On Sunday, 25 March, mother and daughter Gill and Zoe Holmes travelled to Liverpool to take part in different events. Zoe took part in the Half Marathon, completing the 13.1-mile course in 2hr 17:23 to finish 1035th out of 2,563 runners. Gill completed her first-ever Ten Mile event, finishing 305th out of 358 runners in 1hr 53:06.
On the same day, Alison Shooter took on the beastly Canalathon Ultra 50k race, a run along the Rochdale Canal stretching from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge. By her own admission, she hadn’t prepared as thoroughly as she might have done, so was mightily pleased to have the company over the last stages of Simon Wilkinson, Peter Reason and Tamara Gibson (on her bike) whilst greeting them all in was Laura Fairbank, who plied them with beer and cake. Alison completed the 31 mile route in 7hr 53:32, and finished 128th out of a field of 141 runners.
On Saturday, Pumas Tiffany Lewis and Karen Matos took part in the Canal Canter at Kirkstall, Leeds. There were four distances from which to choose, ranging from the shortest at 10k, to the longest at 32 miles, but Tiffany and Karen opted for the half marathon, mindful of the fact that this would still give them a decent enough recovery time in the pub.
Described by the It’s Grim Up North organisers thus; “A scenic, fast and flat, out-and-back route along the beautiful Canal tow path, great for achieving PBs.”
All the four distances started and finished at Kirkstall, but where Tiffany and Karen were concerned, their route initially headed out west, beyond Bramley Fall Park and to the outskirts of Farsley before turning back, hitting the four-mile mark and heading towards Kirkstall, then running beyond the start in the opposite direction, completing ten miles, then turning back just short of the Royal Armouries Museum and making the last three miles to the finish line.
As expected running along the canal, the route was as flat as any course you’re likely to find, though that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Said Tiff, “I was really surprised how hard it is to keep running on the flat. I am the first to complain about hills but at least there is the relief once you’ve reached the top of running downhill and getting your pace up. I finished but with my slowest Half Marathon time to date.”
It was a pleasant day for it, and they both enjoyed the scenery on the run out towards Shipley but Tiffany later admitted that she was losing the will to live on the return stretch from Leeds to Kirkstall as it was such a long, dull stretch of canal.
Tiffany finished 213th in 2:16:59, whilst Karen was four places behind in 2:19:52. There were 243 runners.
It was a monumental task, and the effort required pushed them to the limit. There must have been times when they never thought they’d make it. But with sheer grit, determination, patience, and plenty of will-power, they persevered. It took an age, of course, but finally, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Amid huge sighs of relief, they’d done it.
And then, having cleared away all the snow, they got in the cars and set off to Lancaster.
Yes, the Trimpell Twenty asked much of three intrepid Pumas, not solely of the course itself, for with snow lying several inches deep in and around Halifax, there were serious questions as to whether they’d manage to get up to Lancaster at all, such were the conditions. But yes, they got there safely, only then to deal with the next obstacle, that of sauntering (in freezing conditions) around the city of Lancaster.
I have it on good authority that Lancaster and the west coast of Lancashire in general was bereft of white fluffy stuff, and the locals may have thought that Brett Swiffen and Rachel Calvert, and Laura Fairbank who, with her good friends Becky Allatt and Karen Hood, made up Team RLF, were making things up when they regaled the them with tales of drifting snow that had left many roads impassable. The aforementioned were all using the race as training for their London Marathon, which, as if they need reminding, is but five weeks away. It was cold, granted, but all-in-all, it was like a different world.
