Last weekend saw the return of the English Cross Country Relays following a COVID-enforced hiatus. The club had five teams flying the flag around Berry Hill Park, Mansfield, with the Senior Men A team recording our highest placed finish in 18th.
Senior Men - A 18th, 1:06:07.3 (Millar, Stokes, McGrath, Parkin)
Senior Women - 33rd, 34:36.8 (Pollak, Wallace, Mackie)
Junior Men - 41st, 30:44.3 (Harper, Kerfoot, Thomas)
Senior Men - B 48th, 1:09:58.2 (Salmon, Christofi, Jones, Watt)
Under 17 Men - 57th 34:10.6 (Pestell, Hull and Rashid)
Mike Down and Chris Elson, the Senior Men's and Senior Women's team managers, have kindly provided write-ups on how their teams got on.
Following their successful exploits in the master’s Cross-Country Relays the previous weekend, Lucy Wallace and Jess Mackie were keen to test themselves out in the National event. Reinforced by Hannah Pollak, fresh from the COP26 gathering, they duly did so. Hannah took the highly competitive first leg finishing strongly in 46th place with a time of 11:09. Lucy, who is gaining confidence on the Country, worked her way through the field gained 10 places on the second leg with 11:35. This left Jess to pull back another 3 places to bring the team home in a respectable 33rd place of the 106 teams finishing. Notably the team were fourth of the Midland Clubs!
Senior Men: Southern Clubs Show the Rest of Us the Way Home
If a reporter had told you that only one Midland and three Northern clubs – and three of those by only a few seconds – had beaten us among the huge field of 172 teams that started the National cross-country relay championships, you might well have concluded that we cannot have finished far off the medal positions. Even more so since the event at its traditional home in Mansfield’s Berry Hill Park, where it has been staged since 1989, is situated in the heart of the North Midlands.
However, a medal was not to be this year, with our Senior Men’s A team finishing in 18th place, in a race held over four 5km legs that I can never recall being so overwhelmingly dominated by Southern clubs.
Despite the challenge of the holders Leeds, who were out to make it a hat-trick having won the event the last two times it has been staged, Southern clubs grabbed all three sets of medals, Shaftesbury-Barnet eventually prevailing over long-time leaders Highgate with recently crowned National 6-stage road relay champions Aldershot having to be content with the bronze medals ahead of Leeds.
You simply cannot be successful in this event, with only four runners involved, unless you have all your runners fit and available for selection. On this occasion for instance, like I am sure many other clubs, we had a host of athletes who were unavailable due to illness, injury, or family commitments.
This is not to say that the team we fielded, including late call-ups for Adam Stokes and Will Parkin, did not raise their game in a race that, due to the remarkably firm underfoot conditions, was brutally fast from start to finish.
As ever Jack Millar gave us a fine start despite having been sent sprawling early on and forced to stop and pull one of his spikes back on. He was still way back in the middle of the field as the runners tracked through the woodland on the first of the two undulating 2.5km laps, but spurred on by an inevitable adrenalin surge, he tore his way through the ruck and was back in the late twenties by halfway. Maintaining his forward progress on the second lap he finished no more than 20 seconds outside the medal positions in 15th place, his time of 15:44 being our fastest of the day, even allowing for the shorter overall distance of the opening stage.
It was a tough act to follow on the second leg for Adam Stokes, who did not have this race on his radar till recruited midweek. For whatever reason, and by his own admission, he suffered a rare off-day in what has been his breakthrough season for our first team. Never looking comfortable – “I just didn’t have the legs today” – he soldiered on but fell back with a time of 17:14 to leave us 33rd at halfway.
From then on it was a recovery mission for our last two runners Felix McGrath and debutant Will Parkin. Unfortunately, Felix found himself initially in something of a gap to those immediately ahead of him but flogging himself relentlessly he pulled back eight of the places to leave us 25th with the team’s best longer stage time of 16:28.
By then the amended target was to try and make the top 20, with Felix's effort having closed the gap on the teams ahead. It was a daunting prospect on his debut for the first team for Will Parkin, who had only been called up to the team 48 hours before, but he rose to the challenge as if to the manor born.
Remarkably Will had never run a cross-country race before, but certainly proved that the glimpses of the natural talent that he has shown in training are well founded as he had proved the previous weekend when he had smashed his pb down to 31:14 in the Lincoln 10K. Clearly at home on the fast underfoot conditions and pacing himself so well for a novice at the event, he surged past seven of the teams ahead to lift us into the top 20 in 18th place, his impressive time of 16:40 not only proving he is going to be a real asset to the team but also that he has a promising career in the sport ahead of him.
The B team’s effort to finish inside the top 50 of the huge field in 48th position and leading Midland club exceeded our expectations.
Andy Salmon, who has been progressing week by week since moving back to the city from Liverpool in the fall, ran a well-judged opening stage to finish well inside the top half of the field, clocking 17:40 for 81st position.
Andy handed over to former U23 international Will Christofi, who was making a welcome comeback to the team. Will has only recently resumed training due to his heavy work commitments and testifies to not being race fit, but after a cautious start he finished strongly to gain ten places with a time of 17:58 for 71st place.
Next up team captain Owain Jones, who volunteered to turn out despite not being able to train as he would have liked for the last few weeks due to his ongoing Achilles problem, once again proved that only half fit he cannot ever be underestimated. Although like Jack he would have preferred softer underfoot conditions he coasted round the tough undulations of the course to lift the team another eleven places into the top 60 with a time of 16:59 that would have been fast enough to lift the A team to 16th! Who would bet against him scoring in next year’s National at Parliament Hill?
Owain’s fine effort left Andy Watt, another of our runners on the way back from injury, to anchor the team home, and he too looked to be rediscovering his true form by gaining another twelve places, his time of 17:21 lifting the team into the top 50 in 48th position.
There was also further encouragement on the day to see that we had teams in both the U17 and U20 events, with both making the top 60 in their respective age groups. In the meantime, all concerned, if choosing to run, should find life and the pace that bit easier when the Gwent League stages its second race of the new season at Brecon.