Thomas Adams wins as young guns dominate at Kirton Friday Five

The top three at the Kirton Friday Five: winner Tom Adams (centre), second-placed Jim Last (left) an

The top three at the Kirton Friday Five: winner Tom Adams (centre), second-placed Jim Last (left) and Alex Tripp (right). PICTURE: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Stephen Waller

There is no substitute for experience – or is there?

It was terrific to see that three of the top four finishers in last Friday evening’s Kirton Friday Five were under the age of 18, flying teenagers who were showing some of their older rivals a clean pair of heels.

Tom Adams, of Ipswich Harriers, celebrated victory in 27mins 11secs after overcoming the puddles around a rural five-mile route from Kirton Recreation Ground.

Veteran Jim Last did take second place, just 11 seconds adrift of Adams, but the young guns then took over again with Alex Tripp, of the Harriers, registering 27:40 in third and William Page, of Colchester & Tendring, notching 28:19 in fourth.

When I used to compete regularly in the Friday Five Series, it was very unusual for a “junior” runner to feature highly in any race, whether that be at Kirton, Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket, Great Bentley or elsewhere.

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Looking back through the years, the top 28 back in 2001 were all senior or veteran runners, led home by David Miller in 25:49.

Similarly, there were no junior runners in the top 21 in 2003, when Waveney Valley AC’s Simon Millett was the first teenager to finish in 22nd spot (29:18). Felixstowe Road Runners’ Neil Drane won in 26:30.

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The following year, when Saint Edmund Pacers’ Andy Taylor won in 26:46, there were no junior athletes inside the top 15, while Colchester & Tendring AC’s David Gibbon was the leading junior in 2007, in 12th place.

Of course there have been exceptions, most notably Colchester Harriers’ Nakale Solonon (2002), Newmarket Joggers’ Greg Billington (2006) and Ipswich Harriers’ James Powley (2011), who all won the Kirton race as junior athletes.

But this summer, continuing on from the younger trend of 2016, looks like being the one where teenagers, rather than just seasoned seniors and wily veterans, fill some of the top positions in the Friday Five Series – the second event takes place tomorrow night, the Stowmarket Friday Five (staged from Buxhall, near Stowmarket, 7pm junior race, 7.30 main five-miler).

New Kirton champion Adams has only just joined the under-20 age group (on the track), having competed at under-17 level in the past two years. Indeed, he was 52nd in the u-17 age group at the London Mini Marathon in April, clocking 15:36 for three miles.

Adams was crowned the under-17 champion at the Suffolk Cross Country Championships in January, and was 14th in the South of England event on Hampstead Heath that same month.

Last Friday was a personal best for him, eclipsing his 27:30 from last year’s Great Bentley Five.

Likewise, third-placed Tripp, a pupil at Farlingaye High School, has improved in leaps and bounds since he swapped his football boots for running shoes. Last Friday, he was just two seconds off his PB from Great Bentley.

And fourth-placed Page, who like Adams is a student at Suffolk One College, does not celebrate his 18th birthday until the end of this month.

The trend was set last year, at Kirton, when junior Jack Millar, a specialist steeplechaser, finished just two seconds behind winner Andrew Rooke in a scorching 24:57. Fellow under-20 athlete Kieran McMorran was third, Adams was fourth (as an under-17) and Tripp was 11th. Connor Bilner, as an under-15, was 12th.

It seems, therefore, that the young guns are here to stay. No longer just concentrating on track competition, they are taking to the regional roads in their droves.

Five of the top 11 at Kirton were in fact junior runners, with Harry Fitzgerald (ninth) and Joe Robson (an under-17, in 11th) also prominent.

Yet experience still reigned supreme in the ladies’ race – Joe’s mother, Odette Robson, an over-45 veteran, triumphed in 29:27, one of 21 runners to beat the 30-minute barrier. The current Friday Five Series champion, Robson retained her title from last year. The Saint Edmund Pacer also won in 2013, and was a runner-up to Sara Bird (in 2014) and Laura Thomas (in 2015).

Colchester Harriers’ over-35 veteran, Laura Shewbridge, was a distant second in 31:19, with Alice Goodwin one of just two under-20 athletes in the ladies’ top 10. The Ipswich Harrier was third with 31:48, while fellow youngster Jesse Gooderham (Pacers) was 10th.

The heavens opened before the start of the race, and although the rain relented during the event, there were still six to eight inches of water across the road in places.

But that didn’t deter 421 runners from completing the five-mile course, and more than 50 finishing the junior race – the young guns of tomorrow!

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