To make the podium for the third year running in what is surely one of the most competitive team championships in British sport is no mean achievement and rightly cause for celebration. Yet there was a sense that our bronze medals in this year`s National championship race were something of a consolation prize, for unlike our success in the previous two years. This year for the first time we arrived at the event with our strongest ever team and a realistic, if outside, chance of challenging for the overall title. Such was the tangible nervous tension beforehand that one sensed our runners would have considered it a failure if we had not medalled.
While that may be so, there is no disputing that we have closed the gap in our title quest, finishing just 54pts down on winners Tonbridge who regained the title they had won at Parliament Hill two year ago, when very much against the odds we had taken the silver medals but with a deficit three times that much. What`s more this time we were only 20pts behind the favourites and holders Leeds City, who beat us by more than 200pts last year. Even more significantly in the subsidiary 9 to count classification only Tonbridge beat us and our score was nearly 200 pts lower than we totalled in third place last year.
Perhaps these stats help explain any disappointment felt, for to have taken the title our six scorers would have each only had to finish some ten places higher, and apart from JACK MILLAR for whom that would have meant winning the race(!), our other counters PETE LE GRICE, CALLUM JONES, KURT TAYLOR and ANDY CHAMBERS would probably have all been expecting to do at least that, depending of course on the prevailing conditions, and so too our team captain OWAIN JONES on his past record in the race, while to be honest in terms of performance on the day only Jack, possibly Callum, Owain (due to his enforced lack of training) and JED BARTLETT exceeded our pre-race expectations. All this surmise merely highlights how close we are getting to the ultimate goal, for we have now built a squad that is capable of challenging the best in Britain every time we turn out. As for this year we have kept our bronze medal position and retained the trophy going to the top Midland club, comfortably avenging our defeat by Birchfield and Notts in the Midland championship, as well as the engraved plinth awarded to the leading team among the ten founder member clubs of the organising English Cross Country Association.
The race itself was a genuine traditional cross country test – a mix of rolling fields, gravelled tracks, water ditches, and above all stretches of squelching mud that after all the previous races had turned into a gruelling slurry underfoot – conditions that we felt would favour most of those expected to score, in particular JACK MILLAR, ANDY CHAMBERS, WILL CHRISTOFI and FELIX MCGRATH, as well as OWAIN JONES and JED BARTLETT. Of those as events transpired only Jack, Owain and Jed were able to capitalise, with the others not coping as expected, with Will the first to admit that his limited training time this season due to job commitments left him underprepared for such an arduous course.
Jack had planned his whole winter since finishing at Oxford University in the summer to peak for the major tests of the cross season. After a couple of impressive early season performances in UK cross challenge races at Cardiff and Milton Keynes, a ten week altitude training trip to Kenya provided the groundwork to achieve his goals. His confidence duly boosted by a best ever 4thplace in the recent Midland championship and subsequent selection for an England team in the latest Belgian cross cup race, where he finished in 11th place, he underlined his ambition from the start by wasting no time in following the early leaders of the huge near 2000 strong field. Relishing the underfoot conditions that he had been praying for, he was always in the top 20 , and while others faltered on the final large lap of the 12K course he never showed any sign of weakening to end up in a career defining 10th place.
It was just the start we needed, but PETE LE GRICE, who had led the team home in 18th place last year, knew he was not in such good shape and ill prepared for a race on such testing ground as he has only recently started his long build up for the London marathon, which is his priority this year. Consequently despite a determined start that saw him only just outside the top 20 after the first small lap, he soon found his level in the mid thirties and that`s where he stayed to eventually end up in 33rd place.
Behind Pete CALLUM JONES proved a real revelation. He had only finally decided to race on the day – he was there as part of the Saucony team that sponsored the championships – as the intensity of his training has been limited this winter by a chronic groin strain. However in the testing conditions the big mileage he has managed to get in as compensation, certainly appears to have payed off. He was never far behind his fellow Cornishman and held on grimly to finisnh just ten places back in 43rd place.
