This year 5 Tynedale athletes, made the long trip down to London to compete at the English National Cross Country Championships on Parliament Hill Fields. For the conisseur, this is a venue not to be missed – the true classic National Course which has been used for many years and usually serves up a proper test of Cross Country running.
Even arriving early on the course it was clear this was going to be a real mud bath. In contrast to the dry spell in the North East, the fields of Hampstead heath were glistening with standing water, and the area around the club tents was quickly becoming a wellie zone.
First up for Tynedale was, Max Pearson, who’s sparkling form this year promised a genuine tilt at a medal. The unforgettable sight of several hundred Under 15 boys lining up below the spectators lined up on either side of the course as it climbs the first hill unique to Parliament Hill. This is the first challenge the runners have to face, the initial 500m is a dead straight climb that gradually ramps up and narrows. Too slow from the start and you can lose the race in the scrum to get to the first corner, but too fast and you are in oxygen debt within half a mile. Max looked relaxed and strong, easily running in the first ten places as he headed out on to the course which uses the contours of the of the park beautifully, constantly rising and falling in and out of the mature woodland that makes it such a lovely setting. 15 minutes and 49 seconds later the first runner , George Groom stormed into the finish funnel to take the win for Shaftesbury and Barnett and we hoped to see Max in the first group. After a few minutes it was clear Max hadn’t been able to finish and Mum Jules, and coach Peter Venus set out anxiously to see what had happened. It transpired that Max, an asthma sufferer, had had an attack halfway round the course and had stopped to be attended to by the Paramedics on course. Fortunately Max seems to have made a quick recovery so we hope he’ll be back to winning ways soon.
Next up was a nervous Nationals debutant, Olivia Stewart, in the Under 13 Girls Race. Olivia refused to be intimidated by the prospect of lining up on her own alongside all the other clubs and put in a determined performance to finish a creditable 316th in 16min and 7secs for the 3k course. The race was won her namesake, Olivia Mason from Border Harriers, in a speedy 12 minutes and 32 seconds.
Our only other junior athlete to line up, was Joe Green in the Under 13 Boys Race. Joe had to wait until 2 o’clock to start this 3km race, the last junior race before the seniors were let loose. By this time the ground was really heavy for much of the course, and the mud was ankle deep in many places. Joe battled valiantly and kept going to finish in 393rd (19mins and 8s) in another record field of runners. The race was won by Tommy Dawson from Leeds in an impressive 11mins and 49s.
There were nearly 900 ladies lining up for the senior National and this season’s fastest Tynedale lady, Kirstie Anderson toed the line with some of the best distance athletes around. There were no big names in the field today, but winner Lilian Partridge (30.07 – 8km) from Aldershot , Farnam and District is someone to keep a close eye on in the future. Impressively her club almost had a clean sweep of the medals with 3 of the first 4 finishers as well as the team title. Kirstie finished well up the field in 172nd place (37min and 41 seconds), and must have been very pleased with her strong run.
A record 2005 men thundered up from the start for the final race of the day and they faced a quagmire of a course, 2 long 6km laps that were suffering from the 3500 runners who had already slipped and squelched over the sodden ground. Tynedale were represented by team captain Andy Green, making a steady start in the middle of the field. He gradually moved up to finish in 333rd (47.22 – 12km). Ahead of him there was an unusually close race for the medals with plenty of North East interest. Charlie Hulse (39.12) broke away on the final lap to win for Sale Harriers, but it was good to see Nick Swinburn of Morpeth Harriers take a hard earned bronze ahead of Durham’s Dan Garbutt. Nick can also be seen running for Northumberland Fell Runners and the hilly muddy course obviously suited him.
There was only one other North East medal on the day. Birtley U17 girls, last year’s team champions, again ran strongly to win the bronze medal.
The final challenge was to ignore the funny looks as mud bespattered runners headed home on buses and trains before they could finally get a hot shower and scrub away the layers of filth.