THE STRATFORD AC seniors’ second cross country fixture took place at Cofton Park in Birmingham and blustery conditions greeted the competitors.
The venue can best be described as undulating and, whilst certain parts were like running through a wind tunnel, underfoot conditions were surprisingly good which meant little joy for the mud-lovers of the team.
Once again the men’s and ladies’ races were held at the same venue, giving another opportunity for the club camaraderie to come to the fore and provide plenty of encouraging support around the course.
The ladies’ race over two laps was won in imperious style by GB international Jessica Judd but behind her the talented Stratford ladies’ team put in some fantastic performances as Zoe Chandler once again led the team home in finishing 11th in a time of 24.02.
She was followed by Kate Wright (36th, 25.30). Excellent runs by Rachel Pearce (66th, 26.59) and Hannah Spriggs (76th, 27.23) saw both of them improve their positions significantly from the first league fixture to bring the team home to a seventh placed finish overall out of 39 teams.
One of the performances of the day came from Fern Hordern who improved by 23 places to finish 106th in 28.36 and, along with Kate and Rachel, they combined to bring the Masters team into a fantastic second place.
A stunning run by Emma Vickers saw her improve by 66 places from the first race to finish 125th in 29.08 and she was closely followed by Alison Bagnall (134th) and team captain Sarah Bland who made a welcome return from injury and had a solid run to finish 140th in 29.40.
Making her club debut was Rachel Kirkwood with a very promising run (147th, 29.54) and another big improver was the fast-finishing Emily Adams (155th, 30.01).
There was another solid run from Emma Parkin (190th, 31.00) whilst Sarah Odell (233rd, 32.47) showed continuing signs of getting back to full fitness.
Rebecca Pridham (258th, 34.34) had another enjoyable time and another big mover was Kate Sergent who improved by 50 places to finish 280th in 35.28.
The men’s race was over three laps and the team were led home by the consistent Rich Shepherd (12th, 36.29) and behind him there were some interesting duels that always fuel the competitive internal club rivalry.
A good example was Tim Hutchinson (47th, 38.58) who just got the better of Rob Minton (49th, 39.18) and they were followed by Rob Ford (79th, 40.35) who was always a frustratingly short distance ahead of Wayne Vickers (85th, 40.52).
The next battle was Kieran Tursner (111th, 42.01) who once again made up the first team scoring six by just edging out a determined David Smyth (113th, 42.13).
By his own admission Malcolm Bowyer (133rd, 42.13) was “rubbish” on the first lap but gradually got into the race to finish strongly.
Making a welcome return to racing, Ivan Sarti was 142nd in 43.30 and just managed to stay ahead of two consistent performers in the shape of David Battersby (148th, 43.59) and David Parkin (153rd, 44.11).
In his first cross country outing in senior competition, Matthew Bayliss put down a marker for the future by completing the B team scoring six in 161st (44.52).
He will be much better prepared for the next race and a better indication of his performance was that he was 11th in the separate junior competition.
Mike Sheppard (172nd, 45.40) emphatically turned the tables on Anthony Howell (184th, 46.03) and here is another rivalry that will need to be watched in the future.
They were followed by James Deacon (193rd, 47.05) and Neil Gardiner (199th, 47.40) who appreciated the better underfoot conditions and significantly improved his pace from the first race.
A close duel behind saw David Jones (221st, 51.00) just get the better of Ben Twyman who was pleased with his run (222nd, 51.19).
David Clarkson enjoyed himself on his cross country debut (232nd, 55.38), whilst club stalwart Allan Coldicott ran his first cross country race for several years because of serious illness and was pleased to get around in 235th (58.02), followed by Martyn Sergent (241st, 67.15).
A special mention for new member Mark Atkinson, who was showing a lot of promise by being placed about 35th after two laps before having to drop out because of injury.
This unfortunately cost the team about 75 points and, whilst they might have finished as high as seventh, this dropped them back to 12th on the day but they remain ninth overall after two races. The B team finished seventh and are seventh overall.
The next fixture is on January 16 at Gloucester and, once again, both teams are together.