THE STAGING of the Inter-Counties Championships is a sign the long cross country season is drawing to a close and Stratford Athletic Club was proud to have nine runners in the Warwickshire team spread across six races.
County teams from throughout the United Kingdom compete over all the age groups from under 13 to senior, with eight athletes selected in each age group/gender team. This is the highest quality domestic event of the season, so having nine athletes in action was no mean feat for Stratford.
The course at Prestwold Hall in Loughborough is good, undulating parkland and, after the wet winter, the going was definitely “soft” with very sticky, thick mud.
For Stratford, the highlight of the day was a fine bronze medal for Alex Adams in the under 15 boys in his first year in the age group, building on his fourth place as an under 13 last year.
Adams was clearly in good form going into the 4.3km race and confidently stayed with the leading group from the start. This group was soon whittled down to five until about halfway when English champion Lewis Sullivan pushed ahead and Chris Perkins went with him.
Adams and the two others held back and a gap opened up. Ultimately Sullivan continued his unbeaten season to win with Perkins second.
The next three battling for the final medal were neck and neck for the rest of the race with each testing the others periodically. Adams bided his time until the final 250m when he surged away up the hill to pull ahead and finish third in 14:45 – seven seconds behind Perkins – but a clear 40 seconds ahead of Ethan Scott in fourth and Ben Peck in fifth.
After the race Adams said: “A very tough race in a high-quality field. I gave everything in the last 100m or so to get away and come in front of Ben for the first time and to podium. Good conditions but a muddy course made it hard to get into a nice rhythm but that’s the joy of cross country. Apart from that I really enjoyed it.”
Before that, the first Stratford runner was Owain Jones (171st, 43:33) in the under 20 men’s race. Jones is mostly focusing on 400/800m on the track so the race advertised at 8km was always going to be a tough one and so it turned out, especially as the actual distance was 9,100m.
Despite this, Jones maintained a good pace throughout but will be pleased to have a shorter race at the upcoming English Schools’ Championships.
Next up were Niamh Hillard and Maddie Hillard in the under 13 girls race over a 3.4km course. Both girls started off at a steady pace in the middle of the pack in a big field of over 300 runners.
Hillard kept the pace going well to finish 94th in 15:49, while Linfoot (149th, 16:19) found the clinging mud tough and faded a little but was still pleased to finish in the top half.
The next race was the under 17 women and there were two Stratford runners among the 272 finishing the 5,300m race.
Georgie Campbell made a strong start and held a top 20 position throughout the race and was pleased to finish 19th in 22:36 to lead the Warwickshire team home after a tough battle up the finish straight.
Ellen Taylor (208th, 27:07) has had a disrupted build-up to the race with injuries so will be happy with her run.
In the under 20 women’s race of 6km Daisy Musk (110th, 32:25) continued her excellent season, coming second of the Warwickshire team after a committed run with the course conditions deteriorating as the mud got even thicker.
The final Stratford athletes were in the under 15 girls race ran over 4.3km. Possibly one of the most improved runners of the season has been Charly Marshall who seemed to be the only runner in the second half of the race quicker than the first as she constantly overtook other girls to finish a marvellous 93rd in 19:01.
Olivia Robinson (226th, 20:49) found it a hard race and said she enjoyed it but the mud was very tough.
The final cross country event of the season is Saturday’s English Schools’ Championships at Sefton Park in Liverpool where many of the Stratford team will be running again.