DESPITE the dank and miserable conditions, the Midland Women’s League Division One and Birmingham League Division Two cross country meetings hosted by Stratford Athletic Club were a resounding success.
The Welcombe Hills yet again provided an excellent and ‘real’ venue for the second fixtures of the respective campaigns which was much appreciated by the competing clubs.
The challenging, hilly course over a two-mile circuit consisted of three laps for the men and two laps for the women. Competing on ‘home’ territory encouraged an excellent turnout of 23 men for the second race of the year, while there were 22 Stratford women – probably the best ever number from the club.
WITH Oscar Barbour away at university, the Stratford men’s team were looking for some improved performances to maintain their excellent start to the Birmingham League season and Josh Newman rose to the challenge magnificently.
Improving by 55 places from race one, Newman was first back in 16th position (37mins, 14secs) and finally realised his potential over the country.
It is great to see Rich Shephard getting closer to last year’s form and he improved 20 places to 28th (38.05) and was followed by the consistent Tim Hutchinson in 56th (39.06).
Rob Minton (68th, 39.39) and Neil Wicks (70th, 39.55) were back competing in club colours and hopefully their rivalry will spur them on in future races. Both will be looking to improve as Minton returns from injury and for Wicks it was his first run after an end of season break.
That rivalry also extended to Fergus Allison and Mark Hamer and it was unfortunate that both had to drop out due to illness and injury respectively when well placed.
This left Kieran Tursner to fill the scoring position in the A team. Clearly enjoying the conditions and picking up places right to the line, Tursner was another big improver as he finished 102nd (41.41).
This meant the A team finished with 340 points and, whilst slightly higher than the first race, it means they are solidly in eighth position after the two races.
The competition for B team places was such the next six runners all finished within 17 places (and just over 40 seconds) of each other and there is no doubt the inter-club rivalry this brings is a great motivator when tiredness sets in.
Two juniors led the B team home with Sam Weaving (118th, 42.20) just holding on from the fast-finishing Seb Hopper (119th, 42.21), whilst close behind Ivan Sarti 122nd (42.29) just got the better of new club member Olly Senior (125th, 42.34).
The scoring six was completed by Chris Cond (132nd, 42.51) and the resilient David Smyth (135th, 43.03). The close packing of the team meant a score of 751 – an improvement of nearly 200 points from race one – and this puts the B team seventh after the two races.
Next back were Drew Sambridge (143rd, 43.24) and Andy Cox (156th, 43.55), whilst it is a long time since Malcolm Bowyer (188th, 45.44) did not make either of the A or B teams despite an improved run.
Close behind was David Parkin (192nd, 46.06) whilst Dave Battersby (199th, 46.33) will be pleased with his run as he seeks to recover form after long-term injury.
Mike Sheppard (230th, 49.54) and Ben Twyman (233rd, 50.10) were close throughout the race and they were followed by James Deacon (242nd, 50.59) and finally the redoubtable Allan Coldicott (285th, 62.58).
STRATFORD were boosted by the return of Zoe Chandler from a long injury lay-off for the women’s race and, in her first cross country race for nearly two years, she looked comfortable from the start, maintaining a place in the top 20 and ultimately finishing an excellent 18th in 26.57.
Next for the SAC team in a typically consistent run was Lucy Cotman in 27th place in 28.29 and third back for Stratford after another 50 seconds and the third runner making her season’s debut was Rachel Pearce in 46th. She was also first of the Stratford AC masters as she came ninth in that race.
The fourth and final counter was Fern Hordern in 65th (15th in the masters race). The four leading Stratford ladies meant the team came sixth – a massive improvement on the 12th place in the first match.
Just behind Hordern was Emma Bexson who finished very strongly in 68th place and 16th master to complete the SAC masters team. This put the masters team in third place in the league – an equally big improvement from the first fixture.
Junior Jess Sheppard was next finisher (77th), just behind Bexson. Although a good run, Sheppard did not enjoy the hilly course which did not suit her track running style.
Sheppard had battled Seanin Gilmore (79th/19th master) for most of the race, just holding her off at the end. Gilmore was another running her first cross country race of the season and will only improve.
Massive thanks go to all the volunteers who contributed to make this a very successful event which further endorses Stratford AC’s reputation within the running community in the Midlands.
Report compiled by Tony Jackson and Paul Hawkins.