Gwent League, Round 4, Chepstow Racecourse.
Cross-country running on a racecourse – who knew it could be such fun?
It would be juvenile and predictable to litter this report of another fantastic Gwent League Saturday with lame equine jokes and puns. Despite the neigh-sayers, this was an excellent venue, and Bristol & West AC hosted a thoroughly enjoyable day at the races. Geraint briefly took over PA announcements, until he was nearly ho(a)rse. The sun shone and the going was good to firm, and assorted Westbury colts, fillies and several old veteran nags were under starter’s orders from 11.30 onwards. The betting ring was lively, with punters eagerly anticipating some good Westbury duels and photo finishes (hopefully without any stewards’ inquiries), and the welcome return to racing of some old favourites like “Captain Scott” and “Victoria S”. And on the day, everyone seemed to run well. No-one had a ‘mare.
Anyway, it was the young thoroughbreds who were first on the card, showing superb form as always.
Great credit is due to our junior team coaches, faced with the unfortunate and unavoidable fixture scheduling issue/ridiculous and unfair fiasco (*delete as applicable) of the South West Schools Championships in Bournemouth being held on the same day as an important regional cross-country league fixture. Inevitably, a very large number of regular young Westbury racers were selected for the Avon teams, and so travelled on the coaches to Dorset at the crack of dawn. This might well cost Westbury several Gwent League team medals and plates, with the “best four out of five races” rule only applying to the individual competitions.
Not to worry – our coaches cajoled, coaxed and conjured up an impressive number of young athletes for nearly all the teams, and they all ran their hearts out.
Proud girls’ coaches Jason and Jayne:
“Really proud of our young athletes today in the 4th Gwent League – both lads and lasses – for some it was their debut. The course was surprisingly undulating, with some very rough ground and the start on a tight bend and a camber, so challenging. But no mud or rain! This was a new venue and I think it was well received. Thanks to all parents for giving up your Saturday morning to help support our junior teams.
Even though we had an annoying clash of fixtures and lost a lot of runners, we were still represented by almost 20 girls. Such strength in depth!
Some fantastic running from our girls to try and uphold the team positions. So grateful to you all for your efforts – all that training is paying off! You’re all shaping up as awesome runners. Wherever your position you ALL contributed – XC teams really are success in numbers! Couldn’t have had a better day either! Just need as many girls as possible in blue and white at Swansea on Sun 1st March.”
The Novices (U11) girls were first out of the paddock, with Estelle continuing her excellent form and close battle with her Carmarthen rival, narrowly pipped by 1s into second, but still first in the overall standings by a point. Not too far behind her there were excellent runs from Jenny, Megan, Brooke (making her debut in a Westbury vest – her Dad’s 40 year old vintage edition!….), Aoife, Lillie, and Miranda. The team lies 4th overall with a good chance of a medal.
It was great to see six U13 girls racing too, to gain valuable points and keep the team in with a good chance of 1st place overall, despite the absence of overall individual standings leader Laura and others in Bournemouth. So a huge well done and thank you to Erin, Corinne, Maeve, Isabelle, Sophie and Maisy – Jayne’s words above apply especially to them.
The same goes for our brave trio of under 15 girls, Hannah, Eva and Katie, who all had great runs and their highest placings of the season.
Sadly but deservedly, the whole of our dominant under 17 team were on Avon duty in Bournemouth, and no replacements could be found. The result was that they have almost certainly lost out on overall team gold to Cardiff, with one race to go, but should still finish second.
Meanwhile, the boys put in an impressive showing, starting with the youngest of all – the U11 Novices. Proud coach Colin:
“A fine performance from all nine U11 ‘novice’ boys who competed at Chepstow on Saturday. With rivals Carmarthen in the lead after three events, the Westbury lads have risen to the challenge and moved themselves into the top team spot – team tactics paid off! Now with one race to go and only 5 points in it, there will be all to play for at Swansea in three weeks time!”
