Our women maintained their long-standing medal-winning record in the English National cross-country championships that were contested over a traditionally hilly and gruelling course at Roundhay Park in Leeds.
On a weekend unfortunately more notable for absentees than success the women’s team really looked up against it.With two of last year’s silver medal-winning quartet missing – mountain running international Kate Goodhead, who is still on the sidelines with a stress fracture of her foot and Helen Fines due to her commitment to the opening race in the National Fell-running Cup series- plus Susie Richards’ late withdrawal with a hamstring strain, our medal-winning prospects looked remote. But this was to discount the marked progress made over the last year by Claire Hallissey, Rebekah Randell and Imogen Ainsworth, who all surpassed anything they had done previously in the National by finishing 10th, 14th and 21st respectively of the 500 strong field. This amounted to a 30-40 point bonus on last year’s silver-medal winning total and made all the difference to the final outcome as we had none other of our current first team squad to complete the score. So it was left to a former gold medal team winner Dorothea Lee-Cockerill – a mother of two children no less since that last triumph – or Vicky Tester to minimise the damage.
Both made heroic efforts to fill the void, with Dorchie, who additionally had managed only a couple of runs in the past month due to the recurrence of a long-standing achiiles tendon problem, summoning her new found leg strength from cycle training to haul herself up the final leg-sapping climb to scrape into the top 90 finishers and make sure the brilliant performances of our lead trio did not go unrewarded. It may have been bronze rather than last year’s silver, but had Susie been able to run it would surely have been silver again, and with either Kate or Helen, who would both have revelled in the heart-breaking hill, then who knows?
If our ladies suffered from missing faces, the men’s team actually capitulated for the same reason. Talk about a team manager’s worst nightmare, but in the end we could not field a representative team as virtually all our first choice squad were unavailable. Just to name a few of those who had to cry off:
1 ROBBIE BUGDEN was forced to withdraw due to the Inter-Services championship unbelievably being scheduled for the day before the race on Friday, which to add to the frustration he duly won by a street!
2 TOM MERSON, who had been nursing a sore achilles, aggravated it in his final pre-race training session, and due to the contours of the Leeds course, felt he could not risk it with the 12-stage relays coming up.
3 PHIL WYLIE withdrew as he was committed the a National Triathlon training camp abroad.
4 ROB WHALLEY has only just started running again after a month off due to a shoulder operation and was simply not in shape for such a big race.
5 DAN WOOLFORD had to pull out due to a heavy cold and incipient chest infection despite having made a weekend hotel booking for the race.
6 STEVE McGUIGAN and CRAIG PETERS were both invited to the annual Armagh international running festival and were following up Thursday’s 5K with a cross-country event on the Saturday.
Our disappointment was further heightened by the fact that U23 international Tom Russell, who usually opts to miss the English National due to its invariable clash with the Scottish, was available for the first time this year as the Scottish championships were held the previous weekend. What’s more he was even keener to run as he had been forced to miss the Scottish event due to a minor injury problem. Well if we were in dire need of something to cheer us up Tom certainly made up for the lost team almost single-handedly by producing his finest performance yet as a senior to finish on the heels of several of the country’s top internationals in 6th place in the huge field of some 2000 runners. Running positively from the outset, he was always around the top ten and held off a strong last lap challenge from Midland champion James Walsh, behind whom he had had to be satisfied with 4th place in the Midland championship a month ago.
Nor was Tom our only top ten finisher, for Rich Peters produced by far his best performance of the winter to finish 7th in the U20 junior championship – in a carbon copy of Tom’s experience beating off the challenge of the Midland champion Simon Clowes, to whom he had also finished 4th at Stafford Common – while young Zak Tobias again exceeded all expectations, as he had done when taking the bronze in the Midland championship, by ending up 6th in the U15 boys event.
Despite Luke Jacobs suffering an off-day in the U15 event following a recent cold, the boys still finished a creditable 5th in the team race, but the U20 junior men ended up no better than 10th after both Nathan Young, following a heavy fall, and Matt Peters, who was carrying a sore hip, both dropped out.
With no other of our Young Athletes teams competing due to the unfortunate, or rather inexcusable, scheduling of the South West Schools championships on the same day as the national, it was left to Emily Merrick and Naomi Speake to fly the flag single-handed in the U20 and U17 events, and both did well to make the top 20 in their respective races, with Emily 20th and Naomi 14th