Sunday 24 February 2019

English National Cross Country Championships

LANCELOT 'Capabilty' Brown must have had a mischievous mind when he designed the landscaped grounds of Harewood House, the venue for the English National Cross-Country Championships.

Of course, when Mr Brown, born in the Northumberland village of Kirkharle, had no idea that over 6,000 athletes from all corners of England would take in one of his star workplaces and while many were complimentary of his work there were many who felt he could have been a bit more horizontal in is thinking for the 1,000 acres back in mid 1700s!.

However, his passion for hills and more hills at the West Yorkshire countryside didn't deter around 600 local athletes making the trip for another tilt at the 'National.'

And, once again, the competitors did the region proud and at the end of the day the medal count was two individual gold medals, one silver and one bronze and one set of team bronze.

North East's Golden Boys - Rory & Sam

INDIA PENTLAND (Darlington) - Under-17 Women Silver Medalist

"IT WAS touch and go whether I was going to run or not for I had been suffering with a bad cough leading up to the race and it was only on Thursday that I decided to run. Naturally, I'm really happy to win the silver medal. It was a good race and I was in contention all the way with the pace pretty fast throughout however, it wasn't until around 400 metres to the finish that Olivia (Mason, Border Harriers) started to pull away. She just proved that little bit stronger on the day.''

SAM CHARLTON (Wallsend) - Under-17 Men Gold Medalist

"I FELT pretty much in control throughout though to be honest there was a point in the race midway through the second lap where I found myself 15 metres adrift after Henry (McLuckie, Shaftesbury Barnet) made a quick break which caught me out a bit. At that point I wasn't sure whether to give chase or sit back and wait to see if he had gone too soon but decided, together with Will (Barnicoat, Aldershot, Farnham and District), to try and reel him in which we managed to do, so really I'm happy with the way the race panned out. 

There was just Will and I running shoulder-to-shoulder going into the last half-mile but I felt I had the better of him and with around 500 metres to go made a big effort to get away and happily, it paid off though I have to admit the line couldn't come quick enough for I was really feeling the effects of the tough course. I went into the race pretty confident, training had been going well after winning the Northerns so naturally, I'm really pleased to have won, not just for myself but for my coach Paddy, my mam, dad and grandad who have supported me immensely since I started running, and of course, all my fellow Wallsend Harriers who seemed to be here there and everywhere out on the course shouting me on, I thank them all.''

RORY LEONARD (Morpeth) - Under-20 Men Gold Medalist

"I KNEW I had it once I hit the brow of the final hill for I said to myself no-one will catch me now knowing that the run to the finish was mainly downhill or flat. After last year which was a complete disaster this is the first National that I have ever finished so it's like a winning debut really. I was always in the leading group with no-one really wanting to push on on the first lap but things quickly changed early on the second circuit when four of us managed to get away as the pace increased. We were all still together at the base of the final steep climb and it was then that I decided to go for it. Even though I didn't glance back once, my dad always tells me not to do that, I sensed from the crowd that I had opened up a significant gap. At that point I was confident enough to think the title is mine. Now I can look forward to the Inter-Counties and World Trials with a lot of confidence.''

CARL AVERY (Morpeth) - Senior Men Bronze Medalist

"I'm really happy with that, a National bronze medal is something to be proud of mind I had to work my socks off for it. I was in fourth place at the end of the first circuit but still felt strong and confident of making it onto the podium. I managed to get past the lad in third place and then caught up with the two leaders as we headed back out into the country. I was so confident I even managed to take the lead for a while but the other two - South of England champion Mahamed Mahamed and North of England champion Emile Cairess - were quickly back in control which meant I had to dig really deep to stay in the top three. It was on the descents that I struggled a bit which with the course being really dry it gave them the impetus to ease away. I knew the course layout having won the Northern here last year but I would have liked it to have had a bit more give and even some mud which is more to my liking. Having said that I loved it really and can't wait for the Inter-Counties to come round!''

The 10-race programme opened with the under-17 women's 5k contest and it was Darlington's India Pentland who set the trend for the day with a superb second-place finish.
Due to having a cough since lifting the Northern title at Pontefract late last month, India only decided to take her chance 48 hours before the off and it proved to be a good decision by finishing runner-up behind Border Harriers' Olivia Mason with only two seconds separating the duo at the finish, Next to finish from the North East were Morpeth's Holly Peck who finished 32nd with New Marske's Elicia Smith next one home in 39th place.

It was the turn of the under-13 boys next up to the starting line for there 4k contest with around 30 competitors from NE clubs facing the starter. First home from the region was NE XC champion Tom Slane of Blackhill Bounders who crossed the line in 29th place with Gosforth's Ethan Bond following him home seven seconds adrift in 40th place. Darlington's Daniel Richardson was the region's next best in 47th position. In the four-to-score team section Morpeth, led home by 60th placed Ryan Davies, were 20th. Darlington were 27th, New Marske 31st and Tyne Bridge 41st.

