Connor and Cowper take the titles at England Athletics 5k Championships

Runners from across the country gathered in the pretty village of Kingsley, Cheshire on Friday evening for the inaugural England 5k Championships. Ben Connor (Club: Derby AC, Coach: Spencer Duval) and Sophie Cowper (Club: Rotherham, Coach: Gary Warhurst) were first to put their names on the list of English National title holders for this distance.

The Mid-Cheshire 5k series has only be running for a couple of years now and had already established a reputation for providing a quality 5k race for club athletes and the latest race in the series, combining the England Athletics Championships certainly did not disappoint.

A strong field of runners looking for fast times as well as Championship titles were met with near perfect conditions for road running. And despite the odd threat of rain, conditions remained mild, dry and still, bar the odd light breeze.

After a stellar season on both the road and cross-country Derby AC’s Ben Connor lined up as favourite to win. However, with a number of other in form runners with a pedigree on the road, track and cross-country Connor was in no way guaranteed to have it all his own way.

The race went out fast over the gently downhill first kilometre. There was a large lead group jostling for position with Ben Connor, Will Gray (Club: Brighton & Hove, Coach: Bud Baldaro) and Andy Maud (Club: Highgate, Coach: self) to the fore and at least ten or so athletes through in a brisk 2:40. As the group turned into the first gently rolling hill at about 1.5km, Connor eased away from the field taking advantage of the incline and clearly looking for a fast time. Only Will Gray was willing to go with Connor’s acceleration at this early stage in the race and the pack behind continued to work together over the fast rolling course jostling for position, and perhaps shelter, into the light breeze.

Through 3km in just outside 8:30 and with Will Gray now swallowed up by the pack, Jack Gray, Chris Parr (Club: Gateshead, Coach: Lindsay Dunn) and Andy Maud put in a series of surges on the front to whittle down the group. This, however, seemed to make no inroads into Connor’s lead who was enjoying a good 60metre gap on the field and looking very comfortable. Turning the bend past race HQ with 1km to go, and with the cheers of a sizeable crowd at his back, and the race already won, Connor increased his lead over the downhill last km chasing a sub 14 clocking. He took the win with a chip time of 14:00. Behind him. Andy Maud (Club: Highgate) accelerated hard out of the last turn and with 800m to go, he and Phil Seseman (Club: Blackheath & Bromley, Coach: Andrew Henderson) had opened up a sizeable gap on the pursuers and the race for the remaining National medals was between these two athletes. Seseman’s track speed showed over the last 400m as he eased past Maud to secure the silver medal and a new PB of 14:09. Behind Maud (14:13), the field closed fast with 5 seconds separating the next 7 athletes as the top ten all closed in sub 14:30.

It was a somewhat different race for the women and being a mixed race start provided the women with the added challenge of managing the fast paced start set by the men, whilst still concentrating on their own race and rhythm. Whilst the women’s race lacked the strength in depth of the men’s race there was nonetheless a high level of competition between some experienced athletes who have all shown good form on the road in recent weeks.

As the course record holder for the Mid-Cheshire 5k course Sophie Cowper was certainly amongst the favourites to win and clearly had her eye on beating her own course record of 16:20. She certainly gave it a good go, but had to settle for 16:28 on this occasion, leaving Emma Clayton (Club: Leeds, Coach: Andrew Henderson) and Laura-Jane Day (Club: Notts) battling it out for second place, with Clayton holding on to the silver spot in a time of 16:41 and Day taking bronze in 16:44.

England Athletics Road Running Coordinator, Charlotte Fisher said “Tonight’s race has been a great addition to the England Athletics Championship Programme on the road. Club athletes of all abilities have competed alongside the like of Ben Connor who was just short of dipping under the 14 minutes barrier. There’s been a fantastic friendly club feel to the evening, from first arrivals in the village to the presentations at the end. Thanks to Race Director Michael Harrington and his team of volunteers for staging this excellent event.”

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