Well done to all those who made it to Sutton Park on Saturday. Both teams did us proud, with the women taking the silver medals for the 4th consecutive year behind perennial rivals Charnwood, whom we last beat in this race when we won in 2005, and the men, despite missing five of our likely six long leg runners for the forthcoming National, exceeding expectations by finishing as high as 4th and well within striking distance of our conquerors Tipton, Coventry and Notts.
The women’s team had Claire Hallissey to thank for a brilliant last leg that saw her catch and pass Coventry on the anchor leg with the 4th fastest time of the day. But the other girls all did their bit, with young Emily Merrick (17:54) making a fine effort to finish a close 8th on the first
stage. Kate Goodhead (17:10) then rapidly pulled us up to third that Nikki Brookland (18:07), making a welcome comeback to the team, Suzie Richards (17:56) and Imogen Ainsworth (17:35) had no trouble consolidating, leaving Claire with a challenging but bridgeable gap to close on Coventry which she set about doing in her own inimitable relentless style.
A special mention too for the B team who beat all the other clubs apart from Charwood, Coventry and Notts to finish a very creditable 6th. Their star performer was Debbie Niccol (17:44) who was actually faster than two of the A team. Keep it up Deb and please run the odd race to give us an idea of your fitness. Having already finished runners-up to Charnwood in the National cross-country, the challenge is to try and match it on the road. As Keith has indicated, we are hoping to have Amy Chalk, Katie Knowles and possibly Lucy Hasell-Mcallister available too for the National, so all is possible. Nor are Charnwood invincible,strong as they are with two of Britain’s World cross team in their line-up. We have beaten them before, and who knows with Kate Reed hopefully back in action by the end of the summer, could we unseat them in the 4-stge or this time next year.
The men’s team was an odd mix of many or our student age runners and our ever reliable vets, and on paper it looked as if a place in the top six was probably the best we could hope for as we were without all our top men except Kevin Heywood. No matter they all ran consistently and in fact we were never out of the top six (Swansea were only competing as guests) from Steve Mitchell’s solid opening leg of 27:49 onwards. Phil Parry (28:25), Steve McGuigan (28:09) and Craig Peters (27:42) all ran up to their current form on the other long legs to provide a strong platform for our short leg runners. Kevin was of course the star among them, his 14:36 giving him the tune-up he wanted for the National and lifting us up to 5th place at halfway, but congratulations too to Harry Webb whose 15:00 clocking underlined the value of his recent indoor season. There was little to choose between the other six runners, whose times were all covered by only just over 20 seconds. Mick O’Doherty (15:00) and Alec Woods (15:58) seem ageless, Dan Woolford (15:47) maintained his recent improvement and there was an encouraging debut by recent recruit James Tugwell (15:57). Only Rich Peters (15:44) and Tom Kingsnorth (16:07) were a little below par.
However if we are to mount a viable challenge in the National you are looking at an average of just 15 mins for the six short legs and 27 for the long stages. Yet this is not beyond the team we have. Hopefully Tom Russell, Rob Whalley, Jon Wills, Phil Wylie, Tom Merson and Oli Mott will all be in the mix with Kev for the long legs and one of them join the fastest of our short stage men on the other six legs. We can certainly give any of the Midland clubs, who were all at near full strength last Saturday, a run for their money, and though the semi-pro London oufits of Newham and Essex and Belgrave will be a tough nut to crack we are not a
million miles away from springing a surprise. So please put a spark into your training over the next fortnight and let’s see if we can get much closer to the medals than last year’s 8th place. A top six position is well within our reach this time, while the ladies can hopefully better last year’s frustrating 4th place finish.