Surging clear at Standalone: BAC’s ladies take commanding lead in Three Counties XC league

Biggleswade Athletic Club’s women took a potentially decisive step towards retaining their Three Counties Cross Country league title in Letchworth on Sunday after another dominant performance on the trails. Elaine Livera’s stunning season continued with a fourth-place finish in the ladies’ standings – amazingly her lowest position of the series so far. Her performance was matched on the men’s side as Jamie Hall’s outstanding fourth place overall – matching last month’s result in Dunstable – once again gave the men an important platform to build on, and helped the combined team to consolidate fifth place in the table.

Conditions at Standalone Farm posed a variety of challenges, with two laps round a heavy field at the start immediately sapping energy levels and derailing several race plans. From there, a change of terrain proved problematic for those opting for spikes as a rock-hard trail, interspersed with icy patches, conspired to grind them down to the nub. Yet from there the real tests arrived, as a succession of long, boggy hills, with grip alarmingly difficult to come by for many, made for a steady stream of ever-slowing progress. A stiff wind, in runners’ faces for long spells, only added to the trudgelike nature of progress for many. Downhill hurtles, a staple of cross-country running for many, were fraught with menace given the almost complete absence of meaningful traction on the ground, and a festive bugler stationed by organisers at the base of the most piggish of climbs may have been more appropriately serving up renditions of The Last Post rather than The Holly And The Ivy and Good King Wenceslas. Adding to the torment: the advertised five-mile course was actually nearer six.

Elaine Livera in the finish straight. Photo by Jon Stott
Elaine Livera in the finish straight. Photo by Jon Stott

The first eight men and first four ladies from each club count towards the team totals. With 13 teams competing, team points for each fixture go from 13 for first place down to one point for last, and BAC’s women took their third maximum from four attempts, with second-place at Wootton adding up to a total of 51 points with just one fixture remaining. Elaine’s fourth place was backed up by fellow scorers Juliet Nayler (7th), Isobel Everest (8th) and Natalie Morgan (11th). Aside from Biggleswade, only North Herts Road Runners had more than one finisher in the top 10 – two, compared to BAC’s three.

Natalie Morgan. Photo by Jon Stott
Natalie Morgan digs in on the two-lap field start. Photo by Jon Stott

Bedford Harriers, the ladies’ team’s closest rivals, could only manage fourth place and lie a massive seven points behind with 44, meaning BAC can retain their title with a mid-table finish at the last race of the season.

However, that race, a “home” fixture taking place at Bedford’s Priory Park, is no gimme, made all the harder as team captain Juliet Nayler made her final appearance in BAC’s colours in Letchworth, as she prepares to switch allegiances. A stalwart of the cross-country squad for many years, Juliet will be overseeing events at the race from the sidelines, and Biggleswade will hope that injury niggles will not leave their team further depleted.

Isobel Everest and Paul Davies
Isobel Everest and Paul Davies. Photo by Jon Stott

Hannah Broom, just outside the scoring positions for the ladies, pinpointed the reason behind her own performance: “Thinking it was a good idea to have a go on the Rodeo Rudolph with a sore shoulder at the works Christmas do … it ended as you would expect.” On Juliet, she said: “We will miss you, I hope you enjoyed your final run as a mighty blue and yellow. Thank you for running the team for many years and often leading the girls to victory. I am not looking forward to competing against you next year!”

The men’s team welcomed back some familiar faces, and behind Jamie’s fourth place in the scoring stakes were Steven Baldwin (14th), Nick Haworth (64th), Paul Cooke (78th), Paul Davies (88th), Damien Pitts (93nd), Adam Murphy (102nd) and Giles Hawthorne (104th). Their combined efforts were good enough for a solid seventh place on the day, following up results of sixth, eighth and ninth so far this season. They now lie seventh in the table, with Stopsley Striders hot on their heels one place back.

Jamie Hall. Photo by Jon Stott
Jamie Hall. Photo by Jon Stot

Jamie said of his performance: “I managed to get myself into a decent position by the second loop of field. From then on I just tried to stick with the runner in second with an aim to out sprint him at the end. But as the race dragged on, I gradually slipped further back. Although it was cold, the ground was still soft and I could feel the course draining my energy. The undulating terrain took its toll and eventually I was caught by the runner behind me who came surging past at about mile four and went on to take second place. I wasn’t able to make any ground on the runners ahead of me, but managed to stay ahead of the next runner to finish in fourth for the second time in a row. As always the support from BAC was fantastic and it was another great turnout from so many putting everything into their races. Roll on next time for the final event!”

