Abbey Dore 2015

Herefordshire Cross Country Summer League – Race 2, Abbey Dore

Dan Pavitt

I played the violin as a child and inherited a music stand that had at one time been used as a makeshift easel. It was hardly an elegant design in the first place, and its functionality was not improved by all the dried up oil paint making it stiff and awkward to unfold; a rich source of procrastination when you are ten years old. It was far easier to watch Blue Peter eating a peanut butter sandwich than set it up and get on with my scales. When I opened my car door and attempted to get out having finally arrived at Hollingwood Farm for race two in the Herefordshire Cross Country season (approximately forty years later), I was reminded of my old music stand. The Beast of Bitterley was still in my legs from the previous Sunday and I wasn’t overly optimistic about my performance in this event. I wasn’t entirely confident about turn out from the club either, given that this is one of the more distant and remote locations on the calendar.

I needn’t have worried. As I loosened up with a couple of laps of the parking area, more blue and white vests started to appear, and in the end, twenty of us lined up at the start. Although we were a little light at the business end of the men’s field and unusually Gilbertless in the women’s (due to a family event I think), we now have strength in depth at Ludlow Runners, so don’t have to rely on the same people at each race.

Mervyn Thomas and Wye Valley have created a majestic course at Abbey Dore. It’s new to me, as I couldn’t make it last year, and it really does have a bit of everything. As Sarah Jamieson pointed out at the end, the first half of the race is relatively painless, and if you’re not careful you can be lulled into thinking you are enjoying yourself. A fast down hill start in an open field allows everyone to get carried away before the first sharp ascent of the day reminds them that XC running is seldom easy.  It’s a short pull though, and over the next couple of miles there is time to get into a comfortable rhythm, particularly when the ground is so dry. The finish, by contrast is a half mile slog through a series of undulations which create a natural amphitheatre of pain, and the opportunity to share in other runners’ suffering once you’ve heaved yourself over the line. In the meantime, the middle section offers a combination of fields, woodland, that pleasant springy surface unique to common land, and even a short section of road. Two river crossings, which I gather were avoided last year due to excessively high water levels, were reinstated this time, and although I don’t really enjoy getting a Fellraiser full of cold water in the closing stages, I’ll admit they added some interest.

While we’re on the subject of water, I’m aware that these reports do tend to be a little Dancentric, and as a correspondent I’m inclined to ‘swim in lake me’ a little bit. It’s an occupational hazard if you write from the perspective of a competitor occupying roughly the same, middle to lower field position in each race – but in the interests of variety I’ll fast forward through my run like a Benny Hill sketch (those of you who are old enough can hum the ridiculous music now, if you can remember it) to the point where I’d just attempted to overhaul Maldwyn Harriers’ Gwynant Jones – failing by one poxy second.

Although the sight of a gaggle of Ludlow Runners cheering on their club mates at the finish is becoming the norm, the team spirit at Hollingwood Farm was particularly heartwarming. I think several runners benefitted from the very vocal support and at least one gained a place as a result. Of course, the hot shoes at the front have to do without this boost, but given that Craig Collier (in eleventh place) had time for a cup of tea and a short nap before anyone else rocked up, I imagine he can cope. Another fine run from Amy Fulford (second woman) brought her home almost a minute in front of Rhys Jones and Tom Powell completed our A Team. They all stayed to support the rest of the club through the closing stages and I think Ludlow Runners stood out in terms of camaraderie.  Behind me, Team Jamieson put in a strong performance egged on (as we all were) by their ‘management’ Alex and Molly: David continues his return to form and Sarah took the place in a photo finish with Croft’s Sue Powell.

Just six seconds separated Heath Mountford and Jamie Green, which goes to show how a gap on the clock translates to a much a larger one on the ground – it didn’t seem that close as we cheered them both on. In due course a mixture of familiar, new or relatively new faces made their way up that gut wrenching finish straight. Some of them wore an expression that made me wonder if they were about to give birth (and that was just the men). Others hid the pain more effectively, but all demonstrated character and impressive competitive spirit. It was wonderful to see determined efforts from Paul and Michele Parker, Hannah Crossley and Debbie Bean proving that not only were they undaunted having dipped their toes in the cross country water – they are eager for more!

A final mention for Elliot Maslen, a new member in 2014 who last raced for us at the opening winter fixture in Builth Wells. He then disappeared, and I wondered where he’d got to. It seems he was training for, and in April, taking part in the Marathon Des Sables. If you don’t know what that is, I suggest as one of my coarser colleagues once put it, that you ‘JFGI’ – which is long for Just…erm….Google it. Elliot was back for Abbey Dore, looking remarkably sprightly, and as I re-folded my legs back into the car I attempted to imagine on how long it would take me to recover from a 250km trek through the desert.

If you haven’t taken part yet, why not join us for round three at Westhope on July 8th? It can’t be as hard as the Marathon Des Sables…

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