Johnny, Our Winter League correspondent and his coverage of the penultimate race of the 2016/17 series….
Following the shenanigans at Oakwell Hall a fortnight earlier, order was restored when Queensbury Running Club hosted the fifth round of the West Yorkshire Winter League at Foster Park** on Sunday. Queensbury, the village that surveys all before it; yet our hosts managed to find us all a course that had hills upon a hill.
A chilly start
As the day broke the runners stirred early, a quick glance outside telling us all that it was brass monkey weather. Along with the regular tops and trainers, people took to wearing thermals, bobble hats, mittens and anything else that might keep the body warm. Put mildly, it was a cold ‘un.
Mind, the cold snap did have its advantages; anyone who recced the course the previous Sunday would testify just how saturated the fields were, particularly Foster Park itself. The weather during the week had helped dry out certain sections to some degree, but along the paths in the fields, we were still greeted with that commodity every cross country course needs to make it worthwhile; mud. Loads of it. Squelchy, slurpy mud. The kind of thing you used to enjoy stomping about in when you were five.
Undeterred by the crispness of the morn, thirty-seven Northowram Pumas turned out in force to face whatever Queensbury RC and the route threw at them.
They made up a total of 321 runners, who, once summoned, assembled at the start to listen to some cautionary advice from the race director Dave Hepworth. “It’s harder than it looks,” he yelled, and by the time we’d all finished, we realised he hadn’t been joking.
Ready, set, RUN
The countdown commenced, and the shout of “Go,” was the cue for a mass stampede, everyone heading down towards the bottom of the field, jostling for positions and keen to avoid trouble.
As the course wound its way towards the bottom corner, the field of runners was already spreading out, and soon we were facing our first serious climb. We turned a sharp left to begin the steady climb, the route getting steeper towards the top, then we had some respite as the course headed back down, following the perimeter of the park. It was but brief, however. We climbed once more, tackling what looked like a massive step in the hillside, runners conquering it as best they could. Legs were still obviously fresh at this point; by the time we would face it again plenty of runners would be on their knees.
Once at the summit, we veered left and back down towards the start, enjoying another canter downfield, this time taking a right at the bottom and returning back towards the main entrance of the park via a woodland section. By the time we’d reached the top of this, we had – so we were reliably informed during the recce – covered the first mile. The meant there was only around 3.7 miles left to cover. The hardest bit was already over, right? As if.
We swung right and entered the woods once more, following the trail until it came out at the top of the grass banking we’d earlier run up. Careering down the hillside – oh what fun – we reached a stile at the bottom, waited our turn to pass through, then lo and behold, we were out in the open countryside. On such a morning, what could be nicer?
Drier fields, actually. The pathway we followed was now churned up mud following heavy rain, sleet and (probably up here, snow) the previous week. And trying to run at speed whilst planting your feet on the cobbles isn’t necessarily easy, either.
Having already run the course, up to press I couldn’t actually tell if my own race was going to plan. It’s not as if I didn’t know what was lying ahead of me. But I’d already been passed by Kirsty Edwards (twice, in fact), Tom O’Reilly and young Conor Lynch. As we trekked across the fields, Matt Newton put in an appearance, and then he was gone, too. Then Neil Coupe was on my shoulders. I actually had the chance for a brief conversation with him as we formed an orderly queue at one of the stiles. If there was one thing that hampered the runners, then these stiles in the first half of the course were them. Where you might have built up a healthy lead on any rivals you may have had, suddenly they were within touching distance as the runners concertinaed while awaiting their turn to pass through. No sooner had Neil Coupe skipped through, then Alison Pearce was the lone voice in the immediate pack behind me shouting for me to get a move on – or words to that effect.
Having negotiated the fields, we then had a climb along a farm track, somewhere in the vicinity of Brightwater Farm, before emerging onto Stocks Lane. We turned right down this pleasant trail section before turning our attentions to the next section, a stile, on the other side of which was a heavy mud pool, though it wasn’t as bad as when we did the trial run the week before. We rounded the field, then headed upwards into the next. On and on we cantered or staggered, towards a farm, keeping left of the cattle grid, after letting a couple of oncoming dog walkers through, of course.
As we turned onto the short tarmacked section, I’d been caught by Alison. This was the top of Stanage Lane, a section I’ve encountered many times but which suddenly looked strangely unfamiliar. Alison passed me here but I kept close to her as we descended a steep clay banking which led us to a ‘water crossing’ (as some would term it, a stream to you and me). Taking advice from the marshal, we successfully passed through, then clambered our way up the other side, into more fields which seemed to keep rising. By now, my legs were feeling heavy, and I was pretty much running out of any steam. Alison, too, appeared to be feeling it, but she evidently had more energy than I did, and pulled away.
