Words by Mark T and Photos from Mark Hookway (Tonbridge)
South of England Masters XC – Horspath, Oxford – Sat 10th Dec 2022.
Six days after taking a mini break from cross-country at last weekends BMAF 5k road race the gold winning trio of Terry Booth, Mark Tennyson and David Williams travelled to Horspath for the South of England Masters Cross-Country Championships.
The race returned to Horspath after a one season absence. Last year the race was staged at Lloyd Park, Croydon a Surrey venue we know all too well. Only the GGAC M50-59 squad had travelled to Croydon where they finished 4th team. At Horspath in 2019 the same team had gone one better and departed with bronze medals – their first success at this event. With the 2020 event cancelled due to the worldwide pandemic, could the team improve on bronze at the second attempt?
We arrived at Horspath to find all teams congregated on the grassed area inside the athletic track, which was a departure from the usual position on the grass playing fields to the west of the Stadium.
The start/finish area usually on the playing fields was nowhere in sight.
It was a glorious bright day, but the ground felt hard and despite the sun’s best efforts the temperature was not much above freezing point. A course inspection was required. The start/finish area had been relocated to a large field a short distance from the track. The field was familiar as this was part of the usual course we had become accustomed too. The field beyond was recognizable too, as this led to the first hill. What was not familiar was the marshals directing us to continue on the hill at a point the old course turned 90 degrees left.
The hill continued steeply up through the woods, before emerging on to a wide clearing, white with frost. The path was frozen solid and headed to the horizon at a gradient not as steep as in the woods, but still going up. At its highest point the course turned 90 degrees towards the inevitable steep descent again through the woods. At the bottom two tight 90 degree turns, first left and then right led to a short incline in the field before the final wooded section. This long woody section had avoided the frost and was quite slippery in places. Two further field crossings completed the lap. Great, marginally thawed ground at the start, frozen ground at the top and slippery conditions in the wood. What footwear to go with?
The Ladies Masters had been the first race of the day and ours (M40/M50/M60) the last. Between these races were the Inter-Counties for age groups up to U20. All these races and the course had remained mostly firm.
On the first two occasions that we did this event the M50’s & M60’s were separate morning races. Since 2018 it has become a combined race with the M40’s. Usually at Masters races where agre groups differ the Athlete’s wear their age group on their back (M40,M45 etc…). Not at this race. The difference in the age band is distinguishable by a different colour race number worn on the front. Spot the difficulty here.
Here is how the race went:
2pm came and the race went off on time at a frenetic pace. It is difficult to guage position when mixed with M40 somethings and even M50’s in their first or second season as we are all M55’s. Nonetheless, to remain in the hunt for team success it is the M50’s we needed to stay with. After crossing the first two fields the race settled somewhat as participants prepared for and then tackled the long uphill climb. At the top it was nice to exit the woods onto the wide clearing despite the course still rising. The steep descent was fast and furious with some participants showing extra caution. It was rutted and leaf covered and the low sun was in our eyes and again it was nice to exit the woods with momentum to take on a short frosty incline. The last woods and fields passed by on the first lap, it was the second lap where things almost went awry for the G’s.
Dave was closing in on Terry, before witnessing Terry slip without warning and fall face down on the hill climb; Dave jogged a few paces on the spot until Terry was back on his feet and away. Terry gained a lead on Dave, but Dave ran the long descent faster and passed Terry before the bottom of the slope was reached. With about 1.5k to the finish Terry passed Dave and worked through the field trying to put six or seven places between himself and his team mate. At the finish Terry glanced back along the course to see that Dave had stayed with him.
Afterwards Terry said ‘’I was pleased to catch and pass all of my targets, but just as happy at the finish line to see that Dave had done likewise.’’
It transpired that three of those they both overtook in the closing stages were age-group rivals and this elevated the G’s from bronze position to a Silver Team finish – two points ahead of Reading.
Surrey club Herne Hill Harriers were clear winners in the M50-59 race as they were last season at Lloyd Park in the M40-49 race, when they packed four M45 runners in or around a top ten finish. Two of these M45’s had become M50’s and the same two had taken the Gold & Silver individual spots in today’s race.
After the race Dave and Mark did almost a full lap warm down with M60 athlete Chris Finill of Harrow AC. Chris is an ‘ever-present’ member of the London Marathon. On re-running the hill Chris commented how much easier it was when not racing it.
The last objective of the day was to be back in time for the World Cup match against France. On looking at Garmin/Strava at our race route the map showed that we had run in Brasenose Wood and up Shotover Hill!
Teams: Men M50-59 (3-to-score)
1 – Herne Hill Harriers 16 (1+2+13)
2 – Guildford & Godalming 38 (7+15+16)3 – Reading RR 40 (9+11+20)
South of Thames 12k XC Championship Race – Aldershot – Sat 17th Dec 2022.
It has been twenty-one years since GGAC won team medals at the South of Thames Championship race. In February 2001 the team won bronze medals in the 6-to-score competition and came second in the 12-to-score result.
