You know that autumn is on the horizon and thoughts turning to the delights of the winter cross country season when the final race in the Croft Ambrey R.C. Handicap Series has been completed. Maybe the conditions, in a minor way, prepared runners for the demands of xc running with recent rain creating sections of mud on the course, though the weather gods smiled on the righteous Crofters as the rain relented in time for the start. The 6th race in the series attracted the lowest turnout of the summer – perhaps some were preparing for hibernation.
Jenny overtook 6 runners and, spurred on by the psychological boost that it provides, romped through the woods to record a resounding victory and another big improvement on her course P.B., slicing almost 2 minutes off her previous best time. The series has ended too early for her and she is probably voting for a torchlight race next month to continue her spell of good form. Alec’s speedy young legs propelled him past 15 runners and he unleashed his customary sprint finish to overtake Tom in the final few strides to register second place. A look at the photographic evidence (now featured on the Croft Facebook page) indicates that Tom is glancing out of the corner of his eye at this young upstart who had the temerity to show such lack of respect to one of the club’s founder members and designer of this present woodland course. Alec was duly gracious at the awards ceremony, however, as he bashfully handed over his chocolate prize to his vanquished elder. Tom must have run up Heartbreak Hill hundreds of times since the club’s formation back in 1982, but rarely, if ever, will he have been overtaken with such velocity at the top.
These top 3 runners home were followed by 5 female runners, all of whom set personal best times. Special mention is given to 2 of these runners as they achieved worthy feats. Emma Morris continued her excellent run of exceptional form with perhaps the performance of the night. Following her recent superb victory at the Clunbury Hill Race, she danced around the Croft course with bells on, to record a time which now places her 2nd fastest on the list of female times on this version of the handicap courses. Jo Tilby, building up to an assault on her debut marathon next month, set the only new age-group record of the night by the slenderest of margins as she became the fastest FV35 runner by just a single second. Maybe Bryan should be added to that list as he again became the oldest runner to complete the course, this after having cycled many a mile on the same morning. Somebody tell him to behave himself and start acting his age. The fastest time on the night was recorded by Mark Thomas, who again proved that he will be a valuable addition to the ranks.
2 runners made belated debuts with Rachel Thomas finally finding time in her busy schedule to grace the event with her presence and Hayley Millichap at last plucked up courage to give it a go, though she did run it early and solo and still performed the task of photographer when she had recovered from her exertions. A selfie taken whilst running next time please.
A sign of the changing times was illustrated by the number of female competitors for this race. 14 of the 24 finishers were women. A peep at the fastest times lists will also highlight the development of their running progress with 5 of the best 7 and 10 of the top 20 female times set this summer on the course. It is also good to see a few new names on the men’s top 20 list and Stacey, surprisingly running his first race on this new course this season, would surely have added a course record to his Greatest Hits album had he been fit – maybe next year.
14 runners, another record, qualified to compete for the Handicap Trophy by running at least 5 of the 6 races and the lowest points total from the best 5 finishing positions would be crowned champion. The 2017 winner was an elated Rachael Price. This is a deserving reward for the determination and hard work that Rachael has injected into her running over the last year and a measure of her improvement. Congratulations Rachael. The ever-consistent Nigel finished as runner up, with chocolate pusher Dave third.
This concluded the 30th year of this long-established feature on the Croft Ambrey running calendar. The Leinthall Starkes 5 part of the series has remained the same throughout with the first version of the Croft Woods course being introduced some years later. The latest (Mark 2) version of the Croft Woods route was added 4 years ago. 2017 will go down in history as the season that attracted the highest number of participants as the club continues to expand.