ANDY CHAMBERS, like Jack, was expected to take advantage of the tough conditions, but after settling initially around the top 50 and expecting to move forward in the second half of the race, like FELIX MCGRATH further back he failed to capitalise on the sort of soft ground that he normally enjoys and actually fell back in the closing stages to be caught by teammates KURT TAYLOR and OWAIN JONES, who had both measured their efforts to finish the last 2K strongly, with Kurt, who coped with the mud better than he had anticipated, eventually passing Andy on the run-in to finish a creditable 69th. Andy was right behind in 70th and Owain only two places further back our final scorer as he had been last year in 72nd position. No one, not even Owain himself, had anticipated he would be scoring this year due to his training being chronically hampered by a niggling knee problem, but he once again ran a true team captain`s race to close our score at 297pts, some 20 better than last year. As for Andy, his failure to move through in the second half of the race may have been due to incubating a cold that he woke up with on Sunday morning.
Had Owain not produced the goods on the day, we would not have medalled as we had to wait till just outside the top hundred before ANDY WATT, who has been struggling with a hip injury for the past month, came home a reasonable 104th, chased all the way by JED BARTLETT, who lapped up the slogfest conditions to cap the steady progress he has made this winter and finish an impressive 110th. This left JOSH MOODY to complete our nine man challenge. Despite conditions that hardly suited him, big Josh characteristically measured his effort meticulously to work his way through the masses and finish strongly in 122nd place.
Josh was followed closely in 128th position by our Tri-Counties champion FELIX MCGRATH, who has been recovering from a cold and admitted he never got to grip with the conditions that normally he would have no problem with as an international mountain runner. The same unexpectedly applied too to WILL CHRISTOFI, who failed to improve on his Midland effort in 148thplace, while the evergreen JARLATH MCKENNA, who by his own admission is not fully race fit after a busy last six months moving house, still managed to finish 165th and give us 12 runners in the top 10% of the field, which we have never approached before. Clearly Felix, Will and Jarlath have all suffered this year too by having to do all their training on their own and not raced as often as they would not only have liked but perhaps needed due to their work commitments. But having said that everyone has a disappointing day at the office occasionally, especially in a sport like ours that offers competition 52 weekends of the year and we look forward to seeing them all back in action at the spring road relays.
Pick of our other runners was our supervet GRAHAM BREEN, who finished 250th, with LUKE ROBERTS 310th and PETE BAINS 387TH. But to put those positions in perspective Pete had clocked a personal best 5K of 15:47 in Armagh the previous week. Such is the standard of the National.
Back to the team standings. As expected Tonbridge and Leeds maintained their stranglehold on the top two positions, with Tonbridge (243pts) regaining the title they had surrendered to Leeds (277) last year, and to continue the action replay nature of the result, our repeat third place was again at the expense of the luckless Bedford team by the same margin of just five points, with Highgate only another seven points back in 5th and Southern champions Aldershot (348) completing the top six. The other area champions our Midland conquerors Birchfield (511) and Northern winners Sale (583) could only finish 9th and 10th respectively.
Perhaps the most encouraging result from our point of view was that whereas our championship score was only 20 points better than last year, in the nine to count standings, as mentioned earlier, it was nearly 200 points lower and bettered only by Tonbridge to underline the team`s ever growing strength in depth. It was further proof too of the success of the model that led to our rebranding of the club in 2004, with three of our medallists having their roots in the West country. I like to think that the South West now has a club firmly established at the top table of our sport. It`s surely only a matter of time before we bring back that elusive National title to the region, and while there`s no denying that opportunity had knocked this year, the door is still ajar and we will soon get another chance to open it wider at the legendary 12 stage road relay championship. We did win that exactly 40 years ago. It`s surely about time we won it again!