This weekend at Aldershot the team won silver medals in the 6-to-score category and were runners-up in the 12-to-score race.
Firstly, massive congratulations to Aldershot, Farnham & District (AFD) for staging the event in icy cold conditions. On a day that local Parkrun’s – including the event at Guildford – had been cancelled due to frozen ground, AFD did an exceptional job in hosting this Championship race.
Before 2001 GGAC had never won a team medal at the Championship event. Prior to this date the last time the club had been successful at a South of Thames race was in 1962 at Caterham when they were winners of the ‘Junior’ (now five-mile) race. Before this date they were third team in 1954 at Footscray and repeated this result at Sevenoaks in 1961.
More recently the G’s Men won the five-mile race in 2018 at Morden Park and again in 2021 at Aldershot when the Clubs’ Men & Women won their respective team titles.
The nice thing about these South of Thames events is that the Ladies and the Men run together but are scored separately.
The course was challenging starting on partially frozen playing fields before disappearing mid-lap into the woods where the trails were firm and more technical. The planned course involved navigating two significant changes in level on the playing fields, however, the organisers saw fit to remove one of these obstacles by making a last-minute change and rerouting the course round the steep icy banking. Participants had to complete three laps before being directed towards the finishing funnel on the playing fields.
John Sanderson led the Men’s team home finishing in 5th place overall. This was fitting in respect of John’s father Paul having being the final scorer in the 6-to-score bronze medal team of 2001. Next to reach the finish line in 14th was Tom Foster closely followed 3s later by in-form Johnny Van Deventer in 15th. JVD had finished 6th at November’s South of Thames 5m race at Croydon. 14s behind JVD was Ed Dixon in 18th. Ed has had a brilliant year. Four home in 18 places; two more required to complete the team.
Next came some of the G’s Masters athletes – Ollie Gosden (M45-1) reached the finish in 36th position followed by Nick Tearle (M50-2) in 39th who was just over one minute off Ben Paviour of Herne Hill Harriers who won the M50 individual award. Nick and Ollie had tussled in the early part of the race, before Ollie broke clear. Nick, however, took the important final scoring place for the team.
Mark Tennyson (M55-1) who had raced well at the South of England Masters XC event at Oxford the weekend before, was seventh home in 41st, only 20s behind Nick. Simon Zieleniewski and Ian Davies (M45) both running well, crossed the line in 53rd & 58th positions, followed by Ben Gilmore (M40) who was running his first cross-country race of the season in 66th. Next was Team Manager Terry Booth (M55) recording a 74th placed finish, who like Mark had run at Oxford the previous weekend.
In 81st place was the G’s first lady finisher, triathlete Nici Cahusac (F50-2), then Christine Robinson in 95th before Ladies Team Manager Susanna Harrison (F55-1) in 106th. Brian O’Kane (M55) completed
the Men’s team in just under one hour of racing and then Joanna Wilkerson a respectable 121st place from a field of 141 finishers.
The G’s did have one setback during the race when Callum Job retired from the race. G’s second claim runner Ethan Kendall also had a very decent race, like Ben running his first cross country of the season and placing 51st for Aldershot, Farnham & District, his first claim club. South of Thames rules permit runners only to represent their first claim club.
A huge thank you to those who supported the G’s during the race; including Beth Davies for all the brilliant photography and injured track team coach Andy Coley-Maud.
We asked a few of our Silver team medallists how their race had gone:
Tom Foster (14th) – ‘’My thoughts were – the course was surprisingly quick, owing to the firm surface. It felt like a long way, given this is my first time racing over 5 miles this XC season. Hopefully this stands the team in good stead for the ‘Southern’ Championships at the end of January.’’
JVD (15th) – ‘’After trail shoes won the coin toss against spikes, they carried me around a firm and fast course, where the frost had yet to melt, Nor had the ice in the Gees athletes veins’ as we battled the elements to record another weighty team performance against strong competition. I also enjoyed an inter-team contest with Tom, a decent one on a scale of 0 to the now famed Booth Williams rivalry. Mind you, even Napoleon and the onlooking Duke of Wellington couldn’t hold a candle to the latter.’’
This was reference to Terry Booth’s quote after the previous weekends SEAA Masters XC Champs (see separate race report) ‘’Team bragging rights trump team co-operation in the heat of battle.’’
Teams: Men (6-to-score)
1 – Tonbridge47
2 – Guildford & Godalming127
3 – Kent173
4 – Aldershot, Farnham & District209
5 – Tonbridge ‘B’265
6 – Herne Hill Harriers273
7 – Guildford & Godalming ‘B’358
Teams: Men (12-to-score)
1 – Tonbridge312
2 – Guildford & Godalming485
Teams: Women (6-to score)
1 – Belgrave Harriers50
2 – Herne Hill Harriers116
Classic Mark Hookway video here – https://youtu.be/nBsvrNhBsY8