Watching my children and their friends skip round the Prep Schools’ Cross-Country course here last weekend reminded me that without training, running can be quite hard work.
As a young lady crossed the finishing line in the under-9s race clearly having run her heart out, I was concerned she may not have fully appreciated every aspect of the event. Running-supremo Peter Middleton then reminded me that cross-country is a tough sport. Indeed, he claimed that Ernest Hemingway once said that there are “three sports in life; bull fighting, motorsport and cross country, everything else is just games”.
Mr Middleton was sitting at lunch with Tucks ‘outsider’ Dom Sullivan. Dom is well known to those of you who like water as a GB oarsman and as such he is in quite reasonable shape. “I am in quite reasonable shape and feeling good,” he told me. I wondered if it was a coincidence that Ingram’s are singing ‘Feeling Good’ as their part song this year and that Dom has been running the rehearsals. Was Dom trying to make me feel ‘not so good’ at lunch whilst I enjoyed another culinary delight courtesy of Matt Warburton and the KH team? Had he identified me as a rival for the Tucks title and decided to play mind-games with me? I managed to control my feelings by using my Philosophical knowledge and remembering that my training has been going extremely well this year and that not only am I Feeling good but I am looking good.
Mr Middleton quizzed Dom about his chances of winning, and when Dom admitted that should the race start to cause him pain he had been advised by his rowing coach to stop, he smiled and said that cross-country is tougher than rowing. Mr Middleton is a senior figure in the School, and Dom decided to agree with him. Mr Middleton went on for some time about the benefits of running for mental toughness. I had to leave when he was still in full flow, as it was my bedtime.
He may have a point, though, because I got a text from the mother of the young lady who’d run in the Under-9 competition which said: “It seems to have inspired her, as she has just written a letter to her teacher asking her to help her work towards getting a scholarship to Shrewsbury School.”
Dom didn’t run the Tucks last year as he was in Spain on a rowing ‘holiday’; but someone who did was Harry Remnant – and he came first.
Harry claims not to have been training this year, as he oversaw the successful Pringle Trophy Marines Team and has been too busy to worry about trivial things such as defending his title. He assures me that Sam Western is the favourite to win having been very fast in training recently.
I bumped into Paddy Barlow and the Rigg’s ‘Massive’, who were also quick to inform me that Sam is probably the bookies’ favourite. Paddy refuted claims that he might be a good each way bet, but interestingly he informed me that Harry Remnant has been spotted secretly training at night.
Harvey Hancock is aiming for a top 30 place. I wondered if that would please his father, Nick. Harvey told me that his father managed to avoid running the Tucks when he was here owing to genuinely good excuses such as appendicitis, and so any finish will be a source of family pride. Harvey is part of an Ingram’s squad that might be looking for second place in the team event after Rigg’s, whom Mr Middleton describes as “unbeatable” – and he should know as he recruited a lot of them!
Harvey told me, “Mr Griffiths signed Louis Nares over the summer to add to Alex Powell, Dom, Max Green, Scott Nicolson and Dan Humes. Dan is in good shape at the moment and he might be a genuine contender and certainly a top ten finisher.” Dan told me that was highly unlikely but he would give it a go.
I came across a number of staff who had something to say about their athleticism. The Chaplain Rev Keulemans informed me he would not be running, as “cross-country does my head in”. Mr Fitzgerald will be marshalling and so is sadly unable to show his prowess as an athlete. “I am like a frustrated Mo Farah,” he lied. Mr Percival describes himself as the ‘Voice of the Tucks’, as he will be commentating. When I suggested that meant he would have to keep up with the leader whilst talking at the same time, he looked a little pale and ran off to start training. Mr Walters informed me that he would be running as is hoping to cross the finishing line still breathing and in the middle of the pack. Dr Case thinks he may have finished close to 200th when he ran it here as a pupil and he feels that might well be the case again this year. Mr Merricks-Murgatroyd is expecting carnage at the log jump, according to my inside informant.
I was lucky enough to bump into Lillian Wilcox, Anna Cowan and the incredible Chessie Harris whilst they were returning from a training run. I started by asking them what they thought of the new Tucks course. Chessie told me she is not a fan, as there are not enough hills and it’s not long enough. Lilian told me she thinks it’s too long; she would prefer 800 metres, but she likes the fact that it has no hills.
Anna is excited by the idea of a water jump and a tree jump. She was slightly disappointed when I had to break the news to her that there is no water jump unless she goes wildly off course and heads into the river. She was however still buoyed by the idea of a tree jump, or log jump. “I like the idea of a tree jump, although I hope it does not cause a log jam,” Anna stated. She went on to say, “I think it is good to see the School branching off in a new direction with the race.” I asked her if she had anything else to say but she was stumped for words and just reached for another twiglet.
Chessie finished twelfth in the under-17 National Championships this year and could finish in the top 15 in the Tucks. She is a strong favourite for the girls’ race but her real motivation this year is to beat Mr Griffiths, who has told her he will buy her a pizza if she beats him. I am hoping he will buy me one if he beats me.
I wondered if Chessie and her friends had any training tips for us mortal runners. Chessie told me not to train now and to work on distance not speed if I do go for a run; something I was happy to take on board. She also informed me that technique is very important, as more people get injured from poor running technique than tackling in rugby, although I did point out that probably more people run than tackle in rugby. I certainly never tackled when I played rugby!
The general assessment of the potential winner of the boys’ race was that Charlie Ockleston might be up there close to Sam Western at the finish and that Leo Walton, Toby Pegge and Jamie Anwyl might spring a surprise. Sophia Dixon is hoping to figure in the girls’ race and is hoping that her friend’s plan to distract Chessie with an excellent area of baked goods works.
Finally, I had a quick look at how the Houses were preparing for the race. Most Houses followed a pattern of normality: perhaps a bit of House Singing practice, followed by an early night with a book containing inspiring stories by successful athletes – Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, or Eat and Run by Scott Jurek spring to mind.
Not in The Grove.
Mrs Wilson believes in a good curry followed by a serious amount of Sidoli’s cakes washed down with plenty of fizzy pop. “I think it is important to be relaxed before a big event, and what is more relaxing than a good curry surrounded by your friends?” Mrs Wilson intimated.
After the curry was an apple-bobbing competition. This involved two girls and two buckets of water containing an apple each. The fastest procurer of the apple is the winner and moves on to the next round. I was defeated by Hetta Harris, who was ultimately the beaten finalist. I asked Hetta how the apple-bobbing had helped her in her pre-race preparations. “It has given me stamina, self-confidence and gave my lungs a good work-out as I had to hold my breath as I submerged to find the apple. Apple bobbing has been an intrinsic part of my training and it will give me an edge,” Hetta told me confidently.
The apple-bobbing champion was Eve Llewellyn. Eve was in jubilant mood. “I am absolutely delighted with my apple-bobbing performance,” she admitted. “I can see myself running a fast time tomorrow, especially as my toe injury seems to have withstood the impact of several rounds of apple-bobbing.”
Eve is my tutee and I wondered if my words of encouragement had helped her through the event. “Not really,” she told me. “Eves are just good with apples.”
Other apple-bobbers had also taken great heart from their performances. Jetty Russell told me she was going for a top 300 place now that she had been successful in apple-bobbing. “I am just so delighted to have been involved in such a tense and exciting sporting event. Nothing that the Tucks can throw at me will be as intense as what I have just endured.” Certainly, the idea of submerging one’s face under water will be good preparation for the wind and rain forecast at Attingham.
I wish everyone a very good run. Sadly, my sporting prowess appears not to have been noticed and someone has put me in wave 4. This makes it hard for me to win this year, once again!