National Cross Country Champs – Leeds – Sat 23 Feb 2019

Amira Nuseibeh, Fiona Coutts, Finn Combe, Vitaly Bender, Seweryn Czapka, Catherine Gallagher, Hussein Zaaiter (photo by Graham French)

Last Saturday an intrepid group of ESM athletes made the long journey to Yorkshire to take part in the Saucony English National Cross Country Championships at Harewood House, near Leeds, reports Phil York. It really was a glorious day, with the sun shining, facilities great and good transport links to the venue. The course was extremely challenging, with the multiple hills giving the two-lap course a ‘roller coaster’ appearance. Thankfully, conditions underfoot were extremely dry and runners were finishing their races with just the odd speck of mud on their lower legs.

The quality of the competition at this event was matched by the numbers taking part. Overall 5386 runners crossed the finish line this year, second only to the huge numbers that ran last year at Parliament Hill. In terms of numbers, this year was easily the best National held in the North of England. The organisation was terrific, with lots of enthusiastic supporters and marshals lining the course.

The club were represented in the U20 men’s race by George Kerry and Oliver Way, two athletes that I feel go ‘under the radar’ to some extent. This is a very tough age-group in which even good-standard runners can find themselves towards the back of the field. This junior category often sees young people dropping out of the sport as they move on to further education, careers etc. It takes a lot of determination to progress through to the senior ranks. George is currently at university in Leeds, and had the shortest distance to travel to the venue. Already a club stalwart, he finished 102nd, a big improvement on his position at Parliament Hill in 2018. After the race he commented: ‘It was a really tough course, but a very nice day to be out running’. George will be looking to lower his 800m personal best during the summer. Oliver Way had a slightly longer journey, as he is currently studying at Loughborough University, but finished in an impressive 41st position. Oliver’s post-race interview went something like this:

‘Yeah cheers went well. Was happy with a top 50 finish in my first cross country season and sixth race in 8 weeks. Big improvement from Southerns (somehow doing two places better!) Started off very slow around 150th but kept picking off people and winding it up.

Thought it was a really good course. Some tough hills but all around classic XC course. Also a great one for spectators, I got to really enjoy watching the top guys in the senior race battle it out because the layout of the course was done in such a way that you could get to lots of spots on each lap. Great weather, felt like we were in a July heat wave!

Current training at Loughborough is going really well, on some high mileage at the moment. Now that my cross country season is over, looking forward to doing a couple road races before the track and hopefully getting some big PBs from the 800 to 5000.’

This year the 12km senior men’s race was held over just two laps, which meant that most of the back markers avoided being lapped by the leaders. A lapping situation can in fact spoil the race, especially when the top athletes challenging for medals have to navigate their way past runners like myself! ESM managed to field a full team, finishing 124th in the six-to-score competition. Sam Ashcroft led us home in 722nd position, although he has previously finished as high as 187th in this event. However, Sam is an athlete very much on the comeback trail, and has recently increased his training load from two to five sessions per week.

Next to finish was Akira Anzai-Jackson, enjoying a storming run to finish 824th, less than a minute behind Sam. Akira’s running this winter is on an upward trend, and you will often see him in and around his Perivale track training base, using the gym or starting/finishing training runs. Here’s what Akira had to say: ‘Of all the cross-country courses I have done this season, this was by far the toughest. The numerous hills on the course were killers especially with the hot weather during the race. Overall I was pleased finishing in the top half in my first Nationals Cross Country Championships for the senior men and my first National Cross Country Championships since 2013. Despite all of the pain during the race, I enjoyed it and will be looking to race again next year and hoping to be further up towards the top 500-600.’

Rob Brown arrived at the ESM base deep inside ‘Tent City’ after a long journey by train and taxi, but still managed a strong run to finish 1209th. M60 Steve Plested made a weekend of it and was our fourth scorer. Ricky Grimes came away really satisfied with the race timetable, as it enabled him to cheer on daughter Angel Grimes-McTavish in the junior race (105th position) prior to breaking the one-hour barrier in the senior men’s event.

Phil finds the going tough

Team manager Phil York has lost count of the number of ‘Nationals’ he has taken part in over the years, but knows that Leeds marked a 38 year span since he made his cross country debut for ESM at Parliament Hill in January 1981. That was the year in which Julian Goater won the senior men’s race by a huge margin, in ankle deep mud. Well, there was precious little mud to be seen in the grounds of Harewood House, which meant that a very unfit Phil was able to complete the course and finish in front of roughly 100 other runners. Ever the hero, Phil fainted after the race and was very grateful to Lynn and Martin Wilson’s son Robert for looking after him. Robert runs for Highgate Harriers and had a storming run to finish 130th.

U20 Angel Grimes-McTavish stayed in Leeds the night before, so arrived relatively fresh, but found conditions a bit too warm and dry for cross country.  “The race itself started fast up a long hill, definitely longer, yet less steep, than the start at Parliament Hill. My race was two loops of a fairly simple course […] The second lap felt too long! But after this we headed back towards the finish. I was happy to finish 105th out of a strong field, however I have not been in top form this season. I am looking forward to improving over track as well as some longer road racing too!”

Louise, with Harewood House in the background (photo by Philip)

Louise Prince was our sole representative in the senior women’s race, and she too found the conditions all wrong for cross country! “About 10 degrees too hot, no mud, but still a hugely enjoyable experience. Great race, beautiful scenery, fantastic atmosphere.  Looking forward to next year already!” So maybe that will convince a few more of us to sign up in 2020?

Graham French continues the story from the point of view of our young athletes:

“In my 20 years’ involvement with the club we have not (I believe) had a National Championship where we did not send a young athletes’ contingent. Due to logistical issues, a fixture clash and injuries, our making it to the National was for a short while in doubt, but in the end, a small contingent set their alarms for 5am and by 6:45am were congregated at King’s Cross for the journey to Leeds. The centre of the country was shrouded in mist all the way to Yorkshire. By mid morning it had burned off and the Leeds course was bathed in unseasonal sunshine and warmth.

Our only full team – for the under 15 boys – acquitted themselves very well. Seweryn Czapka made the top 100 and led the team in, in 85th place, with a strong finish on the dry and firm, but hilly course. Finn Combe and Vitaly Bender tracked each other for most of the race, Finn, finishing in 176th place, two seconds in front of Vitaly in 183rd . That seven places were accounted for in two seconds, even in the middle section of the race, shows the strength of the competition. Hussein Zaaiter, one of our younger athletes in the under 15 age group, completed the team in 339th. The team finished 25th.

Under 17 women Fiona Coutts and Amira Nuseibeh ran close together on the first lap of the course, with Fiona just having the edge. Sadly, on the second lap Fiona had to pull up with a bad asthma attack. Amira was pleased with her finish in 202nd.

Our sole representative in the under 13 girls was Catherine Gallagher. Undeterred, Catherine set to work in her biggest race to date, and completed what was a particularly challenging course for her age group in 391th place.

All enjoyed the day and vowed that this time next year we will ensure a huge club turnout for the National!

Special thanks to Audrey Coutts, who co-chaperoned, and to Brendan Gallagher and Yuri Bender, who completed the party. And to Alasdair Combe for dropping me off at King’s Cross at far-too-early o’clock on a Saturday”.

ESM results summary

U13G (3K): 391 Catherine Gallagher 15:03

U15B (4K): 85 Seweryn Czapka 14:57, 176 Finn Combe 15:41, 183 Vitaly Bender 15:43, 339 Hussein Zaaiter 19:46

U17W (5K): 202 Amira Nuseibeh 25:29

U20W (6K): 105 Angel Grimes-McTavish 27:17

U20M (10K): 41 Oliver Way 30:35, 102 George Kerry 32:35

SW (8K): 904 Louise Prince (W45) 49:10

SM (12K): 724 Sam Ashcroft 47:02, 826 Akira Anzai-Jackson 47:57, 1211 Rob Brown (M50) 51:42, 1593 Steve Plested (M65) 56:30, 1738 Ricky Grimes (M55) 59:01, 1904 Phil York (M55) 65:12

Full results on power of 10