MANY Stratford Athletic Club runners went home pleased with their performances at the Midland Cross Country Championships at Prestwold Hall in Loughborough on Saturday.
The event was due to take place at Stafford Common but due to waterlogged conditions the venue was changed at a week’s notice to the Leicestershire hall.
The officials performed an amazing job in such a short space of time to reorganise the whole event and, with everything having worked perfectly, they deserve huge credit.
The new course was far from waterlogged, affording some good running conditions, limited muddy areas, the obligatory demanding hill, a faux ditch and an optional log jump thrown in for good measure.
It was not the course, more so the biting wind, which made the overall conditions a tough challenge for Stratford’s junior and senior athletes alike.
The Midland Championships is the next stage on from the County Championships, where the athletes can test themselves against the region’s best, hence the competition was tough.
The U13 boys’ race was first on the agenda and five Stratford AC athletes finished the race.
Josh Angus (38th, 14.27) led the team home, demonstrating the high standard he has consistently shown all season. Cameron Collins (73rd, 15.47) battled well with the conditions, followed by Ned Campbell only a few places behind, but he has yet to be given an official finishing place or time.
James Bexson (93rd, 17.42), Fin Hutchinson (94th, 17.54) and Harry Gravelsons (97th, 18.21) all had good, solid races over the 3km they should be proud of in such a competitive field. Overall the team finished in ninth place.
The U13 girls’ race was an exciting affair in which Warwickshire county champion Georgie Campbell (8th, 14.32) and Ellen Taylor (34th, 15.42) made an incredibly fast start.
Ellen led the race at the beginning by over five metres as they turned into the main field and made their way down towards the ditch, with Georgie keeping close attention in third.
Ellen eventually paid the price for the early speed over the rest of the 3km, but still finished in a very creditable 34th place. Georgie, on the other hand, kept up with the front-runners, again showing her immense amount of grit and determination to finish in a thoroughly deserved top ten position.
The team was completed by Millie Perkins (84th, 17.48), who will gain a large amount of experience from this race which she will be able to draw upon in the years to come, and Charlotte Gravelsons (85th, 18.01), who improved on her overall ranking from the previous year’s race.
The U13 girls’ team finished seventh overall, maintaining the position achieved in the 2015 championship.
Two U15 boys took on the 4km course – the extra 1km coming in the form of an adjacent undulating field. Owain Jones (64th, 21.23) continued his journey of improvement in recent months, keeping ahead of Archie Musk (67th, 21.40) who battled hard to achieve a good result.
The U17 and U20 women raced together over 5km. Hannah Bexson (46th, 28.46) was the sole Stratford AC representative in this category and enjoyed testing herself against the competitive field, finishing ahead of three U20 women.
By the time of the U15 girls’ race, the sun was fully in control of the sky, lighting up the course, but unfortunately not winning the battle with the icy cold wind that kept whipping the athletes at every turn.
Imogen Sheppard (34th, 22.06) started well, struggled in the middle section and then regained her composure to pass a number of athletes in the closing stages, including Abi Wootton (40th, 22.20) who continues to impress with her improved running.
Olivia Hall (62nd, 23.28), Daisy Musk (68th, 23.52) and Edie Hutchinson (72nd, 24.01) all ran well, with Edie closing the gap on her club rivals and also improving on her 2015 ranking.
Overall the U15 girls’ team finished in ninth place.
Three U17 men tackled the 6km course. Fergus Allison (17th, 25.03) and Oscar Barbour (22nd, 25.16) continued their sparkling form with two further fine performances, finishing higher than their County Championship position might have predicted.
Seb Hopper (44th, 26.40) competed in an exciting finish which saw three athletes battle it out to the line, passing and then being passed. Seb did all he could to gain that extra place.
The senior women and men’s teams finished the day with some notable performances from the few athletes who chose to race.
Lisa Dallisson (92nd, 38.00) had a tremendous battle with Sarah Odell (117th, 44.04), in the women’s 8km race. Sarah had Lisa in sight the whole race but could not close the gap as both finished ahead of expectations.
With the number and quality of senior women in the club, it is disappointing there were so few runners taking part.
In the men’s 12km race, Tim Hutchinson (115th, 46.49) led the men’s team home in fine style, improving his relative performance compared to last year’s race by a number of places.
Kieran Tursner (187th, 50.21) battled with the tough conditions and was followed home by an in-form Malcolm Bowyer (196th, 50.51), who seemed to revel in the challenges the course posed.
Mike Sheppard (248th, 53.21) struggled to maintain his form and relative position, whereas Neil Musk (334th, 1.05.48) will be delighted with his first ever cross country race.
The ever-reliable Phil Marshall (345th, 1.07.52) completed the men’s team which finished 28th on the day, despite carrying an injury from a fall the previous Sunday.
The team’s position was an improvement of four places compared to 2015.
The next stage is the National Cross Country Championships in February when all three (North, South and Midland) regions meet and a number of Stratford AC runners will test themselves against the country’s top cross country runners.
Report compiled by Brian Gravelsons and Paul Hawkins.