Wycombe Phoenix Harriers are flying high at their new state-of-the-art base in Little Marlow, Buckinghamshire
Early records show that Wycombe Phoenix Harriers was formed by local man Charles Allen in 1910 and that it staged a “Magnificent Meeting” of athletics at the High Wycombe Cricket Ground in September 1912 under the auspices of the AAA and the NCU. That fixture attracted 430 entries in the 59 races and offered prizes worth £100. During the following 50 years, the club expanded and, by the 1970s, was beginning to make a name for itself at road and cross country.
The early days
Successes started to come thick and fast during the mid- Seventies onwards when a crop of talented young athletes helped to raise its profile. Jackie Priest won the national under-13 girls’ cross-country title in 1974 and Tracey Gleed repeated that in 1979 and 1980. Elise Lyon recorded under-15 national wins in both 1980 and 1981.
In 1981, Gleed and Lyon joined forces with the orienteering Hague sisters, Sarah and Yvette, and Christine Rowe to claim the National under-15 team title in Andover. Nicola Sanders, the 2007 world 400m silver medallist, started out with the club before moving to Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow AC.
Where they train
Sessions take place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sunday mornings with a few variations between groups and squads. Wycombe’s base is the newly opened Wycombe and District Athletics Centre in Little Marlow, Buckinghamshire, a £1.5 million eight-lane track with Herculean surface that is part of a £30 million investment in new sports facilities by the local council.
The club has use of adjoining club and changing rooms and there is a network of public footpaths, including the Chiltern Way and the Thames Path, close by on which athletes train.
In the winter months, groups switch one weekly session indoors either at the Cressex School, Wycombe High School or Brunel University where gym and conditioning work is the priority. Endurance athletes head to the nearby Chiltern Hills, including the National Trust-owned Hughenden Park, for hill training.
There’s a highly structured and comprehensive coaching system with James Bryden steering newcomers through
fundamentals and foundation coaching and Richard Classens, Mike Taylor and David Randall overseeing endurance from junior through to senior level. Nigel Sanderson takes overall charge of sprint and hurdle coaching, assisted by Nick Reuter while Mike Mahoney leads a separate squad of sprinters. In field events, AJ Simpson takes charge of the throws while Ian and Chris Parkinson coach the club’s pole vaulters.
On the track, the club competes in division 2 (West) of the Southern Athletics League and in the Youth Development League (upper and lower age groups), sometimes as part of a coalition with Chiltern Harriers called South Bucks Athletics. Regular Quadkids meetings are held for younger junior members and the club competes in the Alpha & Beta Trophy meeting at Lee Valley Stadium every April. During the forthcoming winter season, Wycombe will participate in division 2 of the Results Base Chiltern Cross Country League, having been relegated last year.
Last season, Wycombe’s under-13 girls’ team took the Southern road relays and Southern cross country relays titles and Kirsten Stilwell won the South of England under-13 girls cross country title at Brighton in January. The club also boasts 25 county champions from the 2015 Buckinghamshire track and field championships.
From the outset, the club aimed to be a community based athletics club. This ethos remains today. Wycombe Phoenix draws athletes of all levels from High Wycombe and a wide surrounding area. Its junior section is particularly strong, although huge strides are being made to attract more social runners to the ranks. The club prides itself on its friendly and welcoming atmosphere and holds plenty of social activities to enhance team spirit.
The club has a long list of athletes who have competed at international level, including the Scottish Commonwealth 400m runner Margaret Sutherden, the 400m hurdler turned sports commentator Martin Gillingham, the junior sprinter and long jumper Laurie Thorn, the junior 100m hurdler Matthew Jackson, and Matt Axe over 3000m steeplechase.
Sarah Jarvis, Tim Gardner, Laura Patterson, Christina Radon, Leanne O’Callaghan and Judy Turton also enjoyed international success and Pippa Woolven represented England in the 3000m steeplechase at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Teresa Hoyle’s Buckinghamshire 400m record remains intact after almost three decades.
Wycombe Phoenix organises an open cross-country event for local schools every October, regularly attracting more than 700 local children. Pupils attending are encouraged to help with the organisation and sports leaders from some of the schools offer support marshalling.
In April, the club stages its junior club championships, inviting other local clubs to take part – this year it was Cookham Running Club and Chiltern Harriers. A QuadKids competition is incorporated into the meeting for the youngest athletes and a selection of the main track-and- field events are on offer for the under-13 and under- 15 age groups.
Spreading the word
In addition to having its own website, Facebook page and Twitter feed, the club works closely with local newspapers such as the Bucks Free Press to publicise the achievements of its members through its voluntary press officer, Julie Wetenhall. Wycombe Phoenix has also been designated as the athletic provider for the community by Wycombe District Council.
Need to know
Parents are encouraged to lace up their trainers even if they have never run before. There’s an adult-only social run every Tuesday evening followed by refreshments in the club room.
Number of members: 250
Fees: Up to school year 7 – £19.20 per month; School, year 8 and above – £22.80 per month.
Main base: Wycombe District Athletics Centre, Westhorpe Farm Lane, Little Marlow, Bucks.
Club colours: Light blue with red hoop
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