The return of the England National Cross-Country Championships marked a successful day for the club, with strong individual and team performances. Congratulations to everyone who competed and raced to some remarkable results.
For all the results, visit https://results.sporthive.com/events/6896802915657383168
Club Top 100 Performances
Team 4th – Senior Men
5th – Megan Hornung (U17 Women) and Jack Millar (Senior Men)
Team 7th – Senior Women
Team 23rd – Under 17 Men
Team 26th – Under 15 Boys
Team 32nd – Under 13 Boys
45th – Chelsea Creak (Senior Women)
50th - Kurt Taylor (Senior Men)
55th – Ishmael Bradley (U17 Men)
56th - Felix McGrath (Senior Men)
59th - Ben Robinson (Senior Men)
62nd – Vijay Bakrania (Under 15 Boys)
73rd - Owain Jones (Senior Men)
77th – Kat Entwistle (Senior Women)
85th – Sophi Hayes-Hoyle (U17 Women)
89th – Catie O’Donoghue (Senior Women)
100th – Hannah Pollak (Senior Women)
Chris Elson and Mike Down report on the Senior Women’s and Men’s race.
Senior Women: Four in the top-100 and seventh for the team
My first encounter with Parliament Hill Fields, now over 60 years ago, was to charge off rather too fast for comfort only to encounter a large bog. Not much has changed during the intervening years. Indeed, one wonders how the bog survived the afternoon after liberally coating thousands of runners with a mud. In truth because it had accomplices: fellow bogs strategically positioned round the course.
Parliament Hill provides a grandstand view of the start, but it is not until the top of the second steep incline that you can see how people are faring. They were packing well, with Chelsea leading the team in around fiftieth place with Katrina, Catie, Hannah (Pollak), Naomi and Elaina between 100th to 150.
As the race progressed it became evident that all had set off conservatively and were moving steadily through the field. By the second lap Chelsea was in the top 50, and Katrina, Catie and Hannah in the top 100. Naomi had fallen back after someone stepped on the rear of one shoe resulting in its removal, but she gamely soldiered on, while happily Elaina’s peritoneal tendon (I had to get my anatomy book out for that one) was surviving.
The finish positions say it all, everyone had exceeded expectations and the team finished seventh, notably first Midland team with Charnwood second Midland team a distant 15th overall! It’s a really good day when everybody runs well, despite some misadventures.
Our long-distance duo of Lucy Tothill and Hannah Plunkett Cole did themselves justice and I’m hoping the race whets their appetite for next year’s cross-country campaign. Quote of the day was from Hannah Plunkett Cole who knows something about marathons - “That was tougher than a marathon”.
For Chelsea this was an excellent result in her first National Cross-Country. For Katrina and Catie the result reflects how they have matured, as to finish in top 100 in the National is a significant achievement. Hannak (Pollak), well we all know she is blessed with amazing natural talent, and it was on display on the day. For Naomi & Elaina they got the better of misfortune and injury to finish where they did.
So, in a month’s time, the mud will be washed off and it’s on to the road relays.
Senior Men: Jack’s run of his life and team fourth!
It wasn’t to be this year, as it ultimately proved one step too far to win the Senior Men’s National Cross-Country team championship for the first time to add to the South West and Midland titles the club had already won this winter. Nonetheless, some stellar performances at Parliament Hill led the Senior Men to a great fourth place finish, the club’s highest finishing team.
Jack Millar had run the race of his life to finish fifth and produce the team’s best individual performance at the National since Rob Whalley’s fourth place sixteen years ago, giving the team the dream start we had hoped for. With Jack’s fifth, the question became how the rest of the team would fare.
Kurt Taylor, Felix McGrath, Ben Robinson, and team captain Owain Jones packed in together well, separated by little more than 20 places. However, with the fierce field of over 2,000 runners, they finished a few positions further back than we needed if the title dream was to become reality.
In the end, the guys finished just outside the medals in fourth place, behind the newly crowned Southern champions Southampton, old rivals Leeds and new kids on the block Cambridge and Coleridge. However, a fourth-place finish, with nearly 400 clubs involved and no less than 2092 finishers remains a great achievement. We also beat Tonbridge for the first time - winners three times in the past five years, and also retained both the Livingstone trophy as top Midland club and the Centenary plinth awarded to the leading club among the eleven founder members of the English Cross Country Union.
“We didn’t quite meet up to our ambitions, but credit is due to the three teams who were too strong for us on the day” concluded team captain Owain Jones. “But looking back on the season overall we have landed the Midland title for the first time in the club’s history, and I would particularly like to thank those runners who’ve turned out for us in all the major championships this winter and made the success we’ve had possible.”
So on to how it all happened. Conditions were near ideal for the race, held under a sunny winter sky over the National’s most iconic and traditional course at Parliament Hill Fields on Hampstead Heath, which combined a mixture of gruelling climbs, prolonged patches of unforgiving glutinous mud and contrasting stretches of faster underfoot running. When you’ve completed a championship race at Parliament Hill, you really understand what classic cross-country is all about! Just ask our guys who were tackling it for the first time.
