Thornley Hall Farm Report, 9th February 2019
Mud, hills, howling gale – what more do you want in a cross-country meeting? How about winning a medal? Couldn’t even dream of it? Well Hannah Mainprize can – and not just any medal at that, Hannah took gold with a superb performance from start to finish. Well done, Hannah!
Thornley Hall Farm is a “proper” cross-country course – as the name implies we are on farmland not a local park or playing fields as is sometimes the case. There are some challenging climbs and patches that will always be wet and muddy. So I should have been looking forward to it, but my first experience of Thornley Hall Farm, two years ago, almost put me off cross-country for life as conditions were so horrendous! Once again, I was fearing the worst – the weather forecast was for strong winds gusting up to 50 mph and there had been posts on Facebook saying that wellies would be the order of the day! It was even difficult to get to sleep the night before with the sound of a howling gale outside – I was thinking “S***, we’ve got to run in this tomorrow!”
On the day it was dry and mild, at least when sheltered from the wind, and conditions on the course were much better than I expected – far less muddy than on my previous two runs there. However the first challenge was getting the tent up – this was going to be a test of Rose’s tent pole repairs! We picked what we thought was a sheltered spot but there was no such thing. A great team effort and it was up, but we had missed Grace Scott’s run in the under 11s. Despite just getting over illness, Grace put her in usual determined performance to make her Dad proud.
Next up was Vicky Moore, making her first appearance for us in the Under 20 Ladies race. Vicky has run cross-country at home in Devon but this was her first time in a Claremont vest. She picked a tough one for her debut but had a very good run.
The Ladies race was next. Illness and injury had taken their toll on the team – it was strange to see a cross-country team without any of Mandy Herworth, Sarah Bowen or Julie Cross, but it was good to see Nina returning to action after her fight with a tree and there were still 11 in sky blue on the start line. The ladies have really done us proud this season with some great turnouts.
It was Hannah’s first time for the Seniors and she immediately put herself near the front of the field, so we had high hopes as they passed us in the early stages of the race. We were watching from near the top of the first hill, which gives a good view of a long stretch of course (though it is not the most flattering spot to take photos – sorry!). As the runners came around into view on the second lap, it was clear that the leader was well clear of the field. As she was in a blue vest with hoops, I assumed that this was another from the Morpeth Harrier production line, but as she came closer it was clear that it was not a Morpeth vest but one that nobody recognised. This was because she was a guest from Scotland and therefore not a participant in the Harrier League.
The next runner into view, again with a big lead over the others, was our very own Hannah. I know that Hannah is in good form because I have tried to stay with her when she has kicked for home on the last couple of Monday nights (tried being the operative word) and she was looking good. We knew that some from the fast and medium packs would be closing the gap, but we were confident that she would still be in the mix. The other Claremont lasses all went by in decent positions though the hill was clearly taking its toll.
The organisation at this year’s cross-country has been much improved with races going off on time. Unfortunately the men’s race now starts before all the ladies are back, so we can’t watch the end before getting back to the tent to get ready for our own race. At least the tent was still standing, but unfortunately Alex Anslow was already back there as she had been suffering with cramps and had had to stop with the pain. The tents at Thornley Hall Farm are out of view of the start/finish line, so we can’t follow the closing stages of the race. Kit on, we jogged down to the start to meet the Claremont ladies who had finished. What we found was a beaming group clustered around a very happy Hannah who was clutching her gold medal. She had comfortably held onto 2nd place in the race. This meant that, as the first home was a non-counting guest, Hannah had won the Harrier League meeting.
Catherine Young, Sarah Kerr and Lucy Dunbar had fought their way through the field from the fast and medium packs to be the other counters in the team of 4. Nina, Rose Hawkswood, Tara McCully and Gill Milne formed the B team with Marie Slack and Mary Martin also finishing.
