Wigan Harriers made the short trip to Beacon Park on Saturday for the final fixture in a highly successful cross country campaign. With the Senior Mens Teams already assured of promotion as champions, all eyes were focussed on the Juniors and the Senior Ladies. The ladies still had everything to run for in both the Senior and V35 Divisions with the competition so tight this year that the day could have ended as easily in relegation as promotion.
Ideal conditions met the youngsters who were first out in the crisp spring sunshine that gave spectacular views over Wigan and beyond. Rebecca Jones finished in 10:55 for the first Harriers performance of the day in the Under 13 Girls race to bag a creditable 18th place overall.
The Under 13 boys were next with 4 runners representing Wigan. Nathan Dunn led the way as he sat on the shoulder of season long rival Ben Blacburn for the opening stages. The Lancaster runner put a strong surge in towards the end of the race to come second, meaning Nathans valiant 4th place on the day earned him 4th place overall in the Championship overall. The next 2 finishers were also wearing the red and black of Wigan as Tim Hartley and Jack Dee put in fabulous performances for 5th and 6th places respectively. Ben Wilcok came in as 4th Harrier to ensure 4 lads over the line and an first place from 5 for the U13 boys Team.
The Under 15 girls race saw Emma Wheatley put in a fine display for first Harriers and 11th overall. She was followed in by Rachel Sidebotham in 13th place. Daniel and Natalie Thompson put in efforts to be proud of as they finished one behind the other in 4th and 5th place in the Under 17 Girls race.
The going was generally firm under foot at Beacon Park, with very few sections of outright mud compared to other venues this season. Any respite this may have afforded was cancelled out by the tortuously rolling course and the killer hill section before the lap end. The Senior ladies warmed up nervously aware that their entire season depended on their performance in the next race. With Jayne Taylor and Jacqui Jones sidelined through injury it was all hands to the cause for the remaining Harriers ladies. Bravely answering the call were Julie Platt, Tracey Dutton, Nina Fisher, Shona Taylor and Melanie Wane.
Julie and Tracey went out strong from the start and were soon charging up the first lap hill like it wasn’t even there. Julie made up several places on other runners as she stormed the mountain closely followed by Tracey. Nina Fisher was taking part in only her second cross country event, and even with the hill she was finding it a more comfortable outing than her first experience in the ice and slush of Knowsley.
Shona Taylor was undertaking the essential role of 3rd V 35 lady in order to ensure Harriers scored those last few vital points for the team event. Our new recruits this season have been too youthful to qualify for the veterans team. One such was Melanie Wane following along as 5th team member and also taking part in her first cross country since Knowsley. Mel had come prepared and kitted up this time but was still forced into a quick Gazebo change into racing shorts at the last minute!
Whilst the ladies gave their all the Senior men were busy cavorting around the start field for the attentions of the local press photographer. Much to the amusement and derision of our fellow North West clubs, Harriers finest could be seen posing heroically for the camera whilst ensuring he caught their best side.
Julie Platt was first Harrier home and put in an incredible run for 10th place overall and 4th L40 in her category. Tracey Dutton also put together possibly one of her best cross country runs for a while with 16th place overall and 7th L35. That vital 3rd scoring spot was filled by Nina Fisher in 42nd place with another strong run. That was enough to earn the ladies 6th place on the day from 22 teams. That fabulous result was sufficient for 4th spot in Division 2 and guarantees their place for next season.
With survival in Division 2 secure it was all eyes to PB specialist Shona Taylor as she crossed the line as the third scoring V35 team member in 54th place. As 4th placed V35 Team on the day, the Ladies finished the season amongst the medals in second place just a point behind the mighty Wesham. The Ladies are due a hearty congratulations on such a magnificent result which represents a number of outstanding performances over a long hard season. The collective team effort that saw them to glory was perhaps exemplified by the final Harrier to cross the line in the form of Melanie Wane in 72nd place.