The runners gathered in front of the entrance to Lancaster Castle, a tourist attraction on a good day and perhaps a better option than having to run twenty miles on this, and at 11.00am they were heading off on their way, travelling along Castle Park, picking up Long Marsh Lane and meandering along the tracks through the trees before crossing the River Lune and following the path that initially runs parallel to Morecambe Road for a good two miles. The route, through a line of trees, then veered off left for a triangular clockwise circuit around Trimpell Sports and Social Club via Out Moss Lane then heading back towards the city centre, having accomplished five miles before they crossed the River Lune on the return. The runners then headed out north, across parks and woodland with the Lune on their left, then crossed the river on the A863, a dual carriageway that headed out for what seemed an eternity. The general consensus hinted that this was the hardest part of the course, the Bay Gateway, but they had to tackle it, almost two miles out before doubling back and making the return trip, passing the sixteen-mile mark along the way. The route crossed the river once more, then took the runners on a loop section before picking up the track that took them back to the centre, the Lune now on their right hand side. Everything by now was in reverse (possibly even the legs) and in time, having run through the familiar woodland and tracks, they re-entered Long Marsh Lane and headed for the finish back at Castle Park.
Facing at times a gale force wind, and having to tackle a hideous hill just before the finish, you could say that the race was far from easy, and it was won by Martin Green of North Wales Road Runners in a time of 1:55:47. For Laura, the twenty-mile course was torture, particularly as, only two miles in, she was struggling with her knee. Fortunately, she had, in the form of Gayle Forster, a nifty runner by all accounts, but one that has been encouraging Laura via social media and a saviour on the day, running with her for the most part to help her through the ordeal. They met for the first time at Lancaster but her support for Laura was unequivocal. “Gayle has been so supportive to me and my running. She came to run at my pace in the freezing cold and she was absolutely amazing,” said Laura, who felt sure that she would have given up the ghost without Gayle being there. Laura dug in deep and finished the course in 4:26:50.
As for Brett and Rachel. They’d had two sessions of hypnotherapy in the build up to the Trimpell 20, and the sessions clearly paid off. Said Rachel, “I can’t tell you how amazing today felt! It was easier than the three half marathons I’ve run even though my body was battered and crying out in pain. My mind won over!” Brett’s had his own battles over the years, but as Rachel added, “He is my inspiration! We’ve had the toughest nine months and faced challenges no one knows about, but we are so strong together, there is nothing we can’t face now!” What did it matter that the pair brought up the rear of the 516-strong field? Their aim was to get around, and though it took them nearly five hours, they did it! And anyway, sometimes it pays. By the time they returned to Blighty late Sunday afternoon, the worst of the snow had gone!
Pumas’ positions and times;
506 Laura Fairbank 4:26:50
515 Rachel Calvert 4:57:55
516 Brett Swiffen 4:57:55
Photos supplied by Sprint Finish Photography and Andy Forrest.
Sunday saw the annual Keighley BigK, an event held every Mother’s Day and once which has over the past ten years raised over £350,000 for the Sue Ryder Manorlands Hospice in Keighley. With 10k and 5k races on offer it’s one that attracts competitors from far and wide, and the 10K race this year saw 754 runners line up at the start, among them two Pumas, Katrina Wood and David Collett. Katrina ran this 10K race last year and finished with a time of 58:29, so she was hoping to go better this time around, whilst David, who was last seen running the coastal walkways in the Great North West Half Marathon at Blackpool in February, was continuing with his training for the London Marathon, now just over five weeks away.
In a nutshell, the Keighley BigK is a challenging 10K (or 5K) which starts and finishes in Victoria Park off Bradford Road. It follows a clockwise circular route through the paths, parks and roads around the Keighley town centre, initially taking in Low Mill Lane, Great Northern Road, Worth Way, Mariner Road and Malsis Road before entering Lund Park. Exiting at Exley Street, the course continues on Arncliffe Road then left onto Fell Lane before climbing up Holme Mill Lane and entering woodland that rises to 154 metres, descends then rises once more. Crossing the fields at the top of North Peak, the course picks up North Dean Road, crossing West Lane and continues along Edensor Road, eventually picking up Cartmel Road and the drag that reaches its zenith at 166 metres. The course swings around and cuts through the greenery of Devonshire Park before crossing over Spring Gardens Lane and running through the grounds belonging to Cliffe Castle, circumnavigating the castle itself then into a nice downhill stretch that follows the line of trees and comes out at Skipton Road. Crossing this, the course continues on the other side of the valley, going over the railway line at Royd Lane, then there’s the run for home along the cosy tracks through the trees, along Royd Ings Avenue, then finally turning into Alston Road before re-entering Victoria Park and the dash towards the finish line.
