I arrived at West End Common (Esher) in trepidation – and in the pouring rain! – for my first-ever outing for Herne Hill Harriers. I am normally one of the mums who help the younger squad with numbers and organisation, and my idea of a training run is jogging from vantage point to vantage point to cheer on the younger athletes when they are racing.
After a glass or two of wine on a long coach journey back to London after a weekend of supporting the successful younger athletes at the National XC relays at Mansfield, a handful of us, perhaps misguidedly, decided that we should give it a go ourselves.
When I signed up, the Herne Hill women’s team – in particular Sarah, Anne and Karen – were incredibly helpful, welcoming and supportive.
Helping to ensure the younger age groups were organised in advance for their races meant there was no chance for me to walk the course, which had, over-night, magically lengthened from the promised, yet already daunting-sounding 6km run, to one of 6.5 kms… with hills! However, at this stage I remained in blissful ignorance of quite how long and steep some of these hills were.
There were over 400 women in the race, so we shuffled to the starting line and the race started off at a fairly slow jog round a flat field – not fast enough, nor far enough, to thin out the numbers of runners before reaching a wooden bridge which was only just wide enough for two to cross at a time. Plenty of time to stop and catch breath. Perhaps too much time! The course then followed a fairly narrow woodland trail with few passing places, although mortifyingly plenty of people managed to find their way round me – including fellow ‘newbie’ Claire Millard – as I plodded on. The hills on the smaller lap were a challenge enough, yet did nothing to prepare me for a couple of very long and steep [I like to think almost vertical] hills on the second, larger lap. I was delighted that I wasn’t the only runner who resorted to walking up them! By this time, I was asking every race official I passed, ‘any more hills?’, and, ‘how much further to go?’ I was gasping for breath, yet desperately determined not to give up; after all, what message would that set to the young athletes, and my daughter in particular?
I wanted to be able to hold my head up high and say, ‘I’ve done my best’. I was really pulled along by the encouragement of the other runners around me. Despite running for other clubs, they were so friendly and supportive and truly kept me going. I think we were all tired and in some pain by then and found unity in that. Someone panted, “Almost there; end of this path and then into the field and it’s the finish,” encouraged one of my new-found friends. I dug deep and managed to find fifth gear… which quickly faded back again into a slow grind as I realised I’d peaked too soon. But finally we were into the final field; I was being cheered on by the younger Herne Hillers, and that really encouraged me to try my best not to have anyone else overtake me into the finishers funnel.
Afterwards I was asked by several people, “Did you enjoy it?” I’m not quite sure how to answer. I might have enjoyed – and done better on – a shorter, flatter course – but would it have been such a challenge? I was gasping for breath, felt sick, and strained every (untrained) muscle in my body – including ones I never knew existed – but once the race was over, I could look back with a huge sense of achievement. And I enjoyed the team spirit, both within the Herne Hillers (of all ages), as well as competitors from other clubs. Would I do it again? Yes… but I will try to fit in an occasional training run so I am better prepared… and check how many hills there are first!
The Herne Hill Harriers senior women’s team had 18 finishers. The A team was lead to a 4th place finish by U17W runner Ella Newton who was making her debut for the senior women. Ella finished 12th in the Division 1 race [16th overall], closely followed by Hannah Edwards [14th Div 1] and Karen Ellison [15th Div 1]. Julia Wedmore finished in 40th place and Kate Crawford 44th. The B team placed 16th.
The U15/U17s ran together at 1pm. Katie Balme (U15) was the first Herne Hill runner to cross the line in 7th position, with Tatiana Cooke (U17) hot on her heels in 9th, and the first U17 over the line. Other U15 Herne Hill finishers were Jemima Hayward-Bhikha in 15th and Sofia Di Carlo in 38th giving the U15s an overall 4th team placing.
At 1.30, the final women’s race of the day set off. The Herne Hill U13s took the field by storm, with Lulu King running a very impressive race and finishing with an 18 second lead on the rest of the field. The next Herne Hill runner to cross the line was Maisie Collis in 4th, Jessica Tabraham in 6th and Rosie Hammond in 8th giving the U13 A team a convincing win. The B team also finished well in 4th place overall.