Frustration, disappointment and thankfully at last elation – the emotions that we team managers frequently suffer – we did so in spades in Saturday’s National cross-country championships at Parliament Hill. After a night before that even stretched the normal vicissitudes confronted by team managers, I ended up having to pick up Steve Gallienne at around 2.30am from Gordano Services and find him a bed to put his head down for
two or thee hours before our departure at 7am. Fortuitously one of our student runners Steve Mitchell, who I had to wake up at around 11.30pm, came to the rescue and re-woke to look after Steve.
With the senior men’s team already decimated, as previously explained, it was the final straw when poor Andy Glover was taken ill on Friday and unable to drive Steve and Kev Heywood from Bideford to catch the minibus as planned. I tried all my Devon contacts to try and arrange a lift for Steve but only a remarkably generous gesture from fellow coach Gordon Seward, whom I only got to speak just before 11pm, to drive Steve up to Bristol at midnight, solved what had seemed a practical impossibility. So at least we got Steve to the start, but sod’s law struck again and we both might just as well have enjoyed a proper night’s sleep as he lost both his shoes in the cloying mud in the first minute of the race, and despite struggling on for a whole lap of the course barefoot, finally had to concede that it just wasn’t his day!
By then mind you Keith and I had also begun to think that the gods were against us as the failure of Katie Knowles to make it – for whatever reason we don’t know – had already cost the U20 women’s team a certain medal, though all credit to them they still took 4th place.
As the U15 boys had earlier surpassed expectations by finishing an equally frustrating 4th in their race, we began to wonder where any medals were going to come from, especially as Rob Galt had dropped out of the U17 team and Nathan Young fallen heavily and injured his ribs during the race. Yet we need not have worried as our women’s team, well aware that they were in the hot seat and our last hope, as so often in the past, came up trumps again. Steph Barnes, Amy Chalk, Kate Goodhead, Imogen Ainsworth and Claire Hallissey all packed brilliantly in the spring sunshine to finish closely together between 22nd and 36th place of the 500 strong field and take the silver medal behind the hot favourites Chanwood and well clear of Northern champions Sheffield Hallamshire.
I make no apology for concentrating on the team results, as the National has always been regarded as a club team championship, but having said that there were several superb individual performances, headed by young Annabel Gummow and Ellie Wimshurst.
We had been led to believe that Annabel was not actually going to race, but not only did she turn up but gave Aldershot’s unbeaten young prodigy and reigning champion Emily Gorecka a real fight, pushing her all the way to finish just six seconds down in the silver medal position. Clearly my old friend Chris Wooldridge, whose wife Maureen used to be a member of the women’s team, is happily re-esconced in the UK and working his coaching magic again. Keep it up Annabel. Hopefully Naomi Speake will be back to join you in the autumn when the stress fracture of her foot has finally cleared up.
As for Ellie, she may have ended up in the bridemaid’s 4th position – our third of the day – in the U17 championship, but it was surely her best ever performance, and following her Midland title victory, underlines her growing stature at national level. What’s more, with the first three all likely to contest the World U20 trial, she must be a leading contender for the forthcoming Inter-Counties championship.
Other individuals in particular to shine by finishing in the top 20 were our recruits from Hereford Rhys Park (U15) and Emily Merrick (U20), while others in or just outside the top 50 of the huge fields were Adam Speake and Zach Tobias(U15), Vanessa Brann (U17), Kokob Meheri and Kirsty Hamilton (U20), Rich Peters, Dan Woolford and Harry Webb (U20) and Susie Richards (Senior).
A special word too for Craig Peters and Steve Mitchell, who shrugged off the men’s team problems by both making the top 80 of the near 1500 strong field on their debut in the senior men’s championship, Craig too less than 48 hours after posting a new pb of 14:29 at an international race in Armagh on Thursday night.