A pair of helicopter gunships (see note below) clattered ominously overhead as runners gathered for the start of the decisive battle for places in the final round of this year’s Herefordshire Summer XC series. Individually, there was everything to play for: pride, prestige, medals and simple pleasure! In the team event, Croft Ambrey were locked in close combat with Ludlow Runners and Wye Valley Runners in the battle for gold, silver and bronze. Croft were bolstered by the return of Andy Salt, with Mark Lamonby once again among the leading men, despite a busy triathlon season. Croft women were at pretty much full strength, with all of our top five female runners present ( except Emma who was recovering from having just given birth! –Guy) The club demonstrated its tremendous strength in depth to win the overall team prize for this summer series in which the Croft women and junior males provided the X-factor that overcame rival teams.
As usual, the Westhope race began with a long uphill drag but with firm, dry conditions and a slightly shorter course than usual, at 4.8 miles, there was only one tactic: ‘run as fast as you can for as long as you can’! Andy S. was neck and neck from start to finish with the eventual winner, Jonny Pugh of Builth and District RC, both of them traversing the flat sections of the course at a lung-bursting 5 minutes per mile. Midway through the race, Pugh stole a few metres on Andy and maintained the lead to win, with Andy second for Croft in 29:00. Not far back, Mark again ran well to record his 4th top 5 finish of the season in 29:36 and 3rd place SM medal. With Simon Norwood on holiday, it fell once again to the ‘youngsters’ Sam Roberts and Will Gore to step up and complete the men’s section of the Croft A team, with another fine run from Sam in 15th place (31:38) and Will 25th in 33:42. Sam was 1st U17 and Will was 2nd JM in the series. Alec Harper had an off day but still claimed second U17 overall. It was good to see another of our younger athletes, Oscar Austin out there running well in 37th place (35:52).
Croft has some very photogenic athletes, with another great set of photos on Flickr and some that are positively scary. Check out Nigel Taylor (29th in 34:26) powering towards the finish line with a look of ferocious determination, to become a worthy series winner of the M50 category. Mark Paviour ran well in 38:11 (59th), similarly David Millichap seems to be recovered from injury (61st, 38:35). An improved performance by Neil Taylor took him to 66th place in 39:14 and 2nd M60 overall. Just one second separated Bryn Roberts and Scott Hardie in 86th and 87th place (42:13 & 42:14). Guy Whitmarsh ran well for a clean sweep in the M70 category and Tom Davies added 3rd M65 to his vast medal collection. Stuart Austin remains on the comeback trail from injury and hopefully it will be business as usual in the winter.
In addition to the team trophy, 16 Croft runners won individual medals, including 9 men and 7 women, far more than either of our nearest rivals, Wye Valley and Ludlow Runners. Once again, we are indebted to all the people that worked so hard to put on these races, in particular Mike Blenkinsop for his tireless and unstinting efforts. Thanks to those who couldn’t make the final race but contributed to our overall success. Back to back trophies in the winter? We can do it.
(*) actually, the Boeing V-22 Osprey Helicopter Plane