English National Cross Country Champs

The Cross Country “Nationals” are the biggest race of the year. The venue changes around the country each year to make it fair for everyone travelling, and this year was one of the iconic venues in English Cross Country at Woolaton Park in Nottingham. A course that even on a dry day promises mud and hills.


The storms and persistent wet weather meant we were in for a treat. The biggest race of the season on a great course with fantastic weather and our little squad of runners. The day was epic, conditions were biblical.


In case you didn’t know, Tonbridge AC won the Senior Mens team race. Mark Hookway said they had won a war out there, which is more or less what I said to our squad “You guys went to battle today”. But the guys did go to war, they did battle, and they came out warriors. I’m immensely proud of every one of them.


I’ve shown a few people pictures and vids and they’ve all said, “They’re mad”, “I wouldn’t do that”, “I’d hate that” etc blah blah. Well Hun, you weren’t invited let alone entered.


What’s the alternative? Our kids could have been safely bundled up at home playing Fortnight or watching YouTube or catching up on Love Island. They could have interacted socially with their friends at McDonalds if they dared to leave the house.


Our legends were all doing what kids should be doing, running around fields, up and down hills, over tree logs, through a river. They all ran through what looked like a muddy puddle but actually turned out to be a muddy bore hole that led to Australia.


It wasn’t made easy yesterday for any of us. The 10-minute journey that turned into an hour and 20 mins trying to get in, the parking nightmare. My van got stuck in the mud. It took a half a dozen guys who were warming up, with a combined weight approaching 100kg’s, to help push me out so we could start our journey home. But despite the barriers we all got our kids there, on time and ready to race. That is a huge sacrifice, the expense of petrol, hotels and a weekend that could have been spent catching up on Love Island and eating burgers. Thank you to all the parents for helping and supporting our little squad of superstars.


It was hard to get there, it was hard to get out. But by persevering we got a day that will live in the memory. The sort of race day that the kids will talk about forever. Next time there’s a difficult day, bad conditions, hard course, they’ll all be saying “yeah but remember Nationals at Nottingham in 2020”.


You might remember that last year, the Juniors, won the most improved club in Kent award. That was quiet a big deal, and interesting. It wasn’t that long ago that Tonbridge won the same award. The club that win National Senior Men’s titles. The club that we all know as the powerhouse of Kent athletics and cross country. It wasn’t that long ago they were in a similar sort of position to ourselves.


They did this by targeting the juniors, and it’s no surprise that most of the men’s team that won yesterday…. were juniors when the club started their redeveloping. By investing time and support into their juniors they ended up with a successful club and juniors that became adults and won senior titles. This model of supporting Juniors that then become successful senior runners for the same club has been replicated the country over and over.


The Nationals mark more or less the end of the season. We have some amazing kids that have been selected to run National Inter-counties and English Schools and for them there is one last push. For the rest of the team its about some down time before focussing on what’s next.


We have a busy track season ahead. We have a squad that do way more than just make up numbers, we have incredible depth of talent, kids that are winning not just at club level but at county and national standard – Noel Sutton


Alex Dack


I think that my race at the National Cross Country Championships went exceptionally well and at the same time was a great experience that I will use to drive me on. The race itself had a packed start line and it was hard to make sure that you got out ahead of the majority of the runners to ensure that you did not get stuck in the middle of the pack.


Despite being a very boggy course in places, parts of the course were rather dry, making my decision to wear 12mm spikes the correct one. Luckily, the course was hilly and muddy making it fun and exciting to run on. I was happy with my positioning at the start of the race and I sat about 4th leading the rest of the field to the 3 runners that had got away. In the middle part of the race I tried to relax and keep my positioning which I did quiet well.


By the bottom of the final hill I sat in 6th place on the shoulder of 5th. The boy in 5th and I were catching 4th place up the hill and by the top of the hill I was in 5th place and had my eyes set on 4th. I managed to take 4th place which I was very happy with as my main aim was to come in the top 10. The overall experience of the Nationals was great.


Lola Sutton


Before Friday, 21st of February, I had to make the decision if I wanted to run Nationals in Nottingham. This was a difficult decision for me because I had developed an injury in my knee the week before and it wasn’t getting any better. As much as I iced it and rested it the pain wouldn’t go when I was training. In the end I made the choice to go and race and not care where I came, what time I did or if I raced well. I was just going to have a brilliant experience, doing the thing I love the most.


Me and my dad travelled up Friday and stayed over till Saturday morning. The day of the race (22nd of Feb) I didn’t have the greatest sleep, but I didn’t really mind too much, we had breakfast, got washed and dressed and then we were already to go and have an exciting day.


When we left it was supposed to be a half an hour drive to the course but, in the end it up an hour and a half and we nearly missed the first race of a team mate which is a problem because my dad is the coach.


When we got there I sort of knew what to expect in how the course would be….but not to this extent! We watched the under 15 boys race which Jake Stevens (a team mate) was running in, so I could see what they were running as I was going to do the same thing, it was mental! As soon as the gun blew water/mud sprayed into their faces. Walking around I had given up trying to keep my shoes dry as it was virtually impossible.


