English Cross Country Association Saucony National XC Relays
As it has done since 1989, Mansfield hosted the traditional start of the cross-country season with its usual mix of mud on the top field and faster paced surfaces though the undulating woods making for an action-packed Saturday. This is the 31st time the championships has taken place and as it has done for more than three decades now, it proves a useful marker for athletes, coaches and team managers as to how things are progressing. Once again, there was a record entry.
Note: the first leg is about 50 metres shorter than the other legs, so bear that in mind as you review the results on links as given.
Senior Men (4x5km)
This was a title that was definitely up for grabs with little to choose between four or five teams, three of which after the first leg didn’t appear in the top 10 last year. Get it right on the day and a memorable national title would be the result. And at the end of the first leg, Preston Harriers’ GB international Pat Dever (Andy Bibby) just held the initiative from Gateshead’s Lewis Moses (Alex Hains) and City of Stoke’s Alex Brecker (Geoffrey James), but, of course that’s very early days as countless teams discovered all-day long in the age group events.
Leg two saw Stockport’s Jack Morris (David Turnbull) hit the front early on as built up a 150m+ lead. Behind him, Aldershot’s Gus Cockle (Mick Woods), pulled his team ominously back into contention, although he faded slightly in the latter stages. Lincoln Wellington, underdogs with a point to prove, were also in the running along with Stoke’s David Sheldon (George Gandy), Tonbridge’s Charlie Joslin-Allen (James Thie) and Shaftesbury thanks to Bradley Goater. With Aldershot able to call on Ellis Cross (Mick Woods) and Jonny Hay (Mick Woods) for the final two legs, it would prove to be interesting. Tonbridge could be a team to watch; Lincoln Wellington likewise.
Leg three was what you’d describe as ‘bubbling’. All the big guns closed the gap considerably as Stockport’s Andy Nixon (David Turnbull) was passed by Tonbridge’s Ryan Driscoll (Mark Hookway), and AFD’s Cross, the national junior cross-country champion. Shaftesbury’s Richard Horton (Peter Bailey) had a great leg to bring his team up to third.
So, it was down to the final 5km – the result anyone’s guess. Of course, if you want to minimise the risk of a guessing game it’s handy to have Tonbridge’s Chris Olly (Mark Hookway), fourth in the national and a 3:44 1500m man on anchor. Even AFD’s Jonny Hay would have to be on absolute top form to close the gap. And then there was Shaftesbury’s Phil Crout (Phil O’Dell); this would be a tight race, although they were a relatively distant third by the finish.
Up front Hay closed in quickly, sitting on Olly but on this occasion the Tonbridge man had more speed and opened up a lead on his Aldershot rival in the final 600 metres. A great race that perfectly summed up a great Saturday said one coach and he wasn’t wrong!
Senior Women (3x3km)
All the pre-race talk surrounded how close the battle would be between Aldershot, Farnham and District and Leeds City and as the huge field ran past the first checkpoint a mile into the race, that looked like it might be the case. Of course, this is a relay and things don’t always go exactly how the form book suggests so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see City of Stoke’s Kate Holt (Alan Morris) and Stockport’s Elle Vernon (Steve Vernon) come in first and second, well away from Aldershot’s Katie Bingle (Mick Woods).
However, by leg two, it began to look a bit more predictable as Aldershot’s Emelia Gorecka (Chris Thompson) smoothly moved through field to build up a commanding lead for Emily Hosker-Thornhill (Mick Woods), the reigning southern champion to take into the final leg. Leeds City’s Steve Stockton (Rob Denmark) was also impressive, pulling her team back up into second, handing Lucy Crookes (Bill Foster) a good lead over Shaftesbury and Barnet’s Naomi Taschimowitz (Charlotte Fischer) who headed out third.
The final leg was pretty much order of the day, although bronze changed hands thanks on that last climb once again as Charnwood’s J Potter flew past Cambridge and Coleridge’s Katy Hedgethorne, who must have thought she’d got bronze. It was that innocuous looking hill again! Aldershot retained the title.
U20 Men 3x3km
With two internationals in the form of Ben Dijkstra and Sam Stevens leading them off, Leicester Coritanian could justifiably believe they were about to take the national title, but tell that to the rest of the field. First Shaftesbury Barnet’s Hamzir Kadir (Ali Kadir), then Milton Keynes Project’s George Wheeler (James Bennett), then Tonbridge’s James Puxty (Mark Hookway) and finally Loughborough’s Archie Walton (Charlotte Fisher) all hit the front with Walton eventually emerging victorious for the university side. Of course, that meant Tonbridge would be awarded the medals as university teams were ineligible (following a proposal and vote at the ECCA AGM for them to be eligible to compete but not win medals). As it had done so earlier in the day, that final almost insignificant looking climb took its toll, producing yet another tremendous finish as a result.
