Midland Cross-Country – Siberia Comes to Stafford

Before talking about the club’s performances on Saturday I must begin by praising the performances of the Midland Counties and Stafford Harriers. At a time when health and safety is used to stop just about anything from happening they took the decision to warn people that the conditions were challenging and to act accordingly and to carry on with the race. A brave decision but a good one – the conditions were challenging but certainly on the club coach on the way home everyone had enjoyed themselves and the talk was about who was there and who performed well.

The Club had taken the decision to target the Midland Cross-Country Championships as its winter 2012/2013 main event – it is just a shame that numerous members of the club failed to back the team management on this. One group that did target the race was the under-13 boys. Ali’s Army fancied another crack at Team Bath after finishing runners-up to them at Bicton Park and Ali was certainly going for gold. Some good tactical running saw the lads start quite conservatively giving the conditions due respect as Team Bath set off with four athletes at the front. Hugh Sadler led the charge as he fought through to fifth place and finished strongly only 15 seconds behind the winner (John Howorth 11.00) and 10 seconds off a medal. Hugh’s time was 11.15. Behind him Kyle Haynes finished twelfth in 11.37 showing good speed up a very slippery finishing straight which included a semi-ditch half way along that was particularly challenging. Anton Mills concentrated mid-race to come home seventeenth in 11.48 and Reuben Wimshurst (22nd in 12.00) and Tom Snell (23rd in 12.07) were the next two home. Luke Garner Greene finished 77th in 13.43 and Otis Harding Hill was 81st in 13.55 – there were 98 finishers.

Team Bath finished 1, 2, 3 and 6 to score an amazing 12 points. Ali’s Army were again runners-up scoring 56 points but taking silver medals in the South-West and Midland Championships in the same year is a great achievement and Ali and the boys are to be congratulated – their commitment and team support could show the club seniors a thing or two.

The second race of the day was the Men’s Under-20 – a category the club won in 2012. Kieran Young was our sole representative in 2013 (a real disappointment as on paper we have the athletes to have successfully defended this title). Kieran ran well to finish tenth in 23.45 and showed that he is becoming a very consistent performer. There were 36 finishers and only two teams finished a scoring four.

The under-13 girl’s race saw Dave Taylor’s quartet finish ninth out of twenty-one teams. Eloise Browne didn’t like the surface but still led the team home in 27th place in 12.57 in a very competitive finish. Olivia Croft was next in 61st place (13.41) followed by Isobel Leeming (65th in 13.44) and Emily Moore (75th in 13.53). There were 128 finishers. With the exception of Eloise the other three girls are newcomers to the sport and found the conditions really challenging – I hope the experience doesn’t put them off as they all gave 100% and the team finished in the top half of the field.    

The Under-15 Boy’s race didn’t get off to the best possible start for the club as a couple of the team didn’t quite make the start. Corey Haynes led the team home in 29th place in 17.32 closely followed by Kieron Dunkley who finished 32nd in 17.34 one second clear of Oliver Hines who was 34th in 17.35. It shows how competitive this race was that 10 athletes finished in six seconds around this group. Billy Cochrane was obviously suffering from his cold as his 63rd place (18.57) is not indicative of his performances earlier in the year. There were 91 finishers in this race and the team placed sixth overall scoring 159 points.

The individual performance of the day came in the Under-20 Ladies Race where Annabel Gummow continued her comeback from injury. Her first race back in Cardiff last week obviously brought her on and she made light of the underfoot conditions. Hitting the front from the off Annabel moved majestically away to win in 18.52 well clear of Chloe Richardson the runner-up from Birchfield in 20.05. Newcomer (to cross-country and Bristol & West) Anna Burton from Bristol University showed that her workouts with Chris Elson and Keith Brackstone are already showing their effects as she finished tenth in 21.39. With only three to score it’s a shame we couldn’t find a third runner – had we done so we would have collected silver medals even if they had finished last in the race!

