A sizeable convocation of Eagles made their way to Claybury Park, just beyond the junction of the M11 and the North Circular. Frankie Snell and Benjamin Rawsthorne were first to test themselves in the U17 race on a typically warm and dry season opener. Most opted for road or trail shoes as the going was very firm under foot. Slowly more and more Eagles arrived and it was clear that the usual behind the scenes blackmailing/arm-twisting/encouragement had taken place. Some had even come of their own volition (!!), among whom quite a few newcomers. Credit to XC captains Sarah MacKenzie and Kieran Santry as always. Those who had raced here before spoke of the competitive start – after barely fifty metres the course narrows and everyone charges down a hill along a narrow path, making overtaking difficult. The advice was clear – don’t hang around at the start!
More than 200 women shot off for a short loop followed by two full laps of the park. They were led out by World Championship marathoner Tracy Barlow, who took the win for Thames Valley Harriers. In a top quality field, Rebecca Jackson (65th) was first Eagle home, looking strong throughout following her recent half marathon PB. Sarah MacKenzie (108th) and Emily Schmidt (115th) came in next for the Eagles with typically committed performances. Charlotte Levin (120th) and Hayley Kandt (122th - making her XC debut) both ran strongly to complete the scoring for the A team. The Women continued a consistent run of scoring from last season with 6th place out of 10 teams in Division 2, just behind neighbours ESM.
Sophie Foxall (128th) found it tough but finished strongly. There is absolutely no photographic evidence that Sue Park (135th) finds XC tough – quite the opposite in fact as she is the poster girl of the springy XC exuberance of youth. She was followed by Lisa Watson (146th - XC debut) and Lisa Snell (166th) who helped the B team to an 8th place finish in Division 3.
Liz Ainsworth (173rd), Jess Hood (189th), Mirka Miturova (205th) and Kim Bobsin (207th – XC debut) completed a third team, hopefully a feat both men and women can maintain throughout the season.
A few words from the ladies:
Hayley: “First XC as an adult, absolutely loved it! Very happy with my result 6 days post-marathon. XC definitely brings out my competitive side!”
Kim: “First timer at XC. Enjoyed the trail parts and running through the woods. Hill walking skills came in handy. Enjoyed cheering the lads. Onwards and upwards?”
Rebecca: “Second time running Claybury and that hill does not get any easier! Last year hated it, this year loved it! Great course, great support and great fun! Go EAGLES!!”
Jess: “Harsh reminder not to fuel for races with wine and nachos. Will try harder next time. Bring on the rain and the mud.”
Liz: “First XC for nearly 30 years. Although there was no mud it was still fun, well not the hills, but the support and the pub were all welcome. Bring on more XC.”
Sophie: “Great turn-out of Eagles and brilliant entertainment watching the sprint finishes (‘Elbows out!’) – bring on the next one!”
Charlotte: “Do you enjoy seeing the greener areas of London? Do you run better when you can match someone’ else’s pace and get a kick from overtaking them at the end? Then XC is for you! For me, it’s been a way to see a different side to London and enjoy the competitive side to running in an incredibly supportive environment.”
Smack: “Thanks to my super team of ladies. Some great performances today. Special shout-out to Lisa Snell who is definitely one to watch this year. Also great work from first timers Liz, Hayley, Kim and Lisa. Finally, a massive welcome back to my inspirational predecessor Petrina.”
Next, a record 508 men lined up, bolstered by a record-equalling 25 Eagles men. The frontrunners duly set off at frantic pace and the rest of us were dragged along for three tough laps with an energy-sapping slog up the hill half way through each lap. The overall winner was steeple-chaser Adam Kirk-Smith from host club Woodford Green. On the back of promotion to division 2, the Eagles men needed ten to score and just for good measure we got 25!
