03/11/2009: Juniors boldly go where seniors fail to tread

31st October – National Cross-Country Relay Championships, Mansfield


There are only two events that the current body of Senior Men’s Harriers have never won – the National Six-Stage and this one.  Indeed no Leeds City team had ever taken a Gold at Berry Hill Park – until Saturday, when the Junior Men (not called Under-20s, as the British and European definitions of this age-group are different) broke the mould.  This was the outstanding highlight of a good day’s running from Club teams, many of whose members might well have decided that turning out the following day at Boddington Hall would be an easier option.  In addition to the win there was one other decent but unsuccessful shot at a medal, a good effort from a none-too-experienced younger team, and some good battling by Senior outfits bereft of some of their stronger members.

Indeed for once the Senior Men were very much supporting players.  With several ‘leading men’ preferring not to sprint before Christmas and some others feeling their way back after strenuous summers on track, road and mountain, the two teams were a bit of a lash-up.  The A team was given a pretty solid lead-off by the New Semi-Antiquity, Alan Buckley (see below), whose 15.18.10 clocking saw him finish 8th, a stride or so ahead of Salford’s Andi Jones, but it wasn’t a position that Mike Burrett could be realistically expected to hold, though on this fairly short course and in a big field the seventeen places he lost (16.22.90) didn’t represent a really bad run – more a lot of ‘traffic’ around him.  Nick Hooker didn’t go quite as fast (16.32.20) but pulled back three, giving James Walsh a few to chase, and with 15.36.85 he chased down six of them for a respectable 16th place.  The B team (placing 46th) featured Adam Grice (63rd, 16.49.55) and Chris Birchall (who gained nine with16.47.15), both of whom would probably have been happier in a longer race; they were followed by Gavin (“I’ll go for anything”) Chatterton running exactly seventeen minutes to gain another four, and Adam (“Where’s the Livestock?”) Osborne being a shade slower (17.08.35) and gaining the same number.

The Senior Ladies who finished 42nd were also an interesting collection, led off (oddly enough, as with the Men’s B, in 63rd place) by Veteran horticulturalist Alison Varley in a not unreasonable 12.12.10 for a lady who only finds time between jobs for occasional training.  It put Rachael Dyson in a good chasing position, and she had a good chase, picking up sixteen places with 11.53.75, well up to her recent form.  Rounding off was Becky Townsend, who ran slightly quicker (11.51.60) but had bigger gaps to contend with and made five for a final 42nd place; with Becky at the moment though it’s not how fast she goes in races that counts but that her appetite for racing appears to be well on the way back.  An incomplete B team featured Jennie Guard (12.23.35 – masquerading as J. Evans due, allegedly, to Greg Hull’s writing) and a returning one in Lindsay Fraser-Moodie (12.13.60).

The Club was done proud in the two younger male age-groups it contested.  The Under-15 Boys’ team hadn’t any really high expectations but turned in a very solid and above all consistent performance to finish 18th of 87 teams, with only sixteen seconds separating the trio’s times.  Steven Eastwood, who’s not run many relays, really found out what the Front-Load factor was all about when his 7.07.15 – not a bad time – was only good enough for 41st; by contrast Luke Murray, whose run was probably one of his best over the country since he’s been in this age-group, was two seconds slower (7.09.11) and gained eleven places.  The other factor was that the thirty teams were compressed within only about a minute, so that when Harry Foster found a bit of spark and ran 6.53.00 there were plenty of people about him to pass – and pass a dozen of them he duly did!
The reckoning (at least by journalist Roger Norton) was that if the Under-17 Lads all had a blinder they might just sneak a medal – and his judgement was that they didn’t quite!   Fifth, about a minute behind winners Shaftesbury Barnet, wasn’t a bad effort for early in the year, and again the result of reasonable consistency.  Gordon Benson (9.24.40) had the best run of the three on the first leg, and typically finished in the lowest position (7th) due to the Front-Load Factor, while Elliot Todd, who’s not quite back to his summer level of fitness yet, was about half a minute slower (9.51.25) and picked up two places.  Mike Wood didn’t quite find the form of Halifax, but 9.39.90 was plenty enough to hold the place with a bit to spare.  There was a second trio who ran to a similar pattern in mid-field to finish 59th; Rob Torch placed 60th with 10.34.15, Jamie Higgins was a bit slower ( 11.08.65) but made three places, and Alex Hart cut through another seven with 10.33.40.  The one young female team, in the Under-17 Women, placed 41st, some way down the field, but at least they were there; Chloe Harley (54th, 11.33.80) led off, and Caitlin Regan (47th, 10.51.65) and Emily Robinson (11.50.15) carried it on.