It was a perfect winter’s day for round 3 of the Gwent League at Blaise Castle. Our team of 5 walked the course and warmed up together before taking their positions on the start line with around 90 other under 11 girls. Gabi was first home in 9th, equalling her best placing, and edging into the top 10 of the league overall! Phoebe was second home in 11th, a brilliant run, improving on her 14 place at Cardiff. Holly came home in 19th despite still struggling from a foot injury the previous week. Amira finished in 35th, a fantastic debut and Anisa in 62nd; again improving dramatically on her previous placing, continuing her progress across the season. Most impressively, all of these individual performances meant that the team finished in 2nd overall, just 2 points behind league leaders Swansea! With two meets to go, if they keep this going there is a slim chance of a team medal position!
under 13s – Paul Owen reports…
On Bristol soil and a dry but windy day Holly Sanigar continued her fine development and form establishing herself early on in the top 15-20, steadily progressed and held for a strong and credible finish of 11th in her younger year in this age group. Definitely feel a top 10 finish is on the cards this season. Katie Beech making her first appearance of the season DNF due to being sick part way through. She will be back though and with some consistent training I see her as a top 20 finisher this season.
under 15s – Paul Owen reports…
A strong line up in windy conditions with the girls in team bronze position not far off silver. As ever after a blistering start Megan ‘Duracell’ Hornung soon glided her way to lead position where she kept her foot on the gas and as the race progressed further increased her lead to take 1st position. Amy Nichols looking strong at the finish was next in with 9th, Fleur Hayden also looking good at the finish and continuing her return to fitness and form with 13th, Sophie Hayes not far behind was 14th after putting in a really good effort completed what must be 1st place team on the day. Molly Thomas although a little disappointed with her own performance of 21st worked hard all through the race and will continue to improve this season. Carmen Chance was our final team member in with 37th having ran a consistently paced race. Well done all, looking forward to seeing how much we have closed the gap at the top by…
Current team standings = 2nd place with two races to go. Megan Hornung ranked 1st girls individually. Amy Nichols 2 pts outside top ten.
Inclement weather greeted the intrepid bands of Bristol & West AC runners heading west
for the distant Gwent League cross-country fixture at Pembrey Park, many people’s
favourite venue for the races. By Swansea however, things were looking up and just before
the senior women’s race the sun shone from a cloudless sky. Looking at those running I did
wonder if the current ladies were capable of achieving a feat, beyond those of any of our
great teams of the past, namely filling the first two team positions. Read on!
A group of 3 women pulled away over the first lap with Natalie Griffiths slightly detached running
strongly in 4th , a position she maintained until the finish for another excellent run. Izzy
Talbot-Price ran her now trademark canny race gradually pulling through the field for 5 th
place. The finish was a heartening sight for the B&W AC supporters club with a lot of club
vests in view, albeit in a crowded home straight. Hannah Pollak and Amy Partridge had latched
on to a group of six or seven runners and were gradually moving to the fore all the way to
the finish, where Hannah used her superior track speed to finish 7th with Amy 8th. These
were another two runs to be proud of. Not to be outshone, Elaina Gard finished a
creditable 13th to complete the A team.
The rapidly improving Katrina Entwhistle led the B team home in 16th position, followed by Catie O’Donoghue, who did a hard session the day before not knowing that she would be available to run, in 22 nd place. Next up came Ellen Harrison gradually putting the weeks of injury behind her in 25 th, W50 superstar Clare Jolliffe (28th ; 1 st W50); Naomi Aylwin 36th. Another W50 superstar led the C team home in 37th position (2nd W50), namely Sarah Everitt happily restored to us after her skirmish with the
surgeons. She was followed by Alice Doggrell who ran the New York marathon the previous
weekend despite an unwanted fast induced by a gut infection. Given that background Alice
looked amazingly well and ran strongly moving through the field for 48th position. Emma
Clarke (74th ), W45 Nicky Hodges (82nd; 14th W45); Rosie Mushens (136th& 11th W50) now rapidly recovering from a prolonged injury, completed the C team. This left W55 Ali Hurford (151th & 7th W55), W60 Fliss Russell now established as one of the leading W60’s in the league (175th & 2nd W60.) and W45 Emma-Jane Orchard (179th) to fill the D team. 329 women finished.
So, what of the team results? B&W AC A 1st, Swansea 2nd of course it’s a home fixture for them(!), B&W AC B 3rd overall and 1st B team. The C team was 11th overall & 1st C team, and D team 46th overall and first D team out of 84 teams competing.
The M65 team of Dave Bedwell (2nd ), Tom Burgess (12th ) & Dave Hart (22nd and 5th M70) made up the D team, which was 2nd on the day and retained its overall 2 nd place.
