Stuck out on its own on the edge of Cumbria and poking out precariously into the Duddon Estuary and the Irish Sea, Barrow has always been the home of the hardy and the strong of heart. That’s perhaps why the numbers of runners travelling from the Mid Lancs clubs drops off dramatically each time we head up the M6 to visit this far flung outpost of the cross country league.
Harriers men found themselves just one runner short of fielding two complete senior Teams until undue pressure was placed on Dean Atherton to strap on his spikes and accompany the rest of the squad on a day trip to Cumbria. It may have been more sporting of us to let him know he was needed before he had run himself into the ground completing the Thursday session whilst the rest of us had an easy night ahead of racing on Saturday!
Unfortunately Dave Collins heard that Tracey and her muffins wouldn’t be on offer at Barrow, and with a mild sniffle troubling him slightly he decided to seek muffins closer to home and paint a ceiling instead.
First to arrive was Jack Dee-Ingham who was our sole junior representative on the day. Jack was fresh from his superb victory at the Lancashire Cross Country Championships on January 4th where he took the U13 boys title on a tough Witton Park course. Jack had pipped Pendle athletic rival Kai Atkins to first place in Blackburn, and despite another quality run the positions were reversed at Barrow with Kai gaining the upper hand on this occasion.
After a brief stop off in Ulverston to fuel up on flapjack and coffee, (and send a few supportive text messages to Dave Collins), the senior men arrived to blue skies and beautiful conditions at the Thorncliffe road venue. The course winds its way around and exposed hillside overlooking the Irish Sea and affords magnificent view of the south Lakes Mountains to the North, down to a clearly visible Blackpool Tower in the south. This comes at the price come at the price of fresh breezes from the coast, but only Gary Fitzpatrick resorted to a baselayer to fend off the relatively benign conditions. Gary was excused on the basis he was troubled by a mild cold, but not the sort that forces a runner to stay in bed an eat muffins thankfully.
After a curious false start the field of 176 senior men set off for one smallish lap of the rugby field followed by 3 big laps which included the a trip up the hill and through the woods. there have been a few changes since Harriers last visited Barrow with the top path now landscaped for the benefit of walkers and a gravel aggregate replacing the original grass trails. This made it hard going on spikes with many runners choosing to step off the direct route and take advantage of the softer ground on either side.
The lower field was as heavy and mud clogged as ever and took a toll of tiring legs as the race progressed. Barrow only features one hill on note which is a very little affair of no more than 10 to 12 feet in height. However, its is steep enough to warrant block and tackle or climbing axe to ascend and becomes increasingly difficult to surmount as it cuts up during the race. Equally treacherous is the corresponding descent which requires an act of blind faith for runners to commit to a near vertical plunge.
None of this troubled Andy Kaufman who is generally in his element tearing both up and down challenging terrain. True to form he tore off to record a 32:23 for 13th place and 1st Harrier home. Andy had brought his own support base with him in the form of wife Becki and chief cheerleader Erica. Little Erica made great efforts to learn the name of each Harriers runner and squeaked her support as each of passed, (except Mike Harris who lost out to a far more interesting passing aeroplane).
Next home for harriers was Mark Rodger with a strong run for 33rd place and 7th V40 overall in 34:08. Mark was chased home by Gary Fitzpatrick whose mild sniffle didn’t stop him posting a 34:57 for 38th place. Crazy Horse Chris Burgess lived out his Spartan fantasies with cries of “tonight we dine on Mud!” as he left the line to begin a charge for 44th place in 35:32. 5th Harrier across the line was Mike Harris in an OCD pleasing 36:36 for 51st place overall.
The all important 6th place and final scorer for the A team was taken by Richard Noone. Rich had recently remarked that with the ever increasingly quality of runner at the club he didn’t expect to see the first 6 again! The ever dependable Barry Abram rounded off the scoring for the V40 Team in 40:46 for 104th overall.
Barry was followed by Graham Millington who had traded places lap after lap with a determined Dean Atherton in an interesting battle. Graham pulled his finger out on the last lap to drag out a 30 second gap on Dean, grateful for the fact that the younger runner hadn’t had the chance to taper on Thursday ahead of the race! Graham finished in 42:10 with Dean chasing him down in 42:38
The final Harrier home was a heroic Andy Eccles who had spent most of the previous week fighting a dose of flu so bad even his lady wife conceded it couldn’t be dismissed as man-flu. Andy dragged himself from his sick bed to defy all wisdom and run for the club, declaring he would be doing no more than trotting round to build some fitness. Despite this it took a fully fit Graham and Dean 2 laps to catch Andy, and he was seen to sprint hell for leather to the finish in order to fight of a challenge from a chap half his age! Andy was so ill afterwards he couldn’t even eat muffins and paint a ceiling…..
The results leave the senior mens team in second position in Division 2 and poised to secure promotion for an incredible 3rd year running. with 2 fixtures remaining and just 2 points separating Harriers from top of the table we could still be celebrating a championship victory at the end of the season.