“These lads really have gelled as a team, and show great promise and I am so proud of them all for the efforts they have shown throughout the season.”
Young Daniel led the boys home with another impressive high finish, to remain 3rd in the overall standings. Not far behind him, and showing impressive team “packing” tactics by finishing in consecutive 19th to 21st places, were Tom, Charlie and Edward. Not too far behind them there were good runs from Noah, Seth, Harry, Sidney and (in a good Gwent debut) Freddie.
Just two brave U13 lads turned out, so well done to Owen and Oliver for representing the club in a large field of 85. A similar story in the U15s, with a great run for 16th place by Jack, his highest finish of the season, and a good season debut for Josh in 32nd.
The U17 boys have had good numbers and a good team spirit all season, and Chepstow was no exception, with only a few absent. There were top 10 finishes for James (4th) and Johan (10th), with able support from Tom, Oliver, Joe and Louis.
Ben had a very good run to finish 4th in the men’s under 20 race.
Team manager Tamsin, proud again to have so many willing runners:
“Well done to our senior ladies Gwent League team. Thank you so much to the fabulous 21 ladies out representing the club in a field of 304. We were rewarded with some fine performances.
Led home strongly by Lucy 16th, Vicky 20th, Robyn 28th, Alison 39th, Tamsin 50th, Sarah 73rd, Abi 87th, Erin 88th, Emma 122nd, Judy 164th, Shirley 190th, Anneke 193rd, Helen 225th, Linda 234th, Svetlana 236th Kay 251st, Marilyn 252nd, Isabelle 255th, Eithne 256th, Catherine 274th and Victoria 284th.
Special mentions to Emma returning to Westbury after university, Erin back after a long period working away in remote corners of the world, Victoria back after giving birth 6 months ago to the very beautiful William – congratulations. Great packing by our group 5 runners which resulted in Kay having one of her best runs of the season, and Isabelle having only competed once before in the Gwent doing really well. Alison continues to improve as the season progresses gaining her Gwent league t-shirt, for top 10% after this race having moved into the v45s. And our V65 team of Marilyn, Helen and Shirley, who are inspirational.
Please do look at the team standings. We are 4th overall. We have not been out of the top 3 teams for a long time. The V65s have a good lead. V35s are hanging onto 1st by a thread. Our V45s and V55s are 5th and 4th overall. So we have everything to run for at the last fixture in Swansea on 1st March to boost our standings. Swansea is a bit of a way travel wise, but a great cross country course awaits. So hope you can all make it.”
SENIOR AND VETERAN MEN
With 19 men in blue and white representing the club, this was a decent turnout in another crowded field of 402. How nice to see team captain Scott back racing after a long period of absence through injury and recuperation. After a steady start, Scott eased his way through the field to a very impressive time and finish, which he is far too modest to mention in his summary below:
“It was great to see 19 runners taking the short journey over the bridge to Chepstow for a new Gwent course (in recent years at least) at the Racecourse. The sun was shining and the going was medium to firm with a bit of a breeze in the air.”
The team was led by the always excellent Alex H and there was some strong running throughout and a nice sprint finish between Robin, Ewan and Tim! I thoroughly enjoyed being back part of the team rather than just doing the entries!! Here are the individual finishing positions:
Alex 39th, Chris 61st, Jimmy 98th, Scott 109th, Richard 119th, Alastair 150th, Anthony 158th, Robin 163rd, Ewan 164th, Tim 165th, Steve 196th, Ian 217th, Mike 281st, Mark 286th, Geraint 315th, Ian 321st, Jullian 369th, Kevin 376th and Matt 379th.”
On the team front, the Senior Men’s A team are faced with relegation from Division 1 unless they can overhaul a 75 point deficit to Brecon AC in 10th. That sounds like a lot, but could be achieved if some of our young, and young-ish racehorses can make it to Swansea on 1st March.