The race started at 9.00am, and both our runners were back well within the hour. David had the honour of being #FPH, in 49:47, a time which he tells us is a personal best for him over this distance. He’s well on track for that London Marathon, especially after recent training in sunnier climes abroad. Katrina had a fantastic run, too, and after all the hard work she’s put in was rewarded with a time of 53:38, almost five minutes faster than that of twelve months earlier. There were fifty-one runners in her age category, which (and I know you’ll find this hard to believe as she looks so young, is Female 50) and of these she finished FOURTH. Katrina obviously sets herself big targets, for while most would have been rightly proud of finishing so high up the order, she felt a tad downbeat by not finishing in the top three, thereby missing out on a gong. The general consensus was that she was been too hard on herself.
I’ve a feeling there’ll be more Pumas tackling this event in 2019, and Katrina highly recommends it. “A great race,” she said, “well organised, and food, drink (and loos) at the start and finish. Variety of on and off road, uphill and down.” What’s not to like?!
It could hardly be said that all roads led to Queensbury for the final Winter League race of the season; half of them were deemed impassable due to the remnants of the Beast from the East, which had left the outlying roads and pathways hampered by drifting snow. Where everyone parked their cars is anyone’s guess. The race officials had been out in the early light to check the course was safe, and though it looked, on the face of it, worse than when the event was cancelled last December, here there may have been more snow, but less ice. The race got the green light.
Nothing much deters the Northowram Pumas, and the thrill of running in ankle deep snow as opposed to mud enticed thirty-nine runners from the comfort of their beds. Foster Park, where the race started, cut a picturesque sight, a blanket of virginal snow lying peacefully over the lush green grass underneath. Oh that it would remain so. But the moment starter Dave Hepworth had counted down the seconds, the park would never look the same again.
A mass stampede followed, a total of 309 runners charging down to the far right hand corner of the park for what was just the beginning of a gruelling 4.2 mile course. And just to make them feel at home – this is the Winter League, after all – almost right on cue, it started snowing. Yeh!
The route hadn’t changed much from the previous year, so there was the accustomed anti-clockwise circuit of the perimeter of the park, which involved a hefty climb from the bottom, and another climb up through the woods before descending back to the start line and heading for the bottom corner once more. Here, the course doubled back on itself as it swung up through the line of trees which run adjacent to the park, before it crossed the top of the park and into the section of woodland on the opposite side. It then picked up the reverse of the perimeter of the fence, once again landing at the bottom section of the park, crossing into fields and a run out into the countryside, eventually coming out on Stocks Lane. All in snow, don’t forget. The route then carried down this track before veering right into more fields, climbing at certain points before reaching a farm track which, assuming one followed the right direction, brought the runners out at the junction of Stanage Lane, a familiar section of the route to most Pumas. It was but short, however, as the runners were then directed through a stile and down the fields, heading back towards Foster Park. Hitting the bottom section of the park once more, the competitors ran adjacent to the park itself, a tiresome section, so close, yet so far away from the finish line, and on an incline. They then entered the woods and made their way back to the bottom of the park for one last time through the trees, before following the perimeter as they’d done at the start, although this time, as opposed to last, the course omitted the final wood section that came out by the finish line; before reaching it, the runners were directed towards the mound down the field, rounded it, then headed for the finish line, just beyond the first set of goalposts.
The mist had descended by the time the first of the runners came home, Queensbury’s Tom Collinge crossing the line first, some way ahead of Stainland’s Gavin Mulholland. There was a trickle of runners passing through after that, and the atmosphere was all rather tranquil. Then, suddenly, there was a commotion, as, through the gloom, there was hurried activity. It was like the Batman and Robin scene in ‘Only Fools And Horses’ (1996), but here, three runners were making a mad-dash for the line, among them our own Tim Brook. He was edged out of that mini-battle by Dan Naylor of Baildon, but, by sneaking in front of his club mate Jeff Singleton, Tim secured a fourteenth place finish.
