THE ENGLISH National Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill in London is, for many athletes, the high point of the winter and this year’s edition of the race attracted a record turnout, writes Danny Tolhurst.
A total of 5,283 runners competed across ten junior and senior age group races at one of the iconic cross country venues and created a vibrant and motivating atmosphere on Saturday.
Underfoot conditions were described as ‘horrendous’, ‘very very muddy’ and ‘gloopy’, which made life difficult for those competing in the early races and even harder for those in the final few.
The Under 13 Girls (3km) race gave Stratford Athletic Club its best results of the day and its best ever individual finishing position.
Agnes McTighe ran superbly to finish 2nd out of a field of 433 and the team performed well as a whole to achieve 10th place. With 49 teams taking part, this was a terrific achievement and gives a fair representation of the current strength of the junior squad.
Agnes (2nd, 12.44) had been in sparkling form during the six months building up to this race, winning seven of her nine races, ranging from 1km to 3km. She knew there was an expectation that she would run well but coped admirably with any pressure she felt and maintained her focus on simply running to the best of her ability.
After the opening 200m, it appeared highly likely this would be a two-girl battle. Agnes was matching strides with Olivia Mason of Border Harriers & AC, already a considerable margin clear of the pack. In 2014 the pair were 1st and 2nd in the UK 1,500m rankings (Olivia just ahead of Agnes), so they were well aware of the calibre of the competition.
At the halfway stage, Olivia had stolen a few metres advantage but with Agnes still running in controlled fashion and looking dangerous. Olivia dug deep and increased her lead with 1km remaining. Agnes knew she would find it hard to respond in the boggy ground and she did well to hold her form and maintain her position.
At the finish line Olivia was 50 metres clear, the margin of victory being 12 seconds. Agnes finished a glorious 2nd, nine seconds ahead of Amelia Wills of Bracknell AC.
Agnes now has two important cross country races ahead of her, the Swiss Championships in Lausanne and the Inter-Counties Championships at Cofton Park near Birmingham. She will be competing in the Under 16s age group in Switzerland, which will make for an interesting and challenging event.
Despite some reservations about the course, Imogen Sheppard (88th, 14.14) continued her marvellously consistent season with a formidable effort. Imogen ran a determined race and saved up just enough energy for a late surge in the final 100m when she overtook team-mate Olivia Hall (93rd, 14.15).
Olivia ran her best race of the season and proved she can handle testing terrain with aplomb. She has been snapping at Imogen’s heels all winter and the close competition has pushed each girl to achieve very satisfying results.
The endless supply of enthusiasm shown by Georgie Campbell (189th, 15.05) during 2014 and 2015 has been a joy to behold. She gets stuck into every challenge placed before her and always has a smile on her face seconds after crossing the finish line. The mud and large field failed to put Georgie off her stride and she ran another intelligently-paced race.
Charlotte Gravelsons (324th, 16.19) is improving all the time and utilising her impressive basic speed to notable effect. Charlotte is a versatile athlete and has shown herself to be equally adept on a wide variety of cross country courses.
After recent injury niggles, Daisy Musk (367th, 16.54) deserved a medal for making it to the start line. For her to apply herself so remarkably well is testament to her level-headed attitude and her awareness of how to get the best out of herself. The big race experience can only be a positive thing for her to draw on in the future.
The Under 13 Boys team finished 35th out of 42 in a high quality 3km race.
Archie Musk (220th, 14.36) ran confidently and coolly and he finished first of the closely-packed Stratford septet. Archie is enjoying a great period of racing and has seemingly found the secret formula to take his running up a level. He has certainly thrived in the heavy ground he has encountered in recent events and is always strong in the closing stages.
There are few more lively characters around than Josh Angus (235th, 14.45) and he is pleasingly able to use his energy to record classy results. He set off at his usual high speed, even with so many athletes around him, and his eye for a gap helped him to overtake rivals as the finish line approached.
Just six seconds behind Josh, Rowan Love (250th, 14.51) added another run of great credit to his collection. Rowan has had a happy debut season of cross country and he has been performing consistently well.
