Report by: Ben Jones
Date: Saturday 25th February
Not to overdo the hyperbole, but for me, this is the greatest race in the world. The 2023 edition was staged on the grounds of Bolesworth Castle, Cheshire, for the first time since its inception in 1876.
The National is pure racing, testing oneself against club runners from all across England with incredible crowds, great camaraderie and a huge field of runners. New allegiances were formed – our tent provided shelter for runners of 5 different clubs during the day adding more weight to the title of ‘The friendliest club in Sheffield’.
Weather conditions were cool and breezy but the recent dry spell meant the ground would only amount to a 1 (2 in places) against the ex-chairperson’s mud classification. Alex Shepherd accurately labelled it an ‘entry level’ National Cross Country very much in stark contrast to conditions faced in recent years. However cross country racing is always tough: if the course is firm, you just run faster; if the course is flat, you get fewer respite opportunities.
Embarking from Sheffield in our small but perfectly filled coach, Kate’s hair plaiting salon had a steady stream of customers. Coffee was slurped in Hyde before facing the Glossop traffic and nerve-inducing queues getting into the Bolesworth site. Thankfully our ladies team are well-versed in the now traditional mad dash from the coach to warm ups before their earlier start. The gazebo was erected, numbers chased and merchandise perused – although largely ignored. A personal shame as my 2020 edition National t-shirt which has been worn as a pyjama top is now (to quote AG Partridge) ‘perished’.
The gun for the ladies’ race fired at 1:35 with 8k advertised on the lunch menu although 8.6km later measured on GPS devices (a subtle move towards distance equality?). Hallamshire’s, Yorkshire and Northern Champion Phillipa Williams took an early lead with 800 or so runners in her wake. The course was two laps (either flat or gently rolling depending on your hill aversion levels) looping around the edges of fields with grass just lush enough to take a good nap in. Abbie (racing in the striders vest before the opportunity to don the white rose of Yorkshire in the Inter Counties) ran bravely and strongly for 60th place. Our Snowdon Marathon winner Caroline (always good to repeat that) doubled that in 120th place. Great runs from Kate, Karen, Laura , who loved it according to Strava, and Carol completed our team. The team creditably placed 34th out of 93 complete teams. Sarah Astin of Belgrave Harriers pulled away from previous national and European champion Gemma Steel to narrowly take the National title. Laura McNeil of Hallamshire taking an impressive 4th place.
Following the women, Will Barnicoat of AFD provided a masterclass of front running in the Under 20’s race, to back up his recent European Championship win with a third straight national championship: One for the future. Thomas Thake of Hallamshire continued his amazing recent form dominating the under 13s boys’ race. Meanwhile, the under 15 boys was perhaps the race of the day with only 3 seconds separating the first 4 whippets after 4 frantic kilometres.
The men’s race was the finale to the day’s proceedings. The pandemonium of the mass sprint from the start is one of the sport’s great events: the earth pounding in your ears, a blur of colour and tangle of wiry legs. I must admit I had a grin as wide as the native cat in the first 400 metres. Blockages were inevitable with two bottlenecks impeding the majority of the field unable to put in a sub 60 second opening 400m See AW’s twitter for clips of this: https://twitter.com/AthleticsWeekly/status/1629606936105689088?s=20
My good deed for the day was putting my parenting skills to use by catching and hauling up a falling runner who was nearly the victim of the stampede two minutes into the race. Thankfully, the race eventually widened, settled and opened up – the sight of seemingly thousands of runners snaking up ahead a true ego settler.
Jack Gray of Cambridge chopped away from the pack on the second and final lap alongside James Kingston of Tonbridge. The white vested pair traded the lead until Kingston, winner of the Southern Championships in January, proved stronger in the slightly uphill final straight to the delight of a very vocal Tonbridge team. Kingston has had a spectacular progression ‘only’ finishing 15th in the Under 20 race last year.
The strength in depth of the fields was extraordinary. The 100th finisher of the men’s race ran a sub 15-minute 5k last year…
As for Striders, Rob was first finisher in 358th place with Seth shortly behind (although mysteriously absent from the results?) both continuing their fabulous starts to the year. I fittingly finished in a demonic 666th position reflecting the redness of my sleep deprived eyes. Wei never looked in danger of losing his shoes again and comfortably achieved a top 1000 finish (872nd). Great runs from Alex, Ian, Paul and Peggy completed the team. Striders were the 70th of 98 complete teams with 6 to count.
|Richard Adrian Pegg
Captain Seth’s Strava segment says 43:56 which would be approximately 385th place and would elevate our team standing somewhat.
Full results here.
I love this race. Time and placing are largely irrelevant and the effort is brutal but it is historic, thrilling and joyous. Please give the championship races a go next winter if you haven’t before.
For many this was the culmination of a long Cross Country season, however there is one remaining fixture open to striders: Richard Pegg is still looking for keen runners for the Veterans Cross Country in Beverley on Sunday 12th March. We have had great success in this event in recent years but need more runners for this to continue!