LUDLOW Runners’ Claire Thomas stormed to victory at the first event of the 2019 Herefordshire Summer Cross Country League season.

Croft Ambrey's Gemma Mallett led the women's race for more than half of the race, but she was gradually reeled in by Thomas, who had started much more conservatively.

Once Thomas had caught and overtaken Mallett, she proved to be too strong and stormed ahead to win by 25 seconds, finishing in 36th position overall, ahead of Mallett in 39th.

Croft's Katie Ayres, also making her first league appearance, made a determined effort to just take third place in the women’s race, 43rd overall, in the final few strides ahead of Builth's Jo Rees.

The race took place in conditions more akin to those expected for the Winter Cross Country League as the large field of runners had to contend with torrential rain and slippery mud.

That failed to deter Croft Ambrey runners as the reigning champions recorded an emphatic team victory at the event, hosted by Hereford Couriers and held on a hilly orchard course at Westhope.

In the men’s race, Croft Ambrey's Mark Lamonby set the pace, just three days after competing in a gruelling Half Ironman event and qualifying to represent Great Britain in the World Championships.

But he was caught nearing the top of the first long climb by Builth's reigning individual champion Jonny Pugh, who shook off Lamonby’s dogged challenge to win by 11 seconds.

Pugh's veteran teammate Mike Pfeiffer completed the top three, holding off Croft's fast-finishing Gareth Leek, who was making his Summer League debut.

The second race in the four-race series will be held at High Vinnals, near Ludlow, on Wednesday, June 26.