Dion Love (258th, 14.54) has also enjoyed a series of maturely-run races and has cemented his position as a key member of the team. This was the first occasion of the winter in which Dion has finished behind Rowan. He will no doubt be keen to ensure this is just a one-off.
Adam Pomeroy (299th, 15.19) has been working hard in training and as a result he is steadily improving across all aspects of his running. This course will not have been completely to his liking but he put everything into the race and earned a creditable position.
On another day Owain Jones (317th, 15.30) would have finished 100 places higher but, in such a busy environment, fortunes can change rapidly and rhythm can be difficult to establish. This was a gutsy and creditable performance, however Owain will be looking forward to putting his spikes on again soon to show his true form.
Completing the line-up was Jack Hemming (382nd, 17.35), who never runs anything but a committed race. Jack has really impressed the coaching team with the quality of his running and his willingness to throw himself into the various challenges available. In London he rose to the occasion once again, combining speed and stamina in exciting fashion.
Stratford AC’s Under 15 Girls duo of Edie Hutchinson (238th, 19.29) and Hannah Bexson (330th, 21.06) worked hard and ran smart races, both finding the better ground where any was available during the 4km distance.
Edie has had a breakthrough season and is now running at the top of her game. She was happy with her time as she had aimed to finish in the region of 20 minutes. Her least favourite part of the race was the start while the most enjoyable element was “all the mud”!
Hannah has fully deserved the rewards she has received for her focus and considered approach to training and racing.
Oscar Barbour (163rd, 24.31) was Stratford AC’s sole representative in the 6km Under 17 Men’s race. He did everything right and was unlucky not to finish in a higher position in this very competitive age group. Oscar is in cracking form at the moment and he is quickly building a very solid reputation as an athlete to watch both now and in the future.
In the 6km Junior Women’s race Tas Pope (36th, 25.50) and Alice Reed (74th, 28.13) mixed it with some very talented young athletes and demonstrated appreciable quality of their own.
Tas is brimming with confidence and running with great freedom as was shown in this event. She hopes to continue in her rich vein of form at the Inter-Counties Championships on March 7.
Alice is running better all the time and after a satisfying result in this race can look towards the track season with relish.
Fine debut season
For the Senior Women, Rachel Pearce’s (204th, 38.34) excellent debut season has been a real boost. She ran another fine race, finishing one minute ahead of Emma Bexson (250th, 39.34) over the 8km distance.
This was Emma’s second stamina test in a week, having run a fast time in a multi-terrain marathon just seven days prior.
The seven Senior Men ran their socks off in their 12km race and can be proud of their efforts in the most churned-up ground of the day.
First home was Tim Hutchinson (546th, 49.51), who has been one of the revelations of the season. Tim was “pretty nervous before the race, that many pairs of spikes scared me silly”!
He walked the course with team-mate Josh Newman and decided his main targets were to avoid tripping over and to resist trying to hang on to Josh.
Tim started at a pace he felt comfortable with and one he knew he could stick to. The calf-deep mud presented a stern test and, combined with patches of firmer ground and the undulations, made finding a rhythm almost impossible, but Tim admitted that “as bad as it was, I still loved it”!
His next race is the Midland Road Relays on March 28 – a completely different type of event. After that Tim’s focus is on training for the London Marathon.
Josh Newman (755th, 52.07) was very excited about his strategy, which was to run as hard as he possibly could for the first 400m and put himself in a prominent position. If and when this was achieved, he would summon up all of his reserves to maintain a respectable place in the pack over the remaining 11.75km.
Josh will reflect happily on his success at being up with the leaders at his specified point and know that he did well to grind out a solid overall result.
Two of the most reliable and popular Stratford AC athletes pleased their followers with workmanlike and disciplined performances. Malcolm Bowyer (992nd, 54.34) and Richard Dobedoe (1,097th, 55.50) have a wealth of experience and in such a demanding race they were always confident of bringing home the bacon.
Mike Sheppard (1,281st, 57.58) would normally be alongside Josh in the early skirmishes, but he elected to stay out of the rough and tumble as much as possible and started conservatively. Mike was always travelling smoothly and he was in tip-top shape in the final kilometre.