With the important business of the Ladies event settled it was over to the senior men who finished their photo-shoot with the press and were finally settling down to some serious pre-race preparation. The men were a few hands short due to the odd injury, and none came odder than Dave Collins’. Captain Awesome arrived fully togged up in his Latics scarf, sniffling and coughing and claiming his ineligibility to run was settled that morning when his better half Jayne told him he was “red hot in bed”. Both Jayne and Dave were thus sidelined along with Mark Glynn and Rogers but offered some stirring support never the less. Mr Rogers made himself useful as Team photographer for the day and took his job very seriously with shouts of “best effort – this ones for the album” as weary competitors flashed past his lens.
The usual cavalry charge continued down the first hill with Darren Jackson whooping it up to rally the support of the surprisingly large crowd. At the front of the field Chris Smullen did his now familiar scalded cat act and shot off in pursuit of the Mid Lanc elite. Spectators report he took the hill on the first lap like it wasn’t there and galloped away to what resulted in a fabulous 20th place overall. Second placed Harrier was Steve Nicholls who was chased all the way by Silver Fox Waddington and off-road specialist Mike Harris.
Stevie finished in 37th place in 34:04 unaware of the battle behind him for Harriers honours between Mr Waddington and Mr Harris. Dave held his place as 3rd Harrier until the final approach to the quad sapping hell of the hill on lap 3 when Mike attacked like a man with suspiciously fresh legs. Mike put everything left into a final surge to charge past Dave and up the hill at an indecent rate of knots. He not only took the coach with that manoeuvre but also bagged another 4 competitors to finish 41st in 34:31 with Dave following in 45th place just 7 seconds behind. Dave Collins generously predictable appraisal of the run was that Mr Harris, “wasn’t trying hard enough.”
Daren Middleton came next and with no-one close enough to reap he settled for 70th place in 36:01. Darren was one of the few runners vaguely disappointed with the surprisingly short course, (5.1 miles) feeling he had more in reserve, which is another way of admitting he probably hadn’t tried hard enough!
Darren Jackson cant be accused of the same. After he finished showboating for the crowd and chatting to fellow Harriers Mr Jackson put his race face on and tore off to overtake Chris Burgess and Andy Eccles for his best performance since returning from his knee operation. Darren grabbed the all important 6th spot to round of the scoring for the A team.
Crazy Horse Burgess had turned up in an obviously poorly state having acquired something virulent from his youngster the day before. It is a testament to his dedication, enthusiasm and general all round Crazy Horseness that he ran anyway and bravely crossed the line in 83rd place in 36:50. Given his heroics it would be cruel to publish images of him bringing back his breakfast post-race, much to the sympathy and concern of his team mates who reached for their cameras and insisted in went on-line….so here it is:
Coach Eccles had a “steady run” in his own words to finish 87th in 36:58. Andy had performed an extended warm up as he travelled the course, looking out for the junior Harriers and offering the benefit of his coaching advice as they passed. A couple of runners hoping to back off towards the end of the race were sped on their way by Andys enthusiastic encouragement. “Oh to be their age and have it all to do again”, he was heard to say!
Graham Millington denied his recent diet of baked beans following the horse meat scare had anything to do with his largely solo run for 101st place in 38:05. Whilst it may not have helped him power up the hill it certainly did help clear a space in the gazebo post race.
Peter Mills had begun the race chasing after Darren Jackson before settling in behind Graham and deciding he would run at his team mates pace for the rest of the race. It is unclear if the baked bean diet had anything to do with Peter dropping back a few places or if it was the 5k race he had already taken part in earlier that day. Either way, Peter finished the day in a sprint for the line battle with Gary Wane, who pipped him for 105th place in 38:44 with Peter just 1 second behind. Not to be outdone by Peters “double race” antics, Mr Wane was to go on to compete in the Heaton Park 15k on Sunday too.
It was a case of “the quick or the hungry” back at the gazebo as demand was high for Traceys muffins. Tracey had been gathering a lot of interst in her muffins on the internet during the week and came with blueberry flavour by popular demand on Facebook. Just as the runners huddled round for their post race treat a passing dog broke free of its owner and buried its nose in Julies chocolate offerings.
Tall tales grew taller still later that evening as Harriers met up at the Brocket in town to celebrate the end of a successful and well fought cross country season. With trophies already collected in the Red Rose league we look forward to the upcoming Mid Lancs presentation nigth when the Endurance wing will add to the already overflowing collection in the trophy cabinet at Robin Park.