Elvet Striders Willow Miner Trail Race – 26th July 2023

by Geoff Hewitson


This fairly long-established local race has undergone a number of changes over the years. Club members of a certain vintage will no doubt remember it by its original name of the “Rose Tree 5”, after the pub in Shincliffe where the post race buffet and presentation was held. The latter was moved to a new venue (the Court Inn) some years ago and the race renamed the “Court Inn Clamber”, though still using the original ‘two and a bit’ loop course on footpaths, minor roads and woodland trails around Houghall College. Some of you may also recall that the race used to take place in early September, when on more than one occasion even a slight delay to the start time meant that the second lap through the woods was run in near darkness! It was possibly for that reason the date was changed to July. In 2015 a completely new and very challenging course was introduced, starting and finishing in a field behind Houghall College and exclusively trail throughout. It included a large loop around the open fields, trails and woodland adjacent to the A167 and took the runners past the willow sculpture of a miner, and it is after this that the race is now named. The same course was used in 2016 but had to be modified again the following year partly due to building work around the college and also the fact that some sections of the former course could not be used. The current course now starts (and finishes) with a section of minor road, which has replaced the Houghall College sports fields. The distance for the race in its present form is quoted as 5.4 miles.

A decent turnout of nine Crookites lined up for this year’s event, which was also a “qualifier” for our Club Championship Grand Prix. There would have been a few more had the race not reached its entry limit several days before.

At the 7pm start time we all set off along the farm road but were soon following a winding and undulating path through Houghall Woods. After several steep uphill and shorter downhill undulations the course opened out to a gradual climb, punctuated by flat sections, through fields to a point close to the A167. From here we turned left and began a long descent which lasted for about a mile and a half, eventually bringing us to a narrow and quite overgrown path alongside the river. At one point during the descent it was nice to see fellow clubmate Paul Campbell who had come along to give us all a bit of support and encouragement. About 3.5 miles into the race the path turned away from the river and the start of a long, steep climb that went on for a good half mile (the marshal directing us away from the river doing their best to keep the pleasure out of their voice as they announced “the next bit’s uphill I’m afraid folks!”) And it was … a tough climb which had several runners up ahead resorting to the “hands on knees” walking. After several more undulations we returned the edge of Houghall Woods at the same point where we had left it, and only one more significant climb left to negotiate. From here it was just a matter of retracing the route back to the finish via the farm road again.

Although trail shoes are recommended by the race organisers, I’ve always found normal road racing shoes to be absolutely fine. However, should there be a prolonged period of wet weather prior to race day, there would almost certainly be some muddy and slippy sections (including quite steep descents) especially through the woods.

The facilities at nearby Maiden Castle are available for parking etc. Prizes are awarded to the first three male and female runners overall as well as age category prizes, in 10 year bands starting at 40.

Finishing positions and times for the Crook AC runners are listed below. Overall there were 175 finishers.

3rd Kieron Day 32:46:00 3rd overall
36th Jo Raine 41:29:00 2nd lady overall
38th Lisa Donaldson 41:40:00 3rd lady overall
58th Geoff Hewitson 44:10:00 1st M60
111th Phil Healey 51:56:00
123rd Paul Orange 54:35:00
128th Richard Jones 55:06:00
167th Jillian Berry 69:53:00
168th Sarah Fairclough 69:53:00

Well done to everyone who took part. There were some very encouraging performances across the board. In summary this is a tough and challenging trail race; not for the faint hearted but anyone who enjoys Gerry’s Thursday night sessions (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) should also enjoy the Willow Miner. As previously mentioned, this was a qualifying event for the Club Championship. A summary of results for the 50+ section is set out below. All age-graded performance calculations were based on the advertised distance of 5.4 miles.