After their tremendous performance in the Knole Run at Sevenoaks last weekend (see Mr Haworth's glowing report), it seemed sensible to have a chat with the members of the Shrewsbury School Hunt (a.k.a. the cross-country running team).
I was told to report to the Stott Pavilion by the Astro at 2pm sharp and was encouraged by Mr Griffiths to “come out for a run”. I therefore dutifully donned my high-vis running mac and slipped into my nice new trainers, ready to endure a painful afternoon of exercise. I sensed it might be painful as I have enjoyed an excellent Christmas season and have a little more ballast to carry round at present! Mr Haworth, the Teacher in Charge of the Hunt, has also purchased some new running shoes, but that is about all we have in common when it comes to running; he is swift, lean, spritely, young, keen and fast.
I soon became aware of the importance of the clock for the Hunt. Miss Witcombe was quick to notice that one or two athletes had dawdled on the way to the Pavilion and Mr David apologised for being on the phone, refuting rumours that he had been having seconds of syrup sponge in Kingsland Hall. I had sensibly gone for a small bowl of soup, having enjoyed a significant breakfast in an effort to build up enough energy to ensure completion of the 9km course along the banks of the Reabrook.
Once everyone had arrived, there was a significant amount of warming up to be done before we embarked on the first leg of what I hoped would be a leisurely run. The inspirational Mr Haworth said a few words of praise concerning the fine efforts of the club at Sevenoaks but was also channelling this arsenal of athletes on the challenge of the Coventry Relays on Wednesday 6th February.
The idea of going on a leisurely run with the likes of Sam Western, Charlie Ockleston and the rest of the Shrewsbury A team (who finished third at the weekend) seemed unlikely. The B team finished 11th comfortably ahead of several school’s first teams (including Charterhouse and Eton to name but two). The girls finished 6th, with Lilian Wilcox in 21st place, and it was not long before I was admiring the soles of a large number of trainers as they flew off into the distance.
I made an error in deciding at the last minute to leave my large camera behind in the pavilion. This action led to me losing valuable seconds and I was already having to run faster than I am used to in order to catch up the back markers. Eventually the athletic avalanche of talent stopped for an “all-up” after about a mile and I was able to catch up. At this point we all stood round in a large circle and played games such as who can get their knees highest in the air from a standing start.
I felt it was time to show everyone how good I am at the floss, but I sensed there was not universal approval. I was even more disappointed to discover that the “all-up” was not half way through the course as I had imagined, but about a fifth of the way.
We started again running swiftly around the edge of the golf course. I discovered that by running straight down the fairway I could enhance my position in the field and was soon to be found leading from the front; soaring like an eagle, or at least a large birdie!
I figured this might inspire the athletes behind me to yet greater athletic heights, and certainly no one was under par! By the time we had reached the next “all-up”, I had allowed some of the faster runners to pass me as I did not want to damage anyone’s confidence. I was quite surprised to find Archie Collings, Sam Weston and Will Singleton behind me at this stage. Sam finished 62nd and Will 64th in the Knole Run and that is impressive as Third Formers do not usually get selected for the teams. I gave them a few tips, and it was good to see them react positively by running hard and well ahead of me, utilising the knowledge I had imparted.
This was of course because I had chosen to drop my pace to have a chat with Morgan Smith, who is preparing for the London Half-Marathon and is therefore looking to build her endurance rather than her speed. Morgan has a special reason for running in the event. In her own words: “At the age of 12 I was diagnosed with cancer. During a long, hard, yet successful battle, I saw first-hand the amazing work of charities in supporting children like myself. I have decided to run my first ever half-marathon in London for Well Child, a charity that provides the necessary support and care to enable seriously ill children to live in the comfort of their own homes, rather than in hospital.” Morgan has raised over £1,300 so far and I know she would appreciate any further donations. You can find her donation page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Morgan-Smith3
Morgan runs three to four times a week and is feeling really good. She was a bit worried that she might find the Hunt a bit intimidating, but she enthused about how welcome she has felt and how much fun she has had since she joined up. “I would recommend it to anyone, even you Mr Bell,” she told me. Morgan continued to chat away about the philosophy of running and other weighty subjects until I realised that we were becoming a little detached from the main body of runners.
Miss Witcombe was still looking after us, as she likes to look after the back-markers and was very concerned I might have come to steal her role. “Please do not think you can steal my role,” she told me. I realised I would have to increase my pace, which was going to be tricky as I had put a lot of my energy into my burst for the front on the golf course. I did manage to catch up with Damian Jelev and asked him why he enjoyed running. He told me that “the pain you feel today is the strength you feel tomorrow.” He then ran away before I could ask him anything else. Ed Ford-Johnson was not sure he did love running and Cyrus Cropper informed me he did not feel pain. Arthur Hope-Barton felt he was unable to articulate how he felt about ruining, or is that running!
At this point I was caught up by Miss Witcombe, who generously allowed me to finish alongside her. There were few people in the Pavilion when I completed my exertions, but I did find Sam Western and Charlie Ockleston warming down or considering hiding behind some poles to avoid an inquisition.
Charlie as Huntsman (captain of running) is excited at the prospect of going to Denmark in a few weeks’ time to blow a hunting horn at the start of the World Cross-Country Championships. He will start the race in the same way that each Shrewsbury race starts, and we are all quite excited at the spotlight shining on the historic nature of the first running club in the world. Watch this space. He informed me that he enjoys running as he likes the feeling of the wind blowing through his hair. He imagined that I used to enjoy that too. Sam Western did not make any hurtful comments to me but was impressed that I had made it back from the run alive! He is hoping to improve on his 7th place in the Knole Run next year.
I would like to thank the Hunt for bearing with me. It is clear that everything in the Hunt is running very smoothly! This is in no small way down to Ian Haworth and his team of helpers. Ian is clearly very fit and was hardly sweating at the end of the run, which was a little galling! Charlie Oakley and Ollie Chipperton were also looking good after their ‘brief jog’. One day I hope to look like them, but for now I am running down to the tapas bar to re-energise!