THE STRATFORD Athletic Club team, although fewer in numbers than previous years, enjoyed considerable success at the 2019 National Cross Country Championships on a bright, sunny and unseasonably warm day at Harewood House in Leeds.
Unlike most previous nationals, there was a complete lack of mud, although the hills still made for a demanding course.
There was a bronze medal for Alex Adams – only the second medal ever won by Stratford at these championships. Adams has improved from 76th in 2017 to 36th last year to a superb bronze medal this year.
At the top of the first hill, Adams had a small lead but as the race settled down a group of three runners led the field and they worked together to extend their lead. The three stuck together until the final 800m of the 3km race when Ben Peck stretched away on the downhill section, pulling Will Rabjohns, last year’s winner, with him to leave Adams in third, comfortably clear of the fourth-placed runner.
The two other Stratford athletes in the race were both among the youngest in the field and will have learnt much from it and should come back with more confidence next year. James Day (313th, 12:54) and Ollie Hemming (358th, 13:31) should both be inspired by the improvements shown by Adams.
Stratford’s Georgie Campbell has enjoyed a successful first season in the U17 women’s age group and started strongly in the leading group in the 5km race over two laps. At the halfway mark Campbell was holding a top 20 place but faded a little in the second half to finish in 28th position with a time of 19:20.
The other three Stratford runners were always close together. Imogen Sheppard (128th, 21:51) was the early leader but went through a bad patch on the hillier sections where she lost places but finished very strongly to recover those places.
Close behind were Daisy Musk (134th, 21:57) and Abbie Wootton (144th, 22:14). The team was in 13th position – a big improvement on the 2018 result when they were 26th.
The next race was the U15 boys over a 4km course and there were just two Stratford runners. Cameron Black (271st, 16:42) continued his good form to run a well-paced race and finish more than 150 places better than last year. Harry Gravelsons (315th, 18:00) also showed a big improvement of 140 places to emphasise his improvement over the winter.
In the U13 girls’ race over a 3km course, Stratford’s girls made real progress from last season to finish 39th team. First home was Caitlin Boyle (227th, 13:08) with a strong run from the start followed by Holly Newton (343rd, 14:05) who had improved her position through the second half of the race.
Close behind was Niamh Hillard (356th, 14:14) who was below par following illness but will have learnt a lot from the experience. Making up the team with the crucial fourth place was Tilly Campbell (412th, 16:22) who has improved with every race of the season.
Owain Jones (236th, 24:46) was the only Stratford AC athlete in the U17 men’s race over 6km and ran strongly, improving 50 places on last year.
Next up were the U20 women over a tough 6km course and Edie Hutchinson (128th, 31:23) in her first season in this age group kept up a steady pace, battling with several other runners for what seemed like the whole race.
Only two Stratford runners contested the senior women’s 8km race. Cadie Hibberd (314th, 37:16), who had travelled from university in Cardiff, led the way despite feeling tired after a heavy marathon training schedule.
Emily Adams (520th, 40:45) gave everything in her race and was pleased with her result – not only on the day but also on completing all her cross country races this season – four league races plus the county, Midland and National Championships.
The two Stratford U20 men had a short journey to the race as they are both at university in Leeds where both are focusing on their triathlon training. Indeed, Oscar Barbour (68th, 31:34) had cycled 37 hilly miles in the morning before his race but still ran well, starting slowly as he normally does but moving well through the field over the 10km course.
Seb Hopper (110th, 32:49) had resisted the temptation to train beforehand and benefited from it to run probably his best cross country at this level.
The final race was the senior men, who competed over a 12km course of two laps which managed to squeeze in some extra hills. With more than 2,000 men racing, the course was congested at the start but runners coped well with it.
As is often the case, first for Stratford was Tim Hutchinson (820th, 47:55) who seems to be fully recovered from his injuries earlier in the season and improved 20 places on last year.
Another runner on the comeback from injury is Malcolm Bowyer (1,304th, 52:43) who ran well especially after having missed so much training with a calf problem.
David Smyth (1,484th, 54:46) is a regular rival to Bowyer so will have been disappointed with the gap. The final runner of the day for Stratford was Mike Sheppard (1,676th, 57:57) who found the going tough but enjoyed the course and will be delighted to have finished 230 places better than last year.
Report compiled by Paul Hawkins.