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Inter-Counties Cross-Country Champs – 7 March 2015

Jason Sotheran reports from Cofton Park, ‘That time it was actually sunny up there’

Dorset U13 girls warm up.
Left to right: Maddie, Holly (E), Ella, Holly (D), Anna, Jess, Beth and Abbie

You know that you’re getting to the business end of the season when you make the annual commute to Cofton Park in Birmingham for the Inter-Counties. When you wake up at that ungodly hour of the morning and pull on that green vest you mean business – if you have to get up at 5am you want to know that the effort was worthwhile. I, like many of you I’m sure, started the morning with a double serving of porridge and caffeine before heading over to QE to catch the bus.

The journey up the country was quiet as usual, with every drop of common sense dictating that we all do our best to go back to sleep (with the exception of the drivers of course, they’re the real victims here). However anyone who had their eyes open would have watched a fine day dawning, and would finally have dared to believe the weather forecast from the night before.

Upon arrival and unnecessary fuss about parking the big red tent was shackled together for the penultimate time, indeed to call it red these days is to refer to a former glory – but it has served us well.

Then we saw the course!

Okay we all knew it had been changed but no-one quite expected this; I can genuinely say that every contour line on the park had been used to create this pearl of a new course. The Sky Sports guy on the back of the quad bike would have loved it if he were still there… *bitterness*. Anyway, just in case we weren’t jealous of those who’d travelled on Friday (and slept until a ‘normal’ time) we were now because they’d even had the chance to have a look round.

So, without further delay I’ll get onto the U13 Girls – although they weren’t first race of the day it seems easier to me to work through age groups rather than adhere to the strange race order. Moreover it means I can highlight one of the best Dorset performances of the day right at the start – a top 10 finish for Maddie Johnson, 8th place being a tremendous achievement and she looks to have a really bright future in a green vest. Although the rest of the team didn’t quite hit those giddy heights all the girls showed themselves to be perfectly at home in Inter-Counties competition. Ella Chown was the second Green vest in with 116th, followed by the Wimborne-based section of the team who might as well have been holding hands! 148th for Abbie Lovering, 151st for the ever improving Holly Nixon and 153rd for Beth Kingswell-Farr – you can really see that training together is pushing these three on! Holly Earley (Poole AC) came in 218th, she was closely followed by Anna Kelliher (WAC) who came in with a good Inter-Counties debut of 223rd. Closing the team was Jess Bourne (WAC) in 257th, with over 50 county standard athletes still behind her. The team was just outside the top half but claimed a very respectable 22nd position.

In the U13s we had a couple of late call ups, this is both a great opportunity and a daunting challenge – but these guys mustn’t be put off because this experience will set them up well for years to come. First in was Ryan Purse (Weymouth St Pauls)  in 161st, he was followed by another Ryan, Symington (Poole AC)  this time, in 222nd. In 235th and 248th respectively were Nathaniel Willmore (Poole Runners) and Thomas Farwell (Bournemouth AC) to complete the scoring team. Further down Charlie Davies, Zach Fenwick, Jack Moss-Wilcox (all WAC) and Jim Dence (Bournemouth AC)  all got their first taste of Inter-Counties running, and I have no doubt they will all build on this next time round.

It was a very good day for Lucy Ballam (WAC) who finished in 34th place, mixing it with the kind of company she deserves to be part of with the way she trains, week in, week out – an ever present face in the cold and the rain. Due to Lucy’s brilliance we had a bit of a wait for our next green vest, but it appeared in 136th, filled by Lola Brown Araujo from Poole Runners. In 221st came Abi Rutter, an athlete from Poole AC this time. She was shadowed by Shellby Cross (Dorchester) in 233rd just 15 seconds back. Dorset runners were now flowing in thick and fast with Zoe Stiby (PR) in 243rd and Suzi Hosier (PAC) in 268th. Their team finished 31st.

The next standout performance came from Dom Willmore (PR), who paced his effort brilliantly to secure 19th place – he has been in a real purple patch since the start of 2015 but seems determined to up his performance even further. It is worth mentioning that anyone who knows their stuff in XC would expect to see Tom Bourne (WAC) up there with Dom, however the chest problem that has plagued his season struck once again and he ended up with a DNF; suffice to say we all wish him a speedy recovery (he certainly seems to do everything else pretty quickly).Next in with 135th it sounds like Joe Kelliher (WAC) had a good run to finish just ahead of Jed Skilton (PAC) in 141st before Michael Johnson (WAC) got the last scoring spot with 208th. It’s easy to argue that Matt Yates (WAC) was unlucky not to be scoring as he finished just moments after Michael in 212th, another really good run for him this year. ‘Desperate’ Dan Baynham (WAC) was cheered home to 277th, and Ben Wedlake (PR) was hot on his heels to claim 283rd. The team together finished up in 28th, good work lads.

