North Herts Road Runners flew around Ampthill Park on Sunday in race four of the Three Counties Cross Country League. The squirrels won both the men’s and ladies team event keeping them top of the league overall with one race to go.
Cross country captain John Auld couldn’t have been happier with the result. ‘I am absolutely delighted that we got a well-deserved clean sweep of victories today! Exactly the results we wanted. A superb team performance by all.’
There were 37 runners who toughed it out in windy conditions over a challenging course. The women’s team totally smashed all the competition finishing 35 points clear of nearest rivals Wellingborough and District. Natalie Lawrence was first home for the team followed by Katie Harbon, Astrid McKeown, Paula Adams, Jane Clarke and Caroline Thrussell. They are now joint top in the league competition with it all to race for in the last race.
It was a close competition between NHRR and Ampthill and Flitwick Flyers men’s teams with the squirrels winning with just one place making all the difference. Tom Webb lead the men’s team home finishing in 3rd place. There were more strong performances from the scoring team with Adam Bowller 5th, Jim McConnell 7th, Darren Sunter 9th, Matt Sayers 10th, Ed Price 19th, Stewart Overton 22nd and Mark Vaughan 25th.
Having won the combined men’s and women’s competition in all 4 races so far, NHRR are firm favourites to retain the title at the final race in two weeks.
Michelle and Andy Grudzinski headed for some sunshine miles on the Caribbean island of Turks & Caicos. Their holiday happened to coincide with the TCI Move-a-thon which included a marathon. Michelle finished in 4:54:26 2nd female and 3rd overall and Andy finished in 5:31:23 6th overall. Michelle did confess, ‘The total Marathon field amounted to 7 people! In fact, the locals seemed to think running, let alone a marathon, was a stupid idea; Andy doesn’t disagree.’ Andy responded that, ‘In Michelle’s words - we were not last, and it is not our fault no one else entered. She’s going to be living off her podium finish for the rest of her life.’
David Annetts competed in the first race of the Enfield Race Walking League (5 miles) on Saturday. Good conditions and recent training and coaching sessions gave Annetts the confidence that he could extend his race pace and was rewarded with a personal best winning time of 38:54.
Jillian Boys doubled up this weekend not only competing in the cross country at Ampthill but also racing the ‘Fido’s Forest Frenzy’, which is a purely canicross race. Canicross is racing with dogs. The event was set in the beautiful Thetford Forest and run over a course that was approx 12km. Boys ran with both her dogs Poppy & Lulu the chocolate labs. Boys said, ‘They were absolute superstars and did me proud as we finished in 2nd place in a chip time of 56.54!’
Matt Sayers also doubled up this weekend by winning his Parkrun debut at Letchworth in a time of 18:26.
‘Gritty and attritional’ was Tom Webb’s verdict on a close-fought Herts County Cross-country Championships race, as only the narrowest of margins prevented North Herts Road Runners from regaining the Herts County mens’ Cross-country title they last won in 2015.
After a tough battle over a demanding 12k course in St Albans’ Verulamium Park, the Squirrels saw their six-man team’s finishing positions total 105 points – just two more than the 103 registered by new champions Watford Joggers.
Webb secured an impressive fourth place in the individual standings and had great support from Jim McConnel (8th), Matt Sayers (12th), Ed Price (24th), Mark Vaughan (26th) and Stewart Overton (31st). ‘I enjoyed it’, said Overton after giving his all on the final circuit of the undulating 3-lap course - ‘my heart rate felt steady but the legs couldn’t take me any faster’.
Webb, McConnel and Sayers saw their performances rewarded with invitations to represent Hertfordshire at the prestigious Inter-counties Championships at Loughborough in March.
Ellie Webb flew the North Herts flag in the ladies’ Championships and finished comfortably in the top half of the field in 37th, while Eva McCabe finished 8th in the under-17s race.
It was a weekend of double success for Matt Sayers as he had warmed up for Sunday’s cross-country by winning the Road Runner’s regular First Saturday of the Month 5k in an excellent time of 18.02. An impressive 92 runners braved the chilly conditions to complete their first ‘FSOTM’ of the year. Elodie Levis of Team Trident was the first lady in 23.59.
