JUST as they did a week earlier India Pentland and Sam Charlton produced another impressive performance to add to their portfolio by winning the English Schools' Cross-Country senior titles at a wet and windy Temple Newsham, Leeds.
And while the talented North East duo, representing Durham and Northumberland respectively, claimed the major honours the region's celebrations didn't end there as Josh Blevins (Northumberland) and Durham's Chris Perkins ran themselves into an international call-up for next weekend's Schools' Cross-Country international in Dublin.
|Dublin bound: Josh Blevins and Christopher Perkins|
However, all eyes were on Pentland and Charlton, the recently crowned Inter-Counties champions, who were back in action just seven days after their tough exertions at Loughborough .
Pentland was the first of the two in action, lining up over 4,100 meters which was the penultimate event on the programme and with the 'undulating' course cutting up badly it was to prove a real test of stamina. The Darlington athlete got off to a blistering start and was immediately in view in the leading group as the field settled down. In the blink of an eye three athletes broke away before the midway point quickly opening up a significant gap over the rest of their 300-plus rivals. Berkshire's Georgia Hayes and Kate O'Neil of Essex, together with Pentland, pulled away with every stride with Pentland content to sit in behind the duo though two or three times during the second half of the contest it seemed that the Durham athlete was beginning to struggle slightly as she slipped a few metres adrift.
It may have been tiredness from the week before but, while there was daylight appearing, Pentland determinedly stuck to the task before summoning a huge effort to gain control and ease into lead going into the final 600 metres, a lead she wasn't going to relinquish once in front. Despite being chased all the way to the line it was Pentland who broke the tape winning in the end by a handsome four seconds.
It was a superb achievement by the David Lowes-advised athlete who said a few moments after taking her place on the podium: "There were times during the race when I didn't think I was going to win, it was really tough. I don't know where I found the strength in the closing stages!"
Despite having the winner, Durham finished 11th team while Northumberland, who had Rhian Purves as first counter in 21st position, finished 23rd.
The senior boys 6,700 metres brought the curtain down on proceedings being set on their way just as Pentland stepped down from the podium and once more the North East had high hopes of success with a lot of people tipping Monkseaton High School student Sam Charlton being the one to beat and while his current form clearly backed that up, he was facing rivals a year older.
However, now brimming with confidence Charlton was quickly into his stride settling into the leading group after the initial cavalry charge from the starting pens. The 300 athletes faced one small lap and two large circuits covering 6,700 metres. It wasn't until mid-way through the first of the long laps that things began to speed up with another fancied athlete, Cambridgeshire's Thomas Keen, hitting the front on one of the numerous inclines. The injection of pace saw the leading group - Charlton covered every move - break up and approaching the elbow to go out into the country for the final time it was Keen, Charlton and Hampshire's Lachlan Wellington who had pulled away marginally from their rivals.
However, with so much at stake, the trio stepped off the gas allowing the chasing pack to close them down. Charlton, realising that there were too many athletes around for comfort, decided to hit the front for the first time with just over a kilometre to go pushing hard up another hill which had his rivals struggling. With the tough climbs out of the way the Wallsend Harrier - coached by Paddy Dinsmore - kept up the pressure to celebrate in his usual customary way approaching the finishing line nine seconds clear of Middlesex pair David Stone, the South of England champion, and Jem O'Flaherty as Wellington and Keen paid dearly for their early efforts to come home in fifth and ninth place respectively.
Charlton, who was naturally overwhelmed with his latest success, admitted he was ready for a break after an unbeatable campaign which saw him lift the North East Counties XC title back in December at Wrekenton; the Northern XC Championship at Pontefract in January, the National XC Championship at Leeds in February and prior to his latest success, the Inter-Counties XC Championship at Loughborough earlier in the month, his successes having cross-country buffs searching the record books to see if that has ever been achieved before.
