Herefordshire Cross Country Winter Series Race 2: Croft Castle


The Team, minus one or two.

I missed the race at Croft Castle last year. For my 50th birthday, work colleagues insisted that I spend the weekend in Glasgow – watching The Specials play Barrowlands on the Thursday, and drinking to excess from Friday through Monday. As you can imagine, I had to be dragged up there kicking and screaming. In all seriousness though, I dislike missing these events and none more so than this one. Although I have only done it about five times it feels somehow traditional, not least because it always takes place on Remembrance Sunday, and without fail the runners fall silent for a minute at the start – to think of those who gave their lives for our freedom over the last hundred years. Mike Blenkinsop briefed us for the 31st running of the event, warning that the gods had not been overly generous with the weather conditions, and that as a result parts of the course would be treacherous. “You’ll be lucky if you get round without falling over”. I assumed this was aimed at the novices amongst us. After all, I was an all-weather man, familiar with the course and experienced in cross country racing; not about to make a fool of myself by getting over enthusiastic and landing up face down in the mud. At the gun it took me about five metres to end up face down in the mud, long before the sections that were actually slippery. In shock and some disbelief I leapt to my feet in the hope that people might not notice, and more to the point, that I might re-take all the competitors who were by now streaming past. A small pond is helpfully positioned about 100 metres from the start and I was eager to avoid the resultant bottle neck it always causes. Many people navigate the rather narrow track that runs above it, but I have found it is more effective to take the unconventional route and get your feet wet. Let’s face it, soggy fell shoes are a bit of a given, and by deploying this strategy I was able to make up at least some of my clumsily lost ground before the first climb of the day. I have a love hate relationship with the course, as I do with any that consist of more than one lap. From a psychological point of view the advantage of laps is that you know what’s coming. And the disadvantage of laps is that you know what’s coming. For the men though, Croft is somewhat unique in that they are required to circulate an eye watering three times. A good half mile trudge towards the hill fort is upon you before you’ve even got into your stride and once you are up ‘on the top’ if you glance left and can see through the pouring sweat, there are some spectacular views. Before long though, full concentration is required, particularly when it is wet underfoot. With any significant rainfall, there is precious little traction on the tricky downhill sections Mike had warned us about. Indeed, one of these was the backdrop for my second prat fall of the day (and the last six years). It was proper cartoon stuff: my legs swept from beneath me, a split second suspended in mid-air, and finally a SPLAT on the deck with a mud soaked backside.

Shortly afterwards the course disappears into the woods emerging back at the start finish area via a gentle little number, affectionately known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’. And then you have to do it all again. And again. The women don’t of course: this is one of two events where the marshals divert them along a different route – a short cut about a quarter of the way round lap 2 where I am often so tired I have been known to consider the merits of cross dressing just to make it end quicker. Not sure I would fool them though – the eye liner would definitely run and I would rather claw my way up Heartbreak Hill than have my legs waxed any day. Anyway, I can feel this report straying a little ‘off piste’ and those of you who have made it through that last stream of consciousness may be forgiven for wondering if I was the only Ludlow Runner taking part in the event. I was not of course: there were no less than thirty two of us, including

several people who had chosen Croft as their first taste of cross country running. Mad fools. Up at the front Matt Yapp put in a fine performance that could only have been improved had his birthday been one day earlier, allowing him to score as a senior rather than an under 18. Craig Collier was next home in 26th, followed by Colin Lancaster in 45th. These placings seem a little lower than usual for Craig and Colin, until you consider that the race had a record number of entries for both men and women. Paul Elliot was next to emerge from the woods, less than 30 seconds later, and in 51st place came Ludlow newbie Russell Limbert. Welcome Russell – more of the same in the next race please!

Rhys Jones found himself in the company of Craig about half way round lap one, and paid for it towards the end of the race – he’s like a machine that boy, but by taking on Craig, he was punching slightly above his weight. His fatigue gave me the opportunity to pass him temporarily on the final push, but he was having none of it and crossed the line comfortably in front – as did Paul Lewis, another XC virgin. Damn these people! You’ll gather that Croft is not for the faint hearted, but thankfully none of our team are that. There were gutsy performances from David Jamieson, Bradley Gurney, Paul Dews, Andy Tipton, Clive Richardson, Paul Parker, Jamie Green, Sandy Ross, and David Haynes.

The women’s race was all but over by the time I crossed the line but a look at the results gives me some insight as to who had a good day at the office. Amy Fulford returned in characteristic form, comfortably within the top ten. Seventh to be precise. And Shannon Gilbert, who told me about a month ago that she hadn’t run ‘for ages’, was only just outside it (11th). Imagine being a member of that family and not being that good at running… you’d be in a constant state of exhaustion. Emily Hinton, Sarah Jamieson, Andrea Ford and Jo Watson all finished in the top half of the women’s race. Jo is another new arrival at the club and set herself a pretty impressive bench mark. On Strava, Ffion Gilbert described her 44th place as ‘Awful’. I haven’t had a chance to ask her what ‘went wrong’ but perhaps she shouldn’t be so hard on herself. Nothing wrong with high standards though, I suppose. It was great to see some recent converts to this mad Sunday morning pursuit keeping up the good work – amongst them Debbie Bean, Sarah Edgecombe, Sally Yapp and Michelle Parker. But hats off to Claire Webb, Jo Parker-Stirling, Sarah Nash, and Kathy Lewis who chose to make Croft 2015 their first race for the club.

When I looked at the results I was somewhat disappointed with my own run. Almost exactly in the middle – as always. Plus ca change. I began to feel a little morbid when it occurred to me that the older you get, the harder you have to work to stand still. But then I thought again of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice – most of them a good 30 years younger than I am now when they did so. And I just felt grateful that I’m still standing up. When I’m not falling down.

Here’s the Video. Many thanks to Paul Baskeyfield for this and the team photo. Enjoy, you super people!

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