In 1907 Joe Deakin won the inaugural Herne Hill Harriers’ 10-mile cross country championship. In 2012 I won the 105th Herne Hill Harriers’ 10-mile cross country championship. The prize then and now is the same: the gigantic and heavy Dewar Shield (pictured below), presented by whisky man Sir Thomas Dewar. In 1908 Joe Deakin won a gold medal in the 3-mile team race at the London Olympics. And that’s where the similarities between Deakin and I end.
Being 10-mile cross country champion to Deakin was a stepping stone to Olympic glory, pitting himself against the world’s greatest. Being 10-mile cross country champion is my stepping stone to the Rudolf Red Nose Race in Blackpool on Sunday. But while the realisation of our athletic prowess may be very different, Deakin and I share a little piece of history – that 10-mile championship and our names on the silverware.
It’s not just Deakin and me. Thomas Humphreys would win a silver medal in the team cross country event at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912, like Deakin, a year after winning the Harriers’ title. A hard act to follow? Harry Green gave it a go. He won the championship in 1913, as well as notching a then world marathon best of 2.38.16. I’m yet to breach that benchmark.
Herbert Johnston is the prolific name on the shield. He won the race six times in the 1920s. Johnston was a pretty decent runner too, as a silver medal at the 1924 Olympics in the team 3000 metres illustrated. By the late 1950s, Michael Maynard, an international cross country runner, was writing his name all over the trophy. Thereafter the engravings are a who’s who of Herne Hill legends: Michael McEvilly, Dave Glassborow, Geoff Jerwood and Mike Boyle.
Where do I fit into all this? My best years are, hopefully, ahead of me. Will I ever amount to Deakin, Green and the rest? Of course not. To the Harriers’ heroes of the 1980s? Not unless I start hacking 20 minutes off my marathon personal best. What does matter is history – and I am proud to have contributed, even in a small way, to the history of an old and famous sports club like Herne Hill Harriers. And – like me right now as I gaze up and down the years – there will be someone looking at the Dewar Shield in 30 or 40 years wondering who that J Muir bloke in 2012 was.