Biggleswade Athletic Club put in another excellent team performance at the second Three Counties Cross Country race of the season, with Jamie Hall finishing an brilliant fifth overall and the women’s squad combining superbly to retain top spot in the league despite stiff challenges from both rival clubs and fiendish conditions.
On a bitterly cold morning in Northampton, athletes contended with a challenging and deceptively awkward course around Delapre Park, consisting of two multi-terrain laps taking in tricky uphills, breakneck downward sections and hundreds of hidden tree roots ready to catch runners unaware. The long finish section, run twice into the wind on a boggy hill thick with grass, proved a viciously cruel and sapping test for the legs that derailed many runners’ challenges in the closing stages.
With the first eight men and first four ladies from each club counted towards the team totals, finishing positions were key. So three top 10 placings in the women’s standings, from Elaine Livera (3rd), Juliet Nayler (8th) and Isobel Everest (9th), plus the fourth scoring runner – Hannah Broom – placing 12th enabled BAC to take second on the day, just pipped by Bedford Harriers. Holding on to the stop spot after two events of five is all the more impressive as Biggleswade’s squad of 30 was dwarfed on the day by the likes of Bedford and Ampthill & Flitwick Flyers – who topped the men’s standings – with those clubs able to field 66 and 63 runners respectively.
Elaine, who was first female over the line in race one, reflected on another fine top three finish: “I managed to stick just behind one of the girls for half of the first loop when, out of nowhere, another girl passed us so quickly I hardly saw her. She was able to make the most of the twisty turns in the section through the forest. One bit which was definitely worth mentioning was a downhill muddy section which ended with a sharp right turn. Both times I almost ended up going straight down the hill. I think I definitely lost some time there!”
On the men’s side, Jamie celebrated his 28th birthday with a superb first senior cross-country outing. With coach Paul Davies also joining him among the scoring runners, he expressed surprise at the gameplan: “I was slightly taken aback when the plan involved a sprint off the start line to avoid getting stuck out of place. I gave it everything for the first few seconds to get myself into position for the narrow first uphill section. This paid off as there was no way I could have made up ground if I had ended up too far back.”
He echoed Elaine’s thoughts on the downhill section: “I stuck with the race leaders going up the hill but completely lost them going back down through the woods. I have no idea how anyone can move that quick round such tight corners and between the trees.
“Having struggled across the open field past the start line for the second lap, I was pushed back into sixth half way up the first hill but managed to keep the guy ahead in sight. I did everything I could to make sure I didn’t fall any further back but found the constant change of pace due to the twists and turns hard work. When we finally got to the marker for the last 400m I tried to claw back as much distance as I could. Thanks to the fantastic support from those cheering at the finish line I managed to put in a sprint at the end to just edge my way into a respectable fifth place finish.”
In Jamie’s wake were Rob Morgan (24th), Marcus Davey (76th), Nick Haworth (79th), Paul Davies (107th), John Stott (121st), club chairman Damien Pitts (129th) and Charlie Arnold (134th). Their points total left them eighth of 13 clubs on the day, and following a sixth place finish at race one, they lie seventh overall for the season.
Marcus was one of several to find themselves running wary of the various hazards: “Running uphill and avoiding tree roots I can deal with – running downhill on slippy mud is another thing. A lot of concentration was required on that twisty muddy downhill section! Second time round on that very section of the course an Ampthill athlete I was running next to fell flat on his face.”
Charlie also found a neighbouring runner come a cropper, and he found himself running cautiously: “Mud puddles, rabbit holes and tree stumps added to the dangers to be avoided as we twisted and turned round the trees on an undulating path before finally getting respite downhill. Not being a great one for running down, especially with the difficult terrain, I had to give way as others ran by me.
“Clubmates passed, to whom I was happy to concede position, before, finally, I reached the end to my great relief. Not a run to be proud of and not one that I can say I enjoyed, but these things happen and I did score for the team which made it all worthwhile.”
Deb Bryant, 31st female finisher, returned to the course for the first time in over a decade, nervous having left last time around with unhappy memories. “I hadn’t done it since around 2006 -I didn’t complete it that year as I tripped over a tree root and twisted my ankle. It took me out of running for a while. However once I got going past that section the day was all good. It’s a lovely course, the sun was out and it was a great race.”
Club secretary Hannah returned after an injury-plagued spell to round off the ladies’ scoring. She said: “I had one strategy – go out hard and try to hold on.That field and hill was a little much and I had to drop off the pace. Two girls passed me and I was furious with myself, I needed to get back in the game. I hunted the first down and overtook her then started to hunt the second. She had a male team-mate running with her, and through the trees there was no room to pass. I tried this way and that but her team-mate blocked my efforts. My legs were done – the finish was metres away but I did not manage it. I’ll get her next time!”
Throughout the morning all BAC competitors enjoyed fantastic support from a tireless support crew, who braved the biting cold, and many finishers stuck around to cheer their team-mates over the line. One who enjoyed a particularly warm welcome was Carol Garratt, one of the club’s Couch to 5k graduates, and Marcus rejoined the course after finishing to act as a windbreak for her the closing stages, as conditions worsened. She said: “It was my first cross-country run ever! The grass sapped my legs before the killer hill. I loved the woods but did the ‘gentlemanly‘ thing, pulling over to let the front-runners pass, so I lost a bit of time but that was never really going to make a big difference.
At the end of the first lap I really wanted to give up, but I thought ‘No! You have to take one for the team, grit your teeth and dig in.’ It didn’t make that hill any easier but at least I had a clear run back through the woods. To my superhero Marcus, who was the ‘Wind beneath my wings’, as he ran me home, a special thank you! Will I do it again? Well, my number is on the mantelpiece. Did I enjoy it? Actually, I think I did!”
The combined team scores mean Biggleswade now lie a clear fifth in the standings overall. With many runners in the lineup for the St Neots Riverside Half-Marathon this Sunday – BAC’s club championship race over the distance – preparations immediately turn to race three of the season which takes place in Dunstable’s Green Lanes, Tottenhoe Knolls and the Maidenbower on 26 November.
Wootton cross country results
Overall position | Name (gender position)
5 Jamie Hall (5)
24 Rob Morgan (24)
72 Elaine Livera (3)
82 Marcus Davey (76)
85 Nick Haworth (79)
107 Juliet Nayler (8)
116 Isobel Everest (9)
117 Paul Davies (107)
131 Hannah Broom (12)
135 John Stott (121)
143 Damien Pitts (129)
148 Charlie Arnold (134)
155 Natalie Morgan (15)
191 Emma Bailey (25)
211 Deb Bryant (31)
264 Neil Harvey (207)
268 Kathryn Juty (58)
273 Stuart Goodwin (211)
280 Gary Baldwin (214)
303 Robin Wynde (224)
343 Simon Strong (244)
347 Ian Grimwood (246)
377 Georgia Barker (119)
379 Jess Godfrey (121)
389 Ricky Byrne (254)
394 Juliet Grimwood (134)
426 Helen Kapur (160)
431 Julie Spavins (163)
449 Ruth King (179)
450 Carol Garratt (180)