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Fred Hughes 10 mile 2024- Maurice Quirke



Spring is on its way. When April comes, as Chaucer tells us, thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages. As runners we’re 3 months ahead of the game. January is the time for the annual QPH pilgrimage to St Albans for the Fred Hughes 10. This year there were 57 of us, a record number.


The race has drawn growing fields of runners since 1986 to the challenges of the Hertfordshire hills. In 1992 it was renamed as a tribute to Fred Hughes, a good runner, triathlete and the men’s captain at the Striders, after he was tragically killed in a road incident. He sounded like a totally decent fellow, so every year I ask Fred not to be too hard on me for my Christmas indulgence, not to weigh every mince pie and glass of mulled wine against me. But Fred’s a hard task master. There will be hills and January weather.


I ask Fred not to be too hard on me for my Christmas indulgence, not to weigh every mince pie and glass of mulled wine against me.

This year the trip to St Albans is mighty pleasant in the company of John Brosnan. The chat flows and the road is shortened. The Striders certainly know how to put on an event. The race HQ, the registration, the facilities, the marshals are all excellent. The atmosphere in the hall is relaxed and excited at the same time. As runners prepare for action and the outer layers of clothing are reluctantly pulled off, the full contingent of Harriers is revealed. And that’s a photo worth taking.


On cold days there’s always that decision to be taken – do I wear a layer under the vest or not? Today, for me, it’s going to be just the vest. Let’s start with plenty of chest beating bravado and see how far that gets us. Then it’s up to the start, and when the chickens have been swept and fierce looking strides have intimidated all the opposition (Christ, he’s not gonna run it like that is he?), it’s time to find a place in the long snaky line of runners queueing for the start. Wherever you choose you’re not far from a fellow hoopster, which is reassuring.


Now, when the klaxton goes (or was it a gun?), it takes a few moments to pass the start line and the first few hundred meters are narrow and congested. The thoroughbred racers don’t let that stop them though. After 10 metres they’re nervously looking at their running watches and edging out to power through on the outside. In my mind I engage them with gentle conversation, “Hey man, chill out. Enjoy the ride, you’ve got 10 miles of this. Save it for the sprint finish.” By this time they’re already disappearing round the corner. “See you at Bedmond Lane,” I wryly think after them (1.07km long and 42m elevation).


For the past few years I’ve been using magnets to secure my number to my vest rather than pins. This has had the significant benefit of avoiding self-mutilation with a sharp object and blood stains on the number. That would be very weird. After all we’re not climbing Croagh Patrick in bare feet, are we? Magnets are clean, painless and fairly quick if you don’t drop them and watch them roll to the nearest metal object. I sometimes get asked if they work, do I ever lose my number? So far, no. Last year Fred sent ice: no problem. This year he sent wind: problem. Early on the corners of my number were flapping wildly like a demented chicken. Storm Fred nearly had my number. But those magnets held on with a bulldog grip. Not sure what happened to the wind – I guess Storm Fred gave up.


All runners have a few pet hates, quite harmless really. Actually, I’ve got quite few. High on the list is runners who chat away effortlessly while my lungs are bursting. How is that done? For a few miles the route ambles along harmlessly enough. The chatty chap is having a field day, everybody’s mate. Then mercifully after about 9km comes the Bedmond Lane Climb. Then all chat stops. Listen carefully and you can hear the tuneful wheeze and rasp of every honest struggler. Listen even more carefully and you can hear the suppressed swearing. Fred would not approve, but at this point this is my music.


What’s not to like? It’s Spring (nearly), you’re coasting along, you’re over halfway and gobbling up the miles.

 

Once you’re over the top Fred rewards you with a gorgeous downhill. What’s not to like? It’s Spring (nearly), you’re coasting along, you’re over halfway and gobbling up the miles. Luc is ahead, smooth as can be, and the waves are parting before us. Yes this is the kind of running we live for. Just as you are edging towards that nirvana of at-one-ness with the road and (goodness!) thinking that you don’t mind if this carries on for a few more miles, up springs Fred at mile 8 in the shape of a 30m climb. It's like getting a clip around the ear for being just a bit too cocky. “Thought you were finished? Get a dose of that son!” says Fred.


It's a sombre and chastened version of yourself that reaches the top of that one. But hey, one of the things running teaches us is that there is (nearly) always a recovery. The later section of the course is truly a joy. The road is wide, the surface sound, the field of runners stretched out, so that as you come back down into St Albans, Fred is doing his best to make you end your run with a smile on your face. The final bit is narrow, as was the start, but now there’s space to indulge your inner infant and why not sprint for the line? This year my competitor grinned across at my presumption before switching on the afterburners and we both had a good laugh at the end.


Across the finish line the bananas are smiling and the water tastes good. Veterans of the Fred Hughes 10 take pride in their collection of commemorative t shirts. Each year it’s the same design in a different colour. From previous years I have yellow, green and blue and I’m sure there’s been orange and red and lilac – the full Farrow and Ball range. This year for the men they had a novel idea – no colour at all. Well, is grey a colour? Discuss. Next year I predict they’ll be see-through. You heard it here first.


With a cup of tea in the convivial surroundings of Race HQ and the St Columba’s canteen, it’s a chance to catch up with fellow hoopsters and running comrades from other clubs. Matt Kitching was the first QPH man home in 55:40 (10th) and the first QPH woman home was Jen Armison in 01:03:50 (2nd woman overall and 1st in V35). Congratulations to them and to all our finishers and especially if it was your first time. And what’s more to say? Next up the Watford Half. See you there.


Maurice running with Ben and Luc on a road with trees in the background




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