Our men’s ream may have become obsessional with maintaining their reign as South West cross country champions, but winning one of the full area titles – North, South and in our case Midland - is a different ball game altogether.
The fact that it was the first time in the club’s 140-year history that we won it for the first time last year is surely proof of that, and retaining it at Leamington Spa on Saturday presents another massive challenge.
For the past 30 years or so the team title has been dominated by just three clubs: Birmingham teams Birchfield and Tipton Harriers, and more recently Notts AC who won the championship nine years in succession before having their run broken three years ago by Birchfield when we took the bronze medals.
To be honest it’s only in recent years that we have treated the event more seriously, generally preferring in the past to focus our attention specifically on the National championship race that always follows a month later.
Both our main rivals for the title this weekend, Notts and Birchfield, for whatever reason traditionally seem to concentrate their attention more on the area event than the National championship, so we can be assured of a particularly strong challenge from Notts, who will be keener than ever to regain the crown they lost to us last year. What’s more apart from Birchfield, two other progressive clubs BRAT (Birmingham Racing and Triathlon club) and Cheltenham based Western Tempo are also sure to make their presence felt.
Unfortunately, the squad we are fielding is not as strong as originally anticipated, with two of last year’s victorious team Ben Robinson and Joe Connors out injured as well as ANDY WATT, who may still turn out if a recent knee problem improves. Besides those three our recent Australian recruit Tim Lefroy and marathon internationals Johnny Thewlis and Pete Le Grice are all on the comeback trail from injury problems and not available.
However, on a more positive note our three recent South West medallists – champion Jack Millar, Felix McGrath and Max Davis - are all down to run and will head the team, which will certainly be strengthened by the presence of the club’s current top road runner Kurt Taylor, who is taking time out from his preparations for his international debut for England in the Armagh international 5km road race next month, to refamiliarize himself with the challenge of a 12km cross country race before the forthcoming National.
But unlike the recent South West championship, it’s six not five to count in the team race, and it looks as if it will be up to team captain Owain Jones and anyone of Adam Stokes, Will Christofi, Andy Salmon or supervet Graham Breen to complete the scoring team on the day.
While they are the only current or previous first team runners entered, there will be a significant backup from several more of our club runners, who can all serve the cause by beating any of our rivals’ scoring runners.
Individually hopes are obviously pinned on Jack, who took the bronze medal at Mansfield last year and is determined to have a go at adding the Midland to his South West crown.
“My recent training has been going really well and I’ve won both a Surrey League and Civil service representative match comfortably in the past couple of weeks and feel I’m ready to give it a real go,” says Millar.
His main challenge is likely to come from Notts’ reigning champion Doug Musson and his two strong clubmates recent signing Sam Noakes and star vet Alistair Watson, along with another former champion Jack Gray, who just outsprinted him to the silver medal last year, Birchfield’s Ethiopian Mohammed Kadar and Western Tempo’s Dominic James.
What’s more although Kurt has not targeted the race he should not be far away in his current form, with Felix and Max also both capable of knocking on the door of the top ten, if not inside it.
But as so often happens in cross country team events, the result may well come down to how far up our last two scorers finish. Owain hopefully may still be more than capable of making the top 20 or so, with Adam hopefully around the top 30 and Will, Andy and Graham all possibly inside the first 50 of what is likely to be a field of around 300 plus.
There’s certainly everything to play for, and if everyone runs up to form, we should not be far away. Winning it again would certainly be a big morale boost ahead or our challenge for the National title next month.
Our women’s team has unfortunately been depleted by illness, injury and unavailability, including team captain Elaina Gard, but led by Chelsea Baker, who won the Canterbury 10 mile road race last weekend, and with both Jessie Sanzo and Catie O’Donoghue down to compete, they should not end up too far outside the medal positions.
Mike Down Team Manager