Thornley Cross Country – Race Report

Race report from John McGargill about this year’s exploits at Thornley Hall Farm.


Some club members may recall the mud, hills, cold and wet, the runner who broke their leg, and the almost impossible ski jump hill to climb in the two outings to Thornley Hall farm last season. Those memories fade into a slight recollection of a past race which was simply described as brutal! So it was with fading memory and some trepidation that we all looked forward to the 2018 adventure when we all knew it would be muddy, hilly, cold, and wet, and maybe someone might break their leg (or was that just an exaggeration?).   Just how muddy it would be and who would be injured made it an intriguingly interesting day.

The day did not disappoint as we all arrived seeking our own endorphin high. Hilly, it certainly was, although the direction of the course had been reversed from last year and the ski jump hill became a Kamikaze hurtle of death. The first hill to tent city was the start of some challenging parts of a great course with a variety of long and short hills through varying thicknesses of mud and the addition of the odd farmer’s field to plough our way through.

Muddy? Definitely but how much mud? A bag of sugar muddy would be my reply. After scraping all the mud off my shoes to clean them they weighed 750g in total. Add to that the mud on your legs and I figure each runner was carrying an extra 1Kg of mud round the course. So it was a bag of sugar muddy! (This can be compared to the Sherman cup and Druridge bay which are a teaspoon and no sugar at all, respectively).

And cold? Well actually I figure we got lucky. After the earlier weather predictions of freezing conditions it turned out about 7-8 degrees at race start. Vest conditions if you can be bold and start cold although lots of runners doubled up with two layers! Thankfully it wasn’t too cold for spectators all of whom including the marshals gave great shouts of support regardless of your club vest. That’s one of the best things about cross country, support from around the course regardless of your club is superb and adds to the general camaraderie amongst teams.

So to the races and first a massive shout out for Abigail Leiper the star of the day who picked up a bronze medal for her race outshining all the adults and making us all proud to be Ponteland Runners. (Abby is actually an Elswick Harrier but was adopted by Pont runners for the day to enhance our team photograph!)

The ladies team appeared a little short on numbers compared to last season but it certainly was not short in quality as they lined up for their attempt at the muddy, hilly course. Up and over tent city hill to start and Stefania Williams pushed on strongly with the lead group whilst the others paced it well in the first lap ensuring they had enough to keep smiling all the way. The second lap saw all four girls smiling as they crested tent city hill for a second time and they all pushed to strong finishes overcoming the ever challenging conditions. Despite the difficulty of the course Stefania claimed she could do it all again!  She certainly was buzzing.

I always find it amazing that the females in the club seem to enjoy cross country so much. All the race photographs show the girls smiling and having fun, and whilst heading back to the tent with big grins, they all said they really enjoyed it, and advised it was a bit muddy. (just  a bit !).

On the other hand, if you look at race photo’s the men are more solemnly grinding away up the hills making it look like torture. Only Neil Ward managed a winging aeroplane pose and smile for the cameras!

So to the men’s race. When questioned about the number of men, one runner was heard to say 10 men and one mouse. I will let you figure out who the mouse was for yourself.

Needless to say the men’s race was three laps of mud hills, tears and tantrums and I don’t recall seeing anyone smiling like the ladies can. Runners losing shoes in the mud, screaming and cursing as a consequence, others crying due to injury and some just lost in a daze of numbness (Me). Then the second lap started and it only got worse as the mud sapped runners’ energy.  Sadly for us, two of our runners who started were unable to continue to a third lap and abandoned the course due to injuries. They both took the correct decision to step off the course rather than continuing with an injury and extending their recovery times. In my view that’s a brave decision and a DNF is always better than a DNS. (there are plenty of club runners who DNS but possibly could have started?)

The third lap played various mind games. Whist some could push on in the knowledge it was the last lap, others, me included just hung on in the hope it would be over soon.

An amazing thing about this cross country is that, as soon as it was over the endorphins kick in, congratulations on finishing were exchanged to those that did, and then we start to notice the break in the clouds as the sun peaked through and we were guided by James Leiper to the buds sprouting forth on a tree standing protectively over tent city! Things were already looking up!

Cake and coffee at the tent, good humour and camaraderie and suddenly the world seemed a happier lighter place than it had in the battlefields of Thornley Hill farm. Everyone who ran was awesome and the chance to be awesome again is fast approaching for the last race of the season at Alnwick.

In my view, times on cross country are irrelevant as courses are different and conditions change. So results in terms of placings were

Ladies results                                               position (from a field of 258)

Stefania Williams                                          88

Laura Choke                                                 162

Anna Tweddle                                               171

Esme Stephenson                                        174

Men Results                                                position (from a field of 415)

James Leiper (Medium pack)                       115

John McGargill                                              147

Rob Holt (Medium Pack)                               165

Aaron Stephenson                                        169

Daniel Barry                                                  196

Neil Ward                                                       251

Mick Meaney                                                 304

Adam Brown                                                  306

David Buffham.                                              344

Matthew Levison:            DNF due to a recurring ankle injury. (well done for starting)

Matthew Bell:                  DNF due to a sore calf, and a fear of the farm cat!  (well done for pouring the coffee)