Before the Christmas break and new year battles for trophies, BAC’s runners will be alarming motorists and passers-by this Saturday as they take part in the club’s annual Fairy Run. A staple of the calendar, outrageous costumes are promised as athletes compete in a timed handicap race, levelling the playing field, and for the coveted title of Best Dressed Fairy.

Standalone Farm XC results

Position | Runner (gender position)
4 Jamie Hall (4)
14 Steven Baldwin (14)
58 Elaine Livera (4)
71 Nick Haworth (64)
88 Juliet Nayler (7)
89 Paul Cooke (78)
99 Paul Davies (88)
100 Isobel Everest (8)
104 Damien Pitts (92)
116 Adam Murphy (102)
118 Giles Hawthorne (104)
124 Natalie Morgan (11)
133 Charlie Arnold (116)
134 Hannah Broom (14)
199 Stuart Goodwin (156)
207 Gary Baldwin (163)
208 Neil Harvey (164)
219 Nigel Bush (169)
223 Sarah Jane Seaman (47)
226 Neil Gregory (173)
251 Kathryn Juty (63)
260 Ian Grimwood (188)
273 Juliet Grimwood (76)
274 Ricky Byrne (194)
286 Colin Harries (197)

Digging in on Dunstable’s hills: BAC’s ladies stretch lead in Three Counties XC

Biggleswade Athletic Club’s women, fighting to retain their title, stretched their lead in the Three Counties Cross Country league after another phenomenal team performance at the third race of the season in Dunstable. Elaine Livera was first scoring female finisher, while Jamie Hall’s outstanding fourth place overall helped the men pull their weight and enabled the combined women’s and men’s team to improve their league position to a very respective sixth.

Jamie Hall - No512 - near the front of the pack. Photo by Nick Spavins
Jamie Hall – No512 – near the front of the pack as the race opened with a climb on ground. Photo by Nick Spavins

On a biting, frosty morning in Dunstable, runners had five miles of treacherous ground to contend with – summed up as “frozen hills of clay” by BAC’s Marcus Davey – and a seemingly endless succession of sapping climbs to contend with. Normal tactics of fighting up hills and picking up pace on the downward sections was made all the more difficult with grip and traction hard to come by, and runners ahead losing their footing in the mud adding further obstacles. Amid some stunning scenery, albeit punctuated by the odd burned out car, eyes nonetheless remained sharply forward as a succession of hazards presented themselves, and runners all around regularly “changing lanes” in their quest for surer footing.

With 13 teams competing, team points for each fixture go from 13 for first place down to one point for last. Having finished runners-up to Bedford in Northampton earlier in November, BAC’s women punched well above their weight once again, their top placing all the more remarkable as the combined squad of 28 were massively outnumbered by their immediate rivals – Bedford Harriers, a surprise fourth on the day, fielded twice as many, with second-placed North Herts Road Runners supplying 41 and third-placed Ampthill & Flitwick Flyers entering 51.

Elaine Livera, No520, closes on the finish. Photo by Roo Goodwin
Elaine Livera, No520, closes on the finish. Photo by Roo Goodwin

With the first eight men and first four ladies from each club counted towards the team totals, finishing positions were pivotal to BAC’s fortunes. The club’s ladies once again peppered the high-scoring spots, thanks to first scoring finisher Elaine Livera, Isobel Everest (8th female across the line), Juliet Nayler (9th), and Hannah Broom (12th) and Natalie Morgan (13th) arguing between themselves in the finish regarding who should be the club’s fourth scorer. Hot on their heels was BAC’s Julie Balaam, in 17th.

Testimony to BAC’s strength in depth was highlighted by news that Ampthill’s fourth scorer was 20th, North Herts’ 21st, and Bedford’s in 27th.

Elaine, who repeated her first place finish from race one, and has now been top three in all fixtures so far this season, said: “The course was really quite beautiful, had we been given the chance to enjoy it! However as it turned out, the course was probably subject to a fair few tears as the race went on. I found myself setting off quite quickly and managed to keep the pace for longer than I was expecting.