"I had an easy week, just ticking over really after the Inter-Counties,'' said Charlton. "Naturally, I went into the race with a lot of confidence but was cagey that tiredness could be a major factor as the race unfolded. However, that didn't happen and the longer the race went, surprisingly, the more relaxed I felt and it was just a case of waiting patiently before making a move to the front. It's been a huge roller-coaster season and I've learnt a lot competing against the best cross-country runners in the country and I have to thank everyone at Wallsend, their support has been amazing throughout, Paddy has guided me all the way and I'm ever grateful for that and of course my parents, my grandparents who braved the horrendous weather today to cheer me on, I'm so thankful for everything. Now, I'm having a couple of weeks off before building up for the track season and if I do just half as well in the summer than I'll be more than happy!''
Despite Charlton's victory, Northumberland just missed out on a team medal finishing in fourth place from the 38 counties who closed in. Ross Charlton (29th) and Daniel Melling (4nd) were Northumberland's next scorers as Durham finished in 37th place with Ben Horsfield leading them home in 108th position.
The junior and intermediate age group races had much more at stake with a top-eight finish guaranteeing a place in the English Schools' team for this coming weekend's Schools' International Cross-Country Championships which are being held in Santry Park, Dublin.
And it's a delight to report that the North East will have two athletes on the plane for Ireland after superb performances in the junior boys two-lap 4,100 metres contest.
It was Durham's Chris Perkins who set out his stall from the gun taking an early lead with Lewis Sullivan (Sussex) and Northumberland's Josh Blevins in attendance as the trio quickly opened up a gap over their 300-plus rivals. At one stage Blevins eased into the lead before it was Sullivan's turn to take up the role of leader. Sullivan's injection of pace immediately caught out Perkins (Birtley) and it was Blevins (North Shields Poly) who was on Sullivan's shoulder going into the final kilometre. However, it was the Suffolk runner who proved the strongest going into the final stages as Blevins, having arguably his finest race ever, hanging on gamely for a superb silver medal to finish just nine seconds adrift of the new champion. Perkins, meanwhile, looked as though he had picked up an injury as he slipped back down the field to finish in sixth place thankfully though, to add his name to the England team for Dublin. Hopefully Perkins will be fully fit for the trip as it's not every year you get the opportunity to don an England vest!
Behind Blevins Will Collinson and Tom Slane had their own private battle to be Northumberland's second counter with the former prevailing finishing 30th two places ahead of his team-mate as the county finished in 11th position out of the 45 counties who closed in.
While Blevins and Perkins did more than enough to make the international match, spare a thought for Northumberland's Ines Curran who lined up in the intermediate girls 3,710 metres contest. Despite being up to seventh at one stage the Gateshead Harrier eventually slipped back to finish in 11th place. However, it was later learned that England were going to take 10 athletes so it was by a matter of just one second that she missed out on automatic selection! Being named as reserve is scant reward for another superb cross-country performance by the teenager. Durham got the better of their local rivals on this occasion finishing in eighth place with both Emily Chong and Amy Leonard finishing inside the top 50 in 38th and 45th positions respectively.
Durham also got the better of Northumberland in the intermediate boys 5,220 metres contest finishing 18th, two places ahead. Will Bellamy was first home for Durham in 30th postion while Tom Balsdon was Northumberland's leading finisher in 38th place.
In the junior girls 3,710 metres championship Durham's Katie Francis (Durham) and Millicent Breeze (Northumberland) did the region proud finishing in 19th and 23rd place respectively with Francis just 12 seconds away from a top-10 place. Durham, who also had Erin Keeler-Clarke (44th) and Lucy Scothern (53rd), finished in ninth place while Northumberland were 20th with Abigail Leiper their second counter after Breeze in 69th place.
Both Durham and Northumberland didn't return home empty handed with Durham picking up the Sidney Rose Trophy while Northumberland received the Group D Trophy.
Photos : Adrian Royle & Dave Woodhead