With the South West cross country title duly retained our attention now switches to the second rung of the annual cross championship trilogy: the Midland championships at Loughborough this weekend. Last year was the first time for years that we resolved to field a competitive team in the event and were very pleased to take the bronze medals behind defending champions Notts and top Birmingham club Birchfield before going on to beat both of them when upping our game to lift the bronze medals at the National, which once again is our major target this winter.
This year is beginning to look like an uncanny action replay of last, and maybe even more so as our hopes are even higher of fielding our strongest ever team at the National, and that includes the squad that won the silver medals at Parliament Hill two years ago, whereas for whatever reason we are down to a bare scoring six for Saturday’s race! Four of our South West winning team- individual medallists FELIX MCGRATH and KURT TAYLOR as well as BEN WESTHENRY and HARRY ALLEN – are unavailable in addition to two of our leading cross specialists PETE LE GRICE and ANDY CHAMBERS.
Make no bones about it, it’s a tall order, though such is the club’s growing strength in depth these days that the six runners we are taking should still be competitive provided of course they all finish! Admittedly we are unlikely to trouble champions Notts, who are determined to complete a record 10th successive title victory, or Birchfield who failed by only two points to break Notts` stranglehold on the title last year, yet there’s still just a chance of challenging for the bronze medals again.
JACK MILLAR, who returns from a two month training spell in Kenya to lead the team, will relish the likely heavy conditions due to the wet winter we have been experiencing and is hoping to celebrate his international selection for next month’s Belgium Cross Cup race at Roeselare. Jack is joined by his ex Oxford graduate colleague WILL CHRISTOFI, who while admitting his present job commitments have restricted his preparations has a superior cross record at the top level than any of our current squad.
There again if experience counts for anything our team captain OWAIN JONES has an unequalled pedigree. A former Welsh and South West champion his training has been cruelly limited by a niggling knee strain for the last couple of years. Even so like Jack he is an out and out cross specialist and still manages to generally exceed expectations, as he showed by managing 11th place in the recent South West championships. He is sure to work his way through the field after a conservative start, as will our star vet GRAHAM BREEN, whose consistency in Gwent League races is second to none.
Our other two runners are ANDY WATT, who is arguably the club’s most improved distance runner this year as underlined by his 5th place in the South West championship, and JED BARTLETT, another soft ground operator who has also made real progress this winter, finishing 4th in the Tri-Counties championship and only just behind Owain in the South West.
There’s no disguising the fact that our backs are to the wall and if we can make the top three teams it will be one of the club’s most memorable efforts in recent years. What’s that saying? When the going gets tough…..!