As far as the Pumas were concerned, only one other finisher came close to crossing the line in similar fashion as Tim, that being Andrew Tudor. He suddenly found that extra bit of energy to beat the pack around him, which included team mate Chris Ellis, to claim the coveted 130th position. Sadly, Andrew’s efforts didn’t get him onto the scoring sheet, as there were several other Pumas in front of him, with Luke Cranfield the second home, finishing seventeenth. Also scoring for the male team alongside Veteran Tim were Rick Ralph and Jude Roberts, complimented by Deke Banks, Robert Shirlaw and Jon Ding to total 1,819 points and give them an amazing fourth position on the day. The Ladies team went one better, finishing third, helped in no small way by Diane Cooper, the first female Puma home, crossing the line in 109th. She was backed up by Jane Cole, Kirsty Edwards and Ally Canning to give the Ladies’ team 1,133 points.
With Tim Brook, Rick Ralph and Diane making up the Veterans’ scoring, they totalled 849 points, to finish on the day in an incredible third place, with only Stainland and Baildon above them. The SuperVets also had a field day, with Robert Shirlaw and Jon Ding backed up by Katrina Wood, who had one of her best runs, to give the team 646 points and sixth place on the day. Overall, Northowram Pumas finished in fourth place of the fourteen competing clubs. Words such as ‘sensational’, ‘brilliant’, ‘awesome’ and ‘flipping amazing’ were used by some to describe the achievements of the team, and I’ll add to that by saying it was simply an astonishing feat.
Elsewhere, Paul Hopkinson ran home in 198th, wondering how he’d gone from the buzz and excitement of Tokyo just seven days earlier to this, but the word ’jetlagged’ was never mentioned. Lindsay Grix made drastic child care arrangements and set off in good time to make sure she made the start, so due respect to her.
As suggested above, snow had begun to fall just as the race started. It’s fair to say that the later the runners finished, the worse the conditions were. And whilst most people gave the impression that they’d been ‘done in’ by the time they finished, Helen Jackson’s actions outwardly demonstrated how others probably felt, as she flung herself to the ground and lay prone on her back for what seemed an age. There were fears, naturally, until one marshal allayed these when he caught her just about breathing. Further down the line, Gabby Kenny made a strange admission: “You won’t hear me say this often, but I enjoyed the run,” then gave much credit to Shana Emmerson, whose girl talk along the way helped take their minds off the job in hand.
Northowram Pumas’ finishing positions;
14 Tim Brook (MV)
17 Luke Cranfield (M)
27 Deke Banks (M)
31 Rick Ralph (MV)
47 Jude Roberts (MV)
80 Robert Shirlaw (MSV)
84 Andy Barnes (MV)
97 Chris Crabtree (MV)
99 Andy Haslam (MV)
109 Diane Cooper (FV)
125 Jane Cole (FV)
130 Andrew Tudor (MV)
133 Chris Ellis (MV)
144 Jon Ding (MSV)
160 Kirsty Edwards (FV)
177 Ally Canning (F)
186 Peter Reason (MV)
188 Julie Bowman (FV)
198 Paul Hopkinson (MSV)
201 Tom O’Reilly (MV)
202 Neil Coupe (MV)
203 Simon Wilkinson (M)
208 Sarah Haigh (FV)
211 Paul Bottomley (MV)
218 Matt Newton (M)
240 Katrina Wood (FSV)
246 Paula Snee (FV)
248 Mark Kirkby (MSV)
249 Claire Ramsbottom (F)
259 Lindsay Grix (F)
263 Jo Coupe (FV)
268 Tiffany Lewis (FV)
272 Anna Ralph (FV)
288 Helen Jackson (FV)
289 Tracey March (FV)
290 Carolyn Brearley (FV)
296 Gabriella Kenny (FV)
297 Charlotte Reason (F)
298 Shana Emmerson (FV)
Photos courtesy of Joanne Punt, Carolyn Collinge, John Loughran and Steve Smith (Smith Photography).
