A WET and muddy Newbold Comyn in Leamington played host to the opening fixture of the season in the Birmingham & District Men’s Cross Country League and Midland Women’s League and Stratford Athletic Club was well represented in both races as 24 men and 14 women were keen to test themselves up and down Beacon Hill and through the infamous water-filled ditch.
The women’s race was run over a distance of 6km, taking in two laps of the course. Just before Saturday afternoon’s race began there was a downpour, which made warming up a slightly unpleasant experience.
The first Stratford AC finisher was Emma Slevin (29th) who put in a superb performance on her senior league debut. While she does not feel at home on a boggy course, Emma’s undoubted ability and commitment ensure she always gains the best possible result.
Emma ran an admirably assertive opening lap and never let her pace drop, even when the heavy conditions took their toll on rival athletes.
The tough training schedule Sarah Wheeler (37th) has undertaken during 2014 has helped her to achieve fabulous results and times and on this evidence it has also raised her cross country prowess to a new level.
Sarah looked confident, composed and full of energy as she negotiated this tough course and she looks sure to be challenging for a top 25 finish before the season is out.
Emma Bexson (94th) was the team’s third scorer and she can be very pleased with how she went about her business. She wisely elected to steer clear of the main body of the field on the start line, forecasting that bunching that would occur on the first corner. She was therefore able to maximise the distance over which she could run free from obstruction.
Emma gave herself every chance of a fine run, finding her rhythm early on and identifying the best line to follow on the difficult section just before ascending Beacon Hill.
She finished in swift fashion and made a vital contribution to the overall team performance.
With additional classy female runners set to return in the second fixture, the team can build on this success and look forward to the remainder of the season with eager anticipation.
Other Stratford AC results: Alison Bagnall (116th); Lesley Kirk (168th); Emma Vickers (182nd); Anna Watson (197th); Sarah Odell (207th); Becky Loftus (244th); Tina Bonham (247th); Cadie Hibberd (289th); Debbie Edkins (299th); Suzanne Jones (327th); Kate Barrett (349th). A total of 369 athletes finished and league positions are yet to be confirmed.
IN KEEPING with tradition, the first fixture of the men’s league season featured all three divisions (Stratford AC in Division Two).
With 736 finishers there was little room for manoeuvre in the first 2km of this 10km race. The organisers made a late decision to miss out Beacon Hill on the first of the three laps to minimise the chance of bottlenecks at some of the narrower points on the course.
Stratford AC were missing some of their key cross country runners from the 2013/14 season and in their absence it was left to new member Richard Shephard (34th, 38.52) to make his mark.
Richard was competing in his first cross country race since his schooldays and he described it as “a baptism of fire”. He ran a terrific race and showed he will be a real asset to the team in the remaining three league fixtures.
Richard wisely started at a fast pace and kept out of trouble in such large field of runners. As a top class Ironman triathlete, he was confident his powers of endurance would enable him to stay strong in the latter stages and he sped through the ditch on each lap with consummate ease and ran a positive and well-judged race overall.
It will be fascinating to see how Richard performs on the almost pancake-flat Plock Court in Gloucester at the next fixture on December 6.
Josh Newman (64th, 40.06) admits he does not really enjoy running on muddy courses but his pace judgement and will to succeed helped him to a fine result. Josh gritted his teeth and found an extra gear along the home straight to finish in good style.
A powerful run from Wayne Vickers (99th, 41.54) delighted his team-mates. Wayne showed good pace early in the race and he always looked comfortable during one of his best performances in recent seasons.
Danny Tolhurst (105th, 42.27) found himself a long way back in the field after a conservative opening lap but he kept his composure and picked up a considerable number of places during the final 2km. Danny knows he will have to work hard this winter if he is to finish in the Stratford AC top three in any of the remaining races.
A superb run and huge personal best in the Leicester Marathon two weeks before this race gave Graham Taylor (112nd, 42.51) a real boost and assured him his disciplined training is having the desired effect.
Wayne continued his good form here with a consistently-paced performance which included intelligently-run downhill sections and hard graft in the tacky areas of the course.
Rich Welburn (121st, 43.10) was possibly the muddiest team member in the post-race photograph after becoming well acquainted with the ditch. This was only Rich’s second cross country appearance since joining the club and he has already become a valuable member of the team.
He started strongly and fought hard to maintain his prominent position on laps two and three.
This was a creditable performance with some breakthrough performances and team management will be hoping to attract further strength in depth for future races to achieve a top ten league position.
Other Stratford AC results: Richard Dobedoe (124th, 43.22); Malcolm Bowyer (152nd, 44.58); Mark Newman (168th, 45.46); Matt Lyness (173rd, 45.57); Kieran Tursner (174th, 45.57); David Smyth (175th, 46.05); Mike Sheppard (177th, 46.11); Alan Coley-Smith (194th, 46.55); Simon Penson (213rd, 48.13); Dave Wolstencroft (234th, 51.00); David Jones (235th, 51.00); Luke Watkins (238th, 51.23); Michael Clark (247th, 53.00); Mike Barrie (248th, 53.25); Brian Gravelsons (249th, 53.43); Ben Twyman (254th, 54.48); Andy Turner (259th, 57.06); Clive Shepherd (268th, 72.05).
The Stratford AC A team finished 13th out of 18 teams and the Stratford AC B team finished seventh out of 13 teams.
Some of the men who represented Stratford AC on Saturday are pictured, left to right – Malcolm Bowyer, Richard Dobedoe, Rich Welburn, Wayne Vickers, Danny Tolhurst, David Smyth, Mark Newman, Mike Sheppard, Kieran Tursner, Matt Lyness. (s)
Emma Slevin (29th) was the first woman to finish for Stratford AC on her senior league debut. (s)