Neil Featherby: How Norfolk Harriers became a force to be reckoned with

Picture: The Norfolk Harriers prior to last year's Run Norwich 10k Picture: Stu Barnard

This week’s column is going to feature another good friend of mine and well respected runner, Steve Jones - or should I say former Police Chief Inspector Steve Jones, also turned race director?

Prior to this year's National Police Cross Country Championships at Thetford where the ladies took first place and the gold medals and the men second Picture: Stu Barnard
Whilst I really wanted to write a piece about him and while he did fill me in with a few details about his long running career, he was more concerned about telling me about the The Norfolk Harriers, a running club which is made up of runners from within the Norfolk Police Force.

However, let’s start with Steve who as a young athlete when in the West Midlands Police Force, competed for Birchfield Harriers as a prolific middle distance track athlete with a very creditable PB of 1 min 54 secs for 800 metres.

After transferring to the Norfolk Police Force in 1996, he turned his attentions to road racing where he also performed at a high level producing PB’s of 15 mins for 5K, 25 mins for 5 miles and 32 mins for 10K, which needless to say would usually see him either winning or finishing high up in any race field.

Whilst Wymondham AC are now his first claim club where he is also a club coach, it is with the Norfolk Harriers where he has really applied his running knowledge and experience over the years (Club Chairman 2003 to March 2020).

The Harriers were formed in 2003 by Steve along with Peter Laddiman and the club soon grew in numbers what with there being so many competitive runners within the force.

While Steve points out that the club now has 60 members, this is of course still pretty small compared to many of the county’s other registered clubs. However, he was also quick to very proudly point out the club’s excellent pedigree and whilst there really are far too many members to mention, he did ask me to name the likes of Dave Mytton who competed with great distinction for many years along with other top class athletes such as Chris Balmer, Paul Sanford, Andy Vinsen, Kris and Stu Barnard, Maria Greaves, Alex Smith and Lucy Campbell.

Then in February of this year the Harriers took the ladies gold medal winning honours in the national police cross country championships in the shape of Amy Beck, Sharon Hurren and Sarah Griffiths which was made even more impressive when you consider that this really was a championship which encompassed forces from all over the UK including the Metropolitan Police force which is 15 times bigger than Norfolk. To add further glory to the occasion, Norfolk police men’s team finished with the runners up silver medals too.

Police Sport UK organises many events, but the two which stand out amongst all the others through the course of each year are the National Cross Country Championships and National 10 mile road race champs and it was back in 2007 when Norfolk was asked for the first time to stage the cross country championships for which Steve recalls that eyebrows were raised in certain quarters by some who questioned the decision.

“At the time, we as a county force had never hosted such an event for which many thought we could not pull it off, saying Norfolk was too flat for a cross country race,” he said.

That was like a red rag to a bull for Steve and particularly so for Pete Laddiman whereby they then went out of their way to design a cross country course around Happy Valley in Cromer which of course was anything but flat. Apart from proving that hills do actually exist here in the county, they also proved that Norfolk police could indeed organise a very well organised National Championships and have since gone on to organise the National Police 10 miles championships at Sandringham in 2012 and then at Gorleston in 2016, followed by the cross country championships again this year at Thetford.

Incidentally, after not only organising and of course competing in the cross country race at Happy Valley in 2007, just four days later Steve was out in Australia competing for the police in the World Cross Country Championships.

Steve believes that when it comes to making a race really successful, apart from paying meticulous attention to every single detail, it is the course which is the key.

“As runners, one of the first things we focus on post-race is the time we achieved, be it a PB or indeed a PW. A fast course helps, but of course when we organised the cross country champs at Happy Valley it was the complete opposite and one whereby it was the challenge of the course itself which everyone wanted to overcome.”

He also went on to say that the next priority is prizes and awards and whilst this can be a debatable subject, he did make me laugh when saying: “In police championships, it is tradition to give out goody bags, but after 20 years of racing I now have a collection of mugs, glasses, t-shirts, hoodies, socks, fruit and veg vouchers and even a stick of rock.

“However and when it comes to winning races, there is a big difference from being given a cadbury’s cream egg to that of a new pair of running shoes.”

He did actually say that the cream egg was a prize for winning a club race and not in a police event. Nevertheless, the way he so very dryly put it, he had me in stitches of laughter.

Whilst Steve retired from the Norfolk Police force in 2015, he is indeed still very much actively involved with the Harriers and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

As a race director himself, he feels for all those who have put so much effort into organising all the many events which were planned for this year and have now either been put back or indeed cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“What with now trying to condense so many races into a such a small time frame, this will of course create a clash with more than one race taking place on the same day if indeed they do go ahead and I can only sympathise as to what really must be a very difficult situation to be in,” he said. “I can only liken it to trying to turn an oil tanker in a small harbour.”

There are no two ways about it, not only is Steve a great athlete and event organiser, he is also very much a deep thinking man who really does care.

So much so he would not let me finish this column without also mentioning Richard Polley for all his help and advice in the past and to two club stalwarts in Sue Humphries and Sharon Lister for all their hard work when it comes to helping with events and raising money for charity.

One final mention for this week, has to go to a man I have always called “Mr Norfolk Athletics” and that is to Tim Ash who celebrated his 80th birthday on Monday.

Tim and his wife Pauline have both done so much for the sport here in our county over the years whilst helping so many athletes of all ages during that time.

 Neil Featherby's Friday EDP Feature