THE 2020 National Cross Country Championships took place at Wollaton Park in Nottingham and, surprisingly, the weather was almost reasonable without any of the recent storms, although there was certainly plenty of mud from the recent rains which made the course a good challenge for the Stratford AC runners and Co who had travelled from across the country.
The Stratford team, although fewer in numbers than in some years, had a fine day with the highlight a fourth place from Alex Adams in the under 15 boys’ race despite being amongst the youngest in the race.
The first event was the U17 women’s race of 5.5km over two laps. Stratford’s Georgie Campbell has enjoyed a successful first season in this age group and started strongly in the leading group but unfortunately faded a little in the second half to finish in 27th position with a time of 23.19.
Ellen Taylor (160, 27.01) was unfortunate to fall early in the race in the treacherous conditions but recovered well to continue her improvement this season, finishing just outside the top half.
The next race was the U15 boys over a 4.8km course where there were just two Stratford runners but both were deservedly pleased with their races. Last year’s under 13 boys’ bronze medallist Alex Adams moved into his new age group with confidence following a good season so far.
He continued in a similar manner, running well from the start in a lead group of five. Lewis Sullivan from St Edmunds has been unbeaten this season and proved too strong for the rest of the field and pulled Ben Peck with him.
Chris Perkins tried to go with them while Adams hung back off the pace to save himself for the finish which proved a good decision as he finished strongly in 16:55 in fourth place, just three seconds outside of the medals and comfortably clear of fifth place.
Taylor Stubbins (199, 20:00) is in his first season with the club and had another fine run – showing his potential for the future both in cross country and on the track.
In the U13 girls’ race was over a 3.7km course and Stratford’s girls made real progress from last season to finish 24th team, up from 39th last season.
County champion Niamh Hillard was first home for the team in 17:36 – incredibly improving from 356th last year to 101st. Maddie Linfoot (164, 18:21) was not at her best and was disappointed with her run but still ran well and battled through to the finish.
Caitlin Boyle (258, 19:43) had a strong run enjoying the mud and was followed by Charlotte Skinner (306, 20:46) who has only recently joined the cross country team.
Tilly Campbell (324, 21:18) improved by 100 places since last to demonstrate her improvement while Harriet Black (348, 22:33) completed the team in her first Nationals.
The under 17 men’s team ran over a long 6.7k course and were delighted to claim a top 20 team position. Josh Dobedoe (211, 28:15) ran his usual well-paced race and just held off Ned Campbell (214, 28:20) who had earlier fallen in the worst of the mud.
Meanwhile, Cameron Black (262, 31:12) and Fin Hutchinson (270, 31:36) had their own personal battle, spurring each other on and completing the team.
Next up were the under 13 boys and following late withdrawals there were just the two Stratford runners racing on the 3.7km course and both performed well with Joe Lewis (265, 18:04) just ahead of Seb Hillard (291, 18:39).
Many of the races were further than advertised and the under 15 girls was no exception as the athletes were expecting a 4km distance but ran 4.8km. Olivia Robinson (173, 22.47) has had a tremendous season in her first season in the age group and ran consistently throughout the race.
Abigail Skinner (331, 26.12) and Holly Newton (370, 28:25) both had good runs and all three girls will still be in this age group next season when they will be looking forward to progressing.
Daisy Musk (113, 34:56) was the sole Stratford runner in the 6.7km under 20 women’s race and continued her good progress in her first season in the age group even though the longer, heavier courses are not her favourite.
Straight after the junior women it was the turn of the seniors who ran over 9km, despite expecting an 8km race! Cadie Hibberd (101, 39:06) revels in the longer races and was delighted with her performance, improving massively on last year when she was 314th although she was aiming for the top 100!
Vicky Sharpe (398, 46:47) has recently joined the club and has proved to be a critical member of the team and so it proved in this race as she ran strongly. Sarah Vernon (651, 53:12) and Rebecca Pridham (696, 54:49) were close together for most of the race, although pulled away in the final 2km.
Both had tremendous finishes on the final muddy straight with Rebecca surprising herself by overtaking three other runners with her sprint finish. The team finished in a fine 57th place – another big improvement on last year.
The final race was the senior men competed over a 12.9km course of four different distance laps. With more than 1,500 men racing, the course was congested at the start but it coped well, although the men probably had the worst of the mud.
As is often the case, first for Stratford was Tim Hutchinson (677, 57.23) who improved by more than 150 places on 2019.
John Raby (796, 59:20) is in his first cross country season and this was a big step up from his previous races, so he should be pleased with the race. For Seth Turner (1,074, 63:40) this was amazingly his first ever cross country race and he certainly started with a good one.
Only five seconds behind was Malcolm Bowyer (1,080, 63:45) who had enjoyed the competition with Seth if not the final outcome and next was Mike Sheppard (1,506, 74.10) who found the going very tough.
Despite this, he improved his position by 170 places on 2019 which itself was an improvement of 230 places on the previous years – he must be a contender for most-improved!
The final runner of the day for Stratford was James Deacon (1,711, 96:08) to complete the men’s team who came in 104th place to finish the day off.
Report by Paul Hawkins.