Keith Lofthouse’s barren season of cross country running with the Stawell Amateur Athletic Club came to an abrupt halt last Saturday when he staged a dramatic form reversal to win the five kilometre King of the Mountain race at Halls Gap.
In fourteen starts with the club in 2019 Lofthouse had not finished closer than fourth, but his four most recent runs had produced unflattering failures – a fifteenth, a thirteenth, a twelfth and an eighth.
“The difference was that the last three of those were eight or ten kilometres and I just wasn’t fit enough,” the wiry veteran explained. “I’d suffered a left calf injury in a race at Ararat in June and compounded that by thumping a lump of timber into my right thigh when cutting wood, which took longer to heal.
“I missed at least twenty training runs during that period and at my age it takes quite a while to regain fitness, confidence and motivation.”
Lofthouse pulled out at the half-way mark of a sixteen kilometre race at Stawell the week before but had not run in any discomfort which boosted his confidence for Halls Gap.
“Club mate Terry Jenkins has had a fantastic season of seconds and thirds without winning a race and I knew if I could stick with him as close as I could I would go pretty close to finishing on top, which I managed to do.”
What Lofthouse did not know was that his improved performance coincided with a beneficial “lift” in his handicap.
The unlucky Jenkins now had to give Lofthouse three minutes start which finally converted into a two minute winning margin over Simon Edge and the fast improving Kate Field with Jenkins just a tick behind her in fourth place.
Reigning club champion Colin Barnett ran fastest time, an impressive 22.03 minutes on a course strewn with water hazards and was crowned King of the Mountain, while Meghann O’Brien’s stylish 24.25 earned her the title of Queen.
In the one kilometre Sub Junior event, Olivia Hunter was the winning Princess by a slender margin from Prince Jerome Baker, with Miles Membrey seconds away in third place.
More hill climbing awaits the club in its penultimate race of the season this Saturday, the five kilometre Ivan McDonald Big Hill Handicap at Stawell. Fun runners are welcome.