English cross-country is flying high led by a young generation of runners keen to impress at the highest level.
Last weekend, Parliament Hill Fields, a classic venue for more than a century, played host to the inaugural London International, a race that featured a Home Countries International as well as a guaranteed place on Great Britain’s World Cross Team in late March in Belgrade. There was also an inter area match, the trials for the World University cross and a set of competitive age group races, all of which took place on the twisting, testing 2km lap which offered great views for spectators.
U20 women's race
The tough climbs and soft underfoot conditions made it a challenge for anyone hoping to shine this winter. To win any of the races on the programme would require a world class performance, so to take the first three in the U20 women’s race illustrated just how powerful the current England team is and perhaps more excitingly, will be in the future! Like this race, cross-country in full of promise.
Innes Fitzgerald (coach: Gavin Pavey, club: Exeter), the reigning European champion has been in tremendous form for the past couple of seasons and she showed little signs of slowing down in London despite the testing hills.
“That was a tough course,” she said after her 69-second victory leading England to a comfortable victory. “The hill towards the end really bit me,” she laughed, adding: “This race shows just how strong a nation we are! England is a muddy place,” she laughed.Innes Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald raced to the lead in the first 100 metres as is her style and simply ran as hard as she could to the line never looking back, while behind her Eliza Nicholson (Mike Reeves, Blackheath and Bromley) was the silver medallist. Like Fitzgerald she too had plenty to say about the tough hills that have punished plenty of cross-country stars in the century or so the Fields have hosted events.
“It was a tough day, but hills pay the bills,” she laughed, adding she’s targeting the Southern Champs this weekend as her next race. “I’m just enjoying the journey,” she said.Eliza Nicholson
In third was no stranger to tough hills, Jess Bailey (Matthew Long, Leven Valley). The World Mountain Running silver medallist “loved the course” as the climbs suited her strengths, she said. She was also quick to praise the unique feel the course and event created.
“Eamonn is moving this event in the right direction,” she enthused, thanking Eamonn Martin, the England team manager and the man who created the race for creating such an exciting event. “I loved the tunnel and the cow bells.”Jess Bailey
Competitors raced through a fan tent on each lap, cheered on as they did so by cow bell-ringing fans to create real atmosphere on what was a fabulously exciting day. There was also a sharp u turn about 200 metres later which had one or two slipping as they changed direction almost instantly.
U20 men's race
The U20 men’s race also provided plenty of excitement for Team England fans as James Dargan (Mick Woods, Aldershot Farnham and District) powered to victory in the final 200 metres. With three of the England team in the top six after the opening two laps it always looked like an England victory was likely and so it proved.
“It was a really tough course,” said Dargan, echoing the sentiments of just about every finisher. “But that was no surprise as this was Parliament Hill after all,” he laughed. “The last 100 downhill was horrible especially as I’m not really ready yet. So, I just hoped I had something left when I kicked.”
England took the team title from Scotland with Quinn Miell-Ingram (Wendy Miell-Ingram, Radley) finishing a close second just five second back.
Senior women's race
The women’s race was dominated by Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis, Lincs Wellington) who - like Fitzgerald - is in superb form this winter. She is the European bronze medallist from earlier this winter and surged to a commanding lead after two laps. She had England’s Amelia Quirk (Mick Woods, Aldershot) in close attendance, but she wasn’t feeling too well and faded away in the final couple of kilometres. However, Ellie Wallace (Julian Emery, North Somerset) and Phoebe Barker (Richard Owen, Tonbridge) were feeling good and flew around the final kilometre to finish fourth and fifth respectively in what was a dramatic finish, the silver in doubt all the way to the line.
Both had chatted about the iconic feel of the course and how it’s a must-run for any cross-country runner so were understandably overjoyed with their showing.
For the senior women’s winner, not on the England team for this event but thanks to her European bronze and this victory very much a member of the GB team for March, she’s targeted the Barcelona Half Marathon as part of her preparations. Scotland were the overall team champions.
“I was under instructions from my coach to sit in and make my move on the last lap,” said Donnelly feeling very strong throughout, “but I panicked on the second lap and went for it.”Abbie Donnelly
Senior men's race
The men’s race was also won by an English athlete but as in the women’s race, not part of the scoring team on this occasion. Hugo Milner (Derby) used his considerable strength to pull away in the closing stages from a persistent Tom Evans (Lewes). For both men, it was a pleasing if not surprising result given the strength of the teams – including the England quartet – behind them. That’s because Milner is very much a triathlete first and foremost while Evans is one of the world’s finest ultra-distance mountain runners.
“Beating the best in the UK is an amazing feeling,” said Milner. “I knew I was in shape because I’ve been on 35 hours a week training (swimming, cycling and running) and I could hear the others struggling behind me so I just tried to relax as much as I could.”
He’s now heading for Australia for a triathlon training camp, while Evans is also on that flight down under although his goals are more Alpine in the form of events such as the UTMB later in the summer.
Jeremy Dempsey (Philip O'Dell, Shaftesbury Barnet/Cambridge Uni) was first home for the England Team, James Kingston (Mark Hookway, Tonbridge) was a superb sixth (and second finisher in the Home Countries match), Alfie Manthorpe (John Wood, Sheffield and Dearne) 10th and Jack Gray (Mark Vile, Cambridge and Coleridge) 13th to help England to the gold medal.
- James Kingston – 6th (30:28)
- Alfie Manthorpe – 10th (30:54)
- Jack Gray – 13th (31:09)
- Jeremy Dempsey – 5th (30:26)
- Niamh Bridson-Hubbard DNF
- Ellie Wallace – 4th (35:14)
- Phoebe Barker – 5th (35:14)
- Amelia Quirk DNF
- James Dargan – 1st (25:32)
- Quinn Miell-Ingam – 2nd (25:37)
- Jake Stevens – 5th (26:00)
- William Rabjohns – 6th (26:15)
- Innes Fitzgerald – 1st (21:08)
- Eliza Nicholson – 2nd (22:27)
- Jess Bailey – 3rd (22:28)
- Isobelle Jones – 9th (23:04)