We knew, though, that this would offer a very different challenge: six runners tackle the 2.3-mile course around War Memorial Park in relay, against fifty other teams from all around the country. The standard is frighteningly good, and suits some schools better than others – it’s short, it’s fast, and it’s flat; not much like the Knole then!
This is a race we’ve been close to winning now for several years, and with the quality we’ve got this year we thought this might be our year. That said, our preparations went far from smoothly, with all but two of the 12 boys and an almost equal proportion of the eight girls succumbing in the week leading up to the race to illness or injury. With some of our fastest runners unavailable, perhaps it wasn’t to be our year after all, but we travelled down confident in the knowledge that we have depth on our side. Our replacements were in good form and it shouldn’t cost us too much.
In the boys’ race, Owen Mock (R) got us underway for the A team, while Toby Pegge (PH) ran the opening leg for the B team. Neither got the best of starts in a frantic first dash up to the corner, but they managed to make up some places as they headed downhill into the wooded section, which had been made treacherous by heavy overnight rain. Both boys struggled to find their rhythm, and probably neither would be particularly happy with their eventual leg times (12:55 and 13.32 respectively). Nevertheless, it was good enough to keep us in contention, and though we had plenty of work to do, this was part of the game plan.
Meanwhile, the girls’ race had got underway five minutes after the boys, with Lucy Lees (EDH), a Third Former, getting stuck in amongst mostly Sixth Form girls! Not surprisingly she found the pace a challenging one, but gave it a really good go and showed a lot of potential for future years. For the B team, Sophia Dixon (MSH) was running her first race for a number of weeks after an injury, and found it tough. It wasn’t the easiest circumstances in which to make your comeback!
Back in the boys’ race, Harry Remnant (Ch) had taken the baton for the A team from Owen and was managing to claw back some places, despite having only just made the team due to a back injury. He wasn’t quite up to his usual speed, but he did manage to gain on a significant number of schools and we were noticeably further up the field by the end of his leg, which he completed in 12:36. In the Bs, Sam Western (PH) had taken over from fellow housemate Toby for the second leg. As a Fourth Former, it was a tough ask to make up some places, but he did just that, again showing he’s in excellent form this term, coming through in 13:04.
The girls’ teams’ second legs were run by Libby Hedges (G) and Anna Cowan (MSH). Both had strong runs and were able to keep us in amongst the other schools around us. These two have made tremendous progress as runners this year and will be looking forward to the County Champs at the weekend as a good opportunity to show off their form.
For the third leg, the boys handed over to Tom Jackson (R) and Charlie Ockleston (O) for the A and B team respectively. Tom has been in superb form, and for a Fourth Former to make the A team is a wonderful achievement – it means he’ll have all the more experience when he comes to ‘lead the line’ as a Sixth Former in a couple of years’ time. He ran a strong leg too, in 12:51, and managed to overtake a good number of competitor schools. At this point in the race, though, victory seemed beyond our grasp. Loughborough Grammar had already fielded three quick runners who had averaged 12:12 per leg, which left us a long way behind. Our tactics had left our three strongest runners in the last three legs, so we knew we’d come through the pack, but Loughborough seemed beyond reach. Charlie had a cracker of a run for the Bs – the fastest in the team on the day, finishing in 12:55 – and this was something of a revelation. He can take a lot of confidence from this performance and will, I hope, provide the springboard for future Hunt success.
Back in the girls’ race Chessy Harris (EDH), our pocket rocket, had taken over for the third leg and was tearing through the field. Her time of 14:06 is very impressive, and was sixth fastest of everyone in the race that day – terrific stuff from a 3rd former! The leg managed to haul the A team well up the leader board as she handed over to Huntswoman Immie Evans (G) for the final leg. For the B team, Liza Alekseeva (EDH) was doing a sterling job, but this race doesn’t really suit her style – she needed it to be a bit longer and a bit grittier to show off her talents.
Will Hayward (R) had taken the baton for the boys’ A team and had made a very quick start. Again, this race doesn’t quite suit him as it’s too short, but he gave it a good go, powering through the wood section and picking up places in the lower half of the course. He was a little disappointed with his time of 12:22, but it was strong enough to haul us back up into the top ten positions and gave Scott Hatton (S) and Freddie Huxley-Fielding (R) a good platform to build on. For the Bs, Lucien Whitworth (R) was attacking the course as best he could, but was another who couldn’t quite find his rhythm and was a bit disappointed with his time of 13:28.
Immie was able to have a real crack at the last leg and managed to pick up a couple of places over the course, hauling the team up to 18th position. Given it’s such a young team (only one Sixth Former in Immie, and she herself in the Lower Sixth), this was a good result for us and suggests that we’re in a good position to fight for a top ten place next year. In the Bs, Claire Richards (G) had been cajoled into taking off her track spikes and donning a pair of off-road shoes. Her favourite distance being 200m, it’s fair to say that the 3.7km course was not exactly designed for her, but she nevertheless gave her all in a gutsy effort right to the line.
The boys’ fifth leg was run by Scott Hatton, who had been suffering for several weeks with a bad chest infection, and while he was over it in time for the race, had left him short of fitness. That said, he has got a considerable amount of natural talent and was able to pull out a strong effort of 12:47 to help us get close to some of our rival schools. Loughborough were long gone by this stage, around two minutes ahead, and St Anselm's College in second were some way off too, but we knew that Freddie is capable of a very quick time so there was very much all to play for. In the Bs, Louis Nares (Rb), another Fourth Former, had shown strong form in his leg of 13:26, the third fastest in the team that day, to hand over to Niklas Amthor (R) for the anchor leg.
Freddie set off like a man possessed, and made a significant amount of ground in the first half of his leg, overtaking three other schools by the halfway point. By this stage he was locked in a battle with Sedbergh’s runner just ahead of him, and a St Albans lad a little further up. Freddie spent the entire second half of the race getting as close to these two as he could, and in the final turn with 100m to go he had caught St Albans and was on Sedbergh’s shoulder, but in the end the effort had been too much for him and the other two had just enough in the tank to pip him to the line in a dramatic finish, placing us sixth overall.
Freddie was a little disappointed in his time of 11.53, but in reality it had been a wonderful effort to get us in contention for these higher places. Niklas, who had been struggling with a knee injury since the Knole, nevertheless managed to fight bravely round the course in 13:32, just holding off Judd’s B team runner. This meant that ours was the highest-placed B team of the day, which is a significant achievement.
The race was won in fine style by GB athlete Ben Djikstra of Loughbrorough Grammar School, who completed his lap in a truly impressive 11.17. While the results were not quite what we’d hoped, we managed to remain extremely competitive (we were only 37 seconds off second place over what is in effect a 13.8-mile race) despite the many injuries and illnesses which had plagued us in the run-up to the race. The character showed by all members of the Hunt on the day was tremendous, and they were gracious in their defeat to Loughborough, who we – as well as everybody else – had to acknowledge as simply too good to be beaten. Well done to all who ran.