There’s something special about racing at Parliament Hill. No doubt it’s one reason why so many of us return year after year. In terms of numbers of Wimborne AC athletes, we had a record 50 first claim WACers racing, plus one second claimer, and one about to become second claim. The original entry for the South of England Cross-Country Championships had even more names on it, but with a six week cut-off prior to the race, it was perhaps inevitable that we would lose a few to illness and injury.
Many travelled up together by coach, something that enhances the team spirit, while others used the race as an opportunity to make a weekend of it and visit friends. The coach rolled out of QE car park at 7am, we made good time and were parked up on Hampstead Heath by 9.45. Getting set up and collecting documentation for the first race at 11am always seems like a rush. As the team tent arrived at the top of the hill, our base for the day, there were already a few WACers there who had travelled independently. We’ve seen all weather conditions at Parliament Hill over the years, indeed we’d watched the forecasts incrementally improve over the course of the week leading up to the race. It had gone from rain all day, to chance of rain late afternoon. Fortunately for us we were safely on the bus on the way home before the deluge came. Conditions this year were pretty kind for cross-country running, perhaps next year we’ll see the more traditional mudfest!
Our under-15 boys were first to go. They headed off to the start line near the lido with some 300 others. There’s something thrilling about watching that first race of the day as the gun fires and they make that first ascent en masse. The first red home of the day was Joel Green, who ran very well in the Dorset Schools competition a week earlier. Ollie Rawles was next in, with Jay Dunn in close attendance over the 4.5k the boys covered. Jack Wrann was just over a minute behind our these two, and Joe Healey completed our line-up. Our first four finishers score towards the team competition … we came 29th.
The early stages of the meeting are frenetic with the younger runners, in the races over the shorter distances starting one race as the previous race is concluding. This is where it’s important to have so much support within the team. Thanks to those who supervised warm-up and acted as ‘kitman’ (or woman) at the race starts, and those there to meet our race finishers too.
Iris Courtney led the team home, fresh from the confidence-boosting performance of the previous week at the Dorset Schools. Birdie Payne, next home at Parliament Hill, also shone at King’s Park and was a Dorset Schools team qualifier. This is only Birdie’s second outing in a red vest, she’s having an extraordinary rookie season. Absolutely rock solid and reliable, Isabella Cox finished in the top half of the field, and her great friend Kate Simmonds was around 30 seconds back over the 3k course. The line-up was completed by Ruby Sargeant, one of WAC’s dependables, who has clocked up a considerable number of performances over the course of the XC season. The under-13 girls were 19th team.
Josh Fazakerley has a happy knack of producing his best performances at the bigger races. He was first WAC under-13 boy, but only just. He was three seconds ahead of Jack Williams, with Tom Williams another 16 seconds back over the 3k route. Next in for us was Luke Mogridge, an encouraging performance at what would have been his biggest race yet. George Butcher was just seven seconds away, and Jack Doran completed the line-up on his Parliament Hill debut. The under-13 boys team came 31st
The under-15 girls race brought WAC its best results, both for individual and team. Last year’s South of England Championships were held at Brighton, and there we celebrated Emily Shaw winning a silver medal. Emily made it a double at Parliament Hill, but there was something about the nature of her performance here that sets this race apart from last year’s achievement. At the start of January Emily came third at the South West Inter-Counties. By her very high standards that was a disappointing result and it led to Emily thoroughly contemplating her preparation and planning. Sometimes a disappointment can be a new launchpad for pushing on, that seems to be the case here.
Well-placed off the start, Emily was third by the time she reached the top of the first hill, and second at the top of the next one. In the past year it’s been Bea Wood, of City of Salisbury, who has been the country’s outstanding endurance runner in this age-group. At the South Wests, on a course of 3.62k, Bea headed Emily by 46 seconds. Over the longer trip at Parliament Hill (4k), the gap between the pair was down to 13 seconds. Emily had got her prep and race tactics spot on.
Next home for WAC was Parliament Hill debutant Marianna Sawyer, claiming 44th with an impressive performance. Three seconds, and six places, ahead of Marianna was her Sherborne Girls schoolmate and training partner who represented Herne Hill Harriers. We’ll be welcoming Hebe as a second claim WAC athlete imminently. Sarah Graham was our third scorer, inside the top 100 with, 12 seconds back, Emily Wood securing the final team scoring position. The combined scores of Emily S, Marianna, Sarah and Emily W gave us our best team score of the day – 10th. There were impressive performances throughout as the next four – Charlotte Wordsworth, Sophie Cook, Zara Vaughan and Bella Jones – were all racing at Parliament Hill for the first time. Sophie and Zara were also making their WAC debuts (and what a place to open your account!) whilst for Charlotte and Bella it was only their second Wimborne outing.
