Start of the seniors race with Seb Blake (010) and Ed Mallett (009) already in a commanding position. Seb would come third on the day, and Ed would win the race. In the back right of the photo is Moser's Charlie Godman (013) who ran a startlingly brave race to come home as our sixth 'counter' in 11th position, a terrific result for a fifth former running against largely sixth formers.
It is very easy with hindsight to pass judgement on key strategy decisions, but it was certainly a risk for the Hunt this year to enter both the Northern Schools’ Championships in Manchester and the Midlands & Northern Independent Schools’ Championships in Oundle both on the same weekend. Indeed, we needed to ensure that our Saturday squad was strong enough to challenge to win an event we haven’t won since 1998, but at the same time not detracting from our chances of retaining the Midlands championship that we have won for the past two years. Huntsman Ed Mallett and Lower Sixth former Rory Fraser were given the unenviable task of competing in both races with the instruction not to burn out on the Saturday and thereby hindering their chances on Sunday. IPH’s report on the race will provide a fuller picture of the unfolding of the race, but needless to say Mallett and Fraser did their job perfectly, comfortably running home in 6th and 7th respectively. However, with St Anselm’s having three counters placed very highly, the team championship was going to be extremely close and came down to our final counter in the end. With Ed Lloyd securing a solid 14th place, it was Mark Lawley’s 16th place that won the title for the Hunt, with St Anselm’s final counter only managing 33rd. A jubilant quartet travelled back down from Manchester with IPH with the first of the trophies secured. Relief all round!
Sunday saw a much larger group of runners take the coach to Oundle to compete in the 54th running of this well-established championship. Shrewsbury has competed in a significant number of these races since 1960 and has hosted the event twice, most recently in 2011 when the Hunt took the championship titles at both Senior and Colts level.
The Colts went into their race with a squad largely from the Third Form competing a year ‘young’ due to a disappointing raft of illness and injury that left four of our key runners out of action. Nevertheless, our team would gain valuable experience, and so it proved with rising star Charlie Tait-Harris from Radbrook’s Third Form challenging amongst the lead runners from the start. Despite lacking in the muscular build of his older competitors, Charlie fought hard and came home to secure the bronze medal, an excellent achievement and one that suggests he could be in contention to challenge for the title next year and replicate the performance of Rory Fraser who won the Colts event in 2011 (a title that was won back in 2002 and 2003 by a certain Master Brownlee of Olympic fame!) Behind Charlie a resurgent Oscar Dickins of Rigg’s Hall made his way through the field in the final lap of the 3.5-mile course to come from 6th to 4th by the end, all the more impressive given that he had played a full match of rugby against Old Swinford Hospital the previous day! Excellent support running came from Third Formers Dan Orchard and Nicky Davis (both of Port Hill) in 20th and 22nd respectively, meaning that our team score of 49 points was enough to secure team silver medals behind a strong, more experienced side from Sedbergh. However, beating the likes of Repton, Rugby and Wellingborough will give our young athletes plenty of confidence and we will look to next year’s race to target a team victory.
In the Senior race, we were quite clear in our objectives, with the aim of winning the team trophy for the third year running being the principal focus. Only three other schools have ever done this (Manchester GS, QEGS Wakefield, and Ampleforth), and whilst the Hunt have won the title six times since 1960, we have never managed ‘three in a row’. At the end of the first lap of the 5-mile course, it was clear that the Hunt were packing well and looked difficult to challenge with four of our six ‘counters’ in the top 10. Ed Mallett and Seb Blake were comfortably running in the lead pack of four, with Rory Fraser just one place behind. The lead pack split into two groups by the second lap with Ed Mallett and Rugby School’s Ben Sutherland pushing on to battle for top spot, with Seb Blake tucking in behind Oundle School’s Charles Hutchinson. A very tense and hugely exciting final lap saw both pairs go head-to-head and push each other to the limits, though with 1.5km to go Ed had managed to stretch a slight gap of 3m on Sutherland, and it was a gap that looked to be extending. However, Sutherland came back hard and going into the final 500m was back on Ed’s heels, no doubt exhausted having competed in the Northern Champs the day before. Nevertheless, Ed wanted this title badly and made a final kick with 400m to go, one that finally broke his challenger, and a jubilant Mallett crossed the line raising his fist in the air in triumph. It was a very proud moment for us all, and a superb achievement from one of the finest athletes the Hunt has seen in recent years. Only one other Shrewsbury runner has ever taken the individual title (Oli Laws in 1996 and 1998), so Ed’s name will live on in history with this victory.
PJM's notes on the photo above right: 'Photo from the mid-way stages of the Seniors 8km race. I know Ed Mallett is out of shot here a little, but I like this photo as it demonstrates just how astutely Ed and Seb ran this race. The final lap saw Ed take on the race leader from Rugby Ben Sutherland (057) and eventually break him in the final km to take the individual title (only one other Hunt runner has ever won the individual title since the race's beginnings in 1960). Seb would also time his push perfectly to take third place from the Oundle runner (005).
A similarly astute race was run by Seb Blake who timed his kick perfectly and easily shook off Oundle’s lead runner. In fact, such was his pace in the final kilometre that Seb very nearly closed in on Rugby School’s Sutherland. A third place was nevertheless a terrific run, and we were delighted to have two Hunt runners on the podium. With three of our four ‘counters’ all placing in the top ten (Rory Fraser 5th; Ralph Wade 7th; Toby Lansdell 10th) and our final counter Charlie Godman in 11th (a brilliant achievement from a 5th former running against a mainly sixth form field). The team total of 37 points was an exceptionally low score and well clear of Sedbergh in 2nd place with 93 points. This was a well-deserved victory, and testimony to the depth of talent coming through.
With the trophy secured – the second championship title of the weekend – we now look to next year and our aim to become the first school ever to win the championship four years in a row.