In our attempt to achieve a unique ‘double’ at the weekend by winning both the Northern Schools Championships on Saturday and the Midland and Northern Independent Schools Championships on Sunday, we knew that taking a very small squad up to Manchester on the Saturday was a necessary gamble. Allowed to enter a team of up to ten members, with only four to count, our strategy of only taking four relied on all of them doing their bit and finishing high up the order. One poor performance would have resulted in catastrophe.
It was with a sense of some trepidation, then, that we headed north up the A5 in glorious winter sunshine. Any nerves were quickly dispensed with on our immediate arrival at the venue, however, when we heard the loudspeaker call for all senior runners - the wrong information had been sent out to schools the week before - so the team had no time for any pre-race jitters and instead threw their tracksuits to the ground and sprinted to the start; not an ideal race preparation, especially given that they had no idea how long the race was or where they were going!
Ed Lloyd and Mark Lawley, both experienced U6 Hunt runners, had the luxury of knowing that they weren’t running the following day, and could run as hard as they liked. Ed Mallett and Rory Fraser faced a rather different task; ‘to place as far up the order as possible without having to work too hard’ - easier said than done! Informed by IPH of the distance and route around halfway round the first lap, the early signs were encouraging; all placing comfortably in the top 20. However, St Anselm’s College looked very strong with two runners in the top five.
From this point until end of the second lap, very few places were exchanged and the team looked very comfortable, with Lloyd and Lawley making up ground and clinching one or two places. However, by the third lap Ed was looking less happy and ended up having to duck into a bush for a ‘comfort break’ before returning to the field two places lower down the order in 8th. This led to a determined drive from the Huntsman, who showed his tremendous talent with a real turn of speed and took back the two places before a relatively comfortable last half-lap to finish in 6th place, with Rory Fraser around 100m behind in 7th. The team score would depend more on our last two counters, however; they both needed to place very high to give us a chance. Ed Lloyd gave his everything to hold on to his 13th place, but was just pipped on the line by a St Anselm’s College runner, while Mark Lawley finished a terrific race for him in 16th, giving us a points total of 43.
A long wait then followed while results were mulled over in the organisers’ tent. What seemed like an eternity of speculation (St Anselm’s had definitely had three runners inside the top 13, but no one had seen where their fourth-placed runner had finished) was ended by the announcer calling everyone over for the presentation ceremony. When St Anselm’s was called in second place with 53 points, a huge sigh of relief was heard within the Hunt camp - they’d done it!
This was a very special victory for the Hunt after what might have been a bit of a dip in confidence after the Coventry Relays. Having taken this title for the first time since 1998, and with the prospect of potentially more success the next day, this small team travelled back to Shrewsbury on Saturday evening tired - but not too tired! - and very satisfied with their work.
Huge congratulations to all four of them on a fantastic effort.