NEHL Thornley Hall Farm, 8th January 2022

Mud, glorious mud …

Thornley Hall Farm has a reputation as a muddy course, and it certainly didn’t disappoint this year! The melting of the recent snow and ice, combined with overnight and morning rain meant the going could definitely be described as “soft”, if not “heavy”.

First out in sky blue was Grace Scott in the Under 13 Girls’ race. Grace is the only ever-present for Claremont in the Harrier League and she has been improving with every run. She finished in a very respectable 28th place.

Next it was the ladies turn, and it was another strong performance by the team. Despite losing her shoe twice, Sarah Kerr ploughed through the field from the fast pack to lead the girls home with an impressive run to finish in 63rd place. Only 11 seconds and 5 places separated the other 3 counters – Nina Jensen, Nicki O’Brien and Izzy Neatrour. Nicki and Izzy had made up good ground from the medium pack.

With the ladies having done a good job of cutting up the course to an even worse state than at the start of the day, it was the turn of the men. I resolved not to get carried away at the start, as I often do, but to run a steady first lap and see how it went from there. I needn’t have worried, I couldn’t have run faster than steady if I tried! The start of the course is flat, but this stretch was uneven and muddy, so it was difficult to get into your stride. The climb up the first hill wasn’t bad, and then I had my first “whoops” moment as I slid turning to run past the club tents. The climb up and around the woodland was muddy and there was a new obstacle in the form of a small stile that we had to jump over (at least I jumped it on laps 1 and 2, but nearly lost my footing just before it on lap 3, so clambered over it somewhat inelegantly, then, to my horror, noticed Stuart Whitman taking photos!). After the steep downhill into ankle deep mud, there was actually a short stretch that still had some grass on it. This didn’t last long and for the rest of the course it was just a case of “how deep is the mud?”.

As I spent most of the run with my head down looking for any signs of solid ground where I could put my feet, I was unaware of where I was in the field and how the other Claremonters were doing. Kris Axon flew past me not long after halfway, looking strong. He gave me words of encouragement, to which I could only grunt a reply (sorry, Kris). I knew that I was tiring on lap 3, so it was just a case of “head down, let’s just finish” and I plodded my way home. Not long before the final muddy descent, I passed Rob Newton who was nearing the end of his second lap. Any relief that I felt at finishing can’t have shown on my face, because, as I was walking through the finish funnel, the legend that is Bill McGurk caught my eye, burst out laughing and said, jokingly, “We don’t want any foul language, now!”. I think I managed to smile back!

Rob came in shortly after me, having decided that 3 laps would be one too many. That meant that we needed all the other men to get home safely in order to have a full team. Thankfully, they all did.

A big well done to all competitors as, whether they counted for the team or not, everybody who ran in those conditions deserves credit. We certainly earned our post-run cakes. Though even then the day was not over, as a group of us had to help push various cars (Claremont and non-Claremont alike) out of the field that was masquerading as a car park. Finally it was home for cups of tea and a hot bath – though I think I took enough mud home with me to fill a decent sized pot for the patio (must try that next year!).

As I said in my pre-race emails – this is a proper cross-country course! Roll on next year.

Under 13 Girls
PositionRunnerTime
28Grace Scott21:02
Ladies
PositionRunnerTime
63Sarah Kerr36:24 (Fast pack, real time 31:24)
98Nina Jensen37:21
100Nicki O’Brien37:22 (Medium pack, real time 35:02)
103Isabel Neatrour37:32 ( (Medium pack, real time 35:12)
108Allie Wilson Craw37:44
112Liz Denyer37:57
155Julie Cross39:19
175Hazel Juggins40:10
223Mary Rack42:51
PositionRunnerTime
42Kris Axon44:36 (Fast pack – real time 39:36)
182Tom Tinsley48:56
261Laurie Johnson52:47
328Jamie Harding57:47
329Howard MacLennan57:54
344Dean O’Brien60:43
Rob Newton49:40 (Only 2 laps completed)

Thanks to Howard and Hazel for adding to my photographic efforts. Also, as ever, huge thanks to Stuart Whitman and Paddy Hutchinson for letting us use their photos for free.

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