Bracing breezes at Prestwold Hall
UK Inter-counties Cross Country, Loughborough, 9 March.
The going was good
The going underfoot was slightly soft but runnable, a stark contrast to the mud that we encountered here last year, and the undulating circuit held up well to the 10-race programme. The rain pretty much kept off, but a stiff cold wind cut across the open parts of the course, including the 200m run-in to the finish. The tough final climb to the finishing field was more sheltered, but this was the stretch that determined races and places. This was most noticeable in the senior women's event, where Jenny Nesbitt ran down fellow international Jess Piasecki, although both bagged automatic selection spots for the forthcoming world championships.
Under 13 boys
The Oxfordshire squad contained 16 of our athletes. Connor Morgan was first up in the Under-13 boys, right in the thick of the action in 265th. Everyone on show today had qualified for their county team, and this race set the tone with Connor surrounded by runners coming in at more than one per second.
The senior women were up next, for the first time covering the same 10 km distance as the senior men. Concern had been expressed beforehand that this was too big a step up, especially for those that had run the Under-20 race at the national just two weeks ago. Clearly, no-one had told the winner from that 6 km race (Amelia Quirk, who wound up 5th here) nor indeed our own Fiona Bunn who finished 29th, an absolutely terrific performance. Cordy Parker was 144th as 266 finished.
Under 17 women
On to the Under-17 women and Beth Darwent led in the Oxfordshire team in 153rd, backed up by Mieke Bedlington in 170th and Anya Bromley in 236th. Cordy Halfhead was our only representative in the Under-20 women, finishing 107th.
Under 13 girls
In the Under-13 girls, Izzy Martin adopted her now-customary tactic of securing a clear run early on before moving through. A tight finish saw her end up an excellent 9th, with 2 girls a second or so in front of her. This caps a great season for Izzy in her first year in the age group. Evey Powell, also in her first year, was another in close combat in 230th.
Under 17 men, under 15 girls and senior men
Three of our lads were in the Under-17 men's race, Adam Ede finishing 110th, Alex Pennington 125th (but only 10 seconds behind Adam after 20 minutes of racing) and Kie Francis 274th. Another trio of Abingdon athletes lined up in the Under-15 girls. Another gutsy performance from Olivia Martin (also in her first year in the age group) saw her finish a brilliant 7th. There was more strong running from Georgie Halfhead (130th) and Rosie Mullins (202nd) as 309 crossed the line.
Selection for the world championship was also up for grabs in the senior men's race, and after a great tussle, the automatic places went to established international Adam Hickey who held off Olympian Ross Millington. Owen Stepney was our sole representative in 233rd as 293 finished.
A classy day of racing
A great day of cross country racing, well done to all of our athletes and thanks once again to the organisers, officials and marshals that make this classy meeting happen. Particular thanks must go to our county team managers, who did a great job both beforehand and on the day.
For those in the older age groups, this event marks the end of another busy cross country season. Many school-age athletes, ours included will, however, be donning their county vests again next weekend in the English Schools championships to round off what is always a hectic few weeks. But then, of course, we have road relays to look forward to – as in life, variety is the spice of distance running.