BAC’s Club Person of the Year: Sonia Brown (1965-2018)

Sonia died last July at the age of 53.

Biggleswade Athletic Club paid tribute to their late, lamented coach and official Sonia Brown at their annual awards ceremony in Sandy, with the committee unanimously recognising her immense contribution and naming her as Club Person of the Year.

Sonia, who succumbed to cancer last July at the age of 53, was represented on the night at Garden Court by her son Scott and husband Roger, and Scott was met with an emotional standing ovation from all present as he collected the award on her behalf. Club chairman Damien Pitts also handed the family a book of condolence that club members have been contributing to over recent months.

Scott Brown accepted the Club Person of the Year award on behalf of his mother. Photo by Nick Spavins

Moving from Barbados in her teens, Sonia lived with her aunt in Essex and immediately showed promise in athletics. She was the only black child in her school, and one day the fastest boy unwisely challenged her to a race. Sonia won with ease, and was quickly identified as a promising young talent. She joined up with the successful Essex Ladies club, competing in sprints and the long jump, and was a contemporary of Olympic and world championship gold-medal winning 400m hurdler Sally Gunnell as well as other Team GB internationals including multi-event specialist Kim Hagger and 400m runner Gladys Taylor.

Essex Ladies latterly merged with Woodford Green, and the amalgamated club’s former president Jean Burgess said: “It was such sad news. As she competed in the 1980s she would have been part of the team which won the Southern Women’s League a total of 10 times in 13 years.

“I find it very gratifying that Sonia was inspired by her time in Essex Ladies to take up coaching and officiating with Biggleswade AC.”

And that she very much did. The second chapter of her athletics journey came upon arriving in Bedfordshire, where she attempted to find a venue to help her get on the coaching ladder. After an abortive flirtation with Bedford & County AC, she tried her luck with BAC, and immediately found herself besotted, and a passionate and highly committed advocate of young local talent.

Another club coaching and officiating stalwart, Ken Prior, said: “Rapidly qualifying as a level one coach, she started helping David Brown coach our sprinters. Around the same time, Cassie Prior – who had been coaching our under 11s – was leaving to start a family. Sonia took her place and named and developed the section into the Little Bees. It became so successful that, following the 2012 Olympics, for several months we had to run two sessions on Tuesdays to accommodate all the athletes.”

David said: “We both had the same vision for the younger element – athletics was for all, for fun, and to be enjoyed. People come along and develop at different speeds. Some develop at an early stage, while some don’t until much older, but Sonia always said they should all be treated with respect. She understood that youngsters were the heart of the club and if treated right would be the seniors of tomorrow to help take the club beyond the next phase.”

She would go on to become a committee member, helping to decide the club’s direction, as well as a qualified field official, and both Sonia and former treasurer Mark Stead were regularly to be found trackside and at other venues far and wide as a valuable photo-finish tag-team. With many clubs lacking the equipment and expertise to supply the service themselves, they would call on Sonia and Mark, and part of her legacy can be found in many clubs’ records, results lists and in individual athletes’ personal bests.

Fellow BAC coach Michael Blunt said: “Sonia was a great coach and a huge asset to the club. On a personal level she encouraged me to start coaching and having inherited one of her projects – the ‘Mini Bees’ – my aim has always been to develop a program that Sonia herself would have been proud of. The blend of enthusiasm, enjoyment and knowledge that was clear in all her sessions will be impossible to replicate but well worth aspiring to.”

She was also an inspiration to Bev Strong, who said: “I first met her eight years ago when my son Bradley joined the club in the sprint group. He competed in the Eastern Young Athletes’ League and as his events were quite spread out we were usually there for a long day, so I often helped Sonia, who was officiating the field events. As a complete novice as far as athletics were concerned, she gave me lots of information about the rules and regulations of the various events and after helping her for three or four years she encouraged me to take the field officials course. I then had to perform the various roles within each event and again Sonia was on hand to offer advice and oversee what I was doing.

“Without Sonia by my side I have often felt out of my depth as I could always rely on her to give me an encouraging nod from a distance if I looked towards her. Words cannot express the huge loss she will be to the club and I will carry on officiating in her memory.”

