Ranelagh Harriers ‘Mob Match’ vs South London Harriers – 24 October 2009

Today was yet another busy day of running.  After a steady 5k at Bushy parkrun this morning where I clocked a time of 19:37 it was off to Coulsdon in Surrey to run for Ranelagh Harriers in their annual ‘Mob Match’ against South London Harriers.

This annual race between both clubs was first run in January 1909 and this was the 90th running of the race (having stopped for a few years during the wars).  Each year the course is either home (Richmond Park) or away at SLH’s club.  Today it was the turn of SLH to host the race.

A (pretty poor) turnout of 52 runners turned up today (23 of them being from Ranelagh Harriers) and we made our way from the SLH clubhouse to the start of the race up on Farthing Downs.  My plan was to have a steady solid run and not race this hard.  After twisting my left ankle last Sunday (after the race I ran, not during!) I’ve been taking it easy this week, and if anything is going to make things worse it’s slipping or falling on a cross country course.

Before the race we had the usual discussion of whether to wear trail shoes or ‘spikes’, with trail shoes being the preferred option.  I’ve not run this course before and whenever you speak to anyone about it they always mention one thing – the ‘ploughed field’ you have to run across – twice.  Apparently this field was freshly ploughed (just for us?) from this years harvest of sweetcorn!

After the customary pre-race Ranelagh ‘war cry’ we set off into the wind, hills and mud.  Before long I found myself in a comfortable pack with Marie and Simon from Ranelagh, and a chap called Francis from SLH.  I drifted to the front of this group and stayed there until the dreaded field!  There you are happily running along on a path beside the field and then a kind marshall directs you to turn down a path and then run right across the middle of the damn thing. You have to run about 0.3 miles across the field and on the first lap it took me just over three minutes – three tough minutes.  It was freshly ploughed.  It was muddy.  It was slippery.  Worst of all, everytime you put your foot down just about all the mud you’ve stepped on stuck to your shoes.  Your feet then feel so heavy, and as you put your foot down again there’s no grip as they’re caked in mud.  Just to make it worse the field is on a hill and most of it is running uphill.  It was like running in a pair of wellington boots.

Whilst battling across the field Simon made some ground and we ran alongside for a while before he edged just ahead.  After leaving the field you run through a wooded area, then out in the open on the side of a hill – in fact a valley – called ‘Happy Valley’ (for some reason I have no idea!).  I stuck with Simon and we ran close together which was good – each of us pushing the other.  We then begun a second a second lap of this part of the course and once again I edged past Simon, up until that blasted field!  We pretty much ran together across the field and all along I knew that Francis from SLH was sat about 10 seconds behind us.

Coming out of the field Simon once again had the upper hand and about a half mile later Francis flew past us like we were both walking.  He got himself into a position about 75 feet ahead of us and just sat there.  We just couldn’t close in on him.  At this point it was about 6.25 miles into the race so only another mile or so to go.  It was a hard slog from here out in the open air and as I once again edged past Simon he muttered something like ‘go get him’ or words to that effect.  Well, I certainly tried but made no inroads at all.

The final part of the run involves running through a field of huge (and I mean huge) cows, with just as huge cow-pats all over the place to make things more fun!

As I crossed the line my time was 55 minutes 35 seconds, and 15th place overall (out of 52).  The winner raced round in 46:39.  My average pace was 7:03 miling with an average HR of 169.  For info I ran the 5k parkrun this morning at 6:14 miling and HR of 167 so that shows that this was certainly a tough course (i.e., same heart rate, but 49 seconds per mile slower).

After the finish we hung around to watch and cheer just about all the other finishers come in.  Kirsty had a fantastic run and was chuffed to bits, and Marie came in covered in mud having tumbled at one point!  I also had the opportunity today to introduce myself to and have a good chat with fellow Ranelagh member David Wright, who’s been a member of the club since 1974 (when I was a year old!).  He’s recently been writing a blog about his running exploits and they make a suberb read.  He’s got an incredible attendance record of ‘mob matches’ – he’s run over 135 of them, which is so impressive considering we only run four each year.  I was upset to read earlier this week that because of injury he’d be missing this (and probably all of this years mob matches) but lo and behold he just couldn’t stay away and there he was on the start line today, albeit taking it easy (finishing in 59:50), and no doubt the only time I’ll ever run faster than him!

Following the race it was back to the SLH clubhouse for customary tea and cakes, followed by a drink in the ‘club bar’ – yes, they’ve got their own bar in the clubhouse – awesome!  Finally it was back on the minibus and on the road home.  All in all it was a great afternoon out with a fine bunch of people.  Unfortunately Sharon was working this afternoon so missed out on the shenanigans in the mud.  Hopefully next time…

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