Having never been to the Somme or Glastonbury I cannot say which would be the most appropriate comparison: All I can say is that having been involved with cross-country running since 1965 I cannot remember having seen anything quite like Saturday’s National course at Alton Towers. Nor can I begin to wonder what it was like for the club athletes who took part and completed the course. Again I can only testify to the problems I had keeping my feet as a spectator which seriously curtailed my usual track-side support (indeed mid-way through the afternoon I felt the early on-set of hypothermia and it was only a hasty retreat to the shelter of the minibus and a change of clothing and 15 minutes with the heater on that restored me to watch the 2 senior races). Still enough of the scene setting.
On an afternoon that challenged the stoutest of hearts Annabel Gummow shone as an individual and the Junior Ladies Team performed well to both bring home bronze medals. In the first race of the day Annabel came up against two of the biggest young talents in their age group in the Country, Emelia Gorecka and Jessica Judd. Annabel chased both until she ran herself to a virtual stand still as Emelia won clearly in 20.21 but Annabel was within 3 seconds of Jessica as the Chelmsford athlete took silver in 20.51 and Annabel the bronze in 20.54. This was the latest in a long line of fine performances from Annabel and showed that she will perform no matter what the under foot conditions. Olivia Sadler showed that it was no course for track runners as she finished 34th in 23.50, clearly not relishing the mud, stagnant water and the ‘hill’. Although not as high as Olivia would have wished for it was still a creditable performance as 210 finished in this age group.
The Club’s one team medal came in the Women’s under-20 race where Ellie Wimshurst showed that she is a true exponent of the art of cross-country running and after a conservative start pulled through to sixth place in 26.43 to show that she is returning to her best form after a long period of illness and injury. Behind her Hannah Alderson and Rosemary Hurford deserve special mention, the former running with a cold and the latter having been consigned to bed with flu as recently as the Wednesday. Hannah, another athlete who is clearly more at home on the roads and track, ran a strong race to finish 17th in 28.02 although clearly never able to get her long stride flowing. Meanwhile Rosemary gave 100% for the team and despite being over a minute behind a University-team mate she had beaten in the BUCS nevertheless did enough in 71st (32.23) to help the team to bronze medals with a combined score of 94 points (behind Aldershot, Farnham and District (who finished 3 in the first 4 for a clear team victory)). Well done to all three athletes – my view is that if there is a chance of a team medal you should always go for it and two of the three members of the team could easily have cried off in the week leading up to the race.
The only other young lady to compete was Annasley Park who was our sole representative in the under-15 girls where she finished a creditable 68th in 16.57 in a field of 322 finishers.
In the Senior women’s race the numbers whittled down until only 4 towed the start line (had such a thing been visible) and this race was reduced from 8 to 6 kilometres and most of the field were left wondering when the exact start time would be, with Charlie Coffey only just making the start. Rebekah Randell started strongly to be around the dozen mark early on but a lack of training and racing in recent months showed as she dropped back slightly but nevertheless 25th (26.15) was an excellent performance in the circumstances. Behind her Nikki Brookland just made the top 50 in 49th place in 27.11 and was one who certainly missed the additional 2k and the lack of hills (bizarrely for the only race of the day the organisers decided to use the top of the course only). Charlie Coffely battled gamely throughout and remained in sight of Nikki to the finish as she completed the course in 27.28 in 59th place. Finally – in what was probably the worst experience of her life – Imogen Ainsworth with bad knees and an even worse back could hardly have imagined conditions such as those on the day in her worst nightmare and it was only the knowledge that she needed to finish for the club to have a scoring team that kept her going in 109th place in 28.52. The team finished sixth in a race where there were 552 finishers. Arch rivals Charnwood were the victors.
The men were most strongly represented in the Senior age group (the tenth of the ten races): this was another race that was reduced in length from 12km to 10km but this time the hill was kept in. If the course was bad early on by the start of the final race it was non-stop mud. Last time out at Alton Towers the senior men had taken an unexpected bronze – here they challenged manfully throughout and there was a contrast in approaches up front. Robbie Bugden started very fast and then hung on tenaciously for the remainder of the 10 km. Behind him Phil Wylie and Tom Russell started more cautiously – a move which obviously paid off for them. On the final lap the three were close together and were all around the top 20 and in the final charge for the line club bragging rights went to Robbie (16th in 37.19) as he just held off Phil Wylie (17th in 37.20) and Tom Russell (19th in 37.29). Owain Jones was another who showed that a steady start paid dividends as he patiently worked his way up to 77th in 39.24 – a really good result after a long lay off – and still carrying an injury. Tom Merson is obviously some way short of full fitness as he finished 102nd in 39.58 and only just held off Andrew Chambers (104th in 40.04). With six in 104 the team was a very creditable fifth and weren’t too far away from a bronze medal.
What was good to see was the back up for the team in the Senior Men’s race with the club finishing 11 athletes. Matt Crane is still learning the craft and a fast start was not necessarily the order of the day although a gutsy run saw Matt just outside the scoring team in 126th (40.04). John Wills’ known dislike of the country was never more evident as 175th in 41.27 is 11 and a half minutes slower than he has run for 10 km on the road – but yes the conditions really were that bad. Steve Goss finished 315th in 44.21, Rob Whitham finished 381st in 45.32 and Dan Noad was the final club finisher in 441st place in 46.34. So all 11 were well up a final field of 1,302 finishers.
Elsewhere in the male age groups club representation was sparse – something that will no doubt generate considerable discussion in the coming weeks. Matt Deacon showed he is a real trooper as he was the sole finisher in the Under-20 men’s race in 34.14 (126th out of 183 finishers). Sean Hazell again had problems with stitch and did not finish (the sole non-finisher from the club on an afternoon when drop-outs were numerous and the St John Ambulance were working flat out all afternoon).
In the under-17 men’s race Rhys Park (32nd in 25.19) and Adam Speake (68th in 26.12) must have been left wondering how the Midland Champions can’t close up a team in the National. Adam in particular ran a typical gutsy race, although I would expect that Rhys was hoping to finish a lot higher.
There were no under-15 boys running and Ali Hurford blooded (or should that be mudded) two of her under-13s as Gerorge 276th and Tom Grant 321st made their debuts at a National Championships. At least on the minibus on the way home neither seemed to have been put off by the experience and perhaps in years to come – when the events of the weekend have passed into National cross-country folk lore – they will be able to look back and say with pride I raced that day and finished.
As for me – I’m off to wash my kit (again) and as for my shoes I’ll probably consign them to the dustbin – unless you know someone who needs top soil for their garden.
Keith Brackstone – 20th February 2011