STRATFORD AC women are having an incredibly successful season and they had another joyous day out in their Midland League fixture at Baggeridge Country Park, Dudley.
The senior team finished a superb 5th, just four points behind Trentham RC and the Masters team clinched an amazing third place behind Trentham RC and Telford AC.
This race was certainly one of the toughest that many of the competitors will have come across in a club event.
A mixture of muddy, slippery ground and hard and frozen areas combined with a rollercoaster of steep hills and turns made the race a test of will as well as athletic ability.
There was a lot of pushing and a few tangles early on as the narrow pathways ensured running in anything other than single file was very difficult indeed.
The first Stratford woman home in the wintry sunshine was Dani Rasgauski (18th, 26.52).
She showed her class by picking off rivals with ease as the race wore on and stamina became a key factor and another top 20 finish is testament to the sensible way she is going about her training.
Kate Wright (22nd, 27.17) started her busy weekend of racing with a gritty display on a course she will admit is not on her list of all-time favourites.
Another of the ‘two races per weekend’ gang is Dawn Compton (36th, 28.16). It was a much better performance than the opening fixture at Leamington and she ran really well to split the highflying Kate and the absurdly fast-improving Sarah Wheeler (40th, 28.41).
Wheeler looks certain to break into the top three for the club pretty soon and a focused approach is helping her to greater rewards on each occasion she dons her club vest.
Alison Bagnall (46th, 29.07) started conservatively but moved up the rankings throughout the run.
There are few more spirited than Emma Bexson (59th, 29.42) and her outstanding fitness level means she is able to handle anything course-setters can throw at her with aplomb.
Passing a Kidderminster and Stourport AC runner right on the finish line was the icing on the cake for Charlotte Best (104th, 32.14), as she took part in her first cross country league race with the finesse of a seasoned pro.
Kate Barrett (219th, no time given) pushed herself all the way to the welcome finish line with her usual determination.
The race winner was Claire Martin (24.24) of Telford AC.
The fourth and final league fixture is at Pitville Park in Cheltenham on Saturday, February 11.
Stratford AC’s men made the short trip to Wyken Croft Park in Coventry for their penultimate Birmingham League race of the season without Rob Minton, Richard Dobedoe and Haydn Davies through illness and injury.
Any club would miss a triumvirate of such high quality and the team’s 14th place finish on the day demonstrated how large a hole had been left by the lads’ absence.
However, the 21 men that did make it to the finish line stuck to their task admirably and twisted their way round the circuitous course in fine style.
Jack McMullen (30th, 33.41) continued his run of impressive form without feeling as spritely as he would have liked. After three of the four league fixtures he lies a brilliant third in the junior athlete standings.
Danny Tolhurst (36th, 33.48) enjoyed his best ever league result by a country mile.
Andy Cockerill (72nd, 35.26) also recorded his best performance. He is putting in a great deal of work on the roads training for the London Marathon and this is having a positive effect on his speed as well as his endurance.
Just over a minute covered the next six Stratford vests as the team’s strength in depth shone through.
They were headed by Keith Hawkes (103rd, 36.53) who was followed home by Michael Warner (108th, 37.13), Kevin Balchin (111st, 37.18), Malcolm Bowyer (113rd, 37.25), human dynamo Patrick Taylor (114th, 37.28) and Neil Wicks (123rd, 37.54).
Wayne Vickers (142nd, 39.01) and Alan Coley-Smith (149th, 39.23) ran fine races, finishing just ahead of regular David Smyth (154th, 39.39) who made his mark with a great run and a battling finish.
Matt Lyness (156th, 39.44) is becoming a regular team member which can only be good news for the club’s fortunes and Steve Kirk (173rd, 41.23 showed how comfortable he is at handling all conditions with another top drawer result.
John Parrot (182nd , 41.57) made a welcome appearance and showed his value by putting in a hardworking performance, while Paul Hawkins (193rd, 42.54) did not find this course to his liking but, as usual, ran a consistently paced and intelligent race.
There was a superb performance from David Jones (204th, 43.31) who looked full of running coming down the finishing straight. David is in really good form and is improving with each event.
Andy Turner (212nd, 45.16) found it difficult to get into a rhythm but paced his race better than in the previous two league fixtures.
Martin Todman (215th, 46.08) ran well up the hills and used all his experience to have just enough left for a strong finish, while Luke Watkins (216th, 46.25) is seldom found wanting and gave evidence of his steely determination once again.
One man always ready and willing to throw himself into cross country races is Mike Barrett (222nd, 48.23) who negotiated this course in his inimitable style and worked really hard.
The race was won by Paul Ward of Telford AC in 30.19.
Stratford AC are tenth going into the final league fixture at Wolverhampton on Saturday, February 11.
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