Ewan Fryatt (120th) is a man in sparkling form and the dry conditions seemed to suit him as he strode away on the second lap to finish as first Eagle. John Foxall (130th) did his best to keep up but had his work cut out. History was made moments later as Ricardo Agostinho (179th) pipped the previously dominant José Manuel Pabon (180th) with a cracking sprint finish. Club historians have consulted the archives and have concluded that XC stalwart JMP had never been beaten by a fellow Eagle in Met League prior to this occasion. In these turbulent times, he was only 4th here! Expect a response to this aberration!
Kieran Morrisroe (188th) is another man in form and won plaudits as the first Eagle to the top of the blooming great big hill on the first lap (that hill... shudder.) Having followed the proven XC tactic of attacking the first mile, he held on for the following four and was 5th Eagle home. Bernard Sexton (208th) was one of many victims of Eagles papparazza Charlotte Levin as he took time to wave/conduct his fans on the way to another strong finish. Chris Lambert (249th) continues his recovery from injury and was followed by Andrew Guy (255th), another Eagle in form. Ryan Yoruk (280th) and Jack Moran (288th – XC debut) completed the scoring ten as the A team finished a creditable 7th out of 10 on their Division 2 debut - just in front of Newham and Essex Beagles who may have to call up occasional clubman Mo Farah to help them get past the mighty Eagles.
Rob Willin (314th), Philip Evans (315th), Kieran Santry (316th) and Mike Duff (319th) fought hard to be front and centre of a cracking set of finishing photos. THAT MUCH. What? Oh the question – “How much do the Eagles want it?” Nils-Kristian Liborg (343th) was first Norwegian Eagle back – an achievement that should not be underestimated. He enjoyed his first outing, much like Cam Easton (353rd) who flashed a winning smile whilst wanting it to end. His parents had come all the way from NZ to see how grown men spend their weekends in London. Answer – they travel to the end of tube lines and run round in circles, come rain or (rarely) shine. Two more debutants – Laurence Elliott (356th) and Matt Powell (387th) completed the B team, who were 10th out of 24 teams in Division 3.
With such strength in depth, we were almost able to score another team. They were Hein Hunnewicht (395th), Firas Alhawat (403rd), Paul Dodounou (431st), Baljit Dhanda (449th), Neil Enskat (467th), Warwick John Fahy (468th) and Matt Kay (504th). It was tough but in Matt’s words, “we got the job done”. Matt will be relieved to hear that the XC season only gets easier from here on. No wait ... that couldn’t be further from the truth. Never mind... Firas, Warwick and Matt were also making their XC debuts. We then retired to a nearby classy drinking establishment for a beverage and a chat, fire alarms permitting.
Some quotes from the men:
Cam: “ME OH MY, did I enjoy that! Yes Boy!”
Warwick John Fahy: “First XC. Awesome course. Pain.”
Hein: “Pain filled – can hardly remember going through the finish line. Thanks Eagles for your support. Great sprints.”
Nils: “Great race. Great spirit! Thanks for all the support and on to the next few.”
Matt P: “Here’s to more runs with the Eagles! Great team support which helped after those hills!”
Laurence: “Great first race with the Eagles. Brilliant team, can’t wait for more runs.”
Neil: “Bumped into a familiar face in Kieran Geaney from Serpentine on the first lap. We spent the whole race swapping positions before I just pipped him on the steep up-hill finish. Awesome day.”
Jose: “Great start to the XC season. The profile of the race is challenging but if anything I’ve learned today is to keep an eye on my back when I get close to the finish line. I’m going to keep an eye on Ricardo if he’s nearby, mastermind of the sprint finish! He overtook me with ease in the end”
Colin Overton: “Not sure about the race organisation, course came up short on my garmin.” (N.B. Poor Colin turned his ankle so had to pull out early. He may or may not have done this whilst waving to a marshalling Ronnie O’Sullivan.)
Santry: “If you enjoy testosterone-filled races then Claybury is one to do. Brilliant to see Ricardo’s sprint finish to beat José. Lots of new club members trying out XC and some great additions to the men’s team today. Massive crowd at the pub afterwards which was the best part.”