English National Cross Country Champs – report from Andy G

Great course, stunning venue – English National Cross County Championships 2014 – Wollaton Park, Nottingham.

Photo: Jaycee Shotton negotiating one of the muddier sections of the course  ©Alan Currie

A small but select group of Harriers made the 350mile round trip to Nottingham to experience the unique atmosphere of a National Cross Country Championships in the picturesque Wollaton Park. This turned out to be a fantastically well organised event on a lovely course with enough challenges to make it a proper Cross-Country race.
On arrival we were marshalled with military precision on to a grass parking area only 100 yard from the finish and were greeted by the site of the stunning Wollaton Hall perched on top of the hill in the centre of this beautiful Deer Park. Wide tree lined avenues slope gently down from the stately pile offering many a great photo opportunity.
The course itself ran up from the start area in front of the hall with a testing loop, on the steepest part of the hill, for the older age groups who were tackling the long lap. A long gentle run down the slope, on smooth grass, brought the runners across to the far end of the park by a small ornamental lake. This straightforward route was made more interesting on the large lap by a big tree trunk laid across the route (we hear that Alnwick are planning something similar next week!). The course doubled back alongside the lake before hitting the ‘interesting bit’. The park was firm and well drained apart from the lowest lying end which was very wet and marshy. A 500m section soon became a quagmire with a small marsh to be negotiated by all the runners. This soon became one of the most popular spots for spectators and photographers. There were loud ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as runners stumbled and slithered through the water and the odd unfortunate took a tumble rewarded with applause and cheers!
An interesting feature of these championships is that it mixes race order up, so they don’t start with the youngest and work up to the Seniors (although the Senior Championships are the last two races). A brief summary of the races follows:
U17 Girls – 5K
No Tynedale interest but one of the best races of the day, especially from a NE perspective. Lydia Turner, from Birtley AC, was gunning for the title but was headed for much of the race by her main rival Bobbi Clay from Invicta (Kent). It all came down to the last 200m when Lydia reeled her in, then found that extra burst of speed, to grab the title. What’s more she was brilliantly supported by her 3 teamates to win the team title too. Must have been a great atmosphere on the team bus home!
U15 Boys- 4.25K
Jaycee Shotton was our lone representative from the Harriers and he lined up against 345 other boys at the start. This can be quite intimidating for the first time. You are ushered through a marquee to the start line about 10 minutes before the start. Everyone is given a ‘pen’ number to stand at and there is a nervous wait for what seems like ages before you are brought forward to the start line. Jaycee had a solid run and finished in a respectable 275th place.

Junior Women – 6K
Very little North East interest, but worth noting that Bobbi Clay’s sister Alex was 4th finisher in this race – now that is a talented family!
U13 Girls – 3K
Great to see Roisin Lally amongst a massive field of nearly 500 girls! The Lally siblings both ran today, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. Roisin was just one place outside the top 400 – pretty impressive as she must have been one of the youngest there.
U17 Boys – 6K
Stunning pace at the front of this race. Ally Maxwell was our club representative and finished just outside the top half in 146th place. Ally looked very strong in this race and should be very satisfied with his placing.
U15 Girls – 4.25K
No Tynedale athletes in this race. Best NE counter was Kate Walsh from, you’ve guessed it, Birtley (13th).
Junior Men – 10K
After a great season so far, Jonny Currie must have been hoping for a good finish in this race and looked to have started really well over the first mile, well in touch with the front end of the field. Sadly things didn’t seem to go to plan and he limped home well to the back of the field. Not sure at time of writing. Gateshead had a very strong showing in this age group, Calum Johnson was just outside the medals in 4th place but his disappointment must have been eased by his team bringing back the silver medal.
U13 Boys – 3K
The youngsters would have been unaccustomed to waiting so long to run, but Paddy Lally and Joe Green finally got to line up at 2pm in a field of nearly 400 other U13 boys. Both will have gained valuable experience from the occasion and still had grins on their faces at the end. Paddy lead home in a promising 309th place, whilst Joe finished in 383rd despite losing valuable time in stopping to plan his route across the marsh!
Senior Ladies – 10K
Sadly no-one made the trip to honour the black vest this year. Spectators were treated to a view of two of Britain’s top distance runners in the shape of Gemma Steel and Steph Twell. Gemma won in dominant style with Steph Twell clear in 2nd place.
Senior Men-12K
Always the most eagerly anticipated race of the day just from the sheer spectacle of watching the 1650 odd runners thundering away from the start line. Your intrepid reporter ran his first National as a junior over 30 years ago, so lining up again was quite a nostalgia trip. Memories of youthful exploits on this course came flooding back, as a Leicestershire schoolboy he had run in this park on several occasions, although it always seemed to be covered in snow back in the old days! The Nationals has lost a little since then (no longer the strength sapping 9 mile slog , or attracting the top end field seeking qualification for the World XC), but you still get the feeling this is the one that every club runners dreams of winning. As the sole representative of the club he had the privilege of standing shoulder to shoulder with the cream of English Cross County talent on the front row of the start. Where else can you start on equal terms with an Olympic medallist (Jonny Brownlee)? His thoughts were not on mixing it with the likes of Nick Swinburn (4th overall), rather with negotiating the first few 100m without injury. The mantra – ‘Don’t fall over’ were repeated as the gun approached. Yours truly had a solid run, finishing in a satisfying 392nd place despite being hampered by a tight ‘glute’ no doubt brought on by the 3hour drive preceding the event!
For any club runner this event has to be experienced at least once in your life. If only as a spectator you will have a great day out, and as a runner there is nothing to be scared of. The field is ferociously fast at the sharp end, but whatever your level, you will share a thrilling experience with countless likeminded runners. And finally, the reassuring sight of Mr George Routledge trotting slowly but surely toward the rear of the field brings back some normality!

Andy Green. Feb 2014

Pics from Alan Currie here

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