Ian Kennedy reports from Prestwold Hall
Since 2017 Prestwold Hall, near Loughborough, has become the venue for the UK Counties Athletics Union Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships. Each ‘County’ is able to enter eight athletes in each age-group. There are around 40 teams, although some of the teams are more regions than counties, for instance North East, Scotland West, Scotland East, Wales North and Wales East. Dorset is ranked 31st of 48 counties by population size. Some 59 athletes represented Dorset, of these just over a quarter were from Wimborne AC.
Two years ago Prestwold Hall was quite the muddiest venue I can remember for a cross-country race. It was a quagmire. With such a wet winter, and the wettest February on record I was expecting the same, or worse, this time around. We were in for a surprise, there had been a few days of sunshine in Leicestershire in the preceding days. This had dried the course out a little. If anything this made the course an even bigger challenge to run on, as instead of the wet sloshy mud, the runners faced an incredibly sticky and adhesive mud. The conditions, as you would expect, gradually deteriorated over the day. I have never seen so many runners cross the finish line minus a shoe (this included at least one of the race winners). Naturally we sent our guys out there with duct tape wrapped around their shoes, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. On the plus side there was no conclusive evidence that on this soft ground running in shoes offered any sort of advantage!
In the team competitions we needed four to score in the age-groups from under-13 to under-20, and six scorers in the seniors races. Traditionally the hardest age-group for us to field a team in is the under-20s. There are a few reasons for this. One is that the international eligibility for an under-20 is used for this meeting. This means that some of our top year under-20s find themselves ineligible, another is that many of those who would be eligible are no longer domiciled in Dorset as they are away studying. Even allowing for these factors, we had disappointing numbers of under-20s, both men and women.
The first race of the day was the under-20 men. This produced the outstanding individual Dorset performance of the day. Ben Lewis had little distance to travel as he’s now based at Loughborough Uni. Ben’s 8th place was the only individual top 10 finish we’d see for Dorset all day. Our other under-20s were Nat Willmore and WAC’s Zach Fenwick.
8 – Ben Lewis – 32:09
128 – Nat Willmore – 37:52
170 – Zach Fenwick (WAC) – 43:25
It was great to see a full strength team in the under-13 girls. Erin Wells led the Dorset greens home with Lexie Brown next. A notable performance came from Hattie Byrne, only called into the team from the reserve list a few days before the event she claimed 3rd place Dorset finisher. Daisy Flux was the team’s other scorer. For the Wimborne pairing of Imogen Rawles and Isla O’Connor it was really valuable experience gained, both were running year-young.
Under-13 girls – Dorset team 34th, 613 points
77 – Erin Wells – 15:40
155 – Lexie Brown – 16:24
186 – Hattie Byrne – 16:40
195 – Daisy Flux – 16:45
205 – Elizabeth Dawson – 16:51
248 – Isla McPhail – 17:20
252 – Imogen Rawles (WAC) – 17:26
263 – Isla O’Connor (WAC) – 17:39
The women’s race turned out to be longer than advertised, as did a few others! The standard in the senior races is a little bit scary. Alex Door was first in for us, with County Champion Harriet Slade next home. Also competing was Elana Albery who’s been training regularly with WAC while studying at Bournemouth Uni. She represented Northants and was their second runner in (201st in – 56:16).
190 – Alex Door – 55:17
196 – Harriet Slade – 55:40
238 – Nikki Sandell – 59:16
244 – Sarah Swift – 60:56
The best Dorset team performance of the day came from the under-15 boys, with our two biggest hitters – Will Rabjohns and Ed Bird – getting good support from Mark Ruby and WAC’s Tom Jackson. Tom is in his debut season, and it’s been a very good one. WAC’s Jay Dunn has had a breakthrough season that has become slightly derailed at the last with an injury setback. It was great to see him back competing … but this was a very severe post lay-off test!
Under-15 boys – Dorset 9th team, 275 points
21 – Will Rabjohns – 15:18
34 – Ed Bird – 15:31
68 – Mark Ruby – 16:38
152 – Tom Jackson (WAC) – 16:38
171 – Ryan Openshaw – 16:50
246 – Jay Dunn (WAC) – 18:05
The Dorset under-17 women’s team has a good deal of experience. The first four athletes were all Poole-based (either Poole AC or Poole Runners) with Emily Parker leading the way. Wimborne’s Holly Nixon was just outside the point-scoring positions. This was the strongest team performance from a Dorset girls’ team at Prestwold.
