This is a very prestigious competition, with nearly 600 schools competing at the initial county rounds. To have qualified for the final (for the second year in a row) was itself a significant achievement.
Tom Jackson’s illness meant that we were deprived of one of our strongest runners in this age category, and we knew that though we were regional champions, other regions would have some very strong teams indeed. Though we came second in this event back in 2012 with a truly exceptional team, our expectations were a little lower this year and we aimed to get close to replicating 2016’s result of 10th place overall.
The setting was adjacent to the beautiful grounds of Knole Park, which will be familiar to many Hunt runners past and present as the setting of the famous Knole Run. This particular competition, however, would take place in the grounds of Sevenoaks School itself. Much work had been done to clear a path through the dense woodland which skirted the playing fields, and walking the course beforehand we admired what had been achieved – a challenging but well-conceived course over mostly flat ground, with a few twists and turns to keep things interesting.
Conditions were perfect for cross country purists: bright and cold, without a breath of wind. As we watched the other age group races get underway (ours was last on the programme), we realised it would be a frantic start amid some excellent competition.
We were right: the start was indeed very quick, and our team pen position at the extreme left of the field didn’t help, but our boys battled bravely in the jostling for position just before the first bend, after an opening straight of about 250m. Oscar Hamilton-Russell (R) had got away cleanly and was placed well up the field of about 160 runners. Orlando Williams (Rt) also placed well, but the others – Tim Clarkson Webb (O), Harrison Cutler (R), Seb Price (R) and Fred Jones (Rb) – all struggled to defend against the hordes of runners sweeping across them from the right.
As positions settled down over the first lap of two, it was clear that Oscar was running very well in the first half of the race and coming through positions. At the halfway point, he was in around 30th position and looking strong. Orlando had slipped back a bit and was in perhaps 40th place at this stage, and was probably feeling the effects of his very strong start. Further back, Tim was having a really good race and showed that his training is starting to pay dividends in his fitness. Harrison (who is very young for this age category) had a lot to do but seemed strong in the second half and was making good ground on the second half of the field. Fred was not much further back, while Seb sadly suffered from a twisted ankle in the melée of the first bend and struggled to keep position.
As they came out into the open again from the woodland before the final quarter-mile, Oscar had managed to hold his ground very well and his placing of 30th overall was a great achievement. Orlando placed 61st, which given he has been mostly concentrating on rowing this term, shows what a natural talent he has in this sport. Tim was our third ‘counter’ in 103rd, with Harrison not far behind in 115th, having run a very strong second lap. Fred and Seb both came through close to each other, finishing well around the 140 mark. Seb’s determination to finish the race despite his ankle injury was truly heroic.
Our team score was a respectable 309, but it was clear that this wasn’t going to trouble the leading schools. Our overall position was 21st out of the 28 finalists. In true Salopian style, Orlando had to hot-foot it back in his parents’ car to return to Shrewsbury in time for the School play, in which he had a significant part!
Overall, it was a great bit of race experience for these young Hunt runners and showed a good deal of potential for future years. I’m hugely indebted to them for their efforts in service of the School.
Teacher in Charge of the Hunt