On Wednesday 6th March, The Hunt hosted the annual Shrewsbury Relays though this year on a new course following the sweep of the River Severn from Suspension Bridge to English Bridge and back. The 2 mile flat course was set to be fast and with the competition not likely to challenge our squad this year, it was all about the lap times. The Hunt entered three teams, but chose to rest the key figures of Seb Blake, Rory Fraser, and Ralph Wade, all 1st VIII runners but not required for this race. Instead, new recruit to the 2nd VIII Jake Samuel led off our 'A' team with an 11.13 lap, which put us in the mix in third place, though a full minute behind Adams' Grammar whose captain Arthur Charlesworth set up a commanding lead. Not far behind Jake were Theo Clarke back from injury in his first race posting 11.20, and rising star Charlie Rogers with 11.24 (one of three runners who were 'blooded' in their first Hunt race at the event). By the end of the second leg, Adams' lead had shrunk with KHVIII and Wrekin just four seconds behind, and The Hunt closing the gap with an impressive 10.39 from 1st VIII runner Toby Lansdell, putting the Hunt as defending champions just 22 seconds behind. The damage came in the third leg with 5th Former Charlie Godman demonstrating why he too has recently been awarded his 2nd VIII squad top with a storming lap of 10.28 that launched the Hunt into the lead for the first time, a lead that Mark Lawley easily maintained in his lap with a swift 10.26 to open the gap up to a sizeable minute and a half. All that remained was for the Hunt to maintain this lead and build on it, and following Charlie Davis's leg where the gap stretched slightly, Huntsman Ed Mallett set off at lightning speed to post the fastest time of the day, coming home in 9.43. The Hunt retained the trophy for the fourth year running, and looked a class apart. Particularly impressive on debut were Tom Lloyd from Ridgemount (whose elder brother Ed has been a valiant contributor to The Hunt's major races over the years), and the find of the season in the Juniors, 3rd Former George O'Brien from Moser's, who ran an excellent 12.23 in his first ever race.
The following week the relay circuit took The Hunt to Attingham Park, a new location for an old established fixture - The Spring Relays. The course at Sutton Park was an old favourite for The Hunt, so in many senses we were disappointed not to race on the fast Sutton loop, however the course at Attingham proved an excellent one, not least from a spectator's point of view. Taking three relay squads again, and a Colts team, we were pleased to welcome the support of Chairman of the OS Peter Birch, and former RSSH coach Bob Parker. This perhaps put a little extra pressure on The Hunt to ensure they retained the trophies at both Senior and Colts level that we won last year.
The Colts trophy had been won in both 2011 and 2012, though this year the flu bug had ravaged our team, and this combined with the absence of Freddie Fielding meant we took a somewhat untested squad to Attingham.
However, we took the decision to go out hard and put our top runner out first, so Oscar Dickins was given the task of establishing a lead that we could hopefully maintain. Oscar did just that, posting 7.33 for the 2.2km course, a time that would in fact be the fastest lap on the day out of all runners. Our concerns about the probable strength of Marling school coming up from Gloucestershire were unfounded, and they trailed a full minute behind after the first leg, though we had Thomas Telford to worry about not far behind us, with their opening leg runner also posting a sub-8 time. Adams' Grammar and King Henry VIII lurked ominously, though Queen Mary's GS looked out of it from the very start.
Into the second leg, 4th former Dickins handed over to 3rd former Dan Orchard, who had impressed both at the county champs with a top 10 placing, and a top 20 placing at the Midlands Champs. As one of our county-selected runners for the forthcoming Nationals we were keen to give the multi-talented Dan (rugby, Fives, squash, running, you name it!) the opportunity for a quick run-out. His time of 8.19 ensured the lead was maintained, and in fact the gap edged slightly wider over Thomas Telford to 23 seconds. The gap still hadn't moved one way or another by the end of the third leg when 3rd former Will Hayward concluded his 8.21 lap, an excellent effort given he has been out of action for over a week due to the flu. The fourth leg, however, saw the lead change hands for the first time, with a very swift time from one of Thomas Telford's fastest runners creating a gap of 13 seconds over Nicky Davis who fought hard to ensure that the gap was no bigger than this.