The under-17 men had a 6k route to cover. First in here was Ben Martin, just sneaking into the top 100. Just over a minute back was Sam Hughes (he’s just received a call-up the county’s schools team). A trio of WACers came in within 20-odd seconds of each other, led in by Seth Lake with Jack Moss-Willcox and Zach Fenwick separated by seven seconds. Respect to Josh Jack out there, he’s had an injury-plagued stop-start (but mainly stop) season, so the race over this course would have provided a serious test for him. A big shout out for Charlie Davies, who was laid low with flu earlier in the week, was well enough to travel to support the team, and should be back on it in time for the South West Schools Champs. The team came 14th.
The under-20s women’s race also covered 6k. This year’s field, with its three-year age-group had a star-studded field. In amongst it all was Grace Copeland who claimed a top 10 finish. Grace has the canny habit of out-performing her Southerns results at the Nationals. She heads to the Nationals in Leeds on 23 February.
In the five previous races we’d fielded complete teams, but we’ve found it harder to do this in the older age-groups … we didn’t manage it in either of the under-20s races, or for the senior women. Our only other team scorer in the under-20 women was Minty Stubbs. A challenging course like this suits Minty’s style, and she managed to get 20 seconds ahead of Alice Sullivan (1st claim City of Salisbury, 2nd claim WAC) over the climbs of Hampstead Heath.
We had healthy numbers competing over 5k for the under-17 women’s race. The team was led in by Maddy Johnson. Maddy maintained her proud record over South West England athletes (she’s only been headed once this season by another athlete from the region) but she was made to work for it this time as Fern Kimber of Poole Runners was only one second behind her! That was an incentive for a spring finish!!
Holly Nixon, as ever, gave 100%, to record a finish just outside the top 50. Beth Kingswell-Farr had one her best races of the season to claim the third scoring position for the team. The final team scoring position fell to a resurgent Amy Mercer, who endured a tough start to the campaign. Next in was Anna Kelliher whose season also took a while to get going, and then Hannah Fairchild and Izzie Kingswell-Farr came in one behind the other. This age-group gave us our second-best team result of the day with 11th.
The race in which we had the least representation was the under-20 men, just a single athlete, Dan Baynham. He has a reputation in training of beasting hill sessions. His shorter stride and high cadence style suits the inclines. He might not have found the 8k distance quite as much to his taste however. Dan has raced at Parliament Hill in three of the past four years and this is his highest placing so far.
The women also covered the same 8k route as the unde-20 men. With over 700 finishers, the race had the biggest entry of the day so far. For Tara Green this was a ‘bucket list’ race. Having ticked it off, she declared this was her first and last appearance here which, as she very narrowly missed being in the top half of the field, is a bit of a shame. Once the memory fades about how tough a challenge this was perhaps she’ll reconsider. Tina Mercer was our other competitor. You need a mindset of toughness and resilience to do this, Tina has those qualities in spades. This was only Tina’s second race of the season and her first time ever at Parliament Hill.
The men’s race is a beast. Parliament Hill tends to be used alternative years for the Nationals or the Southerns. When the venue is staging the Nationals the race distance is 12k, when it stages the Southerns this becomes 15k (as it did this time). In muddy years this becomes a particularly demanding challenge. Recently a cut-off of 90 minutes has been introduced. The results show 1,154 finishers, but there were more completing who failed to make it inside the time. All of our men made the cut-off by a significant margin.
Our first three men home – Steve Wyatt, Chris Heckford and Jerry Shield – all have a very respectable record in road races in our region. What was interesting was how close Rob Rawles, who almost exclusively runs off-road, was in time to them. These four were our team scorers on the day. The remainder of the team have fairly regular cross-country experience. There was an issue with Kerry Mapp’s timing chip so his exact finishing position and time are unknown, it is believed that he was around two minutes behind Rob. It’s quite possible that Pete Kingswell-Farr has run more XC races for the WAC men’s team than anyone else … it’s certainly true over the past three or four years. His experience brought him in eight places and 11 seconds ahead of John Scott. The team was completed by Andy Olden who has become a valuable member of the team over the course of this season. The last time the 15k course was used we had only two runners – Pete and Rob. It was very encouraging to see eight out there this time.
There were smiles all around at the finish. Let’s do it all again next year