FOR THE leading Stratford Athletic Club junior cross country runners, the climax to a long season was the 60th annual English Schools’ Cross Country Championships at Sefton Park in Liverpool.
This also proved to be the last competition of any sort for some time because of Coronavirus. The championships were last held on this traditional course in a 235-acre park to the south of Liverpool city centre in 2008 and it was certainly a challenging course with both hills and plenty of mud.
For the first time Stratford AC had 20 athletes running, with 17 competing for Warwickshire and three in the Gloucestershire team.
The highlight for the Stratford contingent was Alex Adams, who is in a rich vein of form, running for Gloucestershire in the junior boys race.
Last year Alex had been 19th in the race but was confident of improving and so it proved. Alex was always in the leading group after making a quick start in the 4,400m race.
By the 3,000m mark the group started to split up when eventual winner Ben Peck, who had made a comparatively slow start, pulled away.
Alex continued looking very comfortable to eventually finish fifth in 14:39 with only 17 seconds covering the top six athletes.
In normal circumstances the first eight runners are selected to run for England in the Home International the week after but sadly this was cancelled due to Coronavirus so Alex will have to wait for his first England vest.
Alex said: “Good run on a fast, flat course. Disappointed not to have been able to stay with the front group of great athletes right to the end but worked hard regardless.
“Weather was good and I felt I gave it my all and ran well but tired towards the end. My goal was top eight and I achieved it but really disappointed we didn’t come away the England vest.”
In the same race both Theo Skirvin (282, 17:13) and Robbie Gemmill (318, 17:57) were making their debut at these championships and enjoyed the experience.
The first race of the day had been the intermediate girls, run over 3,800m, in which Stratford AC had two athletes running.
Leading the Warwickshire team home was Charly Marshall (151, 14:22) who ran her usual well-paced race and was moving through the field well at the end. Ellen Taylor (294, 15:20) continued her return to form in third place for Warwickshire.
The junior girls race was the shortest race of the day over 3,000m but all five Stratford runners found it a tough test. All four in the Warwickshire team were racing in their first English Schools so will have benefited from the experience and will hope to return next season.
Niamh Hillard (254, 13:00) was third in the team followed by Maddie Linfoot (285, 13:15) who was unlucky to have fallen at the start, with Maisie-Joy Spriggs (312, 13:32) and Abbi Cooper (317, 13:37) continuing their season-long rivalry.
Meanwhile, Olivia Robinson (198, 12:44) ran her best race yet in a Gloucestershire vest to finish strongly.
Niamh said: “Great team spirit across the age groups. Fast and furious tight course/race. A little disappointed with position, however will use the experience to become a better runner.”
Maddie commented: “The experience was great but I fell just after the start which meant I didn’t have as good a race as I’d have liked.”
Olivia said: “I had a really good start out of the pen, which allowed me to hold a good position throughout the race.”
In the intermediate boys race over 5,500m, James Mucklow (276, 21:32) was not quite at his best following illness but Josh Dobedoe (294, 21:53) and Ned Campbell (298, 21:57) both had a tremendous race, with Josh just having the stronger finish.
The senior girls race over 4,400m had four Stratford runners, three of whom were in their final year of schools’ cross country.
However, Georgie Campbell (51, 17:31), who has another year in the schools’, led the way for the team as has often been the way during the season. This was probably one race too many for Georgie who was not quite at her best.
Emily Field (140, 18:43) was racing fresh from winning the under 20 Gloucester League title and she had a well-paced run and finished strongly to pick up places on the finishing straight.
Next of the Stratford contingent were Imogen Sheppard (210, 19:57) and Daisy Musk (233, 20:17) who both enjoyed their final rivalry at the schools’ races.
Imogen said: “I was very happy with my run and to just compete in my last English schools’. After completing all six I am most proud I managed to persuade Paul to get his face painted in the Warwickshire colours in my last year.” Coach and author of this piece Paul Hawkins had no comment.
The senior boys race was the last over the longest distance of 6,700m and the worst conditions were possibly the toughest as the mud seemed to get thicker.
Brothers Will Crowfoot (248, 24:59) and Tom Crowfoot (276, 25:38) are never usually too far apart in races and this was no different, although Will pulled away in mid-race.
Owain Jones (305, 26:46) was pleased to complete a full set of six championships while he has been eligible and had a steady run to finish off.