The Tucks is a running race over about three and a half miles, which will occupy most of the School for varying amounts of time on Friday afternoon. There are four waves of runners to ensure that the tighter parts of the course do not get subjected to too many bodies at once. The fastest members of the community will be racing round in about 20 minutes, whilst the more athletically challenged amongst us might take nearer half an hour, or in some cases up to an hour.
There is a trophy for the fastest boy and girl back and a house trophy for the team that has the highest placed first eight runners home. So what is in it for the average runner, one might ask? How are the majority of the School to derive any satisfaction from trailing round a cross-country course that starts with a long incline and ends with a long slog through a muddy, boggy field?
I have surveyed a number of athletes of disparate sizes, ages and abilities to unearth the legend of the Tucks. A number of top athletes will be forgoing the opportunity to run this year so that others can enjoy the experience.
William Allott, the Hunt Secretary was keen to tell me of his deep disappointment at not being able to run the race due to his onerous responsibility as Official Timekeeper. He has, however, been training by flexing his fingers at regular intervals; “As the official timekeeper, I have been practising my index-finger action for a couple of weeks. I found timing the Prep Schools’ Championships last weekend a great warm up for the big day. I will be getting an early night to cope with the pressure.”
Miss Peak will not be running this year for a very important reason. “My personal battle has been put on hold because it's my birthday tomorrow and as a present to myself I am not running this year. Happy birthday me!!” Mrs Leslie told me, “My personal mission, you could call it a battle, is to ensure the safe passage of Salopians across Roman Road. It's a challenge, but one I am prepared to face for the fifth consecutive year, only with the help of Dr Morgan.”
Mr Harding wore the frown of a worried man. His slight groin strain was a concern to him as he looked to maintain his run of top 50 finishes. He felt there was a chance of slipping down the staff rankings. Headmaster Mark Turner has a sore back and will not be risking aggravating the injury. He was very despondent about not running but felt it would enable him to cheer enthusiastically as the runners came in!
There are some students for whom the Tucks does not engender great excitement, no matter how much encouragement they receive from Mr Middleton, Mr Howarth, Housemasters, Housemistresses, teachers stewarding the course, peers, Simon Cowell or their parents. Joe Lafferty was looking forward to a pleasant afternoon stroll in the country, as was Huda Husan, who described the Tucks as a very sociable occasion. She went on to tell me that she did have to run for 30 seconds last year when a teacher shouted at her (encouraged her! - Ed) but managed not to die and is hence back for another try this year.
There are a number of interesting staff v offspring duels. Nick David is so confident of beating his son Archie that he has offered him a £40 pay day should he defeat his old man. Archie has to pay his dad £10 if he loses! There was a certain confidence displayed by young Archie who told me, “The good thing is that every year Dad gets a bit slower!”
Matthew Clark has been training all year as he bids to defeat his sons David Samuel and Marcus. He told me he was gutted when he felt his calf playing up recently. “I am gutted that I am out of the Tucks this year. My calf has been playing up. When I was reffing my 2nd XI team in their 4-0 win over Millfield on Saturday, I had to limp through the pain barrier. But the score line took the pain away! Then I aggravated it again in a tough 0-0 draw with Bolton. I am just devastated, as I think it might be my last chance for family supremacy.” There was a feeling among the younger Clarks that perhaps Dad may have seen the writing on the wall!
Dr David Law was confident that his fitness regime modelled on that of his beloved Manchester City would be enough to see off Martha. “I am confident that my fitness regime modelled on Manchester City’s will be enough to hold off Martha.” Martha felt that only an ‘unlucky accident’ would prevent ‘The Law’ from prevailing and she also felt that she would not want to dent his image of invincibility by surging past him as he ‘slipped’ into the nettles!
Dan and Fenella Nicholas were keen to beat each other and young Zak. Dan was philosophical about his chances of defeating his wife and as a well mannered Old Salopian he told me, “ I was brought up to let ladies go first.” Just as well Dan!
Huw and Sophie Peach will be running with Sam in something resembling family loyalty. Although will Huw be able to curb his naturally competitive instinct? Will Splash the dog pull Sophie round or get in her way?
I have been training hard all year to defeat young Joe, who has upped the stakes by suggesting he leads me in the series 4-0. I find this hard to believe but felt I needed to put down a marker this year. I intend to go in the first wave of the race, as I do not want to get caught up in ‘traffic’. I have also been seeking advice from John Ngugi who was five times World Cross-Country Champion during the late 1980s. John is four years older than I am, so we worked out we had just missed competing against each other!
I will be wearing a very bright shirt for a number of reasons. Firstly, if I am still running at night I can be easily seen by car drivers. Secondly, should I find my form I want people to notice. And finally, if I end up collapsed in a hedge someone might notice me.
Friday evening - Tucks update!
First the important news. I went first wave and finished 193. Joe went fourth wave and finished 395. We wait with bated breath to find out if the time adjustments mean I have held on!
Fenella Nicholas finished in 119, ahead of Dan Nicholas and I suspect Zak! The Peach information is not all in although I know that Huw finished 119 in a tie with Mrs Nicholas and Sophie finished with Splash still on the lead.
Dr Law managed to avoid Martha’s traps and came a very respectable 52nd, defeating Martha.
Archie David is in the money!
The winner of the whole race was Charlie Tait-Harris (S) and the girls’ winner was Tattie Watt (G).
The overall feeling of the event was that is was very well organised and run in a good spirit. If the School populace are happy to go for a cross-country run together, it says something about the esprit de corps and the happiness of the community.
Tonight will see another event when the School comes together, hopefully in harmony. What a great way to end the first half!