THE SECOND cross country fixture in the Midland Women’s League and Birmingham Cross Country League was the first ever to be hosted by Stratford Athletic Club, which rose to the occasion magnificently.
The events were ably supported by the weather, which enabled the Welcombe Hills to be seen in all their glory as they provided a stunning location for what was universally described as a ‘proper’ cross country course.
There were compliments in abundance for the race organisation, including for chairman Paul Hawkins who co-ordinated the whole event and the club members who volunteered their services to ensure everything went smoothly.
Making good use of home advantage and the abundance of local, vocal support was a large Stratford running contingent and there were plenty of excellent performances in the two races.
First off were the ladies in Division One of their league, but they had to do without team captain Sarah Bland who was committed to organisational duties.
However, the team were strengthened by the presence of Kate Wright (28th, 27mins, 36secs) who was first back, followed by another whole-hearted effort from Rachel Pearce (36th, 28:55).
Nobody is ever more committed than Emma Bexson (54th, 30:26) and she was closely followed by Sheila Lammas (58th, 30:51).
The A team finished tenth on the day but the same four combined to finish second placed Masters team and it is in that that competition that the club is shining brightly.
Next back and having a good run was Hannah Osbourne (69th, 31:21), whilst Ceri Shephard (78th, 32:13) just got the better of Alison Bagnall (80th, 32:39), although they were always close together during the race.
Seren Mahon (96th, 34:37) was again just ahead of fellow junior Harriet Flynn (100th, 35:22) but the gap between them is closing and they were just ahead of Suzi Graham (103rd, 35:35) and Rebecca Pridham (110th, 36:52).
Phillippa Abrams (118th, 43:30) and Gemma Smith (119th, 43:48) were another duo who were battling each other all the way to line.
In the men’s Birmingham League Division Two race Rich Shephard (16th, 35mins, 57secs) was again first back for the club and he was followed by probably the outstanding performance of the day as Oscar Barbour (34th, 37:17), learning quickly in the senior ranks, improved by more than 30 places from the first race.
He was followed by fellow junior Fergus Allison (51st, 38:41) who turned in another solid performance and it was great to see Neil Wicks (58th, 39:05) back in a Stratford AC vest and performing with distinction on an all too rare appearance.
Behind him were two eye-catching performances from Robin Kindersley (87th, 41:18) and Sam Weaving (108th, 41:18) – both competing for the club for the first time – albeit at different ends of the age spectrum.
Robin has shown notable improvement over the past 12 months and used his experience to good effect as he started slowly and then steadily moved through the field, whilst junior Sam was working hard throughout.
The B team were led home by James Cusack (134th, 42:52), with B team stalwart Malcolm Bowyer (141st, 43:07) finally getting the better of David Parkin (143rd, 43:13) and new member Ollie Cannon (148th, 43:35) settling in quickly as an asset to the club.
Overcoming the initial trauma of forgetting his running spikes on his return from injury, team captain Kieran Tursner (156th, 44:11) eased himself back into competitive running and Matt Lyness (175th, 45:43) completed the B team.
After Mike Sheppard (192nd, 47:07), there was a group of members running close together which inevitably helps as inter-club rivalries come to the fore.
Dave Wolstencroft (206th, 48:43) was in sparkling form ahead of an improving Stuart Griffiths (210th, 49:21), a determined James Deacon (214th, 50:43), the evergreen David Jones (215th, 51:04) and the consistent Mike Barrie (223rd, 52:17).
Last home for the club was Allan Coldicott (242nd, 57:33) who has suffered serious illness problems over recent years and it was great to see him back competing.
Inadvertently demonstrating the undulating nature of the course, the Two Tims – Hutchinson and Tandy – both succumbed to sprained ankles which forced their withdrawal from the race.
The Stratford A team finished eighth in the 17-team division as they maintained their seventh position in the league, which is their best ever position two matches remaining.
Both men’s and women’s teams are looking forward to the next meetings in January in Telford and Wolverhampton respectively.
Report compiled by Tony Jackson.