Members of Biggleswade AC’s multi-award-winning ladies’ cross-country squad donned the Bedfordshire vest for the Inter-Counties Championships, before promptly splattering it with mud in lamentable conditions at Prestwold Hall in Loughborough. Hannah Broom, Isobel Everest, Elaine Livera and Natalie Morgan were in action for the ladies’ race, having qualified through January’s county championships. Joining them was Elliott Swinburne in the under-15 boys’ race.
Hannah, the club’s secretary, said: “I couldn’t believe I was donning the county vest. The place was a bog – it made Glastonbury look positively dry! We looked down the hill and could see nothing but sloppy, slippery, mud.
“From the gun there was a stampede. The noise was deafening and – oh my – it was ruthless. There was pushing and shoving – I had not been in a race like this before. I decided to back off slightly and get over to the side to try and stay out of trouble and stay upright! Mud was splattering my face, my arms, my legs. It was not like the Three Counties XC races.”
Elaine, who had arrived carrying an injury, added: “The sound was crazy! I’ve never heard so many people run through so much mud before! Suddenly the wave of runners in front of me parted and I had to dodge a girl who had taken a muddy tumble, almost causing a pile up myself. I thought, surely the whole course isn’t like this? But it definitely was – all 8.5km of the course was a mud bath. It was chaos.”
Hannah continued: “I literally followed Isobel’s back, she’s an excellent XC runner and picks the best ground to run on so I decided to stick as long as I could with her and copy what she did. The ground was horrendous, my feet had a complete mind of their own, slipping and sliding. On a long drag of a hill I did not really notice it as I was too busy looking where to put my feet. But then round the dogleg corner which was a short sharp down, my feet were sliding and skidding everywhere, I was facing the wrong way, I felt like I was skiing – I thought I was a goner. I braced for the fall but instead I managed to crash into another girl and bounced back. To my absolute amazement I was still on my feet and still in the race.”
Elaine would prove to be the second Bedfordshire runner home, in 39:08 for 117th place. She added: “I would have really loved the hills on the course had there been no mud – I always run best on a hilly course. It was only afterwards, when we were looking through pictures, that we realised that it was actually rather undulating. We were all concentrating so hard on putting one foot in front of the other and staying upright that we didn’t know how many times we had gone uphill.”
Hannah and Isobel continued to run in close proximity. Hannah said: “The mud became heavier and it was really starting to sap my legs. I heard Rob Morgan and [her partner] Jon Fediw shout ‘It’s the final push!’ so I thought this is it, and tried as much as I could up the muddy uphill finish as fast as I could. I had done it. I only started running in 2014 and never dreamed I would be running at county level, this was a huge personal achievement for me.” Hannah’s 194th place in 42:03 was just behind Isobel (41:57, 190th place).
Natalie was also finding conditions fraught: “It was a quagmire. There was no firm ground and I struggled to find my footing. It was taking all my concentration and effort to remain upright. By the second lap and some three or so miles in, I was despondent and ready to give up … I had had enough of the sloshing around.
“Then I realised I was catching the two runners in front and my competitive spirit returned. I focused on them and ploughed on, managing to eventually reach them and overtake. Buoyed by this, I entered the final section of the course and only a mile left to go. Another runner was now in my sights, and I thought if I could just chase her down too that would get me through to the end. I found I was indeed gaining on her and with less than half a mile to the finish we were side by side. I rounded the corner, overtook her and skidded to the finish line.
“Not my finest, most confident race, but it was a great opportunity to run for Bedfordshire, and an experience I will never forget.” Natalie was rewarded with a placing of 252nd, in 45:51.
In the under-15 boys’ race, run on a shorter, but no less muddy circuit, Elliott managed 301st place in 24:44.
North East Bedfordshire MP Alistair Burt hailed “a great night” for “a fantastic community club” as Biggleswade Athletic Club members celebrated a brilliant year of individual and team performances at their annual senior presentation night.
