In Dorset green at Inter-Counties Champs – 9 March 2019
Ian Kennedy reports from Prestwold Hall
Dorset cross-country runners headed up to Prestwold Hall near Loughborough to represent the county at the Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships. Those of us who visited this venue last year to find a mudfest were pleasantly surprised by the conditions underfoot this time around. This year’s challenge came not from the mud, but from high winds. Simon Hearn of Bournemouth AC travelled up the day before so was on site early to establish the team base and erect the team tent. As the runners arrived the team tent did its best to depart! Once we’d relocated our base behind a substantial hedge, we were able to concentrate on what we’d travelled all the way to the East Midlands to do. The programme consisted of 10 races. Teams were able to field eight runners in each race, with four to count for the team score. The juniors were very well represented, but we were short on numbers in the under-20s’ races and the senior men (although we did critically have four runners in the U20W who were to produce one of the best Dorset team results on the day). Our 60 competitors came from clubs across the county, the largest contingents came from Bournemouth AC, Poole AC and Poole Runners who provided 11 each, and Wimborne AC who were represented by 19 athletes. Also in the mix were competitors from Dorchester, Egdon Heath, Salisbury, Swansea and Yeovil. There was one (second claim) Wimborne AC athlete, Hebe Hunter, representing her home county of Surrey (her first claim club is Herne Hill Harriers). The course itself had been subtly tweaked since 2018, and the changes improved on what we’d seen in the past. The start/finish area is in a relatively small field before the races headed out into open country. You got a fabulous view of the races as the competitors ran along the top of a ridge, much of it parallel with the boundary of the estate.
The first race of the day was the under-20 men. This race had Dorset’s lowest turnout. These guys had an 8k course to cover. First Dorset home was Harry Heffer, with WAC’s Dan Baynham the only other Dorset vest out there. With just two runners our guys were unable to record a team score (the only other race where this happened was the final race of the day, the senior men).
There was a full complement of Dorset vests in the under-13 boys’ race. This start produced the best individual result for a Dorset runner. Will Rabjohns’ of Poole AC second place gave the county its only podium finish. Will was the only member of the U13Bs team who’d competed at this event before, the other seven, including WACers Jack Williams and Josh Fazakerley, were all making their Inter-Counties debuts. Claiming the other scoring slots were Oliver Hill, George Mahon and Dylan Green. Ryan Pitcher came in sandwiched between WACers Jack Williams and Josh Fazakerley, who was just one second ahead of Oscar Matthews!
It was great to see seven senior women line up in the next race. For the first time in the event’s history the men and women were to race over the same distance … 10k. This team features one of the county’s stars – Verity Ockenden. She first cut her teeth with Poole Runners under the guidance of Rupert Pepper and despite moving on to university both at Swansea, and Lamar (Texas) she remains loyal to the county where she started out. These days she trains regularly at City of Salisbury. It was Verity’s aim to finish in the top 10 to qualify for the World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. She came so close to achieving her goal. Verity’s take on this was,‘[I’ve] put those hours in and look at what you get, nothing that you can hold but everything that it is.’ I put more hours in than I ever have before. I finished 11th at Inter-Counties and didn’t punch that ticket to World Cross … Although it’s painful to fall short of the goal, I do still have everything that it is and I’m proud of the work I put in nonetheless.
The other team scorers for Dorset were Sian Thomas, on the back of an impressive Hampshire League campaign, Serena O’Connor who was bumped up an age-group due to the use of international age-group rules, and Dorset County Champion Alex Door. Julie Austin was our next in, and the team was completed by the Poole Runners pairing of the irrepressible Sarah Swift, along with Megan Hocking.
The under-15 boys covered 4k and the Dorset team was led in by Jasper Todd. The other scorers were Dorchester pairing Ed Bird and Owen Pitcher with WAC’s Tom Fuller claiming the last team-scoring place. Mark Ruby was only six seconds behind Tom, and next home was Seth Hall-Nunn. Then it was Joel Green, relatively the time gap between Tom Fuller and Joel was about the same as last year … the course was a little shorter this time. The team was completed by Cameron Corbin.
The under-17 women’s team was one that was affected by withdrawals. We still managed to get seven athletes on the start line. Dorset was led in by WAC’s Holly Nixon and Beth Kingswell-Farr with Anna Kelliher 5th for Dorset. Izzie Somers, Lauren East and Laura Reeves, all made Inter-Counties debuts and were called up from the reserves. They can feel proud of their contributions, with Izzie and Lauren both scoring for the team.
With four to score every finish was an important one here. For Grace Copeland she was doubling up as this race also formed part of the British Cross Challenge. After 6k Grace romped home in 12th and that saw her placed 4th overall in the U20W British Cross Challenge having also competed in Cardiff, Milton Keynes and Liverpool in what this year is a very strong age-group. Next in for Dorset with was Alice Sullivan (2nd claim WAC) followed by Izzie Taylor. Lita Short’s result would be important for the team too, and she ran possibly her best race of the season. The team came 13th, equaling Dorset’s best on the day (with the U13G).
There were five first-timers in the U13G , three of them – Darcy Dryden. Neve East and Lexie Brown were the first three Dorset finishers. Claiming the final scoring spot, and improving significantly on last year’s result was Iris Courtney. She improved by more than 100 places. Birdie Payne, who’d come in as a reserve was well worth her selection for 5th Dorset home. It was very tight between Birdie, Martha Preece and Erin Wells. The team was completed by WAC’s Isabella Cox.
We only had six starters in the U17M’s race. Four of them were from Wimborne AC. Nat Willmore was first Dorset green vest home, and the remaining scoring places were claimed by WAC’s Seth Lake, Ben Martin and Sam Hughes. The team was competed by Jake Small (PR) and Jack Moss-Willcox (WAC).
The best-placed Dorset female individual performance on the day was Emily Shaw with 5th. Emily’s sights now turn towards next week’s English Schools Championships and the possibility of another international vest. The other ‘wow’ performance in this age-group was from Poole AC’s Emily Parker. She started 6th in the pen but was second Dorset across the line, although Ashia Wilson and Amelia Reynolds were in close proximity. Next Wimborne home was Hebe Hunter wearing the yellow vest of Surrey on this occasion. She’ll be in Dorset green, and top of age-group, for English Schools next week. Izzie Rabjohns was some 20 seconds ahead of WAC’s bottom of age-group Sarah Graham, with Heidi Taylor and Susie Forster both within 14 seconds of her. The team came 21st.
For the men’s we had an incomplete team, made up entirely of debutants. László Tóth was first Dorset home, he may well have been first Hungarian too! Ian Luke and Joe Godden, team mates for Dorset and Poole Runners, were never far apart, and the differential was five seconds when they crossed the line.
For the seniors, that wraps up another cross-country season. Many of our talented juniors still have a big finale to come … the English Schools Championships at Temple Newsam Park in Leeds next weekend. Bring it on!
Our team tent had a very special visitor at Prestwold Hall. It came in the form of Melissa Courtney. Millie was brought up on a diet of Wessex and Hampshire cross country league races (just like our current juniors) before moving on to bigger things. She is holder of a bronze medal from the last Commonwealth Games (1500) and her thrilling performance at the European Indoors over 3000m in Glasgow is a recent memory. Millie tweeted: