debutants experienced various highs and lows in the mud – Paul Foster lost the soles of his ‘well worn’ fell shoes, David Browbank’s shoes came off altogether and he completed the race barefoot! (how tough is that?!) while Peter Swinburne, Alex Witty, Peter Hart and David Beecham all got round with their shoes on!
There were some brave performances from our old hands throughout the field. Tom continues to return to the form of old while Alan Smith and Phil Todd showed considerable courage and determination to conquer the brutal unforgiving course. Well done to you all and what a team performance – first on the day in Division 2 and now third place for the season so far. The top two teams are promoted to Division 1 at the end of the season. Could it happen to us? It will take a lot of commitment and hard graft but come on Striders! Let’s give it a go!
Aykley Heads was very much a ‘Striders Production’ in association with Derwentside AC (Mark Davinson) and Durham Harriers (Geoff Watson). Scores of Striders acted as course or car park marshals and event organisers. We also had dozens of Strider friends and family supporting on the day. So thanks to you all – in your own way you all contributed to making it a day to remember!