Orion Harriers Fifteen - 1993
I detect an English fetish."Muddy", "Very muddy", "a mudbath", "soft
underfoot", "heavy going", "waist deep in mud", "soft underfoot", really genuine
English cross-country with lots of hills and mud", " the previous week's
blizzard had softened the course, nicely". In contrast, the few reports there
are of Orion Harriers Annual Invitation 15 miles Cross Country Race, when the
course has suffered dryish conditions, have been dismissive, with comments
such as "there were no untoward happenings".
It appears there's nothing
quite like a good wallow.
The Trinovantes, (see way below!), were probably
the first to run it, though the earliest written reference can be found in
Orion's Club Gazette for 1923, when 20 runners took a "constitutional run of
about 15 miles", before the club shut down for the Summer - after all,
what pleasure is there in running in Summer when all mud is likely to have
vanished? The first official running of the race, with 33 entries, was in 1954,
so Saturday, 20th March 1993 will see its 40th running.
The race has gone
from strength to strength, and is now recognised as a Classic - a prime example
of "tough but genuine cross country running". The one lap course undulates and
winds through dappled glades of Epping Forest, a magnificent example of
undisturbed ancient woodland. And yet, the race almost never came to pass!
the time, a race of this distance "over the country", was unknown. Special
permission was needed, because some clubs thought nothing of extending course ad
hoc, if they thought it might give them an edge over visitors. How times have
changed... The ECCU's approval for the race was gained by the late, inimitable
Harold Lee, a Club stalwart, whose name was synonymous with Orion.
the opening Orion 15, Ted Hefford, will be at this year's race and it's hoped
the other 26 winners will attempt to relive past glories. Apart from the first
winner, Woodford Green supplied 1954's winning team. Jack Fenn and John Legge,
among the Woodford runners backing Ted, subsequently joined Orion, and all three
graduated to the post of Captain! John Legge will race it again this year. It's
a "mud" thing.
No more so than with the 1959 and 1961 winner, Neville Chanin
of SLH, who established a 'record' in 1973 of having completed no less than 18
of the 20 Orion 15s. Mike Turner (Liverpool) and Seamus Kerr (Enfield) have both
won it four times, and both achieved the hat-trick in '68, 69 and 70, and '84,
85 and '86 respectively. Other international stars to win, include Tony Simmons
(Luton) in '72 and '80, Malcolm Thomas (TVH) 1973, and Dave Cannon (Kendal)
1974, with outstanding performers such as Don McGregor (Edinburgh Southern), Mel
Batty (Thurrock) and Ian Thompson (Luton) having to settle for second on the
A measure of the respect in which the race is held: the programme for
the 1978 New York Marathon listed Ian Thompson's "major achievements" as
European Marathon Champion, Commonwealth Marathon Champion and 2nd place, Orion
And it was hard fought second place, gained in 1973 against National
Champion Malcolm Thomas, a field of 161 and conditions... "remarkably dry with a
refreshing drizzle". Wot no mud? Thomas and Thompson slugged it out until the
final uphill 200 yards to the Clubhouse where Thomas managed to pull away and
win by 30 yards in 1 hr 24.09, which has yet to be bettered. Thompson's 1hr24.14
still ranks as 2nd on the all-time list, so the achievement does equate with the
European and Commonwealth titles - almost!
A Ranelagh runner, commenting on
the closing stages, grumbled, "Trust Orion! Two hundred yards uphill at the end,
instead of downhill at the start!" Up those same final yards, in 1962, John
Farrington (London Univ) - showing early sign of the form that later won him an
Olympic Marathon place for Australia - beat Batty, and in 1975 Graham Dugdale
(TVH) beat McGregor, (a Scot, therefore not so 'into' mud).
The hilly nature
of the course was never more marked than in 1957, when, due to petrol rationing,
the outlying parts of the course could not be adequately marshalled. An
alternative two-lap course "including Yardley Hill and Pole Hill twice - and The
Bog - was not fun".
