Cheltenham Harriers ladies team put in an excellent team performance to win their first Gloucestershire Cross Country League race for seven years on an afternoon which saw the men’s teams take first and second place at the Cotswold Farm Park. Competing in her first senior cross country event, seventeen year old Rachel Longstaff put in a mature performance to lead the Harriers ladies team throughout the race. Coming home in fifth place the Matt Richards coached athlete finished as second junior woman as her teammates packed well behind her. Hilary Mott finished the race strongly to finish just one place and fifteen seconds behind Longstaff whilst Vickie Wilkinson and Jane Thomas were neck and neck throughout the whole race as they both ran well and battled for the final place in the scoring team. In the end Wilkinson just pipped Thomas by a single second as the pair placed tenth and eleventh, with Wilkinson the third over 40 athlete home. This gave the Harriers an impressive team score of just 21 points for a 29 point victory over both CLC Striders and Stroud, giving new team manager Jo Wilkie an excellent start in her new role. The strong Cheltenham team performance continued as Beth Wynn and Rachel See finished 23rd and 26th respectively as the Harriers B team scored 60 points for fourth place. Veterans Nicola Whiteman and Debbie Smith crossed the line in 31st and 32nd positions to help the ladies veteran team to third place before Ruth Bird completed the club contingent in 146th position.
Whilst success for the Harriers ladies was long overdue, the Harriers men started the season looking for a seventh consecutive league title having been undefeated champions for the last five seasons. After the first of the three large laps Graham Rush led the way accompanied by a trio of Stroud runners that included former English Schools Champion Will Paulson, with Rush’s Cheltenham teammates Dave Roper and Harry Bishop sat at the back of the leading six man pack. Rush then opened a lead over Paulson on the second lap as the group strung out, with Roper on his own in third and Bishop back in sixth adrift of the Stroud pair of Tom Mortimer and Josh Dixon. The top three positions remained unchanged on the final lap with Rush taking a 34 second victory over Paulson and Roper an identical 34 seconds further back in third. Eighteen seconds later Bishop crossed the line in fourth place after a good last lap that saw him finish as the first under 20 athlete. The Harriers continued to pack well with Jeremy Bradley taking ninth place, Alex Bampton moving up to tenth and Will New completing the six man scoring team in twelfth place to ensure a 22nd consecutive league victory for the Cheltenham team.
The Harriers dominance then continued as the club B team aimed to finish second behind their own A team with Jon Barnes the next Harrier home in 17th place. Roger Mullins followed one place later to finish as second veteran on his V40 debut, before Marcus England made an impressive cross country debut in 22nd ahead of track specialist James Miller in 23rd place. Andrew Hussey made a welcome return to the team to finish as second V45 runner home in 25th and fellow veteran John Merrett completing the B team in 27th place. This gave the Harriers B team a score of 132 as they saw off the challenge of all other club A teams to finish 20 points clear of third placed Team Bath. Mark James (32nd), Elliot Prince (34th) and Matt Evans (52nd) soon followed before Dan Minors completed the victorious Harriers veteran team in 65th place. James Wilkinson and Alister Brown followed in 66th and 68th respectively to complete the Harriers C team that finished seventh in the overall standings. Veterans Ian Giles (83rd), Andy Prophett (109th), Mike Ede (137th), Dave Hemmings (140th) and Ken Buckle (202nd) completed the Harriers contingent.
Further success for the Harriers women came as Beth Hawling won the ladies race at the Gwent Cross Country League fixture at Bridgend. Looking very comfortable and content to sit within a group of five athletes for the first two kilometres, Hawling then began upping the pace and ran away from the rest of the field to win the 6.6km race by 48 seconds. The weekend also brought parkrun wins for Alex Lee with a 16:38 clocking at the Cheltenham event and Paul Horsfall with an 18:09 at the inaugural Gloucester North parkrun .