Distance Running News, 14-15 January

There was a race victory for Graham Rush as Cheltenham Harriers produced one of their best ever team performances to move up into second place in the Birmingham Cross Country League Division One. With Coundon Hall Park in Coventry was much drier than in previous years, a fast race over the three lap course was expected as a large group of around twenty runners remained close together on the opening circuit. Great Britain international Rush was towards the front of the group, with Phil Wylie also inside the top ten, Phil Beastall looking good not far behind and Oli Mott just about in contact with the pack. It was on the second lap that the race came to life as Toby Spencer (Coventry) hit the front and opened up a lead at the head of the field which caused the group to quickly thin out. Rush gradually closed the deficit and took the lead before the end of the lap, but with Richard Horton (Loughborough), Alex Brecker (Stoke), Jack Gray (BRAT) and Spencer in close pursuit the race was far from won. Horton had closed the gap to within twenty metres as they entered the final half mile, but Rush worked hard to take victory by two seconds with Brecker a further five seconds adrift in third.

Wylie remained in tenth place for the second half or the race before Gloucestershire Champion Beastall produced another excellent performance to finish in highest ever league position, just three places and 23 seconds behind Wylie. Mott ran well to gain places on the final lap to finish in fourteenth position before Alex Bampton and Ben Price enjoyed a sprint finish which saw them finish 28th and 29th respectively. This gave the Harriers six man team a score of 97, just one point short of the club record 96 that was set when winning the final league fixture of the 2014-5 season, but more importantly it claimed both second place on the day and moved the team up into second place in the overall standings. With league leaders Loughborough University winning the fixture with a paltry 43 points to almost certainly win the title, the Harriers finished 93 points ahead of third placed Birmingham University. This saw the Cheltenham squad leapfrog their student rivals in the league table to take an 85 point advantage going into next month’s final fixture as they bid to claim league silver medals for the first time in their club history. Again the Harriers showed their depth with a strong B team of Dave Roper (43rd), Richard de-Camps (55th), Marc Fallows (62nd), Alex Lee (63rd), Will New (67th) and Liam Roarty (68th) to finish third on the day in their league behind the two university teams, a position they also hold in the overall standings. Further vital backup came from Dave Aubrey (79th), Roger Mullins (92nd), Jacob Pickering (120th) and Matt Evans (177th).

The following day saw team victories for both the Harriers ladies and men’s teams as Anthony Bailey claimed a race win at the Linda Franks 5 mile road race. Bailey soon moved clear of teammate Marcus England as they ran around Up Hatherley and The Reddings. The County Road Race Series champion went on to take victory in 26:25 with England finishing in second place 21 seconds later to finish 33 seconds clear of Doug Wight (Almost Athletes). Mark James celebrated his 40th birthday with a personal best of 27:47 to finish as second veteran behind Bailey in fourth place overall. Steve Hall was the next Harrier home in 29:29 before Dave Rantell recorded 29:42. The Cheltenham ladies team then packed well with three athletes in the first four as veteran Shona Crombie-Hicks recorded 30:09 to finish as runner up, 22 seconds behind Gemma Hargraves (Almost Athletes). Fellow veterans Fee Maycock and Vickie Wilkinson soon followed in 31:10 and 31:22 respectively to give the trio a convincing team win. Richard Birch (31:30) and Paul Barnes (34:22) followed before Debbie Smith (35:22) finished as third LV45 runner. Holly Linton (36:18), Sam Pickering (38:26) and Clare Ovens (43:13) completed the Harriers contingent.