With the London Marathon looming on the horizon (less than two months away) Brett Swiffen and Rachel Calvert decided that they’d better get some miles in. Which is why, while many Pumas were trundling through the woods around West Vale and Copley in the Winter League, these two were to be found at Harewood House. But though Brett and Rachel may have a passing interest in Chippendale furniture and the magnificent Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped gardens and other delights housed within, that’s not why there were there. They were on a serious mission that involved dragging themselves around the Harewood House Half Marathon.
I use the word ‘dragging’, but not in detrimental terms, for it’s fair to say Brett and Rachel’s run wasn’t without incident. It’s not as if the course wasn’t hazardous enough but when both runners suffered mishaps en route, that they got around at all is testimony to their determination. This should stand them in good stead for the streets of London.
The organisers of the event – they also staged a 10k run, but that wasn’t far enough for Brett or Rachel – advertised the event thus; “This extremely hilly route offers a challenging trail run with miles of muddy tracks, steep forest inclines and tree-lined fields, all set within the stunning grounds of Yorkshire’s historic Harewood House.” So the warning signs were clearly there long before they’d set off.
When you’re running having pulled a calf muscle six days prior to the race, as Rachel did, then there are added worries, and any runner who has set off with injuries on their mind will know what she was going through. Sadly, Rachel’s injury flared up within minutes of setting off, but she soldiered on, determined to get through. Then, around the eight-mile mark, Brett took a tumble that, in his own words ‘Ronaldo would have been proud of.’ He picked himself up and together, he and Rachel completed the last five miles or so. Officially, Rachel pipped Brett by one second and one place, finishing 815th in 3 hours 28:12.
Having recovered, Rachel admitted that the race had been ‘the hardest mental and physical challenge yet’, whilst Brett added that the ‘muddy course was a killer’. But, they are now one step closer to London, and with a few 10ks and a twenty-mile run to complete next month, they are well on track.
Clay House Park, West Vale, Sunday, 25 February, 2018.
Sunday saw what was the penultimate fixture in this season’s West Yorkshire Winter League. As last year, it was intended that the event that took a tour of Clay Park Woods in West Vale and hosted by our good friends the Stainland Lions, would have concluded the race calendar, but with the Queensbury race having been postponed back in December, it means there’s another round of fun and hilarity still to go.
As in the last race, the Pumas were missing a few runners, notably Tim Brook, but the team was still strong and comprised thirty runners. They made up a field of 305 competitors, all of whom squeezed onto the cobbled path behind Clay House for the 10.00am start. The sight looked surreal last year and was no different this.
They began with the familiar loop of the woods, coming back along Dean End, down Lindley Road, then approaching the start line once more before they journeyed out into the sticks. There were several changes from the course of last year, helped in many ways by the reopening of Copley Bridge, therefore making the run for home slightly easier. But there were still challenges to face, not least the climb up North Dean Road at Copley, which thankfully was shorter than last year as the marshals sent the runners through a stile and down the fields.
At the bottom of here, however, the runners had to negotiate the stream before following pleasant treks along man-made paths and farmhouse tracks towards and beyond Binn Royd Cottage Farm before entering a section of woodland and the part of the course which has been labelled ‘Log Flume’, which involved a steep climb. The route then descended across fields before picking up Hollas Lane at the far end of the Copley village and there was a routine run through the woods, with the River Calder on the runners’ right hand side for company. Eventually, they reached Copley Bridge, crossed it, then re-entered Clay Woods for the retreat of less than two miles. But there was still some climbing to do. The route took the path which made its way to the top of Clay Woods, and the affectionately-named section Muddy Bank (can’t think why). This was a test of character and, judging by the accompanying video, reduced many of the runners to walking as they reached the top. There was one more climb then the stretch towards the finish line, the runners emerging into sunlight at the back of Clay House. Roughly 5.6 miles.