U20 Women 3x2.5km
The university of Birmingham, led off by Sarah Chapman quickly made their intentions known moving out to a 60m lead on Sale B's Claudia Cowan (Paul Roden) and 80m on West Suffolk’s Emily Moyes (Mick Woods) and Blackheath and Bromley’s Jessica Keene (Mick Keene). Chapman handed over to former English Schools champion cross country champion Sabrina Sinha (Peter Mullervy), who is returning to racing after a long period out of action, and that showed as quickly she was overhauled by Blackheath and Bromley’s Katy-Ann McDonald (Philip Kissi).
Going into the final leg it looked between three or four teams and even though Niamh Bridson-Hubbard (Blackheath and Bromley, Andy Frankish), a former English Schools silver medallist over the country looked to have had it won, she could do nothing about the amazing leg put in by Warrington’s Harriet Knowles-Jones (Paul Roden). Sale Harriers Manchester, anchored by Juliette Downs (Paul Roden) finished fourth with although on this occasion that meant bronze as third place was filled by Birmingham University, not eligible for medals at this event.
U17 Men 3x3km
Going into the final leg it was Aldershot Farnham and District’s Max Heyden (Mick Woods) who was given the job of maintaining the already large lead his teammates Marcus Shantry (Trevor Raggett) and Luke Van Oudtshoorn (Mick Woods) had so kindly built for him and he duly obliged. However, behind him it was a right old ding-dong for silver with five clubs fighting out for the medal. Given one of those was Cambridge and Coleridge’s Tom Keen (Mark Vile), the smart money was on the Cambridgeshire athlete given his current good form and so it proved, although he had to fight hard over the final 600 metres as Morpeth’s Rory Leonard had a real go at closing him down.
U17 Women 3x2km
With Ella McNiven (Liverpool Harriers, Lynn Webb) on the last leg, the Merseyside club could always feel confident of taking the title given Emma Gordon (Lynn Webb) on the first leg had put them firmly in the lead pack and Jessica Cook (Lynn Webb) kept that going, passing over to McNiven in a distant but closable second. McNiven ran the fastest leg at the National Road Relays and looked as strong in Mansfield, passing Vale Royal’s Holly Smith (Andrew Carter) with about a mile or so to run. A superb anchor leg from Mansfield’s Anna Smith (Richard Massey), last year’s U15 Midland XC champ, meant long-time medal contenders Rotherham Harriers’ Cyane Robinson (Jamie Russell) found herself run out of the bronze in the closing half mile of this tremendous race. As ever at an event like this, it’s never over till it’s over!
U15 Boys 3x2km
The top three perfectly demonstrated the range this event produces as three different teams headed out on the final leg to fight it out for the medals. Woodford Green with Essex Ladies emerged victorious with a winning margin on 10sec secured by Kai Boggon (John Stow) from Taunton's Joe Ponton (Richard Caburn) while Chiltern Harriers rounded out the top three just two seconds down on the South West club with Angus Williams (Steve Perkin).
U15 Girls 3x2km
A one-two by Blackheath and Bromley certainly demonstrated the strength in depth of this south London club. They stamped their authority on the field early on and from the end of the first leg it was all about who would occupy No.1 status in the club – impressive indeed at this national level of competition and a warning flag for any clubs aiming for the National title later this season. Morgan Squibb (Andy Frankish) and Naomi Toft (Phillip Kissi) carried the A team clear on the last two legs. In the past Aldershot have also dominated this age group in a similar manner and given that club’s impressive history in producing international athletes and the like, it bodes well for Blackheath.
U13 Boys (3x2km)
What a fantastic race this was. All change was the order of the day in this race, even going into the final 100 metres as Aldershot Farnham and District’s Ethan Scott (Trevor Raggett), fastest in the road relays looked to have won it for the perennial powerhouse but Kendal’s James Bowen, just 33rd in last year’s National was having none of it and sprinted by for a well-deserved victory. Wow! Action packed for sure. Bedford and County’s Zena Saez, the third fastest in the road relays had got things going early on and moved his team out to a big lead on the first leg. But immediately that order changed as Derby’s Patrick Welsh cut through the field to set up the Midland team for a chance of gold. That all changed on the final leg as first Bowen then Scott chased them down in what had to be one of the best races of the day. That final hill, not for the first time, took its toll, just deadening the legs in the closing straight.
U13 Girls 3x2km
Hallamshire Harriers, made up of three solid athletes in the form of Ruby Simpson (Steven Marshall) Georgia Robertson (Steven Marshall) and Emma Shipley (Steven Marhsall) emerged comfortable winners and were never really headed. Behind them Vale Royal’s Holly Weedall who was fastest in the road relays closed the gap on the final leg but could never really get back on terms on this occasion and for once the race was more or less decided as early as the opening 2km.