National Cross Country Champs – Nottingham – Sat 22 Feb 2020

Many thanks in particular to Graham French who wrote most of the report on the young athletes, and to Jamie Taylor-Caldwell for the men’s report and all the interesting stats.

Close to 40 ESM athletes headed up the M1 on Saturday for the National XC Championships at Wollaton Park, Nottingham – much better numbers than last year. In fact, we had our best young athletes’ turnout at a National for several years.

Thanks to Jamie T-C for these stats

The day’s outstanding individual performance was by under 17 Mohamed Ali, who earned a bronze medal in a hard-fought race. Best team performances were our under 17 men (13th overall) and the under 13 boys who finished 33rd as the results currently stand, but in fact are due a higher position, as will become clear if the reader is patient.

Like much of the country, Wollaton Park had not recovered from the variously named storms of the preceding two weeks, and sections of the park, and the course itself, were under water. Some of the latter was deliberate on the part of the organisers, as the course crossed a stream in which the water was almost knee high – indeed higher than that for some of our younger athletes. However, this water feature was supplemented by others, courtesy of the rain. Conditions which were merely muddy for the first race became almost swamp-like as the day progressed.

Supporters Pat & Reece check the water level…

Fortunately, save for a couple of squalls, the rain mainly held off. The same could not be said for the wind. No sooner was the club tent put up, than it became clear that it would be safer to take it down again, a decision reinforced when a large tent from another club took a horizontal trajectory, narrowly missing several athletes and spectators before being retrieved by its owners.

First race was the under 17 women – we only have three in this age group, (four needed for a team), and a heavy cold claimed one. It was left to Katie Hay and Lauren Beale to fly the club flag, and they did so in style – if getting covered in so much mud can be so described! Katie ran strongly, (with her preparation for English Schools three weeks hence in mind), finishing an excellent 175th place in this always-competitive race. Lauren Beale also had an excellent race, and showed strong improvement over the last few weeks to place 234th.

Lauren & Katie

Next up were the under 15 boys. Despite another last-minute withdrawal due to a cold we still fielded a full team. Finn Combe, running his last race for the club, put in his customary strong performance and led the team home in 163rd. He has been a stalwart for the club and we wish him well with his transfer to Hillingdon (where his training partners compete). Next was Jonah Mezey, the conditions not being best suited to his running style, but he battled strongly through the water and mud to finish 277th. He was followed by Arun Smith in 330th, while Mohamed Ibrahim’s 358th place completed the team, which placed 39th.

Jonah, Arun, Mohamed & Finn

The under 13 girls fielded another full team. All were running their first National. Nicola Hewitt put in a superb run to finish 136th in a near photo finish with a Rotherham Harriers athlete. Rosie Hewitt was next to finish with another very strong run in 183rd. Isabela Dussaillant was third scorer, working her way through the field to a  trong finish in 304th place. The scoring team was completed by multi-eventer Mia De Vivenot in 344th place with a determined and gutsy run. The ESM contingent was completed with another very gutsy run from Adela Davison in 356th. With several of these athletes in the younger age group, we can target even better positions next year. The team finished 30th. It is a sign of how clubs’ fortunes can fluctuate, that our girls beat Aldershot  (dominant in this age group – and others – for so many years)  who were 32nd.

Adela in action

The under 17 men’s race was fiercely contested, and was of particular interest to us as Mo Ali had good prospects of a medal. In the early stages of the race, he was in the leading group, sitting on the shoulder of the leader. Behind them both was Will Barnicoat of Windsor, biding his time. As the race progressed, he and Flynn Jennings of Bideford (who was third at the Southern Champs), pulled away from the rest, and Mohamed was left at the head of the chasing pack. He held off several challenges to finish a superb third.

Bronze medal winner Mo Ali (right) , with winner Will Barnicoat (centre) and silver medal winner Flynn Jennings

Mo’s coach Steve Mann’s offered the following insight on the race plan: “After a walk around the course, Mohamed and I decided to stay with the original plan of being in contact with the leaders but not getting involved with leading until the second half of the race. The conditions – although the same for everyone – seemed to suit Will and Flynn, as they love the mud. Considering how slender Mohamed is, we were very happy with how he dealt with the tough conditions. We now have to play a waiting game to see if he is selected for the World School Championships in Slovakia. This involves the age group above, so fingers crossed Mohamed has done enough to do so”.

Next in for our under 17s was Seweryn Czapka, finishing neck-and-neck with a South London Harriers rival, in an excellent 72nd place. For Seweryn this was also valuable English Schools preparation. The team was completed by Rafa Davison in 253rd and Tom Barry in 260th. For both that was a superb achievement on limited training over this toughest of 6k courses.

