A new year and a new course at Monkhall Farm for the 4th race in the 2014/15 series, but there was no escape from the usual clinging mud and arduous climbs that this race always features. Lord Sebastian Coe has recently been extolling the values of cross country running for all distance runners, stating that he, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram always competed in such events and asserting that this strength training was what was lacking in today’s top athletes. I am not sure, however, whether he ever competed over the notoriously challenging courses that the Herefordshire League offers.
Trying to impress his lordship with their determined resolve, 15 male and 7 female Crofters tackled the fresh course with new year vigour and performed excellently. The men’s A team (still lacking the talents of Stacey and Mark L.) ran well to finish 3rd led by a best ever run from Sam (“the man”) in 5th place. Regular training is starting to pay dividends. Sam’s style of running makes it appear that it all comes easily to him but, if you look at the photos in the website Gallery, his pained facial expression as he fights off the charge of Steve Flowers of Wye Valley illustrates that he is digging deep. That final climb to the finish line was a real sting in the tail and I was able to witness the suffering of the exhausted runners from my lazy pen-pushing position on the finish line. Watching agony at close hand makes it all worthwhile for me. Simon risked his dodgy limbs to help the team and produced his customary strong run to finish 7th. (3rd MV40). He had got the better of Sam at the Croft Castle race and chased him all the way here but his younger rival did not weaken. Dave G. and Glyn ran solidly to finish just 13 seconds apart in 20th and 22nd positions to complete the team. The Croft B team finished 7th overall and first in the second string rankings. Greg’s marathon training is proving to be beneficial and he led the team home in a creditable 28th place closely followed by Nigel T. in 30th and Pat 31st. These two indulged in their own private battle (incorporating the Shobdon champs. and the battle of the builders) and this was Nigel’s first triumph over Pat. They also finished 2nd and 3rd in the MV45 rankings. Ben R. took a break from his preparations for his triathlon debut and came out of hiding to complete the team in 45th place. He was running scared up the final hill with Gemma hunting him down. The C team finished 14th – the C could possibly stand for “creaking” with an average age of 61. Ashley C., profiting from his new dietary regime and being unusually free from injury, is starting to produce the kind of performances that he is capable of and he finished 47th (3rd MV55). Ashley R. continued his recent good form and was not far behind in 50th place (2nd MV60). Ian P. maintained his recovery from serious illness with another good run in 63rd place (2nd MV65) and a battling run from Neil T. completed the team in 68th. Gary G. , in his final race before he migrates for the rest of the winter, finished 69th (3rd MV65). Tom extended his record number of appearances in the Herefordshire League races (do you have a running total, Tom ?) with a 77th place. Rob Wood really threw himself in at the deep end in his first race in the sky blue vest and, possibly, his first XC run since school days all those years ago. He finished 89th and, hopefully, he will be back for more. His daughter,Kim, treated him to Croft membership as a Xmas present – I am not sure what he has done to upset her that much !
It is looking unlikely that the Croft women will be able to retain their league title, with Wye Valley enjoying such strength in depth, but they are still fighting with another 2nd place. Gemma is in fine form at present and produced another positive run in 4th place (1st Senior Female). When Gemma first joined Croft 4 years ago she professed to have an aversion to cross country and was a committed road runner. Now she has turned into a proper mudlark and is revelling in her best ever season. What a warrior Nicky T. is ! She is not accustomed to running this longer distance but is so determined and tenacious and prepared to push through the pain barrier. Nicky was rewarded with an outstanding 6th place and 2nd FV50, though she has now moved up a category. Liz completed the A team with a courageous 16th place (1st FV60). Poor Liz is a high quality international runner but the Herefordshire XC courses have proved to be a severe challenge. I am sure that she would have been sorely tempted to drop out but her fighting spirit drove her up the final hill. Sam was not far behind in 17th (2nd FV40) and led the B team to 5th place overall with a typically relentless performance – the tougher the course, the more Sam appears to relish it. Steph was next home in 19th place and admitted that she was struggling on the punishing hills. Living in a bungalow was her possible explanation for this perceived weakness, but this may have been due to post race delirium. Jo was easing her way back following a bout of illness but still ran well to finish 22nd (1st FV45) and also managed a sprint finish up the final climb to gain a place. Rosie was another to push hard up the hill to gain 40th place after another lively run.
The race also incorporated the Herefordshire County XC Champs. The results have not yet been announced, but there are sure to be a number of medals to be awarded to Croft runners.
There is one more race in the league (to be held at Presteigne on 1st Feb.) and both men’s and women’s teams are in contention for top 3 places as well as a number of individuals in line for series medals. Come along and run in the final event and then cheer your team mates at the presentation ceremony that follows.