Serial marathon runner Sue Foot spent New Year’s Day tackling the Flitch Way Marathon – an out-and-back route between Braintree and Bishop’s Stortford. She was pleased to finish in 4 hours 36 – ‘nine minutes faster than the marathon I did four days earlier’.
Lindsay Cook was delighted to hit her sub-30 target at the Bakewell Parkrun with a 29.14 finish time – ‘a great start to my new year of running!’.
A first 90%-plus age grading was David Annetts’ reward as he continued his successful conversion to race walking at the Lee Valley New Year Open Meeting. Annetts completed the 3000m race in 13.43 for an outstanding second place and said he was particularly pleased as he ‘had narrowly missed the 90% grade as a runner’.
Some stunning results, a popular annual club tradition plus plenty of Parkruns, near and far, made for a busy week for the North Herts Road Runners.
“It was a perfect way to end the racing year,” said speedy Squirrel Stewart Overton at the end of Sunday’s 10-mile road race in Buntingford. The race is now a well-established part of the local running calendar, and knowing that this challenging course is on the horizon has helped many a road runner to stay on the straight and narrow over the festive season. But it proved to be no trouble for the North Herts Road Runners, as they won the overall men’s team prize, and came away with three age-category podium finishers.
Caroline Thrussell was the first Vet 55 Woman, continuing an impressive run of recent results to finish in a time of 1 hour and 13 minutes (beating her own club record for the 10-mile distance by five minutes). Adrian Sherwood ran 64:43 to finish as second Vet 50 Man, while Mark Vaughan was the third Vet 40 and finished in 58:17. Joining Adrian and Mark in the winning men’s team were Overton and Matt Sayers, who both also ran the 10-mile distance in under an hour. The team just finished ahead of rivals Trent Park, who had taken the top spot by a small margin the year before. Another fourteen Squirrels took part at Buntingford, including Lucy O’Connor, who was running this race for the first time, and was pleased to finish in 1:27:53, and David Weston who ran 69:32, knocking no less than six and a half minutes off his previous best for the distance.
The exertions at Buntingford capped off a week that had started with the Letchworth-based club’s annual ‘Mulligatawny Run’. This is a club tradition, in which a group of club members run together over the hills at Pegsdon before enjoying some festive cheer (and some actual Mulligatawny soup!) back at Lilley. “Super muddy but beautiful views,” was long-standing club member James Walsh’s summary, adding “the views at the top were worth it.”
Sue Foot ran the Great Barrow Triple Tipple Marathon on Friday 28th December. This was the first day of a three-day event held each year in Barrow Suffolk. “The event is famous for its checkpoint at mile 20 where you can choose from a very welcome selection of liqueurs!” said Sue, who nevertheless managed to finish in an impressive time of 4.45.
Christmas week also saw the Squirrels test their mettle at Parkruns aplenty across the UK. Close to home, club coaches Karen Dodsworth and Pete Sibbett, along with Mark and Sue Vaughan, ran the Great Denham Parkrun on Christmas Day – and all achieved significant results! First to finish for the club was Mark Vaughan who was third in the race, winning the V45 age group in 17.19. Pete Sibbett went sub-20 for the first time this year clocking 19.46 to win the V55 age category, and Sue Vaughan ran 26.27 to win the FV50 age group. Coach Karen Dodsworth also finished third lady in 25.01 and won her age group, FV55. Also in Bedfordshire was Hayley Cocks, who ran Luton Parkrun and was pleased to finish fifth in her age category.
Further afield, Ellie and Tom Webb took on the sandy Exmouth park run in Devon. Despite having to deal with the sand which had been washed up along the course by waves and wind, Ellie ran the course in 22:28, while Tom finished in 16:25. Lindsay Cook took advantage of a Christmas trip to the Peak District to take part in the Parkrun at Bakewell. “You can really feel the downhill and it makes for a nice fast finish,” said Lindsay, “I was 230th in 30:23 which I was pleased with.” Meanwhile, spurred on by his exertions at the Mulligatawny Run, James Walsh travelled to North Wales, and took part in the Penrhyn Parkrun in Bangor, running the course in 20.59. “Held in the impressive setting of Penrhyn Castle,” said James, “the run has its start and finish line immediately under the castle's portcullis!”