On MC duties in 2013. Photo by Phil Dickson-Earle

Martin Oestreicher was another roped in to help by Sonia: “I first met her when my girls Kira and Heidi joined Little Bees. After helping out informally for a while, Sonia encouraged me to go on the Assistant Coaches course, which led to me helping at the sessions for about 18 months. She was such a pleasure to work with, always full of enthusiasm and praise, always smiling, encouraging and obviously devoted to getting the best out of the sometimes reluctant Little Bees. She taught me a lot about perseverance and endurance – and how to manage a crowd of small children!”

A rare breather at Parliament Hill, 2015. Photo by Andy Lee

Sarah Ridley is a recent addition to the BAC committee, and a former Little Bee who can attest that athletics under Sonia’s wing was not always about the coach cracking the whip: “Little Bees used to be indoors on a Monday night alongside adult circuit training. Sonia led this and each night would end with one big relay of everyone, kids and adults alike. One night she had to join in to make up the numbers and was due to pass the baton over to me. She came in so fast that she nearly took me with her and my seven-year-old legs couldn’t go that fast! We both very nearly ended up in a big heap on the floor but somehow managed to avoid it and win the relay!

“Years later at a EYAL meeting, our team of officials was looking after the long jump. Sonia was leading this team and I was competing. One of my jumps went horribly wrong, and I completely and spectacularly faceplanted in the sand pit. It was a completely legal jump, but didn’t get measured for about five minutes because Sonia was laughing so hard at me that she couldn’t see the tape for the tears in her eyes. She was always very supportive of her athletes, even while laughing at us!”

Trackside with Ken Prior. Photo from Alison Ridley

Even as her illness took hold, she remained stoic, dignified and passionate about BAC. As David said: “I remember calling Sonia every Monday morning until she became very ill to discuss the plan for coaching plans for the week to follow. We’d talk about who had performed well over the weekend, and ask were we getting our coaching right.

“Her husband Roger described me as Sonia’s ‘athletic husband’ – this was initially a surprise but I later realised it was a compliment to the commitment of both Sonia and myself.”

Upon her death, tributes from athletes, friends and colleagues poured in. Club chairman Damien Pitts said: “I will really miss her cheerful nature, as she could make me smile, even if I have had a bad day.” Julia Mackay, a BAC run leader, added: “I always admired her drive and energy – she was such an inspiration to all who knew her.”

Charlotte Sexton: “It was such a pleasure knowing such a wonderful woman – she was always making sure I had a way to get to training!”

Stuart Goodwin: “She made it absolutely clear to us when telling us she was ill – she didn’t wanted to be looked on with pity or as a victim. She was a cool, calm customer to the last who just wanted to live the time she had and spend as much of it drinking in the enthusiasm of the kids she trained.”

Trackside in Sandy, 2015. Photo by Andy Lee

Dan Steel: “I will miss her smile and her positive mental attitude regardless of what came up both on and off the track.”

Scott Parsons: “One of the most enthusiastic and compassionate people I’ve had the pleasure to come across. Her enthusiasm was contagious.”

Peter Lawson: “She was a little ray of positivity that touched many hearts including mine.”

Alison Foster: “All three of my boys were coached by Sonia. She inspired so many. She was a lovely friend and so dedicated to athletics.”

Ricky Byrne: “My kids were devastated. She made a big impression on them both. Thank you for everything you did.”

Helen Middleton: “Every time I saw Sonia she was busy – handing out race numbers, helping with refreshments, coaching … But she always had a smile on her face and time for a chat.”

Louise Cant: “Thank you for giving us Little Bees, and for giving my son the best start at athletics. We will miss you dearly.”

Peterborough 2014. Photo by Phil Dickson-Earle

A forensic planner to the last, she requested that the dress code for her funeral would prominently feature two colours that became synonymous with her identity – the blue and yellow shared by both the Barbadian flag and the Biggleswade Athletic Club vest. At her wake in August, held at Bedford International Stadium, where she had overseen her athletes and officiated so many times, armies of friends and colleagues numbering well into the hundreds gathered to pay their respects.

A new club award, the Sonia Brown Dedication Cup, was introduced in her honour, recognising exceptional commitment to the club and the sport by one of BAC’s Little Bees – Ava Rawlins recently became the first winner of many.

Ken concluded: “She was a visionary with the practical nous to make those visions happen. It was no coincidence that the most successful period in BAC’s history occurred when she was active. She always had new ideas and plans to make them happen.

“With no disrespect to anyone else in the club past or present, David and Sonia have been the two people who have shaped the club most within the last 25 years and I, like many others, will miss her enormously.”

