Home International – September 30th and 1st October 2023Ben Chesters' report
I was selected to represent England at this year’s Home International, which was held alongside the Caddihoe Chase weekend, in the Forest of Dean.
On Saturday, the teams competed in the individual event, with competitors racing in their age classes, using the same courses as the Caddihoe weekend competitors. Although, in order to ensure that the international competitors were not influenced by changes in forest conditions caused by large numbers of competitors in the ‘public’ event, our start times were in a separate period before the Caddihoe start window. This meant an early start for everyone, as the first start time was 1000, and the last was 1100. Thankfully, the organisers had arranged for Home International competitors to be given ‘special’ treatment, with regard to car parking. This meant that we were able to park in the assembly area, and avoid the 1.5km walk from the main event parking.
The forest for the individual race was very physical in parts, especially with the summer vegetation still in place. This meant that some cunning route choice decisions were needed at times, as there were parts of the forest where running further to avoid areas of bracken was faster than taking the shorter route through the forest. A tricky slag heap which was visited by a number of courses also proved testing for most competitors – indeed many people, from all nations, lost time in that area (and I include myself among the people who briefly fell victim to the slag heap!).
The organisers coped admirably with the challenge of discovering some new forestry works the day before the event! The works impacted the latter stages of many courses. The solution was to re-map the area, and provide an updated section of map stapled to your main map. This was a great solution to an issue which could have been somewhat problematic – kudos all round for that! There was some discussion among athletes later in the day about what the planner and controller may have said/thought when the problem was discovered – we concluded that most of the likely answers are probably not printable!
Anyhow, notwithstanding all of the above, the England Team performed strongly, with athletes finishing near the top of every class, and many class victories. For my part, I was second, just over 60 seconds down on my England colleague in the same class. This resulted in England having a significant overnight lead, with 157 points. Scotland were second with 115 points, Wales third on 81 points and Ireland forth with 70 points.
The next day, the Home International competition was a relay. Another early start was required; again, in order for the international competition to take place prior to the Caddihoe event. There are two relay classes; Woman, Man, Woman (WMW), and Man, Woman, Man (MWM), with the former for those starting at 0930, and the other just 5 minutes later.
I was running in the WMW class and, therefore, ran second leg. My first leg runner (Ruth Ker, from CLARO) finished in the leading pack of 5 athletes who all crossed the finish line within 10 seconds of each other. Needless to say, this meant that concentration was required for number 1, especially as this turned out to be a gaffled control. I took my time to make sure I got it right, as I didn’t want to lose contact with the pack early on. I then settled into the race, and, after a smart route choice to control 4, I noticed that the forest was silent! The others were gone….it seemed, fortunately, behind me! I then switched into ‘individual mode’, and made sure I was as clean as I could be for the rest of the course. This plan largely worked, and I was able to hand over a lead of several minutes to Sarah Rollins (from SN). Sarah had the ‘professional’ run we knew was likely, and my team ended up winning the WMW class by just over five minutes. The next three teams to finish in the WMW class were also English teams. So it is fair to say that England dominated that class this year!
Meanwhile, in the MWM class, the Scots won by just over a minute, with the remaining podium positions being filled by English Teams.
The above results meant that England had put in another great set of results, and had won the relay day too, with a total of 126 points. Scotland were second with 78 points, Wales third with 56 points and Ireland forth with 52 points.
So, when both days were added together, England completed an emphatic victory, finishing the weekend with a total of 283 points. Scotland were second with 193 points, Wales scored 137 points to finish third, and Ireland ended the weekend with 122 points.
It was great to be back on the international stage again, and it is always with a sense of pride that I race wearing my international kit. As is always the case, I very much enjoyed the experience – aside from the sense of pride, it was nice to meet athletes from each of the competing nations, some of whom I’ve not seen for some time. It is also nice when these events are held alongside a ‘public’ event, as that adds further to the social element of the occasion, and increases the number of spectators. I’m grateful to the support offered by some club members during the weekend, particularly during the relay – those shouts of encouragement as I set off, went through the spectator control, and finished, really do make a difference!