The second weekend of October is always one of the busiest weekends of the season with the first round of the Manchester Cross Country League and the Manchester Half Marathon but this year the postponed Parbold and Lancaster duathlons, a corresponding event in Bedford and the Alder Hey 10k made for an action packed schedule. First on the fixture list was the flat, fast expanses of Wythenshawe Park where the club enjoyed a record turnout on an unusually hot and windy day, which together with a modified course made shoe selection a minefield to say the least. The U13 boys got the ball rolling early doors with Charlie Murphy both cracking the top 40 and finishing just three seconds apart, with Reuben Wilson coming home less than three minutes adrift. Oliver Murphy took 39th in the U15 Boys race and George Houghton made the top 25 at U17 level but after lunch the focus switched to the seniors, with ten ladies and sixteen men facing the starting horn in the 1:30pm and 2:30pm races. A remarkable story developed in the ladies race as debutant Cheryl Pace was first club counter home! Coming from a long background of trail racing at Penny Lane Striders, she completed the course in a little over 40 minutes holding off fellow PLS/St Helens Tri member Myka Heard in a close battle. Lynette Houghton carried on where she left off from last season in bagging another podium finish coming in less than two minutes behind Myka, but another fascinating story was concluding just over 90 seconds Lynette as Bethany Forber, who stepped up to half marathon level earlier this year, came good on all the promise she has shown by beating the 45 minute mark and being fourth club member home to round out the A team. The next two were spaced out by just over a minute apiece, Sheena Shearman marking her first appearance for the club with a strong run to 45:17 just ahead of Chris Forber who would also turn out the following morning at the half marathon for Team Isabella. Yvonne Tinsley has only recently joined the club but was right at home from the off as she recorded a time of 47:22 on debut just over half a minute clear of Jennifer Miller, while a case of mistaken identity saw Shirley Fox credited with a time of 53:18 just two seconds clear of the (present) Liz Spensley! Quite how someone can score a couple of points for the club XC league when they are in a swimming pool is anyone’s guess, but the report will be updated when corrected results became available. In the event the ladies placed 46th in the overall team standings.
With the ten (nine?) ladies home and dry, sixteen men lined up at 2:30pm for the start and the main question was whether Michael Forber could maintain the form that saw him take last season’s club championship. On this occasion, however, with the terrain unusually flat and dry, different running styles proved to be equally productive and he was quickly into a congested upper midfield pack featuring teammates Colin Dobbs and Robert Chesters, the former having seriously improved his strength following a recent marathon in Iceland, the latter able to use his straight line speed for once on a day when the conditions would not punish poor downforce and road-holding ability. Colin edged away over the final lap to take the honours in a time of 39:07 and place 123rd overall but Robert and Michael planned things to take advantage of their strengths, with Michael able to fly on the technique parts of the course while Robert made up ground on the long straights. The pair traded places during the second half of the race but in a thrilling sprint finish, Robert found that little bit extra on the home straight to not only take second club counter but also boost the club’s overall points tally, making it a double-double for St Helens Tri/PLS registered runners. After a wait of just over 90 seconds Kevin Dunbar completed his Chicago Town Pizza burn-off with an excellent effort to finish as fourth club member over the line, just missing out on the top 200. He in turn was 16 seconds ahead of Ian Orford who in turn cleared Patrick Neill by just under two minutes to secure the A team a top 25 place in the team standings. Andrew Gaskell was next man home as both he and Kevin Dudley got into the sub-45 club, while David Isaac was listed as next in 45:28 but his time is subject to confirmation from the race officials. Mal Balmer and Garry Banks enjoyed a sprint finish every bit as enthralling as the Robert/Michael one earlier as they came home just red seconds apart, Garry proving that it’s never too late to return to cross country (this being his first XC in over a decade) while Andy Devaynes performed heroically after his performance six days earlier in Chester to get close to the duelling duo ahead and round out the B team.
There were still more to finish, however, and they were led home by the running section’s biggest contributor Lee Stinch, whose resume includes track coaching, race number administration and, you might remember, guiding people to car parks (especially in Bagley last year with the infamous “broken down bus” incident). Here, he ran Andy very close to only finish seven seconds behind and he was just over two minutes ahead of Lord Lucan, or should that be Peter Rawlinson, who took a unique double of proving hard to find (at least for one of the officials) while simultaneously winning the club fashion parade award for racing in the club cycling top (well they say white reflects heat while black absorbs it). Rounding out the club entrants were the closely matched duo of Ben Mason and Dave Shearman who finished in 54:11 and 54:15 respectively, Ben also providing much appreciated alternatives for those who abstain from dairy in the club’s tea and coffee department! All in all a fantastic first round of the 2018/19 season with many memorable moments including Cheryl’s stunning debut performance, Colin leading by example, the madcap finish between Robert and Michael, and Kevin and Andy picking their legs up off the floor to run so well just six days after their marathon efforts. In part 2 of the weekly report we will cover a diverse collection of duathlons as well as the Manchester Half Marathon and the Alder Hey 10k.