So it was off we went. I think that I had started nearer to the front as usual, so I tried not to be carried away with the initial pace. I needn’t have worried as the first hill soon slowed me down. Then we passed the support outside the tents for the next cheeky climb onto the path skirting the woods. The field was still close together so it was hard to read the path ahead and pick out the best terrain to run on as we made the descent to the first really wet and muddy bit. I came out the other side with wet feet and caked in mud but at least I didn’t suffer the fate of the runner next to me. With a string of expletives he had emerged from the mud with one shoe less than when he started, and turned back into the crowd to retrieve it.
We were now more out into the open on an undulating section exposed to the wind with a few more wet and very muddy patches. I thought that we had done all the up, but I had forgotten about the short, steep climb back into the woods. There was an official counting positions here and he got to 100 just behind me. Although I knew that I couldn’t possibly hold onto a top 100 finish as the fast and medium lads would soon be flying by, it was very encouraging to know. The course emerges from the trees onto a very muddy section before the sharp, muddy descent back onto the field where the start and finish areas are. Although muddy, this was far more runnable than in previous years – though I still lost places on the descent as I am far too cautious whereas other runners just let themselves go.
One lap down, two to go. So now it was head down and carry on but every hill and stretch into the wind took its toll and my first lap was my fastest (it usually is!). It felt like hundreds of runners were passing me on the 3rd lap and they can’t all have been from the faster packs. So I decided to give myself a target and focussed on catching a Ponteland Runner who was not too far ahead. I duly caught him about 2/3 of the way around the course so started to feel a bit better about myself. The b***** then flew past me on the aforementioned muddy downhill and I couldn’t get him again – must practice this hill running malarkey more often!
I hadn’t seen any of my fellow Claremonters, so thought that I was probably first home. To my surprise, Roberto Marzo finished next. I hadn’t seen Robbie before the race so I assumed that he had missed the start (he has form!) but he said that he had started on time. Bemused, I asked how come I was ahead of him and he said “Because you are faster”. I’m not! He can’t have had a good run but I am sure the real Roberto will be back soon.
David Lydall was next to cross the line – caked in mud from head to toe! He had had a fall in one of the most muddy bits, so at least it had been a soft landing. Even his watch was covered so that he hadn’t been able to keep an eye on his pace. Richard Slack, Duncan Scott and Dave Wotton completed the team of 6 with Michael Teasdale and Kenny McCormick also running.
When we got back the tent was already down. The wind had finally won and it had collapsed, trapping Grace and Charlotte Kerr (Sarah’s daughter) who had been playing inside. Luckily the two girls escaped unharmed. Equally important, the cakes and biscuits were also retrieved safely! I was also informed that we had laid the groundsheet on a load of sheep’s poo (I said it was a proper cross-country course, didn’t I?) and somebody (ie me) would have to clean it before it went away in our garage!
There was a little bit more excitement before we left the site. Crossing the field to where we were parked, I could see Gill and a few others helping to push a car out of the mud. I went over to help before realising that it was Sarah Kerr who had got stuck. A minute or so later and she was on firmer ground and we got out without mishap too.
So a good day for Claremont, rounded off by listening to a Liverpool victory in the car on the way home, put me in a good mood for the rest of the day. We were invited to friends for a meal that evening, so, even though the post-run munchies were setting in, I resisted the urge the polish off the other half of Gill’s caramel shortbread and checked the results. A good day for the ladies meant that avoiding relegation is now a possibility (we need to gain 4 points on Birtley) and the men are within two points of finishing in the top 10 of Division 3, so all is not lost! I ended up 194th, so I had lost about 100 places over the last two laps but I had improved my time on previous years. I think that nearly all of us were quicker this year than last despite the wind – the ground definitely was better underfoot. I managed the other post cross-country challenge of staying awake in the bath before the groundsheet was left to soak in the bath water with the muddy socks.
That evening, healthily tired and feeling quite smug for having got around OK, the food was devoured and the wine felt well deserved. I realised that this is why I like cross-country – good company, a team spirit, fresh air and a bit of a challenge followed by a feeling of immense satisfaction and that you can help yourself to a well deserved treat. The demons of Thornley Hall Farm past have been well and truly banished!