The next to last race was the Senior Women’s race and after a bit of negotiation newcomer Helen Sharpe was able to run as an individual (she was born in Derbyshire) but couldn’t score for the team. A couple of late withdrawals saw Team Manager Keith Brackstone frustrated as this was supposed to be our targeted event. It certainly was targeted by the majority of the ladies team who are showing great spirit and determination this season and who run for each other. The performances of those who were there were outstanding and it was a disappointment that they couldn’t come away with any medals to show for their efforts. Helen Sharpe was never out of the top ten and finished strongly to take seventh place in 26.13. Behind her first scorer was Annabel Granger who finished seventeenth in 27.21. Marie Kirton was next home finishing twenty-sixth in 28.11. Clare Stevinson then led a whole flurry of club finishers which led to smiles from the athletes as it prompted that well know team manager’s cry of ‘Great Packing Ladies’ – with Clare 34th in 28.39, Charlotte Green 36th in 28.43, Julia Belyavin 41st in 29.06 and Kim Whitlock 42nd in 29.15 (grabbing that extra place with a dip finish would you believe – such was the commitment of the team). Behind them another group was led in by Clare Jolliffe (47th in 29.45), Sarah Everitt (52nd in 29.55) and Georgie Salmon (53rd in 30.00). Henrietta Anstey went to manage the under-13 girls but decided that wasn’t enough exercise for the day and finished eightieth in 32.09. It was great to see 11 senior ladies finishing – shame we couldn’t make a third scoring team. The ‘A’ team finished fourth with 113 points and the ‘B’ team seventh with 182 points. Birchfield and Tipton both scored 94 points with the former taking the title by virtue of their last scorer finishing 44th to Tipton’s 45th place (thus the gold and silver medals were decided by one second!). We had six scorers in before Birchfield or Tipton’s fourth scorer – and that doesn’t include Helen Sharpe – had Helen scored we would have scored 84 points and won by 10 points (and the ‘B’ team would have scored 126 points and finished fifth)! Well done ladies – a great team effort in a field of 169 finishers and 26 scoring teams.

By the end of the day the course which had been challenging at best was almost unrunable (I think I made that word up) for the Senior Men. Despite his best efforts Mike Down had been unable to persuade sufficient athletes to tow the start line for there to be a Men’s Team – so the five brave souls were running for personal pride. Owain Jones showed he is getting fitter by starting faster than he had done in his earlier races this winter but at this level it is hard to push through the field, especially when moving outside the ‘racing line’ almost brings you to a stand-still. However, there were several places on the course where by the final race the mud was just so all-embracing that there was no proper racing line. Owain’s fifteenth place (35.19) showed what a great cross-country runner he is – given the limited amount of training he can physically cope with these days due to a succession of injuries. Next home was Oli Mott (45th in 38.22); Oli is not fully fit and is certainly more at home on the road but Oli will never give up and battled throughout to secure his place in the top 50.  Not far behind him in 57th place Daniel Edmund surely made the transition from US Collegiate 800 metre runner to English cross-country runner – I am sure he will be a stronger athlete for the experience (hopefully it won’t have left him psychologically scarred for life – he still had his sense of humour at the end so I guess he’s fine). Andy Cooke gave a really gutsy display and his finish in 75th place in 39.53 was testament to his sessions with Chris Elson – fortunately Coombe Dingle in recent weeks had given everyone a taste for trying to run fast on mud. The day’s running for the club was completed when Daryl Beggs came home in 187th place in 46.16 just two weeks after joining the club – something of a baptism of fire.

Full results of all the races can be found at: http://www.midlandathletics.org.uk/PDFS/2013_RES_130126_MCAAXC_AllResults.pdf

A big thank you to the athletes, team managers and parents who all contributed to a great day and a great team atmosphere. To those of you who chose not to come for whatever reason you missed a great event and contributed to another missed opportunity for the club.

Keith Brackstone Reports.