South of Thames Cross Country Champs
This had everything that we have come to expect from the South of Thames races: an interesting and challenging new course, the chance to pit ourselves against runners from clubs that we don’t usually come across, and the feeling that little has changed since these races were first run over a century ago.
Lewisham Council caused something of a furore earlier this year when they announced that the golf course in Beckenham Place Park was to close. It was the last public course in Inner London, had been built in 1907 (when even the South of Thames Cross Country Association was still in its infancy) and open to the public since 1934. Apparently Ian Wright (more famous for his prowess at another pointless ball game) learnt to play golf there as "it was the only place in London you could play where you were not surrounded by characters straight from a PG Wodehouse novel".
But one sport’s loss has turned into another’s gain; there was something surreal and gloriously sacrilegious about being one of the 300 runners emerging from woods in the mist and racing up fairways and even over hallowed greens. If the course is to be used again it would benefit from a few adjustments as there was considerable bunching as the bulk of the field funneled into the woods for the first time, but that quibble aside, it was a great place to race.
If you had been asked to find any signs that you were running in the early 21st century and not the early 20th you might have been hard pressed; no chip timing here, and whereas the paper numbers issued at many events these days are so large that they barely fit on your chest what with the names of all the sponsors on the front and the detailed medical questionnaire on the reverse, here the numbers are about the size of a fag packet. Perhaps the one difference that you might note, and a very welcome one it is too, is that although they are scored separately, at these events the men and women now all run together.
With Dean Lacy and Steve Hodges nursing niggles it was left to this season’s regulars David Reader, Tarbo Fukazawa, Christian Poulton, Graham Maynard and Clem Dixon (finishing in their usual order) to score for the club augmented by Peter St Amour making his first appearance of the season. In the team competition (six to score) we were 14th, although scoring here admits multiple teams per club and of the 13 teams in front of us two were from Herne Hill and, incredibly, four were from local club Kent AC.
Peter St Amour