An impressive Wollaton Park setting inspired top Heanor Running Club performances in record fields at the English National Cross Country Championships.
Four juniors, a solitary female and a record number of senior men turned out for Heanor RC at the event.
The brand new course was an inspirational sight as the sun shone on the sprawling Saucony-branded start and finish area and the huge number of club tents and fluttering flags were another reminder of the scale of the event.
First up for Heanor was Lily Winfield in the U13G 3k event. The Derbyshire County Championships bronze medallist ran impressively on her debut at the national to finish 85th out of a record field of 431 runners. Lily still has a year in the age category and will be aiming even higher at Parliament Hill in 12 months’ time.
Forty five minutes later and Danielle Smith and Emily Deeming lined up in the U15G 4k race. Heanor RC had two girls competing in this particular age category for the first time in a while and the pair performed well over the one lap of mostly firm terrain to finish 103rd and 221st respectively. Dylan George rounded off his first cross country season in yellow and blue in the U13B 3k event. In another record field for the age group (385), the Nottinghamshire County Championships silver medallist finished inside halfway in 180th.
The penultimate race saw East Midlands athlete and former Matthew Walker Christmas Pudding Run winner Gemma Steel bag her second national title in style ahead of GB international Steph Twell. Among such illustrious company and in a huge field of 708, Rose Leivers built on her own recent fine form to finish 309th as she continues her preparations for the London Marathon in just over six weeks’ time.
The final race of the day saw 16 in yellow and blue compete in the senior men’s 12k race as Joe Rainsford and Paul Mercer lined-up as the sole survivors from last year’s mudbath in Sunderland (Tony Weatherson did play his part on team management duty).
Although Joe was two positions down on 12 months ago, his efforts in the 1,600-strong field on the mostly firm terrain were arguably better as he placed 171st. Paul placed 1,060th and despite being 400 positions worse off than 2013 it was again perhaps a proportionally better run among the 1,657 finishers.
Making their Heanor RC national debuts, James Mee, Stuart King, Shane Rice and Ben O’Connell joined Joe (and Chris Rainsford in 105th) in making up the scoring six for the team. James set off hard, finding himself among the top 20 through the first lap, and eventually wound up 88th as Stuart (213th) lost a shoe in the 400m-long boggy stretch of the course on the second of three laps to dash top-150 hopes.
Shane and Ben probably enjoyed the most satisfying runs among the sextet, finishing just 23 seconds apart in 359th and 385th respectively. As Bedford & County took the team title, the HRC team’s efforts were rewarded with a 19th-place finish overall in the six-to-count team results, ahead of the established likes of Belgrave Harriers and Liverpool Harriers.
In the nine-to-count team standings – adding in Tim Holling (395th), Steve Ashmore (454th) and Simon Lloyd (527th) – the team finished 14th and fifth Midlands-based team, which bodes well ahead of the Midland 12 Stage Road Relays in just three weeks’ time. Ashley Deeming (612th), Lee Perkins (745th) Andy Basey (835th), Carl Hughes (1093rd), Paul Winfield (1226th) and Paul Bratby (1596th) rounded off a successful Heanor RC outing.
The fantastic organisation by Mick Robinson and Notts AC together with the large numbers racing (2012 Olympic triathlon bronze medallist, Jonny Brownlee, among them), the Wollaton Park setting and international athletes on show across the board ensured the event remains one of the highlights on the English club calendar.