Some of you may not know that in my day I was a renowned marathon runner and that I once ran in the same London Marathon as Paula Radcliffe. I have London 21 and London 23 Marathon medals to back up my claims. These were useful when erroneously suggesting to new members of School House I had finished 21st and 23rd in the race. In reality I would like it known that I improved on my position of 18,354 to 12,606 and that with that rate of progress had I run a couple more marathons, I would have almost certainly tasted victory down the Mall. So when it was suggested I catch up with the Hunt before the Coventry Relays I felt that here was a sport in which I could give the reader some genuine insight.
Sadly I never did catch up with the Hunt! I arranged to go out for a training run with them and was very excited at the prospect of getting back into my running. I squeezed into my bright yellow Lycra and brand new orange training shoes which help me to be seen on the road; apparently all wide loads are encouraged to be as highly visible as possible. Upon reaching the meeting point, all I could see was a faint mist in the distance which I guess was the spray from their lightening feet as they surged forward in search of an even quicker time. Perhaps they were concerned that they might not be able to get past me, or maybe my fashion sense had put them off! Teacher in Charge of the Hunt Peter Middleton kindly suggested that I would definitely catch up with his ‘pack’ at Rigg’s Hall on Tuesday night, as he was having a pasta party in order to help fuel his team for the next day. Kait Weston, Teacher in Charge of the Girls’ Hunt, then invited me to the girl’s team pasta party at Emma Darwin Hall. As I had also been invited to go for a curry with Mr Parsons to celebrate his birthday, it seemed likely that I too would have enough energy for my sporting commitments the next day!
Upon entering Rigg’s I found the Hunt A Team tucking into a pasta dish that consisted of a tomato and chicken sauce. (For the recipe see ‘Eat to Fast’ by P Middleton.) I sensed that Papa Middleton and Mama Middleton had been busy in the kitchen and their efforts were certainly appreciated. I was introduced to the super six. There was anchorman Rory Fraser (who bears no resemblance to Ron Burgundy, despite what some of his friends think). Rory is renowned for choosing eclectic pieces of music to train to. A particular favourite being the sound track to 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'. As Head of School, he finds many opponents will allow him to pass, out of deference to his lofty status.
Then there is Theo Clarke, who is the only other Sixth Former in the team. Theo is very much a stealth bomber. He was inspired by the wildlife he saw whilst on the Hunt’s tour to Kenya and Ethiopia last October; he pursues his opponents like a leopard and catches them with the pace of a cheetah. There are two Fifth Formers in the squad; Oscar Dickins from the Dickins dynasty is so quick spectators are wont to say ‘who the dickins was that’ as he speeds past in a blur of running vest and trainer. Then there is Ben Remnant full of Northern grit (he keeps falling over on the gravel outside his house). Toughness is his middle name and he was my tip for the fastest time on the day, as I suspected the conditions would suit someone who is used to the wind the rain and the cold.
The final places in the team are allotted to two Fourth Formers and Mr Middleton can barely conceal his excitement that five of this year’s squad will be back next year. Charlie Tait-Harris is a great prospect and has been running like the wind this year. His chief job, however, is to try and ensure that his Fourth Form compatriot Freddie Huxley-Fielding stays fit for each event. Freddie is one of the reasons the National Health Service is so over worked. He proudly told me, as he pushed his bits of red pepper round his plate, “I don’t like tomato” and that he had been to hospital five times in the last twelve months. His casualty list is as follows:
1. A broken toe caused by miss-kicking a football. Freddie supports Aston Villa, hence he has never seen anyone connect effectively with a football.
