MIKE DOWN’S NATIONAL CROSS COUNTDOWN NO 1


SOUTH WEST CHAMPS SMASHED AGAIN

In my final countout to the road and cross-country relay season back in November I jokingly challenged our guys to target a hat-trick of cross-country titles in the New Year: South West, Midland and English National!

Well tall order as that might be, our team made a spectacular start to the trilogy by smashing the opposition in Sunday’s South West championships held on ground round Aldon Hill at Yeovil that made full use of the contours that gives the venue its name.

The course, more suited to mountain goats with two brutal, leg-sapping climbs on each of the three large lap 8500m race, proved no problem for our team, who literally took the opposition to the cleaners, while to complete a perfect day our team captain OWAIN JONES regained the title he last won in 2015 at the Devon and Exeter racecourse.

Once again underlining his pedigree over the country Owain judged his precision to take the lead on the second lap from Wells’ junior international LUKE PRIOR and hold off a determined late charge from former B&W stalwart PHIL WYLIE that looked likely to succeed as they approached the last two gruelling climbs. But Phil appeared to run out of fuel on the penultimate climb, and while Owain admitted he had to dig deep he had enough left in his tank to pull clear again on the final run-in to the finish.

Owain was accompanied early on by Wylie plus JACK MILLAR, who is still not fully race fit after a knee injury had restricted his training for several weeks since finishing a close 4th in the annual Varsity match back in early December. Although Jack could not match Phil’s late surge, he still finished strongly in 4th place to take the senior bronze medal after being passed in the closing stages by brilliant Cornish youngster FINN BIRNNIE who took the U20 title.

I While Owain and Jack by their own admission are both cross specialists, it was the support behind them from HARRY ALLEN 7th, JOSH MOODY 9th, ANDY WATT 12th and newcomer JOE BALLARD 16th that underlines the ever growing strength in depth of the team. Harry was no less than two minutes faster than when 11th last year, while Josh is even beginning to wonder whether he might just be much more than a middle distance specialist. Both admittedly are much happier on the road and track, but gave due credence to the old school dictum that when you are fit enough you can run more than respectably on any surface. Andy too is working his way back to full fitness after recent training interruptions, whil Joe is clearly a first team prospect in waiting on this exceptional performance in his first major championship event.

The net result was a virtual whitewash of the opposition, winning by nearly 150 points from Team Bath and Cornwall AC, with our team not only providing Avon with an equally overwhelming victory in the accompanying South West inter-county championship, but also having the satisfaction of beating all the other county teams on their own. My fellow team manager CHRIS ELSON must have enjoyed his packed lunch with extra relish, while reflecting with me that that all our scoring runners, if we include Jack, who is back on vacation from Oxford, are training together in an elite group based in Bristol that has not been the case for some years and which could be the foundation in our quest for further National success.

Nor it must be added is the team we fielded at Yeovil anything like as strong as the one we are hoping to turn out for our major target of the season the National at Leeds at the end of next month. Of those missing PETE LE GRICE is the most notable. Pete has made a dramatic breakthrough this autumn, following his spectacular African-splitting second place in the Guernsey marathon that lifted him to 15th in the UK rankings – despite a course that is described as testing – by smashing the course record in winning the Great West Run in another huge new personal best and then being the first South West finisher in the European cross trial race at Liverpool. Not content Pete has continued his new found form, opening the New Year by clocking the fastest ever Parkrun in the South West with yet another personal best of 14:38. at Penrose in Cornwall.

Our first finisher and star turn in last year’s National WILL CHRISTOFI has still not fully recovered from the foot problem that wrecked his summer racing programme. It is thought his problem is Haglund’s syndrome, but it has not stopped him racing altogether and he still managed to finish in the top 20 in the second UK Cross Challenge race at Milton Keynes behind Jack, but just ahead of Owain, as well as finishing 5th only a few seconds behind Jack again in the Varsity match. Looking forward, he is still hoping to get into top shape for the British Students championship at the beginning of February and our subsequent National challenge.

Meanwhile another of last year’s National heroes JARLATH MCKENNA has spent the autumn settling into his new surroundings in Newcastle, and though competing sparingly has still shown enough to suggest he will once again be a valuable member of the team. He reports recent I-T band trouble, but still hopes to have a run out in the Midland champs, a race in which he has a fine record of making the top ten on several occasions.

ANDY CHAMBERS is another of last year’s silver medal-winning team who has been suffering with a niggling injury problem, in his case a hip strain,  but he too has raced well enough a couple of times, finishing our second best behind Owain in the opening UK Cross challenge race at Cardiff followed by a solid 5th in the Devon champs not far behind TOM MERSON. He is also hoping to warm up for Leeds by boosting our team for the Midlands.

However our other medallist last year BEN ROBINSON has not been so lucky, and although successfully retaining his European dog racing title has since been forced to rest due to a chronic foot problem that unfortunately has forced him to abandon the rest of the winter season.

Back on the roads there have been a string of personal bests from HARRY ALLEN (31:16), KURT TAYLOR  (31:32), ANDY WATT (32:13), JOSH MOODY (32:24) and ADAM WILSON (33:20) in the Telford 10K, while Kurt (15:05) followed that up with another in the Nos Galan New Year’s Eve 5K, finishing 7th in a high class field just ahead of training partners Owain (15:10), Jack (15:16), Josh (15:32) and Adam (16:20). Harry and Kurt are two of our most promising younger runners who are both improving in leaps and bounds and look sure to feature prominently in our road relay teams this year.

Other autumn highlights have included MACIEJ BIALOGONSKI’S unexpected triumph in the Abingdon marathon in a time inside 2:27 that suggests he may have found his event, and DAN STUDLEY’S outstanding run in Clevedon’s popular Boxing Day 4M road race. His winning time of 18:50 was the fastest for ten years and is testament to what an asset he is going to be in the spring 12-stage relay championships.

Two other missing faces this autumn LUKE EVANS and RICH PETERS have not thrown the towel in despite both being plagued by achilles and calf problems. After a 10 week enforced lay-off Luke is on the comeback trail and shedding pounds en route to a return sometime next month, so he could be fit for the relays, while Rich, despite having to drop out of a recent Chiltern League race due to a cramp in one of his calves, is back running again and determined to run in the National. Some race to make a comeback in, but who would put it past him!

MIKE DOWN

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