Cold and cloudy conditions greeted the Stawell Amateur Athletic Club cross country runners who took up the 16km challenge provided by the Charlie Jones Handicap, held in the bushland off Commercial Road, near Stawell Airport.
Damp conditions and large puddles made some sections of the course tricky for the 20 seniors runners who lined up for the second longest race of the season. Held as a sealed handicap, with all runners starting together and the handicaps applied after the race, it kept both spectators and runners guessing as to who would be the eventual winner.
Fastest runner in the field Col Barnett got off to his usual flying start, closely followed by Jon Dugdale and Garry Rice. However, by the half way mark, race sponsor Charlie Jones had worked his way into second place behind Barnett. Peter Steggall was also running well and looked like he may be in contention for a place, while Alexa Duke and Richard Gannon were battling it out midfield, with Sharon Howden not far behind.
Competitors then headed into a more testing hilly section which sorted out the stronger runners. Barnett powered home to take line honours, and post the fastest race time of 57min 43sec. Charlie Jones came in second with Jon Dugdale third across the line. Gannon showed his strength by pulling away from Duke, who dropped back behind Howden over the closing stages.
After handicaps were applied, new club member Richard Gannon claimed the race win by a narrow margin from Sharon Howden, with Peter Steggall taking third place. Duke held out Susie Ellis to finish fourth. Ellis ran well to post the fastest female time of 65min 3sec.
The juniors set off on a 4km course but one of the course markers had been tampered with by some of the lower life forms occasionally heard navigating the bush tracks, and the juniors did not complete the set course, so no race was recorded.
Steve Baird went to the rescue in his ute, and provided great entertainment on the return journey by navigating various large puddles etc. Many of the juniors could be heard talking excitedly of nothing else for some time afterwards.
A small field of sub-juniors raced over a 2km out and back course, with Elly Atherton leading for much of the way, but a fast finishing Richard Dugdale reeled her in with 300 meters to go, closely followed by Stacey Faravoni.
Dugdale crossed the line first with Faravoni second and Atherton third. Dugdale also posted the fastest sub-junior time of 8min 17sec, with Stacey Faravoni recording the fastest girls time of 8min 48sec.