North Herts Road Runners completed Parkruns in almost every corner of Great Britain as members of the Letchworth-based club combined Christmas visits to family and friends with participation in the popular 5k events.
Parkrun has become an international phenomenon over the past 14 years, with 577 venues in the UK – plus many more in a further 19 countries - hosting the free weekly events at 9.00am every Saturday. These include local events in Letchworth Garden City and Stevenage.
This weekend 23 Squirrels turned out at 10 Parkruns in England, Scotland and Wales with Lucy Hurley in South Wales for Aberbeeg Parkrun, where she completed the course in 23.43.
Steve Williamson travelled north of the border to take part in Falkirk Parkrun and finished in 22.26, while Brian Judkins took on what he described as ‘one of the tougher Parkrun courses’ at Wakefield Thornes, finishing in 33.06
After plenty of rain over the previous few days, Clare Hooley reported an ‘absolute mudfest the whole way – not a day for a fast one’ at Cambridge Parkrun, where she finished in 38.56 and James Keogh recorded 20.24.
Lee Hayes attributed his impressive second place in similar ‘Glastonbury-style’ conditions at Letchworth Parkrun to the ‘correct footwear – a few people were running in plimsolls, I reckon!’ Hayes recorded 20.23, with Emily Hutchinson next and first female finisher in 20.38. Chloe Lucas continued her return to regular training after time overseas with a finish time of 24.35 on what she described as a ‘very muddy’ course and Andrew Underhill completed the run with daughter Gracie in 33.58. ‘Not bad for an 8-year-old, he said. ‘She smashed it!’.
Other NHRR Parkrun ‘tourists’ over the weekend included Nick Malpeli at Markeaton , Derby, Chris Poole at Houghton Hall and Naomi Parkinson at Great Denham (both Bedfordshire), Jodie Brumhead at Mole Valley and six Squirrels at Stevenage Parkrun.
This week a large number of squirrels were out and about on various runs using up some of those pesky calories, to make more room for extra ones over the festive season.
Sunday saw the NHRR host their home cross country race at Standalone farm. Once again the club proved just what great race hosts they are.
As well as providing all the race officials and catering the club was also able to field an impressive 41 out of the 400 runners. The men and women both came in second giving a combined top billing for the club. With 3 races complete the overall positions are tight with just a point or twos difference but the men and women both showing in second position leaving them in a combined top spot overall with just two more races to go in the series.
In 4th place overall Tom Webb was the top placed male squirrel and Natalie Lawrence the first lady to cross the line.
Four squirrels ran the Waterside 10k at Grafham Water. It was a chilly start but the sun shone but the last couple of kilometres along the dam and back seemed to go on forever but the excellent cake afterwards in the visitors Centre had a positive restorative effect, and lets face it after a 10K run who’s worrying about calorie counting? As one runner in the Standalone 10k once told me I eat cake therefore I run!!!
The runners/cake eaters were Helen Govey 0:58:43, Carina Quayle 1:02:28 (coming first in the Female over 55 category in full fancy dress), Ali Mottram 1:10:45 and Jim Marvell 1:15:38.
With eyes on the cross country on Sunday there were a limited number of squirrels running in Park Runs this week, it was also bitterly cold, dull and threatening to rain! Jodie Brumhead made the greatest journey running in, in Edinburgh in 28:03. Next most distant park run completed was in Kettering with Steven Williamson finishing in 22:48.
In Luton’s Wardown park Stephen Lummis and Chris Poole completed the course in 23:03 and 24:54 respectively. The Letchworth Park Run attracted 5 of our runners with Helen Wilson coming in in the fastest time of 29:32 she was followed by Adam Wilson, Naomi Parkinson, Lucy Hurley and Patrick Norris in 29:34, 30:50, 30:51 & 33:48 respectively.
