If you have not already seen it, it is worth also reading Seb Blake's 'Week in the Life' article that covers this pre-season training too: www.shrewsbury.org.uk/news/week-life-seb-blake.
With the National Knole Run in Kent the first fixture in The Hunt's competitive calendar each year, it has become increasingly important to maintain fitness levels over the winter break in order to compete with the very top teams in the country. As such, a short pre-season tour in the warm-weather climes of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands was proposed to add a period of sharpening training to the winter training programmes given to our senior runners. Having broken into the top 3 in the UK last year with bronze medals in the Knole Run and silver medals in the national relays in Coventry (our best results in over a decade), we are looking this year to consolidate our position as one of the very top schools in the country for cross-country running, and indeed hopefully improve upon that position, targeting the national relays in particular.
11 boys travelled with PJM and IPH from Birmingham airport on the afternoon of Thursday 3rd January, by which point a few of the squad had already completed their first session of the trip, a hill session on Cannonbury in Shrewsbury that morning. Thankfully, none of us cramped up in the tight seating areas on the four hour flight, and miraculously, everyone (just about) managed not to lose their passport.
By the time we arrived at the resort of Club La Santa (a resort specifically designed for sports groups, and widely regarded as on of the best of its sort), it was time for a buffet dinner and a briefing from PJM about the schedule for the following day. First up on the Friday was an early morning 'loosener' of around 10km, with the party splitting into two groups. PJM took a group of runners who had run the previous morning's hill session and one or two of our more junior runners on a loop around the resort and the lagoon, whilst IPH took the remaining runners for a slightly more gruelling and undulating 'out and back' run out beyond the local town of La Santa. Having experienced the bleak and dismal deluge of the witner months, it was rather pleasant to be running in a vest at 8am and enjoying the warming rays of the morning sun! Breakfast followed, after which there was a period of free time in which the boys decided to hire out the beach volleyball court. This would become one of their favourite activities at the resort (even at one point leading to a challenge of a match from a rather burly and intimidating duo from Germany!). Alas, I suspect an Olympic appearance in this particular event is unlikely for any of the Hunt athletes, with some particularly embarrassing examples of ineptitude and lack of co-ordination (no names
mentioned!). The key session on Friday was the afternoon track session, which took place in the resort's own track stadium. Following the warm-up, the group undertook a pyramid session of the following 'efforts'
(200m; 300m; 600m; 800m; 600m; 300m; 200m) These were run at pace, with times for the top runners (Seb Blake, Ed Mallett, Rory Fraser) hitting 27secs for the 200m, 45 secs for the 300m, 1min42 for the 600m, and 2min22 for the 800m. Pleasingly, the group ran the final 'descent' of the pyramid quicker than the first half. A tough session, and a cool down in the swimming pool after the run was welcomed for the tired legs! We were, I am afraid to report, later evicted by the resort's security guard for playing volleyball in the kids pool (it was late- there were no kids there!) as it was generally agreed it was a nicer and warmer pool! In the evening, following a hearty refueling at dinner, we sat down to watch a Michael McIntyre comedy DVD which had us all in floods of tears.
Saturday morning was a more relaxed morning in anticipation of the evening race at 5pm. There was a chance for revision for those with exams in January, whilst others hired bikes or partook in an intensive game of Giant Chess. The first session of the day was gym work late morning, where the group did some light weights with PJM, followed by a core strength session with IPH. Afterwards, we utilised the Olympic-sized 50m swimming pool as a cool down, though as with the beach volleyball, it was soon revealed that the majority of the Hunt runners- whilst like gazelles as they run- are more like elephants when they swim. The afternoon afforded the opportunity for PJM to have individual 'appraisals' with the runners and a chance to look ahead to the season to set individual goals.
