Early morning drizzle and low cloud gave way to sunny intervals, and pleasantly mild weather, as some 280 runners lined up at the bottom of a grassy field in prosperous Cardington (many at the finish were enviously eyeing the indoor pool and hot tub just over the wall). At the top of the first field is a gate, that inevitably causes a bottleneck, so to avoid the stationary queue, I scrambled through a gap in the hedge I’d spotted earlier and gained a good 20 or 30 places, temporarily! The going was generally good, but lanes and some narrow paths were puddly and muddy, sapping the energy on what was going to be a tough race (just under 9 miles, and over 2,500 ft of climb – estimated finish time 2 hrs). The first climb up the Lawley went well, heather and bilberry bushes giving a firm grip. On top we were exposed to a stiff west wind, blowing sideways across us, but not as strongly as sometimes in the past when it’s threatened to blow us off the narrow path along the ridge. A nice grassy run down to fields, before hitting the road, a steepish climb up to a footpath that runs under Caradoc. Then a long diagonal climb (with the wind behind us!) up to the top of Caradoc, allowing me to consume my gel (having proved its worth at the Wrekin Wrecker), with something like 40 minutes to go to the finish, but a demanding climb up to Willstone Hill first, before runners can start to think of the finish line. It was here on this last climb that I was overtaken by Gill Evans (Mercia), as she tripped light-footedly past. It’s probably a year since she was so pleased to have beaten Gary G, Tom and me in the same race for the first time, but now it happens regularly. Age isn’t catching up with her as it is with us, yet! From Willstone, there’s a steep muddy descent through bracken, with little chance to overtake (or be overtaken!), then a steep field, then a gentler upward slope (which clearly didn’t hurt some others as much as it hurt me), then a flatter grassy field, all separated by gates or stiles, forcing weary runners to break their stride. Finally a right turn down a field margin, another stile, two more metal kissing gates, again forcing us to come to a complete stop, until we once more entered the (downward sloping? it was a real struggle at the end of the race) last field, with the finish 400m away.
The race was won by Sam Roberts of East Sutherland AC, who must have been amazed at the mild winter temperatures. He was a clear 2 minutes ahead (in 1.17.41) of the second placed runner. *David Potts (MV50), a newcomer to Croft, ran a very fine race, finishing in the top 20%, in 1.38.20. I finished nearly 18 minutes later, and over 100 places further down the field, 161st (1.56.14), first of the four over 70s, and 6 minutes slower than my last race here, in 2013. Maybe the gel gave me an energy boost for the second half of the race, but was probably also responsible for me throwing up my lunch 2 hours later.
*NB David P turns out not to be a new Croft member, but a visitor from Crowborough, whose club was mis-transcribed. Easy mistake ‘Croft’/’Crowborough’!?