Round 4 of 5 in the Gwent League Cross Country saw a large Westbury contingent head over the bridge once again, this time to Pontypool Park. We had four, or possibly five, seasons in one day – bright sunshine, rain, snow flurries, hailstones, you name it. We had pop hits blaring from the PA at the finish, situated in the famous Pontypool rugby stadium.
We had mud. And hills. Lots of hills. Every race involved at least one ascent of the brutal climb through the centre of the park (average gradient 13%, 18% at its steepest), and the lucky old men got to go up it three times. For some races there was also a nasty woodland trail section with ankle deep mud and a 28% gradient turning point. The downhill sections were muddy, rutted and technically difficult. The only flat section was the sprint finish around the rugby pitch. Everyone who raced, particularly our young debutants in the junior teams, deserves great credit – cross country doesn’t get much tougher than this.
The U13 Girls had what coach Jason reckoned was the toughest course relative to age. Clemmie Lee secured a superb 3rd place, her highest ever finish, and was ably supported by her team mates Eva Ward, Abby Woodworth, Hannah Rowe and Jessica Lee, who all ran bravely in difficult conditions.
The mighty U15 girls enjoyed total domination of their race, while wrapping up the team trophy (now a full 221 points ahead with one race to go). Dalis Jones made it 4 wins out of 4 this season, while right behind her Kate Howard just pipped Rosie Hamilton-James in the battle for 2nd and 3rd. There were also superb runs, beating many strong Cardiff and other runners, by Rhiannon Paton (5th) and Lottie Livesey (11th).
Phoebe Gould was once again Westbury’s solo runner in the U17s, running well to finish 13th.
In the boys’ races, the Novices could boast several proud race debutants, all of whom ran their hearts out around the tough hills of the park. Henry Packham led them home with a superb 2nd place, just 2 seconds behind the winner, but there were impressive debuts for Tom Howard and Tom Woodworth, with strong runs also from Henry Watson, Edmund Harding and Finley White.
In the U13 Boys, Seamus Robinson literally ran away with the race, leading from the front early on to power home a full 16s ahead of second place. And he had Westbury company not far behind – brothers Luke and Adam Shrewsbury made hugely impressive debuts to finish 3rd and 4th.
The U15s race saw James Harrod glide up and down the hills for an excellent 2nd place. And as if two Shrewsburys in the U13s were not enough, a third brother, Oliver, made his debut in this race, with a strong run to finish 19th.
As ever, the U17 boys had great strength in depth, and maintained their narrow lead in the team trophy, with top 10 finishes for Abdi Hasan, Ben Rawlins and Aidan Noble, with three other team mates (Greg Hayward, Hugh Tarren and Fred Stewart) not far behind in another very strong field.
As the afternoon wore on it was eventually time for the grown-ups to take their punishment. The many Westbury women were greeted by a timely hail shower as their two gruelling laps of the course commenced. In the words of manager Tamsin:
“So Pontypool feels it needs to give the ladies race extreme weather conditions for the Gwent. Last time we had a huge downpour, this time we had sleet/snow/hail! On a tough course which seemed to have a lot of uphill! Despite everyone finding it challenging, it didn’t show, as we had a fantastic set of results, with the squad packing in well. Well done to all of you.
Special mention to Kirstie Hamilton-James, first time in the top 20 this season, and led the team home for the first time. Marilyn who fell down a ridge and came in head to toe in mud but still smiling! Shirley Hume who ran well despite being a bit unwell so that we had enough scorers for the V65s and the V55s (V55s I need you at Blaise!), Linda Phillips who is getting stronger with each race and Helen Sawyer who got down to near the top 100.
17th Kirstie Hamilton-James, 19th Katie Hughes, 20th Sophie Voller, 28th Evita Gonzalez Szamocki, 45th Tamsin Elson Chick, 52nd Jennifer Stevenson, 60th Vicky Waters, 66th Alison Rogers, 109th Helen Sawyer, 114th Clare Eskell, 124th Shirley Hume, 126th Linda Phillips, 159th Marilyn Palmer, 168th Carol Fee, 187th Nicola Derrick, 210th Eithne Noonan
Need you all to have Saturday 3rd March at Blaise firmly in your head.”
The women’s team lie 2nd overall, with an excellent chance of retaining that place in the final fixture at Blaise. In the Masters age categories, the Westbury women have dominated. The V35s lead overall by some 272 points going into the last race, with the B team in 6th place as well. The V45s lie 3rd but with a good chance of catching 2nd, while the V55s and V65s lead the way.
The men had three laps of muddy and hilly hell with which to contend, but had an impressive turnout for this round, with a number of debutants. Manager Scott:
“Well done to the senior & vet men who raced at Pontypool XC today. A really hilly course but a lot less rain than four years ago for those who remember that (or are trying to forget!). We got a bit of snow whilst running but not as much as during the senior women’s race!! Special mention to Tom Gange and Matt Swaine for their first XC races, Ian Derrick for his first XC race for over 30 years!, and Ken Ham who used his strength on the hills to his advantage!
The Senior men’s team came 6th in Division 1 and that helped us to move up the league into 7th with one fixture remaining. Some good vet results with the V35 team coming 3rd and the V45 team 2nd.
Last fixture of the season is our home race at Blaise on Sat 3rd March so let’s get as many runners as possible out to move us further up that table!! All abilities and all ages please!
Results are below:
Scott Campbell 22nd, Alex Hamblin 30th, Tom Gange 61st, Robin Phillips 81st, Ken Ham 83rd, Richard Noble 90th, Ewan Paton 93rd, Matt Swaine 111st, Matt Lavis 232nd, Jullian Bailey-Gard 246th, Mike Harris 263rd, Ian Derrick 281st.”
So the 5th and final round is set for Blaise Castle on Saturday 3rd March. If you’re not volunteering and helping all day, now is your last chance to run if you haven’t all season. All runners in all age groups are welcome and encouraged to take part. It’s on familiar home territory. There’s no Severn Bridge toll to pay. And it can’t be as tough as Pontypool….
(Thanks to Mike and Jason for photos)