WHAT to date had been a promising year for the Stratford Athletic Club men’s cross country team took an unexpected twist when a huge list of unavailability and absenteeism left the club down to the bare minimum for the final fixture.
Failing to complete a team would mean automatic relegation and, with six to count and only seven scheduled to make the trip to Gloucester, there was a real threat of disaster in the air and some anxious moments waiting for everybody to safely arrive.
Even then a single DNF could have spelt disaster, so the pre-race team brief focused on ‘make sure you finish!’.
Rich Shephard (7th, 35.29) once again led the team home and no praise is too high for his consistency and excellence over the course of the season.
Behind him Tim Hutchinson (51st, 38.54) and Kieran Tursner (95th, 40.34) have also been regulars in the scoring six and they once again performed to their high standards.
Behind them came three seasoned stalwarts who, with respect, would not normally expect to be anywhere near the scoring six. As such the pressure was on, not only to get around safely but also knowing every place would impact the overall team score.
Mike Sheppard (151st, 44.31) led home the trio, followed by James Deacon (168th, 47.03) and David Jones (179th, 49.54).
The club owes these three runners a huge debt of gratitude for their commitment to the cause in ensuring the club successfully completed a team and thereby avoided the threat of relegation.
The team finished 16th on the day, meaning they slipped from ninth to 12th in the final league table and, whilst this meant they missed out on their targeted top ten ambition, they do at least maintain their status for next season.
Special mention goes to seventh team member Martyn Sergent (190th, 66.32) who has stoically completed all four races over the winter. Always near the back, his dedication and cheery disposition has always shone through and his presence at the final fixture provided a welcome comfort blanket should disaster have struck any of his team-mates.
THE LYTCHETT 10-mile road race in Dorset always receives very high ratings for organisation and support and this year it was hosting the British Masters 10-mile Championships.
Representing SAC was Phil Brennan in the M70 category. There was a bit of a Valentine’s Day atmosphere about the race, with each of the 300-plus competitors receiving a pink heart-shaped finisher’s medal and a single red rose.
Unfortunately, there is nothing pink and fluffy about the course, which is hilly and brutally undulating, reaching a peak at about six miles.
Phil spent the last three miles slugging it out with a fellow competitor for second place, desperately trying to get free of him before he was outsprinted by 15 seconds and had to be content with a bronze medal with a time of 1:21:43.
THE DURSLEY Dozen in Gloucestershire is established as one of the toughest off-road races around – a multi-terrain race of 12 miles over hills, roads, woodland, open country, mud, more mud and solid rock.
On Valentine’s Day, eight SAC members took on this gruelling challenge. Strange as it may seem, Sarah Bland, making a welcome return to racing after a six-month lay-off, reported that it was good fun all-round.
As if to prove a point, Sarah ran a wonderful race to finish 166th and 19th lady as well as first in her age group in a time of 1:54:09.
The Stratford runners were led home by Rob Ford (1:36:23), who finished in a magnificent 27th place. Rob was followed by race debutant Ivan Sarti (1:39:58). Ivan is another Stratford runner who has not been fully fit for a number of months, so his 45th place was a credit to him.
First Stratford lady to finish and both 11th overall female and sixth in her age group was Hannah Spriggs (1:49:53). She felt the race went well for her but found the combination of four steep climbs, off-road running and the mud really tough.
Hannah had also run a challenging cross country race less than 24 hours earlier, so this was impressive form. Rob Minton decided to run round the course with Hannah, as he has been poorly recently.
Tim Owrid (2:11:59) is ramping up the miles as he prepares for the Manchester Marathon in April. He professed himself unhappy with his performance but, bearing in mind he fell over twice, he is being a bit hard on himself.
Helen Taylor (2:23:42, 362nd) had never run this distance before, so she can be mightily pleased with herself. She is maybe thinking she could have found a less challenging 12 miles though.
In view of the fact she had not attempted this type of run before, husband Patrick (2:23:43, 364th) accompanied her around the course.
The race was won by Garry Hughes in a time of 1:22:34. The first female finisher was Annabel Grainger in a time of 1:30:20. Annabel finished 11th overall as 446 runners completed the race.
AGNES McTighe – recent winner of the Junior Sportsperson of the Year accolade at Stratford District Council’s Sports Awards and Young Achiever of the Year at the Pride of Stratford Awards – was victorious again in the third round of the Swiss Cross Cup at Cross de Farvagny in Fribourg, western Switzerland.
On a warm but windy day, the under 16 girls’ race was over 3,200m on an undulating course. Several of the other leading girls were absent, so Agnes took the lead early on and then went away from the field, keeping up a strong pace to win in a time of 11 minutes, 30 seconds – a full 82 seconds clear of the second place runner.
Agnes has now won all three races in the series and goes into the final, which is also the Swiss Championships, in a week’s time full of confidence.