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Top Five in England Again – But Much Better Return Unrewarded!

Mike Down reports on how the senior squads got on at the National Cross Country Championships. Well done to everyone who raced for B&W!

To end up in the top five endurance club teams in England from the huge number of 223 entered - as well as winning the trophy awarded to the leading club team in one of the three regions into which the country is competitively divided for a fifth successive year - is no mean achievement by any yardstick.

But for your scoring team to finish more than ten places per runner higher than in the previous year’s fourth position, only to end up one place lower in the overall standings, was disappointing and frustrating for our men’s team, who had gone into the race with high hopes of medalling at the English cross country championships that were held for the first time on a parkland course set in the grounds of Bolesworth Castle, near Chester.

Admittedly the late withdrawal through on-going injury concerns of our new Australian star Tim Lefroy and internationals Dan Studley and Johnny Thewlis, along with the absence through illness of one of our expected counters Ben Robinson, hardly helped our cause.

Yet such was the forward packing and depth of the three teams that took the medals – Leeds City, Cambridge and Coleridge and Tonbridge - that even their presence would most probably not have made the difference needed, and certainly not to the top two positions.

That is not to say that any of our team underperformed - in actual fact our points total of 301 was only 10 shy of our best ever of 291 that was good enough for the silver medals in 2018 - but just a further indicator that we are still perhaps a runner or two short at the top end of the team, particularly from the younger generation where further progress must surely come from.

As for the race itself our two current highfliers Jack Millar in 16th position and Kurt Taylor 19th as expected gave us the start we needed by both finishing in the top twenty of the huge 1500 plus field, in Jack’s case creditably enough on ground far removed from the muddy conditions on which he thrives and relished when finishing a remarkable fifth at Parliament Hill last year.

Even so on current form both had perhaps hoped to finish a little higher after their third and fourth places in last month’s Midland championship race behind Jack Gray, who only lost the gold medal in a sprint finish with Tonbridge’s James Kingston, and Notts’ emerging star Simon Noakes who finished as high as eighth.

Neither of them was able or prepared to go with the front group of some twelve runners that formed soon after the usual breakneck pace from the start and spent the rest of the race among a select few trying to close the gap and keep our chance of success alive, which they certainly did, with Jack actually always just in front of his clubmate this time, though it’s only fair to point out that Kurt has made a massive improvement over the country this winter having only just made the top 50 last year.

Unfortunately, like last year it was our failure to get anyone else in the top 50 that again hindered any chance we had of medalling. While it had been hoped that Max Davis might do so after his outstanding first season for the club, the young Bath Uni student said that he was never operating with his usual drive, but he soldiered on and ended up chasing home his UWE student friend Luke Burgess, who made the most of the speed he has acquired racing indoors this winter on the fast going to finish just inside the top 60 in 58th place, with Max just behind him in 61st.

It was almost certainly Luke’s best ever cross-country race and should give him the confidence needed to seal the Gwent League overall title this weekend, while though Max was naturally disappointed, it’s worth pointing out that like Luke it was the first senior National for both of them and they both look sure to add to our team’s future success.

While it was reassuring to see two of our youngest senior runners proving their worth, it was left to our two exceptional vets Jarlath Mckenna and Owain Jones to complete our scoring six. Both claimed they would have been happier on slower ground with some demanding hills, but using their experience they paced their efforts perfectly to improve their positions on the second of the two 6km laps, with Jarlath eventually finishing within ten seconds of Max in 66th and Owain just under another twenty seconds further back at 81st.

It’s a remarkable fact that our team captain Owain has made the scoring six every time he has represented the club in the National, and that I can assure you is in double figures! But he is the first to admit that the team should not have to rely on runners in their 40s, even if they are both among the top vets of their age in the country.

It was however just as well that we did, as our South West silver medallist Felix McGrath, whom it had been hoped would be in the top 50 and close to Max, had been suffering all week with a cough and cold, and always struggling with his breathing, he eventually fell back to finish a dispirited 150th.

Jack Bancroft, putting in a rare appearance on the country, was our only other runner in the first 200 at 198th. Another newcomer to the team Owen Hibbert, who is more of a middle distance runner, had no trouble with the early pace, but unsurprisingly perhaps set off a bit too fast and ended up outside the 200 mark in 227th, while marathon man Adam Stokes at 258th was our only other runner to finish inside the 300 mark, with the rest of the squad led in at 349th by Will Christofi, followed closely by Rich Elston 354, Aaron Bruce 361, Alex Hobley 368, and finally completed by Harry Parker at 687.

Team standings: 1 Leeds City 108; 2 Cambridge and Coleridge 177; 3 Tonbridge 214; 4 Highgate 249; 5 Bristol and West 301; 6 Bedford and County397; 7 Southampton 467; 8 Notts 531; 9 Hercules Wimbledon 598; 10 Salford 720.

Ladies Too Make Top Ten

Two well-judged performances from Chelsea Baker and Katrina Entwistle ensured that our ladies team managed to make the top ten clubs in the women’s 8km championship that was won by my old club Charnwood AC ahead of pre-race favourites Aldershot.

Both of them found the fierce early pace at the front too hot to handle, but paced themselves well to make up ground on the second of the 4km laps. As Chelsea had done in her fine Midland championship run, she worked her way through to finish only just outside the top 30 in 31st position, while Kat did likewise to move into the top 50 in the closing stages and end up a very creditable 46th.

Like the men our women were missing several first team runners, though they had star vet Jessie Sanzo and team captain Elaina Gard to complete their scoring quartet. Jessie was not happy with her run as she had expected to feel much better and be higher up the field, but she still managed to be our third finisher at 129th, with Elaina, who herself had been off sick the previous week, doing well to finish just 12 places further back in 141st position. Their combined efforts were still good enough to squeeze the team into the top ten overall in ninth place with 349pts.

Our other finishers, headed encouragingly by Hannah Dyer in 162nd position, were 205 Katie Strange; 229 Amy Brammer; 271 Anna Ford; 299 Anna Chowdhury and 308 Billie Williams.

With greater support all round, as shown regularly in the Gwent League, there is no reason why our women’s team could not match the men’s exploits, and it is worth pointing out that unlike our men they have previously twice won the women’s title. And just to add a further source for encouragement, when the men’s and women’s results are combined, we come out as third club overall behind top dogs Leeds City and perennial rivals Tonbridge.

Finally, congrats from all our senior runners to Ali Hurford and her brilliant U13 boys’ team for taking the bronze medals in their championship race.

Now For the Road Relay Championships

With spring already in the air, the road relay season beckons, with the Midland area twelve and six-stage championships scheduled for Saturday April 1 and the Nationals for April 15.

We are hoping to field two teams in both events and remember if the men want to have two teams in the National, the B team must finish in the top 25 positions in the Midland race, though the women have no such qualification rule, so a third team would also be possible if the demand was there.

The net result is that we need 24 men and at least 12 women to make up the teams required, so could you please let us know if you are up for it as soon as possible. Entries for the Midlands close on March 26, with the club covering all entry costs.

Mike Down

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