At the club’s 2015 presentation evening. Photo courtesy of Phil Dickson-Earle
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Awards time … athletes honoured and a club stalwart mourned at BAC’s presentation night

Biggleswade Athletic Club honoured a host of members at their annual awards presentation night in Sandy late last month.

In the ceremony at Garden Court, athletes, officials and family members gathered for a great night of food and entertainment, as hard winter training was set aside for the night to take stock and reflect on some outstanding performances throughout 2018.

Awards were handed out covering a host of disciplines, including the club championship road events of 5km, 10km, 10 mile and half marathon, while track and field awards were dished out based on performances and points accrued for the club at the Southern Athletics League and Eastern Masters Athletics League.

Hannah Broom and Charlie Arnold. Photo by Nick Spavins

Multiple award-winners included Charlie Arnold, who mopped up a superb five individual accolades, including the Complete Athlete Award. Hannah Broom, following an outstanding breakthrough season on both road and trails, took three – her improvements in 2018 saw her named the most improved female athlete of the year. Daniel Steel was named both Senior Field Athlete of the Year and the most improved male athlete.

Also handed out were various honours earned at the recent County Cross-County Championships. While many awards are purely results-based, however, two are particularly distinguished honours as they are voted for by members.

Bev Strong. Photo by Nick Spavins

The Lonely Pines Trophy, voted for by all club members, was awarded to Bev Strong, who has combined competing for the club with vital organisation, as shown in her fine work ensuring the presentation night went smoothly. Her organisational prowess has underpinned BAC’s brilliant recent successes in the Three Counties Cross Country league, ensuring a timely turnaround of results – this has often involved hurtling from the finish line to race HQ in whatever weathers present themselves.

The Club Person of the Year is handed out following a vote by members of the club’s committee. This year the vote was unanimous, and tinged with sadness, as the committee chose to recognise its former stalwart Sonia Brown, who died last July.

Huge thanks to Scott (pictured) and Roger Brown for being our club’s distinguished guests on the night. Photo by Nick Spavins

The club were incredibly honoured to host both Sonia’s husband Roger and son Scott. All in attendance rose for a standing ovation as Scott collected Sonia’s award, recognising her contributions to the club as official, coach and committee member, and chairman Damien Pitts also handed the family a book of condolence that members have been contributing to over recent months.

Huge thanks from all at the club to chairman Damien Pitts for organising the awards, member Tim Gardiner who did a fine job both as DJ and Bon Jovi superfan, Bev Strong for her sterling organisation, and last but not least the staff at Garden Court who helped ensure everyone was fed and watered.

We would also like to recognise Charlie Arnold’s superb bowtie, and his sterling duck-walking skills, which were particularly prominent during The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).

2018 award winners

5km
Men’s Charles Arnold
Women’s Elaine Livera

10km
Men’s Charles Arnold
Women’s Hannah Broom

10 Mile
Men’s Charles Arnold
Women’s Natalie Morgan

Half marathon
Men’s Marcus Davey
Women’s Hannah Broom

Complete Athlete Award
Charles Arnold

Endurance Trophy
Nick Haworth

Most Improved Senior Athlete
Men’s
Daniel Steel
Women’s Hannah Broom

Club Person of the Year (voted for by the club committee)
Sonia Brown

Lonely Pines Trophy – Club Members’ Member of the Year
Bev Strong

Senior Male Track Athlete of the Year
Morgan Webster

Senior Female Track Athlete of the Year
Hannah Ridley

Senior Male Field Athlete of the Year
Daniel Steel

Senior Female Field Athlete of the Year
Sarah Ridley

Veteran Male (Age 35-49)
Simon Strong

Veteran Male (Age 50-59)
Neil Harvey

Veteran Male (Age 60+)
Charles Arnold

Veteran Female (Age 35-49)
Kathryn Juty

Veteran Female (Age 50-59)
Helen Kapur

Veteran Female (Age 60+)
Sandra Ingham

Once more unto the breach … BAC rake in honours as the Three Counties XC season wraps up

First, the highlights…

Biggleswade Athletic Club’s women’s team consolidated third place in the Three Counties league after the fifth and final fixture of the season, while the men took 11th. In combination, this added up to sixth overall.

So sadly, after three straight years of holding the women’s team trophy, BAC relinquish it to North Herts Road Runners, but finishes of fourth, first, first, third and second across the five fixtures are a superb effort and took some beating – no women’s team won more than two fixtures this season, and NHRR and Wellingborough & District AC just pipped our revamped squad with a little bit more consistency at the business end of each race.

