A HEALTHY number of Stratford Athletic Club runners tested themselves against England’s best at the 2016 National Cross Country Championships at Donington Park on Saturday.
On first inspection, the conditions appeared to be good – cool and overcast weather, the wind not too strong, a long, fast, downhill starting straight and a relatively mud-free course.
However, further consideration revealed some tough undulations, areas with significant pace-sapping mud and a tiring, long uphill finish. The latter outweighed the former and it was therefore no surprise the times were significantly slower compared to last year for almost all age categories.
With no U17 women from Stratford AC able to attend on the day, the honour of being first out for the club went to Archie Musk (318th, 21.10) and Adam Pomeroy (347th, 22.20) in the U15 boys’ race over 4.5km.
The course consisted of two laps which included the delight of a challenging climb. Archie commented after the race he was happy after the first climb as the downhill came as a relief, until he realised he had to do all over again!
Only three U13 girls competed – one short of the number required for an overall team placing. Georgie Campbell (38th, 14.54) made the best of the tough conditions, starting fast in the first 100m and almost leading the field of some 450 athletes to ensure a good position before settling down to her usual high-tempo in the top 40.
Grit and determination ensured Georgie maintained this position throughout to finish 38th, 151 places higher than last year. This is a true measure of Georgie’s improved running over the year and is a just reward for all the effort she has put in.
Ellen Taylor (160th, 15.54) ran delightfully well and should be inspired by Georgie as to what could be achieved next year as Ellen will remain in this age category.
Charlotte Gravelsons (432nd, 19.00) found the course a real challenge and, although she did not relatively improve compared to last year, she knows she will have gained an immense amount of experience by competing in every cross country race this season.
Only two U17 men took on the 6km which included the two strength-sapping climbs. Oscar Barbour (109th, 22.35) maintained good form throughout to enjoy a well deserved and impressive finish, improving by 54 places compared to last year in this highly competitive race.
Fergus Allison (190th, 24.02) started a little too quickly and faded on the second lap but has had a fantastic cross country season and a top 200 national ranking is a real achievement and just reward.
Five athletes made up the U15 girls’ team which finished 30th overall. The race was over 4km and did not include the tough climb, but was equally demanding through treacle-tough terrain.
Abbie Wootton (185th, 19.38) started steadily and increased her tempo throughout the race, finishing strongly and picking up a number of places in the finishing straight.
Imogen Sheppard (204th, 19.51) started well and perhaps struggled a little to maintain her usual tempo in the latter stages. Olivia Hall (264th, 20.37) picked a fast pace to start and held on to a good finish, followed by Daisy Musk (271th, 20.50) who took the opposite approach of starting steadily and improving her position throughout.
All four have put down good markers to improve upon next year. The team was completed by Edie Hutchinson (331st, 22.28) who fought hard against the tough conditions and, although perhaps not at her best following illness, she should be pleased with another good national finish.
Seven U13 boys took on the two small laps that totalled 3km. This was almost enough for two teams, demonstrating the commitment that has been welcomed all season in the U11-13 age category.
It was a joy to see Louis Kendrick (144th, 14.38) relaxed and happy before the race and for this to naturally translate to a wonderful overall performance. This experience will prove invaluable as Louis draws upon it over the next two seasons in this age group.
Cameron Collins (311th, 15.55) looked cool and determined as he executed an impressive race with an equally strong finish. Ned Campbell (374th, 16.52) ran well, saving a little for the long finishing straight where he picked up a few places.
Caleb Spriggs (393rd, 17.27) enjoyed his first national and has put down a good marker to improve upon in future years. Harry Gravelsons (410th, 18.48) was delighted with his performance and Jack Hemming (413th, 19.12) was determination personified.
Jack started with a potential race-influencing ankle injury and after one lap it was clearly not holding up but, not wanting to pull out, Jack courageously carried on and completed the race in resolute fashion.
Fin Hutchinson (414th, 19.15) enjoyed the challenge and completed the team which finished 41st overall.
After a great cross country season for the senior women, it was extremely disappointing Stratford AC did not have any representation in the senior women’s race.
On the other hand, six Stratford AC senior men competed over the 12km course and finished 118th overall.
Tim Hutchinson (670th, 56.02) led the team home as he did in the Midland Championships and similarly Kieran Tursner (791st, 57.27) was chasing him all the way.
David Battersby (1,226th, 1.03.38) made a welcome return from injury and should be pleased with his run. Next was Mike Sheppard (1,320th, 1.05.22) in what he claimed was his longest run for many years!
James Deacon (1,541st ,1.11.45) was unlucky to turn his ankle on the first lap but bravely carried on to ensure Stratford had a full team.
Neil Musk (1,652nd, 1.18.19) found the going tough in only his second cross country race since joining the club but will have gained a lot from the experience.