Distance Running News, 13 January

Cheltenham Harriers teams had an excellent weekend as their men’s squad finished second in their Birmingham Cross Country League Division One fixture whilst the ladies team stayed at the top of the Midland Women’s League Division Two. Graham Rush made a welcome return to the team to spearhead the club’s challenge on a new course at Warley Woods and was soon to the fore as Stoke’s Alex Brecker set a fast early pace that instantly spilt the field. Brecker opened up a lead on the opening small circuit with Rush and Loughborough University’s Will Fuller some 40m adrift as they in turn pulled clear of the chasing pack. By halfway the chasing duo had closed down the Stoke athlete before Fuller fell off the pace on the second large lap to leave Rush and Brecker to battle it out for the win. It was Brecker who proved to be the strongest on the testing course to pull clear for the win, with Rush crossing the line nine seconds later as he finished six seconds ahead of third placed Fuller. From the early stages of the race it was clear that Loughborough would again take the team win and the battle for second place would be between Cheltenham and Tipton. Whilst the West Midlanders had three in the top ten after the opening lap, the Cheltenham quintet of Phil Wylie, Luke Pollard, Ben Price, Dan Owen and Richard de-Camps were closely packed just outside the top twenty. As the race developed Wylie and Pollard kept working their way through the field and by the end they finished in 11th and 15th respectively. Tipton’s fourth runner then finished one place ahead of Price who ran well for 21st position. Having started cautiously, Alex Bampton paced his race well and was overtaking runners for the whole race to be rewarded with 23rd place as he finished one place ahead of Tipton’s fifth man. Having broken the 32 minute barrier for 10k for the first time last weekend, de-Camps continued his fine recent form to claim his highest ever league finish of 29th to complete the Harriers scoring six. Dan Owen then crucially crossed the line in 32nd before the final Tipton counter crossed the line in 36th place.

Both the Cheltenham and Tipton supporters knew that there was little to choose between the two sides, but none had predicted that both teams would score an identical 101 points, with the Cheltenham team earning second place on the day on the basis that their final scorer crossed the line before the sixth Tipton man. Loughborough (71) meanwhile remained undefeated this season whilst Birmingham University (155) and Birchfield (158) took fourth and fifth in the sixteen strong division. With just one fixture remaining the top of the table is the closest it has been for a very long time, with the top five all having a chance of making the medals. The Harriers (416) moved up a place to fourth just 17 points behind Birchfield and 40 adrift of second placed Tipton. Loughborough (215) meanwhile are almost certain of yet another league tile whilst fifth placed Birmingham University (435) will also be hoping to be amongst the medals. The Harriers B team finished second on the day to maintain their second place behind Loughborough in their league thanks to the efforts of Owen, Doug Wight (52nd), George Watson (54th) with his highest league position, Dan King (56th), John Parker (67th) and Dave Aubrey (71st). Marc Fallows (95th), Nick Brown (108th), Jacob Pickering (133rd), Alex Lindfield (138th), Alister Brown (174th) and Ian Giles (202nd) showed the Harriers depth to complete the C team before Matt Evans (217th) completed the Harriers contingent.

The Harriers ladies meanwhile were looking to consolidate their position as leaders of Division Two of the Midland Women’s Cross Country League at their fixture at Cofton Park in Birmingham, in a race held jointly with the division one fixture. Fee Maycok led the team home in 34th place overall and as 7th division two runner before team manager Jo Wilkie came home 17th in the division and 56th overall. Emma Silversides overtook teammate Sarah Sheppard in the closing stages as the pair earned 27th and 28th in the division with 81st and 87th in the overall race. This gave the 4 lady team a score of 79 as they finished second behind Tipton (50) whilst Halesowen (107) placed third. This leaves the Harriers with a significant lead at the top of the division with 176 points with Black Pear (304) and CLC Striders (323) their nearest challengers. The league also includes a three to score masters completion with Maycock (3rd), Wilkie (9th) and Silverside (14th) scoring 25 to finish second behind Telford whose 22 points. The Shropshire team remain at the head of the league with Cheltenham lying second 18 points adrift but 60 points clear of third placed Trentham. Meanwhile, at the North Midlands League in Nottingham, Mia O’Connell finished in a pleasing second place as she represented Nottingham University. Earlier in the day Hannah D’Ambrosio (20:33) finished as the first lady at the Cheltenham parkrun after Alex Lee (16:18) was the first man home. Andy Gardiner (17:07) placed third whilst Gareth Edwards (19:01), Matt Lambourne (19:04) and Dave Francis (19:09) came home inside the top ten in close proximity.