Steven Baldwin finished 17th in the overall individual men’s standings, after taking in part in four of the five races, his best result ninth in the final fixture, and he never crossed the line lower than 28th. He was rewarded with second place in the age 25-29 category.

Steven Baldwin on his way to his best finish of the season. Photo by Nick Spavins

Hannah Broom planted her flag as the club’s ladies cross-country runner to beat, after an outstanding season that saw her finish first, fourth, third, fourth and second in the five races. This added up to a fine third place overall.

Hot on her heels were Natalie Morgan (9th), Natalie Garner (10th) and Emma Bailey (11th), while Kathryn Juty’s fine season was rewarded by 29th place overall.

Garner took second spot in the women’s age 25-29 season standings (thanks to three second placings and a third), while Morgan and Bailey took first and second respectively in the V40-44 season results – neither finished outside the top three in their category in any race they competed in this season.

Hannah Broom, Charlie Arnold and Natalie Morgan show off their prizes.
Photo by Nick Spavins

Other age group award-winners were Charlie Arnold, who seared to the V60-64 top spot thanks to a sequence of fifth, third, second, first and first. Ian Grimwood took third in the V65-69 category having finished third in his category three times and fourth in his other outing this season.


An admittedly alcohol-fuelled Nick Haworth writes:

The final race of the 2018-19 Three Counties Cross Country League saw all teams converge for battle at the grounds of Delapre Abbey in Northampton – the site of the Battle of Northampton in 1460, a major battle in the War of the Roses.

The course is a five-mile, two-lap route taking in a mixture of meadow and woodland – and a lot of mud – and though considered by some to be the easiest of the series it would nevertheless test the spirits and resilience of all participants.

The day itself saw clear blue skies but with a bitingly cold north-westerly wind. A good downpour of rain the night before ensured competitors and spectators alike got soggy feet from the outset.

In a change from the previous year, the start consisted of an initial oblong loop round the meadow before a sharp left-hander through a narrow uphill wooded section (rather than just heading straight on to the narrow wooded section). I presume this was to avoid some of the chaos of former years, though needless to say, it didn’t really have the desired effect with competitors running and trampling over each other, cursing themselves and each other, and a few partially disemboweling themselves on the route markers – behaviour not too unlike that back in 1460!

Having survived the meadow and an arduous, long slog up a wooded hill, the course flattened out revealing an excellent view of the A45, before heading twistily downwards though more trees and ankle-deep mud. Several runners were lucky to avoid impalement on unseen tree branches, while some came awry on numerous tree roots seemingly deliberately placed across the path.

A flat straight section on a mixture of tarmac and mud saw the runners proceed alongside a golf course. Thankfully a hedgerow protected the runners from any wayward golf balls and the majority of runners emerged fairly unscathed.

A final left-hand bend saw the runners head through more trees before entering the meadow once more to begin a toilsome and hazardous second lap of the course. The second lap, with even more freshly churned up soil, was arguably even more hazardous than the previous, as exhaustion took hold, speed and coordination of some began to fail. Others meanwhile seemed to literally take it all in their stride and proceeded to gain a few vital scalps.

Against all the odds, most runners completed the race, be it with the occasional missing limb, distended eye socket, or bloodified face. The vast majority finished with smiles on their faces, most with a heavy lacquering of mud on their legs and a few cuts and bruises.

We left the marshals to clear up the mess and proceeded on a long mile and half warm-down back to the race HQ where we were all welcomed back with tea and cakes in the comfort of a nice warm gym of a local school.

All in all, Biggleswade AC had done surprisingly well. In the men’s team, Steven Baldwin finished an admirable ninth place overall – his best performance of the season. Newcomer Alan Kell, though not able to score officially for the team, finished 68th, outsprinting Nick Haworth (63rd) in the last 50 yards himself just ahead of fellow vet Paul Cooke (78th). Behind them came Charlie “Killer” Arnold, securing 91st place and the V60 men’s award, followed by Jon Stott (127th), Neil Harvey (180th), Giles Hawthorne (196th), and Robin Wynde (232nd).

Hannah Broom successfully challenged and beat arch-rival Christine Lathwell from Stopsley Striders coming in third place for the ladies. Natalie Garner finished a commendable 9th just ahead of Natalie Morgan (11th) and Emma Bailey (14th).

