A party of 13 Northern AC athletes competed at the Lancashire Cross Country Championships yesterday at a bright but cold Witton Park in Blackburn.
An orientation walk around the park showed everyone that conditions would be pretty damp underfoot, with some very deep muddy sections likely to catch a few of the runners out especially on the descent from the infamous ‘saucer’ section of the course.
The U11 Boys was the first race away and NAC had a strong team of 5 athletes in the 1.8km race around the lower part of Witton Park. The team was headed up by Samuel Perry who had a great 6th place finish in this race last year and he was ably supported by Charlie Teare, Dominic Dunwell, Lukey Stennett and Cory Callister who were all making their UK Cross Country debuts. From the gun, Samuel went straight to the front, leading the field of 70 athletes on the first large loop of the course. Samuel looked comfortable and continued to push the pace as the runners came around the final section of the course and despite being challenged in the home straight, Samuel kept his nerve and finished strongly to win the race and the title of Lancashire Champion – an incredible result! As there is also a team award in each age-group (for teams of at least four athletes), all eyes were then on Sam’s team-mates and we were delighted when Charlie finished 12th, Dominic 15th, Lukey 17th and Cory 45th meaning that as well as Samuel’s individual Gold, the NAC lads had won team Silver, just ahead of Blackburn Harriers. Considering most of the team had never run at this level before, this team result was truly fantastic.
The next race we were interested in was the u13 girls event, with Ella Crowe, Catherine Perry and Madison McMullan representing NAC. The course for the 56 athletes in this age-group was a 3.2km lap, which included the gruelling ‘saucer’ – which is a long climb followed by a fast downhill section into a very muddy base. An added incentive to all age-groups from U13 upwards is that the top 6 finishers gain a place in the Lancashire team and the chance to compete at the British Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships in Loughborough in March, so there was all to play for. At the gun, a very fast pace ensued and Ella quickly settled into a lead group of 6 athletes which included Macy Hillier of Manx Harriers. As the runners headed onto the early section of the saucer, the lead group were starting to stretch away and it appeared that the medals were likely to be decided from this group. Catherine was working well in the chasing pack and Maddy was a few seconds back, seemingly unfazed by her first experience of Cross Country at county level. The athletes then went out of view and we eagerly awaited their return into the main section of Witton Park. As they descended from the saucer, we saw that Macy was leading closely followed by the remaining 5 athletes in the lead group, with Ella in 4th place, but looking strong. As the athletes only had around 400m to the tape, a frantic finish was on the cards and the medals were still to be decided. As the girls turned into the home straight, Ella had pulled clear in third place and had to keep working all the way to the finish, where she was delighted to win the bronze medal and a county vest. An added bonus was that Macy finished second, so there were two Manxies on the podium with only 9 seconds separating the Gold and Bronze medals. Catherine had worked so hard up the hill that she had been ill at the summit, though she kept focused on the job in hand and finished strongly in 14th place. Maddy finished a great 28th place and still has another year in this age-group.
Shortly after, the u15 girls took to the start line and the field of 44 athletes included the NAC duo of Kate and Alice Cashin. The 3.8km lap included an extra loop around the park, before heading out to the saucer and within the first 200m a small group of 5 athletes had pulled a lead of a few seconds on the chasing pack, which was headed by Kate and Alice and also included Holly Burgess of Manx Harriers. As the race settled into its early rhythm, Kate and Alice were looking comfortable and we expected the leaders to be reeled in as the twins got into their long stride. But just as the race headed out of the park, it became apparent that something wasn’t right, Kate and Alice were slowing and Kate veered off course and collapsed to the ground where we were standing. We knew straight away that a problem which has troubled Kate all season had returned and her race was over. The medics were on the scene quickly and they stabilised Kate and got her into the ambulance for monitoring. Fortunately, Alice continued and as the athletes headed up the hill she was working hard to keep in touch with the leading pack. Again the athletes went out of our view and when they hurtled back into sight coming down the hill, Alice had worked her way up to 5th position and was looking strong. Gritting her teeth, she had to keep working all the way to the line and was delighted that she improved on her finish from last year and so also received an automatic place in the Lancashire team for the Inter-Counties. Holly also had a great race and finished in 7th place with a possible county vest too. At the finish, Alice was understandably concerned about Kate and was pleased to hear that whilst exhausted, she was going to be okay. Kate was then taken to the Royal Blackburn Hospital for monitoring, but we’re pleased that she was discharged later in the afternoon and was able to rejoin the rest of the group.
After the excitement of the u15 race our attention then turned to the ladies u17 race and whilst it was a smaller entry taking on two laps of the dreaded saucer in their 5.5km race, there remained a lot of quality in the field. This included Lorna Spiers and Phoebe Coates of NAC and from the gun, the girls featured in the leading group as they quickly headed out onto the hill. At this stage of the afternoon, the wind had started to pick up and this was another factor for the girls to contend with, as well as two trips around the saucer. After the first lap, Lorna was sitting comfortably in second place, whilst Phoebe was working well in a small group of three athletes contending the 4th – 6th places. Whilst Lorna had recently returned from a trip to New York, she was looking strong and seemed to have consolidated her second place coming off the hill for the second time, with the finish line just around the corner. Unfortunately, the bog at the bottom of the hill sucked off one of Lorna’s running shoes, which completely put her off her stride, so handing an unexpected advantage to the chasing athlete from Blackburn Harriers. Lorna kept pushing, but the wet ground and one shoe took its toll and she was passed as they entered the finishing straight. However, she hung on for an excellent 3rd place and Phoebe finished very strongly, pulling away to finish a great 5th place and also gaining a county call-up with Lorna.
The final event of the day was the Senior/Veteran Mens race, which was a gruelling 9.8km which included FOUR trips around the saucer. Matt Callister was the sole NAC representative in the Veterans (V40) category and was taking on Witton Park for the first time. Matt had been at the venue all day, having cheered on his son Cory in the first race of the day hours earlier. From the gun, the large field of 154 athletes quickly spread out and as they headed up the hill for the first time, Matt seemed reasonably comfortable just outside the top third of the field. He kept this position for the next lap and then decided it was time to make a bit of a move up the field. On the third lap, Matt started to gradually pick off the athletes in front of him, especially on the saucer where his hill running experience was a real benefit. Matt continued to work up the field, putting his current marathon training to good use as other athletes started to tire. On the last lap up the hill, Matt passed three more runners and finished strongly in an excellent 59th position overall. Matt was then delighted to learn that he had finished a fantastic 7th place in the V40 category, which was great reward for his efforts. It seemed only fair that the older members of our group helped Matt with his rehydration at the team hotel later in the evening!
So our little trip to Blackburn ended with an individual Gold medal (Samuel), Team Silver (Samuel, Charlie, Dominic, Lukey and Cory), 2 Individual Bronzes (Ella and Lorna) and 4 County places (Ella, Alice, Lorna and Phoebe) not to mention a lot of happy parents and helpers. Thanks to you all – a great weekend away!!