On the run: cross country season reaches a crescendo

Tom Rehal, on his way to second spot in the 53-12 League meeting at Hadleigh on Sunday. Rehal record

Tom Rehal, on his way to second spot in the 53-12 League meeting at Hadleigh on Sunday. Rehal recorded the highest-ever finish by a Tiptree Road Runner in this competition, in second spot. - Credit: Archant

The cross country season is reaching a crescendo, on a regional as well as national scale.

This Saturday, the renowned Parliament Hill Fields course, complete with all its mud and steep inclines on Hampstead Heath, will host the English National Cross Country Championships, always a grand occasion with thousands of runners congregating – usually on a wet and cold day!

The annual CAU Inter-Counties Championships, featuring the best athletes from every county in the UK, takes place at Loughborough on Saturday, March 10, followed a week later by the English Schools Championships at Temple Newsam in Leeds.

Suffolk and North-Essex athletes will be in attendance at all of these events, and should feature prominently in certain age groups.

I’ve been reporting on cross country for this newspaper for the best part of three decades, and have had the privilege to write about many local medallists from the English Schools, Inter-Counties and National bonanzas.

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Kirsty Waterson, Tom Sharland, Sam Jacobs, Ellie Trickett, Laura Dowsing, Kelvin Hardy, Matt Barnes-Smith, Claire Holme, Ellie Sprake, Laura O’Dell, Jordan Rowe, Shaun Webb, Kieran Clements and Michael Bartram have all won medals on the national stage, during this time, to name but a few.

Closer to home, the 53-12 League (former Today’s Runner North-Essex League) and Suffolk Winter League are also nearing a conclusion.

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The fourth event in the Suffolk Winter League was hosted by Saint Edmund Pacers at Nowton Park, Bury St Edmunds, last Sunday, on the same day that the fifth of sixth meetings in the 53-12 League was held at Hadleigh.

Ipswich JAFFA have dominated the 53-12 League in recent seasons, and that has again been the case in 2017-18, as confirmed by the latest set of results.

JAFFA made it five wins out of five to successfully retain their League title, with one event still remaining. They are seven points clear of the Harriers with just six points for a win up for grabs.

Harwich Runners also wrapped up promotion from Pool B, by beating nearest rivals Tiptree Road Runners, although relegation from Pool A is not so clear-cut with just two points covering the bottom three clubs – Springfield, Hadleigh and Great Bentley.

In the individual stakes, JAFFA’s Craig Fiddaman led home a field of 165 men, and 78 senior ladies, to win the Hadleigh race outright.

Fiddaman has enjoyed a fine winter, having also won the previous race at his home event (Ipswich), as well as finishing a runner-up to Angus Holford at the first race in Writtle, and third to the Colchester Harriers duo of Holford and Ramadan Osman at Colchester (third race).

His nearest challengers last Sunday were Tom Rehal, of Tiptree Road Runners, and Springfield Striders’ James Smith.

It was a landmark run for 17-year-old Rehal, who achieved the accolade of recording the highest-ever finish by a Tiptree Road Runner in the history of this competition.

The top six was completed by Springfield’s Tom Oliver, JAFFA’s James Calvert and Harwich Runners’ Robert Reason, while JAFFA packed well just behind with Paul Wain in eighth and Keith Tilley ninth.

In the ladies’ race, there was no stopping Witham RC’s Rachel Sweatt, who finished ahead of runner-up Elisa Bostock, of hosts Hadleigh Hares, and third-placed Laura Thomas, of JAFFA.

Sweatt had won the first two events at Writtle (Springfield Striders) and Ramsey (Harwich Runners) last autumn, and finished second to JAFFA’s Sara Bird at the previous race at Wherstead, near Ipswich.

The top five at Hadleigh was rounded off by Harriers’ Andrea James in fourth and Harwich’s Kate Hodgkiss in fifth. JAFFA had two others in the top 10, in Sam Banks (sixth) and Val Jennings (ninth).

In the supporting junior race, there was a one-two for Colchester & Tendring AC.

Matthew Brayshaw was first home and also first in his under-15 age group, ahead of team-mate Aidan Cahill. They were pursued by the JAFFA double act of Tom Abbott (third overall, first under-17) and Matthew Bennett (fourth, and third under-15).

Harriers’ Milly Presland was first girl in sixth overall. Club-mate Madeleine Claydon was second female, with JAFFA’s Poppy Gaunt third and first under-11.

The sixth and last race in the 53-12 League will be organised by Halstead Road Runners at Gosfield School on Sunday, March 11.

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