STRATFORD Athletic Club had nine athletes competing at the CAU Inter-Counties Cross-Country Championships at Cofton Park in Birmingham and there was joy for Agnes McTighe in the Under 13 Girls race as she won a silver medal thanks to another exciting performance, writes Danny Tolhurst.
Athletes were selected to represent their county at these championships based on their results at the county championships or by invitation. Therefore the quality was incredibly high, with many races featuring GB internationals. Stratford AC athletes deserve huge credit for their initial selection and their outstanding performances on the day.
Eight of the club’s runners represented Warwickshire and one – Olivia Hall – represented Worcestershire.
By cross-country standards, the conditions were very pleasant for both runners and spectators, with some warm sunshine tempered occasionally by a chilly wind. The course was varied and interesting, including steep ascents and descents soon after the start and some tight corners to negotiate at speed.
The underfoot conditions were mainly dry, with just the odd patch of softer ground to interrupt athletes’ rhythm.
Under 13 Girls race
AFTER winning a silver medal at the recent National Championships, Agnes McTighe (2nd, 12.29) went into this race as someone the rest of the field knew would be in the shake-up for the top three places. The gold medallist from the Nationals, Olivia Mason (Cumbria), was also in the line-up, which set the race up beautifully and it proved to be an engrossing spectacle.
After the anticipated cavalry charge to the first bend, Agnes had secured a prominent position and halfway up the first hill she was in group of four athletes who had sneaked a few metres clear.
In a slight departure from her usual tactics, Agnes consciously held back to ensure she did not over-exert herself in the first part of the race. Having seen so many athletes tire in the latter stages of earlier races, this was a wise approach.
With one kilometre completed, the leading groups had been whittled down to just two – Agnes and the pre-race favourite Olivia Mason. The race proved to be a fascinating and exciting spectacle, with the the two athletes stretching a long way clear of the remainder.
It was cat and mouse coming down the final hill and around the flattest sections on the course. The finish was 800m away and both girls knew that an assertive burst of speed at this stage could be crucial.
With just one bend and 400m to run, Mason dug deep and increased her cadence, putting five metres between herself and Agnes. Agnes tried valiantly to narrow the gap and she always looked dangerous.
As the pair entered the finishing straight, with 150m remaining, Agnes fought amazingly hard to reduce the four-second margin. It is testament to Agnes’ stamina that, although she could not make up the deficit, she was still just four seconds behind at the finish line.
Agnes was overjoyed with her performance and very pleased with the way she executed her race plan. She has had another marvellous winter of races in the UK, winning gold at the County Championships and silver at the National Championships and Inter-Counties Championships.
There are few things Imogen Sheppard (178th, 14.44) prefers to a highly competitive and top quality cross-country race. The challenges presented by this course demonstrated Imogen’s tenacity and resolve to good effect.
Georgie Campbell’s (193rd, 14.49) gritty resolve on the steep ascents helped her to establish a strong position and her boundless enthusiasm ensured she stuck on well late in the race when other athletes struggled. Georgie was spiked right at the start but fought hard to seal an impressive finish.
Olivia Hall (201st, 14.51) did superbly to finish just two seconds behind Georgie and she can take a great deal of credit from her result. Olivia has been a model of consistency this season and her willingness to dig in and fight for every place in every race has earned her well-deserved praise.
Under 13 Boys race
THE LIVELY Dylan Williams (204th, 13.41) was hungry for a strongly-run race that would suit his combination of speed and dogged determination. Dylan was able to settle early in the race despite the tight bends and the large field of runners, successfully avoiding stray elbows.
He had just enough energy left during the final 400m to pass tiring rivals and complete a performance of which he can be very proud.
Under 15 Girls race
AGATHA McTighe seems to thrive on courses where she can establish a rhythm and work her way through the field late in a race. For the opening kilometre there was very little time or space available and Agatha did well to retain focus.
Agatha had been unable to train for three weeks prior to this race due to an injury and she fought well up the hills and ensured she lost minimal ground. Having coped well with the initial hustle and bustle, she found her form on the flatter terrain and did all her best work in the second half of the race.
The long finishing straight was a crowded place and it was great to see Agatha holding her line and finishing strongly.
Under 20 Women’s race
IT WAS clear from Emma Slevin’s excitement both pre and post-race that this is the level at which she feels she belongs. She pushed herself to the limit throughout the whole of the 6km distance and had just enough energy and forward momentum to cross the finish line, exhausted but happy.
Emma missed out on being the first Warwickshire finisher by just one second, after having a lengthy battle with Julie Emmerson of Coventry Godiva Harriers. Emma has had a fine season and she deservedly won the Oxfordshire Schools cross-country title in February.
Alice Reed did not get the best out of herself in the deep mud at the National Championships last month, but she was confident of putting in a good run at Cofton Park.
With the knowledge that basic speed is one of her best assets, Alice was pleased the ground was “just a bit sticky” and she was able to go with the early pace before hanging on impressively in the closing stages.
It was pleasing to see her continue her return to peak fitness and sharpness with another smart display of running.
Cadie Hibberd wisely stayed out of trouble near the back of the pack in the opening 400m as there was little to gain from being involved in the initial scramble for places.
Cadie enjoyed the test offered by the challenging hills and found that she ran better the tougher the terrain and the longer the race went on. She was able to finish with a spring in her step and complete her first experience of representing her county team in pleasing style.
Cadie’s season has been full of hardworking performances and once again her positive, purposeful approach meant she reached her maximum potential while enjoying every second of the event.
Results: Under 13 Girls (3km) – Agnes McTighe (2nd, 12.29); Imogen Sheppard (178th, 14.44); Georgie Campbell (193rd, 14.49); Olivia Hall (201st, 14.51); 305 ran.
Under 13 Boys (3km) – Dylan Williams (204th, 13.41); 300 ran.
Under 15 Girls (4km) – Agatha McTighe (119th, 20.48); 289 ran.
Under 20 Women (6km) – Emma Slevin (45th, 24.37); Alice Reed (89th, 26.22); Cadie Hibberd (140th, 32.37); 143 ran.
Coach Paul Hawkins with Agnes McTighe and her silver medal. (s)