The day belonged to the Juniors, though – even if Birmingham University played a big part in the success by throwing in what even for The Scribe (who is supposed in some quarters to Know All) was a complete surprise.  He first heard the name of Carl Smith the Thursday before the race, and only found out later that the former member of a North-Eastern club (with whom he had reportedly only been part of a full team on one occasion) was a colleague of the Leeds lads at Edgbaston and had joined the Club in preference to more local rivals.  He certainly flung a feline into Trafalgar Square by bringing the A team in 5th on the first leg with the day’s tenth fastest run (9.10.25), ten seconds down on a leader who had nobody to hand over to (and unbelievably the club in question was Blackheath!) and about sixteen up on Mike Salter (9.26.65), who had put the second trio into a very respectable 16th place.  Joe Townsend, taking over from Mike, decided he’d something to prove and went off like the legendary bat from the nether regions, though not quite as fast as the Warrington lad who tried to frighten Geoff Belcher and make up for his team-mate’s fade-out after an over-ambitious start.  Geoff, however, wasn’t fazed by either; running a sensibly-paced leg (9.18.35) he moved up to third, holding the Warrington lad off as he too wilted, while Joe (9.21.95) also wobbled a bit but had as good a run as he’s had for a while in putting the Reserves in a striking 8th place.

Two seconds behind Aldershot and ten behind Winchester, James Wilkinson was called on to produce the goods – and you don’t produce much better goods than turning in the fastest leg of the race!  Looking, in Phil Townsend’s words, “barely stressed,” he cut into the lead quickly and then opened up a ten-second gap with 8.45.50 – and he needed all of it, because Luton came through from a disastrous lead-off to take Bronze with their competitor being a mere two seconds slower than James.  Meanwhile Danny Davis – who, remember, could have been anchoring the Under-17s had his Mum gone into labour 24 hours later – found himself higher up a major field than he’d ever been in his career, and unsurprisingly ‘froze’ a bit.  He’s been (again according to Phil) flying in training recently, and had had a good first Senior run in the West Yorks. League, but in spite of feeling to be pushing himself hard only found 10.03.55 and dropped four – still good enough to put the team half a minute ahead of the next B squad, but a good bit slower than the 9.35.95 done by a soloing Dale Worton on the first leg.  (To be fair, though, it’s easier to run fast times on Leg 1, and Danny beat Dale by a fair margin at Halifax.)


A couple of Club members ventured to Portsmouth for the Great South Run on the 25th, and the performance of one of them raises an interesting question – should Alan Buckley have taken his first Vets. prize?  He may not have entered as a Vet., but the race actually took place on his 35th birthday, and as he finished 18th in a good-standard race in 49.35 ……  However, according to the results the prize was given to a guy who ran outside 54 minutes!  The “mere youngster” Mike Burrett (to quote Lunchtime O’Surf) placed 32nd in 53.26.

1st November – Complete Runner League, Boddington Hall


It was a day that had nearly everything – in weather terms anyway.  In the morning the course (or such of it that wasn’t put out late the previous night) was set in rain so heavy that the E.C.C.A. Committee abandoned attempts elsewhere in the city to inspect the course for February’s ‘National,’ and though some of the races were later run in sunshine they were accompanied by a wind strong enough to blow lighter-built runners into marker posts and nearly cause the disappearance downwind of the Scribal Trilby (an antique which once belonged to his father!)  It also saw Leeds City team efforts a bit thin on the ground in some of the younger age-groups (but it was half-term, which can be disruptive of such things) but considerably better among the Elder Brethren and Sorority, with two wins and a second.  As the races went without a hitch and the refreshment bar seemed to sell out of everything (including Arthur Cockcroft’s home-made ginger biscuits – is there any end to the man’s talents?) it was successful in other directions too.

