Mike Down reports on the senior teams got on at the South West Cross Country Championships.
Jack Millar produced a virtuoso performance in the wet and muddy conditions at the Royal Navy Air Squadron’s course to retain the South West cross country title he won for the first time last year with something to spare, and in doing so led the Bristol and West team to yet another team victory.
It was the 16th consecutive time the team has taken the men’s title and is a record the club should be proud of, speaking volumes for the continued ambition and individual commitment of the men’s endurance squad.
Not only did the team again dominate the men’s championship, but for the first time ever took all three individual medals. While Jack in his current form was the clear pre-race favourite, the silver and bronze medals taken by Felix McGrath and Max Davis ahead of the other main contender for the title Dom James were a more than pleasant surprise.
It gave us a perfect start, but it’s five to count in the team competition, and as so often in the past it was two of the team’s real stalwarts captain Owain Jones and Andy Watt who made sure by both finishing in the top 20 of the 150 strong field. Owain, himself twice former champion, had only decided to run on Friday having been sidelined all week after badly bruising his sternum and ribs in a cycle crash the previous weekend, while Andy yet again dispelled any doubts suggested by his recent training efforts.
As for the race, which was run over two laps of an undulating mixed course of muddy woodland and flatter open grassland, Jack wasted no time in exerting his authority from the start, but as expected had Cheltenham star James for company along with young Max, who despite his lack of experience at this level showed no fear in going with the pace.
When the runners hit the muddy woodland stretch for the first time, Jack kept pushing the pace and before long James gave way, while though Max held on for a little longer, he too realised he would not be able to sustain that effort for the whole two lap course and on the short hilly climb around the 2k mark Jack began to pull away.
Meanwhile further back Felix, perhaps still uncertain about his race fitness due to the problems he has had fitting his normal training programme while working in a hospital setting for the past five months, purposely chose to go off more cautiously than his wont and try to move through if he felt able. Anyway, at the end of the first lap Jack was now in total command and Max looked safe for one of the individual medals, while Felix was looking more confident and moving well by now and up to the top six.
As events transpired there wasn’t much change on the final lap, with Jack unpressed and the best part of half a minute clear at the finish.
“It was perhaps a little easier than I’d anticipated, but I am feeling really race fit now and would have been disappointed if I’d lost my title” claimed the exultant champion.
Meanwhile behind him Felix continued to make ground and caught Max on the final short climb before pulling clear to take an unexpected but welcome silver medal. Max himself held on well to take the bronze medal some 50 metres back and a similar distance ahead of James. However, you look at it, it was an outstanding effort in his first senior championship.
Meanwhile both Owain and Andy, who had chosen to start conservatively and try to work their way through, did just that, with Owain eventually only just failing to make the top ten in 11th position and Andy a further 20 or so seconds back just squeezing into the top 20 in 19th place. It gave us an impressive winning score of just 35pts, nearly three figures ahead of leading rivals Western Tempo (119) and Cornwall AC (149).
“I’m just pleased I was able to race and have come through it with no pain in my chest. I obviously took it cautiously and as captain of the team am really happy that I was again able to contribute to our continued success,” concluded Owain.
While these were our five medallists, who also ensured Avon took the county team title too, it was heartening to see a fair number of other club members providing the team with solid back-up, led by another of our evergreens Graham Breen, who is gradually working his way back to race fitness, He was our next best in 47th, followed by: 55 Rhys Goddard, 61 Chris Neilson, 72 Alex Hobley, 81 Aled Anderson, 82 U20 Rufus Thomas, 105 Tariq Kurd, and 119 V70 Jon Goodland.
Our women’s team of four counting runners did well in the circumstances to finish fifth overall in their event after the late withdrawal of team captain Elaina Gard, a flu victim, and Chelsea Baker. Katrina Entwistle did well to make the top ten in eighth place and was followed home by Jessie Sanzo 16TH, Catie O’Donoghue 33rd and finally Kat Baldwyn 58th.
So now we all switch our attention to the Midland championships at Leamington at the end of the month where for the first time in the club’s history we will be defending the men’s team title. Entries close at the end of the week, so please let Owain know asap if you have not already done so.