For the final time this WYWL season, Johnny Meynell gives us the race day low down…
On Sunday (19 February), Stainland Lions were our hosts for the final West Yorkshire Winter League race, staged at West Vale, up and around North Dean Woods. Having already sampled the previous five meetings, it wasn’t as if we didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for, but like the punch-drunk boxer who keeps coming back for more, the runners turned out for the finale, some more eager than others. The Pumas once again excelled, with thirty dragging themselves out of bed and making their way to West Vale. Some had even entrusted Neil Coupe to get them there; the Pumas On Tour Express rounded up several back at base so they needn’t have had to worry about much else. Just the course they had to face.
We congregated initially at Heath Rugby Union Club, and after the obligatory photo-call, made our way over the main road and into the woods. The sight of so many runners congregating here was quite spectacular – one wonders what the local squirrels made of it all. Yet of all the starting points for the races over the course of the season, this one perhaps cut the most comical, with the runners tightly crammed on the cobbled pathway that led you into or out of Clay Park (depending on which direction you’re going). It was stone’s thrown from the impressive four-gabled house which was built by the Clay family between 1650 and 1661, and which is purported to be haunted. But we were not here for a history lesson; nor were we about to go on a nature trail, though the route that was mapped out for us took us very close to the epicentre of nature itself.
As one might have expected, Stainland Lions like to put the runners to the test; ask anyone who ran the Stainland Trail back in September, organised by the same mob who were about to prove they still had a wicked sense of humour. We were briefed by Steve Boyer of what we could expect, and sure enough, the usual mix of hills, mud, trail and fields were all there in abundance.
By now, of course, for the three-hundred or so runners assembled on the start line, there was little turning back, and any of those squeezed sardine-like in the middle of the throng now having second thoughts would soon find themselves being swept along like driftwood on an outgoing tide.
Before we knew it, we were off, slowly and carefully at first so as to avoid the obvious hazards such as cobbles, loose stones and a central bollard, which was guarded by a marshal for safe-keeping. The first mile or so of the route was a loop of a section of North Dean Woods; this in itself was non-too tasking, though having meandered through the trees, we had a steep climb and a high wall to negotiate before we turned sharp left and headed back towards Dean End. Then it was a double left onto Lindwell Avenue and the charge towards Clay Park once more, passing the start line and continuing onwards until we reached the high wall once more. This time we turned right into what many of us might loosely term uncharted waters.
The loop we’d just run did at least give us chance to sample the mud that would hamper us throughout; at times there was no other option but to stick your feet straight in the middle of it. But isn’t that what we enjoy most, anyway? Well, perhaps not, but either way, it was unavoidable. We snaked our way along the trail path through North Dean Woods in the direction of Copley, and while this seemed pretty straightforward, it did throw up the odd casualty. Take yours truly; on an uneven stretch of pathway I lost my poise and took a tumble in much the same manner as I had done at Queensbury (though there, tired legs might have been my excuse; here we were less than two miles in). There were many witnesses; club mate Robert Shirlaw was, to my surprise, still behind me, as were Ally Canning and Neil Coupe, who both caught sight of me lying prostate on the deck. Neil, as was his wont, found the episode so amusing, he never really recovered.
I wouldn’t be the only casualty, and my fall disrupted what had been up to then a somewhat comfortable outing. What I didn’t need at that point was a massive hill to climb. But as if by magic, one appeared. We came out of the woods and suddenly there was this almighty climb of tarmac going by the name of North Dean Road. Ahead of me, many competitors were already walking, but this was reassuring, if only because it didn’t mean my own efforts were any more conspicuous. And in any case, why conserve so much energy when you don’t know for how long you’ll be climbing, or what you’ll find when you get there?
Thankfully, what we did find at the summit was an immediate descent before we made our way into more woodland section and the treacherous part of the course which dropped sharply down to the stream. I heard there was more than one casualty here; even our Neil felt his ankle twist. Marshalling at the bottom was my old friend Tim Neville, who offered a helping hand to anyone in desperate need as they crossed the water. Our eyes were fixed firmly on the slope as we descended, then, as we strode over the steps in the water we took a glance upwards and gasped in horror. We now had the arduous task of scaling the banking on the other side. Stooping, gasping for energy and with hands on thighs, I reached the top where another marshal was there directing us right through woodland which thankfully had a downward look about it.
The infamous injury zone
We continued on our merry way for quite some distance before any further major climbs. I had by this point been passed by young Conor Lynch, but I would steadily make up ground on him as we made our way down a section of the course affectionately known, so I’ve been told, as the ‘Log Flume’ because it used to be something of a water carrier (in layman’s terms, a stream). I was happy to let myself fly down here, though others trod more gingerly. I caught up Conor, but not before passing another Puma, who turned out to be Chris Ellis, in some distress I later learned (at the time, I thought he was retying his laces and didn’t feel he needed me to make a loop for him). Chris had gone over on his ankle, the injury so severe that it later showed up on social media.
As we turned into Hollas Lane, Conor looked over his shoulder, didn’t like what he saw (me) and kicked off. I too managed to stride out, and ahead of me I could see Kirsty Edwards and Matt Newton. This flat section gave everyone chance get their breath, but any comfort was soon short-lived. Suddenly I looked up to see runners staggering up a field. Sure, this course wasn’t for the faint-hearted. I managed as best I could, catching up Matt, who was clearly struggling. The field steepened at the top, we climbed through a stile and headed for the summit, rejoining the aforementioned North Dean Road but happier in the knowledge we were now having to head downhill.
