The Manx Harriers cross country team enjoyed a stellar day at the Lancashire Championships held at Witton Park in Blackburn on Saturday 9th January. For the first time in the Club’s 24 years competing at this event the medal tally reached double figures, and by the end of the afternoon no fewer than 13 medals (four gold, four silver, five bronze) were on their way back to the Isle of Man. Many of the athletes can now look forward to Lancashire selections at the Inter Counties Championship in March. The athletes enjoyed a welcome few hours of fine weather, and although the course was very heavy underfoot it was not quite as muddy as had been feared.
Macy Hiller got the day off to a perfect start with a brilliant run to win the silver medal in a field of 52 in the under-11 girls race over 1.8 kilometres. Judging the pace intelligently and running strongly throughout, she passed several rivals in the second half of the race and finished in great style to come through into second place. Macy is an extremely promising athlete and will still be in this age group next year.
For the first time in six years the Club fielded a team of four athletes in the 3 kilometre u13 girls’ event. The race over one full lap of the course included the famous ‘saucer’ hill, and all four girls ran extremely well. Holly Burgess was 12th, Jodie Vaughan 26th, Amelia Brockbanks 39th and Aimee Christian 40th. The latter two are relative newcomers to the sport and helped the team to fifth place in the team race.
The first gold medal of the day came in the u17 men’s race courtesy of a wonderfully mature run from David Mullarkey in his first year in the age group. Last year’s silver medallist in the u15 boys’ race, David demonstrated his great progress with a high class performance over two laps of the course, a distance of 5.6 kilometres. Having held back a little in the early stages he eased smoothly away from the rest of the field, executing a superb climb of the hill on the second lap that helped him to an 18-second victory margin. The only other Manx winner of the U17 men’s title at this event was Keith Gerrard in 2003, and David is a worthy successor.
George Dickinson and Alex Bell both ran solid races to finish in 12th and 13th positions respectively and should be pleased with their performances. Together with David they took a hard-earned bronze medal in the team race.
Laura Dickinson also ran very well, finishing in an excellent seventh place in the u17 women’s race over the same distance. George, Alex and Laura will all be in the same age group again next year.
The women’s race, combining junior (u20), senior and veteran athletes followed. This proved to be an outstanding success for Manx Harriers, and for the first time ever at these championships in any race, the Club provided the first two athletes across the line.
Katie Astin had never raced a distance of 6.7 kilometres before, but demonstrated great strength, skill and pace judgement to dominate the race. She ran with the leading pack on the first of three laps before forging into the lead in the early stages of lap two. By the time she reached the top of the ‘saucer’ for the second time she held a 50-metre lead over teammate Karen Shimmin, looking composed and in complete control.
Katie extended her lead a little more on the final circuit to come home with 17 seconds to spare, a magnificent performance in her first year as a junior. This was her first gold medal at these championships having previously won three silvers in the younger age groups. The only athlete to previously win this race as a junior was Katie’s eldest sister Gemma in 2010..
Karen Shimmin’s performance was a revelation. Best known as a triathlete, Karen finished 15th in this race in 2015 as a relative novice at cross country. To finish second this time and take the silver medal behind her teammate was an amazing achievement and reward for a great deal of dedication. It was a wonderful run.
Gail Griffiths ran with all her usual determination to finish in tenth place overall and take the gold medal in the 50 age group by a big margin. It was her sixth age group gold medal in the past seven years. There was also an excellent run from Caroline Mayers who took the bronze medal in the very competitive 40 age group to finish 15th overall.
The women’s team were convincing champions for the fourth time in five years, an incredible achievement that demonstrates the strength in depth of women’s distance running on the Isle of Man.
It was also a very good day for the men’s team, who took the team bronze medal with a series of quality performances. Only twice in the last 18 years have the team failed to get onto the podium.
There was a great race-long tussle between friendly rivals Andy Barron and Alan Corlett following the early retirement of Kevin Loundes. In and around the top ten of the 149-strong field throughout the four-lap 9.8 kilometres race, both produced runs of real quality. Andy opened up a six-second margin in the closing stages to take a terrific seventh place, with Alan superbly holding off former champion Ben Fish in a sprint finish to take eighth spot.
Mike Garrett took 26th place and the silver medal in the 45 age group with another great run, and Gianni Epifani won the bronze medal in the 40 age group with a fine 41st place finish. The other two team scorers were Stephen Garrett in 55th place (12th junior) and Richard Highfield in 68th.
The other finishers were Joe Ricciardi in 76th (15th junior), Andy Watson 77th, Andy Fox 91st and Chris Quine 96th. Andy Fox, who has organised every Manx Harriers trip to the event since 1993, took a popular silver medal in the 55 age group, and was part of the bronze medal winning veteran team along with Mike Garrett, Gianni Epifani and Andy Watson.
There were also three athletes from Northern AC and one from Western AC competing, and they too performed extremely well. Lydia Morris (sixth in the u13 girls), Lorna Spiers (fifth in the u15 girls) and Western AC’s Rhys Owen (sixth in the u15 boys) can all look forward to Inter Counties selections, and TJ Phair was 16th in the u13 boys’ race.
Thanks to David Griffiths for this report