Under-17 women – Dorset 23rd team, 396 points
68 – Emily Parker – 23:54
89 – Ashia Wilson – 24:14
96 – Fern Kimber – 24:27
143 – Heidi Taylor – 25:24
160 – Holly Nixon (WAC) – 25:47
195 – Izzie Rabjohns – 27:39
226 – Izzie Somers – 27:39
229 – Camilla Brown – 27:40
The same age-group for the boys was led home for Dorset by Oliver James, with Josh Smith next. It was great to see WAC pairing of Joel Green and Tom Fuller grab the remaining point-scoring positions. Both had a point to prove as they narrowly missed winning selection for the Dorset English Schools team next week. Ollie Rawles was WAC’s other team member he has one more big meeting before his cross-country season is done.
Under-17 men – Dorset 35th team, 729 points
82 – Oliver James – 23:13
204 – Josh Smith – 25:18
217 – Joel Green (WAC) – 25:43
226 – Tom Fuller (WAC) – 26:03
237 – Will Brodie – 26:30
251 – Jasper Todd – 27:16
252 – Ollie Rawles (WAC) – 27:22
There was a fine performance from Oscar Ewen Matthews as he achieved one of Dorset best individual results. Next home were Alex Cox and WAC’s Jack Williams, separated by just two seconds. There was a notable performance from Stanley Peters, he’d started 8th in the pen. The next three home were WACers, including very encouraging performances from year young runners Toby Butt and Ollie Green. Tom Williams managed to go one better than most, losing both of his shoes!
Under-13 boys – Dorset team 29th, 494 points
42 – Oscar Ewen Matthews – 14:16
126 – Alex Cox – 14:57
130 – Jack Williams (WAC) – 14:59
196 – Stanley Peters – 15:28
211 – Toby Butt (WAC) – 15:43
238 – Ollie Green (WAC) – 15:59
273 – Tom Williams (WAC) – 16:34
277 – Leo Riggs – 16:42
Our most depleted team was the under-20 women. This race did produce Dorset best-placed female runner … Wimborne’s Maddy Johnson.
50 – Maddy Johnson (WAC) – 27:55
105 – Lita Short – 32:02
Our under-15 girls team suffered more than enough dramas. Neve East got away well, raced well, and recorded a very respectable result. Behind her all sorts of chaos ensued. In those early metres when it is so congested, Sarah Graham went down and then suffered the worst spiking I’ve seen since the notorious race in 2013 involving Joe Miles. I was watching the race from a point around 400-500 metres in, and it appears that our girls were held up behind the incident as six of the team passed me almost at the back of the field.
From there on in they spent the race making up places, in the case of WAC’s Birdie Payne she picked off around 100 runners despite only wearing one shoe! Wimborne’s Sarah Graham was next in, she must have been running on pure adrenalin as outward appearances belied her situation. Martha Preece claimed the final point-scoring position. The drama was not yet over as WAC’s Selene Corran came into sight running as if oblivious to her nosebleed! There were woes too for WAC’s Isabella Cox. Isabella injured an ankle in the summer whilst pole vaulting, the battering that ankle took in these extremely heavy conditions was more than it could withstand and she was forced to retire.
With the race over and the adrenalin having allowed Sarah to get the job done, there were tears. Sarah had a couple of long, deep gashes down her calf which needed urgent medical attention. A trip to the first aid tent saw the injuries cleaned up (ouch!), and with the wounds still open and weeping they were then glued up. Thankfully this avoided the need for stitches.
Under-15 girls – Dorset 33rd team, 716 points
69 – Neve East – 18:40
186 – Birdie Payne (WAC) – 20:14
209 – Sarah Graham (WAC) – 20:36
252 – Martha Preece – 21:24
255 – Susie Forster – 21:26
274 – Emily Trent – 22:24
283 – Selene Corran (WAC) – 22:41
The final race of the day, with the course at its worst, it was time for our senior men to compete. There was another very respectable individual performance here from Tom Austin. Needless to say this produced more wardrobe failures (if that’s what losing shoes count as)!
Senior men – Dorset team 29th, 1,272 points
31 – Tom Austin – 40:37
185 – Jamie Grose – 45:17
223 – Graham Sherwin – 46:36
270 – Fergus Johnson – 48:40
280 – Richard Brawn – 49:19
283 – Bruce Campbell – 49:42
This was a gruelling event, the very sticky mud made the races the severest of tests. Selene, who’s in her rookie season, asked me earlier in the day would the race be as tough as Parliament Hill (where she’d had a great race). Looking at the gradients at Prestwold Hall I confidently predicted that it would not. On reflection perhaps I should reassess that!