MonkHall Farm Race Report

Herefordshire Cross Country – Winter Season Race Four

mHallWooden crates stacked up next to one of the barns at Monkhall Farm bore its name in that stenciled, military style lettering you might see on containers ready to be shipped out to a war zone. This seemed highly appropriate after the race, as for an hour or so I’d felt as though I was attending some sort of boot camp. Our coach, Colin Lancaster added to the pre-start tension, just by turning up and giving us all a faint sense of standing by our beds. Not that I saw much of him between the start and the finish mind you.

I’ve learned the meaning euphemisms used by race organizers over the years through bitter experience, so I know for instance, when they say ‘undulating’ they mean gut wrenchingly hilly, and that a ‘water splash’ is more of a raging, freezing torrent, in which we are expected to immerse ourselves up to the thighs.  ‘Technical’ running, is running up or down a sheet of vertical mud cunningly disguising a series of roots and rabbit holes designed to turn the ankles and twist the knees.

The ‘new’ course for the fourth race in the winter cross country series covered quite a bit of old ground in fact – but often the other way round just to make it a little harder. It was shorter, so we were advised we would all get a PB, and the climb to the finish would not be as severe as last year. In the event, pretty much everything else was though – including gullies, brambles, fallen trees and grinding hills. ‘Challenging’ it said in the email…

Our men’s A team consisted of Jamie Shingler, Todd Langley-Tanner, Craig Collier, & Colin Lancaster, whilst the ‘Bs’ were Paul Elliott, John Lyden, Tom Powell and yours truly. Dave Haynes, as he’s demonstrated previously, was in a class all of his own. The ladies team, headed up by the Gilbert sisters, was somewhat depleted, but Heulwen was champing at the bit, aiming to continue her string of winning performances. Maggie Morris and Jo Sharp completed the Ludlow contingent but here’s a shout to all those gals who give us blokes a run for our money on Thursday evening training sessions: we’d love to see more of you racing!

Thankfully the gales of the previous two days had eased off a little, and by the time we lined up for the start, rays from a weak but pleasant winter sun pushed and shoved their way through the gloom – much as we did up that first hill. There was time to take breath and settle into a rhythm as the course leveled out past the back of the finish post, though many of us were psychologically battling with the fact that it would be almost an hour before we saw it again – the right way round. Having said that the winner, Maldwyn Harriers’ Tim Davies, came home in an eye watering 37.57. Makes me feel tired just looking at it in the results.

We completed two very similar laps, excepting the odd dogleg and what you might call the stadium section at the start and finish. I suppose the headline of the day had to be mud – particularly in the central wooded section, but then what do you expect in rural Herefordshire at the beginning of January. At least the water ‘splash’ was more true to its name, perhaps owing to the somewhat less biblical rainfall than last year. Or maybe someone had been out clearing ditches. Whatever; it didn’t feel like being in up to your privates – if you see what I mean. Of course you do.

Of my race, all I can say is that it was a slog. My head and body were locked in bitter disagreement for most of the first lap, and I watched as John & Paul (who eventually traded places) got smaller and smaller. I just about reeled Tom in, but not in time to cross the finish line in front of him – his return to form continues apace. I beat the fellas I would expect to beat, and at some point during the first mile I looked in front and behind, seeing roughly the same number of people. A pretty standard day at the office then. Despite a week of abstinence since New Year’s Day I can’t say I felt sprightly but sometimes that’s just how it goes.

Heulwen

Heulwen – All smiles after her victory

Up front in the ladies race, Heulwen was punching out another copybook win – over a minute in front of her nearest rival. Eilish returned, grim faced having clearly given one hundred and ten percent, and looked in some distress at the finish. I very much hope that when she got home and had something to eat, she felt better. Anyone who’s seen her firing on all cylinders knows she’s not quite there at the moment, but they can be equally sure a return to form will be just round the corner.

I would have liked the chance to de-brief some of the faster runners and make this report a little less one dimensional, but even if I could talk, breathe, or remain standing up long enough to chat to them, Jamie (4th place!), and Todd (12th) had gone for a coffee long before I crossed the line. Of those I did speak to: Craig complained of tight hamstrings after Thursday’s session (but finished 15th – nine minutes ahead of me). Colin had suffered a crisis of confidence similar to mine half way round the first lap (four minutes ahead of me), Paul just felt all stodgy after Christmas (a mere two and a half minutes up the road), and John coughed his guts up like a 40 per day man (half a minute behind Paul). By now, my heart was bleeding for those guys. All I can say is if their times were the result of over training, psychological barriers, festive excess and the remains of a winter cold I’ll have some of what they’re on for the next race please!

Tom, who finished three seconds ahead of me, spoke of how much he’d enjoyed the course, and there followed a frank exchange of views between us as regards the definition of enjoyment.

So I went down to the car to put some warm clothes on, and back up the hill to cheer on the rear guard. Jo & Maggie had just come in, looking slightly shell shocked but happy with their achievement. ‘Dave’s back too…’, Jo confirmed, and sure enough there he was, cheerfully chatting to a marshal whilst seemingly unaware of the blood smeared all over his face. Had he unintentionally been initiated into the hunt? I asked. Having explained to me the regimen of anti coagulants he takes for a range of medical issues that frankly make it a miracle that he runs at all, let alone in brutal XC races, he pointed out that he’d just brushed a few brambles like the rest of us – but always tends to bleed profusely. When approached by first aiders enquiring after his health he suggested that “they should have seen the other bloke”. I like his style.

See you all at Presteigne.

DP

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