Concerns did begin to grow as the penultimate Thomas Telford runner went off at impressive speed and looked to be stretching the lead further.
Given that this was only Charlie Rogers's second ever Hunt race, we feared that his lack of experience might mean the Hunt would be out of it going into the final leg. However, we should not have doubted him, for Charlie ran an exceptional race, and the dynamics began to change going into the second half of his lap when in fact he looked to be starting to reel in his opponent. Indeed, Charlie came home with the gap now down to just three seconds, and his 8.34 was a full 9 seconds quicker than the Thomas Telford runner. Established star Ben Remnant took over in the final leg and made quick work of closing the gap on Evan Rochele from Thomas Telford, though Rochele was up for the fight and dug in deep to push the lead on again going up the hill section.
Ben must have been a little nervous at this point, not least because he too was just back from a period of the flu (and a back injury) but also because he had previously been beaten by Rochele. However, whilst it looked like Thomas Telford were stretching away, by the time the runners appeared coming over the brook-spanning bridge, it was Ben in the lead, and having powered down the hill, he was in no mood to relinquish the lead, stretching out to come home a full 7 seconds ahead, running the second fastest lap of the day in 7.40. It was a thrilling race, and one of the highlights of the season for us. We were extremely proud of them, and delighted to have won the trophy for the third year in a row.
The Seniors event was set to be a fierce encounter with a much-anticipated head-to-head between The Hunt and Marling, who had two of the fastest runners at the national relays in Coventry earlier in the season, and who would have won that event had they been able to field a full squad of six at the event. Whilst the Hunt were without a flu-ridden Ralph Wade, his replacement in an ever-improving Charlie Godman and excellent form from the others in the squad meant that we felt we had a chance of taking them on. However, the eagerly-awaited battle wasn't to be, for Marling did not in the end bring up their senior squad, perhaps resting their runners after the UK Inter-Counties at the weekend and the Nationals this weekend. Sadly, it looked again like The Hunt wouldn't have a great deal of competition to push themselves against. This is unfortunately one of the downsides of the recent successes of the club, for if we are to be truly challenged, we really need to be facing top-class opposition at the very high end of national competition.
That said, strong opening laps from both Wrekin and Thomas Telford placed The Hunt only in third after the first leg from Ed Lloyd (7.33), and the positions hadn't changed by the end of Charlie Godman's lap (7.51), though we had deliberately placed the artillery in the middle section. Indeed, Seb Blake took command in the third leg, and his scintillating 7.09 blew the field apart, and having begun his leg with The Hunt trailing by 13 seconds, by the end of his lap, the Hunt were not only in the lead, but winning by nearly a minute and a half! Our 'B' team had also steadily pushed up to fourth place, with strong opening laps from Tim Atkins (7.59), Jake Samuel (8.10) and Freddie Hill (7.58). With the race all but over, it was Huntsman Ed Mallett's job to extend the lead further and wrap the race up, which he did by pushing the lead up to almost two minutes. His time of 7.31 on the official results seems questionable given his form, and in fact we suspect he was nearer the 7 minute mark. In any case, it looked like job done, particularly after Mark Lawley knocked out a typically robust 7.40 to hand over to the ever-reliable stalwart figure of Rory Fraser, who ran the second fastest time of the day (7.10) to bring The Hunt home a full three minutes ahead of Thomas Telford, with Wrekin in third. James Humpish for the 'B' team ran a brave 8.15 but wasn't likely to catch Wrekin's Haydn Gleave, who had only a few years before been county champion, the same year that James was running 16 minutes for the Benjies course of 2.3km! Humpish's development as an athlete is the stuff movies are made of, but that's another story!
Another successful afternoon, then, for The Hunt, and collecting the Senior trophy for the second year in a row, we were able to reflect on what has been a hard and competitive season, and certainly another vintage. The afternoon running was demonstrative of the strength in depth of The Hunt and the sheer dedication and enjoyment the boys get out of their running. 24 runners competed during the afternoon, including a debut from lower sixth former Alex Walker. The pleasure in working with these runners is not just in seeing the victories and the successes, but seeing the developments they make as athletes and as young men.