Saturday 28th January 2017 saw the North of England Cross Country Championships take place at Knowsley Safari Park on Merseyside. Manx Harriers sent a fairly large group of athletes to take part. The course was undulating with no big hill but a number of gradients both up and down. The real testing nature was the incessant mud all around the 4km lap which sapped the strength of all taking part.
Manx Harriers Senior Women continued their success and turned a number of heads as they made it to the podium after 8km of mud and effort. The positions for the team counters were 15th Rachael Franklin (a great performance after only about 4 months of training and a long bout of injury), 25th for Elissa Morris, 38th Karen Shimmin and 46th Gail Griffiths. This amounted to a total of 124 points 6 clear of Morpeth Harriers in fourth with Leeds City AC and Rotherham Harriers in the first two places. Caroline Mayers came home in 101st and Saxon Carswell around 216th out of 360 finishers. The positions though are only the end of the story as the places changed as the laps and course unfolded. This of course meant that the team race was very exciting with the eventual destination of the Bronze medal not clear until after the race was over.
At the first checkpoint the local ladies had a score of around 150 points which would equate to around eighth place. Many of the group had a racing plan of a steady start and faster or strong second half so those watching still felt there was hope. At this stage Rachael was around 26th, Elissa and Karen in the 30s with Gail around 60th. Favourites for the team title looked like Leeds City AC and Sale Harriers both big clubs with 2 runners in the first 6 at that stage. At the start of lap two the team were moving forward with Rachael up to 19th, Elissa 29th, Karen 35th and Gail 50th and 133 pts meaning the team now lay in around 4th or 5th place. The final checkpoint saw Rachael up to 18th, Elissa 28th, Karen was still in 35th and Gail was up to 48th the team total now 129 the final destination of the medals would all come down to a last push in the finishing straight either managing to take a few places on the run in or work as hard as possible to lose as few places as possible if struggling. The result of this last effort was the team moved forward 5 points and so confirmed their place in Manx Athletics History. Needless to say the team were overjoyed at their success and hopefully this might be the start of a period of great success for Isle of Man ladies in Cross Country. 44 teams completed on the day with a number of partial teams also taking part so this was a a very competitive race both individually and in the team competition.
Cross Country whilst being an individual sport, can only see one winner, often in a massive field of runners. A big part of the sport is the team element, racing for every place to ensure your team finishes as high as possible on the day. We see little of this in local races on Island due to the smaller nature of our numbers competing. Saturday showed that our teams can compete at the very highest level and also bring home medals as well.
Others who took part and ran well were Macy Hillier who competed in the under 13 race, an age group higher than usual, coming home in 66th place which was an excellent run against older girls. In the Under 13 boys Ryan Corrin made his off island debut coming home in 196th position. The under 17 men saw two Manx Harriers involved as David Mullarkey came home in 24th position while Alex Bell was very pleased with his run coming home in 71st place out of the 146 finishers. Lastly the Senior Men’s race saw the largest field of the day as 676 men completed the race on the day. Alan Corlett who has been struggling with a few niggles in recent weeks and twisted his ankle on the day finished a highly creditable 62nd while Mike Garrett ran an exceptional race to finish 126th. These Championship events do not recognise veteran age groups but had this been so Mike would certainly have finished well up in the over 45 category.
So ended the most recent installment of the 2016/17 Cross Country season. It shows that local running has much strength in depth and whereas in the past individuals have won medals in National and Regional XC Championships we now have teams starting to do this. No longer do local runners have to run for a club off the Island to record team success or compete, as in the past, with Lancashire AA or Merseyside Schools to win coveted team medals. Long may this trend continue and Manx Harriers Ladies team have started this development. The next events in the XC season for our athletes are the English National, UK Inter Counties and English Schools Championships. The Manx Harriers will cover all events so watch this space.
Photos thanks to David Griffiths.