3 down, 2 to go
At this point, I could console myself with the thought that I was now homeward bound, but there were still two miles to go, depending on which marshal you cared to believe. But running down North Dean was a lot easier than running up it, and soon we were directed into the woods, taking the higher path which proceeded to ask further questions of our ability. Here, we had more climbs, one which forced myself to stop and take a breather and wonder just how many more we had to face. Because, quite frankly, I’d had enough of them for one day. There was one more effort required, a big climb with steps, at the top of which was marshal Andy Smith, loaned from Queensbury, offering encouraging of words saying we still had two more miles to go! As a marshal a mile further back had also told me.
Fortunately, the course evened itself out after that, I gained my strength and got my head down, and eventually, in the distance down below, was the sight of the rugby posts at Heath RU. Though not a great lover of the fifteen-man code, these goalposts did have a heartening effect, the fact that I knew we were on the finishing straight. Through the trees we skipped and eventually, just up yonder, there was a marshal hanging about on a bend. We reached him and there, thirty yards further up, was the thick white line, visible from space I believe, that signalled the end of the race. I crossed it to the sound of Andrew Tudor shouting that I was ‘second [Super Vet] home’, which I couldn’t quite believe, for though I knew Robert Shirlaw had been ahead of me since my fall, I had literally no idea that Paul Hopkinson was still out there.
As were many others. I began my recovery then joined the rest of the Pumas who’d already finished, and we watched the other runners come home. Then it was time to dissect the race, and there were many stories of derring-do to be heard.
First Puma home, it comes as no surprise, was Luke Cranfield, finishing fourteenth, a position he must have been delighted with as it was his highest of the season. Next was Tim Brook in 28th, whilst there was quite a wait for the third Puma home, Adam Standeven finishing a still excellent 68th. Richard Ogden found a second wind to outstrip Andrew Tudor to the line, whilst further down the field, the ever-smiling Liz McDonnell did her utmost to catch Shaun Casey on the line, but failing by inches at least sought consolation by being the first female Puma home in 137th. She scored as a Veteran, whilst making up the scores for the impressive Ladies’ team were Lucy Oxley, Kirsty Edwards and Alison Pearce. Once again, the Ladies had outdone the chaps and finished fifth in their category on the day. By finishing 125th Tom O’Reilly completed the scoring in the Men’s team, thus helping them to a ninth place finish. The Supervets fielded only two runners (of which I was one); Robert Shirlaw, 158th, held off the challenge of Conor Lynch, who’d worked his way steadily through the field.
Just over a minute behind me, Matt Newton was involved in another dramatic finish. Remember how he’d formed the Skipton triumvirate with Jane Cole and Alan Sykes? Here, he proper raced home John Tayler (Stadium Runners) and Wayne Ryan (Dewsbury), but his dip over the line was extended somewhat and he fell nastily on the deck. His finish was in sharp contrast to Alison Pearce who casually strode home seconds later.
Ally Canning, who was in the running for most-improved female at the start of play, came home in 205th, whilst behind her, Chris Ellis had gamely soldiered on to complete the course in 214th. Neil Coupe, having started under the weather, had a laughing fit then twisted his ankle, followed in Carine Baker (presumably to make sure she didn’t sneak off), whilst Debbie Fox embraced Shelley Ferneyhough (Queensbury) immediately on crossing the line, the latter winning the dual, though each had kept the other going throughout.
Tiffany Lewis, who may have reckoned she’d be last Puma home, finished before Jo Allen in 297th, but perhaps this was due mainly to a recurrence of a knee injury suffered by Jo playing netball several weeks ago route; Jo would have expected to be much higher up the field. But talking of injuries, Gabby Kenny proved to be our very own Florence Nightingale when she was first to tend to Susan Coates (Baildon), who fell heavily. Gabby summoned a marshal but in doing so, jeopardised her own chances of winning the race, her pre-race spirits lifted by the non-appearance of Ben Mounsey!
Once all the results had been collated, it turned out that Northowram Pumas had finished the campaign a commendable eighth, a satisfactory position in what was our inaugural Winter League experience. Later in the day, many of us reconvened in Sowerby Bridge for curry and drinks at Syhiba, discussing at length not only the day’s events, but now more importantly whether to go for a masala, dopiaza or bhuna. We were well looked after, and I’d recommend this place any time*. Later we retired to the William over the road before ending up, some the worse for wear, at the Hog’s Head. The drinks flowed, for some longer into the night than others, the topic of conversation descending into farce when it was suggested an impending autobiographical ‘Fifty Shades of parkrun’ might be a misleading title or not. But if it sells, who cares?!
I’ll recommend the idea to the House.
* No money changed hands for this small piece of advertising, nor was I offered a complimentary free meal.
Full list of Pumas who were on duty, with finishing places;
- 14 Luke Cranfield (M)
- 28 Tim Brook (MV)
- 68 Adam Standeven (MV)
- 77 Richard Ogden (MV)
- 78 Andrew Tudor (MV)
- 136 Shaun Casey (MV)
- 137 Liz McDonnell (FV)
- 146 Lucy Oxley (F)
- 148 Tom O’Reilly (MV)
- 158 Robert Shirlaw (MSV)
- 159 Conor Lynch (M)
- 167 Kirsty Edwards (FV)
- 179 Jonathan Meynell (MSV)
- 190 Matt Newton (M)
- 193 Alison Pearce (FV)
- 197 Paul Hopkinson (MSV)
- 205 Ally Canning (F)
- 214 Chris Ellis (MV)
- 224 Paula Snee (FV)
- 241 Simon Wilkinson (M)
- 248 Carine Baker (F)
- 249 Neil Coupe (MV)
- 251 Julie Bowman (FV)
- 265 Debbie Fox (FV)
- 274 Nicola Pennington (FV)
- 278 Jodie Knowles (F)
- 280 Gabriella Kenny (FV)
- 283 Helen Jackson (FV)
- 297 Tiffany Lewis (FV)
- 300 Jo Allen (FV)