TWO strong teams from Stratford Athletic Club made the short journey to Cofton Park in Longbridge for the third round of races in their respective cross country leagues.
Competitors in both the Midland Women’s League and Birmingham & District Cross Country League were met by a traditional hilly parkland course with a few boggy sections, but it was generally firm underfoot.
First off was the women’s race featuring nearly 400 runners over two laps of the course, which involved four miles in total.
The first 800m was relatively flat and fast so the leading runners soon established themselves at the front. Stratford’s Zoe Chandler, continuing her comeback to racing, made a good start running in the second group of runners. Chandler continued strongly throughout the race and finished 17th in 25.31.
Next for Stratford was Rachel Pearce who made a strong start and then ran consistently through the race to come 42nd in 28.20 and was also first of the Stratford masters team (9th master).
Close behind and running a very similar race was Sheila Lammas (56th and 16th master, 29.15) who enjoyed the hills on each lap despite having raced and won the Naunton 19-mile the week before.
The final counter in the women’s team was the improving Maria Haslam (95th and 37th master, 31.02). Very close behind was Emily Adams (105th, 31.26) showing the benefit of her marathon training. Emily was 43rd in the masters race to complete the Stratford team.
Emma Vickers (113th, 31.50) commented how much she enjoyed the hills while Suzi Graham (130th, 33.42) is enjoying her cross country season as she becomes a regular in the team.
The next Stratford finisher was Rebecca Pridham (162nd, 37.06) who is returning from injury and found the course very demanding. Sarah Vernon (168th, 38.16) is enjoying her first season of cross country and is improving rapidly and gained several places at the finish with a fast finish.
Three of the team were close together for the whole race and pushed each other on to good results – Jo Young (170th, 38.22), Jan McLure (171st, 38.34) and Kate Sergent (175th, 38.46). The team was completed by Pip Abrams (184th, 42.08).
The senior team of four came seventh in Division One of the league, consolidating their mid-table position, while the masters team were sixth with the last match in February to come.
NEXT was the Birmingham League Division Two race held on the same course but over three laps, which meant it was a six-mile course.
The Stratford squad was weakened by several absences due to illness, injury and, in one case, a puncture on the way to the race!
Despite this, the Stratford team ran positively and performed better than could be expected. After his recent successes Josh Newman had set his stall out to achieve a top ten finish. He started strongly and was always near the front and, after a fantastic sprint finish, Newman finished seventh in 35.13.
Tim Hutchinson was running his fourth race in eight days but you would not have known as he cruised through as next finisher for the Stratford team (52nd, 37.47).
In only his second cross country race for the club, Ollie Senior (86th, 39.13) showed what a good signing he is. Close behind, and also in his first season, was Drew Sambridge (94th, 39.42) who looked far more comfortable than in previous races.
U20 Fergus Allison (105th, 40.02) started slowly by his standards as he was suffering from a chest infection and found the final lap hard going, doing well to finish in such a good position.
The final finisher for the A team was Kieran Tursner (112th, 40.13) who is now getting back to his best and ran well despite not feeling well on the first lap.
Seb Hopper (135th, 40.58) improved as the race went on and looked full of running at the end of the race. The next finisher was Danny Tolhurst (141st, 41.11) on a welcome return to the team in his first league race for two years.
Tolhurst commented that it was nice to be back in the squad. “I haven’t done any proper training for a few years now and I know it will take a while to get back to any kind of fitness,” he said.
David Smyth (154th, 41.58) looked strong, especially on the hills. After a close finish James Cusack (159th, 42.04) just held off Chris Cond (160th, 42.05) who had started fast but had to dig deep at the finish.
Andy Cox (194th, 43.35) was the final counter for the Stratford B team. The remaining Stratford team finishers were: Malcolm Bowyer, 218th, 45.18; Martyn Helliker, 224th, 45.42; Mike Sheppard, 240th, 47.42; Ben Twyman, 251st, 48.50; Dave Wolstencroft, 257th, 49.35; James Deacon, 262nd, 50.29; Mike Barrie, 273rd, 52.36.
The Stratford A team came 12th of the 17 teams but remain eighth in the table. Showing the strength in depth, the B team were sixth and are seventh in the B team league.
As with the women’s league, there is one race left in the season.
Report compiled by Paul Hawkins.