NEHL Thornley Hall Farm, 11th February 2017

Now I normally enjoy our trips out to the Harrier League cross-country races.  There is the camaderie with the other Claremont team members and the banter and friendly competition with runners from other clubs.  The events have a friendly feel with non-runners offering encouragement and support.  OK, sometimes it is cold and/or wet and the courses can be tough with some muddy stretches, but that just adds to the satisfaction that you get after a good, hard run.  A short trip back home, cup of tea and a hot bath and you are ready to face the world feeling that you have had a good day out.

Then I went to Thornley Hall Farm on a cold, wet February day and the trauma may stay with me forever!
The day didn’t start well with calls from Catherine and Bill saying that they wouldn’t be able to make it due to car trouble (poor Catherine’s day must have got a lot worse too as she was going to the Sunderland match!).  The rest of us met at Jesmond and headed down the A19 in some trepidation as to what the weather may have in store for us. We managed to get a good parking space on the edge of the field next to the track so were happy that we would be able to get away without the car getting too stuck in the mud.  The signs were less favourable as the path down to Tent City meant splashing through mud and puddles.  We found a decent pitch for the tent and I headed off to the toilets and to get a cup of tea from the Hog Roast van – this involved going through even deeper mud and I started to worry about for the state of course and went back to the tent to shelter from the cold and the rain.  Mandy went for a warm-up and a recce of the course and came back to report that there would be two major challenges – staying upright and keeping your shoes on! Rose duly got out the tape and, with shoes firmly attached to feet, the girls jogged down to the start line.  A couple of minutes later and they were back as the start was delayed.  After being called at the re-appointed time, they were held shivering in their kit for what must have been an eternity, so the start whistle was met with a huge cheer and off into the mud they went.

The Claremont ladies all put in sterling performances (which I could only fully appreciate after doing the course myself) and once again came second in the division.  They were led home by Robyn Wynn who is running consistently well at present.  Mandy Herworth and Sarah Bowen both made ground through the field after starting in the medium pack, Rose Hawkswood was 4th counter and Alice Vialard ran well as back up.  I am sure that days like this make Alice truly appreciate life in the North East – how could you yearn to be in the South of France when you could spend a cold, wet afternoon in a mudheap of a farmer’s field near Peterlee?

Then it was our turn. Yang, making his cross-country debut, and I chatted to ex-Claremonter Jeremy Smith before the start and the 3 of us were to stay fairly close together throughout the race.  The start is fairly flat and was wet and muddy, then we hit the first hill and discovered what mud really is.  It was ankle deep and cloying and very difficult to run through and this was to be the case for long stretches of the course, so much so that running through ankle deep water in the flooded bits was almost a relief!  The course loops back and forth and goes up and down short hills. It was cold and windy on the more exposed parts (the wind seemed to get up on the third lap just to taunt us), but all of this pailed into insignifance compared to the long spells ploughing through ankle deep mud.  There were very few places were I felt that I could actually break out into anything resembling a run.  At the end I didn’t feel that I had had a run, more that I had been subjected to an horrendous test of endurance!  It was the hardest, muddiest course I have ever done.  We regrouped with Jeremy and he and I agreed that it had been a form of torture and somebody had designed a course that was more suited to a hippopotamus.  Then, looking at Yang, he exclaimed “He’s smiling, I think he actually enjoyed it!”.  Yang said that he had.  Strange boy!

As to the race itself, Yang took me on the final downhill and maintained the gap as we ploughed through the mud to the finish line, so that he was first Claremonter home on his debut.  David Lydall and Kenny McCormick also gritted their teeth and got through the ordeal, while Alasdair Wilson Craw, recovering from illness and knowing that we didn’t have a full team, sensibly called it a day after two laps.  In general there were far fewer finishers than in recent NEHL races (378 men compared to 532 at Herrington).

Just one more Harrier League race to go and that is at my favourite course at Alnwick.  I am sure that the sun will shine, the course will be dry and a great day will be had as we celebrate Claremont Ladies getting promoted.  I may even have recovered from my trauma by then!

Position Runner Time
41 Robyn Wynn 37:24
79 Mandy Herworth 38:26 Medium pack – actual time 36:26
94 Sarah Bowen 39:31 Medium pack – actual time 37:31
110 Rose Hawkswood 40:26
152 Alice Vialard 42:48
222 Sichao Yang 54:15
225 Tom Tinsley 54:20
282 David Lydall 57:48
369 Ken McCormick 71:47