Seweryn, Rafa & Tom

Our under 15 girls team lost two of its members to illness and a car breakdown on the motorway. By the time this field set off, the ground had been churned up by five previous races, and conditions were very heavy going. Undeterred, Lucy Henson and Anna Dussaillant set off to represent the club. Lucy, who has also been selected for English schools, ran a great race, working her way up the field in the second half of the race to place 140th. Anna Dussaillant fought bravely through the mud and held off competition at the end to finish 373rd.

Lucy & Anna in action

Conditions for the under 13 boys race were very tough as well. All our boys were running their first National, and all but one are in the younger age group, In a congested start, Ed Flewitt lost a spike shoe when another athlete trod on the back. [Editor’s note: happens to all the best athletes, Ed – see report on the men’s race!] He had the presence of mind to pick it up and carry it, together with his chip timer. He ran the entire race wearing only one spike, finishing strongly. But when he crossed the line his chip did not activate so he is not (yet) in the official results. From photos it looks as though he may have finished between 130 & 140, a great achievement for a first National. Next in was Isaac Mezey, who belied his slight stature to battle the conditions and finish 169th. Kian Jordan was just nine seconds behind in 193rd, another great run. Finlay Vadon crossed the line next with a strong run in 222nd, and Kevin Prempeh completed the Ealing team in 338th. The team were 33rd out of 44 complete teams, but we hope may be pushed higher up if Ed’s result can be officially recognised.

Finlay, Ed, Kian, Kevin & Isaac

Bridie Lebdiri takes up the story for the U20 women: “As all the young athletes had finished by this point, I was able to venture around the route. By the time they started, the course was like a swamp. Cameron led the ESM team through the first lap, followed closely by Amira, with Lucy a few places further back. Amira overtook Cameron as they went through knee-high mud about 1km from the finish, but Cameron fought back and passed Amira on the final incline. Lucy maintained her position and finished strongly. All three girls ran very well and said the race pace was okay but that they kept getting stuck in the mud! Anisa hurt her ankle and so pulled out on the first lap”. The club did well to field a team in this age group – only ten other clubs did so.

Cameron, Lucy, Amira & Anisa

The senior women generally gave the event a miss this year but Louise Prince – for the second year running – ensured there was at least one ESM vest out there, finishing 719th in the field of over 900. After the unseasonably warm and sunny conditions last year, the mud was much more to her taste. Louise says she had fun, so who knows maybe next year we’ll send a full women’s team…?

We were represented in the junior men’s race by Elias Ahmed and Chauncey Edwards. Elias is having a great season and looked very strong, according to Bridie, finishing 49th in what was a very fast race, while Chauncey looked remarkably comfortable, with his distinctive stride through the mud.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the conditions, our young runners all declared they had really enjoyed the experience!  After several years when we have, perhaps, not made our presence felt at the National as we should , ESM is now firmly back on the National map with the promise of even better next year.

The senior men finished 49th out of 115 complete teams, their best result for several years, as Jamie T-C reports. “The Senior Men’s race at the National is always a spectacular sight and the race never seems to be without some drama. This year was no different, right from the start the big pre-race favourite, Adam Hickey, lost his shoe, as it was clipped off by a runner behind him! He stayed calm and made sure to still get himself into a leading position so that when he spotted some of his clubmates in the crowd he could indicate to them where his shoe was, as he knew with the condition of the course and standard of opposition he had no chance of victory without spikes. But it wasn’t until after the halfway mark of the 8 mile race, that he was handed it back and he stopped at a bench to put it back on, eventually re-starting outside the top 30. He then made an incredible effort to get back to the podium, finishing just one place short in 4th. You can see a video of his pit-stop here and Adam Hickey’s own race report here.

The eventual winner of the Men’s National was Calum Johnson, a GB triathlete, and the first Gateshead Harrier to win the race since Brendan Foster in 1977. Click here to see him crossing the line.

And of course the race wasn’t without drama for the ESM Senior Men either! Being a team with mostly a combination of middle distance athletes and marathon runners, the National XC always falls at a difficult time of year, as most tend to be turning their attention to other goals. Consequently, we have had little success as a team in recent years, and again we travelled with a weakened squad compared to our showings in the League races this season. So to come away with a 49th place was very pleasing, and it seemed that almost everyone ran well despite the testing conditions. With the race returning to London next year at Parliament Hill, it will certainly be a big opportunity for this team to really make its mark in the ESM history books. 