The early races saw mainly individual efforts, two of them improvements on last time out.  Tomas Szajdzicki hadn’t much room for improvement in the Under-11 Boys’ race having finished third at Halifax, but seemed to enjoy the heavy going and did one better this time, while Gemma Keir was somewhat less adventurous in leading that she sometimes is and ran a more controlled race to finish third in the Under-13 Girls, not too far distant (eight seconds in fact) from the winner.  Nicola Sawyer, however, was back in 34th, clearly not liking the sticky stuff.  There were only two out in both the Under-13 and Under-15 Boys’ races; in the former Kieran Savage, who decided tights were the order of the day, was a place down on his Halifax run in 11th and Jack Allinson (32) was several further up, while both Harry Foster and Steven Eastwood had been out the day before at Mansfield.  It appeared to affect Stephen the more, for while both were well up on the first short lap he slipped back later in the race and wound up 9th, while Harry, who’s in a rich vein of form at the moment, chased Wakefield’s winner Jake Worton hard and held off a late challenge to place second.  Another having a second bite of the weekend apple was Chloe Harley, who placed 18th in the Under-17 Women’s race, quite reasonable for another who’s not over-fond of heavy going.

The two female teams out had contrasting fortunes.  The Under-15 trio of Georgia Yearby (27th), Grace Coburn (28th) and India Wilson (30th) were last of six finishers, clearly finding the Boddington course, with its sharp climbs and twists and which was starting to churn up even as early as their race, a bit daunting.  By contrast the Senior Women had one of their better days though by no means at full strength.  Led splendidly once again by runner-up Emily Klee, who put in a determined effort only to be beaten by a Skipton teenager, the Ladies were excellent runners-up; the springboards of their improved performance were another step in the right direction by Sophie Lovell, racing in the approved Greg/Doscoe fashion (back in the twenties early on and surging through all the way to place 10th), and first appearances of the year from Ruth Wilcox and Sarah Whitley, who had a race-long duel which Ruth (26) seemed likely to get the better of until, off the last bend, Sarah launched a striking kick to sear through a closely-packed group ahead and pick up about a dozen places in 200 yards to finish 19th, thus just edging out Keighley & Craven.   In support Alison Varley ran her second race of the weekend and placed a good 33rd, Fiona Maddocks (42) made her debut in conditions she clearly didn’t think a lot of but got stuck in, and Sian Davies (56) finished in a similar position to last time – perhaps she was missing the challenge of Madam President, who was otherwise occupied (and is anybody taking odds on Paula Radcliffe accepting her advice??)

From the off the only matter of debate in the Under-17 Men’s race was whether Mike Wood, Gordon Benson and Elliot Todd would permit anyone from any other club to disturb their possession of the first three places – and the answer was no!  There was a group of six early on, but by the end of the first lap the three were beginning to ease away; Elliot slipped back a bit in the early stage of the second lap but came more alive later on, and just before they entered the chicane Mike moved away from Gordon – and that was it, really.  Behind them it was Rob Torch’s day to be fourth man (12th), in spite of being blown into the tape at least once; Alex Hart (16) had a bit of an off-day, and Jamie Higgins (19) claimed to have enjoyed his afternoon.  (His Dad reckoned that the Funny Farm beckoned!)

On a day when there was arguably a better Leeds City Senior Men’s team marshalling the course than running it the lads nevertheless stamped their superiority on the League by putting six finishers in the first 21 places, four of them before nearest challengers Bingley put their first man in.   Individually the Andrew Pearson revival continued (and he did the right number of laps this time), and from the Club point of view Martin Hilton (4) and Chris Birchall (5) provided the spearhead: Martin never really got on terms with the leaders, though he challenged Kim Critchley for third for a time, while Chris came from further back with a mid-race run and clearly did look happier in a longer race.  The other two-days-on-the-trot man, Nick Hooker (11), had a splendid run on heavy going for a lad more recognised as a 800/1500 man, but found himself a couple of places behind Aidan Adams, out for the first time this season and obviously pretty fit to place 9th in a good field.  For some time Paul Marchant (21), in his first cross-country outing for the Club, was fifth man, but on the last lap he was overtaken by Greg Hull (18) – which after team managing at Mansfield and course-setting in the dead of Saturday night was quite an effort for the Gentleman of Advanced Years!  The team lowered – by one point – its Halifax score with 68.

If the A team was quite mature in years (one Vet and three in mid-to-late thirties) the nice thing about the B team which finished 5th was that it contained four Under-20s – though one is a second-claim member.  Spearhead was Danny Davis (23), who shook off any traumas from the previous day and was within seven seconds of counting for the A six; his immediate back-up, and it was quite immediate, came from Will Plastow (26) and Dale Worton (29), both coping well with the deepening slime and finishing within half a minute of Danny.  Fourth man home was Sam Wallbank, a Leeds University student (and like Steve Body a member of Bedford & County), who placed 40th and looked the part; not far behind him was Steve O’Neill (46), who’s looking less like a 400 man out of place and more like a true distance-man as time goes on.  There was quite a little battle further back for the honour of being last counter, which was resolved when Ben Dyson (80 – recently resigned from Derby and now fully One Of Us) moved away from Martin Farran (90) in the later stages; indeed Martin had to hold off the resurgent and fast-finishing Pete Steel (92), now an Over-35 and looking quite sprightly with it.  There was almost a C team (one short in fact) with John Wood (127) and Simon Hill (134) having a private tussle of their own and Rob Gatenby (194) rounding off proceedings.


