HARWICH Runners’ cross-country squad were depleted by illness and injury for the fourth fixture of the 53-12 league in Gosfield.

Chairman Peter Gooding rallied his athletes into action for the demanding five-mile course through ankle-deep mud and a knee-high water crossing.

An inspired Kate Hodgkiss raced to the front of the women’s field and was never to be headed.

Her smooth, low knee lift running action was ideally suited to the conditions and the popular victory capped a year of big improvements for Hodgkiss.

Claudine Tisbury had another strong run in 18th.

Elspeth Knott followed in a determined 23rd spot.

Harwich had a wait for their fourth and final scoring athlete, with Carrie Hook rising to the occasion in 48th.

Support came from Sally Gillam (53rd), Louise Papworth (63rd), Grace Bradshaw (66th), Clare McKenna (67th) and Liz Smith (80th).

In-from Brian Herrington had placed a magnificent fourth place in the Essex veteran’s cross-country championship the previous weekend and he placed eighth over the Gosfield mud-fest.

Steve Cooper had another good run over the course, which started with a parkland lap, before heading into a big lap of the woods, finishing 21st.

Jason Meachen (31st) and Mark Rutter (37th) were their usual reliable team counters.

Richard Flutter followed up a win over five kilometres in Waltham Abbey, on Saturday, with a strong 50th place finish.

Cyclo-cross ace Terry Smith was at home in the mud and excelled in 53rd.

Andre Besant coped well with the conditions in 58th and Nick Beales won the close tussle to close out the scoring eight runners in a good 77th.

Dennis Warner (82nd), Barry Hammick (83rd) and John Francis (88th) chased Beales home.

Good backing came from Steve Burbidge (115th), Ian Cannons (119th), Jeff Higgon (131st), Peter Fraser-Hopewell (136th), Paul Crowson (137th), Mike Barstow (142nd), Tim Warner (143rd), Julian Cordwell (144th), Roly Knott (146th), Paul Kerrison (148th) and Bob Rowles (165th).

Despite some outstanding individual performances Harwich could finish no higher than fifth in the team stakes.

Colchester Harriers were again the clear winners.

Peter Gooding’s troops still have their sights set on a top-three finish and can take consolation that Witham already look consigned to the relegation spot.