There were no surprises when Luke Canfield crossed the line as #FPH, finishing twelfth, and in the Men’s team, he was backed up by 31st placed Deke Banks, Robert Shirlaw (99th) and Jon Ding (147th), with the quota of Veterans scoring made up by Jude Roberts, Rick Ralph and Andy Barnes. They finished with a total of 1,694 points and finished on the day in eighth position.
Leading in the Pumas Ladies was (Veteran) Diane Cooper, an impressive 108th, and she was supported by the ever-improving Jane Cole, Ally Canning and Kirsty Edwards. They totalled 1,146 points to finish third, the team proving to be a consistent threat.
The Veterans’ scorers were thus Diane Cooper, Jude Roberts and Rick Ralph; their combined points total was 812 to place them sixth. The Supervets’ scorers were Robert Shirlaw, Jon Ding, and, without Jenny Hopkinson, who with husband Paul, had flown out to the Far East for a local marathon, Katrina Wood, the female scorer. The team totalled 2,839 points and finished eighth.
There were, as always, stories to tell. The finish-line videos made for some gripping viewing, if we except Tom O’Neill, who casually walked over the line as if it was just another day at the office. Deke Banks proved to be the filling in a Queensbury sandwich, Jane Cole held off the challenge of Pudsey Pacers’ Tracey Wilman, whilst Kirsty Edwards’ last-gasp dart to the line had the officials retiring to a consultation room to decide whether or not she did in fact pip Dewsbury’s Flo Skidmore on the line. After much discussion, they requested a final opinion, and in the end the man from Del Monte said Yes. Ally Canning dipped early to ensure she beat a posse of runners, among which was Supervet Jon Ding, and further back there was a quick-fire Pumas’ 1-2-3 when sixteen seconds separated Sarah Haigh, Julie Bowman and Andrew Mellor. In years to come, Julie will recall how she spent her nth birthday trailing woods whilst negotiating tree roots, thick mud and severe hills, all the while having a whale of a time. Peter Reason already has a reputation for falling when least expected, and he didn’t disappoint here, although he left it late (just before the last climb). He did at least get up and finish the race, which is more than can be said for one unfortunate Puma, who took a nasty tumble and was forced to retire early on (said runner did manage to complete the initial loop, though) with injuries that later required medical attention. But what goes on in the woods, stays in the woods. You know who you are.
All-in-all, another splendid effort by the Pumas, and they can now go into the last race at Queensbury this Sunday full of confidence. More confident, perhaps, than the weather forecasters who will have their doubts about the race going ahead as the Beast from the East is set to take a firm ice grip. This race has already been cancelled once, what chance another? Check local press for details.
Pumas’ finishing positions;
12 Luke Cranfield (M)
31 Deke Banks (M)
39 Jude Roberts (MV)
45 Rick Ralph (MV)
80 Andy Barnes (MV)
99 Robert Shirlaw (MSV)
108 Diane Cooper (FV)
122 Jane Cole (FV)
131 Kirsty Edwards (FV)
141 Ally Canning (F)
147 Jon Ding (MSV)
156 Andrew Tudor (MV)
163 Peter Reason (MV)
173 Tom O’Reilly (MV)
175 Matt Newton (M)
193 Simon Wilkinson (M)
195 Sarah Haigh (FV)
196 Julie Bowman (FV)
197 Andrew Mellor (MV)
233 Katrina Wood (FSV)
235 Claire Ramsbottom (F)
236 Jodie Knowles (F)
243 Mark Kirkby (MSV)
270 Helen Jackson (FV)
277 Jo Coupe (FV)
279 Tiffany Lewis (FV)
288 Charlotte Reason (F)
290 Carolyn Brearley (FV)
293 Gina Farley (FSV)
Thanks to Steve Boyer, Wendy Paulson and Andrew Falkingbridge for the use of photos. But not for the one above.
A big shout out today for the three Pumas who took on the 29th Great North West Half Marathon at Blackpool this morning. Laura Fairbank, Alison Shooter and relative newcomer Dave Collett were among the 1,200 or so runners who crammed the Middle Walkway for the start.