Pos. No. First Name Surname
9 514 Steven Baldwin
57 520 Hannah Broom
72 584 Alan Des Kell
73 515 Nick Haworth
78 526 Paul Cooke
97 510 Charlie Arnold
108 578 Natalie Garner
120 554 Natalie Morgan
140 570 John Stott
148 511 Emma Bailey
220 547 Neil Harvey
248 549 Giles Hawthorne
303 530 Jennie Day
326 576 Robin Wynde
332 553 Maria Merridan
363 565 Julie Spavins
379 546 Colin Harries
394 583 Lynn Hill
399 582 Rachel Fox

The men’s team finished the season in 11th place while the women’s team came third, giving a combined position of sixth.


Alan Kell said: “This was my first cross country run for the club and by all accounts I had timed it well as it was the supposably easiest of this seasons courses. Well after that first steady incline on the first lap, I soon realised those other courses must have been tough. This was hard but great fun! Running (or sliding) through the woods and battling against the wind across the open fields. A fantastic event with great support from both the marshals and Bigglesswade team.”

Julie Spavins added: “The final cross country of the season was also the coldest! Despite the freezing conditions we had a good turnout and even some new recruits to the ladies team.

Julie Spavins gives the photographer the eyes. Photo by Nick Spavins

“The course was changed slightly, adding an extra half a mile over the rather draining grassy area, before the slog up the not too steep but neverending hill. The mud was certainly churned by the time I was coming through the woods, but I managed to avoid slipping over, and also managed some overtakes of the runners who were a bit ‘nervous’ of so much mucky stuff, before coming back on to the grassy area and the biting wind blowing in the wrong direction. This year I managed to keep running up the incline on both laps, way better than last year! And despite being half a mile longer, I came in five minutes quicker and like the rest of the season I’m further up the field.

“Our team has performed brilliantly this season, and I’m very proud to have played my very small part in our success.”

Huge thanks to Nick Spavins for his superb photography at Three Counties XC fixtures this season

The final hill … Three Counties XC round-up as season finale arrives

Biggleswade Athletic Club’s cross-country runners now turn their attention to the conclusion of the Three Counties XC season in Wootton on Sunday. In the last two fixtures, the ladies – defending league champions – saw their team-scoring quartet of Broom, Morgan, Natalie Garner and Bailey take top spot in Letchworth, while Broom, Morgan, Bailey and Juty mustered a collective third spot on a punishing course in Ampthill. This leaves the standings drum-tight with North Herts Road Runners leading the league on 48 points on individual positions countback from Wellingborough & District AC, who have the same tally. Yet BAC, just two points behind on 46, can still have a say in the race for the team title.

Team BAC at Ampthill. Photo by Nick Spavins

Combined with the men’s team, for which Steven Baldwin was an excellent 21st and 28th finisher at the last two fixtures, the club as a whole are in sixth place, and runners will be paying particular attention to the progress of fifth-placed Rugby & Northampton AC, who lie three points ahead overall.

Julie Spavins gave her thoughts on the challenge at Ampthill: “My first attempt at this course, and it was a real toughie! Hills, tree roots, bumpy hillocks attempting to trip us up … but a lovely location, worth a separate visit to admire the views which I missed because I was watching my feet!

“I was in amongst some familiar faces from previous races, some got ahead of me an the ups, but I caught them back on the downs. And towards the end several dropped back leaving me with just one or two immediate competitors. At the end Giles Hawthorne dropped back to encourage me round the last part and up the very nasty hill climb to the finish post – and I made it! A fabulous team effort once again.”

At the time of writing, overnight rain is forecast for Wootton on Sunday. Enjoy!

Thanks to Nick Spavins for brilliant photos from our cross-country fixtures – members can find many more on the BAC members’ Facebook page

Results

Letchworth overall finishing positions

21 Steven Baldwin
53 Nick Haworth
54 Hannah Broom (3rd scoring female)
73 Rob Morgan
76 Marcus Davey
89 Natalie Morgan (5th scoring female)
101 Charlie Arnold
115 Natalie Garner (10th scoring female)
121 Emma Bailey (11th scoring female)
130 John Stott
131 Malcolm Steward
145 Damien Pitts
209 Deborah Bryant
220 Kathryn Juty
223 Neil Harvey
252 Sarah Jane Seaman
262 Nigel Bush
264 Ian Grimwood
296 Simon Strong
329 Jennie Day
345 Juliet Grimwood
361 Helen Steward
372 Julie Spavins
376 Colin Harries
383 Gareth Saynor
384 Louise Pike