Next up was the under-13 girls event over 3k and it proved to be the region's only team awards as Middlesbrough Mandale claimed the bronze medals. The Teessider's were led home by Zoe Hill in 26th place followed by team-mates Isabel Herbert (42nd) and Eden Creasey in 51st. As well as the Middlesbrough squad claiming third place, Gosforth finished 25th, Gateshead 28th and North Shields Poly 34th.

Middlesbrough Mandale - u13 girls team bronze

The under-17 men faced a distance of 6k and it turned out to be quite interesting for the Wallsend club. They had to make a quick decision on travelling arrangements after the coach due to take them to Leeds failed to turn up which meant a mighty scramble to rearrange transport for the 20 members making the trip. While it wasn't too much of a problem for the senior athletes as their events were scheduled to take place early in the afternoon, the big concern was to get their Northern champion Sam Charlton to the start line in good time.

As it turned out the 'panic' didn't effect him one iota as he romped home to a nine-second victory over the Southern Championship runner-up Will Barnicoat. "I was getting a bit anxious the later it got but the quick-thinking of Simon, the club captain, in arranging cars to get us there certainly saved the day,'' said Sam, who, at Parliament Hill last year finished in 46th place.'' Gateshead's Charlie McMillan was the region's next athlete home finishing in 31st place just over a minute behind the winner, while Houghton's Will Bellamy, who was 38th led his team to finish in 15th place behind 10th-placed Morpeth whose first counter was Daniel Melling in 52nd spot.

The under-15 boys 4k contest was the half-way stage of the programme and it was Darlington's Adam Russell who led the region's charge finishing in an excellent 13th place just 37 seconds adrift of a podium spot. Middlesbrough's Max Creasey was next home in 24th place followed by Adam's twin brother John in 40th position. Gosforth were the only NE club to close-in a team, finishing in 30th place.

The under-15 girls 4k championship had over 30 competitors from the NE on the start line and it was Birtley's Katie Francis who led the region's charge finishing in 20th place. Katie was closely followed across the line by Chester-le-Street's Emily Chung who was 25th and then came Blaydon's Cecelia Reid in 44th place. In the team stakes North Shields Poly finished in 19th place with Birtley finishing nine points behind in 20th.

The junior women faced a distance of 6k and it was Birtley's Kate Waugh who was first NE runner home in 17th position. Gosforth's Rhian Purves crossed the line in 28th place with Darlington's Lucy-Erin Hunter a further five places adrift.

Over 1,000 senior women took their chance on the start line for their 8k contest and it was Heaton's Danielle Smyth, with arguably the best run of her career so far, leading the region's charge to finish in 31st place. Danielle covered the ''undulating'' course in 30min 43secs. Gosforth's Helen Warburton crossed the line in 50th position closely followed by Morpeth's Emma Holt in 55th.

The junior men faced a tough 10k challenge but it didn't faze Morpeth's Rory Leonard who came home in pole position to claim the region's second gold medal of the day.
Rory, last year's under-17 Inter-Counties champion, ran sensibly before making his move for victory on the final steep incline where he broke away to come home and win by 11 seconds. Morpeth team-mate Kieran Hedley was the region's next best finisher in 43rd place followed one place behind by Middlesbrough's Ben Bergstrand. In the team contest Morpeth missed out by just nine points in the four-to-score contest, to finish in fourth place.

The senior men's 12k race attracted a field of over 2,000 which was a spectacular sight as the athletes spread out as far as the eye could see. There are not many venues that can boast a lap of 6k but that was the case here and it was a happy Morpeth athlete Carl Avery who came home in bronze medal position after working his way trough to take the lead at one point of the proceedings. It was a superb performance and augurs well for next month's Inter-Counties Championships which doubles as the Trials for the World Championships. NE County champion Greg Jayasuriya was next from the region to finish in 70th place after being inside the top 50 going into the second lap. Middlesbrough's Kieran Walker, in his first year as a senior, was next best finishing 87th. Twenty of the region's clubs managed to close in in the six-to-score contest with Morpeth leading the way in 18th place followed by Tyne Bridge in 22nd and Gateshead 29th. Other placings included North Shields Poly (41st), Gosforth (48th), Sunderland (53rd), Wallsend (63rd), South Shields (77th), Sunderland Strollers (87th) and Low Fell (91st).

It was a great day's sport presided over by Sunderland's Kevin Carr as President of the ECCA at a superb venue helped by glorious weather. The National is an institution as far as cross-country running is concerned and it showed by the number of clubs, athletes and spectators who made the pilgrimage and on a personal note I have to thank South Shields and Jarrow and Hebburn for their hospitality on the journey there and back which made the day even extra special!

Bill McGuirk

Many congratulations to Leeds, taking both the senior men's and women's team titles.

Full results available here: Sporthive

Adrian Royle - check out his flickr album
Dave Woodhead -
Stuart Whitman Photography - StuartWhitmanPhoto

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