A 31-STRONG Stratford AC contingent took part in the first Birmingham & District Invitation Cross Country League fixture of the 2019/20 season staged at Burton Dassett Country Park.
The ladies category started off proceedings and there was a terrific battle to be first Stratford runner home with an excellent Sophie Dobedoe (52nd, 31:47) holding off Rachel Pearce (53rd, 31:52).
They were followed by two juniors more at home on the track than the hills and mud.
Emily Field was a notable 78th in 33:28 while huge credit went to Imogen Sheppard (98th, 34:46) for finishing after a short mid-race break to discuss the wisdom of continuing with an injury which slowed her down in the latter stages.
Their efforts meant that the A team finished in 14th place in what is a very strong and competitive league.
There was a promising run from Annie Cox (106th, 35:00) and new member Amy Hinton was an eye-catching 121st in 36:12.
Yvonne Gajny (130th, 36:56) gave her all while Liuba Pasa (134th, 37:12) tackled the elements bravely.
Sarah Vernon (146th, 38:01) can be pleased with her run while Rebecca Pridham (170th, 39:42) was her usual gritty self.
Rachel Green (185th, 42:25) and Louise Stewart (187th, 42:40) had a good battle together while Natasha Edwards (206th, 46:48) can be proud her efforts.
Green, Hinton and Gajny made up the masters team which finished in ninth.
Promotion and relegation is a key component of the men’s league and with six new teams this year, the first fixture is always a learning curve in identifying the stronger teams and individuals.
Gloucester AC immediately caught the eye, filling the first three places, but they were chased all the way by Rich Shepherd, who finished fifth in 38:36.
Matt Burdus-Cook (26th, 40:45) has had a terrific year of continuous improvement and he can be well pleased with his run.
A slip close to the finish enabled Neil Wickes (54th, 43:28) to just get the better of Tim Hutchinson (57th, 43:37) while Rob Minton (80th, 44:40) and Jon Raby (81st, 44:41) were separated by the narrowest of margins in completing the A team scorers.
The B team were led home by Drew Sambridge (88th, 45:00) and he was closely followed by Simon Hanagarth (95th, 45:41) and Owain Jones (139th, 47:53) who is better judged by his ninth position in the junior men’s race.
Only six seconds separated the next three runners.
Despite slipping over on more than one occasion James Cusack (153rd, 48:58) held off Ryan Bakewell (154th, 49:00) and team manager Malcolm Bowyer (155th, 49:04) who completed the B team scorers.
Neil Gardiner (161st, 49:28) had a solid run while Mike Sheppard (188th, 53:26) and Damien Wheeler (191st, 53:33) were always close together and driving each other on.
Mark Hateley (197th, 54:22) and Ben Twyman (208th, 56:23) were both pleased with their race in the conditions.
Overall, Stratford finished in a creditable ninth place with 303 points.
With only 24 points separating seventh from 11th, that looks to be the mid-table battle that Stratford will look to win.
STRATFORD AC’s Ivan Sarti won his age group and came eighth overall at the Gower Ultra event in South Wales on Sunday.
Whilst using the 34-mile race around the Gower Peninsular as a stepping stone to longer races, Sarti finished the race in under six hours.
However, he was given a ten-minute time penalty for forgetting to pack a foil blanket and that dropped him down from seventh to eighth place.
He also comfortably won his age group by a margin of over two hours.