Endurance king Brian Gravelsons (1,786th, 1.06.53) ran his trademark consistent pace and his cross country acumen helped him to a very agreeable result.
Phil Marshall (1,845th, 1:09.02) is in his element when he competes in high quality races. He felt “on top of the world” to be lining up against some of the country’s best athletes. The standard of his rivals brought out the best in Phil and he easily finished inside the 70-minute barrier.
THE BOURTON 10k has always had a reputation as a fast race and the rate at which it sells out each year speaks volumes about its potential for personal best times.
The six-strong Stratford AC contingent who travelled to Bourton-on-the-Water exceeded expectations and there were personal bests and club records aplenty, on an almost perfect day for road running.
Sixteen year-old Oscar Barbour (28th, 36.10) achieved the accolade of being second placed Under 18 athlete, even having run in the English Cross Country Championships less than 24 hours earlier.
Oscar described his performance as “not bad” and reported that he blew up at 7km, finding the last 3km tough. As this was only his second attempt at the distance, his time is even more impressive than at first glance.
A PB and an age group club record for Graham Taylor (36th, 36.25 – 3rd V45) left him delighted with his morning’s work.
Graham had a pace in mind but he was a bit worried at the start by how many people were going past him, wondering if his watch was working. He assumed it was their over-exuberance and stuck with his plan.
After the first couple of kilometres Graham found himself steadily overtaking people all the way to the finish. He found he was running fairly comfortably although was hurting in the last mile. Mouthwateringly, Graham aims to knock another minute off this time during 2015 and his next targets are a couple of half marathons where he hopes to break 80 minutes.
The indefatigable Kate Wright (42nd, 36.53 – 1st V50) won an age group prize, ran a 41-second PB and set a V50 club record for 10k. Kate was pleased to be free from jet lag after a recent trip and also that her introduction of a greater amount of speed work is paying off.
She was surprised at how fast she went but still felt that the pace was “manageable”, so there could still be more to come.
Sarah Wheeler (71st, 38.26 – 2nd F40) had considered not running in this race as she did not feel sufficiently well prepared. However, having lined up for the last four years and enjoyed the event, she thought better of it and competed.
Sarah definitely made the right decision, managing to run a PB by a massive 88 seconds and set an age group club record.
She now looks forward to a 16-mile off-road race at the end of March on the North Downs as part of her London Marathon training.
Another person who came away ecstatic with a club record was Robin Kindersley (131st, 41.11 – 2nd V55). Robin’s cruising speed and pace judgement are ideally suited to 10k races and ensured he gained a great result.
Larry Coltman (359th, 51.37 – 15th, V55) has had a fine cross country season so it was pleasing to see how well he translated this form on to the road. Larry could not match the sensational time he set in this race in 2013 (47.51) but should take a lot of confidence from this run.
The race winner was Will Ferguson of CLC Striders in 32.37. The 1st woman was Rachel Felton (Shaftesbury Barnet/Stroud) in 34.17.
THE DAVID Jones racing bandwagon rolled into Brighton for the 25th anniversary of the area’s half marathon, which was coincidentally the 25th half marathon of David’s career.
The start and finish are on the seafront between the pier and the marina and follows the coast for the vast majority of the scenic 13.1-mile distance.
David (1,339th, 1:43.44) is enjoying following a marathon training plan closely and noted that it prescribed him a 1-hour, 45-minute half marathon at this juncture.
David set off at 7.55 minute per mile pace and stuck to his task well. He felt good throughout and was surprised to find the race “fairly easy”.
David’s final mile was his quickest, at 7.41 pace. His run almost made up for having sat through Birmingham City’s loss to Brighton & Hove Albion the previous day!
Hannah Bexson in the U15 girls race in London. Picture by Mike Sheppard. (s)
Agnes McTighe shows off her silver medal. Picture by Paul Hawkins. (s)
Agnes McTighe battling for the lead on her way to a
magnificent second place in the under 13 girls race in the English National Cross Country Championships. Picture by Mike Sheppard. (s)
Larry Coltman in action in the Bourton 10k. Picture by Barry Cornelius. (oxonraces.com). (s)