“We were about halfway up the dragging hill when I started to seriously flag and when we hit the monster of the hill – I even had two steps worth of walking pace. During this time I sneaked a glance behind me and saw a North Herts runner less than 3m away – the same girl who beat me at the Standalone 10k by a minute. A quick panic later, and I was running again. No way was anyone going to overtake me with only 2km to go! If every other Biggleswade runner was putting up with the pain in order to help the team, then I needed to suck it up too and get my bum up that hill! It was a close shave, but I managed to pull together some extra energy to sprint the last 600m to the finish. We all came in quite far behind the girl who came first, however she was a guest runner, which was a nice surprise!”

Jamie Hall. Photo by Nick Spavins
Jamie Hall. Photo by Nick Spavins

On the men’s side, Jamie’s second cross country outing improved his debut fifth place last time out to fourth this time. He said: “The race started at a fairly steady pace, but the speed soon ramped up when we made our way down an incline. I tried to keep with the two front runners, but as the race progressed I gradually slipped back into third. About halfway round another runner came flying past, pushing me into fourth just before a tricky section through trees with roots covered by leaves.

“The second part of the course took us up a long, gradual climb followed by a monster of a hill which sapped the energy out of my legs to the point I was barely running. The way down the other side was treacherous with the clay-like mud clinging to my shoes and ruining their grip. I kept trudging on and managed to keep fourth place all the way to the line. The freezing conditions had made the mud a lot firmer than it could have been which helped through some of the soggier patches and although they were a pain to go up and down, the hills kept it interesting. Overall, I was really pleased with my race and it was brilliant to see another great turnout from the club.”

Rob Morgan, left, 100m from the finish. Photo by Roo Goodwin

Rounding out the men’s scorers were Rob Morgan (26th male), Paul Cooke (79th), Marcus Davey (81st), Paul Davies (92nd), Damien Pitts (109th), Charlie Arnold (126th) and Jon Stott (135th), and their ninth team placing overall followed sixth in race one and eighth last time out.

Damien Pitts, Natalie Morgan and Hannah Broom. Photo by Roo Goodwin
Damien Pitts, Natalie Morgan and Hannah Broom. Photo by Roo Goodwin

Charlie said: “It was the biggest cross country challenge so far this season; over 5 miles of hills and multi surfaces to contend with, including frozen ground in the shaded areas and claggy clay where the sun had warmed the ground. Rutted paths ready to stretch tendons or twist ankles, slippery downhill runs and sharp turns on slippery terrain caused at least two runners, that I witnessed, to pull up clutching damaged muscles. A number of runners admitted walking up the last couple of hills as the course took its toll on mortal limbs, but it was such fun – tiring, yes, but enjoyable to be part of a team.”

All of the club’s runners acquitted themselves exceptionally well on a highly demanding course that derailed the challenges of several seasoned campaigners, and many left Dunstable with their best overall finishing placings of the season so far.

With two fixtures of the season remaining, finishing with a “home” run, organised by BAC, but taking place at Bedford’s Priory Park in January, BAC’s ladies have stretched their lead to four points and next take on the course at Standalone Farm in Letchworth on 17 December.

Dunstable cross country results

Overall position | Name (gender position)
4 Jamie Hall (4)
28 Rob Morgan (26)
67 Elaine Livera (1)
89 Paul Cooke (79)
91 Marcus Davey (81)
103 Paul Davies (92)
104 Isobel Everest (8)
110 Juliet Nayler (9)
124 Damien Pitts (109)
126 Hannah Broom (12)
127 Natalie Morgan (13)
146 Charlie Arnold (126)
155 Jon Stott (135)
160 Julie Balaam (17)
164 Aaron Ball (143)
212 Stuart Goodwin (173)
229 Gary Baldwin (183)
238 Neil Harvey (189)
249 Nigel Bush (196)
258 Kathryn Juty (51)
281 James Rastrick (211)
300 Robin Wynde (216)
301 Ian Grimwood (217)
325 Juliet Grimwood (92)
342 Ricky Byrne (231)
368 Helen Kapur (124)
370 Julie Spavins (126)
371 Penny Ridler (127)