The howling 50mph gusts and driving rain were mercifully absent, and as the roughly 750 participants arrived at the side of the mansion to begin their preparations, a watery sun cast long shadows over the leaf-strewn lawns.
Some minor changes had been made to the course we laid for last year, which due to the conditions had had to be shortened to mitigate against the possibility of falling branches. This year we were able to lay a route almost exactly 3.1 miles long, or 5km – the same distance as the original route from Meole Brace. While conditions above were ideal for cross-country running, the ground underfoot was still very wet from the previous weekend’s deluge, and this in combination with the tussocky grass made for quite an energy-sapping course.
Rigg’s Hall were the strong favourites among the boys’ houses going in to the race, though the claims among one or two of their senior runners in Hunt training that they were aiming to place their top eight inside the top ten might have been pushing it – perhaps a few mind-games were being played here! Churchill’s Hall also have some excellent runners in the Lower and Upper Sixth, while Port Hill have shown terrific depth amongst their younger years, with their Third Formers claiming five of the top six places in the Third Form Race back in the first week of term.
Individually, it was hard to see anyone preventing Sam Western (S) from defending his title from last year – he went on to complete an excellent season of cross-country over the winter and spring and looked very strong in training leading into the race. Tom Jackson (R) would certainly have a go, though – and why not, in his last year of a race in which he has always been very competitive. Sam Watts (Ch), Paddy Barlow (R) and Max Green (I) would feel confident of strong positions on the back of excellent performances in the Shrewsbury Half-Marathon earlier in the month (all comfortably running under 90 minutes), while Riggites Oscar Hamilton-Russell, Harrison Cutler and Will Singleton were also setting their sights on top-five places.
In the girls’ race, Francesca Harris (EDH) was looking to defend her title for the fourth time, and her likely challengers were Lillian Wilcox (EDH), Anna Cowan (MSH) and Livy Elliot (EDH), who all looked in good form going into the race. Last year Emma Darwin Hall were able to claim the team trophy, but it was going to be tight this year, as though they had three excellent runners in Francesca, Lillian and Livy, other houses arguably had more strength in depth.
After a very fast start, Sam Western soon took on the lead, passing those who had, in something of a Tucks tradition, given everything they had to ‘win’ the opening sprint and lead the race (if only for a few seconds). Sam was joined at the front by Tom Jackson who started very strongly, but as the race progressed, he was unable to match Sam’s pace and had to drop back. Even so, Rigg’s still looked dominant at the half-way stage, with five of their runners in the top ten. Several good battles were emerging that would continue right to the end.
A new development this year was the establishment of a trophy for the house with the best average position of all its runners. This meant that everyone contributed to their house, whether first wave, second, third or fourth, and it added a little spice to those individual tussles that were going on right through the field. Francesca had already asserted her dominance on the girls’ race, finding a position comfortably inside the boys’ top-30, while her nearest challenger was around two minutes behind.
As they rounded the final corner and headed into the finishing straight, it was clear that Sam would successfully defend his title, having opened up a gap of nearly 40 seconds ahead of his nearest challengers. His time of 17:34 over such uneven ground is extremely impressive, especially given that for most of the race there was no one close to push him.
The battle for second continued right across the finish line, with Fourth Former Will Singleton (R) just pipping Oscar Hamilton-Russell (R) for second. This is a remarkable achievement for Will, and might be a record; I’m not sure a Fourth Former has ever placed so highly in the Tucks – we’ll have to scour our archives!
Harrison Cutler (R), still only a Fifth Former, was next in 4th place, just ahead of Paddy Barlow in 5th. Max Green placed 6th, which he’ll be delighted with as he was hoping for top-ten and underlines what great progress he’s made over the last 12 months.
Orlando Williams (Rt) placed 7th, his second year in the top ten, ahead of Tom Jackson in 8th, Sam Watts in 9th (perhaps a little disappointing for him after placing 6th last year) and Will Owen (Ch) in 10th. Will is another who has developed hugely as a runner in recent months – last year he didn’t even get into Churchill’s first team and placed 63rd! Just outside the top ten was Third Former Bradley Keay (R) in 11th, indicating that it won’t be long before he’s challenging at the head of the field.
Francesca won the girls’ race comfortably, placing 27th overall and running well within herself. An excellent performance from Livy Elliott saw her claim silver, ahead of Lillian Wilcox in bronze position, who will be a bit disappointed after taking silver for the last three years. Anna Cowan ran well for 4th place, just ahead of Natalie Dee (G) in 5th. The Grove managed to claim the next seven girls’ positions after that as well, which was a tremendous effort and was enough for them to claim an overall victory in the first-team event with just 81 points. This was 40 ahead of Emma Darwin in second, while Mary Sidney and Moser’s took third and fourth places respectively.
In the boys’ team race, calculated on the first eight finishers’ positions, Rigg’s were unsurprising victors, with an impressive score of just 80, nine points better than last year’s dominant display. Churchill’s were second with 209 points and School House claimed third, which given they were 8th of the nine boys’ houses last year is a remarkable improvement!
The Attingham Award, calculated on the average position of the whole house, went to Emma Darwin in the girls’ competition, with an average of 105.7. The Grove were very close behind with 106.8, while the battle for third was also tight, with Mary Sidney (130.3) just beating Moser’s (131.8). In the boys’ competition, the victors were Churchill’s, in an excellent display of whole-house achievement, and a very fitting one on the day that their Housemaster Richard Hudson (a former member of the RSSH 1st VIII himself) announced that he would retire at the end of the year.
It was an excellent day of cross-country running, and there were many stories of personal achievement right through the field. Several runners improved on last year’s position by over 100 places, and one or two even managed to improve by over 300! The effort that runners put into this race was very visible as I stood by the finish line to encourage them through, and I was hugely impressed by the guts and determination the pupils showed. It’s all the more impressive when one considers that within three hours of finishing, they were showered, fed and competing for their house all over again in the House Singing Competition!
Huge congratulations to everyone who ran.
Teacher in Charge of the Hunt