And so it arrived, the final round of the Manchester Cross Country season and the last chance to build off road strength ahead of the spring 10k and marathon season. The curtain closer in Wythenshawe would not only confirm the club’s best ever season in the league, but also offer the four contenders for the men’s club championship a real opportunity for honours at the awards ceremony in the evening. The Parkruns offered something of an appetiser to get things going and Steve Martin sneaked into the top 200 of the increasingly popular Warrington event while on home ground in St Helens Kevin Dudley placed ninth just over two minutes ahead of Mike Gregory and Tony Waine just missed the top 300 by mere seconds. That was it for terra firma as all attentions turned to the frozen slippery tundra of South Manchester. The juniors kicked things off in the morning with Joseph Duffy climbing into the top half in the U11 Boys race and Holly Hirst finding that two shoes really are faster than one in the corresponding girls race. More good efforts from Reuben Wilson and George Houghton set the tone for a great afternoon of racing with five ladies and eleven men set to face the massed start, the mad dash into the first corner, and the never ending battle to stay upright (lost by a couple of Stockport Harriers, notably) in the afternoon races. Myka Heard has dominated the club competition this year and another sub-45 minute time and first club counter position (in the top 100 overall and 5th in her age group) gave her a final tally of 118 points. It was fitting that Lynette Houghton, who developed her strength for XC on obstacle races around the world, should be next home for the club around three minutes further back while a fascinating battle was developing between Christine and Bethany Forber for third, the pair having arrived at Wythenshawe deadlocked on 32 points. They were closely matched throughout the race but on the final lap Christine pulled away to round out the podium while Bethany finished 39 seconds further back. Also racing was Liz Spensley who made the top 250 and must surely be a candidate for the MACCL inspiration award at the forthcoming AGM and presentation event scheduled for March 2 at Wilmslow Rugby Club, starting at 6:30pm.
Myka may have wrapped up the ladies club championship with a round to spare but four men arrived at the season finale with a chance to join her in the winner’s circle. Michael Forber led the standings going in and knew a podium finish would likely secure the title. He battled with Eddie Hirst for much of the early going and was probably always mindful of the shoe plate incident that cost him at least third if not second at Heaton Park. In the event the shoe held out when it mattered most and second place just over a minute behind Eddie confirmed him as the St Helens Tri men’s cross country champion for 2018. Behind him it was a close run thing and a real clash of three different styles as Colin Dobbs built on his recent performance for Penny Lane Striders at the Helsby half marathon to pull clear of a spirited battle for fourth between Robert Chesters, racing for the first time under the shadow of a balance condition known as vestibular migraine, and XC specialist Kevin Dunbar whose recent training schedule has been somewhat disrupted by injury. Given the ice rink conditions it was therefore a big surprise to Robert himself that he edged it by a mere handful of seconds especially after the aforementioned Stockport Harriers incident towards the end of the second lap – and just when you thought Robert was the more likely candidate to end up with a mouthful of mud. For his part Kevin still had more than enough to secure third in the club competition ahead of Che Heard and the tie for fifth between Robert and Colin. Speaking of Che, he turned up for the races this year with only two spikes in his shoes but despite his unorthodox approach to footwear choice and even losing his race number he still held off David Gaskell and Dean Golba to round out the A team, with Dean recording his best finish yet just seven seconds behind Dave who did a rather better job of dodging the precariously placed poles at the back of the circuit than one or two teammates………..Three more members rounded out our participation for 2017/18, with Lee Stinch finishing around a minute clear of Gary Birch and Azzam Taktak deservedly bringing the curtain down as one of very few members who participated in all five rounds.
While most national sporting focus shifted to Twickenham for the England-Wales rugby match, our club awards night followed at the Eagle and Child in Billinge where the club’s top achievers of the past twelve months were honoured. A full hall of fame post will be uploaded in the coming days but many thanks are due to Adele and Wayne Fisher as well as Helen Broderick for organising a memorable night, as well as those who donated raffle prizes and also to Cottam’s for their expert catering. As if enjoying the club night wasn’t enough Diane Taktak rounded the weekend off with a trip to Stockport for the Crazy Legs trail half marathon where she battled Arctic conditions to place well inside the top 300 of a strong field in under 2 hours 8 minutes. What a weekend it has been for so many reasons, and more is to come as Terry Bates who hosted the awards like a true MoC is planning to reorganise the cancelled club duathlon from February 4 while the St Helens 10k takes place next month, and the Oulton Park and Bedford Autodrome Spring Duathlons offer members a chance to qualify for Team GB in the forthcoming world championships.