Fergus breaks his duck by staying strong on the hill

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Gala Harriers’ annual cross-country championships took place on a chilly, but beautiful, morning for running on Saturday.

Not only were overhead conditions good, but surprisingly, underfoot conditions were also remarkably favourable for the time of year.

Thirty-four club members and one guest runner took to the start line at Boleside in nervous anticipation of the tough 5.8-mile course that follows the river Tweed to Yair before steeply climbing up over the Southern Upland Way to the finish at Hollybush.

In the senior men’s race, the predicted pre-race battle between Fergus Johnston and Graeme Murdoch duly unfolded, with both setting a quick pace and matching each other stride for stride over the first 3.5 miles.

As they reached the start of the hill, it was Johnston who stayed strongest and built an unassailable lead on the first climb to take a long overdue first title in a time of 36 minutes and 44 seconds, with Murdoch finishing second in 37.22.

Both times are the two fastest on record for running the course from Boleside to Hollybush. In an equally-exciting battle for third place, it was Gavin Bryson (son of last year’s winner Mark) who stormed down the hill to the finish (38.46), passing guest runner Craig Mattocks (38.50) with only 50m to go. Mark Bryson finished fifth in 39.45, with Colin McCall (39.56) running another strong effort to duck under the 40-minute barrier.

Junior member Jason McIntosh also ran a really strong race to finish in an excellent 40.02. Other male members completing the course were Andrew Lawrie (41.04), Dave Nightingale (42.59), Steve Martin (43.25), Marcus Naylor (43.47), Derrick Brydon (44.25), Tony Lunn (44.49), Rory Campbell (44.53), Magnus Inglis (44.55), Billy McCulloch (44.59), Tommy Knox (46.08), Keith King (49.26), James Purves (49.44), Graham Pogson (49.47), and club president Gerry Moss (55.53).

This was King’s last race for the club for some years as he leaves for Adelaide within the week, and this was marked in style at the presentation night later on (see below).

In the women’s race, Dianne Lauder ran strongly, despite injury hampering her progress in recent weeks.

Her time of 41.31 was enough to finish more than two minutes ahead of defending champion and ladies’ captain Fiona Dalgleish (43.40).

Dalgleish had to work hard over the closing stages and just held off a late challenge from Kate Mattocks (43.41) who is back representing the club after a long spell with Hunters Bog Trotters.

Rachel Fagan can be pleased with a solid 44.22, as can Joeleene McKean who ran 47.03. Nine other ladies also completed the course: Nicola Porterfield (49.02), Eileen Nicol (54.12), Dawn Grant (55.53), Shelagh King (67.43), Judy Scott (71.27), Lynn Taylor (71.28), Jill Grainger (72.16), Anne Purves (73.16) and Susan Howel (73.16).

As well as the scratch race, there is also the added intrigue of the closed handicap Neil Potts race, which involves predicting each runner’s time prior to the race and assessing who exceeds this time by the greatest margin.

The younger members of the club dominated this year, with Gavin Bryson’s time earning him the trophy.