PLENTY of Stratford Athletic Club runners had smiles on their faces following their efforts at Saturday’s prestigious Saucony English National Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath, London.
The first event was the U17 women’s race over one full lap of 5km. Five – one more than required for the team competition – Stratford AC athletes took on the challenge, each supporting their homemade, club-related, face paint.
Imogen Sheppard (163rd, 22.50) led the team home in comfortable style, followed by Daisy Musk (183rd, 23.15) who has found great form to springboard from into the summer track season.
Abi Wootton (197th, 23.32), Olivia Hall (244th, 25.40) and Edie Hutchinson (267th, 27.17) all enjoyed the test against the country’s best and the close and fun team spirit that helped the U17 women’s team to finish 26th overall on the day.
Five U15 boys took on the challenge of the slightly shorter 4.5km course. All five athletes are of similar capability, which always makes for an exciting inter-club battle.
Cameron Black (423rd, 20.11) confidently led the team home, enjoying the occasion of his first National race. Fin Hutchinson (432nd, 20.17) continues to improve, as demonstrated by this performance being some 12 per cent higher in the field compared to last year’s National.
Ned Campbell (442nd, 20.31) has quietly and confidently improved all season and was pleased with his day’s work. Harry Gravelsons (456th, 20.53) was not so happy, however, as his shoe slipped half off through the unforgiving mud and this lost around 30 seconds as he made the necessary adjustments.
Ollie Adams (480th, 21.59) struggled a little around the course with a tight leg muscle, but nevertheless improved his overall relative place compared to last year. The U15 boys’ team finished 52nd overall.
Only one athlete represented Stratford AC in the U13 girls’ race over 3km. Holly Newton (364th, 16.04) paced herself well across the one tough lap, looking strong throughout and being justly rewarded with a great finish in strong field of more than 450 athletes.
Similarly, Owain Jones (288th, 25.26) was the only Stratford AC athlete in the U17 men’s race over 6km. Owain gave it his all in the early stages, but commented after the race that, after the first short lap, his lungs and then his legs started to burn as the muddy and difficult conditions started to take their toll.
Alex Adams (36th, 12.23) represented the club in the U13 boys’ race over one 3km lap. Alex started strongly over the challenging, very long uphill start and continued in the same vein across the rest of the course to claim an improvement of 40 places compared to last year.
Five U15 girls represented the club, making up a team that finished 36th overall. Georgie Campbell (12th, 15.20) made a strong, controlled start, placing herself just outside the top 20 after the first short lap.
Georgie’s strength then became a comparative advantage over the soft, muddy undulations and she used her speed well in the closing stages to claim the right to say she is the 12th best U15 girl cross country runner in England.
Kate Dufty (174th, 17.06) fully enjoyed her first National experience running in her usual fluent style. Ellie Bryan (355th, 18.41) was perhaps not as comfortable with the tricky conditions, but nonetheless put in a strong run with equal enjoyment.
More at home over 300m on the track, Charlotte Gravelsons (381st, 19.07) demonstrated her versatility and used her track speed well in the closing stages to pick up a number of places, whilst Isobel Barnett (429th, 20.18) tackled the course with gritty determination and should be pleased with her first National experience.
The junior women were originally set a 6km challenge over one small lap and one larger lap. In a rather bizarre turn of events, Hannah Bexson (142nd, 36.56) was, at one stage, leading the race while walking!
Hannah was enjoying a relaxed run when, ahead of her, a marshal unexpectedly and unfortunately sent the leaders the wrong way.
This meant the vast majority of the athletes ran around half a mile further than the original course. Not fooled easily, Hannah ran the right way, but in the confusion started to walk as the leaders, unexpectedly from Hannah’s perspective, passed her.
Hannah then carried on running and probably ended up a few places higher than would have otherwise been the case. It must be said though the marshaling mistake did not have a direct impact on the overall outcome of the race.
It was again good to see a full team of senior women represent Stratford AC over the 8km course and enable the club to feature in the team rankings.
Emma Bexson (370th, 38.39) led the team home with steely determination in a great run that placed her just inside the top third of the field – an improvement compared to last year.
Suzi Graham (710th, 43.55) thoroughly enjoyed one of her best performances for the club as her comments afterwards of “I absolutely loved it” proved.
Rebecca Pridham (877th, 47.43) prefers a proper cross country course and so equally appeared to enjoy the challenge, smiling pretty much all the way around. Pip Abrams (1,086th, 59.32) ran solidly throughout and helped the team finish in 96th place overall.
Seven Stratford AC senior men competed over the 12km course – an even tougher test now the course conditions had deteriorated and the wind started to bite with icy cool zest.
The competition was fierce with more than 2,300 senior men taking part, led by Adam Hickey representing Southend AC in an amazing winning time of 39.35.
Tim Hutchinson (840th, 52.28) led the Stratford AC team home, spurred on by the fantastic support from the rest of the team, in his usual consistent metronomic fashion. Indeed, Tim’s performance was almost identical in relative terms to the 2017 National.
Malcolm Bowyer (1,326th, 57.09) was fully aware of, and spurred on by, the presence of David Smyth (1,361st, 57.25) and the loud vocal support dotted around the course. David was very pleased with his run despite not being able to catch Malcolm in the closing downhill stretch.
Mike Sheppard (1,902th, 64.35), short of his own special benchmark, still enjoyed the challenge and atmosphere. David Wolstencroft (2,136th, 69.44) started strongly and seemed to get even stronger as the 12km unfolded, completing a great performance.
Phil Marshall (2,211th, 73.20) continues to enjoy his cross country running, completing yet another National Championships, running strongly throughout. Neil Musk (2,305th, 82.04) found the course and conditions a challenge which he was pleased to overcome, completing his first cross country race of the season.
Indeed, all the junior and senior athletes should be credited for completing such a demanding course at a national level. Overall the senior men’s team finished in 152nd place.
Report compiled by Brian Gravelsons.