According to John Legge, now President of Orion. Although
John "ran it in flats", he finished second to SLH's John Lynne "mainly because
several other runners lost the way!" The two lap experiment was not
The course has necessarily evolved with the growth of car traffic
on Forest roads. Now staying west of Epping New Road, and looping at its
furthest pouints over and underthe M25, it follows horse rides, farm tracks,
metalled roads, footpaths, bridges, tunnels and, yes, many muddy bits - the
original multi-terrain event!
Not only is there the breathtaking beauty of a
Spring day in Epping Forest, runners are overwhelmed by history. Queen
Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, built in 1543; the Obelisk marking the spot north of
Greenwich used to establish the Meridian line; Dick Turpin's hide-out; the
birthplace of Speedway racing in Britain; Lawrence of Arabia's fruit trees; an
ex-Italian POW camp; olde worlde lovele pubbes; and the clubhouse of the
Trinovantes... remember them? Not so much a clubhouse perhaps, as the remains of
a circular Iron Age fort which some archaeologists suggest was used by a tribe
called the Trinovantes, as a stockade to retain cattle. Others guess the
Trinovantes were Harriers and this was their training track. As they are known
to have daubed themselves with mud, the latter explanation seems more
Women have taken part, since 1981, when Sally Strauss of the USA
ran unofficially as part of her build up for that year's London Marathon, in
which she finished 5th female in 2hrs 42.42. Obviously, it did her little harm.
In 1986, running officially, Srah Rowell took a mere 1hr 37.10 for the 15. On a
day when "the going was good to soft", Sarah was 9th out of a field of 250!
Orion's Ladies section started that year, too. Not until 1991, was there a team
prize for Ladies, and Orion duly won it.
The team match is always hard fought
with old rivals such as SLH, Ilford, Ranelagh, Thames Hare and Hounds, Enfield
and Woodford featuring often. Orion's sole team success was in 1966, when they
narrowly edged National medallists Reading AC, by position of their final
scoring man. These days, it's calculated on the scorer's aggregate
1992's team winners were - Men, Woodford Green; Vet Men, Orion;
Ladies, Thurrock. There were at least 43 men's teams, 18 vet men's teams and 4
women's teams, and 216 athletes finished.
Race winner was John Leversedge of
Haringey in 1hr27.12, a fast time, though courses and conditions vary so much
that comparisons are invidious. The winner usually takes around
Conditions in 1992 were "arid and freezing". For the first time in
memory, the notoriously steep Goat Hill around 9 miles could be ascended without
wading through mud. All has been put right. It has been a very wet Winter. The
Forest is as soggy as ever it has been. Malicious grins are returning to old
men's faces as they discuss the prospects for March.
prospect for this year's race, is the likely participation for the first time of
a number of top Russian athletes. Over recent years, Orion has forged close
links with the Russians: visits have been made in both directions. Remember what
defeated Napoleon? Snow and mud.
In spite of its toughness, and despite still
being, in theory, an Invitation Race, the 15 regularly attracts an entry in
excess of 300 of varying standards. However, there's a cut-off point at 10
miles. If runners fail to pass this within 1hr40, they must retire. Providing
marshals and organisers for such a large field on a meandering country course
means Orion is not always as strong as we might wish, with only one outright
Ron Davis - back in 1955.
(Peter Tarrier, in 2000, stormed to a fine, clear win to cheer all at Orion!)
For Orion individuals who do compete, there
is the coveted Walter Karran trophy awarded to the first Orion Finisher,
currently held by club champion Paul Filler who completed in 1hr32.55. First
over all vet was Orion's Phil Hurley in 1hr33.10, and first over all V50 was
Club Captain Bryan Read in 1hr37.40 With the expected participation of former
winners, Orion should find it harder to dominate the vets category this
A 'lesser' trophy, the Paul Fitzpatrick Memorial Wooden Spoon is never
actually sought. Its winner is the Orion person adjudged to have wimped out most
cravenly from the race. If you win that, your name is... uhmm.... mud.
assure you - a VERY English fetish.