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English Schools Cross-Country Champs – 14 March 2015

Ian Kennedy reports from Witton Country Park, Blackburn

Each season the cross-country season climaxes with the Inter-Counties Championships and encores with the English Schools. These events give the cream of Dorset’s young cross-country runners two opportunities to represent their county.

Selection for the teams is largely based on the Dorset Schools County Championships, the South West Schools Championships and influenced by results from other races where Dorset runners have competed against each other. The youngest age-group, known as the ‘Minors’ only progress as far as the regional ‘South-West’ championships. WAC have got a number of fine athletes in the ‘Minor’ category, but they will have to wait at least another year before they can take part in the Nationals. However, our ‘Minors’ will no doubt draw inspiration from the performance of the likes of Beth Kingswell-Farr and her older WAC team-mates.

This year’s English Schools Cross Country Championships took place in Blackburn, Lancashire. Gavin Rusling of QE School did a great job with all the arrangements for travel and overnight accommodation for the 44 Dorset athletes and their support team. Our very friendly driver saw us aboard a smart Excelsior coach at King’s Park stadium. We set off at 12 noon on Friday on what would be around a 600-mile round trip to Lancashire. We stayed at the Premier Inn at Blackpool East … and rather amusingly our hotel was near ‘Wimbourne Leisure Centre’ – note the different spelling. The staff at the hotel were brilliant as, when they realised that we wouldn’t be wanting 40-odd ‘Full Englishs’, they went off and got more bananas in for the following day’s breakfast, as well as preparing more porridge than usual.

The team managers travelling with the team were Jayne Dart of Sherborne School, and WAC’s own Paul and Paula Hine and me (we were joined by Chris Humpage of Clayesmore on race day). We held our team talk in the hotel at around 8pm. It was clear to see why the athletes we had with us were amongst the county’s elite, they listened. From a team manager’s point of view our athletes were a dream to work with. Lights out for the team was at 10pm.

We woke up to some quite decent weather with only light winds … although it was quite chilly. Before boarding the team bus we took time for a team photo, everyone looked very smart in their green Dorset hoodies. We then had a journey of around half an hour to get to Witton Country Park. Our coach pulled up and we decanted with our kit, Dorset flags and the WAC red tent and established our base. Then as a group we walked the course. Quite a lot of it was flat, but there was one formidable hill, and the descent would take the runners through a very muddy gateway. Some of the older age-groups we be tackling the hill more than once. The prep had been done … now for the races.

We had a really strong looking Junior Girls team. It had a very potent spearhead made up of WAC’s own Grace Copeland (National Champion in 2013/2014, Dorset County Champion 2014/15), Anna Perkins (Sherborne) (South West Schools Champion 2014/2015) and Maddy Johnson (St Osmunds/Dorchester AC) (3rd in the South West Schools Championships), these three got great support from Amy Mills (Twynham), Jasmine Wellman (Woodroffe/Exeter Harriers), Lola Brown-Araujo (Parkstone/Purbeck Runners), Beth Kingswell-Farr (Cranborne/WAC) and Olivia Willmore (Colfox). In each category the first six runners home score for the team. Of the 45 counties fielding teams, we had come 11th. Our girls certainly punched above their weight, as we beat many much more populous counties. In all the races at the English Schools the top eight runners can win England vests. Both Grace and Anna were tantalisingly close, just 10 and 11 seconds respectively away from the last runner to qualify. Maddy was only six seconds further back (and she has another year in this age-group). What might she achieve if her present rate of progress continues?

We were treated to another good team performance from the Junior Boys with Jed Skilton (Poole AC) and Ben Lewis leading the team home for a BCS/Dorset 1-2. Next in was Alex D’Arbost (Clayesmore/City of Salisbury), followed by WAC’s Dan Baynham who really performed well on the day. According to data released by the ESAA Dan ran the fastest average time per km of any WAC runner in any of the races at Blackburn. Thomas Crabtree (Colfox) was next with Ryan Purse (Budmouth/Weymouth St Pauls) pursuing him. WAC’s Michael Johnson completed our team. It’s amazing what a difference a week can make, as Michael beat Dan comprehensively at the Inter-Counties, but at Blackburn the roles were reversed. The Junior Boys had come 16th of 45 county teams.