The list of those unavailable for the men was scarily long, with at least one, Jack Millar,
running the Milton Keynes Cross-challenge and in doing so unleashed another star
performance in 6 th place. Consequently, it was with some anxiety, fortunately misplaced,
that I watched the men’s race unfold. It seemed that almost everyone employed the right
tactics of not setting off too fast and working their way through the field. Jed Bartlett led the A
team home with another solid performance in 12 th place with Maciej Bialogonski hanging in after a tiring week and only a fortnight after his 3 rd place in a mountain marathon in Poland, to take 20th . Pete Bains had a sterling run to take 26th place, Graham Breen recovering well from his 2.35 marathon in Manchester a fortnight earlier 30th (2nd M40), leaving Rob Farley (37th ) who had a storming run working his way through the field to make up the A team. This was good enough for B&W AC to retain top spot overall and come 2 nd on the day, 13 points behind Cardiff AAC and 8 in front of Aberdare.
Darren Garmen (62 and 4th M45)had another good run and led the B team home, followed by rapidly improving Lee Gawler (72), Matt Bond (80) back after injury, Sam Bentley (90) also improving and newcomer Liam Glenn who made a very impressive debut for the club in 94th. The B team finished 13th overall and you won’t be surprised 1st in the B division.
Jack Longstaff (115th) led the C team home and in so doing set a tall order for the next race. Having finished 100 places higher than Cardiff, can he improve that much again at Blaise Estate? Aled Anderson (142) Cameron Grayley (143), Bill Hull (146; 24th M45); Matt Burdon (157) completed the C team which finished 24th overall out of the 105 teams competing and was again first in the reserve division. Brad
Clarke (160) led the D team home with Peter Wang (181), Mark Taylor (183; 35 th M45); Tariq Kurd (241; 63rd M45) making up the team, which was 2nd D team on the day but retained the overall D team top spot. 429 men finished.
So, overall another rather good day for B&W AC with lots of people achieving or exceeding
expectations. Can we do a repeat performance in the 3rd fixture,which is at Blaise Estate on
Saturday 7th December? Please get the date in your diaries and let me know if you want to
Finishing in the top ten clubs in the country can’t be bad, can it? Yet despite all our team matching their current form at the English cross country relay championships, it was still a somewhat disappointing result when viewed against our outstanding record in the race for the past seven years in which we have never finished lower than 6th.
It was disappointing in particular because our main rivals among the country’s leading distance running teams Leeds and Aldershot managed to get virtually all their top runners out on the day as proved by the remarkable results achieved by their second teams. It’s true of course that our recent success in the bigger team championships have been due to the strength in depth of our squad rather than the brilliance of a few individuals, and with only four runners per team in this event even one such star performer can make a significant difference.
Another mitigating excuse for our overall result is that had we not accepted WILL CHRISTOFI’S always frank assessment of his current fitness and relied for selection on his fine previous record in the event, we would have actually ended up two positions higher at 8th in the club rankings. While that justifiably may be considered a team manager’s mistake, Will admitted after running that maybe the sodden underfoot conditions played more to his natural strength than he had anticipated in assessing how he was likely to run. That’s certainly so in comparison with his replacement JOSH MOODY, who is much happier on a running track than the waterlogged course that produced the worst conditions in the more than 30 years the championships have been staged at Mansfield’s Berry Hill Park.
While Josh would obviously have preferred it firmer underfoot, they were conditions relished by our talisman on the day JACK MILLAR who gave us a storming start, attaching himself to the leading group from the gun and only losing ground on the second of the undulating two lap 5K distance to finish just 20 seconds off the medals in 8th place of the huge field of 190 teams that started – his time of 16:18 right up there with those recorded by many of his elite rivals. While It should be borne in mind that the opening stage is slightly shorter than the other three and worth an estimated advantage of around 10 seconds, Jack showed that in this sort of form he could be heading for his best ever winter season.
His run was just the start we had hoped for, and ANDY WATT, who has been in the form of his life recently, duly kept the flag flying, and though dropping one place he lost little or no ground on the front of the race with another creditable time of 17:15 before handing over to FELIX MCGRATH, who then showed just what a valuable recruit to the club he is going to be. While a top six position now looked out of reach, he matched Andy’s fine effort and kept our position in the top ten with another encouraging time of 17:17, which was actually the tenth fastest overall on his leg.
