Another new course to add to the diverse list of Herefordshire League challenges. Thanks to Nicola Goodwin and Hereford Triathlon Club for their welcoming hospitality and for organising the event. Recent dry weather dictated that underfoot conditions were firmer than would normally be expected in early December. The 6.4 mile one lap course was the flattest of the winter circuits but its “unrelenting” (descriptive word used by kind permission of Sue Davies) nature meant that runners were working hard every step of the way around the field margins with a short section of woodland containing a surprise sharp ascent and descent and a cruel slight uphill finish.
20 Croft runners flew the sky blue flag in the field of 116 finishers with some excellent individual and team performances. Stacey, despite being stricken with illness earlier in the week, continued his impressive comeback after foot surgery with another battling display in 4th place and he extended his unbeaten sequence since becoming a veteran runner. Mark L. was next home in 8th place – this was probably a little below par compared to his recent form, but it happens to be his busiest time of year in the carpet-laying trade so long hours and minimum training are not ideal preparation for a gruelling cross country race. He will be back, better than ever. Dave George was our next runner home in 12th place (3rd MV40) – this is his highest ever league position and he is training well and is in the form of his life. Dave Ameghino in 16th place (5th MV40) completed the ‘A’ team and it is good to see the stallion regaining top form as he gallops over the turf. These exploits were rewarded with 3rd team place and we remain just a single point adrift of Wye Valley in the overall standings – Couriers are in dominant form this season and are odds on to win the title.
Martin (Slim) Williams led the ‘B’ team to an excellent 6th place with a bustling 22nd place – he was 3rd MV45 home despite my original listing as MV40. This was obviously due to me being blinded by his boyish good looks and charm. Mick was next home in 26th place (1st MV55) despite the lack of climbs on the course and he is running strongly at present. Paul Price, running his first xc race of the season, started conservatively but gradually picked off opponents to finish 32nd. Ben Rees completed the team with an encouraging 37th place – a little more consistent training should see him climbing the ranks.
The ‘C’ team finished first in their section, just 2 points ahead of Wye Valley. Ashley R. and Paul (Reverend) Green found themselves in an intense uphill sprint finish situation (see photo gallery) for 38th and 39th positions with both being given the same finishing time but with Ashley being given the verdict by a nose. Ashley was 3rd MV60 and is in line for a series medal if he maintains his sprightly form, whilst newcomer Paul is improving with every run and appears to be enjoying the whole adventure. Gary G. and Frank were also involved in their own private battle with Gary (who again would have preferred a few more hills) prevailing in 57th place (2nd MV65) with Frank just 19 secs. adrift in 58th (2nd MV55).
Tom and Brian Davies completed the men’s squad with Tom finishing 64th (3rd MV65) and Brian 72nd (1st MV70). This remarkable hardy pair of brothers have now competed in every single year of the 30 years that the Herefordshire XC League has been in existence – long may they reign. Brian was also returning to the farming area and running around the very fields where he trained as a teenage agricultural student all those decades ago.
One sad note on the day was yet another stroke of misfortune for Andrew who was just returning to somewhere near his true form and moving well in the early stages of the race when he, unfortunately, twisted his knee after a couple of miles. He bravely pushed on but was compelled to drop out at 4.8 miles when the pain became unbearable. This is the latest setback in his recent catalogue of misfortune and may well necessitate a lengthy layoff. We wish him a complete and speedy recovery so that he can fulfil his undoubted potential.
The Croft women’s team are lying in pole position in the battle for the league title after 3 races. The Ufton Court race was really a case of damage limitation as Wye Valley were able to field their strongest team of the season. A solid 2nd place for the Croft team was a positive outcome and helps to keep them in strong contention. Sue D. again set a team captain’s example with a resolute 2nd place (1st FV45) as she continued her excellent series of results since joining the club. Irina extended her impressive run of outstanding form with a robust 4th place (2nd SF) – her performances this season have been highly influential in the team’s success so far, providing essential backup to Sue. The third counting team place has so far been shared by Sam, Nicky and Jo as they have battled to complete the team and hold opponents at bay. On this occasion it was Jo, whose 16th place (3rd FV45) was vital. Jo also found herself engaged in a sprint finish – just what you want at the end of a tough race ! Sam is another who, perversely, likes the hills but still ran strongly to finish 19th (5th FV35). Rachel completed the Croftie female squad in 30th place as she sampled the delights of cross country running for the first time this season. I haven’t yet found the relevant clause, but I think that it must be against league rules to enjoy cross country so much (see photo gallery).
2 races to go with lots still at stake both individually and collectively. A festive break will, hopefully, be followed by a dynamic blitz in 2014.