THERE was a healthy Stratford Athletic Club representation at Saturday’s Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships which traditionally signal the beginning of the end of the season.
Teams from throughout the UK compete over all the age groups from U13 to senior, with eight athletes selected in each age group/gender team. This is the highest quality domestic event of the season, so it was that after a successful season Stratford had ten runners in the Warwickshire team and another running for Gloucestershire.
Although the course at Prestwold Hall is good, undulating parkland, the recent snow and rain meant it was deep mud right from the start, making the racing the toughest it has been since it moved to this Loughborough venue.
The first Stratford runner was Alex Adams in the U13 boys’ race which was a 3,000m one-lap course. Alex was boxed in at the start and was caught in a bad position at the first two bends so had to battle his way through the field and was pleased to finish 48th and first for Warwickshire in his first season in the event. There were 309 finishers.
The next race was the senior women held over two large laps totalling 8,000m and this had 270 of the leading British runners.
Stratford’s Sarah Wheeler was delighted to win selection after the County Championships and ran strongly on her county debut. Sarah started relatively slowly and worked her way past many of the runners to finish 215th, with the Warwickshire team coming in 15th.
The next race was the U17 women which had three Stratford runners among the 279 finishing the 5,000m race. Leading the way was Emily Field in her Gloucestershire vest in 142nd, having a fine run despite feeling very tired at the end.
Imogen Sheppard (184th) kept a steady pace throughout and looked strong at the finish, as did Daisy Musk (227th) who had worked hard in conditions which did not suit her.
The next race featured Jess Sheppard in the U20 women’s contest which was over 6,000m. As Jess is primarily a 400m track runner, this was certainly out of her comfort zone but she did well to finish third for the county team and 148th overall.
Hannah Bexson also found the going tough but had a determined run to come in fifth for the team and 168th overall.
Ellie Deaner, running in the U13 girls’ race, was making her debut at this level and had a fine run over the 3,000m course, finding a good line early on which helped her move through the field. Ellie was delighted to finish second in the team and 117th in the race.
Owain Jones was next to race in the gruelling 6,000m of the U17 men’s event and, in his last race of the season before moving on to the British Schools Biathlon Championships at Crystal Palace, he should be pleased with being third for the team and 187th overall.
In the final race involving Stratford AC runners, Georgie Campbell and Ellen Taylor featured in the Warwickshire team in the U15 girls’ race over 4,000m.
Georgie led the Warwickshire team home after her usual battling run, ending in a superb 40th place. Ellen also continued her excellent season with fourth for the team and 214th overall.
The final cross country event of the season is the upcoming English Schools’ Championships at Leeds where many of the Stratford team will be running again.