24 Jan

Mike Down continue his musings on the senior men’s cross country season…

With the South West title safely packed away for another year thanks to an overwhelming show of strength from our scoring team of OWAIN JONES, JACK MILLAR, HARRY ALLEN, JOSH MOODY and ANDY WATT, attention now switches to our second target of the winter Saturday’s Midland championships at Leamington.

While there’s been no three line whip for this event in recent years, this year we are looking to take more than a token team to test the water. One of the reasons for our recent lack of presence at these championships has been their proximity to to the British Students championships, which for instance last year robbed us of WILL CHRISTOFI, JACK MILLAR, HARRY ALLEN and MILES CHANDLER.

Fortunately the latter two have completed their studies and will add strength to our team this year, but still being without our top two finishers in last year’s National – Will and Jack – as well as our newly crowned South West champion Owain, who is away cross-country skiing, inevitably leaves us very exposed to our main Midland rivals Birchfield, Notts and Tipton, who traditionally target the Midland event often more than the National itself. With Josh and KURT TAYLOR,  who has sprained an ankle, also both missing, medal-winning aspirations may be stretching credibility.

Even so PETE LE GRICE, arguably the South West’s top cross-country runner after his performance in Liverpool’s Eurocross trial, should make his presence felt at the head of the field. He makes the long journey up from South Cornwall, while JARLATH MCKENNA, despite nursing an I-T band problem that has severely affected his training over the past month, has volunteered to travel down from his Newcastle base to reinforce our team. A third traveller Exeter- based ANDY CHAMBERS could also have an important part to play along with home quintet Harry, Miles,  ANDY WATT, JOE BALLARD and GRAHAM BREEN.  We had hoped to have MACIEL BIALOGONSKI too , but he is apparently sidelined with an injury pproblem. Having not contested the race seriously as a team for some time now, it is difficult to assess our chance. It may be better than it seems on paper if the current focus and determination of our Bristol group is anything to go by, so who knows?

Since our South West triumph our leading runners have certainly kept themselves busy. The following weekend Will and Jack proved they are set on regaining last winter’s outstanding form by finishing second and third respectively to Bedford’s MATT BERGIN in the latest Ciltern league race, while behind them Miles, who was guesting for his alma mater also made the top ten.

The same weekend Andy Chambers shrugged off the chronic hip problem that forced his withdrawal from the South West event to surprise himself by finishing second in the Westward League race behind Bideford’s Devon champion RONNIE RICHMOND and ahead of another Bideford runner MARK JENKIN, who had finished 6th at Aldon Hill the previous weekend.

Andy followed this by joining clubmates Harry, Josh and ALBERTO BELTRAN IN  SUNDAY’S  SPEEDWAY 10k held from the army camp at Beachley, near Chepstow. Taking full advantage of the genuinely flat course and the unseasonably windless conditions, all four smashed their previous personal bests. Harry led the way in 10th place, and despite being in a gap on his own for much of the race only just failed to break the 31 minute barrier for the first time, as well as clipping more than another 10 seconds off his recent pb at Telford with a time of 31:05. Two places behind him Andy took more than 20 seconds off his previous best with a new mark of 31:31, while chasing him all the way to the line the “Joshboard” underlined the remarkable progress that he has shown in training recently by knocking more rthan 50 seconds off the already encouraging pb he  had set at Telford. Further back Alberto, despite suffering by going off too fast, also improved his best to 32:49, while to top the lot an excited DAVID EAGON will have impressed his mentor Chris Elson by taking well over a minute off his best with a new mark of 33:26.

Maybe the enlightened organisers of this relatively new event – it was first held this summer – have found a course to match the attraction of the hugely popular Leeds, Ribble Valley, Telford and Trafford events. How refreshing as well to find race organisers prepared to dish out as much as 80% of their race takings in prize money with the sole aim of establishing the race as one of the fastest in the UK. Bully for them I say in the increasingly commercialised world of road racing to which we have become accustomed.

But back to the coming weekend, and without over advertising our National championship target let’s prove we now have the strength in depth to be competitive even without three of our top runners. It will certainly be useful to experience the challenge of the longer 12k distance you will be facing in the National at Leeds.

Meanwhile Chris has done his usual impeccable job in coordinating the transport arrangements, and if there are still any problems please contact him asap. We’ll see you there.