A BACKGROUND in fell running meant there was a fair amount of optimism ahead of Ben Rothery’s debut run in a Stratford Athletic Club vest for the Birmingham Cross Country League Division Two finale in Trentham, Staffordshire, on Saturday.
Despite the pressure and a niggling knee injury, the 24-year-old exceeded all expectations with a magnificent run to finish second as he covered the challenging 6.4-mile course in 36:16.
In what was one of the best ever cross country performances by a senior Stratford AC athlete, Rothery’s result was the club’s highest ever finishing position in a Birmingham Cross Country League fixture.
Josh Newman had missed a couple of weeks’ training in January through illness, but he showed he is approaching peak fitness with a typically wholehearted effort to finish ninth in 38:04.
With the best three races counting towards the individual standings in the league, Newman finished fifth overall which is also an all-time best performance by a Stratford AC athlete.
Rob Minton (40th, 40:03) and Matt Burdus-Cook (41st, 40:05) have been fairly evenly matched over the winter and this race was no exception.
While it seemed Burdus-Cook had paced his effort to perfection to overtake Minton in the final half mile, Minton managed to keep enough in reserve to regain his position close to the line.
Both Kieran Tursner (73rd, 42:12) and Tim Hutchinson (88th, 42:58) have been consistent performers and yet again they both turned in typically gutsy efforts to complete the A team scorers.
The A team returned a points total of 253. Not only was this their best performance of the year, but it is also the best ever team score by the club and also meant they finished seventh on the day and eighth overall.
Only a disappointing return with a weakened team in the third race stopped the team from improving on last year’s placing, but joint team managers Danny Tolhurst and Malcolm Bowyer were well pleased with three best ever performances and finishing in eighth place for a second consecutive year.
Chris Cond (102nd, 43:48) is understated but can always be relied on to perform to the best of his ability and, whilst Martyn Helliker (149th, 48:31) had clearly not fully recovered from illness, his commitment and effort can never be faulted.
Malcolm Bowyer (153rd, 49:09) was disappointed to have missed the previous fixture with a calf injury so was keen to participate despite some concerns his injury had not fully recovered.
As such, he took a cautious approach to the race but his confidence returned as the race progressed and he was always overtaking runners on the final lap.
Mike Sheppard (163rd, 50:07) waited for the last race of the league to produce a season’s best performance and Dave Wolstencroft (179th, 54:26) was pleased with his run which culminated in an excellent sprint finish to hold off a fast-finishing rival.