Witton Park was the venue as Blackburn played host to the 2nd round of the Red Rose Cross Country League last Saturday (20th October). The park provides fabulous facilities in the form of a Pavillion café, pleasant grounds and play facilities for runners families, and a monstrous great hill known as “The Saucer” in the middle of the course. This is arguably one of the toughest courses on the calendar and proved to be a stern test of the competing Harriers this weekend.
Blue skies and unseasonable warmth greeted the first runners as the Under 11 boys race kicked off proceedings. Performing well for the club once again was Matthew Baptista with a strong 17th place in 6:04 from 75 finishers. Next up was Nathan Dunn who continued his fine form this season with another 2nd place in the U13 Boys event.
The corresponding girls event saw a fabulous team performance with Charlotte Newsham and Kim Baptista following each other home in 5th and 6th place with 12:54 and 12:57 respectively. Hot on their heel in 13:44 was Alice Rowe in 15th place. Their combined efforts clinched 3rd place for the team as they did the club proud.
Carrying on the fine example set by the youngsters were Jayne Taylor, Tracey Dutton, Jaqui Jones and Shona Taylor also looking to notch points as a team for the first time in the Red Rose series. The infamous incline that gives this event its unique character was thoroughly recced during the warms ups when it was discovered that some evil mind had altered the course to make it tougher still. Instead of the single ascent per lap remembered from previous Witton Park visits, the course now included 2 gruelling climbs. With the Ladies race involving 2 laps this equated to 4 leg sapping summits.
Jayne Taylor led the way throughout for Wigan, looking strong and determined all the way round. She steadily worked her way through the field and had enough in reserve to pick up places on the final run in to a brilliant 13th place overall and first L50 in 23:32. Tracey Dutton was next along on a course that varied from reasonably firm on the whole, to borderline bog in places. Tracey continued her return to form with a 25:36 as 3rd L40. This gave her 29th place overall.
Jaqui Jones is another of our runners battling back from injury setbacks of late, and she will be pleased to get a good run under her belt with 26:13 for 35th place. Jaqui also grabbed 6th in her age group. Completing the team was Shona Taylor who belies the effort she puts into these events with the smile she has on her face as he runs! Shona brought the team home in 30:05 with 13th in her category and 67th overall. Those performances saw the Ladies Team finish in a very promising 6th place from 16 teams. Eclipsing even that result though was the fact that the Ladies Vet team earned top spot in first place from 11 teams.
Lost running vests and hangovers weren’t enough to exempt any of the men from club duties at Blackburn as 7 of our finest assembled to build on the good results at Leigh. Chris Burgess got his excuses in early having conducted a conclusive solo experiment in to the effects of excessive drinking on cross country performance. If it wasn’t bad enough dodging cow pats in the fields of Blackburn the senior men also had to detour around Chris’ breakfast at one point on the course.
The advice from the Ladies Team was to start steady and keep something in reserve for the hills. With 4 laps to cover the men would have to climb 8 times in total before their ordeal was over. Some team members were still muttering the “start steady – go easy “ mantra only seconds before the gun went off and they set off at their usual suicidal full throttle pace. Dave Collins was once again forced to overtake Graham Millington making his customary bid for the photographers attention on the first lap.
The first climb soon put the brakes on with an ascent up a rugged field that was more reminiscent of a fell race than cross country. A similarly fell race like hell for leather descent then brought the runners round to the more gradual, but longer, haul up the path to the top of the Saucer itself. Dave Waddington was able to confirm that the usual residents of these fields were definitely cows after standing on a rock that gave way with an odorous squelch. The drop back down to the main field took in the muddiest sections of the race and gave the option of the most direct route through the worst of the mud, or a more circuitous diversion via firmer ground. Races were won and lost on this section!
Dave Collins stuck to the “start steady” tactic and worked his way through to the front of the Wigan Harriers men. Over the first lap the Wigan runners swapped a few places with the keen as mustard Darren Middleton having a blinding run as 2nd Harrier behind Dave. Battling it out for 3rd and 4th came Dave Waddington still nursing a knee twinge, and Chris Burgess nursing a hangover. Barry Abram made 5th place his own with Graham Millington desperately hanging on to his coat tails as 6th man. Performing heroics as 7th Harrier was Michael Dutton.
Dave Collins was first home for the team in 43:03 and 57th place overall, (6th V50). Darren Middleton is enjoying every minute of his cross country season so far and his 45:07 is evidence of just how much. “The Reaper” was reaped himself last time out having stopped short in the post finish tunnel and having his place pinched. Lesson learned he made absoloutely sure of continuing up the finish lane this time to record his 77th place, (16th V40).
Dave Waddington and Chris Burgess had swapped places during the race with Chris finishing just 18 seconds behind Darren in 45:25 and 80th place. Dave Waddington was 2 places further down in 83rd (13th V45) in a time of 45:38. Barry Abrams isn’t afraid of digging deep and slogging up a few hills, but confessed to a dislike of the downhill plunge that follows. He mad a good job of it on Saturday though and was seen hurtling down the first hill with arms windmilling like a proper fellsman! As 11th V50 he took 100th place overall in 47:23. Having far too much fun for a cross country race was Graham Millington in the final scoring place also throwing himself down the hills like a man with rubber ribs. 108th place in 48:26 was his reward along with 23rd V40.
Arguably the most important place in any cross country team is that of 7th man providing the “insurance” for the team points should anyone else DNF. Performing that role for Harriers was Michael Dutton who received the full appreciation of his team mates as he charged down the hill for the final lap. It must be noted that when he slipped in the quagmire at the gate the most enduring chuckle came from his no.1 supporter Tracey, no doubt seeing justice for the post race chocolate bar that went missing after her Lea Town 10k….
With Michael safely over the line in 1:03:06 and 171st place, (13th V55), there was a quick sample of Traceys lovely muffins before reconvening at a local hostelry for a post race pint and analysis. The team result saw the men finish 10th from 13 with the Vets team 7thfrom 15