2. Glandular Fever
4. Two haematomas; one caused by falling off a hay bale and one caused by a friend kneeing him in the back of the leg.
5. Smoke inhalation from an accident with his heater at home.
L to r behind Peter Middleton: Ben Remnant, Oscar Dickins, Theo Clarke, Rory Fraser, Charlie Tait-Harris, Freddie Huxley-Fielding
When Mr Middleton left the room I asked the assembled gentlemen for a run down on the coaching team. They were unanimous in their praise of Mr Middleton and his serious training schedule. The team have been to run the Coventry Relay course to make sure they know their way round. They have had a variety of training exercises including cross country and track work, hill sprints, stamina work, distance training, balancing exercises and fartleks. They also whispered in hushed tones that Mr Middleton planned to surprise the other schools, as only Rory Fraser had been spotted in a Shrewsbury vest before!
Mr Haworth, another formidable athlete and Hunt coach, is apparently a very sharp dresser whose suits and skinny ties are legendary. He enjoys making other people feel fat by standing next to them and cooking a lot of cakes and encouraging rival athletes and colleagues to eat them. He is generally injured and will always find a dog to fall over if possible. During the tour to Africa it was discovered that he has a high-pitched laugh at altitude.
Then there is the fitness co-ordinator and African tour translator Mrs Bovill. The Queen badger, as she likes to be known, was discovered not to be as fluent in Swahili as had been thought. Her growls and nocturnal activity had led to the team worrying about whether she would survive the recent cull but she has been spotted in KH recently. After their pasta and tactics talk, it was clear that there was a confidence in the camp and Mr Middleton predicted a podium finish for this happy band of pasta pace-setters.
I realised it was time to move to my next pasta party and arriving at EDH I found the party in full swing. The pasta had gone, if indeed there ever was any, and I found the Shrewsbury Girls’ Hunt team tucking in to ice-cream and sprinkles, with a good dollop of toffee sauce in some cases. Mrs Weston was adamant that the key to success lay in ice-cream appreciation. This as a mistake that previous teams had made and she predicted the girls would run very well on a ‘dairy diet’!
I was introduced to the team and I asked where the athletes ran when they were not at home. Tory Mobley, who is the School’s top female runner, told me she likes to run against the horses at home. I sense either she is a very serious athlete or she is the owner of some rather old and not too healthy horses! She is the girl in form and had been delighted to beat the Kenyan national champion when on tour. She told me that her Housemistress was an inspiration and Mrs Weston agreed!
Sophie Pelling will be running the first leg and told me she enjoys running round Macclesfield Forest. She has recently been celebrating attaining a place at Cambridge University to read Land Economy and this is likely to give her a real boost of adrenalin as she powers round. Lucie Cornwell-Lee has been running through Cheshire and stopping to paint her tracks (as she is a top artist). She is really enjoying her running as it enables her to eat a lot of ice-cream. Tatty Hunt lives in Hong Kong and prefers to sunbathe rather than train. We are all hoping the weather is particularly inclement at Coventry, as there will be less chance of her being inclined to stop running to soak up the rays! I asked about their training regime and was told that apart from the ice-cream, it was similar to the boys’ However, Mrs Weston has thought about hiring a Mr Whippy van and parking it at the end of the course as an incentive to this crew of dairy divas! Jasmine Douglas was non-travelling but ice-cream eating reserve. She told me she would rather not be sent to Coventry!
L to r: Tory Mobley, Sophie Pelling, Andy Weston, Kait Weston, Lucie Cornwell-Lee, Jasmine Douglas, Tatty Hunt
The mood in the camps was very serious and I am only sorry I did not get to the B team pasta party with Mr Haworth, which was apparently cake-free! I sensed success was on the way and I was right. The boys’ A team finished 3rd out of 52 schools at the most prestigious schools’ running event in the country and the B team was 15th. The girls came 4th out of 32 and this was remarkable as they had never been higher than 15th before. Tory recorded the third fastest girl’s time of the day and she can try again next year! What a result!!
I have been totally inspired by these young Shrewsbury athletes and I will look out for their results as I think they are on a good run!
To read more about the teams' tremendous performances on the day, please see Peter Middleton's report: RSSH: Best performance ever at the Coventry Relays