THE FIRST fixture of the 2019/20 Birmingham & District Invitation Cross Country League saw both the ladies’ and men’s events staged on the Burton Dassett Hills and 31 runners from Stratford Athletic Club were in action.
As cross country courses go, Burton Dassett Hills provides a true test with climbs and undulations aplenty and on a very cold, wet and miserable day every runner deserves full credit for their commitment and spirit.
The ladies started off proceedings and there was a terrific battle to be first Stratford runner home with an excellent Sophie Dobedoe (52nd, 31:47) just managing to hold off club stalwart Rachel Pearce (53rd, 31:52).
They were followed by two juniors more at home on the track than the hills and mud. Emily Field was a notable 78th (33:28), whilst huge credit goes to Imogen Sheppard (98th, 34:46) for finishing after a short mid-race break to discuss the wisdom of continuing with an injury which clearly slowed her down in the latter stages.
Their efforts meant the A team finished in 14th place in what is a very strong and competitive league.
There was a promising run from Annie Cox (106th, 35:00) and new member Amy Hinton was an eye-catching 121st (36:12). Yvonne Gajny (130th, 36:56) always gives her all, whilst Liuba Pasa (134th, 37:12) tackled the elements bravely despite a preference for a Mediterranean climate.
Recently-crowned most improved female, Sarah Vernon (146th, 38:01) can be pleased with her run whilst Rebecca Pridham (170th, 39:42) was her usual gritty self.
Rachel Green (185th, 42:25) and Louise Stewart (187th, 42:40) had a good battle together whilst Natasha Edwards (206th, 46:48) can be proud of her efforts.
Rachel, Amy and Yvonne made up the masters team which finished in a solid ninth position.
Promotion and relegation is a key component of the men’s league and, with six new teams in the league this year, the first fixture is always a learning curve in identifying the stronger teams and individuals.
Gloucester AC immediately caught the eye, filling the first three places, but they were chased all the way by Rich Shepherd who finished an excellent fifth (38:36).
Matt Burdus-Cook has had a terrific year of continuous improvement, culminating in him recently being named athlete of the year and he can be well pleased with his 26th (40:45).
Inter-club rivalry is great to see and there were two great tussles going on behind. A slip close to the finish enabled Neil Wicks (54th, 43:28) to just get the better of Tim Hutchinson (57th, 43:37), whilst Rob Minton (80th, 44:40) and Jon Raby (81st, 44:41) were separated by the narrowest of margins in completing the A team scorers.
The B team were led home by Drew Sambridge (88th, 45:00), closely followed by Simon Hanagarth (95th, 45:41), whilst Owain Jones (139th, 47:53) is better judged by his ninth position in the junior men’s race.
Only six seconds separated the next three runners. Despite slipping over on more than one occasion, James Cusack (153rd, 48:58) held off most improved male athlete Ryan Bakewell (154th, 49:00) and team manager and stalwart Malcolm Bowyer (155th, 49:04) who completed the B team scorers.
Neil Gardiner (161st, 49:28) had a solid run whilst Mike Sheppard (188th, 53:26) and Damien Wheeler (191st, 53:33) were always close together and driving each other on. Mark Hateley (197th, 54:22) and Ben Twyman (208th, 56:23) were both pleased with their race in the conditions.
Unsurprisingly Gloucester AC were first A team, whilst Stratford were a very creditable ninth with 303 points. With only 24 points separating seventh from 11th, this looks to be the mid-table battle Stratford will look to win.
A special note of thanks to Spa Striders for hosting an excellent race and in particular to their volunteer marshals and race officials for ensuring a successful event in truly horrible conditions.
STRATFORD AC’s Ivan Sarti ran in Saturday’s Gower Ultra – a 34-mile race around the Gower Peninsular in South Wales.
Whilst using this as a stepping stone to longer races, he ran brilliantly to finish eighth overall in under six hours.
However, he was given a ten-minute time penalty for forgetting to pack a foil blanket, which dropped him one place, yet he comfortably won his age group by a margin of more than two hours.
It was a tough race with very slippery conditions, so Sarti finished with bruises as well as tired muscles, but plenty to be happy about.
There were four women in the top ten in this race which was won (and the course record smashed) by ultra runner Beth Pascall who recently finished fourth in the Western States 100 in the USA.
Ex-World Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington was second.