Cheltenham Harriers produced their best ever team score as Phil Wylie and Graham Rush finished first and second in the Birmingham Cross Country League Division One fixture at Northampton. A large front pack of around a dozen runners, which included Wylie, Rush and Dave Roper pulled clear of the field on the first of the undulating four laps of the Abingdon Park course. The second lap saw the pace pick up as the group whittled down to five with both Wylie and Rush still content to follow the leaders, whilst Roper lay in eighth place at the halfway point of the race. Jack Gray (BRAT) forced the pace on the third circuit, but the two Harriers remained in touch. At the start of the final lap Wylie made his move, with only Gray initially matching his pace. Rush was just a few yards adrift in third as he in turn opened up a more significant gap over Henry Pearce (Loughborough) and Toby Spencer (Coventry). However, Gray could not keep with Wylie’s injection of pace and the race was won by the time Wylie entered the final field comfortably clear of Rush and Gray who were side by side. Whilst Wylie crossed the line victorious on his Harriers debut, Rush pulled clear of Gray to cross the line fourteen seconds behind his teammate and five seconds ahead of the BRAT runner to complete an historic Harriers 1-2. Roper finished strongly on the final circuit to gain places on the final lap to make it three Dave Newport coached athletes in the top six, the first time the Harriers have had three runners finishing in the top ten.
Alex Bampton again showed great maturity for a 20 year old as he paced his race well. Ignoring the fast early pace, he picked his way through the field and passed many of his teammates on the second lap. He continued to gain places throughout the whole race to finish in an impressive 35th position, his highest ever league placing. Similarly Jon Barnes ran well to claim his highest ever league finish in 43rd place. The battle to claim the final place in the Harriers six man team was always going to be a close affair with so many contenders. Entering the final lap Roger Mullins was just ten metres clear of Darren Jordan with Will New not far behind. Whilst Jordan drew level with his teammate, Mullins would not let him past and pulled clear to finish in 50th place, his best league finish for three years. This gave the Harriers six man team a score of just 137 points, surpassing their previous best ever return of 147, to finish as third team on the day behind the powerful squads of Loughborough and Birmingham Universities, with Birchfield and Coventry Godiva taking fourth and fifth place. The result also leaves the Cheltenham team third in the league table behind the same two student teams, but impressively over 200 points clear of Coventry and Tipton who occupy fourth and fifth places.
Jordan led the B team home in a pleasing 51st place, finishing just one position and six seconds behind Mullins, with New following a further eight seconds later in 56th position. Twelve seconds later Andrew van Kints crossed the line in 62nd place, fourteen seconds clear of 70th placed Marc Fallows. Dave Aubrey and James Miler completed the team in 89th and 93rd positions respectively as the B team also took third behind the two university teams, positions that are also mirrored in the overall B team league table. Outside the scoring teams Andy Gore (95th), Alex Lee (135th) and Miguel Mundinano (150th) provided vital backup.
In the Midland women’s league at the same venue Mia O’Connell was the first Gloucestershire athlete home in an impressive 11th place. Missing from Northampton due to a fixture clash, Dmitry Nazarenko and Matt Crew finished first and second in the senior boys race at the Gloucestershire Schools Cross Country Championship. Meanwhile Steve Hall won his first ever race at Cheltenham parkrun in a parkrun PB of 17:40 and Gavin McCaugherty placed fifth at the Cannon Hill parkrun in Birmingham in 18:02. Russell Forsbrook finished second in the Weston-super-Mare Christmas Cracker 10k.