ICXCAC’s runners returned from the Christmas break in dire need of a training weekend, and 2019’s winter tour destination was Church Stretton – a quaint town just outside Shropshire’s county town of Shrewsbury.
During the late Victorian period the small town was known as “Little Switzerland” and grew a reputation as a health resort: exactly what the team needed.
The squad set out in earnest at rush hour on Friday evening. Thanks to some excellent DJing, the journey flew by.
The team rose early on Saturday to make a trip to the local Shrewsbury parkrun – one of a large national network of free, weekly and timed 5km runs every Saturday at 9.00am.
Huddling around the bandstand for warmth, the runners listened to the course instructions carefully as they all wanted to leave their mark on one of the country’s largest parkruns.
Almost 700 runners - a course record - gathered on the start line along the River Severn, and then they were off!
The course was far from flat, with a steep hill to climb and descend around “The Dingle” followed by a fast out-and-back tarmac path along the river with a turn around “The Monument” before a second lap.
ICXCAC’s runners were focused, taking a ruthless racing line around the bends and cheering on each other as they passed in opposing directions.
The field was led home by Niki Faulkner with a time of 16:01, and whilst he was (slightly) disappointed not to go sub-16, he was the only team member not to be beaten by the 17-year-old local who crossed the line second in 16:20.
Following him in bronze position was Henry Hart in 16:39 and fresher Alix Vermeulen came in 3rd for the girls with a time of 19:33.
After hassling some other locals for a team photo (above), the team returned to base for a large brunch before a trip to the host’s old school for a training session with their cross country team.
The squad was led around the “prestigious” course on a warm-up by a gaggle of young talent, headed by a rapid 13-year-old.
Following the warm-up the team got their breath back and with the route fresh in their minds, everyone aligned on the start line ready for a timed lap.
The aim for the Imperial athletes was to navigate the course from memory but this proved considerably harder than it sounds.
ICXCAC made a strong start with 4 of their boys in the top 6, and this continued for around half a lap with the strong 13 year-old kindly shouting directions to ensure no illegal shortcuts were taken.
Just as Niki was beginning to pull away and take a commanding lead, disaster struck! The team reached a crossroads and could not remember the way.
They frantically spread out and followed their memories as best they could but it was not until fresher and navigator-extraordinaire Matt Ryan arrived that they found the correct route.
By this point the 13 year-old was hot on their heels. Keen to resume the lead, Niki and Men’s Captain Jack McKeon desperately tried to find a way through a rather bushy hedge but to no avail. They were forced to retrace their steps as Shrewsbury’s speedy youth stormed ahead.
Before long it was the home straight and the 13-year-old zoomed home in 3rd place, delighted that he would be moving up the school leaderboard.
Niki and Jack arrived at the finish line distraught, and the squad were forced to make a visit to the infamous “tuck shop” to cheer themselves up.
The evening saw plenty of stretching, kazoo playing, refuelling, Pictionary, cross-country watching, dubious scattergories and questionable chat.
Sunday morning was quite an effort for the few who made a poor decision to stay awake until the early hours, but amazingly all the non-injured athletes made it out for a trail running adventure starting from their doorstep.
After racing up a number of hills the club captain set his sights on a particularly large hill he had dubbed “Kilimanjaro”. Only the bravest (most foolish?) explorers opted for this option and they pranced up to the summit like mountain goats, battling the near-vertical ascent and howling winds.
Eventually they all returned safely and set about packing for the trip back to London.
The large quantity of food remaining meant the final lunch was a delicious buffet of spaghetti, chicken sausages, mashed potato, tomatoes, apples, unripe bananas and leftover bolognese.
Having survived this ordeal, the squad hit the road and returned feeling revitalised and ready for the cross-crountry season to resume next week.