English National Cross Country Championships, 23 February.

Season climax

The 2019 'national' descended on the Harewood estate near Leeds on Saturday. The extensive grounds meant that no race, even the 12 km journey for senior men, covered more than two laps. The testing course was mainly rough grassland and varied between undulating and downright hilly, and we had the magnificent backdrop of Harewood House and the ornamental lake.

Thankfully the Yorkshire weather was slightly cooler than the previous day (how often can we say that in February) and it was spring sunshine for pretty much the whole of the hectic 10-race programme. All in all, just about perfect conditions for the climax of the club cross country season.

Under 17 women

The day started with the Under-17 women. Mieke Bedlington was our only competitor, coming in 131st of the 220 finishers. The Under-13 girls featured Izzy Martin and Evey Powell, both in their first year in the age group and so making their debut in this event. After her exploits in the southern championships a few weeks ago, it was another mature run from Izzy as she moved through to a terrific 7th place. There was great progress too from Evey, 120th but only 70 seconds down on Izzy – a reflection of the quality in depth at this level. A massive 418 finished.

Under 13 boys

In the Under-13 boys Connor Morgan was another making his first national appearance, right in the thick of the action and 283rd of the 408 that crossed the line.

Under 15 girls

On to the Under-15 girls and another sterling performance from Olivia Martin, fighting tooth and nail to come in an excellent 9th. Georgie Halfhead was 186th of the 362 finishers.

Under 20 women

The Under-20 women completed 2 laps of a circuit that missed out some of the stiffer climbs, much to the chagrin of many, notably our own Fiona Bunn. Once again this age group seemed short on numbers compared with the others, but as is so often the case this was offset by the quality of the competitors. In the early stages, it was another battle between junior internationals Amelia Quirk and Grace Brock. However, there was to be no repeat of the close finish we saw at Parly Hill, with Quirk coming home a clear winner and Brock giving everything to keep going before being overhauled in the finishing straight by Jessica Mitchell of Havering. A strong performance from Fiona brought her home in 15th, only 40 seconds down on the winner. With Lottie Siddle in 78th and Cordy Halfhead in 100th our women were 9th in the team race. Fresh from his pb over 800m indoors last week, Aric Klukowski finished off his cross country season in style, 162nd in the junior men's race.

It doesn’t seem many years ago that numbers in the senior men's race first exceeded the 1000 mark. Nowadays the senior women hit that figure, and on Saturday a whopping 1034 crossed the line. Cordy Parker was amongst them in 99th place, making the much-coveted top 100 for the second year in succession.

Senior men

The final race of the day was the senior men and with it the stirring sight of the cavalry charge at the start. Plenty of big names on show, but it was soon down to a two-way battle, with Mohammed Mohammed of Southampton in the lead but being shadowed by Emile Cairess of Leeds. On the track, you’d always bet on the follower but this is cross country, and with only 30 m to go it was Mohammed who found that slight change of gear to win by a single second. With over 2000 finishers, Jon Bones (1767th) and Dave Morgan (1936th) had plenty of company in what was a seriously tough day at the office.

A memorable event

Whether you are a competitor or spectator, the national is always a memorable event, and never more so than today. Back in the 1700s, it’s doubtful whether Lancelot “Capability” Brown could have envisaged that his handiwork would be put to this sort of use. Quite simply, there was no better place to be. Huge thanks to the organisers, officials and marshals. And a special word of thanks to Jon, who had the club tent up in a prime position by just after 0930 and took it down again just after 1600h, having, of course, run the senior race in between.

A great job by all of our competitors, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And we can do it all again next season when cross country runners from the whole of England gather for the 2020 national in Nottingham on 22 February.