SLIPPERY mud and torrential rain greeted runners for the opening round of the Herefordshire Summer Off Road League.

Despite being met by weather conditions more familiar to the winter cross country league the outcome was a familiar one with reigning champion Croft Ambrey RC recording an emphatic victory.

The event was hosted by Hereford Couriers and held on a hilly orchard course at Westhope. There were close races in both the men's and women's categories with Jonny Pugh and Claire Thomas taking individual honours on the night.

Croft Ambrey's Mark Lamonby, just three days after competing in a gruelling Ironman event, set the early pace but was caught nearing the top of the first long climb by Builth RC' s reigning individual champion Jonny Pugh.

Pugh pushed the pace but could not shake off the close attentions of the dogged Lamonby. It was only on the fast final downhill approach to the finish line that Lamonby realised that his aching limbs were not going to allow him to overtake Pugh and he eased off to afford Pugh to win by 11 seconds.

Pugh's veteran team mate Mike Pfeiffer completed the top three, holding off Croft's fast finishing Gareth Leek, who was making his summer league debut.

Croft Ambrey's Gemma Mallett led the women's race for over half of the race, but she was gradually reeled in by Ludlow Runners' Claire Thomas, who had started much more conservatively.

Once Thomas had caught and overtaken Mallett, she proved to be too strong and stormed ahead to win by 25 seconds in 36th position overall ahead of Mallett in 39th.

Croft's Katie Ayres, also making her first league appearance, made a determined effort to just take third place, 43rd overall, in the final few sodden strides ahead of Builth's Jo Rees.

Teams in the Herefordshire Summer Off Road League are composed of three men and two women with overall positions counting.

Croft Ambrey had placed well in both the men's and women's races, with Jack Wilson in eighth being the fifth counter to give the Croft team a total of 96 points.

Wye Valley Runners fought hard to take second place on 141 points thanks to Sam Mayglothling in seventh, Christian Jones11th, Steve Flowers 14th plus the female pairing of Jodie Newell in 51st and the evergreen Laura Tootell 58th.

Builth finished third on 148 points.

The second race, in the four race series, will be held at High Vinnals, near Ludlow on Wednesday, June 26.