It was always going to be a formidable task for JOSH MOODY to hold our position on the anchor leg, for not only had he suffered a pelvic strain after a midweek training session that had left his participation in doubt, but after more than a thousand runners had left parts of the course a muddy morass conditions could also hardly have been less in his favour. Even so he coped surprisingly well and, though passed by one of the Leeds teams, as well as top Southern clubs Newham and Tonbridge, he managed to hold off a late challenge from our Midland and National 6 Stage conquerors Birchfield, whose scalp was one of the day’s consolations, to finish 12th overall in a time only 20 seconds slower than Will’s of 17:55.
As for the B team ADAM WILSON, who was promoted from the originally planned third quartet, took the first leg and did well to finish inside the top half of the 190 teams that started in 78th position with a fair time for a track specialist in the prevailing conditions of 18:52. While WILL CHRISTOFI may not have been as fit as he would like to have been for the race, faced with a pack of runners to chase he certainly made the most of it, passing all but 30 of them to lift the team into the top 50 at halfway in a better time than he had expected of 17:35.
JED BARTLETT maintaind the progress on the third stage, albeit not quite so spectacularly, to gain another seven places with a more than respectable time of 18:09 and leave JACK BANCROFT to finish it off in the sort of conditions that he has never happily come to terms with. Undaunted he still managed to pass another five teams , his time of 18:55 leaving us to end up 37th of the 161 teams that survived.
As an incentive for next year hopefully it is no coincidence that our three bronze medal positions were recorded at four year intervals in 2008, 2012 and 2016, so to keep the sequence going next year’s event must be the target, but if this year is anything to go by it will need a fully committed squad. Please keep the first Saturday in November clear!
Meanwhile the next important championship for the club is the South West cross country at Haldon Hill, Yeovil at the beginning of the New Year, where we will once again be defending a title we have never lost as Bristol and West. Hopefully it will prove a dress rehearsal for a major assault on the Midland and English championships later in the winter. Before then I know the Telford 10K is on most of our top runners’ agenda, while Chris will be hoping to see as many of you as available for the forthcoming Gwent League races, the first of which is this coming weekend.
Finally we must congratulate our spartan ladies trio of ISSY TALBOT-PRYCE, NATALIE GRIFFITHS and the one and only KATE MALTBY, who put the club’s disappointing performance in the National 6 stage championship well and truly behind them by upstaging our guys and only missing a place in the top six in the women’s championship by a fraction of a second. Muddy marvellous girls!
The weather defied the predictions of the forecasters. By contrast, Bristol & West AC Senior Women & Men met expectations!
The women’s race was off first and it was clear that Cardiff AAC with their 4 stage National Relay gold medal team running would take some beating. Such is our strength in depth that only 21 points separated the clubs with Cardiff taking the honours. The B team finished 5th overall & 1st B team, the C team 12th and first C team and before any other B team, the D team 27th and first D team notably safely in front of the Cardiff B team, & F team 86th out of 105 club teams competing. Individually, the team was boosted by Kate Maltby appearing like manna from heaven finishing third. Natalie Griffiths ran possibly her best Gwent League in 9th place with fast finishing Izzy Talbot-Price in 11th. Elaina Gard (17th) & Catie O’Donaghue (19th) both had good runs thereby making up the A team. Katrina Entwhistle, recovering from a back injury, led the B team home in 21st place, followed by evergreen Clare Jolliffe (28th & 1st W45 &W50), Julia Belyavin (30th & 3rd W40), Alice Doggrell (35th & 6th W40) & Ellen Harrison (39th) back after her ankle injury. Hannah Dyer had an excellent run to lead the C team home in 51st place. Emma Clarke (56th), birthday girl Emma Jolliffe (59th), W40 Hannah Williams (72nd) & Charlotte Bermingham (136) completed the team. The D team was made up of W50 Rosey Mushens (146) returning after over a year of injury, Ali Hurford (155)“fresh” from managing her army, W45 Julie Ilogue (163) making her league debut, W45 Emma-Jane Orchard (195) and Harriet Middlesbrough (209). Finally, in 243rd place (2nd W65 & 1st W70) was the club’s over 70’s star Ann Docherty. 388 women completed the race.
