Athletes put in battling performances as 'The National' was held on a testing course at Donington Park.
With the terrain providing a true test of fitness and character the competition for medals was fierce and challenging.
The early ferocious front running of Jonny Hay (Club: Aldershot, Farnham & District, Coach: Mick Woods) saw him quickly open a gap on the chasing pack which included defending champion Charlie Hulson (Club: Sale Harriers, Coach: Steve Vernon), Jonathan Taylor (Club: Morpeth, Coach: Gordon Surtees), Nick Swinburn (Club: Morpeth, Coach: Lindsay Dunn), Adam Hickey (Club: Southend, Coach: Eamonn Martin) and Andy Maud (Club: Highgate).
As the race unwound it was Hickey who gave chase and started to chip away at the gap that Hay had developed. As the last of three laps was started the lead no longer was such that Hay's win looked a foregone conclusion - especially as the tough terrain had seen several athletes fading in the closing stages in titles contested already. The fight for the title was well and truly on. During that final lap Hickey clawed more out of Hay's advantage but the Aldershot, Farnham & District athlete was not going to be denied and continued to work hard all the way down the home straight as Hickey gave everything in pursuit. The battle for third place was just as brutally contested as Nick Swinburn and Andy Maud attacked each other hard in the long final straight after having been involved in the race long battle for bronze. As the line drew close it was the Morpeth athlete who found yet another gear and pulled out a two second gap. It was an individual bronze and team gold as Morpeth packed home all their scorers in the top 40 to take the title from Notts AC and Sale Harriers Manchester (130, 307 and 326 points) as Highgate were edged out by 10 points.
A lead pack including the likes of Rebecca Murray (Club: Bedford, Coach: Alex Stanton), Louise Small (Club: Aldershot, Farnham & District, Coach: Mick Woods), Juliet Potter (Club: Charnwood, Coach: Roy Stowell), Hatti Archer (Club: Hallamshire, Coach: Bud Baldaro), reigning champion Lily Partridge (Club: Aldershot, Farnham & District) and Claire Duck (Club: Leeds, Coach: Mike Baxter) were to the fore on the first of the two laps run by the women with Kate Holt (Coach: City of Stoke, Coach: Alan Morris) also taking close order of proceedings at the front.
It was going into the second of the two laps that Partridge made her decisive move in the defence of her title. Claire Duck and Louise Small first looked to match her move as Partrige piled on the pressure from the front. Duck maintained the chase to keep the pressure on Partridge but was unable to bridge the gap to the AFD athlete and came home for silver. Kate Holt worked her way into the medal positions to win bronze ahead of Potter and Archer.
Partridge led Aldershot Farnham & District to a decisive win in the team title on 47 points ahead of Hallamshire (140) and Vale Royal (224).
North vs South • Red vs Blue •
Aldershot, Farnham & District have regularly seen their athletes in the medals at this event but on this occasion it was Ellis Cross who seized the day and took the title on the demanding course. Thirteenth in this event last year and fifth in the Southern Champs this time he led his team mate (and fellow Mick Woods coached) Gus Cockle to a 1-2 as Chris Olley (Club: Tonbridge, Coach: Mark Hookway) claimed bronze. The early running had seen strong contingents from both these clubs to the fore and pushing the pace. Maximillian Nicholls (Coach: Peter Brenchley, 5th) and George Duggan (Coach: Mark Hookway, 9th) gave Tonbridge three in the top 10 and were followed home by James West for 52 points. But it was a score of just 28 points for AFD that secured the title will all their scoring athletes home in 13 as Jack Rowe and Matthew Arnold (both Coach: Mick Woods) closed out the team.
If there were any athletes who 'left it all out on the course' at Donington Park then Harriet Knowles-Jones (Club: Warrington, Coach: Paul Roden) was certainly one of them. For the vast majority of the race it was a powerful display of front running that saw her open out a gap that looked utterly compelling, and it was no surprise that she came into the closing stages with a commanding lead. But as she approached the finish it became clear that the effort on the course had taken its toll and this was going to be no coast past the crowds to victory. While it looked as though her legs could give out at any moment she was not about to let that happen and hauled herself home to take the title - still with almost half a minute gap on Gemma Holloway (Club: Thurrock) to evidence the advantage she had gained with the ferocity of her early running. The bronze medal was taken by Mari Smith (Club: Leicester Coritanians, Coach: William Winter).
Stockport won the club title with 67 points ahead of Aldershot Farnham & District (98) and Bedford & County (131).
Under 17 Men
It was Isaac Akers (Club: Corby, Coach: Bill Boyd) who conquered the testing course to take gold in a competitive Under 17s race. The English Schools' 3000m champion moved away to take what became an assured looking win ahead of Scott Beattie (Club: Morpeth, Coach: Mike Bateman). There was a charge for the line for the bronze medal with Ben Davies (Club: Bedford, Coach: Simon Goodwin) edging out Jake Berry (Club: Medway & Maidstone, Coach: Steve Fury).
Tonbridge claimed the team title ahead of Cambridge and Coleridge with Bedford & County third - 113, 126 and 129 points respectively.
Under 17 Women
Niamh Brown (Club: Aldershot, Farnham & District, Coach: Mick Woods) pulled clear of the field to take the Under 17 title. While at the front for much of the race Sabrina Sinha (Cambridge H, Coach: Peter Mullervy) fought hard to stop the gap opening and keep her own challenge for the title alive. It was another of Mick Wood's Aldershot, Farnham & District athletes - Lucy Pygott who took the bronze. As such it was no surprise to see AFD take the club title as well as two of the individual medals with 49 points putting them clear of Blackheath & Bromley (115) and Cambridge & Coleridge (151).
Under 15 Boys
While the tough course meant that many were left hanging on for the line, one of those to gauge his effort well was Josh Cowperthwaite (Club: MIddlesbrough, Coach: Martin Peevor). While Zak Mahamed (Club: Southampton, Coach: Peter Haynes) looked to have built up a convincing lead he was clawed back in by Cowperthwaite's measured run and Mahamed was digging deep to hold off bronze medallist Lachlan Wellington (Club: Portsmouth, Coach: Vince Stamp).
Vale Royal AC secured the team title with 87 points ahead of Windsor, Slough Eton & Hounslow (162) and Aldershot, Farnham & District (193).
Under 15 Girls
South of England Champion Josie Czura (Club: City of Portsmouth) put in a strong performance in the Under 15 Girls race to come home ahead of Herne Hill Harriers' Alex Brown in a repeat of the Southern 1-2. Northern Champion Olivia Mason (Club: Border, Coach: Graeme Mason) took bronze as a thrilling team race developed. City of Norwich won by just 1 point ahead of Liverpool Harriers (71 to 72) as Herne Hill came away with bronze (116).
Under 13 Boys
Tommy Dawson (Club: Leeds City) was a clear winner of the Under 13 boys' race ahead of Rowan Fuss (Club: Blackheath, Coach: Mick Jones) and Epsom & Ewell Harriers' Harley Norman. In a close run team competition the gold medals went to Aldershot Farnham & District who scored 97, ahead of Tonbridge AC 109 and Eden Runners 111.
Under 13 Girls
Nicole Ainsworth (Club: City of Portsmouth, Coach: Vince Stamp) took the Under 13 Girls' title ahead of Blackheath & Bromley Harrier Morgan Squibb (Coach: Andy Frankish) with Lara Crawford (Club: Sale, Coach: Richard Goddard) completing the medallists. It was Squibb's club who took the club title with 77 points ahead of Ipswich (100) and Wreake & Soar (139).