With the Herefordshire Cross Country League celebrating its 30th anniversary, perhaps a few words regarding the history of the women’s event would serve as an illuminating introduction – thanks to archivist Tom for some of the details.
The league started way back in 1984 with Croft Ambrey being one of just a handful of affiliated clubs and very few of the runners were female – they were always referred to as “Ladies” in those days, but I have always thought of that as being a bit too twee and quaint. Facilities were fairly basic (what has changed there ? I hear you say) without the luxury of any toilet facilities other than the privacy afforded by the profusion of nearby trees and bushes, and no welcoming tea and cakes to refresh tired runners at the finish area. Brian Davies with his cheerful cup of cider served from the back of his trusty Land Rover at Croft Castle being a possible exception. The women also ran a much shorter distance in those protective days e.g. just one lap of the Croft Castle course. Maybe the idea was that the women could finish their race and then put on the kettle for the hard-working menfolk – they obviously weren’t seduced by this proposition. This shorter female distance still applies to most cross country races today.
Then, for various reasons, it all started to fall apart. The following season we failed to field a full team in some of the races and the league title went to Kidderminster R.C. – whatever happened to them? The Croft cupboard remained bare from then onwards with, occasionally, no Croft females competing at all in some of the races. The title was perennially disputed between Hereford Couriers and Wye Valley Runners, with a strong Couriers outfit mostly dominant. There were two brief exceptions with Ludlow Runners (with Sonia George featuring strongly in their ranks) taking the title in 2002/03 and, more recently, Malvern Joggers (led by the formidable Emma Gooderham) winning in 2010/11. Wye Valley then took the title for the two following years, with Croft pushing them hard last season and finishing just one point adrift in 2nd place.
Therefore, as the 2013/14 season approached there was a degree of optimism, but expectations were not high. Suzanne Turvey had admirably maintained her first claim status with Croft but she was in the final year of her medical studies at Cardiff University and racing mostly in south Wales. Nicky Turvey was concentrating on triathlons, where she was tasting some fine successes, and was protecting her limbs by avoiding long runs. Gemma Mallett was unavailable for the season. So three of our top runners were unlikely to feature.
The team was down to its bare bones for the first race held at Fforest Fields in late October with just 3 female members competing but they competed magnificently. Sue Davies dominated the race to record an emphatic victory and Irina Dale, who had shown great promise during the previous season, surpassed all expectations with a brilliant 3rd place. Sam Harper had been training well and was improving with every race, and it was her battling 11th place which was decisive in ensuring that Croft won the event by the narrow margin of 3 race points to lay down an early marker.
Sam, Irina and Sue celebrate being the winning team after the Fforest Fields race.
One of the shorter races on home turf at Croft Castle was next on the calendar. Sue again excelled with another team captain’s performance to take 2nd place and she was closely followed by an outstanding best ever 3rd place from Irina. Nicky had dusted herself down and decided to test herself out over the shorter, but still challenging, traditional course. Her positive run to take 8th place was vital in pushing some of the other opponents’ runners further down the order and Croft, again, took the team honours. There was good support here from Sam in 14th, Jo Marriott 15th, Ruth Stafford 16th, Kim Wood 41st and Elaine Rouse 44th, with the ‘B’ team taking 4th place. This performance gave us a 2 point lead over the Tri Club with Wye Valley a further 2 points adrift. Dare we start to dream? No feathered fowls were being counted. The league scoring system meant that one bad race could change everything and Wye Valley were bound to hit top form at some stage.
This stage came at the new course at Ufton Court over the flattest terrain of the series. Wye Valley finished their 3 counters in the top 5 to record an emphatic team triumph. Croft took an important 2nd place, however, with Sue again leading the way in 2nd with Irina digging deep to finish 4th. On this occasion it was Jo who became the important third team counter with a tenacious 16th place. Sam in 19th and Rachel Nelson 30th completed the squad. 3 races gone and still in the lead with Wye Valley and the Tri Club together 3 points adrift.
Into the new year and the penultimate race at Monkhall Farm over, possibly, the toughest and muddiest course that the notoriously tough Herefordshire League had ever thrown at the hardy runners. Suzanne made a special journey fro her Cardiff base to support her fellow Crofties and proceeded to run a superb race as she splashed through the strength sapping mud to win the women’s race by two and a half minutes, beating many good male runners into the bargain – what an outstanding run. Sue struggled a bit, by her own high standards, in the adverse conditions but still battled hard to take 5th place and nifty Nicky excelled herself to finish 7th. The terrific turbo Turveys were in tandem again. Victory again – this time by the narrow margin of just 2 points from the Tri Club girls whose strength and stamina were beneficial on such a demanding course. Sam in 14th and Jo 17th continued to battle for the cause.
And so to the final race at Presteigne with a healthy 4 point series lead. Surely nothing could go wrong ! Irina had missed the Monkhall mudfest with a hip injury and was now distraught that she had developed a debilitating heavy cold. She was sensible enough not to risk further aggravation and had already played a considerable role in getting her team into this leading position. Sue, herself suffering from the effects of a cold, ran bravely to take 3rd place and was upset not to have won! Nicky again excelled with a dynamic 4th place and Sam recorded her best ever league finish in an impressive 8th place. Jo was just behind her in 9th with Rachel 22nd and a welcome return from Sue Powell in 23rd to complete the ‘B’ team in 6th place. The ‘A’ team had finished 2nd to the Tri Club but had done more than enough to ensure victory in the battle for the League Championship.
CHAMPIONS again after 20 years of hurt! Well done to all the Croft girls. We may be small numerically but we are big in spirit and everyone played an important part in this resounding victory. Togetherness, loyalty and consistency combined with determination and talent were the decisive factors. Have you noticed a common denominator ? Nicky T. – part of the winning team 20 years apart – what a performance!
Jo, Sue, Nicky, Sam and Irina collecting the Herefordshire Cross Country League 2013/14 winners trophy.
The successful season was rounded off with the consistent performances of Sue Davies being rewarded with the league individual team title, 6 years after her previous success, and the gold medal for the FV45 age group. Sam deservedly took the silver medal in the FV35 age group and Jo, again deservedly, the silver in the FV45 category.