Herefordshire Cross Country – Winter Series Race 1 Fforest Fields

Fforest Fields Campsite is undoubtedly a five star venue for a cross country event. When you’re used to a DIY changing tent constructed out of a towel and a car door, the luxury of taking a hot shower in sparkling facilities before you drive home is something to behold. It hasn’t always been like this. The first time I did the race, as sole representative of Ludlow Runners’ men’s team under leaden skies and a wall of horizontal drizzle (circa 2010) it was a bit more basic. The following year we were there during construction of the new site buildings, and I remember almost requiring the assistance of paramedics before the race even started, having asphyxiated myself in a portaloo. The upgrade was well worth all the effort and expenditure though, and I always take advantage of the new state of the art washrooms. The only problem with this race now, is that the course itself is also the gift that keeps on giving. I’d say it’s a good half mile longer than it was for that rainy inaugural event, largely due to a dog leg they added a couple of years ago that would fit a supersized Irish Wolfhound. This year, the race director decided to set up the finish line another 150 metres down the field and in so doing, literally moved the goal posts. Gluttons for punishment us cross country runners.

I wouldn’t call it an easy six miles either. It’s wonderfully varied and twists its way through beautiful countryside, but the crux of the matter is that as you park your car in the field adjacent to the camp site, the business end of a 960 foot climb is an intimidating presence – right in your face. You can almost hear some vast welsh male voice choir rehearsing a verse or two of ‘Come ‘n ‘ave a go if you think y’re ‘ard enough’.

Tough courses have never been an issue for Ludlow Runners though, (we are that hard) but long journeys sometimes can be, and as a result I wasn’t expecting a huge turnout for the first race of the 2015/16 winter series. Hundred House is a bit of a schlep for Ludlovians, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the size of the team. Fifteen men and six women lined up at the start, and although our A team was somewhat depleted, Jamie Shingler kept the blue and white flag flying with a mighty performance – eventually finishing third. You may be aware that a significant marathon is next on Shingler’s list, having received a ‘good for age’ place for London 2016, and those who have seen him compete recently will have been left in no doubt as to just how good for age he intends to be. I was able to witness him obliterating the opposition at the Hereford Park Run a month or so ago – as I coughed and spluttered round lap one of two… At the Brown Clee Burn I caught a glimpse of him at the start…and the finish – but nowhere in between.

Cross country regulars were joined by those who for one reason or another can’t always make themselves available for this series – including the club coach, and one of his protégés (returning at the age of 21, having previously run for our club as a junior). Colin Lancaster was our second man home almost eight minutes behind Jamie, providing a graphic illustration of the former’s class. The coach is no slouch after all, but Jamie is like a machine – picture the Terminator in a pair of Inov8s if you will. Embracing the action man theme, Guy Gregory arrived on a large motorbike – full face helmet, tinted visor and all – and I half expected him to run brandishing a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray. He put in a creditable performance for a man who insisted he hadn’t trained properly for months, and annoyingly, he also beat me by eight seconds. Oh well – he’s the same age as my daughter, so I guess he ought to be in front of me, and no doubt when he’s ‘fit’ he’ll be up there with all the other young Whippets. Another force of nature is Bradley Gurney, and given that his regular distance tends to be no less than fifty miles he looks pretty damn good over 10k.

Amy Fulford, our highest scoring lady in the summer series, was unable to join us (she’ll be taking part in the next event) but Andrea Ford put in a strong run to cross the line in 26th, with Sarah Jamieson relatively hot on her heels, no doubt spurred on by the need to get her son to an event in Bridgnorth by 1pm.. Emily Hinton, who according to her Strava feed, had ‘suffered big time’ on the hill, still came in a minute or so later in 33rd place, followed by Hannah Crossley and Sarah Edgcombe. I then escorted Maggie Morris for the last 200 metres, and as acting Team Captain felt a little like Brian Hanrahan back in the day – I counted them all out and counted them all back in… I also felt very proud of Team Ludlow (again) and wandered off to the luxury spa feeling content and ready to be pampered.

As I turned back onto the A44 on my way home (at least five miles from Fforest Fields) I came across the Terminator ‘warming down’ – or perhaps during the race he was just warming up. Who knows. One thing I was sure of though – he’d be back – and I only hope they still had cakes left at the camp site.

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