The group then congregated at the track just before 5pm for the Saturday evening races, held every week at Club La Santa, a race that is even chip-timed! The majority of the runners took on the 10km challenge as this would be excellent preparation for the Knole Run on Saturday 12th January (a gruelling and hilly 9km), though some of the group tested themselves over 5km, being a distance more suited to their speed. In the latter race, Otto Clarke as expected stormed to victory, and he looks promising ahead of the national relays, where he will look to again run in our top A squad. He was followed by Angus Hayward and Tim Atkins, both also members of the school's football 1st XI, and no doubt their pace and fitness will be an asset on the football field as well as the running track this term. The 10km race was won by a considerable margin by IPH, who is coming back to form after a lengthy and frustrating injury. Seb Blake, Ed Mallett, PJM and Rory Fraser formed the chasing pack, though Blake and Mallett pushed the pace on after the half-way mark leaving PJM and Fraser to work alongside each other behind (though later, PJM did concede that he didn't exactly take his fair share of wind-breaking!). Blake eventually made a push that Mallett couldn't match, and he took home second place, with Mallett taking third having fought off a late attack from PJM (fresh from some good training in the Scottish mountains and a diet of haggis and malt whisky). At the time of writing, the times have not yet been sent through from the resort, though Blake stopped the clock on 35.12, an astonishing time for a runner at that age, particularly given the windy conditions and the track session the day before.
Saturday evening was an excellent bonding experience for the group, with lots of pool (the dry variety) and some fierce rivalry ensuing between the pairs of Mallett and Lansdell and Middleton and Haworth. The latter, as one would expect, exerted their dominance in the end, with Haworth astonishing onlookers with his ability to unleash in successive games 'The Double Pot'. No fluke there, then. Others preferred a game of darts, and having avoided injury on the oche, we relocated to the evening entertainment of karaoke, which we surprised to see was in fact a big hit with the Hunt lads. There was no hesitation in coming forward (partly because there was no-one there when we arrived other than the DJ and the barmaid), with Henry Dashwood taking the lead and getting things off to a strong start. Highlights included IPH's slick rendition of Bob Dylan's 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' (one suspected rather too much time was spent practising this number over the Christmas break) and Tim Atkins's ability to hit the high notes in Stevie Wonder's 'Superstitious'. Frank Sinatra was well-represented with PJM's 'New York, New York' which led to Rory Fraser taking up the theme and soon following it with Sinatra's 'Chicago' (possibly the first time this has been a song choice in the history of karaoke). After the exhaustions of a busy day, the group headed to bed just after 11pm with a busy final day ahead of them.
Sunday morning saw another 'loosener' run, which for the majority of the runners was around 5-6km, though some of the older runners pushed on till 10km, though the pace was considerably slower than we are used to. After packing of bags and breakfast, the eagerly anticipated 5-a-side football game commenced, with the ability range quite considerable (two 1st XI standards, down to the standard of 2nd Leagues subs!) However, considerable fun was had in the match, with the notable highlight being 1st XI supremo Tim Atkins being tackled and humiliated by a robust Rory Fraser who was having none of Atkins's trickery and promptly outwitted him to take the ball. Following lunch we met in the conference room for a briefing on the Knole Run, the season ahead, and the unveiling of the master plan for the national relays. Windows were drawn, the room was de-bugged, and PJM's scribbles and diagrams were all promptly destroyed and wiped off by the time we left, just in case our competitors were so serious about beating us that they had paid Club La Santa employees to spy on us. A final session on the track took place in the afternoon for those still with energy, with IPH leading an extremely tough 8x600m session with 200m walk/jog recovery. Seb Blake led from the front averaging 1min 48s for the 600m efforts, and clearly he will be a formidable force this season alongside Huntsman Ed Mallett and in-form Lower Sixth former Rory Fraser.
A final opportunity to catch some Lanzarote rays as we waited for the bus to the airport, and then it was back home to the cold and rain of Birmingham, where we were due to arrive just after midnight. It was a terrific trip and greatly enjoyed by all, with some excellent training sessions, and a real bond strengthened amongst all the runners. It will no doubt set us all up well for the season ahead, and we look forward to reporting on numerous successes this term!