Gwent League Senior Races – Mike Down’s Perspective

Tom Merson and Kate Goodhead tamed the challenging contours of the testing cross-country course at Bath University to land a double triumph for the Bristol and West club in the third of this season’s Gwent League meetings, which this year also incorporated the Avon, Somerset and Wiltshire championships.

Merson, who had never raced the Gwent League before, set a new landmark by completing a back-to-back Westward-Gwent League double for the first time in the long history of the two major cross-country leagues.

The 27 year old South west champion underlined his status as the outstanding cross-country runner in the region this year by adding the scalps of the newly crowned Avon, Somerset and Wiltshire title-winners to the Cornwall and Devon rivals he had eclipsed in the two previous Westward League events.

Unsure of the strength of the opposition, Merson was content to sit ion with a rapidly dwindling lead group for the first two of the hilly three lap course, and only on the penultimate climb, by when he had only Cardiff’s Welsh international Andy Hunt for company, did he appear to get out of second gear and launch his winning surge for what looked an effortless victory

“To be honest it felt like no more than a tempo run, which is vindication for the heavy training load I am putting at the moment,” said the jubilant victor.

“But I won’t be racing seriously again until next month’s South West championships when I am hoping to defend my title and lead the Bristol and West team to a successful defence in the team event.”

Merson’s victory certainly enhanced the club’s bid for the overall Gwent League prize, for with their next eight runners – Dan Edmund (12), Ben Robinson (15), Nick Weyman (22), Torran Elson (27), Jarlath McKenna (29), Matt Krelle (30), Alec Woods (32) and Will Russell (35) – all in the top ten per cent of the 350 strong field, they are vying with Cardiff for the lead.

However there is no doubting the superiority of the Bristol and West women’s team for their five counters all finished in the first 11 of the field of well over 200 runners.

Goodhead, who had taken third place in the opening League race at Pontypool Park, paced her race perfectly to overhaul Cardiff’s early leader Eifion Price and take line honours ahead of her immensely impressive new club mate Jessie Sanzo.

“I was a bit worried about my form as I had suffered breathing problems in the recent Leeds 10K, so started cautiously, but fortunately everything went fine and I felt quite strong on the uphill drags,” said the Gloucestershire based international.   

Jessie, who is 35 and has only taken up the sport seriously in the last year, surpassed all expectations in what remarkably was her first ever cross-country race, to beat Bath international Holly Rush into third place.

With their other three scorers Helen Sharpe (7), Anna Burton (8) and Grace France (11)’ always near the front, the Bristol and West team not only notched an overwhelming victory on the day, but also significantly increased their overall lead in the League with only two more races to come next year.

Bristol and West also took four of the six Avon championship senior medals on offer, Edmund and Robinson took the silver and bronze behind the new champion James Rodgers from Clevedon, while Sanzo added to her remarkable debut by winning the Avon title ahead of Westbury’s Emma D’Alton and promising Bristol student Burton.

To complete their successful afternoon evergreen pair Woods and Claire Jolliffe, who perhaps ran her best ever race in 31st place in the women’s race, landed the two over 40 masters’ titles.

“It was a great way to end the year and I am so pleased with the spirit and camaraderie in our present squad,” enthused tireless team manager Chris Elson.

RESULTS TO FOLLOW . ,    .  .