Wigan Harriers took another muddy step closer to cross country glory at the weekend with both the Senior Mens and Ladies Teams going top of their respective Divisions after first class displays at Witton Park Blackburn. With just one race to go Harriers Teams can grab promotion for an incredible 3rd successive season putting both teams in the top flight of the Mid Lancs League for the first time. Under 13 star Jack Dee Ingham also set up a nail biting end of season showdown at Kendal after winning his event in style to take the U13 championship to the wire.
High winds, rain and a very muddy course didn’t stop a great turn out from Harriers at the tough Witton course. Early arrivals had a titanic battle erecting the tent in the near gale force winds as many other teams gave up and took shelter where they could find it. By the end of the day, several of those teams were finding that shelter with the Harriers as various Mid Lancs refugees huddled around the Wigan tent to get changed!
The junior runners were first to tackle the notorious climb of the “Saucer”: Blackburns signature heartbreak hill with Jack Dee Ingham, Scott Thompson and Mathew Lynch representing the town. Jack triumphed over season long rival Kai Atkins after a heroic run up the hill saw him take a lead he was to hold until the end of the race. With just one point separating the two in the championship standings it will come down to a winner takes all battle at Kendal in a few weeks time. Scott Thompson put in a tremendous run for 6th overall with Mathew Lynch battling hard for 20th place
In order for this rearranged fixture to go ahead, the League required some last minute marshalling volunteers from its members clubs. Julie Platt and Freda Millington answered the call on behalf of Harriers and were thus able to offer support to all our contingent from the base of the Saucer to the very top, where Julie sat like a Hi-Viz garden gnome braving the very worst of the storm!
Ellie Robinson took to the field in the U15 girls race and pulle off a fantastic result to finish soaked to the skin in 5th place. Daniele Thompson defied the worsening condition for a fine 5th place in the U17 womens race, before the Senior Women took to the field for two testing laps and two ascents up that hill.
Leading the way for the ladies was Jayne Taylor who put in a consistently strong run to bag 11th overall and 1st V45. Jayne needs only to finish at Kendal to win the Womens V45 category outright. She was followed home by Nina Fisher who continues to go from strength to strength this season. Saturday was perhaps her best performance so far with 28th place. sisters Rebecca and Sarah Morton completed the team in 39th and 55th respectively to round off a top class performance from the ladies. Their efforts earned the team maximum points in Division Two ahead of all their rivals.
Chris ‘Crazy Horse’ Burgess came well prepared for the conditions in an outstanding piece of comedy headwear he claimed was a golfing hat. The photographs may not do it justice but he was initially mistaken for Gary Fitzpatrick or a young Bill Oddie.
The Senior Men faced the gruelling prospect of 5 laps of the circuit over 9.5k with the A Team short of several key runners. This also meant 5 ascents up the dreaded Saucer in conditions that were forecast to deteriorate as the afternoon wore on. At the sight of darkening skies and gathering storms the more weak chinned members of the team succumbed to the temptations of the baselayer. Some even donned gloves and Mr Millington went as far as sneaking a pair of sprint shorts beneath his race attire, along with a thermal buff and T-shirt whilst expressing his disappointment that Harriers dont supply a Onesie in club colours.
We have grown accustomed to seeing Andy Kaufman charging off at the front of the pack as he battles it out with the best in the Mid Lancs League. The regularity with which he puts in top end performances shouldnt lull us into failing to appreciate just how hard he runs on behalf of the team. His 14th place in 35:42 at Witton was a spectaclar result. Not only did Andy manage to lap several fellow Harriers, he also had enough breath spare to utter a few words of encouragement as he passed. If ever a runner earned the right to wear his baselayers Andy has!
Mark Rogers, (32nd), and Chris Burgess followed in Mr Kaufmans wake with Chris failing to accept the challenge to wear his burgulars mask/hat for the first lap on the grounds that it may frighten small children. Chris claims a legendary finish was in the bag until he managed to lose a shoe on the sticky descent to the bottom field, (that old chestnut). After stopping to replace it he then ran scared of a Dave Collins scalping as Captain Awesome lived up to his self proclaimed nickname, (no-one else uses it Dave), with a 40:36 minute blinder of a run in pursuit of Burgess.
With a few key runners missing on the day, it would take some outstanding individual performances from the remaining runners to maintain the high scoring achived by the team so far thsi year. One such performance came from Barry Abram who provided a master class in how to pace a cross country run. Barry started steadily and spent the first 2 laps finding a good line before picking off runner after runner to storm from 10th placed Harrier at the start of lap 2, to 5th finisher behind Dave Collins in 44:15
Richard Noone, Paul Bryers and Gary Wane ran in such close formation for most of the race that there wasnt another club runner between them to interrupt the display of red and black vests. At stake was the honour of 6th man and final scorer for the A Team and each man gave of his best to ensure the highest placing possible for those points. In the event it was Richard Noone who had the greater stamina, pulling away over the last mile and a half to complete the A team in 44:20.
Paul Bryers began to tie up a little as the 4th time up the Saucer broke as many hearts as it did running strides. Gary Wane took advantage to break away and cross the line as first man home for the B Team in 44:27, as Graham Millignton and Paul battled it out behind for second spot. They were both to lose out however as a sandbagging Colin McEvoy came charging past the pair at the start of the last lap on a surge that took him clear all the way to the finish line in 44:53.
The power of Paul Bryers sprint kick is no surprise to anyone who has seen him train recenty. What was a surprise to Graham Millington as he lead into the home straight was Pauls ability to sprint in stealth mode and apparently on tip toe. Paul put in a tremendous blast for the last 50 yards to leave his team mate spinning in his wake as he snatched 3rd spot in the B-Team just 4 seconds ahead of Graham in 45:02.
Finishing strong was Dean Atherton in 46:08 who is obviously enjoying his debut cross country season and making progress with every race. He was chased home by Andy Eccles to bag 12th spot in 46:15 and ensure 2 full mens teams crossed the line for the third time this season. It may take a mathematical miracle for the B Team to bag a medal this year but the performance on Saturday propelled them from 9th place to a very respectable 4th overall in Division 4.
No sooner had the men regrouped in the tent than the promised storm arrived with a vengance. It was only then that Dean was finally cleared of previous suspicion when the sound of ripping velcro from his direction was nothing more sinister that the tent zips in the breeze. Julie Platt returned from the summit to revive the runners with a nibble on her fancies, whilst Colin McEvoy opened his box to offer us a treat too.
The final stop on our Cross Country Odyssey is Kendal on 1st March when we expect a big turn out from Harriers to ensure we bring a bucketful of silverware back down the M6.