Over 3,000 athletes converged on Parliament Hill for the South of England cross country championships on Saturday. After the persistent heavy rain of late, conditions were muddy in the extreme, adding to the renowned challenge of this hilly course. With the last two winters being noted more for snow, ice and drier ground, a number of runners had forgotten the knack of tying their laces securely – and paid for it as they parted company with their shoes mid-race.
One of several highlights for ESM was Sam Ashcroft’s 36th place in a high quality field. Rob Wilson also completed the gruelling 15km in under an hour. Given the field of nearly 1,000 – the largest for 15 years – both Sam and Rob pulled out arguably their best performances to date at this event. Team-mate Steve Elson followed in 207th, only his second appearance at these championships, and his first at Parliament Hill. Jonny Lane’s useful contribution in 215th was probably his swansong at ESM, as he awaits clearance to compete for his new club in Wimbledon. In 293rd, Angelo John managed to look untroubled as he also worked his way round to finish in the top third of the field. Rob Brown (405th) completed the A team which finished 22 out of 74, the club’s best result since 2008. Mark Delahunty usually finishes in the top half of the field at this event and did so again – 461st – aided no doubt by an evident decision to outsprint James Steel (465th) in the closing stages. By his own admission, Tom Yates had a “terrible” race, having witnessed Mark fall over and lose his shoe on more than one occasion, yet still finishing two minutes behind.
A five minute intermission ensued before the procession of green and gold vests resumed, led by Ian Leslie in 723rd. Eamon Bradley is still working his way back to fitness and was satisfied to get round in 760th, just ten seconds ahead of Steve Plested in 767th. Pete Drew (781st) treated us to the usual range of facial expressions, becoming ever more focused and sombre as the race progressed. Not so Andy Leung (821st), for whom the sight of a camera seems to act as instant pick-me-up – though his no-show at Sunday morning’s long run suggests the effect is short-lived. There were a lot of cameras around on Saturday, and maybe that’s what distracted Andy from the somewhat more important matter of attaching his chip to his ankle – hence his omission from the official results. With 14 men completing the race, we should also feature in the 12-to-score team ranking, though that has yet to be published.
The women’s race was a record size, with nigh-on 500 runners toeing the line for the 8km challenge. Undeterred, ESM responded with the club’s best performance in at least 20 years, finishing 11th out of 52. The ever-present Fiona Kennedy (46th) was first to cross the line for the club, as she has done nine times since the year 2000. In the four-to-score team race, the last scorer can be critical, and the trio of Sarah Richardson (106th), Grazine Narviliene (114th) and Alison Hopkins (126th) packed well, separated by little more than half a minute. Alison has to be commended for her staying-power – having stopped several times, she was clearly not having a good run, but resisted the temptation to abandon ship. Back in 1995, Lynn Wilson led the team home, and her 223rd on Saturday was another gritty performance from someone on limited mileage. A minute later and triathlete Christine Meek was across the line (249), followed another two minutes later by Carol Jones (297th). It was not our biggest turnout of senior women, and it would have been satisfying to have one more runner and close a full B team, but it was a commendable result. Especially when you consider the age profile – Alison was the “baby” and she’s got her 40th coming up!
We had only one representative in the U20 men’s race, in the capable form of Max Wells-Pestell, who finished 51st in a field of 105. We had no-one in the U20 women’s race, as is often the case, though we can take some consolation from the fact that all clubs struggle – it was the smallest field on the day (78).
Our younger age groups closed a full team in only two events, which is disappointing in light of the total numbers competing for the club across the season, but U13 Lucas Sheehan put in a strong performance to finish 41st in a field of 284. He was backed up by William Coutts in 152nd.
The equivalent girls’ race also enjoyed a bumper turnout of 292, but the ESM U13 team felt the continued absence of the injured Lucy O’Brien and Feia Starkey. Anisa Ibrahim took a full length tumble in the mud, which cost her a few places, but she recovered well to lead the team home in 172nd. The rest of the squad followed in approximately one minute intervals: Leah Kelly (241st), Cameron Thomas (260th), Elsa Stocking (282nd) and Sarah Freegard (295th).
U15 John Fielding was also in the top quarter of the field, finishing 67th out of 258. George Kerry (164th) and Luke Adar (247th) were just one short of a team.
The U15 girls’ race was even larger than the boys’. Erica Wallace was 55th, with a rare victory over team-mate Nicola Ravenhill, who also finished well up the field in 78th. Roisin Lynch (152nd), Jasmine Loh (167th), and Laura Stewart (171st) followed in rapid succession. Laura was another of our athletes to experience an eventful race: having lost a shoe on the first hill, she continued undeterred, aided only by the debatable qualities of a sock for traction on the deep mud. Jennie Connelly followed in 231st and the team finished 17th out of 30.
For the U20 men, Mukhtar Farah was first home in 98th out of 209, followed by Conor McCarthy in 201st.
Chip chaos characterised the U17 women’s race. (Was it everyone or just us?) It seems our U17 women’s team numbers turned up in the same envelope as the U17 men’s. It was duly reported, but Olivia Will’s race appears at the bottom of the U17 men’s results… Let’s hope she wasn’t really out there for nearly an hour and twenty minutes, as the results allege! It’s believed she was actually around 70th in a field of 152, followed by Tara Kelly in 124th.
Men Senior (15k): 36 Sam Ashcroft 55:01, 78 Robert Wilson 57:23, 207 Stephen Elson 61:32, 215 Jonathan Lane 61:44, 293 Angelo John 64:23, 405 Robert Brown 66:59, 461 Mark Delahunty 68:13, 465 James Steel 68:21, 537 Tom Yates 70:17, 723 Ian Leslie 75:53, 760 Eamon Bradley 77:30, 767 Steve Plested 77:40, 781 Peter Drew 78:18; 831 Andy Leung 80:21 U20M (8k): 51 Max Wells-Pestell 31:04; U17M (6k): 98 Mukhtar Farah 24:15, 201 Conor McCarthy 29:05; U15B (4.5k): 67 John Fielding 17:45, 164 George Kerry 19:08, 247 Luke Adar 22:02; U13B (3k): 41 Lucas Sheehan 12:42, 152 William Coutts 13:58
Women Senior (8k): 46 Fiona Kennedy 35:04, 106 Sarah Richardson 37:14, 114 Grazina Narviliene 37:36, 126 Alison Hopkins 37:49, 223 Lynn Wilson 41:04, 249 Christine Meek 42:10, 297 Carol Jones 44:13; U17W (5k): Olivia Will, 124 Tara Kelly 27:29; U15G (4k): 55 Erica Wallace 16:57, 78 Nicola Ravenhill 17:28, 152 Roisin Lynch 18:38, 167 Jasmine Loh 18:53, 171 Laura Stewart 18:58, 231 Jennie Connelly 20:28; U13G (3k): 172 Anisa Ibraham 15:37, 241 Leah Kelly 16:44, 260 Cameron Thomas 17:26, 282 Elsa Stocking 18:45, 285 Sarah Freegard 19:20
Full results here.