Handicap report for 2015

It's the time of year when every critic is being asked to fill newspaper space with their "Best of 2015" list, so, in the spirit of the season, the Handicap team bring you their very own "Pick of the Year".

As we've had a bumper crop of standout moments in the last 12 months, the list is in no particular order and any omissions are unintentional!

RUNNER OF THE YEAR - MELANIE McCULLAGH. The results don't lie, and Melanie is a worthy winner of this year's Hogshead Trophy. She put in strong performances every single month, and when she needed a final sprint for glory, she delivered - pipping Andrew Roberts at the last moment with great runs in November and December. Congratulations to Melanie, and to Andrew for making it an exciting contest! You can see the full table for the year here

AGE-GRADED RUNNER OF THE YEAR - ANDREW ROBERTS. Andrew may have fallen just short in the Hogshead, but he is the comfortable winner of the new Stratford Cup for the best age-graded runner, recording an impressive average of 83.6 per cent. Most worryingly, even though he is a V60, Andrew is actually getting faster, which is a bit sickening when you think about it. You can see the top 5 finishers and a link to the full 2015 table here

SPEED MERCHANTS OF THE YEAR. It was a year when experience told, with FV40 Victoria Carter recording the fastest women's time of 27.14 and V35 Huw Lob taking the men's title with 23.42. Maybe the younger members of the club could try a little bit harder in 2016?

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A NEW MOTHER (OR HIGHLY PREGNANT WOMAN) - TAMARA LOPEZ. With Kiera Attwooll apparently not competing this year, there was a chance for another woman to step up. Jane Harris put in a strong early push (!) with two consecutive wins in January and February, but, after lengthy consideration, the award goes to Tamara Lopez for her barn-storming win in November's Handicap. Tamara scored extra points for having raced earlier in the year when eight-months pregnant.

POWER COUPLE OF THE YEAR - DEBBIE CLARKE and PAUL STOKER. When these two turn up, the Handicap team start reserving a place for them on the podium. In 2015, Debbie led the way, coming third overall in the Hogshead and placing highly in every race (apart from November, for some reason). Paul wasn't far behind either - winning silver in February and making the top 10 overall. Great stuff!

RACE OF THE YEAR - JAMES BROWN vs SHIRINE OSSEIRAN. It was a year of handsome victories, notably by Michelle Homden, with the only sprint finish coming in May. And what a battle it was - Shirine had put in an incredible performance, taking three minutes off her PB, but in the last few hundred yards, she started to fade. With ruthlessness worthy of Ivana Olachova, James came from behind and stormed past on the line for the narrowest victory of the year. What a race - probably the most exciting since the Olympics!

MOST ERRATIC RUNNER - VAL METCALF. Val's form is as mysterious as Eden Hazard's - clearly capable of great brilliance, but frustratingly inconsistent for any manager. Put it this way, Val won the race convincingly in August and September, and then came last -- equally convincingly -- in December!

SUPPORTER OF THE YEAR - SHIRINE OSSEIRAN'S DAUGHTER. There was praise for Andy Bain's highly enthusiastic wife (who was also one of only two people to bother coming to the December handicap in a festive hat!) and signs of early promise from the scions of Huw Lobb and Andy Robbins; but the clear winner was Shirine Osseiran's daughter. If you were seven (or possibly, six - I can't remember and she's corrected me twice!), would you enjoy waiting in a park in the cold for 40 minutes before being taken to Arabic class? Personally, I'd be throwing an almighty tantrum, but Shirine's little girl behaves impeccably. Well done to her! (Now maybe the can get her mum to arrive on time!)

MARSHAL OF THE YEAR - ANTHONY STRANGER-JONES, BEV THOMAS, JAMES STRATFORD. This is the category that's caused the most sleepless nights. We've had fantastic teams of marshals every month and the Handicap team appreciate each and every one of them. We were touched by all the volunteering which Alex Jeffreys did throughout his nasty bike injury (and the help from other many other crocked athletes!); impressed by Kirsty Mansfield's unorthodox but surprisingly effective time-keeping technique; and eternally grateful to the well-known Serpie who managed to get the stopwatches to the start despite still being in bed at 8.20am! But the joint winners are the ever-reliable veteran volunteers who turn up virtually every month - the Handicap Team simply couldn't hold the race without them. They are Anthony Stranger-Jones (on the registration and timing), Bev Thomas (on the funnel and cones) and James Stratford (on the herding). It's very fitting that the new Age-Graded Trophy is named after James and we look forward to seeing him present it for the first time in January.

We wish you all a Happy Christmas and hope to see a big turnout for the first Handicap of 2016 - on January the Second!

Your Handicap Team

Submitted: 20 December 2015