This year’s County Cross Country Championships at Basildon’s Gloucester Park produced the usual mix of highs and lows, individual and team medals and heart-warming performances that demonstrate the true spirit of club running.The size of the fields seemed smaller than in previous years, ‘flu and the bitterly cold weather no doubt an influence. A light dusting of snow fell early in the day and with the ground still mostly frozen, the going was fast even if the runner’s limbs found it hard to respond.
Medals were won by Georgie-Lou Sales (gold in the U20 Women), Ronnie Sparke (silver in U20M) and Robbie Meadows (silver in U17M) whilst the U17M team claimed the team bronze medal. In addition to the individual medal winners, Inter-Counties invitations were also claimed by Jess Docking (U20W) and Liam Blaikie (U15B).
Georgie-Lou’s win in the U20W was comfortable (a 10 second advantage) even if she was beaten across the line by the U17W winner, Basildon’s Gemma Kersey in the combined race. Jess Docking (5th) was clearly delighted with her Inter-Counties place and said afterwards that it was probably her best ever race and that the extra training mileage and hill work had paid dividends. Amelia Holford, making her first cross-country outing of the season finished a commendable 9th.
The combined U17/U20 Mens’ race proved the most competitive of the day as both fields contested two full laps together before the U20s continued on a short additional lap. This race gave members of Alistair Holford’s training group a chance to test themselves against team-mates in Richard Thurston’s group – which they did with some success. U20 Ronnie Sparke however led the way, challenging eventual winner Ben Hunter (Southend AC) all the way, even leading him over the final hill before being overtaken at the start of the additional loop. Ronnie comprehensively beat Basildon’s James Shane who finished in 3rd place; teammate Gavin Lewis looked somewhat subdued back in 14th but no doubt had an eye on the Southern indoor championships the following day.
The U17Men benefitted from having the U20s to tow them along and provide targets to attack. Robbie Meadows’ excellent 2nd place exemplified this as he picked off several on over the notorious hill; training partner Darren Southcott used a similar tactic and finished in a fine 13th place, a fair reward for his hard work in his first full cross country season. Alex Cornwell, after his fine early season form and his good first lap placing, struggled on the second lap to finish 16th just ahead of Ben Phillips (20th) and Karim Ali (21st). The team picked up our only YA team medal of the day, the bronze behind Southend and Havering and Mayesbrook.
Liam Blaikie also ran a fine attacking race to finish 5th in the U15Bs and secured his Inter-Counties invite in the process. Liam was part of a group of 6 runners who made an early break and who then attacked each other in turn. Liam attacked hard on the hill during the main lap and at one point got up to 2nd before being clawed back and edged out of the medals in the last 400m. James Stockings also ran extremely well for 9th place as did new recruit, Chris Sear (17th) who understatedly admitted afterwards that it was ‘quite hard’.
The U17 Women’s race completed the same 5.4k course as the U20W in the combined race. Sidnie Sales was first back for Woodford in 11th place with Kate Stockings not far behind in 14th and Becky Hewitt, feeling below par, back in 20th. However, robbed of Claudia Conway through overnight illness, we could not close a team. The U15 Girls were similarly depleted by illness, also losing Sophie Fuhr and Amy Doyle overnight. Georgina Ferrari placed 20th but was disappointed with her performance knowing it was below her best. She was well supported by the smiling trio of Holly Bedeau (30th), Kehzia Jones (33rd) and Hannah Williams (34th). The latter two were anxiously taking part in their first County Championship and along with Holly, showed what it means to take part and should take confidence from their performances in the harsh conditions.
The day’s first race was the U13 Girls’ race and here, we only fielded three runners with Ellie Foster finishing 16th, the dependable and ever-present Stephanie Smith in 23rd and a shivering Joanne Cywinski in 24th. Alas, there were no U13 Boys.........
Next week, many of the same faces will be back at Gloucester Park to represent their districts in the Essex Schools Championships.