Report by Phil York
On Saturday, the English National Cross Country Championships took place at Parliament Hill. The Saucony-sponsored event was returning to the iconic North London venue for the first time since 2018. Indeed, due to Covid, we didn’t have a ‘National’ in 2021. The weather on the day was a little windy but mild and thankfully dry, though there had been some overnight rain. Seventeen Wimborne AC athletes made the long trip to London, with many setting off as early as 6:30am. On arrival at Hampstead Heath, the new club tent was erected in a prime location at the top of the first hill, with an excellent vantage point looking down towards the start area but also providing a good spot for spectating on the longer laps.
The undulating course had variations tailored for the different age groups, but all runners had to contend with some particularly muddy sections. There’s mud and there’s mud, but there’s also the notorious Parliament Hill mud which has its own unique quality of quicky sapping the strength from you! This was muddier than a muddy day in Mudville.
Many of the WAC endurance squad were making their ‘National’ debuts, including U13 girls Evie Fuller and Milly Haynes. Evie knows all about the mud, having raced over the very slippery Popham course in the previous week’s Hampshire League fixture. Here, Evie finished 160th in a field of almost 400 and recorded a time of 14:59 for the 3km distance. Milly, in 286th place, was only a minute behind Evie and made up several places with a terrific sprint in the final stretch. Beforehand Milly had been fully briefed about the course but was surprised to find that the initial uphill section was in fact 600m rather than the suggested 200m! Never mind, both Evie and Milly have now completed their first ‘National’ and really enjoyed the experience. Imogen Rawles was our sole representative in the U15 Girls race, finishing 312th. Imogen has enjoyed a full cross country season this winter, and coped well with the conditions, her time of 23:00 over 4km placing her about midway in the large field.
Iris Courtney (79th) and Birdie Payne (91st) finished just 12 seconds apart in the U17 Ladies 6km race and these performances placed them in the top third of the field. Birdie was making her ‘National’ debut, but Iris has previous experience, having appeared in the U13 Girls race in 2018. Maddy Johnson, another of the 2018 ‘veterans’ delivered perhaps the performance of the day, finishing 34th in the U20 Ladies race, not far behind the leaders. The U20 races are always tough, as the fields are relatively small and only the very keen runners toe the line. Minty Stubbs competed in the Senior Ladies race, finishing 243rd out of 1011 competitors. Although Minty has represented WAC at cross country for many years, she hasn’t raced since 2019 and this was her first appearance in the ‘National’. Post-race, Minty was spotted cleaning her spikes and didn’t look too impressed with the amount of mud she had managed to collect on them during the 8km race!
Tom and Jack Williams have been competing for the club since 2016 and are seldom far apart in cross country races. During the winter they often do a parkrun event if it is a ‘race-free’ Saturday, using the 5km distance as a training run. However, the U15 Boys ‘National’ presents a stiffer challenge, albeit over a shorter distance of 4km. The brothers usually wear Garmin watches and record their runs on Strava. Jack ran his fourth kilometre in a swift 3:46 as he finished in 131st position. Tom, who enjoyed tackling the boggy sections of the course, was exactly one minute behind in 249th place. They were both absolutely covered in mud by the finish.
Jay Dunn began his cross-country racing caree way in back 2015 but surprisingly this was his first ‘National’. This winter Jay has been troubled by injury but has worked hard to maintain his fitness through cycling, rather than running all the time. This regime paid dividends as he finished the U17 Men’s race in 131st, less than a minute behind teammate Tom Jackson. Compared to Jay, Tom is a relative newcomer to the sport and has been an ‘ever present’ in league races this winter. It was so exciting to see Tom (95th) break into the top 100 at Parliament Hill.
In the U20 Men’s race, Ollie Rawles lined up alongside Jack Moss-Willcox, who hadn’t raced since 2019. Jack knows the venue well, having competed as an U13 in 2015. More recently Ollie ran as an U15 in 2018. The U20 Men’s race is run over 8km and is the penultimate competition in the timetable. This tends to disadvantage the athletes, especially if they’ve arrived early and spend a long time waiting for their race. In addition, the underfoot conditions worsen as the ground gets nicely churned up during the earlier races. Ollie and Jack finished 178th and 212nd respectively, recovering in time to cheer on the senior men.
It was the 134th edition of the senior mens race, and WAC had four runners on the start line. Rupert Talfourd-Cook was making his competitive debut for the club and refused to be overwhelmed on the big stage and was our first finisher (1389th). Rupert christened a brand-new pair of cross-country spikes – they worked well for him but will require a jolly good clean-up to restore them to their original (gleaming white) colourway! Phil York was next home, having first appeared in the U20 race 41 years ago. It was even muddier back in 1981. And it rained that day! Phil finished this year’s 12km race looking anxiously over his shoulder at the fast-finishing Pete Kingswell-Farr, who achieved his best ‘National’ finishing position (1794th). Both Phil and Pete managed to be lapped by the winner Mohamed Mohamed of Southampton AC. Brendan Dunn, another National debutant, was next to finish (1926th), a fine effort in a field of over 2000 finishers. During the race, our senior men were really appreciative of the support from WAC coaches and parents. In fact, if you check out the video footage, Perdy (Milly’s mum) gets more coverage than anyone else, athletes included! It was unforgettable day and not only do we have our memories but the occasion has been recorded and preserved for us on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2aBmp88bzg