Described by the race organisers Fylde Coast Runners as a “fast and flat course around the coastal front of Blackpool, it’s a great race for a PB.” The route was two-lapped, initially heading southwards along the front to the North Pier, then swinging around and following the promenade all the way down past Little Bispham, turning around just before Anchorsholme Park and heading back towards the start line, to start the second lap. After two full laps the runners headed back down the front to finish by the Middle Walkway.
With an 11.00am start, the runners set off in what were fairly warm temperatures considering it was mid-February. Along they went on their merry way, lucky that they had what everyone craves when they stop at the coast; a sea view. For thirteen miles. Well, it helps take your mind off things.
Dave had the honour of being #FPH, finishing 449th in just over 1 hour and 51 minutes. That’s a decent time, considering it was his first-ever attempt at this distance. When asked how he found the course, he replied, “Flat, not really used to that!”
Alison kept Laura company, offering her words of comfort and motivation as Laura, by her own admission, struggled to get round. “I’ve been ill and not run for two weeks, so hardly the best preparation,” she said.
Ill maybe, but that didn’t stop Laura and Alison tucking into a chocolate fondant upon finishing. Oh, and word has it that they had a win on the slot machines, too. To help pay for the aforementioned chocolate fondant, no doubt. A good day all round, then.
The fourth race in the Winter League was hosted by Skipton Harriers on Sunday, and, as last year, they’d set out a simple three-lapped course around Aireville Park and adjacent golf course. I use the word ‘simple’ loosely. I can testify that when the Pumas sampled the delights just over a year ago, it was challenging enough. It seems this time around, conditions were worse. Those runners living on high ground had woken up to a covering of snow and there was the ever-so-slight possibility that this race may have had to be put on the back-burner on Health & Safety grounds. Sadly – if that’s the right word – there was no such luck.
The Pumas were represented by 27 runners, a number that could possibly have been doubled had Neil Coupe not enticed a ferry load to what he termed a ‘sight-seeing weekend’ of Amsterdam to help celebrate his birthday (by all accounts, he didn’t have to try too hard to get his numbers up). Among his party were several runners who more than likely would have scored points at Skipton, so it could be argued that, despite managing a great set of results regardless, the team could have done even better. This augurs well.
Aireville Park is probably picturesque in summer; perhaps not so much at the beginning of February, and the course, around 4½ miles long, was always going to be prove a stern test even before one considered the elements. The main obstacle, indeed, a recurring theme, seems to have been the mud of the thick variety type. The course was changed slightly from the previous year, with the mud section at the entrance to the golf course encountered only on the way in, therefore the runners waded through it just the three rimes as opposed to the six the year before. Having run the perimeter of the golf course and climbed up through the woods, the runners re-entered the park higher up. This meant the route was slightly shorter but it was no less easy because of it. In fact, the general consensus was that the course was harder than last year because of the sapping mud, which was just about everywhere, and worsened with each lap as over 270 runners pounded, slipped and slid their way around.
The race was won by Adrian Holliday of Crossgate Harriers, who crossed the line just before Jon Ding was about to start his last lap. But Jon, who finished 133rd, had a great run himself and scored yet again to help the Pumas’ Supervets team attain their highest ever points tally. First home for the team in this category was Robert Shirlaw, who was 86th, and the Supervets, bolstered by the first appearance this season of Jenny Hopkinson (spurred along the way by husband Paul), scored 676 points to finish seventh on the day, their highest placing of the season.
First Puma home was Veteran Tim Brook, going one better than in his last two outings by finishing tenth. He was followed home by Luke Cranfield (18th), and the Pumas’ Male team scoring was completed by Deke Banks, Andy Haslam, Robert Shirlaw and Vets Rick Ralph and Andy Barnes. They totalled 1,800 points and finished sixth, equalling their position on home soil two weeks earlier.