Ampthill overall finishing positions

28 Steven Baldwin
66 Hannah Broom (3rd scoring female)
91 Marcus Davey
98 Aaron Ball
110 Paul Cooke
118 Charlie Arnold
127 Natalie Morgan (10th scoring female)
136 Natalie Garner (12th scoring female)
150 John Stott
158 Malcolm Steward
170 Damien Pitts
238 Kathryn Juty (39th scoring female)
255 Neil Harvey
274 Sarah Jane Seaman
306 Ian Grimwood
347 Robin Wynde
354 Jennie Day
395 Maria Merridan
402 Gareth Saynor
408 Julie Spavins
409 Giles Hawthorne
410 Juliet Grimwood
421 Colin Harries
436 Jacqui Chan








Cross Country round-up … Chattering teeth at Chiltern XC

Mandie Trudgill and David Brown report …

The conclusion of the Chiltern Cross Country season arrives early next month, and BAC athletes have been doing the vest proud at recent fixtures.

On 1 December, five juniors and a senior trekked over to Stopsley Common on the outskirts of Luton to be given the full cross-country treatment. On a course exposed to the elements, the wind and rain blew across the landscape, but the juniors – Jessica Hardy, George Hardy, Orlagh Brunning, Nicholas Batterbee and Elliot Swinburne – along with Elliot’s father Paul were not to be deterred.

All athletes acquitted themselves admirably over their courses which ranged from 2.5km-10km in distance. In their respective events, Nicholas Batterbee was 21st, George Hardy 25th, Orlagh Brunning 28th, Elliot Swinburne 41st, Jessica Hardy 42nd and Paul Swinburne 56th.


The next leg of the league took place at Keysoe Equestrian Centre on 12th January, on a course that featured two water crossings, Orlagh Brunning and Jessica Hardy were 32nd and 51st respectively in their under-11 girls’ race. Debutant Alfie Lawrence finished a fine 69th in the boys’ equivalent.

In the U13 boys standings, Nicholas Batterbee finished 76th, while Elliot Swinburne was 14th in his U17 race. Finally, Paul Swinburne – running 10km, twice the distance his son had to cover – came in 68th in his Division 2 standings, and 227th in the “mob” race overall.

Next up for athletes: the season finale at Milton Keynes’ Campbell Park.


Youngsters mix it at SEAA indoor champs

At the SEAA indoor champs U13/15/17 held at Lee Valley earlier this month, up-and-coming BAC multi-eventer Teagan Blake competed in two events, the 60m hurdles and shot putt.

In hurdles action on the Saturday, Blake was fourth in her heat and produced a new personal best of 10.80 secs – an impressive 0.3secs outside the national qualifying standard.

On the Sunday, mixing it with the top youngsters in the south of England in the shot put, Blake was disappointed with 6.12m for 14th in the final.

Elsewhere on day two, under-15s athlete Sophie Forbes-Laird was in action in the 300m. Up in the first heat, she had a clean race and came second in a new indoor PB and club record of 43.38secs. She nervously waited on the outcome of the other two heats, with the first finishers and three fastest losers qualifying. Thankfully she was fifth quickest overall from the three heats and made it through.

In the final Sophie put in a brave effort and when the athletes approached the point where they break from their lane and all run in the inside lane, she was second, with approx 120m to go. Yet as they rounded the bend to the finishing straight, she was passed and two girls then fell over the finishing line which forced her to check her stride to avoid the melee. It still added up to creditable fifth place which will means she will experience in the national finals in February at Sheffield.

Counting awards at county champs … BAC athletes rack up cross-country honours

Biggleswade Athletic Club members excelled on the county championship stage against the best of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in High Wycombe, with both the club’s senior and veteran ladies’ squads taking titles, and Charlie Arnold among several individual honours.

Charlie takes a well-earned breather while the ladies show off their awards. Photo by Beth K Price Williams

On a long day for athletes at Hughenden Park, BAC ladies were defending both the senior and veterans’ titles, with a new-look squad shorn of two of last year’s award-winners. Nevertheless, the prep work that had been put in and recent strong performances from all those taking part put them in a confident mood.