An hour and a bit before my race I started my warmup and drills and my knee was feeling okay but not the best it can be. My race started at 12:40pm and I was all ready to go. I squashed on to the start line with the Tonbridge girls, who I regularly compete with at the Kent league races. When the gun blew, I was off, I felt really good and strong running up the first hill and my knee wasn’t hurting. On my course were two big muddy lakes that were knee deep; a log, as tall as my hip, we had to run over and a patch of sticky, deep, thick mud(which was the worse bit).


Coming round on the second lap both my knees started to hurt very badly and I was really struggling. I was so close to dropping out and giving up but I thought what a way to ruin an amazing weekend of doing the thing you love the most so my determination and grit got me through the race and limping over the finish line.


I really enjoyed the experience of running in such a big race as I’ve only done nationals once. I am still recovering and resting my knees as the pain hasn’t gone away yet but I’ve learnt a lot and grown in confidence in myself a little more.
Franklin Shepherd


This is the first time I have run in Nationals since Primary School so I was very excited. We went to Nottingham the night before and stayed in a hotel near the course. It should have meant we got there early but instead it took us more than an hour to get into Wollaton Park.


Once we finally got in, there were deer standing around watching all the cars and people. The wind made it feel colder than it was. We didn’t put the tent up because we were so late and there were 40mph winds. I walked the course with my U13 team mates, Alex Dack and Riley Maisey. It was very muddy and in some places the water was up to our knees.


Our race was 3km, one small lap and one big lap. It started raining as soon as we lined up on the start line. I was freezing and tried to concentrate on getting off to a good start as there were so many runners. I was happy with my start and then it literally went downhill for me after 200m! Annoyingly, I had pain in my knee and ankle, followed by a stitch! The mud stuck to everything making our legs and shoes feel very heavy.


Jumping over the log at one point was really tough but there were lots of people cheering us all on. I saw a few boys in front of me pull out and for a moment I did think about it too. On the last lap lots of people were passing me which was frustrating so I decided just to stick on someone’s shoulder and go with them for the rest of the race.


This was overall the hardest race I have ever run because of how I was feeling. I ended up finishing 184th/384. I was disappointed with this as had hoped to finish much higher up the field. On the positive side, my team mates had great races. Alex Dack finishing an outstanding 4th and Riley Maisey 73rd.


Next time I will get there really early so I don’t feel stressed from rushing around and have plenty of time to do more warming up. At the time, I wasn’t enjoying it but looking back now, the muddy parts were so much fun, the steak the night before was perfect and the race hoody is always a bonus.


Natalia Austin


It was an amazing experience! I loved the race and the water and all the mud made it even better. The journey there was bad but it was worth it. It was one of the best cross countries I’ve ever done! Everyone did great and, in the end, I came 21st. I cant wait to hopefully do it next year.
Riley Maisey


I felt I had ran my race well. I started good and got out towards the front. I felt strong when coming down the first hill at the start. I was slowly overtaking person by person. I was very focused on my posture and to keep my arms moving. Id got a cold shock as I went through the water. I drove up the hill and then back down again still overtaking some people as I came down. Then I had reached the place that I started to tire. I slowed a little but kept working. When I reached the log, I hurdled it, nearly falling over. I kept my balance and then powered through. I hit the really thick mud I had to be light on my feet but this slowed me down. I picked up the pace to the top of the hill. Finally I put it all in and went for the finish. I was very pleased with my race and felt very strong.


Millie Dack


The day started with the most stressful drive ever. The traffic was so bad, a drive that was meant to take 30 minutes ended up taking an hour and a half and we had to get out of the car and walk for about 15 minutes. By this point it was only about an hour until my race and I still had to warm up, get my chip and number on and get my spikes on. I was really panicking. I didn’t even have a chance to walk the course so I had no idea what was in store for me and I didn’t expect it to be that muddy. As I got to the tent and was ready to race I was incredibly nervous. I didn’t know the course and how hard it was going to be. I think that this was a good thing though because it meant that I paced the race better than I often do.


The gun went, we were off flying up the hill and through the massive puddles like a bunch of hooligans. The puddles were freezing and my feet were as cold as they had ever been as I ran straight through them. The first hill was tough as it was hard to see where you were going with all of the people running around you. I made it around the corner and had got myself into a good position. At the top of the hill I was in about 100th place and I flew down the hill and around the bend. I started to make my way through the field of around 350 runners and by the time I went around for the second time I made it to 70th.


Now came the last big lap, I had no idea that I would have to jump over a log and run through so much mud. I actually though that my shoe could come off. I was still making my way through the pack and had made it to about 55th. We came around to the finish for the last time and I had promised my mum just before the start of the race that I would sprint at the end. We all know that this isn’t my strong point but I did it. Coming down the last hill I overtook about 6 people and nearly caught the group in front of me.


As soon as I crossed the line, I was so happy as I knew I had beaten people that I hadn’t done for the whole season. I was so overwhelmed with happiness. Natalia and I congratulated each other and had lost of photos taken.


Seeing that lots of people had print out copies of the results I couldn’t wait to find out where I had come. Expecting to be somewhere in the 60s I couldn’t believe it when I saw that I had come 49th out of 357. This was by far my best race of the season and I was so pleased that I had come top 50 considering I had only just managed to do that at Parliament Hill. All the hard work had paid off.



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