This Sporting Chiswick – West 4 Harriers

Image above: Jon Scott-Francis; winter training

The Comradery of the cross-country runner

Jon Scott-Francis jogged past his 70th birthday last year and still runs over 40km every week. The running bug is something he caught as a teenager and has never wanted to shake off.

‘When I was 17, a friend and I had to sprint to catch a bus. I got to the bus easy enough and held it up for him. I couldn’t believe how fast I’d run. Nor could he. He told me I should take up running at school, which I did, pretty successfully winning medals and such.’

Scott-Francis has been a devoted member of the W4 Harriers since 1993, when there were about 20 members, after stints at other north London clubs. He’s a regular at west London Park Runs and on Monday nights, he hooks up with other members of the W4 Harriers.

Image above: The Monday social run

The Harriers’ Monday run is usually about 6km long and takes in the delights of Chiswick. To a couch potato like me, 5km sounds like a long way. Almost as far as far off as the south side of the Moon, in fact.

But, according to Scott-Francis, the distance is the ‘perfect social running distance’ as it gives you a decent work out but will leave you with enough puff at the end for a decent chin wag, rather than gasping for an oxygen mask. The club web site suggests you should be able to run ‘comfortably for 30 minutes without stopping’.

Which is why the Monday night run is a good try out for potential members, especially those who don’t want to run alone or are not sure of their fitness levels.

‘We  encourage potential members to come run with us a few times. The Monday night run is a great place to start because its open to runners of all abilities. It’s not a race and you won’t get left behind by yourself. We ‘run and chat’ and usually end up having a drink at the end.’

The club has approximately 150 members of whom 90 are active race runners, the age range is roughly 18-80, the life president is still jogging, and half of the members are women, some of whom join because, among other reasons, they feel safer running with club colleagues.

Tuesday and Thursday nights are hill and speed training and are for runners looking to improve their fitness, techniques and racing times. Check the club web site for details of where and when.

There is also a monthly handicap cross country race for members and the club hope Sapporo will help them re-launch next Spring the Thames Towpath 10, a scenic 10k run around the enticingly flat towpath which runs along the river around Richmond, Chiswick and Kew.

Image above: The racers

The annual fee to join the club is a very reasonable £35, though if you get serious and want to run in races accredited by England Athletics you will have to pay an additional £17 which entitles you to discounts on race fees and at some running stores.

The club has coaches who work with members to improve their running. I had always thought running was something you did alone. But Scott-Francis puts me right.

‘Actually, running is like learning a language, there’s only so far you can go by yourself. You need to feed off others to improve. And it’s amazing how much more advanced we are now, thanks to better coaching and technology like Garmin.’

W4 Harriers was formed in 1989 as a spin-off from the Polytechnic Harriers, one of the most famous clubs in British athletics, which was one of the passion projects of 19th century Christian philanthropist and all-round sports nut Quintin Hogg.

(Hogg, an Old Etonian, liked shooting, fives, the Eton Wall game and played football for the Wanderers side, the first winners of the FA Cup, as well as for Scotland.)

The Polytechnic Harriers went off to Kingston to focus on track athletics and the newly christened W4 Harriers hung around in west London to focus on road and cross country running.

Image above: A friendly looking bunch

Cross country was in its DNA at its birth and is ‘still the heart of the club’, according to Scott-Francis, with the men and women running in the Surrey Cross Country League. They also take part in other competitions in the UK and, occasionally, abroad.

Over the years, the club has had some outstanding amateur athletes. Still does. Its web site proudly lists the Harrier’s records times at various distances. One of the names which keeps on appearing in the list is Critchlow. Mark Critchlow holds more than four club records at between three and 10 miles and Anna, his wife, has a similar horde.  Together they also won the Wedding Day 7, a 7km race created to celebrate the wedding of Charles and Diana.

‘I remember Mark very fondly. He was really friendly and supportive of me when I first joined the club, and his approach is symbolic of what we are about at W4 Harriers. We welcome anybody and all abilities to the club,’ says Scott-Francis.

At school, cross country was an excuse to hide and have a smoke. The last time I ran anywhere was across town to Macey’s in New York to buy an American Girl doll for my daughter before stocks ran out.

Listening to Jon makes me feel guilty. It’s not his intention, of course, and if I were to try running now, I can’t think of a more considerate person or club to try out with. But I wonder if I’ll ever get myself in shape enough to run 30 minutes without stopping.

Image above: Training

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