As the glaciers retreat from the hills above Blaenavon and the Abergwynfi mammoth hunt draws to a close for another year, we can look back at another successful Winter Hill Series season. 130 runners took part in at least one race, with 25 doing at least five out of the seven races to maximise their League points. Final positions in several categories were in doubt right up to the last race, and eventually only 10 points covered the top three places. Here’s a few notes on how things went…
It was a glorious autumn day in the Beacons and the car park at Storey Arms was overflowing with a record turnout for this short sharp blast to the summit, exchange of pleasantries with the marshal (‘Number please!’ ‘Eeurgh-spit’ ‘Thank you!’) and straight back down. League newcomer Robert Gordon set a fine standard with a flying 17.42, over a minute clear of a close bunch including Mick O’Doherty (first vet) Robert Mullett, Peter Ryder and Mike Fawcett. Steve Littlewood resumed where he left off last season with a convincing o/50 win, with Helen Bennett holding off Emma Bayliss for the Ladies’ prize.
A huge field by South Wales standards assembled at the foot of the steepest tarmac road in Monmouthshire for the third running of this fine race. After the initial lung-busting climb there is a level(ish) section across the open hill before a steep climb to the summit. A couple of nasty undulations on the way back can take their toll but at least we don’t run back down that road! Last year’s League champion Mark Palmer made his season’s debut and the Pontypridd firefighter comfortably saw off the challenge of Mullett, O’Doherty and Martin Shaw. Steve Littlewood decided to let others have a chance by getting hopelessly lost and scoring a glorious 1 point, but more excitingly Helen Fines of Bristol and West had a fine run as first Lady in eight place overall.
The nub, crux and scariest part of the series, this climbs ever more steeply to the blockhouse on the summit, from where the descent route is slightly easier – but mind your head on the canal tunnel just before the finish! Robert Gordon returned for his second win of the season, closely followed by Martin Shaw and Dave Finn. Helen Fines scored another top 10 finish and to the best of my knowledge is the first lady to score over 90 points in a winter league race. There were no hospital cases this year, perhaps due to the relatively dry slopes and less bracken than usual. The legs still hurt until the Wednesday though!
January in the Beacons was always going to be tough, and the exposed nature of the higher slopes with a westerly gale driving spray over the Talybont dam and low cloud meant that the marshal turned the race about 50 feet below the summit – without any complaints. Mark Palmer returned to beat Dave Finn by 42 seconds, but with Martin Shaw scoring 98 the championship was still wide open. A third excellent run by Helen Fines consolidated her lead in the Ladies’ category.
Heavy snow from the night before was just starting to thaw, but the icy steep climb to the Twmbarlwm hill fort caused problems for many on the way up and again the way down. The Gwent League on the same day was cancelled – wimps – and the fell race picked up a few extra entries as a result. Local hero Matt Collins showed how it should be done, beating Robert Gordon by a clear minute with Pat Wooddisse close behind in third. Helen Bennett took advantage of the other Helen’s absence to make up ground in the Ladies’, closely pursued by first ‘Lady of a certain age’, Sue Ashton. Martin Shaw missed this one – his assumption that it would be cancelled underestimated the tenacity of the Winter Leaguers!!
Now this was a strange result. With a few of the leading contenders absent, Mike Duxbury took advantage of some uncertainties over the precise route over the moorland to the top of the long descent to open a large lead which was never challenged, and which took him to the top of the table with one to run. The never-ending climb to the finish, though, caused the rest of the field to bunch closely, with very high scores being recorded even as far down as me! Young Ms Bennett wheezed past me in the last few yards to take the girlies’ prize, with a fine run from an improving Sue Ashton very close behind in second.
It was an odd-numbered year so the weather was OK, but with an easterly gale which just about helped the runners up the long climb. League newcomer Harry Matthews and Robert Gordon opened up a large lead by the summit over Martin Shaw and Mike Duxbury, which did not close on the very fast descent. Max Suff was first veteran, concluding a very consistent series, but the race for first O/50 was hotly contested right down to the line between Steve Littlewood (running with a wooden leg apparently), John Darby (returning from skiing), yours truly (recovering from…well, you don’t want to know) and John Collins, who at 69 should be taking things a little easier by now. Modesty prevents me from mentioning who prevailed. Helen Fines had another excellent run, but as this was only her fourth race of the series her chances of catching Helen Bennett in the overall standings were very remote.
So to the pub and the presentation of awards. Due to the pressure of time and trying to work it all out before everyone went home I’m afraid there were a couple of errors on the day so apologies to Peter Williams for missing him out of the second vet prize – entirely my fault and the correct prize will be awarded when I see you. Also to Mike Duxbury for confusing you and Pat Wooddisse in second and third overall – this was not entirely my fault as Mike didn’t put his surname on his entry form at PCC. Only a fell runner…
We hope those who did all seven races enjoy their special Walter Winterleague mugs. Many thanks to all our organisers for volunteering their races for the League and to their generous donations to the prize fund, and to the long-suffering marshals for freezing their bits off through the winter so we can have our fun. We hope to see you all at Fan Fawr for the start of the 2007-2008 season: tell your friends! The full results and places will be on mdcwales.org.uk or the wfra website or can be obtained from me.
The major results were:
Senior Men: 1. Martin Shaw (Mynydd Du) 489 pts 2. Mike Duxbury (Stroud) 484 3. Pat Wooddisse (MDC) 479
Ladies: 1. Helen Bennett (MDC) 374 2. Sue Ashton (O/50) (Chepstow) 350 3. Helen Fines (B&W) 342
Vets O40 1. Max Suff (Hereford) 451 2. Peter Williams (MDC) 426 3. Ian Richards (Sospan) 396
Vets O/50 1. Steve Littlewood (Hereford) 438 2. Martin Lucas (MDC) 382 3. Chas Ryder (CRB) 362
Vets O/60 1. Ian Turnbull (O/70) (FoDAC) 290 2. Eric Meredith (MDC) 251 3. John Collins (Swansea) 215