Veterans Keep the Red n Black Hoops Flying in Southern XC Championships 11 Dec 2021.

South of England Veterans XC Championships, Lloyd Park, Croydon 11/12/2021

As a classic and varied cross country course, Saturday 11th December’s Lloyd Park did not disappoint, and neither did Herne Hill’s athletes who earnt themselves two sets of team medals and (surprisingly, only) one individual place medal. Yet, despite having three DNF’s on the day we still closed out 20 men and four women throughout the two races. A fair haul for an individual club at a regional championship which, overall, recorded a total of 363 finishers.

The two veterans Southern championship races (Women/Men70+, and the Men40-69) fitted within the Inter-county age groups XC championships, as is the usual format of the SEAA programme pre-Xmas programme, which kept officials and organisers challenged and delayed results at this relocated venue.

The course itself, provides an innocuous grassy wet mud racing surface in the lower field where the race starts and finishes. But when the terrain has had recent downpours, as had happened on Saturday, the climb onto the clay ridge becomes a mud hill which gives an indication of what is in store at the back end of the course.  Up on the ridge, the ‘fun’ of XC comes into its own providing flooded pathways, sodden uneven grass clumps, exposed tree roots and deep mud patches distributed randomly along the undulating route.

The women’s/M70+ morning start, in a grey cloud covered sky had four of our girls and M70 Steve Knight taking on the challenge. These all took the 6km course with determination and commitment, Mary Setyabule (15th W50) extending a second lap gap on Sam Whiting (17th W40) to lead our women to the finish line. (Though it is rumoured Sam was a little fatigued from her previous night’s revelries.) Sarah Allen (17th W55) had her consistent effort rewarded, as did newcomer Flora di Carlo (21st W55) to complete an HHH W50 team in 8th position. Well done, onwards and upwards we need our women to show our club’s profile every year, not just because it is a local race. Our M70 Steve Knight willingly tested his own fitness and wellbeing and came out trumps to finish the tough course despite considerable back pain. (To which I can attest, less gardening and heavy lifting before a top race is part of the preparation!)

Two and a half hours later, as the ninth and last race of the day on the course started, the skies darkened and soon the drizzle began, adding further effect to the senses regarding the real nature of XC, just as did the now truly churned up course. (Who needs the passivity of TV ‘reality shows’ when you get a personal experience like this?) Around 250 men, 40 to 69 years, took on the full 10km route with 233 recorded finishers.

The sharp end was lost on me, but for seeing grand HHH packing near the front (M45’s) on the turnback sections of the course, and behind that, the regular splattering of the distinct Red and Black hooped vests throughout the race. Our M40-49 team had been 2nd on the two previous occasions this event took place and it really was going to be yet another close call for team gold. Lo and behold, no individual medals were gained but our four man train of M45’s was phenomenal packing and has virtually become a regular feature of this race. This grouping clearly raises the squad performance, commitment and the friendly rivalry for club ‘pecking order’. Amazingly, three to score per team, our four top men came 9th, 10th , 11th and 12th to take home the M40-49 team gold undercutting Harrow’s 33 points by three and Brighton & Hove’s 39 for 3rd. Yet not even our lead man, M45 Simon Coombes, got an individual medal (4th M45) as M45’s Ben Paviour, John Kettle and Andrew Perfect followed him in succession and that order within 23 seconds of each other! M40 Ben Millar (16th M40) and Ollie Morrison (18th M45) therefore closed out HHH M40 ‘B team’ alongside the unfortunate Andrew Perfect missing out on medals in an overall team 9th place. Equally impressive, James Cooper (22nd M45), Robert Peacock (M40 25th) & Dan Hallam (47th M40) closed out an HHH M40 team in 14th, with four clubs scoring their first teams behind them!  HHH were the only club to score three teams in an age group, well done to all!

M50 Joffah Ratcliffe had another consistently excellent race (7th M50) but with the loss of two M50 DNF’s one could infer the M50 team underperformed (for our expected standards ). Nonetheless, Trevor Chilton (12th M50) Keith Newton (28th M55) and Vic Maughn (35th M55) the latter two returning to racing after prolonged injuries were good enough to get out and put in their best efforts, which closed our M50 team out at a respectable 8th position from an overall 20 teams.

Neither did out M60’s disappoint, far from it. Mike Boyle led them home in M60 6th, Tom Conlon at 11th and Mark Bebbington (17th M60) getting his first scent of regional medals as the unfortunate in-form Tony Harran DNFed. This HHH M60 team took a well-deserved second place to the seemingly inexhaustible South London Harriers supply of winning M60 teams. Tom Armstrong learnt he needs a pair of XC-spikes, yet still closed out at 27th M60, so more is expected of him after Santa hopefully fulfils his needs.

The real oldies tail end provided equal competitive performances where M65 Waldy Pauzers, spotted SLH’s Barry Atwell in the final field. Continuing from an already Herculean intensity of effort Waldy rose to the challenge of a sprint to pass Barry, and unwittingly sneak an M65 2nd finisher’s silver medal place to put, renowned athlete Atwell into M65 3rd.

New president, Glen Keegan (47th M55) then reverted to previous presidential protocols where he could keep an eye on his acolytes and herd them to the finish. Conversely, we waited to give Glen a round of congratulatory applause as he crossed the finish line.

The incoming dusk encouraged us all to move on. More than several ended up at Croydon’s Dog and Bull, but what happened after a quick pint I could not say, nor support subsequent rumour as I had get home to prepare and reserve my dulcet tones for a Baltic Countries Xmas concert. …. But yet another great veterans display of quality and inclusivity keeps HHH in the spectrum of achieving clubs.

Well done to all who competed, you all did us proud.

Next Vets XC races to contemplate are 22nd January Vets AC Champs, enter yourself and as HHH. Then let’s target BMAF National XC Champs 12th March at nearby Tonbridge with that self-same enthusiasm we demonstrated at Lloyd Park.

Happy Xmas to you and all your families, wishing health and wellbeing being bestowed on us all for the New Year.

Waldy Pauzers

HHH Veterans Team Manager.