The (not so) old cricket pavilion at Shobdon Court that opened only in 1994, cut a proud but rather forlorn figure, surrounded now by a golden field of wheat, shimmering in this extraordinary summer heat. I guess that the Shobdon summer XC race must be older than the cricket pavilion and rarely can it have taken place in such weather, with the mercury still touching over 70F at race start. A large company of Croft runners assembled in front of the church for the pre-race team photo, well represented by both Croft men and women, promising to make a good account of themselves in this year’s close and exciting team contest. At the starting line-up Steve Herrington of Hereford Couriers, who has just celebrated his 70th birthday, looked as lean and fit as ever. He is to be joined this year by our own trio of Ian, Tom and Gary in what will be a phenomenal MV70 age group.
The bone-dry conditions provided their own hazards. “Ouch!” yelped an unfortunate female athlete as she turned her ankle on a tree root, soon after the race began. Clouds of dust filled the air as we left the wood and charged down the track early in lap one. Further on, down by the pond in the midst of the arboretum, a forest of Gunnera Manicata, felled by the drought, lay flat against the ground like a crowd of exhausted runners, a sight to be replicated later at the race finish.
As usual on this fast course, I found myself floundering to keep pace with my rivals, as we charged down the driveway and over the speed bumps when the race kicked off, watching a friend and rival of mine, Piotr Strzesak quickly gain ground before disappearing into the distance. Piotr had a storming race on a course that suits his superior leg speed, setting up a tense battle in the MV60 category in the final race at Westhope on 8th August.
It is a feature of these races that once the initial charge is over and the first mile or so is completed, you find yourself in your own ‘race within a race’ and your final position rarely alters by more than +/- half a dozen places by the race end. I found myself locked in battle with a trio of determined women runners and a couple of men from Hay Hotfooters and Hereford Tri Club. Of these, I managed to overtake three as we rounded the cornfield to complete the second and final lap but finished some way behind a cluster of Croft runners that included (in the men) Mark, Ian, Dave A. and Pat. It was good to see Mark out racing hard again and running well.
Talking to Croft men afterwards, Simon had clearly enjoyed himself, finishing in 10th. Mark L. was our first runner home in 4th place overall. How satisfying to see Sam Roberts (U17), Will Gore (JM) and Alec Harper (U17) take the next three Croft men’s places. Long may they represent our club. Dave G. and Nigel showed good form again. Guy, Scott, Bryn, Tom and Bryan completed the men’s team, with Guy winning the MV70 group once more. He must be relishing the prospect of next year’s races, when that age group becomes super-competitive.
So, when the dust finally settled it was a good evening’s work for Croft Ambrey, winning the team race and setting up a nail-biting finale at Westhope in the race for the top of the podium. Once again, we are grateful to Mike for setting up this great race, aided by the marshals and stalwarts such as Clive Rowberry, making his last appearance as timekeeper for a while. What was that old 70’s song by Roy Harper “When an old cricketer leaves the crease …”? May the (not so) old cricket pavilion host many more races like this one.