Ararat cross country: Julie Hertz conquers her fears

IMPROVER: A determined Julie Hertz (number 529) ran a personal best to take out the 10km Garry and Pauline Jenkins Handicap on Sunday.

IMPROVER: A determined Julie Hertz (number 529) ran a personal best to take out the 10km Garry and Pauline Jenkins Handicap on Sunday.

Six years ago, Julie Hertz thought she’d “have a go” at cross country, never dreaming she would eventually win a race over a distance that had once terrified her.

But win she did in cold conditions at Ararat on Sunday; a milestone victory, in personal best time in the 20th and final running of the 10km Garry and Pauline Jenkins Handicap.   

Reluctant, at first, to run in any race beyond 5km, it was three years before she had enough “mileage” in her legs to win over that distance on the easiest course the Stawell and Ararat Cross Country Club then had to offer.

She started with a handicap – a serious strength-sapping vitamin B deficiency for which she needs regular injections – and it was 18 months before she managed to win her second race over her pet distance. This year, she embarked on a rigorous pre-season, running regular 10km sessions with a Black Range neighbour and working on her speed over shorter distances. Easily the club’s most improved runner, Hertz has been rewarded with PBs over three distances.

Runner-up Keith Lofthouse ran his fastest 10km in several seasons but the handicap was too great, and had to settle for his third consecutive second in the race he last won in 2009 and 2010. Sue Blizzard found form after a long recovery from a leg injury, returning to the podium for the first time in a year.

The club is at Ararat’s Dunneworthy Common on Sunday for the 8km Peter Gibson Handicap.

TRACK WHIZ

Veteran runner Keith Lofthouse surprised even himself when he won the 8km Tyler’s Rural Handicap for the third year in a row at Rupanyup on Saturday.

At the post race presentation, the 68-year-old apologised to the sponsor and other Stawell Amateur Athletic Club members for his pre-race declaration that he had “no chance” in the race he has dominated since its inception in 2009.

CONSISTENT: From eight starts in the 8km Tyler’s Rural Handicap, veteran runner Keith Lofthouse has finished further back than third on just one occasion.

CONSISTENT: From eight starts in the 8km Tyler’s Rural Handicap, veteran runner Keith Lofthouse has finished further back than third on just one occasion.

“I knew there were others that were ready to win and I thought the handicapper had my measure after I could only finish seventh at the Concongella Vineyards a week before,” he said. “I realise now that the two courses are entirely different.”

Confidence and experience on the course proved to be a factor early in the race when he was headed first by Vicki Tyler, then by Rhonda Rice, with Sharon Howden on his tail and closing fast.

Passing front-marker Gary Saunders with less than 3km to go, Lofthouse risked a few peeks over his shoulder and recognised Howden as his only serious challenger.

The club returns to Stawell on Saturday for the 5km Horsham Physiotherapy and Podiatry Handicap, meeting at the North Park clubrooms from 9.30.