It was an upbeat kind of day on which the trains actually ran to time in both directions and the weather got through the entire day without inflicting a named storm. Beckenham Place Park was repeating its hosting duty from 2023.
The men's team were defending champions and on paper, and with titbits of Intel picked up about possible rival teams ( however many miles these guys log, they always manage to keep tabs on sundry others' stravas), were feeling confident that another win was very doable even with a couple of the club's big beasts absent. The course was a variation of last year's version, "only " 13.6k versus the notorious 15k which leaves this as the only mainstream UK cross country race of this length, with the usual maximum being 12k. The route contained plentiful hills interspersed with some flatter stretches and some muddier sections amidst the grasslands.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the large pool of faster guys currently in the Highgate mix plus the comings and goings of London life, the eventual scoring 6 had 5 of last year's crew.
Leading the charge was Alex Leprêtre with his 3rd individual silver and as good as any cross country run he has had, beaten again by national champion James Kingston of Tonbridge. Not far behind and in a tremendous career best 4th place was Roger Poolman, who was chasing a gap to 3rd that never really gave him quite the medal sniff. Next home was Flurry Grierson, gradually picking up places to earn an excellent 12th. He's just 21 which is on the young side for a race of this duration and the GB orienteer is continually improving. Close behind in 14th was Taha Ghafari, hanging in persistently once dropped from the leading group, and fully justifying his long trek from Glasgow. Matching his excellent 24th from last year was Team Captain Rob Wilson, who identifies as "an average club runner". Closing the team in a race he always targets was Charlie Heywood in 28th.
It was a superb team performance, closing in a mightily low total of 84 points which gave a 60 points margin over Hercules Wimbledon with Kent nudging out other teams in the hunt with 232 for 3rd. It's the sort of sextet that will definitely be on the medal prowl in the National 4 weeks hence.
Behind Charlie H there was some very solid packing, across just over 90 seconds, by the unofficial B team. These were James Ross and Sam Jinks running well judged races in 57th and 58th, a super 73rd by mudlarker Lewis Greaves, then 77th Jack Steenson, 86th Peter Chambers and 94th Sean Renfer.
One can almost become complacent when the team win was the expectation rather than any surprise and the margin of advantage was largely established, barring disasters, with the race about half way done, but it was without doubt a memorable victory and justified reward for the months of hard yards the guys had piled up in readiness for this.