Stevenage saw NHRR’s best result with Eva McCabe the first lady home in just 23:06. James Dalton finished in 7th place overall ahead of her though in 20:19. Phil Hunt finished in 25:02 and Jennie Fraser in 27:42.
Christmas came to Welwyn on Sunday when fourteen North Herts Road Runners joined many others and scurried round the Welwyn Festive 5 mile race, many in Christmassy costumes.
Sisters Linsey Ashley and Jennie Andrews said,“It was the first time we have done a 5 mile race and we loved it. The course was brilliant, the marshals were encouraging and seeing all the Santas, elves and snowmen run around was brilliant. The chocolate Santa at the finish line certainly gave us some motivation to get round!” Caroline Thrussell also ran the race and said, “After a rainy warm up, we started under a rainbow and the sun shone for the rest of the race. I was thrilled with a pb of 35:42, first FV55 and a club record of over 3 minutes. Other finishers for NHRR were John Rayner, who finished 4th in 29:28. 30 Seconds later was Darren Matussa, who nearly took a wrong turn on the course, finishing in 6th position. Pete Sibbett finished in 32:42. Stuart Cocks, following a 1st in age category park run at Jersey Farm the previous day, finished in 33rd place in 36:25. Chris Poole also ran the Jersey Farm Parkrun and finished in 36:45. Babs Sayers finished in 38:35, with Jo Harbon coming in next in 41:31. Sue Vaughan was 95th in 44:42, closely followed by sisters Jennie Andrews and Linsey Ashley who both finished in 46:18. Lorna Chambers was 147th in 49:33 and Jane Tyler finished in 52:48. Finally, Monica Cullen brought up the NHRR tail in a spritely 1:14:16.
The weekend also saw the Milton Keynes winter half-marathon and three squirrels decided to make the journey to compete. Russ Hagan finished in 1:57:53. He said,“This was my very first half at age 58, so I'm very happy to have got round in under 2hrs. Huge kudos and thanks to the training provided by NHRR and the encouragement of my training group. When I joined the club less than 6 months ago I'd only done a few Parkruns so it shows what can be achieved with the support of the club. This was a large, very well organised event with well over 2000 runners. The course was surprisingly lovely on paths around parkland, lakes and by the canal. The positive vibe was certainly helped by the winter sun breaking through and the large number of cheering spectators. I would certainly recommend it as an intro to half marathons.” Jo Kenlin and Kelly Hanlon also ran the race. Jo said, “Our plan for the day was to just finish, but we then decided to pace ourselves with the 3hr pacer. We both had a great run and really enjoyed it. Kelly came in at 2hr 41 and I did 2hr 49 beating my last 1/2 marathon time by 24 mins…” A great race for all three Squirrels.
Further afield, Linda Aird took on the Telford 10k which was an age group qualifying race for England Masters 10k. Advertised as a flat, fast course, Linda said that it wasn’t completely flat and it was quite crowded, but still fairly quick. Linda finished third FV60 in a chip time of 50:48, which was within the qualifying time and 3rd in her category, so is hoping that she might have qualified for an England vest for Birmingham next year.
Finally, Chloe Lucas did the Keyworth Turkey Trot half marathon (the winners were awarded a frozen Christmas turkey!). It was a rather undulating course round the sunny Nottinghamshire countryside. Chloe was very pleased to finish in 1:43:15.
Personal bests, grit, determination and plenty of festive cheer mark another extraordinary week for the thriving Squirrels.
“The experience of running in the centre of a major European city on closed roads with lots of support is a fantastic one,” said North Herts Road Runner Stewart Overton, who took part in a 10k race, which was part of Valencia’s marathon weekend. “It really does give you that bit extra.”
In Overton’s case, it certainly did. His finishing time was 34:52 a massive 45 seconds off his personal best, and a well-deserved end to a year of hard training and steadily improving results. “If anyone ever wants to visit Valencia I recommend the marathon weekend,” he added. “The whole place buzzes with runners from across the globe but you can also take in the city and everything it has to offer at the same time.”
