After many months of ‘building’, the day had finally arrived. An enormous 59 of us travelled to Sheffield for the British University Cross Country Championships in Graves Park and what a course they had in store for us. Hills, hay bales and plenty of mud were the order of the day for the 1991 competitors. After a final pep talk from Coach Lisgo, with the key message to ‘not get drawn in’ being deeply emphasised we watched on as the Men’s A race burst into life.
Following a superb run out in Spain prior to the event, an aspirational Sam Stevens positioned himself at the head of the pack with Adam Houchell sitting on his shoulder. The downhill start meant a vicious pace over the first kilometre but when the gradient reversed we began to see packs begin to form. The top 10 containing Sam forged a small gap to the rest of the field, but not far behind Jack Millar and Tom McGuinness had grouped up with Adam. The punishing course began to take its toll with athletes continually shifting positions based on how well they had paced their effort. Aki the master of this art continued to sift his way through the field picking up well over 50 places to draw level with Jack and they ploughed on together, neither willing to accept one was better than the other in what was their first race together. The vehement competition between one another made for an exhilarating watch, with Millar’s face etched with grit, pain and determination and Aki’s pure focus. These two were not without challenge though as Tom reeled them in on every hill, showing his prowess from his fell running days. Nathan too had provided a strong run, forcing his way up towards Adam, setting the stage for many epic final lap battles. It was hard to judge just how well our team was doing overall, but it looked like we might just get our four scorers home within 60.
Thanks to some of the greatest support our athletes have ever received they continued their assault on the final lap of the course. Was it still too early to consider that BUCS points were realistic? Tom tenaciously battled through to pick up some crucial final positions. Stevens 15th, Kitagawa 34th, Millar 43rd, McGuinness 50th; was it enough? Either way, with all 6 athletes coming home in around the first hundred athletes it would be without a doubt one of the greatest performances from a Nottingham team in many a year…
The women’s race had reason to keep you on the edge of your seat too. In what was the largest race of the day it was always going to be quite a spectacle and with our girls covered in war paint they were ready for the challenge. Yet again we had a strong team and with no set A team runners in the women’s event anybody could step it up on the day to score for the team. Hannah Novakovic looked serene as she set the early pace for our team, closely followed by Kiri Marsh and Alice Reed. The first lap was a logjam with no athletes able to make any real inroads on those ahead, but as the hills started coming thick and fast we saw some movement.
After a fierce fight at Wollaton, Amber Reed and Megan Gildea looked set for a repeat with neither gaining any real advantage over the opening kilometres. Megan gradually distanced herself as the race went with on, showing her recent consistency. The biggest surprise came from behind though with Charlotte Richardson running incredibly strongly. Seemingly thriving in this previously unfamiliar territory she continued climbing through the field, setting up for her best performance of the season. The terrain provided a stern test for the athletes as conditions worsened throughout the race but our eventual scorers packed well with Alice pacing her effort best to come home in 80th, closely followed by Hannah in 87th and Kiri in 91st, all finishing within 20 seconds of each other. A very strong showing from a team plagued with injuries, but showing off the depth of our team extremely well. It was nice to see some true green and gold spirit too as Kate Backhouse, Issie Forrest and debutant Michelle Ruas crossed the line arm in arm.
The Men’s B race epitomised what BUCS cross country is about, with war cries and mocking chants from all teams, it was more like a battlefield than a start line. The eruption of noise as the gun went was enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. Similar to the women’s race there was a bottleneck at the first corner, so getting a swift start was vital and our lads all seemed to get away reasonably well. Having continually delivered on the university circuit this year, Dylan Stanway stuck on Adam Thorpe’s shoulder for the first lap, eventually settling back with Rob Middlewick who was in a rich vein of form, despite injury. The pace was strong even with the deterioration of the course and most people managed to successfully negotiate a particularly muddy ditch, with just one or two exceptions…
After such a big lead up to the event, none of the athletes wanted to be beaten by their teammates and from the many rivalries that are ridden throughout the team, Dan Leng, Bruce Beckett and Lewis Fagge were in a tight contest of their own. Come the finish Dan Leng narrowly maintained his lead to beat Bruce by just one place in 147th and 148th respectively. Fortunate really, as it meant no trees came to harm post-race. The hay bales proved a welcome addition to the course too, giving something to look forward to each lap, especially for the likes of steeplechaser Dan Cresswell. Starting more aggressively than we’ve seen before Ewan McLachlan targeted Chris Fielding and was rewarded with a noticeable improvement on Wollaton and one of his best runs to date. Overall the team performed supremely, finishing much higher than last year with Adam 53rd, Rob 96th, Dylan 103nd and Will Morris 107th.
After a painful wait and watching Jack Millar constantly trying to work out whereabouts we might have come, the scores finally came through. Our men’s team had come 5th! BUCS points! A terrific and immensely relieving result and a true showing of what Nottingham Athletics Club has really become. This just topped off a cracking weekend with such tremendous success thanks to all our athletes putting on a fine display. To celebrate everyone’s endeavours we had a lovely squad meal, followed by a night out in Sheffield. It was a pleasure to be a part of such a fantastic team and to have made such a good trip of the championships. It really wouldn’t have been the same without you all! Can’t wait till next year now… How long till then again?
XC Love – Adam & Dan