FOR the leading Stratford AC junior cross country runners, the climax to a long season was the 60th annual English Schools Championships held at Sefton Park in Liverpool, reports Paul Hawkins.
The championships were last held on the traditional course in a 235-acre park in 2008, and it was certainly a challenging course with both hills and plenty of mud.
For the first time Stratford AC had 20 athletes competing, with 17 running for Warwickshire and three in the Gloucestershire team.
The highlight for the Stratford contingent was Alex Adams, who was running for Gloucestershire in the junior boys’s race.
Last year Adams finished 19th, but was confident of improving and so it proved.
Adams was always in the leading group after making a quick start in the 4,400m race.
He continued to look very comfortable to eventually finish fifth in 14:39.
In normal circumstances the first eight runners are selected to run for England in the Home International the week after, but this was cancelled due to the coronavirus.
After the race Adams said “It was a good run on a fast, flat course. I was disappointed not to have been able to stay with the front group of great athletes right to the end, but I worked hard regardless.
“The weather was good and felt I gave it my all and ran well, but tired towards the end.
“My goal was the top eight and I achieved it, but really disappointed that we didn’t come away the England vest”.
In the same race, both Theo Skirvin (282nd, 17:13) and Robbie Gemmill (318th, 17:57) were making their debut at the championships and would have learnt from the experience.
The first race of the day had been the 3,800m Inter Girls race where Stratford AC had two athletes running.
Leading the Warwickshire team home was Charly Marshall (151st, 14:22).
She was followed by Ellen Taylor (294th, 15:20) who finished third for the county.
The junior girls’s race was the shortest race of the day over 3,000m, but all five Stratford runners found it a tough test.
All four in the Warwickshire team were racing in their first English Schools event so will have learnt from the experience.
Niamh Hillard (254th, 13:00) was third in the team and she was followed by Maddie Linfoot (285th, 13:15) while Maisie-Joy Spriggs (312th, 13:32) and Abbi Cooper (317th, 13:37) continued their season-long rivalry.
Olivia Robinson (198th, 12:44) ran her best race yet in a Gloucestershire vest to finish strongly.
Niamh said after the race: “There was great team spirit across the age groups.
“I was a little disappointed with position, however, I will use the experience to become a better runner and I’m looking forward to next year.”
Linfoot said: “The experience was great, but I fell just after the start which meant that I didn’t have as good a race as I’d have liked.”
Robinson added: “I had a really good start out of the pen, which allowed me to hold a good position throughout the race.”
In the Inter Boys’s race over 5,500m, James Mucklow (276th, 21:32) was not quite at his best following illness, but Josh Dobedoe (294th, 21:53) and Ned Campbell (298th, 21:57) both had a tremendous race, with Dobedoe just having the stronger finish.
Mucklow said: “The conditions were awful with really thick, heavy, mud. I was still happy with the run, though”.
Stratford had four runners in the Senior Girls’s race over 4,400m, three of whom were in their final year of school’s cross country.
Georgie Campbell (51st, 17:31) who has another year in the competition, led the way for the team.
Emily Field (140th, 18:43) was racing fresh from winning the U20 Gloucester League title.
She had a well-paced run and finished strongly.
Next home for the Stratford contingent were Imogen Sheppard (210th, 19:57) and Daisy Musk (233rd, 20:17).
Sheppard said: “I was very happy with my run and to just compete in my last English schools.
“After completing all six, I am most proud that I managed to persuade Paul (Hawkins – coach) to get his face painted in the Warwickshire colours in my last year.”
The Senior Boys’s was the last race over the longest distance of 6,700m.
Brothers Will Crowfoot (248th, 24:59) and Will Crowfoot (276th, 25:38) are never usually too far apart in races and this was no different here.
Meanwhile, Owain Jones (305th, 26:46) was pleased to complete the full set of six championships while he’s been eligible.