Now to the Intermediate Girls. Those of us at the Inter-Counties the previous week witnessed a stellar performance from Serena O’Connor (Parkstone/Poole Runners). Serena couldn’t quite hit the same heights this time around, but for someone who hasn’t been around on the cross-country scene for very long, it was another fine performance as she led the Dorset team home. She finished the race strongly making up many places in the latter stages … a longer race distance would have suited her. Serena was also the only Dorset runner all day to need the first-aiders – a spiking injury requiring attention. There was a ding-dong battle to be next Dorset girl home, with a splendid performance from Bridget Dence (BSG/ Bournemouth AC) giving her the honours over Avonbourne/Poole AC’s Aiste Razmaite, and next home was Katrina Ashford of Corfe Hills/Poole Runners. WAC’s Lucy Ballam (QE) was next in. She has had a phenomenal season, almost every race has been an improvement on the one that preceded it. However, Lucy’s luck ran out just before the season concluded. Surely her best performance of the year had been at the Inter-Counties, in the intervening seven days she’d picked up a stinker of a cold. Lucy was struggling at training on Tuesday and was off school on Thursday, come the weekend she was on the start line. She put in a heroic performance, and a very respectable race result in the circumstances (she’d lost her voice). Keeping close company with Lucy was Emma Martin (Parkstone/Poole AC). The Dorchester AC pairing of Flora Johnson (Thomas Hardye) and Shelby Cross (Purbeck) completed the team. It was yet another ‘punching above our weight’ performance from one of England’s smaller counties. The team were 11th of 45.

We had another respectable team performance from the Intermediate Boys team – 16th. Before we’d left Dorset, Gavin had stated that in his opinion we were fielding one of the strongest Dorset teams for a few years, and this was being borne out in the results. Sam Brown-Araujo (Purbeck/Poole Runners) did a great job leading this team home. Seven days can be a long time, and Ash Parker (PGS/Poole AC) successfully buried the ghost from his Inter-Counties nightmare, where he’d struggled with a chest infection. Meanwhile Dominic Willmore’s (PGS/Poole Runners) excellent season continued here, he was third Dorset runner home. James Miles (Clayesmore) was our next runner in ahead of Piers Copeland (PGS/Wimborne AC), unfortunately Piers was unable to replicate his Inter-Counties race. It was great to welcome back Michael Biss (Gryphon/Wells City) he had been unable to compete at the Inter-Counties, and he was our next man home. Wimborne AC’s Joey Kelliher (Gillingham) rounded off a great rookie XC season with selection for Dorset at both the Inter-Counties and National Schools, and he completed our Intermediate Boys team.

Charlotte Baker (Gillingham/Wells City) was on top form as she led the county team home in some style. WAC’s Abbie Hine (QE) ran a blinder too, far out-performing her own efforts of only a week earlier. I’d walked the course with Georgie Kemp (Sherborne) prior to the races, and she’d expressed her horror at the hill when we’d walked up it together – come race time she rose to the occasion and was next Dorset home. Wimborne-based Ella Penny (Canford) was the next Dorset vest home with the WAC pairing of Charlotte Bourne (BSG) and Becca Skeats (QE) completing the team. I was talking to both Charlotte and Scooter afterwards and it became clear that this may be their last cross-country season with us. If that turns out to be the case, then what a way to sign off … representing their county!  Charlotte will be at uni and Scooter is taking a year out travelling. They have been part of the WAC set-up for years, and we’ll miss the contribution they have made to WAC’s endurance squad. Over that time they’ve shown just how hard they are prepared to work, and whatever they turn their attention to in the future you can be sure the attributes they share of honesty, commitment and resilience will serve them very well. We’re not saying farewell to them yet though, we’ve got a track season to come. The Senior Girls team were 31st.

The final race of the day was the Senior Boys. Jason Sotheran (QE/Wimborne AC) has put in some fine performances this season. His race at Blackburn was amongst the best as he led the Dorset team home. Andy Smith (Clayesmore/Poole Runners) has given sterling service to the county over many years … he was our next man home. The Dorchester AC Johnson dynasty supplied the county with its third athlete of the day – Fergus (Thomas Hardye). He had a fine run, beating WAC’s Ryan Walbridge (Blandford) in a head to head for the first time this season. With the performances of Fergus, and his sisters Flora and Maddy in the earlier races, mum Frances must have felt very proud of her clan and the contribution they made to the county team. Like Charlotte and Scooter, Ryan has also reached the upper limits of the age-groups in Schools cross-country, and he’s another one who has made a big contribution to the WAC team over the years. His career choices will quite likely see him remain Dorset-based … so hopefully he will represent WAC in cross-country races for many years to come, where he can provide a solid foundation for the club’s men’s team. Next in for Dorset at Blackburn was Eddy Horn from Sherborne. He was followed by a cluster of green vests. Charlie George representing Bryanston was the first of these. He was a single second ahead of both Daniel Trickett (LEAF/Poole AC) and James Hywell-Davies (Clayesmore). The team came 27th overall.

