National Cross-Country Relays – Seniors

Back in 2000, Leeds City men’s run of 21st century success began with bronze medals in the National Cross-Country Relays in Mansfield. They went one better in 2007 and last weekend equalled that, taking silver medals in a competition which has developed in both quality and quantity over the last 10 years. After a late morning downpour, Berry Hill Park was a waterlogged mudbath and so times were slower than in previous years. Despite this, the A team’s overall time was exactly the same as in 2000!

The men were led off by James Walsh on a leg which was furiously quick from a manic, crowded start, as National Cross Country champion Steve Vernon made his intentions clear from the start, hitting the front immediately and dragging a string of athletes, James included, in his wake. James, the sole team-member to also feature in 2007, kept the gap to just 11 seconds as he finished in 4th in a rapid 15:37, 4th quickest of the day. Alan Buckley took over for leg 2, building on his West Yorkshire League performance of last week and running strongly, finishing in 6th after a 16:49 run. Joe Townsend, having a great start to his winter season so far, was up next and clawed back a place with a 16:42 run, leaving the team in 5th. Meanwhile, Stockport, unfancied before the race, had extended their lead and were well on their way to their first national title. Behind them, however, there was still all to play for. Simon Deakin, who also anchored home the 2000 team, ran a determined leg, overhauling Birchfield, Tipton and finally Norwich to claim the silver medals by just 5 seconds.

Meanwhile, the B team were led off by Gavin Chatterton, fighting his way through the melee of the leg 1 start to finish the leg in 17:43, 70th out of nearly 200 teams. However, Oliver Ziff had run a storming leg (17:15) for the C team and they finished the leg almost 30s ahead of the B in 55th. On leg 2, Martin Gostling swiftly set about reducing the deficit, charging through the field with the fastest B team leg of 17:02 and making up 32 places to finish in 38th. Just 4 places ahead were the C team, with Mike Williams returning to competition with a 17:43 run. The B team’s charge through the field continued as Martin Hilton (lead-off runner in the 2000 team) made up a further 10 places with a 17:24 clocking, handing over to Mike Burrett, who ran a solid 17:36 to improve the team’s position by another 4 places. With a final position of 24th, Leeds were 2nd B team, 17s and just 2 places behind Notts, as well as 9th Northern team and 2nd Yorkshire team. Meanwhile, the C team were completed by Leon Foster and Ben Dyson, running 19:39 and 19:32 respectively to finish in 56th place, also 2 places behind Notts (although with their A team finishing 13th, we can claim overall bragging rights!).

The female harriers have been in great form this season and they continued with a series of fine runs. Sarah Peterson led the A team off on a typically fast, 3km leg. She ran 11:38 for 38th place, a solid start. Claire Duck has been our in-form runner this season and so she proved again, making up 22 places with a time of 11:01. Katie Parry showed her fine run at the York WYL last week was no one-off, improving a further 2 places with 11:28, to bring the A team home in 14th, 5th Northern team and with only Bingley ahead from the local area. With more runners still to come into this team, it looks like being a very successful year for the women.

Showing that strength in depth is no longer the sole preserve of the men’s team, there was also a strong B team, led off by Rachel Dyson, finding her cross-country feet this season with a time of 12:21 for 66th place in the strong first leg field. Kirsteen Young, like Olly and Spike, was motivated by the fact she had been omitted from a higher team and duly set about proving her point, carving through the field to lift the B team up to 35th with a time of 11:26, the 2nd fastest Leeds time of the day! Jess Nixon, returning to form, gained a further 2 places for a final position of 33rd, 4th B team and ahead of a great many A teams. There was also an incomplete C team, with Sheryl Punter running 12:47 for 77th on the first leg.

The final word goes to team manager Simon; “The autumn relay season has been a successful one with both men’s and women’s senior teams coming home with some silverware at one point or other and some top class individual performances along the way. What is particularly encouraging is the strength in depth of both squads with this weekend’s race being a particularly good example. The junior men’s performance also shows that the future is in safe hands, on the male side at least. With the second half of the WYL competition still to come before the full XC championship season after Christmas there’s still plenty to fight for and the future looks very good indeed.”

Elsewhere, Chris Birchall was once again on the fells, this time at the Shepherd’s Skyline race in Todmorden. In a predictably boggy race, he finished 3rd, whilst Greg Hull came in just over 1:30 behind in 8th place. Despite professing a hatred of anything muddy, James Smith won the Helvellyn Trail Race by well over a minute, ahead of some very good fell runners, whilst Susan Partridge was 2nd in the women’s race behind former world cycling time trial champion, Emma Pooley. Susan followed this by finishing 3rd in the next day’s Ullswater Trail Race, making for a very scenic weekend’s running!