The ECCA National Cross Country Championships saw athletes taking on a gruelling course at Wollaton Park with some fantastic tussles throughout the day of racing in Nottingham.
The senior titles went to Ben Connor (Club: Derby, Coach: Spencer Duval) and Jessica Judd (Mick Judd, Chelmsford) with their races panning out in very different ways.
From the starting straight Ben Connor was always to the fore and on the first of the bigger laps was already pushing the pace, initially along with Jonny Hay (Aldershot, Farnham & District, Mick Woods) with the likes of Charlie Hulson (Sale Harriers, Steve Vernon), Jack Martin (Stockport, Dave Turnbull), Graham Rush (Cheltenham), Sam Stabler (OWLS Leicester, Rob Denmark), Jonathan Taylor (Morpeth, Gordon Surtees) and Alex Teuten (Southampton, Rod Lock) then being involved in the lead pack.
But Connor, who recently won the Armagh 5K representing England, was the one consistently forcing the pace. As the leaders carved their way past the lapped athletes with a big lap to go it was now Graham Rush and Alex Teuten who were his closest pursuers. News from the far side of the course revealed Teuten had moved second with Sam Stabler into third place. And so the medal positions would remain with Connor able to savour the win in the home straight while still coming in 14 seconds clear as Chris Olley (Tonbridge, Mark Hookway) ran a strong last lap to pass Rush but he was not able to deny Stabler the third of the medals.
The team competition was very close fought. It saw Tonbridge edge out Morpeth by just four points - 289 to 293 with Bedford & County taking team bronze.
If Connor was able to enjoy the later stages of his championship win the final field was a very different experience for Jess Judd as this was the battle ground where the medals were very much decided. The early stages had seen Faye Fullerton (Georgina Fullerton, Havering) in a lead group including Jenny Walsh (Aaron Thomas, Wakefield) and Claire Duck (Mike Baxter, Leeds). It was then Fullerton, Duck Emily Hosker-Thornhill and Louise Small (both Aldershot, Farnham & District, Mick Woods), who were joined by Judd.
With the AFD athletes and Duck pushing the pace it was Judd who was the one able to go with them and as the athletes came into the final field it was clear the battle was now down the Judd and Small with each launching attacks to try to break clear of the other. Down the last hill into the home straight Judd’s track speed seemed to be making the difference as she finally opened out the gap on Small that would not be bridged to Small and come home three seconds clear. Duck maintained the chase on the leaders to take bronze ahead of Hosker-Thornhill with Juliet Potter (Charnwood, Roy Stowell) coming through for fifth.
Aldershot, Farnham & District scored an incredibly strong victory in the team event with just 22 points with all their top scorers in the top 10, as Charnwood took silver (107 pts) and Highgate the bronze (154).
Under 20 Men
The Junior Men’s race produced another great battle with a strong pack including Ellis Cross (Aldershot, Farnham and District, Mick Woods), Harry Powell (Kingston Upon Hull, Andy Lyons), Emile Cairess (Leeds, Phil Townsend), Ben Dijkstra (Leicester), and Paulos Surafel (Enfield & Haringey, Craig Winrow) slugging it out. The far side of the course saw the leading places string out to a 1-2-3 of Cross, Surafel and Dijkstra and as the last field came it was the Leicester athlete who was on a charge – moving into second place and looking to close on Cross. However, the AFD athlete had done what was needed to become National champion as Dijsktra took second. Preston Harriers’ Patrick Dever (Andy Bibby) was fourth with the bronze medallist’s brother Petros (Mick Woods) fifth.
Aldershot, Farnham & District won the team title with just 35 points as Tonbridge recorded 77 and Preston 152.
Under 20 Women
Harriet Knowles-Jones (Warrington AC, Paul Roden) fully justified her tag as pre-race favourite in an impressive win. Having run side by side with Thurrock’s Gemma Holloway in the earlier stages she forged ahead and held a dominant 45 second winning margin by the time she cross the line. Holloway’s boldness was rewarded with the silver medal as a thrilling on-going battle between Philippa Stone (Middlesbrough Mandale, Martin Peevor) and Niamh Brown (Aldershot, Farnham and District, Mick Woods) was only decided in the final strides in favour of the Northern silver medallist.
Brown did take a medal home - team gold - as Aldershot, Farnham & District won the club title with 49 points from Lincoln Wellington's 62 and Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow's 78.
Under 17 Men
A big lead pack took time to start to splinter in the Under 17s race but among those always towards the business end of the race was James Puxty (Tonbridge, Peter Mason) and it was he who pulled away at the front to claim the title. There was a fierce fight for places throughout the front of this race as Lachlan Wellington (City of Portsmouth, Vince Stamp) claimed silver just ahead of Shaftesbury’s George Groom (Stephen Murphy) as Josh Cowperthwaite (Middlesbrough, Martin Peevor) was next across the line ahead of a frenzy of finishers led by Zak Mahamed (Southampton, Peter Haynes).
Puxty led Tonbridge to the team title (131 pts) ahead of Aldershot, Farnham & District (143 pts) and Charnwood (167 pts).
Under 17 Women
Amelia Quirk (Bracknell, Beverley Kitching) came out on top of her battle with Phoebe Barker (Tonbridge, Richard Owen) to take the gold medal in a race that had seen the two of them at the front from early on. Bronze went to Alex Brown (Herne Hill Harriers) who similarly had been doing battle for the third of the medals with Chelmsford’s Khahisa Mhlanga (Mick Judd).
In an incredibly tight team battle Blackheath & Bromley won from Herne Hill Harriers by having the fourth finisher home highest - both had 128 points but Blackheath 'closed' their team in 49 places. Aldershot, Farnham & District scored 158 for bronze.
Under 15 Boys
Charlie Brisley (Invicta East Kent, James McNeill) and Josh Dickinson (City of York, Ian Wilcock) were always to the fore of this race and each spent a fair amount of time on the front. But it was Kristian Imroth (Dacorum & Tring, Mike Dunphy) who timed his race beautifully and came through to pull away for an 11 second victory ahead of the York athlete with Brisley taking bronze in a drive for the line which saw him neck-and-neck with Luke Van Oudtshoorn (Aldershot, Farnham & District) over the very last strides of the race.
Middlesbrough won the club title with 105 points as Aldershot, Farnham & District took silver with 187 and Tonbridge bronze with 204.
Under 15 Girls
Charlotte Alexander (Herne Hill Harriers, Wayne Vinton) and Olivia Mason (Border were pushing the pace at the front of this one but it was Mason who came away to take a win 11 seconds clear of the Southern champion. It was another area champion, Ella McNiven (Liverpool H, Lynn Webb) who won the Northern event who took bronze ahead of Emily Williams (Kettering Town Harriers, Shane Smith).
City of Norwich won team gold with 151 points from Guildford & Godalming (166) and Blackheath & Bromley (181).
Under 13 Boys
Jaden Kennedy (Herne Hill Harriers, James McDonald) pulled clear of the field to claim the gold medal. Northern Champion Fraser Sproul (Kendal) came away with silver as Joseph Currie of Chesterfield completed the medallists.
Aldershot, Farnham & District took another team win with 41 points from Herne Hill (112) and Chiltern Harriers (170).
Under 13 Girls
Maisy Luke (Cornwall) was a clear winner in the Under 13 race as she ran clear of Westbury Harrier Dalis Jones with local Lizzy Edge from Rushcliffe AC taking bronze.
Blackheath & Bromley claimed the team title with 78 points as Chiltern Harriers took silver with 145 and Wreake & Soar claimed bronze with 221.