Encouraging friendly inter-club rivalry increases strength in depth

Recognising the importance of team camaraderie, along with encouraging friendly inter-club rivalry has helped race organiser Dave Richmond maintain the huge popularity the Frostbite Friendly League enjoys every winter in the Cambridgeshire area.

The league is a club competition that involves a mix of cross-country and multi-terrain with as many as 500 racing over five miles at a variety of testing venues. Everybody from budding internationals to first timers are more than welcome and - more importantly - everybody plays a key role in the results with the first 10 runners to score, three of whom must be men and three women. And, as many a team has discovered over the 35 years the league has been in existence, it’s not necessarily about having the first across the line; this league is very much about strength in depth and runners mid-pack play as important a role as those at the sharp end.

group of four cross country runners

"The events work so well because of the team camaraderie they bring. Whilst everyone wants to do their best for the club, there is also the friendly rivalry not only between opposing team runners but also within the club, which I think creates a really competitive atmosphere."

"In the series, runners get the chance to overturn a previous position order with someone they consider to be of similar ability over differing terrains. It gives us a chance to slay our nemesis at least for the race just finished," Dave, a member of Eye Community Runners explains.

The first race in the Friendly Frostbite League took place in autumn 1988 hosted by Bushfield Joggers and the first junior league followed just a year later. Today, there are 16 clubs with plenty more on the waiting list hoping to join – car parking at the venues and the actual course restricts the numbers, says Dave. And, naturally, with so many taking part over the years the league has seen some wonderful races.

Cross Country running through a ford

"My first ever Frostbite race was at Hail Weston near St Neots. Within the first mile runners had the choice of going over a narrow single file bridge or through a ford," recalls Dave. 

"I chose the ford, keeping close behind another club member who lost his footing and instead of just getting wet feet, got rather wetter than he had envisaged. I’m glad to say I stayed upright! On another race at Bourne Woods in Lincolnshire I slipped in the mud and tried to get up but kept getting pushed back into the quagmire each time before finally making it and carrying on.

That’s what makes the league. Each race and every event I organise is different, from year to year but the sense of relief once the final runner crosses the line never changes."

Modestly, Dave, an 89-minute half marathon runner at his best, describes his route into race organisation as almost accidental as when he was unable to race because of an injury he volunteered to help.

"I realised I enjoyed helping, so I helped the race director and realised that was something I really enjoyed doing and just got more involved," he explains.

"I was lucky balancing race organisation with work as I had some flexibility so as long as deadlines were met, I could balance my day to allow time to work on race organisation. I took over as chair of the Frostbite League just after taking early retirement which was quite fortuitus as leading up to a race there is a fair bit to do. Luckly for me the six clubs take on the race organisation, so I just have the overall management such as completing results and looking after social media."

Dave also recognises the importance the league has when it comes to developing new talent.

"We continue to hear of the lack of PE activities in schools and obesity being a big issue for young people. We also hear of the negative impact of social media on the young. We need to ensure that there are opportunities for young people to get out in the fresh air and realise that running is a great way to exercise as well as making friends even when they will always be trying to better each other."

Group of male cross country runners

"At every Frostbite I never fail to see the determination on the faces of the young athletes from the first across the line to the very last and realise that’s why we do it. Juniors are our future of the sport and unless we encourage and nurture them, a source of reasonably inexpensive exercise will be lost,” he says.

As for why the league continues to be so popular, Dave has this simple answer:

“I feel that there is so much support for fellow athletes who run cross-country and multi-terrain events with runners often going back to cheer on teammates and sometimes the opposition!”

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