TODMORDEN Harrier Lauren Jeska has given herself a good platform to make it a hat-trick of English Fell Championship titles after finishing second in the opening round of fixtures.
The Lancashire and England long-distance runner clinched her first national title in 2010 and comfortably defended her crown last year when winning three of the first four races.
Jeska did not have it her own way in this year’s opening fixture, the Lad’s Leap in Derbyshire, as Bingley’s young star Emma Clayton eclipsed her rivals to win in 52 minutes and 35 seconds.
But the 37-year-old, originally from Lancaster, was just 16 seconds behind to clinch second place, almost a full two minutes ahead of Durham University’s Holly Page.
Jeska was among five East Lancashire athletes that celebrated winning English Fell Championship titles last year.
Sarah Yeomans of Rossendale Harriers took the U23 women’s crown and Clayton’s Kieran Carr sealed the men’s over 65s title with plenty to spare.
Fellow veteran Jan Atkins, of Chorley Harriers, was champion in the women’s over 65s category, while Clayton’s amazing Wendy Dodds took two titles, in the over 50s and over 60s sections.
Dodds got her 2012 campaign off to a flying start once again, taking first place at Lad’s Leap in the V60 category with a time of 1:05:05, putting her in 37th place overall.
Clayton’s fell captain Jean Brown led by example by running brilliantly to finish 22nd – and eighth veteran – in 1:01:20. With Dodds the second counter, Anna Kelly completed the Clayton team in 47th place (1:08:18).
The team finished ninth overall, with the LV40 team in second, and were well supported by Lorraine Slater (59th), Alison Athroll (63rd), Lisa Richardson (64th) and Alison Dugdale (76th).
Jeska was also lent valuable assistance from her Todmorden club-mates, as Lucy Burnett (38th) in 1:05:07 and Sarah Warburton (61st) made up the team.
Yeomans led the way for Rossendale Harriers in 1:05:37 to finish 39th overall, with Karen Taylor in 65th.
The men tackled the six miles of bog, rock and heather an hour later than the women, and leading the way for East Lancashire was Sam Tosh of Rossendale Harriers.
Tosh finished a superb second in the U23 category, in a time of 47:09 that took him to 17th overall.
Club-mate Phil Bolton also turned in a noteworthy display, coming 63rd in 52:13, while fellow Harriers Richard Stott 118th and Phil Taylor 126th were not far behind.
Jonathan Wright was first home for Todmorden, his time of 50:39 giving him a place just inside the top 50.
His team-mates Dwane Dixon (58th, 51:50) and Sean Carey (67th, 52:24) gave able support.
Dave Motley was first home for the Clayton men in a time of 54.23.
Jack Holt was third in the MV60 category for Clayton, with Kieran Carr also third in the MV65 section.