By Peter Weeks
Heathfield Park, where the grounds were long ago laid out by Humphry Repton, the 18th century landscape gardener, was the venue for round five of the East Sussex Cross Country League. A new venue to the series, there was no chance for anyone to have the advantage of inside knowledge. The course was a mixture of tracks, footpaths, meadows and HILLS – what else would one expect of “Heathfield”, and I suspect the route planner was the same person who organises their summer 10k.
Damp and misty weather ensured the mud was at its best and provided ideal conditions for traditional cross country runners – none of the grass track running you see on the telly for us!
Eight Striders competed in the senior five-mile race, which started with a long downhill section on tarmac and track before heading onto footpaths, climbing through the woods and grassland before eventually arriving at what we had been informed was the “Gibraltar Tower”. No time to stop and investigate its history but I later discovered that it was built to commemorate Lord Heathfield’s successful defence of Gibraltar from 1779 to 1782. See what fascinating facts you can learn from competing in cross country!
Back to the race, which continued along tracks to the start line and then onto lap two, taking us back down the hill and this time straight up the other side (no woods), climbing across meadows before doubling back down the hill into a wooded section. Here we were greeted by a friendly marshal advising that it was slippery and to get ready to jump across the stream, which I was later found out one runner – no names supplied – put a foot in (unlike in show jumping there were no penalties for this). Then it was up the steepest hill on the course before heading off to the finish and cake stall (by the way, the banana cake was delicious!).
As mentioned earlier it was very reminiscent of the summer 10k but with added mud. Joel Eaton, making his first appearance in Strider’s vest, had an excellent run and was fourth overall, leading the team home in 32:52. He was followed by Josh Rudd who put in his usual strong performance 33:48 (10th). Ed Tuckley, another recent recruit to our growing band of speedy competitors, finished in 36:04 (35th); Scott Hitchcock was next home (apparently delayed while doing some “Deer Stalking“) in 36.04 (40th). Emily Eaton, also making her debut in a Striders vest, was our first woman home in 42:32 (111th), ahead of Peter Weeks 44:13 (121th), Claire Keith 45:15 (129th) and Tom Roper 60:09 (201st). In all, there were 212 finishers.
I would like to thank our enthusiastic band of supporters who braved the conditions and provided encouraging comments – thanks to Martin Bulger, Bob Hitchcock, Patricia Weeks and a big thank you to juniors Harrison Keith (2 years) and Kaleb Eaton (11 months) – the latter who I’m reliably informed sang and slept through the whole event.