Taking the honour for the first time as first female Puma home was Jane Cole, who ran a superb race to finish 123rd. Classed as the Veteran scorer, Jane was backed up by Ally Canning, Jenny Hopkinson and, scoring for the first time, Sarah Haigh. They totalled 1,103 points and finished fifth.
The Veterans’ scorers were thus Tim Brook, Rick Ralph and Jane Cole; they totalled 856 points, a score which gave them a sensational second position on the day. They were, in fact, just twenty points behind leaders Baildon. Not only was this the highest position the Vets had achieved – and don’t forget, they were placed only seventh after the first race at Dewsbury – it was also the highest place any of the Pumas’ teams had attained throughout the season (and last season, for that matter).
All-in-all, it had been quite a day and once everyone had recovered, experiences were shared, with the main topic of conversation being, of course, the conditions, and in particular, the mud. When Andy Haslam takes to social media to give his account, you know it’s serious stuff. “The course was much more difficult today when compared to last year, purely due to the mud,” The said. “The hill out of the woods, especially on lap three, was horrendous.” Andrew Tudor concurred: “There was mud everywhere,” he said, “The hill up to the top of the golf course was worse [than last year] and even the faster runners were struggling to run up it, and when you fell it was very difficult to get back up and get going.” When asked for his initial reaction, Paul Hopkinson said the course had been “very, very, very muddy”, whilst Dawn Higgins admitted, “It was like having lead boots on,” and when pressed further, had this to say: “Mud? From the initial ascent, then down to the gate, it soon became ankle deep, which was nice; wet feet to start with! The uphill beyond that was muddy, downhill was treacherous due to the mud. The sections through the trees were muddy. Uphill was ridiculously difficult due to the mud (have I mentioned that yet?) but on the plus side, coming down through the trees was so muddy no one was overtaking anyone as it was, you guessed it, muddy!” I think we get her drift. And debutant Lynsay Riding had this to say of her first experience of the Winter League: “I’m glad I did it but I don’t think it’s really for me! I’m not sure whether it was just a bad course because of the muddy conditions but it was really hard to get a proper momentum and pace because of slipping everywhere and it felt a lot more than four miles. It was really tiring and hard work.”
Everyone had something to say, and it seems they were all glad when it was over. But the final word must be reserved for the aforementioned Andrew Tudor, Ian Evans and Lisa Aspinall. All suffered injuries and, using horse-racing parlance, were pulled up. Andrew retired at the end of the second lap having struggled around on his one good leg, whilst Ian felt his knees giving way on the hills, something that was particularly galling for him as he’d travelled all the way from Manchester especially for the event. Lisa, making her long awaited Winter League debut after capturing so much of it on film, jarred her knee coming down a slope on the second lap and on partner Tim Brook’s medical advice, decided it best not to carry on. Thankfully, upon inspection, none were deemed ready for the knacker’s yard and will hopefully be fit for the next Winter League race hosted by Stainland Lions on 25 February, although Lisa’s involvement is more likely of capturing the action rather than being part of it.
Pumas’ finishing positions;
10 Tim Brook (MV)
18 Luke Cranfield (M)
24 Rick Ralph (MV)
46 Deke Banks (M)
65 Andy Barnes (MV)
77 Andy Haslam (MV)
86 Robert Shirlaw (MSV)
120 Shaun Casey (MV)
123 Jane Cole (FV)
133 Jon Ding (MSV)
141 Ally Canning (F)
174 Paul Hopkinson (MSV)
175 Jenny Hopkinson (FSV)
177 Tom O’Reilly (MV)
203 Sarah Haigh (FV)
212 Lynsay Riding (FV)*
215 Dawn Higgins (FV)
219 Helen Jackson (FV)
220 Jodie Knowles (F)
224 Anna Ralph (FV)
227 Katrina Wood (FSV)
231 Paula Snee (FV)
236 Kathryn Cleaver (FV)
250 Gabriella Kenny (FV)
Lisa Aspinall, Andrew Tudor and Ian Evans all retired.
Photos courtesy of Dave Butler and Robert Samuels.