Now for the big one, the U17 girls; if you hadn’t already seen the results you might want to hold your breath about now. The ever modest (and ever so talented) Serena O’Connor (PR) bagged herself a podium finish in third place, and she made the girl ahead of her work pretty hard too! I still don’t think Serena realises how incredible this is, she’s risen to the top in such a short space of time her name was alien to even the commentary team! All I can say again is very, very well done! The only downside to this is that it took the sparkle away from a very good run from someone who may be out of breath but is never speechless! Aiste Razmaite (PAC) came in at the pointy end of the field with 23rd – normally more than good enough to come in as first Dorset runner! 54th and 71st aren’t too shabby either and these spots went to Charlotte Baker (Wells City) and Bridget Dence (BAC) to round of the strongest team performance of the day – Dorset finishing as 5th County with just 151 points from the first 4 runners. Only 12 seconds outside the top 100 came Emma Martin in 110th, proof if ever we needed it that small margins can make big difference at these championship races. Next in was Flora Johnson (DAC) in 140th, another very good run. Sadly it was inevitable that with so many great performances someone had to have an off day, and on this day it would appear that it was our own Abbie Hine in 185th (a result plenty of girls would bite your arm off for) You can’t win them all, but you know she’ll bounce back with a vengeance. Rounding up the team was Maddie Williams (WAC), who was actually doing the race this time rather than watching world records being broken or some other rubbish excuse! She finished 196th and still has another year in this age group.

Jason, Sam (B) and Piers in the under-17s

My race in the U17 men was daunting right from the start as we had none other than  Ben Dijkstra (the eventual silver medallist) in the pen to the left of us. On the bright side his fast start left space behind which we used to avoid the first corner crush which so often loses you 10 or 15 seconds. As County Champion I felt under considerable pressure to get in first, and for a lot of the race Piers Copeland, Ash Parker and Sam Brown were on my back like a rash! However, in the latter stages of the race the extra year of age that I have finally told and I pulled away to finish in 30th spot. Sam followed in 47th and Piers was not far back with 55th. As for Ash more chest troubles had ensued and although we were concerned to find him wrapped in a tin foil blanket in first aid – we were also glad to see he was okay and that he should be able to make it to English Schools (although I don’t think I’ll have enough time to write that one up!). Filling the last scoring spot instead was Tom Freeman in 168th and despite this minor setback the team finished 17th – and with three of the scorers still there next year! The rest of the squad consisted of the highly elusive Aiden Turner (DAC) who we finally found on the start line, justifying his position in the pen by finishing 195th just ahead of Josh Prior (PR) in 200th on the dot, despite being evidently nervous all day (if you’re reading this Josh it gets easier I promise!). Finally we had the mighty Sam Davies (WAC) in 242nd, he really is improving all the time and the other guys would do well to take notice!

In the U20 women’s race Dorset had no team, which is kind of a shame but also a relief because I’ve been sat here writing this for over two hours, however Charlotte Bourne (WAC) was with us with her usual unconditional happiness, and with a very solid 113th, she had every reason to be pleased! Also in the race was Becca ‘Scooter’ Skeats (WAC), who finished up in 136th position.

James Sewry proved himself well worth picking up from Oxford on the journey up (he’s from Weymouth but currently studying at Uni) – he led the Dorset under-20s team home with 55th in 25:29. Ryan Walbridge (WAC) was next home in 118th in 27:15, with Fergus Johnson (DAC) 136th in 27:55. Joe Arundel (BAC) was the team’s final scorer in 147th in 28:12.

So moving swiftly on to the senior women. Dorset had Nikki Sandell and Lou Price (both BAC) in action. Nikki finished in 30:15 seconds for 154th position, which is all the more impressive in the seniors because the best athletes from the last 10 years gone by are all there as opposed to the two-year splits that us younger athletes are used to. Lou was 271st in 35:59.

And last but not least the senior men – and I know we had a team here because they were on my bus hyped to within an inch of a cardiac arrest on Red Bull! Dorset’s highest finisher was the 176th of Rob McTaggart (BAC) (aka ‘Tag’ or occasionally ‘Zulu Warrior’). After that the pairing of Jamie Grose (BAC) and David Broadley (PAC) in 184th and 186th respectively, Simon Munro (BAC) was next in 237th. A further 20 places on in 257th arrived Andy Howse (PR) and in 282nd position was Wayne Walford-Jelks (Littledown) – and he’s got a sub-19 parkrun so he’s no slouch at any rate!

When you’re up in Birmingham you know you’re competing with the very best athletes that British cross-country has got to offer. Regardless of whether your result was akin to that of Serena or that of Wayne – you can all be incredibly proud to have even been there in the first place.

Well done everyone.


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