CROFT WOOD HANDICAP – Race 5 – 13th Aug. 2019 by Mike Blenkinsop
A record turnout for the penultimate race in the 2019 Croft Ambrey Handicap Series including 10 newbies – welcome one and all. Had the brave newcomers been warned of what awaited them ? More wooden gates than a B & Q warehouse, a lovely run down a verdant Bircher Common and descending into the murky depths of Fishpool Valley. Plain sailing so far and tantalisingly close to the finish line, but the prospect of the notoriously demanding and unforgiving Heartbreak Hill lies in wait to ambush any unsuspecting runner. Once the challenging hill is conquered there is then the possibility of a sprint finish as your gasping lungs and aching legs may have to chase down a runner in front or try to fend off a faster runner pounding up from the rear. A physical and psychological battle. Nobody got lost, nobody was attacked by the Beast of Bircher and we even had an unexpected and untimely shower of rain to cool the runners and turn the paper recording sheets to pulp.
Having 10 competitors who had never competed in any of our handicap events previously seriously tested my powers of predictability in setting the start times, but it was rewarding to see so many new Crofters wanting to challenge themselves. New fastest times were, obviously, set by all the first-timers in addition to another 8 P.B.s, some by the slenderest of margins. World class pole vaulters used to be famous for breaking their own world records by a centimetre at a time to claim extra prize money on each occasion. Sorry Crofters, no financial rewards here, not even a choccie bar – just personal pride in having bettered your best.
Appropriately the first runner home was a debutant as Thea Preece crossed the finish line well ahead of Nick Paviour, with Gareth Leek making his debut over the woodland course, galloping into 3rd place after overtaking 34 runners on the way. His excellent time of 22.13 now places him as the third fastest on this course, which has been in existence for 6 years. Will Gore continued his impressive run of form with another big improvement and his new best time of 22.39 now places him 6th in the male rankings. Hannah Fletcher also extended her rich vein of form by breaking her own FV35 course record and her time of 27.08 raise her to 5th in the female rankings. There was double success for the female branch of the Austin family (the Austin Princesses) as both headed home with beaming smiles on their faces. Liza, running swiftly at present, smashed her P.B. by a huge 51 seconds at the age (shhh!) of 55, and Lucy set a new Under 17 course record – perfectly timed as she celebrates her 17th birthday next week.
There were some promising times set by newbies, with Matt Jenneson celebrating his Croft memberhip, submitted that very day, with an excellent 25.04 – a time that shoots him straight into the Top 20 at no.18. All the newcomers, now that they are fully acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of the course, now have their own targets to aim to beat in the future. There will be one last opportunity this year when the last event in the series takes place on Tuesday 3rd September. A trophy awaits the runner who has recorded the lowest total of finishing places in 5 of the 6 races over the last 6 months. Who will it be ? A number of runners are in contention and the final outcome will depend on how well they run in the last race.
Thank to all the helpers and, particularly, to Tom Davies for setting out the course markers beforehand then clearing up afterwards. Many of the new generation of club members may not be aware that Tom was one of the founding members of CARC way back in the early 1980s and he is still going strong.