Besides the team events, there were also individual scores to settle and medals to be won. On a cold day, the planned stream crossing had dried out, but that was the only relief offered by a course set over laps of about 1.8 miles featuring two steep climbs. The male veterans 60+ athletes and women ran three laps (400ft of climbing) while the senior men and veterans up to age 59 ran four laps.

First to go were Paul Swinburne and Charlie Arnold, the club’s only representatives in the senior men’s race, which spared them team responsibilities. Swinburne had three large laps to complete, which he did so with gusto, finishing strongly at the seventh V45 competitor, and 32nd place overall, and immediately commenting on how tough the course was.

Arnold, in the MV60 category, had a slightly shorter course to contend with. He ran so fast, the officials believed he still had one lap to do when he was coming in to the finish, and nearly sent him round again. However, he still won his age category and was nearly 10 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor.

He said: “Having completed one lap with enthusiasm, the second time round started to register that the course was tough and the muscles in the calves and thighs were suggesting that this was not such fun after all; by the third lap there were definitely feelings that it may not be such a disgrace to walk up those hills.

“For the final run-in, the funnel peeled off to the left, but the charge for the line was somewhat farcical – an official leapt across to stop me, insisting I had to run another lap. Fortunately, BAC’s David Brown was at the finish line and waved me through, but not without a final aside from the over-officious official!”

On the women’s side, BAC had strong representation from Hannah Broom, Natalie Morgan and Emma Bailey from last year’s team, augmented by Hannah Ridley, Kathryn Juty and Catherine Price Williams, who was making a cross-country debut in her first event for the club.

Hannah, looking like she knows where she’s going. Photo by Beth K Price Williams

Broom’s performances throughout 2018 had been outstanding on road and cross country and she now had the chance to show her progress early in 2019 at county level against tough opposition. Setting off steadily, Hannah B let her rivals set the early pace and concentrated on her own running. As they came by at the end of the first lap, Hannah was in second place, about 10 seconds behind her main rival. Meanwhile, Nat, Hannah R and Emma had placed themselves in good positions for the team event with Kathryn and Catherine also looking strong.

At the end of the second lap, Hannah B had inched closer to the leader and seemed to be biding her time. The message was passed that her opponent was starting to look ragged while Hannah continued to be looking strong. In the third lap, as they came down the steep hill for the last time Hannah had passed her opponent and was in first place and moving further ahead as she came up to the finish with a clear advantage over the second place to win both the overall senior title and the vet 35 medal in a time of 33:22, six seconds ahead of a fast finishing second place. Besides the hard work on her running, Hannah has added race management and it showed in the way she paced herself to be County Champion.

Hannah ignores Rob Morgan, who is furiously doing a toilet in the ditch. Photo by Beth K Price Williams

“For the first 300m or so I wasin the main front pack, trying not to panic that I was so far forward. My main competitor, from Stopley Striders, was just in front of me and I ran in her pocket for the first lap. I allowed myself to drop back 50m, which gave me a chance to calm down and run my own race. I was overtaken by another lady from Leighton Buzzard, which slipped me into third – I kept talking to myself: “Do not panic, run your own race …” Seeing fellow training group-mate Charlie at the start of the third lap, he whispered some wise words to me and this gave me a massive boost.

“I realised I was not going any faster but I was gaining on the ladies in front of me. Now was my chance and I started to turn the screw. There was little response as I passed them along the back part of the course which had a slight incline with the wind against us, followed by a sharp uphill which brought you almost to a walk with lactic leg burn at the top. I was now clear and out in front.

Suddenly I realised I had no one to follow and no idea where I needed to go! The marshals as they hurriedly pointed me in the right direction round a sharp bend to the left, up another slight short incline and a long downhill. Still unclear where the finish is, I see Charlie again, and he points – I’m there, and I have won! Straight away I turned to see my teammates following close behind. It was awesome to see them finishing all so close and in fantastic positions.”

Morgan came in fifth lady in 36:32, followed by an outstanding run from Hannah Ridley, three seconds behind in sixth, and the first trio of BAC athletes home secured the senior team championship. Bailey arrived in eighth, in 37:32, which added the top veterans’ team prize in conjunction with Broom and Morgan’s results. Juty and Price Williams also gave a good account of themselves, finishing in 17th and 23rdrespectively. Morgan took silver and Bailey bronze in the V40 category, while Juty took V45 silver.

