Distance Running News, 7-8 February

Cheltenham Harriers created club history as they won their first ever Birmingham Cross Country League Division One fixture to finish the season in a record third place and claim a league medal for the first time. With a strong team assembled for the final fixture in Pittville Park the Harriers were confident of staying in third place, with Graham Rush’s bid for the individual league title expected to be the key area of interest to the home supporters. On the opening lap a six man group formed at the front of the field with Rush prominent and joined by team mate Dave Roper and rival for the title Jack Gray (BRAT). The second lap saw Roper slip off the pace to run isolated for the remainder of the race, whilst Rush and Gray tracked Birmingham University’s Jonny Davies. On the second half of the second lap, last year’s national under 20 champion opened a gap with Rush and Gray locked together as they started the third and final circuit. Needing to beat Gray to claim the individual title, Rush increased the pace and pulled away from his rival and made inroads into the gap ahead to Davies. However, by the finish Davies took the win by ten seconds from Rush who was fourteen seconds clear of third placed Gray. The result meant that Rush became the first Cheltenham Harrier to win the individual league title after a successful series of races throughout the winter.

Whilst Dave Roper ran well to finish in sixth place, the rest of the Harriers packed well behind. Ben Price and Phil Beastall were evenly matched on the opening lap and put themselves inside the top 20, although the latter was falling off the back of the group. Team manager Andy Prophett, who had been delighted when the team had gained their highest ever placing of second at the last fixture, was happy to see seven of his runners in the top 27 at the end of the first lap and realised that another special result could be on the cards. With champions elect Birmingham University’s sixth and final scorer placed just outside the top 50 he was quickly doing the calculations and urging his team on as the Harriers packed twelve runners before the final university runner. Richard Dare and James Bingham were lying as fifth and sixth Harriers, with Anthony Bailey, Tom Lowe, Marc Fallows, Darren Jordan, Jon Barnes, Roger Mullins and Will New in close pursuit. Whilst Birmingham had four runners in the top twelve, Beastall rallied on the final lap to go past Price as the pair impressed to finish in fifteenth and nineteenth respectively. The university side then had their fifth scorer in 21st as Richard Dare ran well for the Harriers in 26th. Bingham had held the final scoring position until the final mile when Lowe moved through to complete the Dave Newport coached team in 28th place. Bingham followed four seconds later in 30th to lead the Harriers B team home as they crucially pushed the final Birmingham scorer back down the field. Five seconds later both Bailey and Barnes crossed the line in 33rd and 34th before Mullins (37th), Jordan (43rd) and New (44th) completed the B team. Fallows (52nd) and Dave Aubrey (54th) then also followed before the final university runner came home in 58th place.

Some quick addition soon confirmed that the Harriers best ever score of 96 had given them a seven point victory over the British University champions whilst Loughborough University took third a further 62 points adrift. The result confirmed meant that Birmingham took the overall tile, with Cheltenham just 25 points adrift of runners up Loughborough, but 401 points clear of fourth placed Tipton. The Harriers B team also took the final fixture victory in the B team competition to finish second overall, just 62 points behind Loughborough. Such was the strength of the Harriers squad in the final fixture that the C team of Fallows, Aubrey, Andy Gore (62nd), Jay Dowding (79th), Elliot Prince (81st) and Russell Forsbrook (93rd) beat all other B teams. Steve Hall also ran well for 94th place before Gavin McCaugherty (127th), James Wilkinson (136th) and Lee Groenewegen (169th) completed the 22 man squad.

Elsewhere Dmitry Nazarenko finished second in the senior boys race at the South West Schools Cross Country Championship in which Matt Crew placed ninth and Miguel Mundinano finished as first vet 45 runner at the Dursley Dozen multi-terrain race.

Birmingham XC League Results

XC Photos from Tony Stanton start half way down the page and onto page 7