Last year, the annual Spring Relays relocated from its traditional setting in Sutton Park to the grounds of the nearby National Trust property Attingham Park. It is a stunning setting for what once again proved an exciting series of relays over the 2.3km course, with the Hunt hopeful of a strong showing in all three races at U16 level, Senior Boys and Senior Girls. Having won the U16 trophy for the past three years and the Senior trophy for the past two years – but never the Girls’ trophy – we were hopeful of achieving an historic ‘treble’ at the 2014 running of the relays.
Despite having shown dominance in the U16 race since 2011, this year it would prove to be the most competitive of all the races, with a very strong outfit from the ever-improving Loughborough Grammar School challenging the best of our junior runners. Indeed, after the first leg, Fourth Former Will Hayward (R) had to do all he could to stay level with Loughborough’s lead-out runner, with our opponents three seconds ahead at the end of the first leg. On debut, second leg runner Luke Lloyd-Jones (Rb) managed to assert himself and put the Hunt ahead, albeit by only a matter of a few seconds.
By this point in the race – despite being in the early stages – there were only two teams really in it, with the likes of Wrekin, Adams’ Grammar, Dudley College and Lucton School trailing, and the RSSH ‘B’ team pushing through the places after solid opening legs from relative newcomer Naveen Garikipati (Rb) and Severn Hill’s Scott Hatton. In the middle stages of the race, the ‘B’ team pushed ahead to challenge for a medal position, sweeping aside the other schools’ ‘A’ teams with excellent laps from Port Hill duo Oli Pope and Dan Orchard, a late replacement for an injury.
In the ‘A’ team race, the Hunt looked to have asserted an unassailable lead through Charlie Home (Rt) and Freddie Huxley-Fielding (R) with Loughborough trailing by 20 seconds going into the penultimate lap. However, the 5th leg runner for our opponents mounted a terrifyingly swift challenge to Third Former Owen Mock (R) who had no answer to the ever-decreasing gap. In fact going into the final lap, the positions had been reversed and the gap was now 20 seconds in our opponent’s favour.
Ben Remnant of Churchill’s had it all to do, though there was confidence in the camp given that Ben had recently won the Hunt Club Championships, so despite being a Fifth Former, is generally rated as being one of the top runners in the entire School – if not the top runner. However, the job of hunting down the race leader proved a harder job than we had hoped, with the Loughborough anchor runner proving no slouch. But by the hill climb, the lead looked to have narrowed to 15 seconds, and by the top forest section it was down to 10 seconds, but the course was running out by this stage. It was 5 seconds going down the hill coming in towards Attingham House, and by the bridge with just 100m to go, incredibly Ben had managed to level with the Loughborough runner. To the mad cheers of his team-mates and his watching Housemaster RTH (see his account: A spectator writes...), Ben somehow managed to find one last final kick, and pushed ahead with just a matter of metres to go before crossing the finish line first and promptly collapsing in an exhausted heap. It was a truly heroic performance, possibly the bravest run I have ever seen, and it made for an incredibly exciting relay race, made all the more special because we had won!
As the final leg runners came through a number of minutes later, it was the Hunt’s ‘B’ team that took team bronze with solid laps from third former Niklas Amthor (R), watched by his parents visiting from Oman, and final leg runner Ollie Lansdell (PH).
The girls’ race looked to be equally competitive, with a field of ten teams, including a strong outfit from Shrewsbury High School and our close rivals Wrekin College who we had beaten the week before at the Shrewsbury Relays. By the end of the first leg, nobody seemed too willing to take on the pace, with six teams all packed in at the front. Sophie Pelling (EDH) ran a well-judged lap to keep the Hunt in the mix in 4th position, just behind Wrekin in 3rd, and Shrewsbury High School ‘A’ and ‘B’ in 1st and 2nd respectively. Captain of girls’ running Lucie Cornwell-Lee (MSH) made quick work of pushing us into the medal positions, however, with probably her best run of the season. Lucie looked strong and fluid and ensured that the Hunt were in a good position going into the final two legs of the race where we were holding back our top runners. Indeed, Lower Sixth Former Tatty Hunt (EDH) promptly sped off in pursuit of the lead runner and by the half-way stage had flown right past her to take the front for the first time. A gap of 20 seconds between the Hunt and the chasing pack had emerged going into the final lap, and with Tory Mobley (EDH) on the anchor leg (having placed in the top 30 at the weekend’s UK Inter-Counties) the result was never in doubt. Tory crossed the finish line comfortably ahead, with the girls securing their third trophy of the season, an exceptional haul given that our previous best had been one trophy from the 2012 season.
The final race of the day was the senior boys, and with Marling unable to field a team, it looked like the hat-trick of trophies would be secured. Indeed, opening leg runner Oscar Dickins (R) brought the Hunt home first at the end of the first leg, getting his revenge over Wrekin’s top runner Matthew Giles who had taken the MANSICCC title at Sedbergh a few weeks before. Oscar’s time would in fact be the fastest of the day, and he gave Charlie Rogers (Rb) and Charlie Godman (M) an easy job in the middle stages of stretching out the lead.
Once Huntsman Rory Fraser (Ch) got the baton, the race was done and dusted with an extremely impressive lap that pushed the lead out to nearly 30 seconds. Adams’ Grammar, Wrekin and Dudley College were all battling it out some way behind us, but it was in fact the RSSH ‘B’ team who were now comfortably in the silver medal position after strong opening laps from Alex Shaw (Ch), Ben Smith (Rt), Charlie Davis (PH) and Tom Lloyd (Rt). With strong final laps from John Dempsey (Ch) and Sean Sawyer (PH) the silver medals were assured, and this was a ‘B’ team which most schools would be delighted to have as their ‘A’ team. The gold medals, however, were snapped up by our own top team with Roman Faithful (O) and Theo Clarke (S) doing their job and bringing home a commanding victory, securing the title for the third year running.
It was an excellent afternoon of running, and having taken a total of 28 runners to compete, it was wonderful that every single won of them returned with a medal.