It’s not that even at fifty years of age Hazel Barker doesn’t take competing seriously; anyone who travels half-way across the world to take part in the World M****rs’ Games clearly isn’t messing about, but her own description of events – “old people at play in the Sydney Olympic Park” – shows a sense of proportion about her efforts and those of her fellow Veterans.  Nonetheless she was sufficiently serious in her ’play’ to bring back to the Old Country two Gold and two Silver medals, to say nothing of three new Club age-group records.

She started her week’s efforts on Sunday, October 11th by “surprising myself” by setting a new PB and Club record for the 3k Shot with 10.63 – coincidentally equalling her best ever Vets. mark with the full-weight 4k implement set some twelve years previously – and picking up a Silver medal.  Her main focus, however, was on the Pentathlon on the 15th, and it “started badly when I crashed through the final three flights and only just stayed on my feet.”  Her time of 14.20 was a bit of disappointment, and she “followed it up with a poor High Jump (1.36) and a weak Shot (9.95);” but a new Club Over-50 Long Jump mark of 4.29 did a lot to redress things, and with a season’s best 800 of 3.12.29 she claimed the Gold with a new “UK best for an old lady of my age” of 3586 age-corrected points.  It says a lot for Hazel’s continuing competitive urge that her comment on it was “it was about 200 les than I’d hoped for – still, it gives me a target!”

Even at major events like this there can be timetabling problems; the 80m Hurdles was scheduled for the same day as the Pentathlon, so “in the afternoon, having had a hard 800 and with the bruises from my earlier demolition” in evidence, Hazel lined up for the Final “feeling outclassed having watched the specialists warming up.”  However, when the gun went “I managed to have a clear race and crossed then line ahead of everyone else in 13.59 – quite a surprise and very satisfying.”  Two days later, however, “the soreness had caught up with me,” and she only equalled her Pentathlon effort of 1.36 in the High Jump; however this rated anther Silver, and “I was pleased to beat the Asian record-holder from  Mongolia, whom I had expected to win and who was certainly the best technician.”

Hazel might have good reason for admitting that “unlike most women I have enjoyed turning 50,” but she might just have been set her ultimate target when a snippet from the games appeared on, of all the television shows you might think of, ‘Have I Got News For You.’  It featured a lady competitor who won the Shot, Hammer and Javelin in what under the Scribal Notation would be the V7A class – and as at her age Hazel is a V2A and The Scribe at 67 is a V3B you can work it out for yourself!


Time Was when hardened Yorkshiremen and Lancastrians – the sort that Michael Parkinson described in one of his articles as having “hardy names like Leatherbarrow or Strongitharm” – used to create events like fell-running and mountain-biking for the express purpose of demonstrating their physical and moral superiority; they were the sort of thing that only Tough, Seasoned Northerners would take on and that Soft Southerners would instantly shy away from.  This somewhat prejudiced view was created before the North became aware of the existence of Gavin Chatterton!  Yes, the most untypical Essex man of all has been at it again.

Clearly a little disappointed by “the antics of Mansfield (OK run, but as always on that course, you always feel you could faster, but are never quite sure where….)” Gavin went out the following day and “had a crack at the Haworth Mudman Duathlon (5k run, 21k Mountain Bike, 3k run).”  It could be suggested by some, in view of Sunday’s climatic conditions (Gavin’s word for them is “biblical”) and the various courses “had us pounding our way over Blackhead Moor and looping round Oxenhope,” it might reasonably be suggested that the middle word may be slightly misspelt.  Gavin’s many fans will be “pleased to hear that overall I was the fastest runner over both legs (and would have come in first on the first run had I not missed transition…..long story….) but lost time to cyclists and finished 7th overall in 2hrs 6mins; not a bad effort in the conditions and respectable given that three-quarters of the event was cycling. I also experimented with a new braking system called ‘The Elbows and Knees Faceplant’ – tremendously effective at stopping quickly, but has a few drawbacks and may not catch on.”  Whatever can the lad mean by that??