MORE than 500 hardy runners battled through some atrocious wet and muddy conditions to complete one of the toughest ever editions of the Benfleet 15.

The course conditions were described as tough, perhaps even tougher, than those 12 months ago when snow covered the 15 miles of undulating terrain.

Organisers tweaked the route, which included parts of the Olympic mountain biking course, and believed they made it better than ever.

A spokesman from organising club Benfleet RC said: “We didn’t think we could top last year’s race with the snowfall, but the weather, and new route has certainly got people talking once again.

“Our marshalls are now legendary in their vocal support, enthusiasm and determination to cheer on every runner to the very end”

Danny Kendall, from the Kent club Cambridge Harriers, handled the conditions best as he took the victory in 1h 34m 6s.

Second and third were Springfield Striders’ pair Tom Cammack (1h 36m 51s) and Chris Burgoyne (1h 37m 42s).

The first south Essex athlete home, and a multiple winner of the race in the past, was Billericay Striders’ Crispian Bloomfield who clocked 1h 38m 48s.

Neil Spicer, of Leigh on Sea Striders,was 13th in 1h 42m 26s while Billericay pair Kurtis Swan (1h 44m 54s) and Philip Smith (1h 45m 59s) were 19th and 25th.

Ty Farrer was the first Southend AC athlete to finish in 28th spot in 1h 46m 33s while the first runner from host club Benfleet RC was Billie Burroughs in 31st place in 1h 46m 43s.

The first lady to finish was Springfield Striders’ Nikki Brockbank in 1h 49m 26s, just ahead of Havering Mayesbrook’s Debbie Appleton (1h 50m 5s).

Leigh on Sea Striders’ Elisabet Frankenberg was the first south Essex female athlete home in seventh (2h 2m 9s) one place ahead of the first runner from home club Benfleet, Jacqui Watson, who clocked 2h 2m 33s.

Eleven runners from Rochford Running Club braved the mud with Joe Neighbour first home in an impressive 1h 49m 51s followed by Darren Latter (2h 5m 50s) and Paul Stranks (2h 23m 26s). The top three RRC ladies – Abigail Cave, Natasha Neighbour and Stephanie Ager – all finished together in 2h 30m 7s. Other RRC finishers were Mark Robertson (2h 29m 3s), Brad Benfield (2h 30m 7s), Dave Joy (2h 32m 17s), Mark Cozens (2h 32m 46s) and Paul Claydon, who was guiding a blind runner, (3h 55m 44s).