Reporter Matthew Knowles
A bright, crisp morning greeted runners in a very special 53-12 League race at Abbey Fields, Colchester on Sunday, with over 60 Bentley athletes taking part. The race was special for two reasons. This was the 30th anniversary of the League’s foundation, originally known as the North Essex and South Suffolk League, back in 1986. A commemorative labelled bottle of beer was available to all finishers. Several runners who took part in that very first race were there to help celebrate the event.
For Great Bentley it was a particularly important race. Legendary runner and club member, Geoff Day, who passed away some years ago gave his athlete’s baton to his son Ryan. Ryan Day, who ran in his father’s original 1980’s GBRC vest finished a superb 37th in an enormous men’s field of 258, thus ensuring the proud continuance of the Day legend.
The senior race field totalled well over 400 athletes – an unprecedented figure, with Adrian Mussett and Sarah Stradling, both of Colchester Harriers winning the respective men’s and ladies’ races.
The course was dry and, for the most part fairly flat, with the overnight freezing temperatures having risen markedly by race start.
Great Bentley’s combined men’s and ladies’ team finished sixth and, encouragingly only just behind Springfield Striders who pipped them to an overall third place final finish in the league last season.
Bentley’s ladies’ team demonstrated both strength and depth, finishing fourth behind Witham and ahead of Harwich, with 26 competitors.
Vicky Presland continued her long reign as Bentley’s leading lady, finishing 17th. She was followed by Anna Mills in an impressive 29th, Meera Rajoo-Oakley in a promising 30th and Jennifer Aylan completing the scoring team of 4 in a strong 57th.
Other strong runs came from Sarah Fletcher (59th), with Toni Wilson (63rd) and Debs Cubberley (97th), both making a welcome return to cross-country competition. Just behind was Caroline Searle (98th), showing early season form, despite having just completed a great marathon in Snowdonia.
New Ladies’ Captain Karen Skene (101st) showed developing stamina, as did Katie Presland (105th) in her first senior race, whilst Rebecca Conran (110th) and Lesley Cooper (112th) following close behind.
Nina Simmons (125th), Sara Greenham (139th) and Sue Wright (143rd) all had great season debuts, with the experienced super vet, Barbara Law in 145th.
There were also welcome returns to the cross-country stage from Lex Carlisle (155th), Sandra James (159th) and Ruth Metcalfe (160th).
The men’s team of 33 finished a creditable 6th, not far behind Witham, with Dave Wright (35th) leading the charge, quickly followed by an outstanding performance from Ryan Day (37th), and another strong run from men’s captain, Chris Warren. Not far behind them a battle of youth versus experience developed between Mark Jasper (74th) and Ben Ficken (75th), with the veteran just having the edge this time.
Senior club coach, Michael Simmons ran strongly to finish 80th, followed by a great debut from Matt Laverack in 93rd, with Paul Davidson closing the scoring 8 with a powerful finishing 96th.
Other strong runs came from Gary Parker (102nd), Malcom Jarvis (110th), Patrick Reynolds (142nd), Colin Farmer (143rd), and a solid debut from James McCullagh (157th).
Derek Greenham (160th) showed the benefit of a good summer season, with Phil Presland (162nd) making a welcome return from injury, whilst Andy Stephens (170th) and Paul Hollidge (174th) both made promising season debuts.
Veteran, Matt Knowles (188th), recovering from yet another long-term injury made a welcome return to racing, and was chased all the way home with an outstanding performance from Kev James (189th). They were quickly followed with solid runs by Graham Clarke (191st), Frank Gardiner (197th), John Booty (198th) and Tim Ballard (207th).
Michael Oates (218th) made an encouraging transition from junior to senior racing, finishing strongly to edge out fast-finishing Jack Wicks (221st), followed by another solid performance from Martin West (231st).
The Under 17’s race also saw a record field of 153, with Bentley runner Harrison Leek (144th), again flying the flag for the junior team, leading them home to eighth place in the league.
The race was won by Thomas Abbott of Ipswich Jaffa.
The next fixture will be at the much more challenging Harwich Runners’ course at Ramsey on December 4th.