Mud, mud, not-so-glorious mud
UK Intercounties Cross Country, 10 March.
All of the mud
For 2018 the UK Intercounties returned to Prestwold Hall near Loughborough. Last year the largely firm, rolling grassland provided a testing course. This year a combination of soft ground, lying water and hundreds of not-so-tiny feet soon turned pretty much the entire circuit to mud. The consistency of the brown stuff ranged between glutinous and quagmire, there seemed to be more dropouts than usual and rarely have I seen so many athletes running along in tears - this from people who have qualified for their county team. A demanding task for all of the competitors, and not the sort of underfoot conditions you can easily train for.
I noticed no tears though from any of the Oxfordshire county squad, which included several of our athletes. Jack Shayler opened the account for us in Race 1, the Under-20 mens, posting a fine 62nd in his first year in this age group (174 finished). Kie Francis (242nd) and Alfie Clay (250th) were up next in Race 4, the Under-15 lads, and by this time the ground was already well churned up. After 22 minutes of running only 16 seconds separated our duo, an indication of the quality in depth in these championships. The Under-17 women were on next, and after sensibly opting for a conservative start Cordy Halfhead came through strongly to a fine 113th. Anya Bromley (177th) and Katharine Harris (178th) spent the entire race locked together with a single second between them at the line.
Beat the course
On to the Under-20 women and it was already clear that it was a case of "ignore the stated distance, beat the course" as many athletes were running for well over half an hour. Chloe Ridewood (105th) and Lottie Siddle (129th) flew the flag for us. David Bunn is renowned for relishing adversity and certainly had his fill of it in Race 8, the Under-17 men. A typically gutsy run brought him home in 130th, with Alex Pennington in 226th (281 finished). The final race for us was the Under-15 girls and here we supplied half of the county team, our quartet being Georgie Halfhead, Mieke Bedlington, Beth Darwent and Rosie Mullins.
A tough call
This was a seriously tough call on which to end the club cross country season, all of our athletes did themselves and the club proud and fully merited their county selection - well done guys. Thanks also to the organisers, officials and marshalls who stuck with it for almost six hours of quality racing. Not surprisingly, the numbers hanging around for the finish of a classy senior mens race were somewhat less than in recent years. Fortunately, we were spared the forecasted rain showers that descended with a vengeance during the trip home.