On the last Friday before Exeat, several hundred Salopians made their annual trip down to the playing fields of Meole Brace for the traditional Tuck’s race, a whole-school event which we believe to be the longest-running cross-country race in the world. A very wet spell earlier in the month had made the going soft, which drastically lengthened the odds on any records being broken, but enthusiasm was undimmed among the competitors and this year saw our highest participation for many years.
The weather on the day itself was an improvement on last year, when it rained heavily just before the start, and this year’s runners were noticeably drier as they lined up in their House pens, awaiting the Huntsman’s cry - ‘All hounds who wish to run, run hard, run well, and may the devil take the hindmost!’ It duly sounded, and the first wave of 130 runners charged for the narrow gap in the corner of the field and out onto Church Road, with only a handful of minor knocks and not a single fatality!
Tension built as the next wave lined up, waiting for their two-minute interval to elapse, and then they too sprinted for the corner and out, in hot pursuit of the first wave. The third wave - much larger - could not contain their excitement and a shout of ‘Joe!’ from Mr Morris, in an effort to call one boy back from in front of the line, was enough to set off around 400 eager runners in an unstoppable (despite Mr Haworth’s best efforts) surge for the gap.
Out along Church Road, across the Rea Brook, and out on to Pulley Lane, the mile-long hill where most of the positions are settled and where the fitness of the participants is put to its sternest test. Then down towards Red Hill, and across into Tuck’s field, where the mud provided a further test of strength and stamina to already-tired legs. With no Mr Harding to race against this year, the boys would have to pick their own battles, and defending positions at this point was a grimly fought affair. Past the log, down across Rea Brook again and back onto Church Road for the finishing sprint towards the finish and glory. And possibly a Mars bar.
Ed Mallett, our Huntsman and the odds-on favourite (also younger brother to George, winner in 2010 and 2011), duly took the honours, in 18:08. Though this time was rather slower than he would have liked, this really is a remarkable achievement in those conditions, leading from the front the entire way. Not far behind was his Severn Hill rival, Seb Blake, in 18:20. Rory Fraser of Churchill’s took a hard-fought third. Only a couple of seconds behind him, astonishingly, was Freddie Huxley-Fielding, a 3rd Former who has shown huge promise already and in finishing 4th has, we believe, broken a record in this race’s 180-year history. It’s interesting to note that his time of 18:33 would have won the entire race just three years ago. Behind him was his own Housemaster, Mr Middleton, who contrived to look both proud and miserably shame-faced all at once. The first girl home was Amy Stockdale of Emma Darwin Hall in an impressive time of 24:48, and placing 109th overall.
Severn Hill stormed to victory in the team competition, with just 115 points, ahead of Churchill’s with 196, and Rigg’s took third with 308. The girls’ houses were extremely close, but Mary Sidney Hall just pipped Emma Darwin with less than 20 points separating them.
Overall this was a hugely successful event, enjoyed by just about everyone (although some were certainly suffering towards the end) and congratulations to all those who took part and gave their all. It’s a real privilege to keep this tradition going and many thanks go out to all the staff who helped in all sorts of different ways - including those who participated themselves - to ensure its smooth running.