Keith Lofthouse shook off the bridesmaid tag, ending a run of three consecutive seconds with the Stawell and Ararat Cross Country Club handing it straight to the runner-up, Nathan Bendelle, last Sunday.
A mere 24 seconds separated the pair at the end of the Simon and Tiffany Gallagher Handicap, a punishing 8km slog through the Ararat Hills. Much improved Julie Hertz finished third.
Bendelle, who hasn’t won a race since April 2016, has posted three thirds and a second from his past four starts.
“Stick with it Nathan … I’m running on empty,” Lofthouse said as he slowly pulled away, fearing that one of the backmarkers might overhaul him.
Indeed, Michael Jamieson gave him a fright on the flat track to the timekeepers when he appeared from nowhere and ranged alongside. “Don’t worry,” he said, “because I’ve gone the wrong way!” Jamieson had spotted a jogger up ahead, confused him with a club runner, and followed him way off course.
He eventually ran the whole 8km but that very blunder may have cost him his first win in two years.
The consistent Lofthouse, a veteran of some 500 club runs in Melbourne and around Stawell, deserved the win after himself taking a wrong turn and being pipped on the post by Simon Gallagher two starts before.
Things fell into place for Rob Blythman last week when he accepted a transfer to the Northern Territory and then won the 5km Stan and Karen Watson Handicap on Saturday in what may be his last race with the Stawell Amateur Athletic Club.
Blythman held on grimly to defeat the fast-finishing Tom Walker by seven seconds, with Matilda Iglesias three seconds behind in third place.
The end result may have been entirely different but for carnage in the middle of the pack, when one runner missed a crucial turn and led four others off the course.
Having won the opening event of the season and receiving a time penalty Blythman could conceivably have expected to finish behind all five wayward runners to whom he had to give starts.
Blythman, 31, who looks more like a sprinter than a stayer, had done the hard yards, culminating in the Great Ocean Road Marathon in May, and is a stronger athlete for the intense preparation the distance requires.
“I didn’t know what had happened up ahead (the wrong-way runners) and had no idea whether I was in front or not. I was more concerned about Tom breathing down my neck and I just did the best I could.
“It feels right to win a race sponsored by Stan [Watson] because I worked with him at the gold mine and he’s one of the reasons I joined the club in 2015.”
In the 1km sub-juniors division of the race, Barney Baker broke through for his first win by a big margin, with Kaya Membrey holding on for third ahead of the dead-heaters Harley Squire and Chloe Hunter.
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