The vets teams all maintained very solid and impressive positions in the rankings: the V35s were 7th on the day and stand 9th overall. The strong V45 team have the misfortune to be up against the very strong competition of Les Croupiers, Aberdare and Bristol & West, just trailing them in 4th place but with an outside chance of a podium finish. The V55s, led round by Anthony with another hugely impressive run, lie in 6th overall.
So one more race to go – at Singleton Park, in Swansea, on 1st March. It’s a park, with a few little ups and downs but nothing too extreme. This has been a relatively gentle ‘Parkrun’ style league season, with none of the muddy or hilly horrors of Parc Bryn Bach or Pontypool from last year. Swansea is about an hour and a half away. There will be plenty of cars and therefore lifts available. You could even be green and take the train, then do a warm up jog of 2 miles from the station. If you haven’t run all season and fancy a go, please come along – all are welcome and encouraged.
South West Schools Cross Country Championships, Kings Park, Bournemouth
Meanwhile, about 90 miles away, a very large number of young Westbury Harriers were competing for what witty Bristolians call CUBA (the County that Used to Be Avon) against the assembled might of the South West, from Wiltshire all the way to Cornwall. It is a great credit to them, their parents and (of course) their club coaches that so many had qualified from the Avon Schools event in Bath, and that many will go on to compete in the English Schools in Liverpool next month.
Most had travelled on the coaches from Gordano and Parkway at 7.30 in the morning, overcoming sleepiness, overheating and a little spot of travel sickness for some to arrive in good time for the afternoon races from 1.30 onwards, in the attractive Kings Park, a stone’s throw (or a football kick) from Bournemouth’s football stadium.
In the Minor Girls race, there were good runs for Felicity (23rd – while sister Estelle raced at Chepstow) and Jasmine (40th) in a very strong field. The Junior Girls saw Laura finish in a fine 5th place, with strong and brave runs also from Clemmie and Elen , with Avon winning the team gold medal by a cool 40 points. The Intermediate Girls’ race saw two excellent top 10 finishes from Westbury athletes Kate (7th) and Amelia (10th), contributing to another team gold for Avon, this time just by 12 points. The Senior Girls Race (that’s basically under 17s) was even more Westbury heavy, and thrilling, with no fewer than four Westbury athletes wearing the light blue of Avon. Rosie continued her fine form of this season with an impressive 4th place overall. Rhiannon had a strong race, and (according to her) unleashed a blistering sprint finish to overtake four rivals, one of them from Somerset, to finish 13th. Avon would clinch gold by just 2 points, showing that in cross-country, whether Gwent League, schools or regional, every place and point counts. There were also strong runs from Emily (32nd) and junior member of the month Da’ara (45th) in her impressive first season of cross country.
In the boys’ races, George represented Avon in the Junior race, finishing a creditable 58th. There were mixed fortunes for our several young racers in the Intermediate Boys, with Artie recovering impressively from feeling somewhat poorly on the coach trip to finish a hugely impressive 13th. Seamus (28th) did not have one of his best races but finished bravely and will have plenty of better days to come. Ceredig (43rd) and Finn (47th) also ran bravely in another very strong field. A mention also to brothers Adam and Luke, sometime Westbury runners and here running well for Gloucestershire (42nd and 53rd). In the Senior race, Abdi took an unfortunate tumble when running well, but recovered bravely to finish 12th, with Greg only 27s behind in 26th. This race saw another team gold for Avon.
Very well done to all our young athletes, for consistently representing their club and county with such distinction. It is easy to forget what a high standard there is in these races, and what a huge geographical area the competitors come from (over 200 miles wide). To even be there is a great achievement and a valuable experience for running and for life. Good luck to all those making the trip to Merseyside in March!
(Thanks to Jason, Mark, Judy, Mike, Nicola, Paul Stillman Photography and Kevin’s Easy Runner blog for all photos, used with thanks).