A wet and windy Saturday morning saw the inaugural PH Cross Challenge. With the potential of a reduced cross country season on the horizon, PH Racing Club set up a members only Short Course (approx. 4km) “race” at our home training patch, The Loop.

A testing route was well mapped out to challenge the runners from gun to tape. Twenty two hardened racers toed the line to battle it out for local bragging rights and a chance to see where current fitness is at.

The route took in a small initial loop, very much like what is seen at the National Cross Country Championships in Falkirk. This strung out the field and saw Robert Sellar pushing the early pace with youngster Andrew Thomson and Michael McConnell in pursuit.

The course then took in a steep technical downhill section, which was swiftly followed by the first of the climbs. The lead switched hands at this point with Andrew Thomson showing his hill running prowess to take the reins at the front. This three way battle intensified at the head of the pack with many other small tight groups forming throughout the field.

At halfway, Michael McConnell made his decisive move and pushed to the front. His strength and pace was too much for his competitors and he did not look back from that point. Michael pushed the pace over the tough three climbs and headed towards the finish with solid lead over Sellar, who was chasing hard and not letting go of the prospect of winning.

McConnell held strong and opened up at 13 second gap to take the overall win in a time of 13:13; a great result and a fantastic indicator of his current fitness in advance of the National Short Course and the up coming Cross Country Relays.

Sellar finished very well in second place, showing his recent solid training is paying off, with Andrew Thomson clocking just under fourteen minutes in a time of 13:55 to take third place as he continues his return from injury.

The race on the women’s side had always promised to be a classic with Kristin Lownie and Julie Menzies strong favourites to stake their claims for the honours.

Kristin went out hard from the start and built up a slight lead around the initial loop. She was able to hold on to this lead and prove to herself that she can run fast on any terrain. A great performance saw her finish in a very impressive fifth overall and take the win in the women’s race, timing 14:19 in the process.

Julie, who always excels on the toughest of courses, was hot on her heels throughout finishing only 16 seconds back to place 8th overall and second women in a strong field of club members.

New junior member Katie Lancaster pulled on the PH vest for the first time and followed up two good performances in our recent tour series with another good run here. Katie took 3rd place in the women’s race and 16th overall, racing all the way to the line in what was a good racing pack. Katie has huge potential in running and PH are so pleased to now have her as a member and racing in the vest.

Former club champion and PH Racing Club’s highest ever male finisher at the National Cross, Darren Jubb made his first return to The Loop in what must be over two years. Darren finished fourth overall and it is great to see him back running, what an asset to the men’s team he will be once racing starts up again.

Darren was followed home by the ever improving Mark McLean, Wright Beveridge who just about managed to stay on his feet as he ‘flossed’ around the tough course and Paul Hammond ‘fresh’ from a recent quality effort at the Bennachie Ultra.

Working through the field; there were good performances from youngster Aaron Bennet, who clocked 15:15 and managed to hold off a fast finishing Graham McInnes, as well as Simon Whyte and Alan Cockburn who finished well just outside of the top ten.

Next home was a tumbling Alan McGowan, who just managed to hold off young JM MacDonald as they crossed the line only two seconds apart. The wet and muddy conditions were everything you would expect from a traditional Scottish Cross Country course.

Next home was Allen Marr, who is much better known for his fine running exploits on the nice flat surface of the track, followed by international Cross Country runner and local to this course, Ed Norton. Both enjoyed strong runs as they bid to shine in their age category this winter.

Malcolm Smith pulled on a vest for the first time in a while and finished in 19th place ahead of Ross Bennet and Murray Thomson, both of whom ran their first ever Cross Country in the black, red and yellow of PH.

Clare Graham, who was part of the PH East District League Masters winning team a couple of years ago, was next home, finishing 4th women.

On what was a real dreich morning, it was great to see so many hardly souls out there racing. Thank you to everyone who raced, volunteered, photographed and helped to organise.

All the runners brought a prize along, which meant everyone went home suitably wet, muddy and rewarded.

Finally, a special thanks to all the marshals who get pretty cold and wet guiding the runners around the course, before having their own race to the finish.

Full results excluding the marshals can be found here:

As always PH Racing Club are keen to strengthen the club with members and recently have joined Scottish Athletics’ “Keep on Running” initiative. If you would like to be a part of the club, don’t hesitate to get in touch to find out more about us and join us for a training session or two.