Despite the long trek up the M6 on a chilly Saturday morning, Wigan Harriers still managed to muster full strength senior mens and ladies teams to contest the Mid Lancs Barrow fixture. A convoy of vehicles took runners from the relatively balmy condions in Wigan towards the frozen playing fields at Thorncliffe road. The major preocupation on the journey north was with the rising and falling digits on the car temperature sensors, along with the increasing depth of snow visible through the freezing mists of South Lakes.
Wigan runners are made of stern stuff though, and discussion soon centred around how many would reach for the “mardy” base layers, and how many would “man up” and opt for vests and frostbite. Conditions at the venue itself were not as bad as first feared with mean temperatures hovering somewhere just above freezing. A recce of the course confirmed that the ground was sufficiently thawed to offer stretches of traditonal cross country mud and a tough racing challenge.
The Ladies Team were first to test the route under racing conditions with Tracey Dutton, Jaqui Jones and Julie Platt all making a good start. By the end of the first lap the Harriers ladies were running strongly towards the front of the pack, close enough together to form and impressive formation of red and black vests.
The Wigan ladies were still within shouting distance of eachother as they entered the field for the final time, with Tracey Dutton putting behind her the cold that had troubled her in the week to lead the group home. Jaqui Jones and Julie Platt both turned into the finishing straight carrying an impressive turn of speed, with Julie accelerating all the way to the line to round off a great team performance.
Barrow seemd to have suffered for its place on the calendar this year, with fewer clubs making the effort to attend this fixture than several others in this seasons Mid Lancs competition. That’s a shame, and a loss to the clubs that couldn’t manage a showing as both the welcome and the organisation at Barrow made the journey more than worth while. Cheery marshalls ran a tight ship and offered welcome encouragement throughout: a credit to the host club.
With a stiffening breeze picking up from the Irish Sea in time for the mens race, the majority of runners had opted for the “mardy” baselayer choice; only a couple of heroes from Wigan had gone for the vest and hypothermia look. After a fast start, your author suspected himself to be a little higher up the field than ability warranted. A suspicion that was confirmed by a polite comment from behind in the shape of Dave Collins: “You’re in my place Graham – shift!” With the soft ground proving to be heavy going, I can confirm that I wasn’t in his way for long!
Andy Ratcliffe proved he is quickly returning to form by leading the way for the Harriers team, with Dave Collins battling it out with a resurgent Andy Eccles for most of the race. Kevin Edwards and Dave Waddington were followed by Darren Jackson completing the scoring as 6th man. Graham Millington acted as first reserve, with Michael Dutton putting in a great effort on his first cross country of the season.
3 large laps of the Barrow course after a leg sapping circuit of the supposed, “small lap” left little in the tank at the end of this race. Andy Ratcliffe finished first for the Harriers after a fine run, and Dave Collins managed to find something left to win his battle with Andy Eccles with a sprint to the line. Mr Eccles had also come second in a battle with a thorn bush somewhere on the route and shed a little blood for the team.
Dave Waddington, Kevin Edwards and Darren Jackson completed the scoring. Graham Millington finished in 7th for the Team, with Michael Dutton valiantly battling a stitch in the later stages of the race to come home in style.
The collective efforts of the squad raised both the Senior Ladies and Senior Mens teams to first place in their respective divisions. Both vets teams are also sitting pretty in second place too.
There may have been a couple of fine individual efforts, but the day was a triumph for the Wigan Harriers Team as a whole. Great cameraderie, some good laughs and whole-hearted support for every runner made this toughest of the fixtures into one of the most memorable.