Stewart Overton wasn’t the only Squirrel running in the Spanish city at the weekend. Michelle and Andy Grudzinski both ran the full marathon. Despite having been unwell the week before, they ran together and finished their last marathon of the year in 5.11.26.
There was also plenty of action closer to home, as Saturday saw scores of Squirrels amongst the 199 runners who took part in the Santa Canta 5k at Letchworth’s Norton Common. Held every year, this fundraising 5k event is the festive edition of the popular First Saturday of the Month 5k series, which is organised by North Herts Road Runners. This year the event raised over £600 for Tracks Autism, a Stevenage-based early years centre for children with an autistic spectrum condition.
The runners didn’t let the rain or the muddy conditions dampen their spirits and ran, sang and cheered their way around the course. Hayley Cocks described herself as ‘super chuffed’ to take four minutes off her previous best time on the course to finish in 32:26. North Herts Road Runner Astrid McKeown was the first female finisher in a time of 20:51, while teammate Tom Webb took first position overall, just dipping under the 17-minute mark.
Meanwhile, John Auld returned to his native Yorkshire to resume his assault on the challenging Silkstone Shuffle series. The weekend’s race was the final event of the series, and Auld went into it with a two-and-a-half-minute lead over his rival in 4th place, but knowing that he was going to have a battle to secure a place on the podium. In tough conditions, it was neck and neck between Auld and his main rival. Things were going well, “I said to myself, nothing can stop you now apart from a fall...” said Auld, and then, disaster: he slipped at a stile and hit the ground hard. Despite a bloodied knee and elbow and some nasty bruises, Auld got back up and showed grit and determination to get through the rest of the race. Not only did he finish tenth overall on the day, but his strong finish guaranteed him third in the series – a podium finish for the second year running.
Bedford was the setting for a testing half marathon in which eight North Herts Road Runners ran. Niccolo Bassani’s time was 1:34:30. “Slower than I hoped,” said Niccolo Bassani, “but all things considered a good time given the beating wind and the long uphill sections.” Suzy Trott (1:37:54) was the second V40 woman, and Darren Sunter (1:17:17) finished in fifth place overall, and third V35 man. Also running were Martyn Annetts, Chris Poole, Tom Brownlee and Luke Callan.
All eyes were on Croyland Park, Wellingborough as the Squirrels set out to defend their early lead in the Three Counties Cross Country League.
31 hardy squirrels faced the course that was described by Jillian Boys as a “very hilly and loopy course with a couple of river crossings thrown in for good measure!” Captain John Auld was delighted to see the Ladies finish the race in 2nd position and the Men in 3rd –giving a combined overall victory on the day and maintaining their lead in the league. After the race he said “we had some great individual and team performances on a tough, strength sapping course and some ice cold water.” Wayne Bell and Natalie Lawrence made impressive debuts for North Herts Road Runners, both making it onto the scoring teams with Lawrence first lady and Bell finishing in 11th position. For the ladies, the remaining scoring team was Paula Adams, Jane Clarke and Ellie Webb. Scoring for the men were Tom Webb, Darren Sunter, Bell, Matt Sayers, Ed Price, Darren Mattussa, Nick Malpeli and Vince Wright.
Fifteen squirrels chose to stick closer to home – taking on the Hatfield 5 Miles. Tackling the distance for the first time and first home for the club, Stewart Overton declared he was “pleased with his time of 28:37”. Ian Sutcliffe took the trophy for Vet 70 in an inspirational 42:52. Another squirrel making their debut in a Road Runners vest was Elwyn Howell with an impressive 43:23. Other finishers were, Stuart Cocks, Lucy O’Connor, Lorna Chambers, Brian Judkins, Helen Marson-Smith, Shani Fielding, Hayley Cocks, Kelly Hanlon, Jo Kenlin, Jo Sopala, Clare Hooley and Lindsay Lucas. Hooley reported that it was “the perfect antidote to a hilly cross country, because as much as they make us stronger, hills also exhaust some of us. We were all thrilled to make it in under an hour.”