We swung left around the farm, then entered the final field before closing back in on Foster Park. That was the good news. The bad, which came in a package, was that my legs could hardly move, and there was thought of the two climbs in the park before the finish. Then there was the hazardous trail section which ran parallel to the park itself. Full of loose branches, stumps, fallen leaves and mud. It certainly kept you on your toes; everyone’s except mine, seemingly, as I tried to dodge a moving tree. How else could you explain myself landing on my back up against the wall after falling quite dramatically? Other runners bore witness to this, though none stopped to pick me up – we were, after all, still racing – though happily all I suffered was a bruised ego. But as I picked myself up, over the wall I could see Ally Canning and Paul Bottomley gaining ground. I attempted to get back into my stride, which by this point was a pretty slow one, and dragged myself to the top of the pathway through the trees before turning immediately right down the other side. It was here that Ally passed me, but with no energy to keep pace, I watched her pull away from me. Thankfully, this trail section was downhill; the section we’d run up just after looping the park at the start. But as we reached the bottom and turned left, we had the climb up the side of the field once more. Paul caught me and passed me but both of us found the terrain a real struggle, as did others around us. Some, myself included, resorted to walking, but once we’d reached the top we had the downhill section which gave us chance to set ourselves for the final assault. We swung around to face the final curtain – well, the end was near – and pulled and clawed our way up the giant’s step. Photographic evidence later showed at least one competitor tackling it on his hands and knees, but that wasn’t me.
Through the short woodland section we trundled, then back down into the field where we could see runners finishing, almost within touching distance. A short run downfield, a swift turnaround, then the short sprint to the line was all that was now asked of us. Or so I had it in my head. There was a catch; there always is. Despite having done the recce the week before, and told on the day by a prominent member of the organisers that there had been no last minute changes to the course, perhaps he or she had forgotten that the run down field had been extended to a mound which looked miles away. Paul had maybe ten yards on me by now; Ally was further ahead. We trooped down towards the mound, catching sight of the runners on the opposite side making their run for home. It was a long way, but once we’d looped around it, the finishing line was in the distance. Way, way in the distance. I summoned every last fibre to make a dash for it, passing Paul and possibly one or two others. I’ve usually something left in the tank for the final push, but this really was a massive ask. I finally reached the line in a state of total exhaustion, practically walking through with Paul but a few seconds behind me.
Of course, whilst all this was going on, I was oblivious to anything that had gone on ahead. Fortunately, the results and accompanying video gave us a clear picture. The race was won yet again by Stainland’s Ben Mounsey, but as far as we’re concerned, the honour of first Puma home went once more to Luke Cranfield, who finished 23rd. Tim Brook was involved in his own particular dual with Pudsey Pacers’ Ryan Noon, but mounted one last almighty effort to see him off in a sprint finish to become second Puma home in 40th.
He scored as a veteran, as did Andy Haslam (76th) and Andrew Tudor (95th), whilst also scoring for the Men’s team were Deke Banks, Richard Ogden and evergreen Robert Shirlaw, a Super Vet, too, sixth Puma home in 104th, to give them 1,640 points and ninth place. Shaun Casey, Adam Standeven and Conor Lynch, who obviously had worked his way through the field, gave us a quick-fire 141-142-143, whilst several places behind them was the first female Puma, Diane Cooper, a creditable 148th. The Northowram Pumas Ladies, in fact, outshone the men yet again and will no doubt want to remind us frequently. Backed up by Kirsty Edwards (177th), Alison Pearce (192nd) and Ally Canning (195th) they finished an impressive fifth with 1,095 points.
Further down the field, Alan Sykes, sixty-four years young, had enough for an impressive final kick towards the line, Paula Snee looked unruffled as she finished, Andrea Warrington swayed from side to side as she approached the end but managed to guide herself through the posts, whilst Carine Baker crossed with the now-familiar beaming smile across her face, one belying the gruelling course she’d just encountered. Last home for the Pumas were Jennifer Lees and Sarah Firth, who arrived in tandem to the loudest cheer.
With all points totted up, Northowram were left with 2,735 points to finish on the day in eight place out of the thirteen teams taking part.
Queensbury Racers did a sterling job in hosting the event, leaving many with the feeling that they’d left a tough act to follow. “A proper cross country course,” was what one or two runners described it as, and everyone was really impressed with the cheerful and plentiful marshals who made sure everything ran – geddit? – smoothly. The final round sees us all heading the other side of Halifax to Stainland. It’ll be a toughie – expect nothing less.
* Also known locally as Littlemoor Park.
Full list of participating Pumas and finishing positions;
- 23 Luke Cranfield (M)
- 40 Tim Brook (MV)
- 68 Deke Banks (M)
- 76 Andy Haslam (MV)
- 95 Andrew Tudor (MV)
- 104 Robert Shirlaw (MSV)
- 105 Richard Ogden (MV)
- 141 Shaun Casey (MV)
- 142 Adam Standeven (MV)
- 143 Conor Lynch (M)*
- 148 Diane Cooper (FV)
- 165 Matt Newton (M)
- 171 Thomas O’Reilly (MV)
- 177 Kirsty Edwards (FV)
- 180 Neil Coupe (MV)
- 192 Alison Pearce (FV)
- 195 Ally Canning (F)
- 199 Jonathan Meynell (MSV)
- 200 Paul Bottomley (MV)
- 206 Lynsey Clarke (F)*
- 209 Rachael Helliwell (F)
- 211 Alan Sykes (MSV)
- 219 Paula Snee (FV)
- 233 Tracey March (F)
- 241 Simon Wilkinson (M)
- 244 Andrea Warrington (FV)
- 254 Gabriella Kenny (FV)
- 262 Carine Baker (F)
- 276 Shana Emmerson (FV)
- 280 Melissa Hall (FV)
- 284 Jodie Knowles (F)
- 286 Philippa Briggs (F)
- 293 Victoria Owen (F)
- 300 Jo Allen (FV)
- 307 Tiffany Lewis (FV)
- 316 Jennifer Lees (FV)
- 317 Sarah Firth (FV)*
* Denotes first Winter League race.