Playful lambs gamboling in the surrounding pastures, celandines gleaming in the roadside verges, cherry blossom blushing on the trees, daffodils bobbing gently in the breeze and swooping swallows returning from Africa may all herald the approach of spring. But to the gentle folk of Leinthall Starkes it is having the peace and quiet of their little village disturbed by the invasion of a noisy bunch of Croft Ambrey runners shaking off their winter shackles to run in the first event in the club handicap series around the scenic lanes of north Herefordshire. This is the 31st year that the series has been held and the first event always takes the shape of a straight race around this accurately measured 5 mile course, before the handicaps are thereafter applied for the remainder of the 6 race series. For the second year the opening event was held in honour of Mick Ligema, who holds the second fastest time (26.47 – set way back in 1991) recorded around this historic course. Janet Ligema honoured us with her presence and undertook the role of official starter as 36 runners set off on a dull overcast evening.
A resurgent Mark Lamonby set the early pace and was never headed as he stormed away from the field to win the race and the Mick Ligema Trophy (presented by Janet) in a time of 28.39. This sliced 44 seconds from his previous best, set 4 years ago, and raised him to 7th equal place in the all-time rankings. Only Stacey Morgan, resting up for his assault on next Sunday’s London Marathon, has run quicker this century. Mark Thomas, making his debut in the event, made sure that The Laminator could never relax as he chased hard all the way to record the excellent time of 29.01 to slot his name into 11th place in the overall standings. Toby Austin introduced a bit of younger blood into the proceedings to complete the top 3 and dispel the rumour that students spend all their time drinking beer and watching Countdown as breakfast television.
Kelly Bowen decided that resting is for wimps in her preparation for her debut London Marathon. A measure of Kelly’s continued improvement was highlighted by a 35 second upgrading of her course P.B. as she sped across the finish line in a time of 35.41. This lifted her one place up the ladder to 11th overall. The last thing that Kelly needed was to be involved in a sprint finish as she “relaxed” towards her debut marathon, but Dave Rouse insisted that she had to dig deep into her competitive reserves as they flew across the line together. The Rouster was just given the verdict with his determined dip. Kelly’s reward was to defend her hold on the Mick Ligema Trophy, and I think that this will be followed by an impressive debut at the marathon distance for this versatile runner. Second female across the line was Georgina Harrison (another making her debut) and her time of 38.21 just sneaked her name into the top 20 by the slenderest margin of one second. Jo Tilby, the runner elbowed out of that top 20 by Georgina, completed the top 3 women home with another good performance.
The 2 most dramatic improvements came from Flora Gunner and Lisa Gray, both of whom knocked over 4 minutes off their best times set last year – a huge improvement.
Bryan Markham was just 3 seconds shy of his own MV75 course record – if he hadn’t stopped to ask a passing sheep for directions he would surely have beaten it – but, yet again, he set the record for being the oldest runner to complete the course at the ripe old age of 77. Long May He Run, to paraphrase the great Neil Young.
Nobody got lost. A blacklist of barred runners’ photos had been circulated to the Leintwardine Chippie with instructions to send any errant contestants back across the river in the right direction.
It was rewarding to see 11 club runners competing in the opening event for the first time and there were some notable times set. The idea now is to improve on those times next month when the handicaps kick in. This next event will be held on Tuesday 15th May.