Vanessa Rolfe was the only squirrel to travel to Cambridgeshire for the Bassingbourn Belle 10 Miler - Rolfe was relieved to finish in 1:41:44 (and on her feet!) stating “this was the first run since I fell flat on my face!”
Jo Summers returned to the Colworth Hare and Tortoise taking on the 5 laps of a 5.25 mile off-road route and scored herself a course personal best in a time of 4:01. Further afield, Steven Peel travelled, with his family in tow, to Florence to take on the marathon distance. He completed the “amazingly beautiful course” in a fantastic 4:02:23
Dedicated training paid off for several North Herts Road Runners as they recorded personal best at various races over the weekend.
Darren Sunter was selected to represent Hertfordshire at the inter-counties 10k championship in Brighton on Sunday. On an out-and-back course along the windy sea front, Darren ran 33.40 to finish 45th in a field of quality runners. Darren said, ‘some great runners out on course and I had the unfortunate opportunity of seeing a few come the other way but I was happy enough with the performance.’
Thirteen squirrels travelled to St Neots for the popular half marathon. Chilly but clear skies and a nicely undulating course through the countryside made for a pleasant running. Caroline Thrussell certainly enjoyed the conditions winning the Vet 55 category in a PB of 1:38:49. The event also saw PB performances by Darren Matussa in 1:20:46, Jane Clarke in 1:36:59, Chloe Lucas in 1:43:01, and Lucy Hurley who finished in 1:53:55.
On Saturday, PB’s were achieved by Tom and Ellie Webb who travelled to Eton Dorney for the Windsor & Eton Autumn Half Marathon. The route comprised 4.5 flat laps of Dorney lake. There was a strong headwind for half of the race - including the final 2 miles providing a tough finish. Tom finished 5th in 1:13:53, five minutes quicker than his previous best at Brighton in February this year. Tom said his improvement is down to the benefits of the awesome training and coaching at NHRR. Ellie was 39th Lady in a time of 1:45:59.
Taking on more challenging terrain at the Dirt Half Challenge in Leighton Buzzard - a nice, relatively tame trail half marathon Andy Grudzinski ran an unexpected PB of 2:13:20. Steve Foster also ran this as the first of two half marathons he took on over the weekend finishing this one in 1:36:26 then running the Hertfordshire Half Marathon at Knebworth in 1:37.10. ‘I was on target for a better time until 10miles when the fuel tank ran out. At 12miles I stayed with a family and their jelly babies for two minutes while I refuelled, but I was very delighted to do two half marathons in two days’, said Steve. Niccolo Bassani also ran the hilly Hertfordshire Half finishing in 1:33:07.
Chris Poole and Stuart Cocks travelled to Wales for the Conwy Half Marathon. Despite the Welsh hills and head winds Stuart ran a new PB of 1:43:05 and Chris finished a few seconds later in 1:43:15.
Endurance athletes Jo Summers, Sue Foot and Miranda Morgan did the local Sundon Saunter, an off road 27.7 mile challenge starting and finishing in Barton -Le-Clay. After a foggy start it turned into a perfect day for running with wonderful views across Bedfordshire. Jo finished in 5:14 with Miranda and Sue finishing together in 6.25. Fresh off the back of the Athens Marathon last week Michelle Grudzinski was in action again at the Larnaka Marathon to finish in 4:55.
Let’s get Christmassy with NHRR Santa Canta on Saturday 1st December. It’s your regular First Saturday of the Month 5k but with an added festive sparkle.
It’s the perfect way to start December and is suitable for everyone including children to take part. Dig out the Christmas jumper or dust off that Rudolf onesie and run, jog or canta around Norton Common (fancy dress is optional but there will be prizes and you might look like a bit of a grinch if you don't).
It’s free to enter just register at 8am on the day or pre-register at www.firstsaturday5km.org.uk
If you already have a FSOTM barcode there is no need to register again for the Santa Canta.
This year NHRR are fundraising to support Tracks Autism, all donations on the day are very welcome.
There will be medals and mince pies for all finishers, so come and join us for some festive fun with bells on.
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