TWO hundred runners battled through muddy conditions in the opening round of the Herefordshire Cross Country League at Croft Castle.

Organised by Croft Ambrey RC the historic and challenging course featured long climbs and tricky descents in muddy conditions as the runners climbed to the top of Croft Ambrey Iron Age hill fort.

All the runners set off together and the 100 female competitors cut off for a shorter route on the second lap.

An exciting and closely contested women's race developed as the rivals dropped down the speedy forest track into the scenic and seasonally colourful Fishpool Valley before encountering the final steep climb and subsequent sprint finish.

Hay Hotfooters runner Bethan Logan, making her league debut, proved to be the strongest at this brutal stage of the race as she stormed across the finish line to win by five seconds with Dana Machackova (Hereford Triathlon Club) second and Jo Rees (Rhayader RC) third, as just eight seconds separated the top three finishers.

Home club and reigning league champions Croft Ambrey RC were led home by Robyn Gore, who ran superbly to record her best ever league run in fourth place, and she was well supported by reigning individual champion Gemma Mallett in sixth and prolific racer Kelly Bowen in eighth.

This gave Croft Ambrey a first race lead of 15 points over surprise packets Hay Hotfooters, who registered by far their best ever league performance to take second place with Wye Valley Runners in third.

The men's race, over three full laps of the demanding course, was equally closely contested.

Twice former champion Tim Davies, of Maldwyn Harriers, pushed from the start and opened up a gap over his rivals but he was reeled in over the closing stages by Builth R.C.'s Tim Iveson, who surged up the final climb to win by six seconds in a well-judged effort.

Reigning champions Maldwyn Harriers again dominated the team event to create an early 16 point lead over Builth & Distict R.C.

Croft Ambrey were the first local team home, in third place, as they were led home by a strong run from international triathlete Mark Lamonby in fifth and he was assisted by an impressive runs from veteran Mark Thomas in eighth and newcomer Jack Wilson in 15th, with another veteran Glyn Williams in 26th completing the team.

The second race in the five race series will be held at a much flatter riverside course at Rotherwas on Sunday, December 2.