Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Mud, sweat and cheers... to another successful cross country season

Striders vet women were crowned champs of Herts in the Vets Cross Country Champs at the weekend - led home by captain Wendy Walsh - bringing another cross country season to a victorious end.

Wendy Walsh wins the Herts Vets XC

So now you've had time to clean off your spikes and recover from all those hills, here we look back on the particularly muddy season…


Striders got off to a strong start in Watford before moving on to a new venue for round two - Keysoe Equestrian Centre. Runners may have been forgiven for thinking this was an aquathlon thanks to a water obstacle that had to be run through, but it didn’t slow down Paul Adams or Tom Crouch who both finished in the top ten.
A slight puddle to run through at Keysoe

Two of the Chiltern League venues were in Milton Keynes this season and if anyone tells you the area is flat, they’ve obviously never run a cross country there! Both courses at Campbell Park and Teardrop Lakes included some steep uphill sections. But Striders rose to the challenge, and, as a result, finished the season in a commendable fourth place overall (narrowly missing out on third) out of 14 clubs in Division One.

Men's captain Graham Smith said the team spirit at the Chiltern League and everyone working hard to do their best was the secret to the club's success.

He said: 'One of the biggest highlights of the season for me was seeing the strength and consistency of our men's team as we went from fifth to fourth and then to third behind only the big clubs - Milton Keynes and Bedford - in consecutive matches at the Chiltern League.

'At the final match at Teardrop Lakes, we needed to take on Leighton Buzzard to make sure we finished third. Unfortunately they beat us in the end but it was great. Everyone was looking out for purple vests during the race and talking about how many Leighton Buzzard runners they had passed! To vaguely quote Adam Dunajko's sister before the race "it's really exciting - just like a real sports league!"
Don't let anyone tell you Milton Keynes is flat

Notable individual performances across the season included Paul Adams as the fourth fastest Senior male, Graham Smith fifth fastest Vet 40 and Colin Braybrook seventh fastest Vet 50. For the women, Wendy Webster was ninth fastest senior, Wendy Walsh was third Vet 35, Gill Jubb eighth Vet 35 and Striders took the top three fastest Vet 45 with Deborah Steer, Liz McKie and Zoe Lowe finishing first, second and third respectively. Meanwhile Liz Walls was the third fastest Vet 55.


Many Striders found there was no better way to spend a Sunday morning than running through the muddy fields of Hertfordshire in this friendly league. Those who turned out at the Grovelands fixture in November truly proved their dedication and stamina - not only did it chuck down with rain that day, it was the morning after the Annual Dinner!
Striders smiling through the rain at Grovelands

At the hilly Royston course, Jen Conway finished second despite falling and cutting her knee open and was rewarded for her efforts as it meant she was the fastest senior woman overall across the season.

Meanwhile Vic Luck was the fifth fastest Vet 60 over the season and the combined efforts of all the Striders who took part in the five races contributed to the club finishing in sixth place overall.


Striders were dominant on home turf in the Herts County Champs at the beginning of January with the men’s team of Tom Crouch, Paul Adams, Graham Smith, Adam Dunajko, Simon Fraser and George Withers taking the silver medals. Meanwhile, the women’s team made up of Claire Hallissey, Wendy Webster, Wendy Walsh and Deborah Steer took the gold and such was the strength in depth, Striders Elaine Garvican, Zoe Lowe, Lucy Martin and Johanna Sharples  also won the bronze medals. The future looks bright for the club with Under 20s James McMurray and Megan Steer winning their races.
The National XC was a mud bath

As a result of their performances, Adams, Hallissey, Webster and Walsh were selected to run for Herts in the Inter-counties in Birmingham in March.

Speaking of the Herts County race, captain Graham said: ' My favourite course this year was the Herts County XC Champs. Partly the course itself was great, and good to be on home turf, but also because the support from spectators and marshals was fantastic. I've never known anything like it and it gave me a massive boost. Particularly Mike Jubb and Paddy Brice who seemed to be everywhere! It was a fantastic buzz and great to come away with team county medals.' 

The smooth running of the Herts County Champs was down to the race organisers and helpers including  Peter Blackaller, Douglas Bates, Martin Halling, John Ockenden and the many marshals who stood out in the cold for hours, well done and thanks to all.

A band of hardy Striders then travelled down to Brighton for the Southern Cross Country Champs on a tough course with a seemingly never-ending uphill stretch. Deborah Steer was the first female Strider to finish while Graham Smith was the first home for the men.

The season then finished for many in particularly muddy fashion at the National Cross Country at Parliament Hill. The course was very boggy this year but it didn’t hinder the pace of Wendy Webster who was the first female Strider across the line while Adam Dunajko was the first Strider male. The women’s team came 27th out of 93 while the men's team were 71st out of 145.
Paul Adams, pictured at the Herts County race, had a great season

So the mud fest is over for another year! Selecting their star performers across the season, the captains chose Paul Adams and Wendy Webster. Graham said: 'Paul had three top ten finishes out of the four Chiltern League races he took part in, including fifth place at Keysoe. Wendy Webster came back from injury and was just outside the top ten in the last two Chiltern League matches.'

Strider men at the last Chiltern League who helped the club finish fourth overall
But it's not just how how well the speedy Striders at the front finish, it's also about those who add strength in depth further down the field. Graham said it was tricky to pick out just one Strider who had made an invaluable contribution to the team without necessarily being the fastest, but put on the spot he said: 'I would pick out Mike Martin, he was new to the club and who turned out at many of the corss county races including Chiltern, Sunday league and the champs races.' Meanwhile for the women, Carole Jack (nee Mooney) ran in all the Chiltern League and many champ races.   

Well done to everyone who took part and contributed to the team effort/spirit whether you were at the front, middle or back of the field. Thanks also to captains Graham Smith and Wendy Walsh for galvanising the teams and organising all the race entries. Now on to hopefully warmer conditions and firmer routes under foot in the Midweek Road Race League but if you miss the mud, it's only six months till the cross country season returns!

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