It’s Not the Winning that Matters, but the Baking Part that Counts

Summer-league
Illustration credit: Grace Sim (www.swimbikerunart.co.uk)

Fliss issues an urgent call to action just in time for Summer League’s first official bake-off.

Are you kidding me? It’s a freezing snowy Saturday in mid-March (also known as British Spring time) and I’ve just been asked if I’d write an article about the Summer League…. Summer League – did I mention it was snowing?

No. No one was kidding.

So here I am, under blankets next to a radiator in March writing about the virtues of the Summer League.

The Summer League has one main feature that attracts most runners, and a single purpose that comes in above all others. This purpose (the one above all others) encompasses pride, competition, prestige, honour; it’s a way of life; it’s club defining. This purpose that is above all others: after-race cake.

Useful Technical Info Section*

The Summer League is an inter-club series of races held from June through to August. There are five races, each hosted by a different club. These races are approximately 10k (sometimes 5 miles, weirdly) and run roughly every other Sunday throughout the summer – when I say run roughly, obviously I’m not judging anyone’s running technique. What I mean is the weekends these “races” are hosted may not always be every two weeks. Members from participating clubs rock up to the “race”, which usually starts at 9:30 or 10:00 am (admittedly a downside; if Saturday is busy, the last vestige of sleep is cruelly snatched from your grasp before the joy of Monday morning rolling round once again). Moving on….

You arrive at the designated host club’s park and find where the start of the race is. I’d advise meandering towards the middle of the park and keeping a keen eye out for the club flags (depending on your meandering speed, you’ll need to allow time for this and railway engineering works – it will be Sunday, after all). Once you spot your club flag, you have to hone in and go gather with your tribe. You need to be wearing your club running top, so you’ll fit right in. This saves on any “what shall I wear” decision-making to be done (minimising the amount of time needed in the morning and slightly alleviating the lack of sleep issue outlined above).

Once you’ve found and gathered with your tribe, you dump your bag in the middle of the grass randomly with everyone else’s and sign in, which means you find the person from your club wandering around with a clipboard and they’ll note down your name and date of birth. After all this you’re ready. Ok, so you may want to warm up, set your watch, visualise the course, stealthily check out the competition, but probably not, so you can instead use the time to just chat to other members of your tribe wearing a matching top – nice.

After everyone has bundled behind a chalk line drawn across a park pathway and someone has fired a gun, you have to do a bit of running. The running is at your own pace, no pressure. The marshals are friendly and cheery (even the ones from other clubs) and it’s lovely to be in a park, with your pals, in the sunshine (sunshine can’t be guaranteed) trying to jog and drink water from a plastic cup half way round.

Lots of people worry about being last or being last by a long way. So, here’s a factual fact: people run the Summer League at a variety of paces, anywhere from a 5:30 min/mile to a 12:30 min/mile pace.  If you’re running around those paces on race day you won’t be last by a long shot. And even if you are, that won’t matter, we’ll still be there and you’ll have run, which is much better than not running. Most importantly you get to partake in the purpose above all others, which is the point of Summer League.

The author running relays after half a Victoria sponge and a slice of coffee walnut cake.

Summer League – The Purpose That is Above All Others

After that spot of running, whether you have come first or last, you’ve sprinted or chatted, you’ve bagged yourself a PB or are running off a hangover and are quite frankly relieved to just get round, whichever way, you have qualified for the main event of the Summer League, the single purpose of the Summer League that is above all purposes, the pay back for relinquishing that last chance of a lie in…. after-race cake – yes!

There is an array of it, an abundance of it, like Charlie’s chocolate factory but with cake. It really is quite marvellous. It is the host club’s responsibility to provide the after-race cake and believe me, it is seen as a reflection of that club’s commitment to the league and the whole club is judged by and remembered (well or otherwise) for it. Rightly so.

When it’s the turn of Serpies, our race is in Battersea Park. Everyone is welcome and all contributions (preferably of the home baked variety) are requested and received with open mouths (and arms).

After running approximately 10k, after-race cake is richly deserved and everyone proceeds to stuff as much cake into their mouth as is possible. Everyone’s pretty happy by this point. You’ve just run, you’re on a high, it’s sunny (sometimes you have to pretend it’s sunny), you’re in a park, and there is an entire table of mostly home baked cake that you’re allowed to go up to as many times as you like.

Here’s the sensitive part; it may be a bit controversial, and for some of you it may even be new news, but here it is: I think Dulwich Park Runners hold the crown for the best after-race cake. As a Serpie this is crushing (and I’m not talking of the walnut variety sprinkled atop a coffee and walnut number). Don’t get me wrong, the cakes that Serpies lovingly bake and supply, some of which are iced in Serpie colours, are utterly delicious and wonderful and I am grateful for every morsel. However, I know this may be a shock to some, possibly a disappointment to others, and maybe those that started reading this because they wanted to learn about running won’t care, but, as far as the purpose that is above all other purposes of the Summer League goes, it’s my unverified and wholly subjective personal opinion that Dulwich Park Runners have pipped Serpentine to the post for after-race cake. And what’s more, they’ve held this crown year after year. It’s a free range, large sized, egg cracking shame.

The impressive cake table at the Dulwich summer league.

The Serpies’ Summer League Call to Action

But you can change this. You can be a Serpie that helps whisk this around. Your club needs YOU.

For those that have before donned their pinny and brought forth baked goods from their own oven – we salute you and implore you to do so again this summer. For Summer League newbies, rise to this challenge: dust off Mary Berry’s Baking Bible or Nigella’s Domestic Goddess and get baking; the reputation of your club depends on it.

Summer League Post Purpose

Finally, there is the small matter of the 400m relays that go on after the main 10k-ish “race” and, curiously, also after the after-race cake. A sort of after after-cake race, I suppose. Anyone can join in the 400m relays. There are heats for men, women and children mixed in many unfathomable seemingly endless rounds. Or, if you’ve succumbed to the home baked goods, you could hide behind a tree when the person you saw earlier for registration pops up wanting to know if you would sprint round 400m. The choice is yours.

Sum up

To conclude, what is the Summer League? A bit of running you have to do to feel like you’ve earned half a Victoria sponge and a chocolate brownie; and is it scary? The only thing that’s scary is the prospect of Dulwich Park Runners retaining the after-race cake crown for yet another year.

Bake well, Serpies.

* somewhat more detailed and specific information for those that would find that sort of thing useful can be found at the Serpentine website and the official Summer League website.

Fliss Berridge has been a signed-up, Serpie t-shirt wearing Serpie for ten years. Fliss can also be found selling aforementioned Serpie t-shirts in the kit room from time to time. Currently, Fliss is trying to pursue a zero sugar diet (whether this was brought on by after-race cake cannot be proven).

Grace Sim did the illustration for this article. Go and have a look round her website (link below).