The clear bright skies over Wigan on Sunday morning gave way to grey clouds and threatening rain somewhere up the M6 en route for Kendal. A depleted Harriers team of stalwarts defied the freezing forecast to set up camp at Crooklands Park for race 3 in the Mid Lancs series.
There was much debate over footwear during the recce warm up laps. The course features a significant amount of ash and crushed rock tracks that looked to be too hard for a spike. The grassy sections were fairly firm underfoot suggesting a trail shoe could be the better option on the day. Mark Rogers volunteered for Guinea Pig duties and did a few strides on the hard paths in his spikes to test it out. His assessment that it was soft enough to take a spike carried the day, with the caveat that we could all blame Mark if it turned out to be a bad move.
As the Seniors completed their recce of the course, Nathan Dunn charged past in 3rd place in the U13 boys race. Nathan was the only junior to make the journey on Saturday and continued his superb season with a good run for 4th place.
The Senior Ladies were next off with Tracey, Julie and Jacqui doing their duty for the club.
Tracey Dutton had a flying start and came through as lead Harrier at the end of the first lap. Julie Platt may have had a legitimate excuse for crying off with a horrible cold, but came battling through exchanging elbow digs with a junior man as she jostled for position on lap 2. Jacqui Jones looked strong on her road to recovery as she came through as 3rd team member.
Julie and Tracey had swapped places by the finish with Julie crossing the line 17th overall and 7th L35 in 27:11. Tracey seems to be getting stronger every week and finished 10th L35 in 25 place just over a minute later. Jacqui Jones raced all the way to the line as she finished with a sprint in a 3 way battle for 29th place. Jacqui finished in the middle of the bunch for 30th place and a fantastic 4th L45 to round off the scoring for the team.
The combined efforts of the Senior Ladies saw them bag a fantastic 5th place from 25 teams on the day. Braving the elements in Kendal now sees them in mid table in a very competitive Division 2. This also meant a second place in the V35 Teams which places them in a fabulous 2nd place in the Division.
There wasn’t a Helly or baselayer in sight as the Senior Men lined up at the start of the final race of the day. With a hint of rain in the air this really was one for the hardcore as temperatures hovered around the zero mark. Pre-race excuses had be aired and dismissed with Graham Millington getting particularly short shrift: “I ran a PB last Sunday” was met with “well you’ll be recovered by now then”. “I’ve got a tight hamstring” was rebutted with “we all have!”
Only Dave Waddingtons’ mild dose of plague carried any legitimacy and he treated everyone to dramatic demonstrations of his cough at regular intervals to prove his case.
The course at Crooklands begins with a half mile or more loop over mainly flat tracks and grass before turning uphill and away for a steeply cambered and muddy downhill return. The main feature of the route is the sudden plunge down a near vertical muddy drop of around 8 feet near the end of the circuit. That caused a few runners to hesitate with surprise first time round as though refusing Beachers Brook at Aintree!
Mark Rogers lead the way for Wigan as his spike choice proved wise. Although the harder pathways did cause the odd problem for those in longer spikes, the hills had cut up sufficiently to make full cross country shoes essential. The off camber muddy section was particularly treacherous with the left leg wanting to part company with the right and head off downhill on its own in a “splits” style movement.
Dave Waddington raised suspicions as to the legitimacy of his theatrical coughing as he sped away from the challenge of Darren Middleton and wasn’t troubled by “The Reaper” for the rest of the race. Darren had planned on pegging his race off the back of Dave and swapping places a few times. Its an indication of how well Dave is running at the moment that Darren reports having had a good run all the way and still being unable to bridge the gap. As the runners looped back on each other on lap 2, Darren had enough energy to exchange a cheery wave with Mr Millington heading in the opposite direction! Both insist they were still giving it everything.
Barry Abrams had a determined and solid performance as he tracked Darren just a minute behind. Kendal wasn’t the muddiest of courses this year but the last third was sticky enough to suit Barry strength on his way to 99th place and 19th V50 in 42:17
Mark proved he is on his way back to full fitness after picking up injury this time last year. He crossed the line in an impressive 38:16 for 42 place overall. This equated to 12th V40 and is a good sign of things to come from Mark. Dave Waddington must have finally cleared the phlegm somewhere during the race to charge home in 40:34 and bag 20th V40. He will be even more pleased with dodging the Reaper for 76th overall.
Just one V40 place separated Darren from his quarry as he came home as 41st V40 in 41:11. Daren is having a tremendous Cross Country season this year and it will be interesting to see how his performances are stacking up in the individual standings once Mid Lancs publish them.
Graham Millington may not have found himself a decent pre-race excuse but came up with a blinder during the run itself. Graham felt strong picking off other runners as he began the second lap and was encouraged enough to switch on the after-burners for a big charge for home. When the lead runners lapped him towards the end of the circuit, the penny dropped that this was a 4 lap event and not the usual 3.
Team spirit helped though, and Graham was urged home with shouted warnings from fellow Harriers of “he’s on your shoulder – sprint for it – dont let him catch you”. This was followed by laughter all round as Graham pointlessly sprint finished with not another runner within 5 seconds off him. Perhaps it explained his 45:48 and highest finish this season in 144th from 216, (45th V40).
Having won the first 2 events of the season in Division 3, it was disappointing for the men to drop back to 3rd place in the league thanks to a zero pointer at Kendal. The vital 6th man was missing from the line up making it all the more important that we get a decent turn out at Hyndburn on January 12th. Thankfully, we did get 4 V40 runners home to earn 6th place overall and keep Harriers top of the Division 2 V40 league.
Back in the tent Tracey Duttons Muffins were greatly appreciated with some going back for seconds and even grabbing a pair. The day was rounded off with a few seasonal glasses of mulled wine and the odd pint in the Crooklands Hotel as weary runners got in a little training for next week!