County CCs: Men 3rd in Essex, Women 5th

Diana, Bernadine & Kath
Our men's team won bronze medals in a tight team result covering teams 2-4 in the Essex CC Championships at Basildon today, and our women's team were 5th. Kevin Murphy (6) and Tom Phillips (15) were the top performers for the men. Diana Kennedy (12), Kat Gundersen (14) and Bernie Pritchett (16) were our leading women. The day was very cold and the ground hard, with the severe hill providing a very specific test for the athletes.

Our men went into the race hoping and aiming to defend the title which they won in 2008, but three of our key men underperformed, and freely acknowledged that that was the case.  



The team race was a fascinating one. Basildon featured particularly strongly, but only started with the minimum of six runners. Chelmsford always looked solid, with a good trio in the teens. There were lots of Springfield vests, too. Apart from Kevin Murphy, who started on the back of the lead group of 8, our lads appeared to make cautious starts in the 8.2 mile race – at least, that was what our supporters were hoping.

Unfortunately, there was not a great deal of change as the race progressed. Kevin ran another excellent county championship, picking off Mark Sanford (Basildon) and Crispian Bloomfield (Billericay) and finishing a mere 10 seconds down on the fast-starting Sam Farah (Beagles) for 6th place, one outside the 5 automatic spots available for Essex's Inter-Counties team. Tom Phillips succeeded in working his way through into a pretty good position in the mid-teens, which was probably as good as he could expect. But Angus Holford (32) suffered from the stitch (possibly due to the hard ground) and was not suited to the fast pace on a hard surface, and was extremely disappointed with his run. Harold Wyber (33) is also better suited to muddy terrain and

Jim Roche & Martin McLean
has not managed to regain last winter's standard yet. Martin McLean (42)  and Jim Roche (43) ran closely together for most of the race. Jim "never got going" and was also very disappointed, while Martin has only been running for 6 months and thus is learning the trade – and did a fantastic job in closing our team as sixth scorer. Ben Whitworth (45) was also slightly disappointed but had not run off-road all winter and was unsure what to expect – he was closing Roche and McLean down steadily but finished 13 seconds adrift of Roche and thus outside the medals.

In the event, Chelmsford won the team race clearly, by 43 points, closing 3 in 14 and 6 in 38. Their men performed very well. Basildon had been leading the team race despite their 6th man lying around 60th, but one of their men dropped out so they failed to close a team. Springfield's packing (6 in 41) was fractionally better than ours, giving them the silvers with 168 points to our 171. In the event, we only just held off a surprise Beagles sextet who closed 5 in 23 with their last man in 99 for a points total of 172! The fact that Tom Phillips held off Basildon's classy but not entirely fit Ross Clarke at the finish made the crucial point's difference.

We actually had 16 finishers – a good number given the recent weather and flu epidemic. M50 Richard Holland ran a good race for 52nd - down from 27th last year but in a far stronger field. He beat the Essex M50 champion Mike Bridgeland (Chelmsford) by a minute! Alex Chklar (59) had not expected a lot but ran solidly.

Iain Thompson  (73), like McLean, is very new to the scene and laid down a marker for next year. M40 Martin Mack (102) ran very well, finishing in and amongst celebrated veteran names such as Mick Bumstead (Thurrock) and Peter Tullett (Chelmsford). Andy Smith (111) was pleased to get the better of Alistair Holford (116) and Paul Stockings (118). Holford at one point looked like losing out to Stockings when he had to tie his shoelace, but his good finishing speed saved the day. Steve Lambert (131) conquered this increasingly infamous course to his own satisfaction, albeit not without some dramatics, while Richard Hogg (141) was content to get around in one piece as a hard training run. There were 163 finishers.

Congratulations to our 2nd claim athlete Ed Messer who led his Chelmsford team home in 10th place, and nice to see 2nd claimer James Nunn (31) competing again after nasty health problems.

Team Manager Terry McCarthy commented, "Yes, we're disappointed, but that's sport. Nobody hurts more than the athlete themselves when they've had a bad 'un. My job is to congratulate everyone who put themselves on the line and worked their heart out for the green-and-white vest. And, after all, it's the fourth year in succession that we've medalled in this race, so it's not all gloom."

Teams: 1, Chelmsford 123; 2, Springfield 168; 3, WGEL 171; 4, NEB 172

Our women went into the 8K race with only 3 truly "competitive" athletes, in the absence of Kat Sparke (racing in Edinburgh, see below) and Linzi Snow (back at university in Florida). This left us well outside the medals, but the trio performed well. First home was Diana Kennedy in 12th, using her track speed to win a race-long battle with Higgs (Colchester) as they came off the hill for the last time. 10 seconds behind Higgs was Kat Gundersen (14), who is having a good season. And just 11 seconds further back came Bernie Pritchett (16), who performed perhaps better than expected given a recent lack of motivation to train.

With a team total of 56 points winning the bronze medals, our next woman home was Sue Cord (54), followed by team manager Alex Wardle (57) and Andrea Possee (60) both of whom were happy to just get around. There were 80 finishers.

Manager Alex Wardle recognises perfectly well that her squad of Essex-qualified athletes is not strong enough to bear the loss of our best runners.

Teams: 1, Havering 27; 2, Colchester & T 42; 3, Basildon 56; 4, Colchester Harriers; 5, WGEL 96; 6, Benfleet 102.

Several Woodford athletes won medals in the junior classes.

Ronnie Sparke
Best performance came from Ronnie Sparke who came 2nd in the men under 20 race after a hard fought battle with Ben Hunter of Southend with Gavin Lewis in 14th place. Georgie Sales won the under 20 race for women backed up by Jessica Docking in 6th and Amelia Holford in 9th while the team of men under 17 picked up bronze medals with Robert Meadows coming an excellent 2nd and winning individual silver, Darren Southcott 13th, a below par Alex Cornwell 16th, Ben Phillips 20th and a much improved Karim Ali 21st.

Sidnie Sales (11th), Kate Stockings (14th) and Becky Hewitt (20th) ran well  in the girls under 17 race while Liam Blakie (an excellent 5th), James Stockings (9th) and Byron Shilston (17th) also performed well in the race for boys under 15.  

Elsewhere, Bertie Powell was pleased to finish 8th in the Middlesex Championships after two consecutive years in 11th. Conditions there were rock hard, -2 degrees and snowing, and Bertie's vision was badly impaired by the cold. And up in Merseyside, Hywel Care took the bronze medal as he did in 2008, though he finished somewhat closer to silver than last year. 2nd claimer Jordan Donnelly held his hands up to a "shocker" in the same 12K race, finishing 25th, well down on his own expectations.

There was a very fine performance from Kat Sparke in the Great Edinburgh International CC where she finished 13th. She was 73" down on Kenyan winner Linet Masai, 59" down on Steph Twell, and ahead of names such as Gemma Miles, young Laura Park and Katrina Wootton. Kat's sister Jess, unfortunately, remains injured.

Simon Plummer, meanwhile, having won the Wiltshire title before Christmas, finished 2nd in the South West County Champs last week, despite fighting a chest infection and admitting afterwards that he shouldn't have raced.