FOR the leading Stratford junior cross country runners, the climax to a long season are the English Schools Cross Country Championships, held this year in Leeds.
The Temple Newsam grounds on the outskirts of the city was not a place for the faint-hearted.
Bitterly cold winds and occasional showers of sleet ripped across the rolling fields, while underfoot conditions rapidly deteriorated as runners in the 58th boys’ and 50th girls’ cross-country championships churned up the ground.
The first race was the Inter Girls, run over 3,800m, where Stratford AC had five out of the eight runners in the Warwickshire team plus one running for Gloucestershire.
Leading the way and rising to the challenge of the gruelling conditions was Georgie Campbell, who set off more aggressively than usual to be with the leading group at the top of the first hill.
Campbell seemed to enjoy the conditions and looked strong throughout and was always in the top 15 runners and finished well to claim 13th place in 14.19.
Next of the Stratford runners was Emily Field, running for Gloucestershire, who had a strong run to come in 157th 15.58.
A minute further back was Imogen Sheppard (278th, 16.59) closely followed by the other Stratford girls — Abbie Wootton (300th, 17.14) Ellie Bryan (304th, 17.16) with probably her best run of the season and Daisy Musk (318th, 17.34).
Next off were the Junior Boys, who were running over 4,100m. Both of the Stratford runners were making their debuts at this level and will be pleased for the experience.
Cameron Thomas ran consistently well through the race to finish in 304th.
Cameron Black was a reserve and just got the call up to the team the previous evening so wasn’t as prepared as he could have been, especially as he had been ill in the week leading up to the race, so should be happy with his run, coming 346th.
In the junior girls’ race (over 3,100m), the two Stratford girls had contrasting fortunes.
Ellen Taylor started extremely well and was well up the field but had breathing problems and was forced to drop back through the field but did very well to finish.
Ellie Deaner, however, started steadily and pushed on through the field eventually finishing third of the Warwickshire team in 257th.
The senior girls’ race proved to be a little too long for comfort at 4,100m for Jess Sheppard who will be looking forward to racing over a lot shorter distances on the track.
Nevertheless, Sheppard ran well in possibly the worst conditions of the day with a blizzard at the start of the race to finish her last schools’ cross country in 263rd.
The inter boys’ race was over 5,200m but this clearly wasn’t enough for Owain Jones.
Jones is the county cross country champion, but had a disappointing run being badly spiked at the start.
As well as an injury to his foot his shoe was ripped open and will be in the bin now.
Despite this, Jones still finished third in the county team. Straight after the race Owain made the dash from Leeds to London where he was competing in the British Schools Biathlon Champs the next day.
After the first 200m swim, Jones was lying tenth but was close enough to the leader to make up the difference over his favoured 1500m run.
Jones was actually the fastest runner and when the points were totalled up he claimed the bronze medal overall as well as a medal for the fastest run – despite the foot injury.