This year saw the 40th running of the Knole Run in Sevenoaks, one of the major races of the schools’ cross-country circuit and a race that always proves to be an exciting season opener at the start of the Lent term. Historically, the Hunt have been competitive in this event over the years, and whilst never having won the event (possibly the only title that eludes the Club), there were individual victories for Olly Laws in 1997 and 1998. In recent years the Hunt have shown their mettle with team bronze medals in 2012 and 2013.
Twenty athletes travelled to Kent the day before with two boys’ teams and a strong girls’ team. The race always comes at an awkwardly early point in the year after the long Christmas break, but our runners were well prepared with winter training schedules and of course many had been part of the inspirational trip to East Africa in October half-term.
Pre-race course inspection was particularly important this year with changes having been made to the course route and distances, however all were in agreement that the new route looked to be a good test, particularly with the muddy conditions underfoot.
First off were the girls to tackle the significantly longer distance of 4.4km, and our six girls all got off to a clear start, with leading runner Tory Mobley (EDH LVI) positioning herself amongst the top 10 before the turn up the hill into the woodland section. With over 150 runners starting in the assembled 28 teams, the pace was frenetic at the start, with mud, uneven ground and rather long spikes to be contended with. Near the middle of the field, newcomer Tatty Hunt (EDH LVI) was making good progress, closely followed behind by ever-improving Sophie Pelling (MSH UVI). Captain of the Girls Hunt Lucie Cornwell-Lee (MSH UVI) was unfortunately out through injury but would have certainly been in amongst our top counters. In her absence, Jasmine Douglas (MSH UVI), Eliza Thompson and Claudia Kimpton-Smith (EDH LVI) worked hard to keep our points total down, with Eliza Thompson finally coming through as our fourth counter and a top 100 finish. Sophie Pelling pushed into the top 50 with 46th, and a superb run for Tatty Hunt saw her take 38th place in 22.36. Two minutes ahead of her, Tory Mobley repeated her top-10 performance from last year (albeit for her previous school Tudor Hall) with 6th position in 20.35. In a race that was won by English National champion Katy-Ann McDonald, Tory’s run demonstrated her credentials, and given that she was still somewhat weary from a week’s skiing prior to the start of term, her run was an impressive performance and suggests that she will have a strong season ahead of her. When the team results came through, we were delighted to hear that we had pushed into the top 10 (out of 27 schools) which was our best ever result and with Third Form girls arriving next year, the result provides a strong foundation for the momentum that is gathering with the Girls’ Hunt. We believe that in the coming years the girls will begin to experience some of the recent successes of the boys, and they too will become established as one of the leading clubs in the country.
With the girls having run so positively, it was then up to the boys to take on the challenge, with the course retaining its race distance of just over 9km. Two teams took to the start line, where nearly 350 runners from 42 teams were all awaiting the gun. A narrow racing line in the opening stretch provided an initial difficulty, though our top ‘A’ team runners got off to the perfect start and were packing in well in the leading groups of runners. We knew that our strength lay in our team depth and the ability to ‘pack in’, so whilst we would not have runners challenging for the top spots, the aim was to keep the team total as low as possible, with our top 6 runners ‘counting’. Huntsman Rory Fraser (Ch UVI) began well, though it was Theo Clarke (S LVI) who was our front runner in the opening stages of the first lap. Close behind were Ben Remnant (Ch V), Oscar Dickins (R V), Charlie Tait-Harris (S IV) and Freddie Huxley-Fielding (R IV). First lap completed and the lead pack of five now well clear of the rest of the pack, the race was on to start pushing up the positions. Fraser was in 17th going into the second lap, though he had Rugby School’s Ben Sutherland only four or five places ahead, and sensed that the scalp was there for the taking. Sutherland had blown our runners apart last term when Rugby School competed against the Hunt, yet with each step Fraser seemed to be edging closer and gaining in confidence as he did so. Tait-Harris was also beginning to sense tired legs in front of him and was bravely pushing through the places until he was close to the top 20 runners. Remnant faded following a lull in his training over Christmas, and Dickins was forced to retire from the race through injury. However, Clarke was still looking strong and despite favouring the fast and flat races, looked in control and unlikely to fade. Huxley-Fielding was also doing his part in helping the team position by flying past the older, heavier runners on the mud and the hills, and fellow Fourth Former Will Hayward (R) took on the duties of sixth counter in the absence of Dickins.
The team competition looked to be wrapped up by St Alban’s School, who had last season won the national relays and in fact had travelled to the US for the East Coast Championships which they also won. This is a squad at the height of their powers, and it was no surprise to see them take charge in the team event, though Judd School (who had won the Knole Run on the past four occasions) were struggling to compete with St Alban’s, and indeed it looked to be close between Judd and the Hunt in the challenge for team silver.
Huntsman Rory Fraser was first home in 13th place with a time of 34.34, marking a strong start to his final season with the Hunt. By the end of the race he had pushed well clear of Rugby School’s Ben Sutherland who finished in 15th, 19 seconds behind Rory. Impressively, Charlie Tait-Harris secured a top-20 spot (18th in 35.04) despite only being in the Fourth Form in a race largely involving much older runners. In fact, three of our counters were from the Fourth Form (with Freddie Huxley-Fielding in 27th with a time of 35.51 and Will Hayward in 46th with a time of 36.52). With two Fifth Formers in the squad in Remnant and Dickins, and with Clarke moving into the U6th next year, this is not only a very talented squad, but a young one too.
Remnant’s 34th place in 36.16 was followed by 41st for Theo Clarke in 36.36, leaving the Hunt with a team total of 179 points, over 30 points better than the previous year. Our final counter was newly-appointed Junior Whip Sean Sawyer (U6th, PH) who in his first ever Knole Run can be proud to have made it into the top 100 with 99th and a time of 39.43.
We would have to wait until the post-race tea and presentations to learn that we had once again made it onto the podium with bronze medals once again, just pipping a strong Abingdon team by 7 points. Judd School were only 17 points ahead of the Hunt with 162 points, with the team trophy being lifted for the first time in over 10 years by St Alban’s who scored 106 points. Once again, the season has commenced with recognition on a national level and a firm statement about our challenge for the season ahead. Rory Fraser is now the proud owner of three Knole team bronze medals – an impressive collection – and the remainder of his squad will look ahead to the next year or two (indeed the next three years in the case of a few) in our bid to target a national title and an historic first win here at Knole. The depth is there, evident when one considers that our ‘B’ team once again placing highly in 26th place (out of 42 teams). Without two key individuals through injury, our squad nevertheless ran hard and can be proud to have beaten many schools’ ‘A’ teams, including Manchester Grammar, Stowe and King’s Canterbury. Particularly impressive was Charlie Davis (PH LVI) who was our first ‘B’ team counter in 101st position (in a time of 39.44), followed by more promising talent from the Fifth Form with Charlie Rogers (Rb) and Harry Adair (Rt) crossing the line in 115th and 127th respectively.
And so another season begins with a very successful start to the campaign. We now turn our attention to the build-up for the national King Henry VIII relays in Coventry on 5th February, though will have races at Uppingham next Saturday (the first race in the Independent Schools’ League) and on the 1st February for the Shropshire Schools’ County Championships. Twenty of our athletes got the opportunity to begin their season racing today, but there are well over 30 more eager and waiting in the wings to get on their RSSH vest and get racing! On, on…