Taking place at Sandy’s Garden Court, the evening kicked off with a series of lighthearted honours delivered by chairman Damien Pitts, including recognition for club secretary Hannah Broom’s cat, who has recently taken to using the gravel around the shot put circle for something other than the intended purpose.
From there, it was on to the main business, with Mr Burt – himself a keen runner – on hand to dish out a string of prizes. Club championship races, taking place over various distances, had been run throughout the season, and honours were won by Jamie Hall (men’s 5km, 10km and half marathon), Elaine Livera (ladies’ 5km and half marathon) and Juliet Nayler (10km). Paul Davies and Isobel Everest each retained their 10 mile championship crowns, while Juliet Nayler – having completed her final season for the club – bowed out with a ninth successive 10km title. The Endurance Trophy went to Nick Haworth, in recognition of a fine time of 2:57:22 in the Chester Marathon.
The Most Improved Athlete awards deservedly went to John Stott and Natalie Morgan, both of whom enjoyed outstanding seasons, cementing themselves as key members of the club’s distance-running and cross-country squads.
For performances in the Southern Athletics League, Morgan Webster and Sarah Ridley earned male and female Track Athlete of the Year accolades, while multi-event specialist Daniel Steel and throws guru Sandra Ingham took the equivalents in the field.
Sandra also took honours in the veteran female age 50-59 category, with other golden oldies recognised for their Eastern Masters Athletics exploits including Marcus Davey and Hannah Broom (age 35-49), and Robin Wynde (age 50-59). New veteran track and field team captain Charlie Arnold ended the season as top male in the over 60s category, and his versatility on all surfaces and various disciplines was rewarded with the Complete Athlete award.
The final award of the evening, the Lonely Pines Trophy for Club Members’ Member of the Year, voted for by the whole club, went to the chairman Damien Pitts himself for his deft handling of a challenging season for BAC, which included long-awaited, much-needed and deliriously received refurbishment of the Sandy Track facilities.
Damien said: “It was great to see so many Biggleswade AC members attend the senior presentation night and a big congratulations to all the award winners. There were good turnouts for each of the club championships last year, and many members did great things in 2017. Everyone receiving an award fully deserves it.”
The club has also awarded lifetime memberships to four individuals whose selfless contributions have been valuable to BAC in recent years. They were: outgoing treasurer Mark Stead, who has bowed out of this vital committee role after an epic 10-year stint. Mark is also part of the club’s photo-finish crew, along with Sonia Edwards, who has also been recognised for her longtime, sterling coaching work with BAC’s youngsters: the Little Bees and Mini Bees. Julia Mackay was another, the former communications coordinator who currently operates as a run leader and oversees the club’s social media. Lastly, Peter Howell’s outstanding work as track manager, maintaining the track and field facilities in Sandy over several years, in all weathers, not only saw him receive a lifetime membership, but after a challenging 2017 which saw the track closed for a lengthy period, it also earned him the mantle of Club Member of the Year.
Damien said: “We were delighted to give this special thank-you to Mark, Sonia, Julia and Peter, four BAC members who have supported the club for numerous years, putting in so many hours to make the club what it is now.”
Reflecting on the presentation night, he added: “A special thank you to Bev Strong for organising another fabulous night – I can’t wait till next year’s event.”
Mr Burt echoed his comments, saying: “What a great night! What struck me most was the sense of encouragement of members for each other. Not all the awards were for excellence of achievement – not everyone can be the fastest. But everyone can improve, and everyone can demonstrate through their effort and commitment, either to their event, or to the club as a whole, what grassroots sport means to all.
“Biggleswade AC continues to meet the aspirations of so many of all ages, and of all abilities, and makes everyone feel so welcome. This club and many others are so vital for the health and mental wellbeing of the community – and I pay tribute to each and every Club volunteer who work so hard to inspire others and keep groups active.”
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