Sharon Howden ended a frustrating run of minor placings but not without a scare before winning the five kilometre Andrew Darnell Memorial Handicap at Horsham last Saturday.
In 14 starts with the club this season, Sharon had recorded four seconds, five thirds and two fourths, most of those coming since her one win at Stawell in April.
She was a hot favourite to win the bridge to bridge run on a gently undulating course beside the Wimmera riverbank where she trains daily with the Early Morning Runners.
But as she crossed the bridge for the last time with little more than a kilometre to run she was surprised to see that the tearaway front-marker, 70 year-old greybeard Gary Saunders, still had a commanding lead of about 150 metres.
“I didn’t think I was going to catch him because there’s been no stopping Gary this season and he’s won on this course before. But I managed to reel him in at the Caravan Park (about 400 metres from the finish) and then worried that I had nothing left if any of the backmarkers challenged me.”
The unpredictable Irishman, Sven O’Flynn, made unexpected ground after being first overtaken by the Sharon and then Stephen Baird, but rallied to finish 15 seconds behind Sharon, with Baird third.
Gary, who was gobbled up by the younger runners in the race to the timekeepers, was sixth but admitted: “I thought I was going to win for a while too.”
Sharon’s win was the 11th by a female in 17 races this year, with Las Vegas-bound Susie Ellis being the fastest in most of those. In her absence, Sharon, who has used exercise and the Curves Complete weight loss program to strip seven kilograms from her waistline through the season, was expected to be quickest. She had to lower her colours, however, to the waif-like Meggy Boan who had no weight to lose but has made sensational improvement in her first season with the club.
Meggy, who could only manage a 28 minutes 26 seconds in her first five kilometre start in April – three minutes slower than Howden’s time that day – ran a smashing 22.47 on Saturday, which was 0.37 seconds faster than the winner!
Sharon’s husband, Gary, was speediest of the males, scooting over the distance in 20 minutes 41 seconds but under the handicap conditions he had to concede a start to everyone and it proved to be a front-markers course.
In the keenly contested Sub-Juniors version of the race, Cella Atherton held off the fast-finishing Lily O’Flynn with the consistent Alex Boan running his usual honest race in third place.
By Keith Lofthouse