The men similarly had a team full of Cardiff AAC stars to contend with and with 5 in the first 8 it was clear that Cardiff would take the A team honours. However, like the women the men have strength in depth so the A team finished 2nd, the B team 6th overall and first B team, the C team 13th overall and 1st C team, the D team 35th & first D team, the E team 39th and first E team & the F team 96th & 3rd F team. Cardiff’s B team languished in 58th place out of the 125 club teams competing. Jack Millar & Andy Chambers, both of whom were pleased with their runs, were our first finishers in 5th & 7th position. Maciej Bialogonski, fresh from a marathon 13 days before & a half marathon 6 days before finished a commendable 13th, while Felix Rusby made a notable debut for the club in 26th & super vet Graham Breen in 27thand 2nd M35 & M40. The B team was led home by orienteering international Ben Mitchell (29th) with Olly Sheppard (36th), Pete Bains (43rd), and Rob Farley 62nd, who suffered from a lack of spikes, making up the team. Ben Malliphant (64th) and Andy Drake (76th), both of whom who ran a half marathon 6 days earlier, were first finishers for the C team followed by Darren Garmen (88th & 10th M45), Keiran Batty (93rd) & Jo Lyne (102nd) making his club debut. The D team comprised Sam Bentley (111th), Bill Hull (150th & 23rd M45), Sam Johnson (155th), Jack Longstaff (165th) making a welcome return after a prolonged injury & Jon Bennett (174th) with Brad Clarke (178th) making his club debut, Michael Chandler (185th), Mark Taylor (197 and 37th M45), Matt Burden (211) & Peter Tang (224th) making up the E team. For the F team Jon Goodland finished 234th & 2ndM60, Tariq Kurd 286th and Nick Crewe 392th. There were 511 finishers.
Finally Dave Bedwell (1st) and Tom Burgess (14th) formed the 2nd place M65 team.
Under 11 girls: Simon Jones and Debbie Hunt report…
The under 11 girls’ team of 5 (the most we have had for many years at that level!) did brilliantly at the first Gwent League race of the season. All 5 showed brilliant team spirit throughout, walking the course and warming up together like they had been friends for years! The determination on what was a muddy and wet course was superb, and we were delighted to see all of the runners doing their best coming up the finishing straight.
Holly was the first B and W girl home in 13th place, closely followed by Phoebe (14th) and Gabi (23rd). The 3 girls came around the final corner together, as if they were working to pace each other; reflective of the training that they do at Whitehall. Zoe, who was brilliant throughout the morning ensuring the girls worked together as the most experienced Gwent leaguer, finished 4th from B and W. Anisa completed her first ever club X – Country run brilliantly, as the only girl on the team in the younger age group, to help the team to a 7th placed finish out of 46 teams! On the morning that Eliud Kipchoge broke the 2 hour marathon barrier, it was great to be involved in the team/sport. Well done girls, see you next time!
Under 13 girls: Paul Owen reports…
Wales appeared to be the driest part of the UK today for the first xc race of the season and it was one of our relatively newer athletes Holly Sanigar who was first back in 21st, Olivia Tarr who fell at the start and was spiked managed to pick herself up and keep going with determination to finish 96th. Niamh Roe was our final runner home in and achieved her goal of finishing the race. It would be good to add a couple more girls to this group to make a team and see how much improvement can be achieved throughout the season.
Under 15 girls: Paul Owen reports…
Whilst it is nice to pick up individual medals what I like about the Gwent League is the team focus, and this was highlighted today with our top ranked runner not available and a few other strong runners also not able to make this race. Yet despite that we managed to field a strong team that will mean as others return we can only get stronger. Bodes well for the season. Amy Nichols was our lead runner today in 14th looking composed throughout, with Fleur Hayden not far behind in 19th (did really well as raced in a Biathlon yesterday). Just behind her was ever improving Sophie Hayles-Hall in 21st and Carmen Chance securing a strong team finish with 40th.