There is a competition based on the overall aggregates of all the girls’ age-group teams called the Sidney Rose Trophy for counties of a population of 1,000,000 people or less – 12 counties competed for this. The trophy was won by Somerset with Dorset as runners-up. The boys compete for a similar trophy – known as the Sussex Trophy. There were 11 counties competing for this one. Somerset also won this, but there was another impressive result for Dorset, our boys claimed third.

With the racing done it was time to dismantle the team tent. We got some bemused looks from other county teams around us when we dismantled the red tent and then threw it straight into a nearby skip. There was something strangely satisfying about this! That tent has served us well through one track and a cross-country season, but it’s showing its age. I’m looking forward to ordering a new one for the coming track campaign. Some weary bodies trudged back to the coach for our long journey home, and we arrived back at King’s Park just over 10pm. It had been a day to remember.

Wimborne AC provided, just over a quarter of all the athletes selected to represent Dorset (our biggest contribution thus far), and had also made a significant contribution to the management team. All 44 Dorset athletes that travelled to Blackburn really did themselves … and the county proud! It was an exhausting and exhilarating weekend and a pleasure to have been involved.


Dorset results –
Wimborne athletes shown in red.

Junior Girls

22 – Grace Copeland – 12:03
25 – Anna Perkins – 12:04
35 – Maddy Johnson – 12:10
78 – Amy Mills – 12:27
202 – Jasmine Wellman – 13:10
219 – Lola Brown-Araujo – 13:13
236 – Beth Kingswell-Farr – 13:19
260 – Olivia Willmore – 13:27

Junior Boys

39 – Jed Skilton – 12:39
69 – Ben Lewis – 12:50
96 – Alex D’Arbost – 13:01
120 – Dan Baynham – 13:08
170 – Thomas Crabtree – 13:19
187 – Ryan Purse – 13:24
264 – Michael Johnson – 13:44

Intermediate Girls

17 – Serena O’Connor – 13:20
41 – Bridget Dence – 13:44
45 – Aiste Raizmaite – 13:46
48 – Katrina Ashford – 14:20
145 – Lucy Ballam – 14:30
149 – Emma Martin – 14:32
165 – Flora Johnson – 14:38
311 – Shelby Cross – 16:07

Intermediate Boys

49 – Sam Brown-Araujo – 19:18
60 – Ashley Parker – 19:26
88 – Dominic Willmore – 19:37
158 – James Miles – 20:11
219 – Piers Copeland – 20:37
259 – Michael Biss – 21:07
267 – Joey Kelliher – 21:11 

Senior Girls

39 – Charlotte Baker – 17:19
109 – Abbie Hine – 18:22
160 – Georgie Kemp – 18:58
221 – Ella Penny – 19:46
226 – Charlotte Bourne – 19:54
286 – Becca Skeats – 21:35

 Senior Boys

55 – Jason Sotheran – 26:23
121 – Andy Smith – 27:27
179 – Fergus Johnson – 28:21
191 – Ryan Walbridge– 28:31
213 – Eddy Horn – 28:56
233 – Charlie George – 29:19
234 – Daniel Trickett – 29:20
235 – James Hywell-Davies – 29:20

Full results can be found here:


Our Athlete's Reflections

‘The outcome of this race was not how I planned it to be. However, I believe that there was a positive outcome to this experience as I will never now worry that if I become ill or injured, knowing that it isn’t the end of the world if you miss races because there’s always another one.’  Grace Copeland

Running at English Schools was a massive achievement for me, especially as I was in the younger year in my age group. I enjoyed every minute of going to Blackburn – apart from the nerves before the race! Everyone else in the team made me feel so welcome (especially the WACers) which was really nice because I had never been to a race that big before. I still can’t believe I ran at English Schools and I will never forget it. All the athletes were so inspiring and so was the whole event. It was so cool seeing everyone walking the course and warming up in their separate counties and in matching colours. The whole weekend was great and everyone did brilliantly.’  Beth Kingswell-Farr

Ever since I had joined Wimborne AC I had wanted to compete in English Schools, the pinnacle of x-country, and finally I had the chance to compete. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. This was my last x-country race under the red tent before starting university, and I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who has made running the love of my life, I seriously don’t think I can ever live without it now.’  Charlotte Bourne

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