The prestigious South of England Cross-country Championships were once again held at Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath, in London on Saturday January 29th. Conditions underfoot for the thousands of runners across all of the age groups were slippy in parts with mud at particular Ďpinchí points. Light rain early on in the proceedings gave way to dry weather later. All of the races are particularly tough as they are all longer than the normal League and/or school matches, and in most instances are the longest on the domestic cross-country calendar. There was a total of 18 Harriers including a strong contingent from our partner Club the Yeovil Olympiads competing in the different age group. They were well supported and backed up by fellow members and parents around the course in various locations. A number of the younger Harriers had left by minibus at 6.30am so it is pleasing to note that they performed so well despite this handicap.
All of the races start with a mass charge of 400m or so up the hill, and this makes for an exciting sight for the spectators albeit a tough start for the competitors. The first race in which the Harriers had an interest, saw the Uí13 boys team of Charlie McLean, Ben Venus, Tom Thick, and Matt Stone run to finish an excellent 9th team from across the Southern Counties over a distance of 4000m. Charlie and Ben had particularly good races to finish 16th and 21st respectively in times of 12.11 and 12.18 behind the prodigious talent of Mendipís Nathan Young who finished a clear first in 11.40. Charlie & Benís positions were the reverse of how they finished at the County Championships where Ben had shaded Charlie for the silver medal. Not too far back and packing together well to close the team in the top 10 were Tom and Matt finishing in 101st and 105th places respectively from the nigh-on 200 runners. Tomís time was 13.33 with Matthew just 4 seconds back.
Next up for the Harriers was Uí17 woman Kyra Hawkins who performed well in a 5000m race combined with the Uí20s. Kyra resisted the pull of the faster older runners in the field and settled into the race to finish in a solid 66th place in her age group in a time of 25.03. Kyra is steadily returning to form after a lay-off, and these Championships came perhaps a fortnight too early before she regains the form of December. In the Uí17 menís race over 6000m the Harrierís Chris Ramsey ran an excellent well-judged race to finish in 38th place in a time of 24.01 and was ably supported by Dan White in 132nd in a time of 27.28. Dan has been a virtual ever-present this season at the Wessex XC League and he coped well with the extra distance on the day.
In the Junior Menís race, appearing for the first time at XC this season, was Robbie Hawkins who found the going tough but still managed 45th place in a time of 33.53 for the 8000m course. Robbie promises to do more training before his next competitive outing, and explained his decision to run off virtually no specific XC training as being down to the fact that the Southern Championships are that bit special.
In the Senior Womenís race also over 8000m, Vicky Tester finished well up the field in 47th place in 36.59 , a similar placing to last year, but declared herself disappointed, feeling that she had just not got going as quickly as she would have liked. Her form this year has generally seen her times continue to tumble but she has still not shaken off the effects of a short lay off due to illness in early January, and on that basis her position and time were good. Not too far behind was Ann Taswell, returning to these Championships after a seven year gap and finishing a creditable 95th. When Ann last ran here in 1997 she astounded everyone including herself when she ran the race of her life to secure bronze medal with an incredibly gutsy performance. Ann has recently recommenced serious training with the long term aim of getting back closer to that earlier form, and Saturdayís race was a step in the right direction.
It was the 111th running of the Menís Championship race, and once again entries were at the 1,000 competitor level. Not only is this one of the oldest races, but at 15000m in distance it is the longest cross-country Championship race in the world. For the Harriers a number of the senior men were missing as the Club looks to target the National XC Championships in 3 weeks time. In the event 8 Harriers contested the occasion and the first six home pulled the team to 17th overall, 2nd from the South west behind a strong team from Cornwall. The fastest Harrier was Carl Morris who finished in 78th place in a time of 53.20. Carl is currently running an average of 80 miles a week and was crowned Somerset Champion only 2 weeks ago. Angus Henderson was next in 122nd place in a time of 55.17 and then Alan Thomas (183rd 56.54), Nick Somerville (210th 57.54), Andrew Deamer (215th 58.05), James Mellanby (275th 59.38), Dickie Wythe (400th 62.47) and Dave Stanfield (466th 64.42). As is usual the talk immediately after the race was of Ď next yearí Many thanks to team manager Clive Thomas, to the three minibus drivers and to parents for their support on the day.