A handful of resolute Croft runners were selected to represent Herefordshire in the most prestigious cross country event of the season where the top 9 runners from each county and district in the U.K. battle for glory and supremacy. Herefordshire is always at a big disadvantage in such an event, being such a sparsely populated county, but it is an honour for the runners to compete against the nation’s top stars who were attracted to the event as it also doubles up as the trials for the World Cross Champs. The Sky Sports TV cameras were in attendance to capture the whole of the action in all 10 races. The championships were held at Cofton Park, Birmingham – just a short trip for the small Herefordshire team in contrast to the teams from e.g. Cornwall and Scotland who would have travelled down the previous day and spent the night in a local hotel. The course was described as “undulating and muddy” but for any of the runners who had just experienced and endured the recent Herefordshire XC League courses it was “flat and relatively dry”.
For the first time in known history, Herefordshire was able to feature a complete Senior Women’s team and the team of 8 runners included 4 of the top Croft female runners. The women’s race, over 8000 metres was the third race on the day’s programme with the runners lined up in pens across the starting grid prior to the cavalry charge up the first slight incline before a bottle neck slowed down the progress . This type of sprint start to a distance race is always a shock to the system and it would be easy to get carried away in the stimulating atmosphere of the occasion. Thankfully, the Herefordshire women contained themselves in the high quality field and ran with composure. The team eventually finished 33rd, just 29 points adrift of neighbours Worcestershire – a county boasting a far larger population, and they can be pleased with their day’s efforts. Suzanne started the race gently and sensibly and gradually worked her way through the field to finish a highly creditable 164th just 2 seconds adrift of Hereford’s first runner home, Clara Evans. Zan had made a determined effort to catch Clara over the final kilometre but just ran out of time. Gemma, having her first experience of big-time cross country racing, and Irina, enjoying her first action at the senior level after having run in the English Schools Champs., both enjoyed their day’s challenge and the race developed into a real battle between the 2 friends. Gemma held a slight advantage throughout most of the contest but Irina had her eyes pinned on Gemma’s back and gradually narrowed the gap in the closing stages until she overhauled her Croft club mate in the finishing straight in front of the cheering crowds. Gemma responded vigorously and the pair of them sprinted neck and neck for the finish line. The electronic chips, that all runners wore, recorded the same time for both but Gemma was given the official verdict as they finished 269th and 270th. They travelled home in the same vehicle but I am not sure how the race conversation flowed or whether they had sufficient energy left to talk. Ruth, again experiencing her first taste of top level cross country competition, found the course far too flat for her hill running forte but she thoroughly enjoyed the experience and ran with a smile on her face to finish 288th.
Sue Davies also ran in the event representing East Wales, who finished 31st team. Sue ran her usual tactically aware race to record 246th place as she rounded off another successful cross country season.
Mark Lamonby was one of only 2 Senior Men running for the county but he was keen to participate in such a high profile event. The men’s race is always the last on the programme and the course over 12000 metres and 4 laps is usually well churned up by that stage. He showed true determination and completed the race in 283rd position, also enjoying the experience. The final results will show that there may have been only a dozen or so runners behind Mark but this is not a true reflection of overall picture because, as is often the case in these big team events, many runners drop out in the later stages having been instructed by their team managers that they are no longer required for their team’s counting purposes – 9 to run and the first 6 home to count. I personally witnessed this happening on this occasion.
Andrew Davies was the only Hereford representative in the Under 17 men’s race and he lined up apprehensively at the front of the pen where he was able to smile nervously at the TV cameras before the hectic start where he was required to employ his arms to good effect to ward off the surrounding hordes. Andrew ran sensibly and strongly throughout the 6000 metres race to finish 208th in one of the biggest fields of the day – an excellent effort.
Ashley Robinson’s young son, Jasper, ran in the Under 13 boys race over 3000 metres wearing an oversized county vest and finished 289th in another large field. This will provide further experience for him as he builds up to his appearance at the London Mini Marathon where he has recently qualified to run for the West Midlands.
Overall an enjoyable and successful day for this enthusiastic group of Croft runners who can be justifiably proud of their efforts on the national stage.
Herefordshire Ladies team – 50% Croft