Cheltenham Harriers opened their Birmingham Cross Country League Division One campaign with an excellent third place as Graham Rush took second place over a testing course at Leamington. Rush and teammate Dave Roper were part of a six man lead pack at the end of the first of three laps. Halfway round the second circuit Birmingham University’s Ed Shephard opened up a gap that split the pack, with Rush becoming isolated in second and Roper in fifth by the end of the second lap. Rush was unable to close the gap on the final lap, but comfortably finished in second place, 18 seconds behind Shepherd but 25 seconds clear of Jake Wightman (Loughborough) who finished sixth in the 1500m at this summer’s Commonwealth Games. With Roper coming home in sixth place the pair laid the foundations for a strong team performance.
Track specialist Dan Owen made a welcome return to form as he beat his previous highest finish in the league by one place with a pleasing 25th position. A close battle to be the fourth Harrier home was expected before the race, but Marc Fallows ran an excellent race and remained unchallenged for the position as he claimed his first top fifty finish with an impressive 35th position. Alex Bampton had gradually moved his way through the field for a mature race that brought him home just four seconds behind Fallows as he also claimed his highest ever league position in 38th. The final spot in the six man scoring team was a close battle with Will New and John Parker running side by side for the whole race before the in-form New pulled clear in the final kilometre for 43rd place. This was New’s first appearance in the Harriers A team in the league for five years and easily his highest ever league finish. This gave the A team an impressive score of just 149 points, equalling the Harriers second ever best return in the league, for third place behind the University teams of Birmingham and Loughborough, with Tipton Harriers and Coventry Godiva finishing in fourth and fifth.
The strength of the Harriers squad was highlighted with some excellent packing by the club B team. Parker finished nine seconds adrift of New in 50th place before Roger Mullins followed just six seconds later in a pleasing 54th position. Seventeen seconds later Matt Crew made an impressive league debut in 65th place before veteran Darren Jordan made a welcome return to the team seven seconds later in 70th place. Just five seconds later Dave Aubrey came home in 74th position whilst a three way battle for the final place in the B team took place behind him. Andy Gore looked to have secured that spot, but was overtaken in the final run in by both James Miller who finished 83rd and Richard Evershed in 84th, with Gore finishing in 86th place. This gave the B team third place in the B team league, with Loughborough and Birmingham Universities again filling the top two spots. The Harriers also fielded a full C team with Russell Forsbrook (107th), John Merrett (132nd), Gavin McCaugherty (171st) and Matt Evans (201st) completing the Cheltenham contingent.
At a wet and muddy Cheltenham parkrun Jacob Pickering ran well for second place in 17:53 as he pulled clear of third placed Andy Prophett (18:03) in the last half mile whilst Steve Hall (18:13) finished in fifth place.