The unique uphill start from the bowel of the Highgate track is always critical in such a huge field, all jostling for position before hitting the squelching mud for the first time over the crest of the long opening uphill slog that’s followed by a rapid slippery descent before the course turns upwards again for the toughest climb of the race, and that’s all in the opening kilometre!
Jack had recce’d the course several times, and made what looked like an almost perfect start as he topped that climb in the leading group chasing Southampton’s Mahammed brothers who had set a fierce pace from the outset. Meanwhile, fell running expert Felix was the best of our other runners just inside the first fifty, closely pursued by Kurt and Ben, with Owain, striving to keep his clubmates in sight marginally outside the top 100.
At this point the fight to be our sixth and vital final counter looked to be between two newcomers to the team Will Parkin and Tony Orvain, though the ever-reliable Andy Watt, who had been badly hampered at the start, was battling to make up the lost ground.
Former champion Mahammed Mahammed had taken a clear lead second time up the tough climb, before setting out on the first of the two large laps that took the runners to the top of the course. Budding international prospect Emile Cairess headed the chase, with Jack safely ensconced among the frontrunners and looking totally unruffled in eleventh.
Further back there wasn’t much change in our runners’ positions, though Owain had made up some of the gap between his clubmates up ahead, while Andy was closing on Tony and had passed Will.
There were no significant changes on the first big lap, other than Olympic triathlon gold medallist Alex Yee working his way into contention near the front of the race. When the leaders crested the climb before going into the country for the final large lap, Jack still looked full of running and up to eighth, while Felix was heading the rest of the team in front of Kurt. Kurt was now much closer to him and running around the top sixty, with Owain too still moving through and about to pass Ben. Our last scorer Tony was beginning to feel the effort and was beginning to be reeled in by Andy.
Round the last lap Mahammed Mahammed held onto his lead on Cairess, with the flying Yee moving into the bronze medal position. Jack had remarkably advanced into sixth place approaching the fast long run down to the finis,h and had enough left in the tank to not only catch and pass Matlock’s Dan Haworth on the run to the line, but get to within two seconds of Zak Mahammed to finish fifth place.
“This is definitely the course for me and the sort of underfoot conditions I thrive on. I’m so pleased that my specific training for the race has paid off. I had hoped to make the top ten, but to finish as high as fifth in the National and mix it with some of the best distance runners in the country is something else” exclaimed Jack.
What was remarkable was how he was able to match strides with many of the top distance runners in the country who, on paper, were one to two minutes faster than him over 10k on the track or road – such is his uncanny ability to act on soft ground. However, we analyse the result, this is surely a race Jack will never forget!
Meanwhile behind him the fast-finishing Kurt eventually caught Felix, who had led the rest of the team from the start, within sight of the line to just make the top fifty. Kurt admitted he could perhaps have started less conservatively, as he claimed that no one had passed him during the race. His 50th place marks Kurt's highest ever finish at Nationals. For his part Felix ended up only a few seconds behind Kurt in 56th - again Felix’s highest ever finish - while Ben also recovered ground in the closing stages and repassed Owain to finish only three places further back in 59th position, for his highest ever finish. However, Owain, who had given his all in trying to get up with his three clubmates, lost a few places in the last 2k and ended up a very creditable 73rd, matching his 2020 finish position.
While the four all equalled or bettered their best finishes at Nationals, the total of 243pts left a challenge to match our third-place finish of two years ago - such is the standard at Nationals that final counter would have needed to finish alongside Owain to match our score. On the comeback from injury Andy, who had eventually caught Tony on the last lap, finished in 140th to complete a great result for the team.
Not far behind, Tony made a great Nationals debut, finishing in 154th place, while Will, who admitted that he wasn’t prepared for a race over 12k on such testing ground, finished 346th just ahead of Pete Bains and Andy Salmon who were just ten places apart in 355th and 365th respectively.
Will Christofi, continued his return to serious competition finishing 495th, while our other finishers were Matt Brydon 528th, Sam Appleton 784th, Tariq Kurd 1,255th and Richard Brent 1,443rd.
Next up is the 12-stage road relay championships, when we will need all hands-on deck if we are to regain the Midland title from Birmingham rivals Birchfield on March 26th and have a hope of matching our National conquerors two weeks later on April 9th.
It would be great to get a big club turnout for these competitions and are planning to enter two teams, so please let Chris know if you would like to race ASAP as entries close on March 12th. If you have time limitations on the day, remember you could always do an early or late leg as Sutton Park is only an hour and a half away and the event lasts for around four hours. I shall be coordinating the A team and Chris the B team. We need the B team to finish in the top 25 at the Midland event to be able to field two teams in the National 12 championship, which is the blue riband of the road racing season.
Lead image by Mark Hookway - Facebook