English National Cross Country Championships

national-xc-2012The conditions for last Saturday's English National Cross Country Championships could not have been more different from those last year. Rather than a mud-soaked course that athletes had endured at Alton Towers in 2011, Parliament Hill Fields in London was only soaked in sunshine. The course was undulating and at the highest points the view back down to the start and over the City of London was spectacular. With perfect weather for racing and spectating, it proved a glorious day for the select few Holmfirth Harriers who had made the long journey south.

First off was Olivia Sykes in the Under 13 Girls race. Having finished a fantastic fourth place in the Northern Championships 3 weeks previously, Olivia was keen to put her good form to the test over the 3km course. She made a good start, having been placed in a pen on the far left hand side of the start line which helped avoid the inevitable 'scrum', and gradually moved through the field, picking up some valuable places towards the end of the race as other competitors tired. Olivia finished in an impressive 19th place (12:19) in a field of 368, and just 39 seconds behind the winner Sabrina Sinha of Cambridge Harriers.

Sophie Spencer was the sole representative from Holmfirth in the Under 15 Girls 4 km race. The leap up to national level competition is significant in comparison to the local and regional events, and Sophie ran very well to finish comfortably within the top half of the 342-strong field in 16:40 (151st). The race was won by Bobby Clay of Invicta East Kent AC in 13:28.

The fifth and middle event in the timetable was the Junior Men's race over 10km. Max Kay had made the trip without the support of his team-mates who are collectively the Yorkshire Junior team Champions. The 10km course took in 2 large laps, each having three steady climbs which Max found tough on the second lap but still finished an excellent 36th place in a field of 196 in 34:04. Jonny Hay, from the dominant Aldershot, Farnham & District club won in 31:50.

Next up was the Senior Women's race. Once again Holmfirth were not able to field a team, but the club's leading female cross country runners, Katie Walshaw and Helen Berry enjoyed individual success. It was the first time Katie had raced at Parliament Hill and the climbs suited her. As with most of the Holmfirth athletes, starting from a pen on the far left hand end of the start line gave Katie and Helen an advantage of not having to jostle for position on the first long steady climb. Katie achieved her goal of beating last year's 33rd position, but was just pipped out of the top 30 on the final straight. Katie's time of 30:13 earned her 31st place. Having raced this 8km course 3 times before, Helen's decision to make a steady start up the first hill and gradually work through the field paid dividends. She finished in 30:54 and in an excellent 43rd place, an improvement of almost 20 places on last year's result. Gemma Steel of Charnwood won the event in 27:06.

Last but not least was the Senior Men's race. The start of this event – with nearly 1700 competitors – is a sight not to be missed, particularly with the backdrop of London from the popular vantage point at the top of the first hill. In such a large field a matter of seconds can affect an athlete's position by ten or twenty places. The leading men made the 12km 2-lap course look easy. It was won by Keith Gerrard, Newham & Essex Beagles AC, 35:56 and Leeds City dominated the team event, winning both the '6 to count' and '9 to count' teams. Richard Anderson produced a great run for Holmfirth to finish 178th, just short of the top 10% of the field, in 41:10. Holmfirth's only other representative was Steve White who finished 1588th in 1:03:52.

Olivia, Max and Helen will next be in action, along with some other Holmfirth athletes representing Yorkshire, at their final cross country race of the season at the UKA Inter Counties race in Birmingham on 10th March.


Pre-2012 news, results & reports are on the old sites: 2009 to 2011, Pre-2009

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