Thanks to Jamie T-C for these stats

The next trio, were Mukhtar Farah, Sam Ashcroft and Akira Anzai Jackson. Mukhtar has been struggling for a while with injuries, but he seems to be getting stronger each race of late, and his 713th place was higher than his finish at the Southerns! Sam’s average weekly mileage this year has been close to that of the 8 mile race distance, and so he had very little idea of what to expect. But he was pleasantly surprised with his form, sensibly starting outside the top half and gradually moving through the field. A former 14:57 5k man, he showed some of that class to finish in 809th off such little training. He has vowed to make it along to more Sundays and we will keep him to that promise! Akira, unfortunately suffered the same fate as Adam Hickey, Ed Flewitt and I’m sure many others. The Senior Men’s race is always a muddy one being the last of the day, but this year was of course exceptional. That being said, as team manager I am definitely making a mental note to add duck tape to the kit bag! Akira did well to get his shoe back on and finish in 858th, not far off his 2019 position.

At the Southern Championships, Ben Waterman battled with our local rival Mike Boucher, and this time it was Tim Lawrence and Chris Hepworth’s turn to make sure he didn’t have bragging rights on our Sunday morning long runs. The three of them were back and forth all race, Chris knowing if he could stay with them, his speed would surely see him prevail in a close finish, and so Mike and Tim made moves to try and get away. This only seemed to motivate Chris more and once he had a second wind on the last lap (of 4), he made it count, finishing in 265th place, undoubtedly his best race of the season. We knew that Tim was going to be a huge asset for the XC team when he recently decided to switch clubs from Kent, and he has certainly proved it in his first two races. He also finished strongly in 286th, putting a good gap between himself and a clearly demoralized Mike Boucher. They all ran a well deserved leisurely pace on their long run the next day!

Finally, the Vets also had an excellent day. Rob Brown took the coach up with the team and arrived at the course 5 hours before the race, so he took the opportunity to do some sightseeing around Nottingham. He then made it back in time to get back into the top 1000 for the first time since 2016, finishing in 979th. Phil York is one of those athletes focussed on the indoor season, but he is a Nationals stalwart and will always make sure it’s in his schedule. Not that his team manager remembered! Phil currently appears in the official results as Mo Hashi. It was an excellent run for him in 1458th; Mo Hashi wasn’t so pleased with it though. Phil commented afterwards: “This year’s National was 39 years after my first in E&S colours, and it was nice to return once again to the city where I was a student 1986-1988”. Steve Plested is another ever reliable team runner. I’m not sure if he enjoyed the conditions as I spotted him way off the racing line on the last lap, looking for dry land! It was a very long race this year, Steve was 1629th in 80mins, but in 2019 he was 1591st in 56:30! And Mo Jama (Steve Curd in the results) got round in a creditable 1681st, also having some shoe trouble and was badly spiked. 

In summary, another very enjoyable Nationals and a great way to end the Senior XC season. We must give our huge thanks to the organisers and Nottingham council for managing to put the race on despite the weather. The Senior team now turns their attention to the Southern 12 stage road relays in Milton Keynes on 22nd March!”

Thanks are also due to coaches and team managers Bridie, Denise, Graham, Jamie, James and Denise, as well as those parents and supporters who travelled up to the venue to support the younger athletes.

More photos are available on our Facebook page.

ESM results summary (aka the real results):

SM (12K): 265 Christopher Hepworth 51:11, 286 Tim Lawrence 51:29, 713 Mukhtar Farah 58:03, 809 Sam Ashcroft 59:33, 858 Akira Anzai-Jackson 60:11, 979 Robert Brown 62:00, 1458 Phil York 72:09, 1629 Steve Plested 80:33, 1681 Mo Jama 85:54
U20M (10K): 49 Elias Ahmed 40:19, 184 Chauncey Edwards 49:57
U17M (6K): 3 Mohamed Ali 23:23, 72 Seweryn Czapka 25:18, 253 Rafa Davison 30:03, 260 Thomas Barry 30:44
U15B (4K): 163 Finn Combe 19:34, 277 Jonah Mezey 21:13, 330 Arun Smith 22:52, 358 Mohamed Ibrahim 26:20
U13B (3K): 130-140 (tbc) Ed Flewitt (time tbc), 170 Isaac Mezey 17:10, 194 Kian Jordan 17:19, 223 Finlay Vadon 17:37, 339 Kevin Prempeh 19:41

SW (8K): 719 Louise Prince 55:28
U20W: 118 Cameron Thomas 36:05, 119 Amira Nuseibeh 36:25, 124 Lucy O’Brien 37:43
U17W (5K): 176 Katie Hay 27:34, 235 Lauren Beale 30:30
U15G (4K): 140 Lucy Henson 22:24, 373 Anna Dussaillant 28:33
U13G (3K): 136 Nicola Hewitt 17:58, 183 Rosie Hewitt 18:38, 304 Isabela Dussaillant 20:43, 345 Mia De Vivenot 22:18, 357 Adela Davison 25:24

Full results on power of 10.