Morgan said: “I think we all relieved when we arrived to see the course was relatively dry underfoot and no water to be found at the supposed water crossings. As the women’s race is always towards the end of the race programme the ground can often get churned up and when you add freezing cold water, it makes for what is already hard running, even harder so it was pleasing sight.

The big charge at the start. Photo by Rob Morgan

“The start for me was a bit of blur, but I know I went out too hard and the first mile ended up being way too quick. The next three miles I managed to calm myself down and settled into my pace, finding that I was having a good battle with an Ampthill & Flitwick Flyer runner. She had previously overtaken me at the point where there was a short, sharp hill on the first lap but the next time round I got her on the following downhill section. I managed to stave her off for most of the last lap of the course but I was tiring quickly at that stage and was now paying for my earlier mistake of going out too fast. I could hear her behind me as the finish line drew closer, then she was beside me and then in front but I just didn’t have enough in the tank to come back. I crossed the line a couple of seconds after her, regretting my exuberance at the beginning of the race somewhat – a lesson learned, most definitely!”

In the final race of the day, Elliot Swinburne – son of Paul – ran in the U17s race over two laps, and finished just outside the medals with a run of 23:54 for a commendable fourth place.

Huge thanks to Charlie Arnold, Hannah Broom, Hannah Ridley and David Brown for contributing to this report

Crawling to the finish … BAC’s Fairy Run returns

Just before Christmas, Biggleswade Athletic Club’s annual Fairy Run made an epic return as club members new and old embarked on a time-trial around The Lodge, many in costumes not noted for their wicking properties.

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“Michaela” Blunt enjoys his bespoke, seam-free running outfit’s wicking properties. Photo by Nick Spavins

The seasonal staple sees members take up wands and strap on fairy wings, with honours available for both the First Fairy Home and Best Dressed Fairy. Chairman Damien Pitts allotted a handicap start time to each competitor, based on performances over the year, with the intent of levelling the playing field.

As always, those witnessing clubmates storming by them on Stratford Road mumbled variously unkind things about the quality of the handicapping. With the closing stages taking in the steep trek uphill at the end of The Lodge near Biggleswade Common, work nights out caught up with several entrants.

Best Dressed honours went to Kathryn Juty, whose Poison Ivy ensemble was voted the best during a lengthy post-run debrief at The King’s Arms pub on Sandy’s London Road. First Fairy Home was BAC run leader Jules Mackay.

Heads everywhere were turned as runners assembled for the pre-run group photo, when suddenly a string of enormous fairy lights bounded round the corner, to the bemusement and astonishment of several Lodge visitors. It was a triumph of coordination and planning, scuppered slightly by the fact that the costumes were at times too wide for the pavement alongside Potton Road, and a reminder to all that inflation can go down as well as up.

The day also saw the big reveal of the club’s winning London Marathon applicants. A big day in April awaits for Sally Jones and Sarah Geeson-Orsgood – huge congratulations and happy training to both.

After The King’s Arms, the run gradually became a crawl as members showcased ever-deteriorating costumes and make-up in a host of pubs in the local area. Andy Hedley updated Facebook into the earlier hours with news that himself, chairman Pitts and Rob Morgan were the last three standing. Their reward: iffy heads on the Sunday.

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The Fairy Run tradition dates back to the early 1990s, with roots even further black, as former BAC chairman Nigel Bush explains: “The 3-mile Christmas handicap around the RSPB loop started in the 1980s and originally started and finished along Stratford Road near the cemetery – extended to just over the full lap to make it three miles!

In 1991 Roger Wadeley and I had London Marathon entries but both had injury problems during training so we decided to dress in fancy dress as we were not in shape for PBs. A tutu, wig and wand seemed like a good idea as these outfits didn’t restrict the running action. Our aim was to run together, enjoy the event, try to break three hours and be the first fancy dress runners to finish. Things didn’t quite go to plan. A green dragon passed us at 24 miles and we finished in 3hrs 0mins 25sec. I’ve still got the finish line photo hanging on my wall as a memory of Rog.

The following Christmas we decided to run the handicap in our fairy costumes and the whole thing caught on from there!”

BAC, as always, thank the RSPB for their support of what is always one of the club social highlights of the year. Thanks also to all the hostelries of Sandy and Potton for their hospitality/tolerance of our fairies this year. They won’t trouble you for another 12 months, we promise.

Members can find many more photos of the day in the Biggleswade AC Members’ Facebook group. Huge thanks to Nick Spavins, Jules Mackay and Rachel Stott for their pics