A barnstorming finish by club veteran Keith Lofthouse prevented the flying femmes from charging to an eighth win in the tenth race of the season through the Ironbarks Forest last Saturday.
Only 16 seconds – one for each kilometre – thwarted Sharon Howden’s bid for a second victory this season after five thirds and an earlier second placing in what has been an amazingly consistent year.
Keith’s win in the Charlie Jones-sponsored handicap was his first over the distance since he began his cross country career in 1998.
“I was rapt to win the 16k because from Melbourne to Rupanyup I’d won over all the other regulation distances – 5k, 6.5k, 8k and 10k – and this gives me a full house,” the wiry runner said.
After a disastrous 2011 interrupted by injury and illness the retired horse racing journalist and movie critic has recaptured his best form and credits an intensive pre-season for the turnaround.
“I heard Shane Crawford on 3WM saying that a lot of his success as a footballer was down to going the extra yard in training. Crawf, of course, was blessed with natural ability which I don’t have, so I’ve had to work hard to be competitive and this year I’ve been rewarded. I’m enjoying my running a lot more because I’m as fit as I’ve been for a few years. There’s nothing more deflating than being buggered half-way through a race because you haven’t done the trackwork,” he said.
With one kilometre to run Keith thought he had “blown” the race by running too conservatively. “I was surprised when the 15km came up because I still had plenty in the tank, so I sprinted the last kilometre. It’s probably the fastest kilometre I’ve run all year.”
He could not have won had he slackened the pace as only 49 seconds separated the first six to finish – a remarkable statistic for a race of such length and a triumph for the handicapper (Charlie Jones).
The much improved Justine Tracey, already a winner this season, lost time due to a shoelace stop but held on grimly for third at her first attempt at the distance.
On invitation, Keiran Ryan ran a scintillating 64.36, three minutes ahead of Nathaniel Warren who was the fastest club runner – itself an outstanding effort on limited training. Likewise impressive were Jason Cass, Phil Romeril, Meggy Boan, Matilda Iglesias and Selina Heard-Price who were competing in their first 16km race and all completed the course.
The Junior division of the race, over four kilometres, was stylishly won by Nathan Stoate after a ding-dong battle with Paris Panozzo. Alex Boan ran with his usual determination to impressively win the Sub-Juniors race over 1000 metres.
By Keith Lofthouse