17 September 2017
The barista in the Costa Coffee on Passfield Avenue looked a little bemused when a hoard of runners descended on his cafe just before eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. Mid September, people in brightly coloured running gear heading for a muddy field filled with flags could only mean one thing, the first CC6 of the season. We were some of the first Spitfires to arrive but soon the fields behind Fleming Park were brimming with Spitfire hoodies. Even so, there would be no Itchen Spitfires running today because they were the event organisers.
You’d be surprised the amount of work that goes into organising a cross country race. Long before race day lots of boring stuff has to be done, like planning a route, risk assesments, getting permits from UK Athletics and local councils, organising medical cover, working out marshal points, water, finnish funnels, car parking, tail runners… Sadly there are no organising fairies so the work was mostly done by Lee, Gill and Amelia.
Apart from setting up flags, funnels, the gazebo and the water station, the main job today was marshalling. There were no shortage of volunteers to keep team captains Darren and Leah busy handing out high vis bibs and ticking people off lists. Only Spitfires who’d volunteered would be eligible to run the rest of the races so name taking was vital.
Once everyone began to disappear across the field to their marshal posts I took a wander to see how many I could capture before the race began. This might have been slightly easier if I’d known the exact course but I trailed Gill and Leah for a while.
Despite the cold and the early hour, there were a lot of smiling faces out on the course. Quite a few of them seemed to be clutching take away coffee cups. I’m pretty sure the Passfield Avenue Costa had a record morning. Before long, all the stopping and talking meant I’d lost sight of Leah and Gill. A few runners went past on warm up laps, reminding me there wasn’t much time before the start of the race. Luckily, I managed to find my way with a few directions from Spitfire marshals.
These fields, behind the Fleming Park Leisure Centre, were once the Fleming Park Golf Course. Designed by Charles Dundas Lawrie, a Scottish amateur golfer and renowned golf course architect, the eighteen hole course was opened in 1974. At one time it was extremely popular and even played host to a prestigious professional women’s tournament. By 2008 though, its use had declined and it was closed. These days it’s used as an informal park by walkers and cyclists and is the venue for Eastleigh parkrun every Saturday morning. Unlike Lakeside, a mile and a half away, I’ve never really explored the fields of Fleming Park, although I keep meaning to. Today might have been a good day for it, if I hadn’t been tasked with photo taking for the CC6.
Monks Brook runs through Fleming Park. It was culverted in the 1970’s to make way for the golf course. It has now been uncovered, and shortly after I caught up with Darren again, I found a bridge crossing it. For a few minutes I abandoned my duties and went to look at the muddy water tumbling its way towards the Itchen at Swaythling.
Back on the marshal trail again I discovered someone had already started eating the post race cakes. Obviously I’m not naming any names but, in her defence, the Spitfire in question did make most of them and she did give me my own specially wrapped cake at the start so I didn’t miss out. Very tasty it was too.
At this stage I had no idea where Commando had been stationed, so every corner I turned I half expected to bump into him. By now I’d rounded the northern end of the park and was heading south again, following a line of pylons behind which I could just hear the rumble of the M3. When I spotted Luis running towards me I checked my watch. The first runners would be coming by soon and I suddenly realised I didn’t know which way they would be running.
Shortly after this the first runners came past and I discovered I’d been going the wrong way around the course the whole time. As the runners were on the grass and I was mostly walking on the path, I didn’t get trampled. Now the Spitfires I passed were too busy cheering and directing runners to chat and my photo taking duties got a whole lot harder as I had to try to snap the marshals through gaps in the runners.
When I did finally stumble upon Commando, he was in almost the same spot we’d marshalled at last year.
“They’ve almost finished the first lap,” he said. “The tail runners will be coming through soon with Annie. Why don’t you stay here with me?”
Much as I’d have liked to stop and cheer with him, there were still unphotographed marshals on the course so I carried on down the hill towards the Pavillion on the Park, a community centre and cafe opened in 2008 when the golf course closed.
It wasn’t long before I spotted the amazing Annie with her entourage of tail runners. They all looked as if they were having the time of their lives and I half wished I’d volunteered as tail runner myself. Hot on Annie’s heels the speedy runners were beginning their second lap of three and were passing me for a second time.
Pretty soon I was passing marshals I’d photographed already. This told me I was also on my second lap, albeit in the wrong direction. For moment or two I considered turning round and going back to Commando. Then I saw Emma and Laura with Ellie and Roo in their pushchairs. They hadn’t been there when I went round the first time so I guessed the team captains must have done some reorganising since my first pass.
My second lap was a little faster than my first, mostly because I knew the way but also because I didn’t stop to say hello to everyone.
When I got back to Commando, Annie and the tail runners were just coming round for their second lap. By this time I’d been tramping around the course for almost an hour and had more or less walked two laps of the course so I stayed and cheered for a while.
It seemed a little odd to be standing cheering the runners and not taking photos of them. The time passed surprisingly quickly and, before long, Annie was coming round for her last lap. Behind her and the tail runners, the marshals were all joining her for a lap of honour.
Of all the runners, Annie is the one I admire the most. The speedy runners might zip round the muddy cross country courses in super quick time but it takes an awful lot of courage and determination to take part in an event like this when you know you’re going to come last. There aren’t many ladies in their eighties who would even attempt an event like this and the lovely Annie always finishes with a huge grin on her face. In my opinion, she’s the real winner.
Now all there was left to do was pack everything up again. With an international team of Spitfire volunteers, even the gazebo looked like a doddle. The Spitfire CC6 was now officially over. Next time I’ll be back to photographing runners.
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