Prestwold Hall National and County Schools CC

Eighteen young WGEL athletes travelled to Prestwold Hall in Loughborough over the weekend to compete at the National &County Schools Cross Country event.

The event, renowned nationally, attracts a high standard of school and club runner and over 900 athletes took part in junior (school year 3-6) and senior races (school year 8-11).

Full results:

Strict rules were in place for all athletes, parents and volunteers at the venue (Covid Secure) for all racing procedures, arrival and registration. The event was designated as an England Athletics test for physical competition, after being previously cancelled in March due to the first UK lockdown. It was testimony to the organisers for their efforts in getting the event on, and ironic that a new UK lockdown was announced just hours after the muddy fields emptied.

Conditions were wet and muddy with persistent showers making the going slow. The course was a series of interlinked grass fields. The route took athletes out on a 200m straight before turning uphill to the edge of the upper field where the athlete’s family member (one per athlete) could spectate. A long downhill section followed, leading to lower fields before climbing back to the upper fields into the finishing straight.

Starts were staggered with athletes directed to one of four start pens, socially distanced with markers. All races were chip-timed and pens merged on the course after 80m to avoid congestion. With the athletes ready, everyone eagerly awaited the starter’s pistol!

The seniors (school years 8-11) opened proceedings with our talented WGEL U13 girl Molly Sherrin taking to the start in soaking conditions. This race was 4km and featured international standard athletes like Scarlett Williams and many U17s who had run this course before as part of inter counties events.

U15 Lottie Langman (City of York) was first home (13:11), ahead of Alice Jones (13:20) in second. Molly was only 2 minutes behind the leaders. She attacked the course with unnerving focus and was neck and neck with U17 Sophie Dunbobbin (Saffron AC), a county standard 800m runner, coming into the finish. Dundobbin had just enough and Molly finished right behind to take an excellent 21st (15:14). Molly was only 60" behind international Williams. WGEL Head Coach John Stow was pleased with Molly's performance and commented that this could be the "run of the day"!

Year 3 Girls were next. Lydia Sneath was due to compete but nerves stopped her. Lydia is a talented young athlete and after watching the race, with a wry smile said, “I could have done that!” Lydia will be back when the time is right.

Jack Arnold was next in the Year 3 Boys, alongside eighty young athletes. Jack did not stop smiling around the 1.3km course. His fast feet carried him to 26th (06:33) and he was only 60 seconds behind winner Dougal Buzza (05:36).

In Year 4 Girls ninety athletes lined up at the start. Our U9 Eva Prince, in WGEL colours for the first time, ran a splendid race. Taking an early lead Eva looked confident and full of running. She led the field well into the second half of the 1.4km course. Bella Lamb (Kettering AC) finally closed the gap with 300m to go, moving ahead on the final uphill.

Far from beaten, Eva responded brilliantly to Lamb’s move. Holding off the challenge from third placed athlete Grace Collins, she chased Lamb all the way to the finish. Lamb just held on to win (07:55) with Eva taking a fantastic second (07:58). It was a great spectacle and Eva’s smile after the race would have graced any championship podium!

In an outstanding day for the Prince family, Oskar (Eva's brother) took 5th in the Year 4 Boys race. Oskar lined up against a huge field of over one hundred athletes. He ran a brilliantly judged race and was involved in the leading pack from half way after a steady start (as advised).

David Allen (Rugby & Northampton) opened a lead in the lower fields and held on to take the win (07:34) ahead of Barney Burman (Corby AC) in second and Brayden Wells (Leicester Schools) in third. Behind these, Oskar was involved in a great race chasing the fourth placed athlete coming into the finish. Oskar tuned on the burners and got within a fraction of Finley Brown in fourth to take fifth (07:59). This was a fine run and shows real potential!

In the Year 5 Girls, our magnificent trio of Sophia Parker, Sofia Sneath and Marissa Higgs-Smith ran side by side as a team over the 1.8km course. The three girls have trained together at Wasps for 12 months and put that to full use. Working as a team, they made their way through the field after a controlled start. Hannah Lovett (City of York) was first home (08:05) ahead of Miami Pinel (Charwood AC) in second and Zara Bratt (Stoke AC) in third.

Our trio were not far behind. Sophia Parker led them from half way and held her ground to take 11th (08:38) just ahead of Marissa Higgs-Smith in 12th and Sofia Sneath 13th, with less than two seconds separating the three. They were only 30 seconds behind the winner and the girls are all gaining confidence and belief as athletes. This is a tremendous sign of potential and in team events such as the Met League this packing would have scored very well.

Year 6 Girls saw WGEL athletes Jasmine Hall, Daisy Sherrin and Faye Owers take on 79 competitors over the 2.2km course. The field contained recognisable names from previous cross-country events with U11 Met League medal winner Jorjia March (Barnet) the pre-race favorite.

Jasmine, Faye and Daisy started steady. After the first uphill Jasmine was only a few seconds off the leading pack, which included Aimee Keefe (City of York) the surprise leader with March (Barnet), and Langlands (Wreake & Soar Valley). March went on to run a well-judged race taking the win (09:14) overtaking Keefe in the final 200m with Langlands in third.

In the pack behind, Jasmine was running strongly. She has been training hard with John Stow in Harlow and this came through. She picked up places over the second half in a group of six behind the leaders. Coming into the final 200m there was daylight between her and main pack behind. Her focus was now the top five. However, despite Jasmine's strong finish, Jessica Lamb (City of York) just managed to hold fifth, but Jasmine took a splendid 6th (09:42) in a high quality field.

Next for WGEL was Faye Owers (10:13). A stitch made the going tough but Faye was able to call on her experience, relaxing into the finish to make sure she got over the line. Two athletes managed to squeeze past in the final 200m, but Faye held off other challengers in a brave burst of speed at the end to take 16th and secure a top 20 place in this national standard race. With a bit more racing under her belt, Faye would have rightly been looking at the top ten.

Daisy Sherrin finished only 90 seconds behind Faye, but found herself in 50th such was the quality of the race. In fact, less than 60 seconds separated 40 athletes. Daisy is training hard, her fitness is improving, and this showed in her sprint to the finish line.

Sixty athletes started in the Year 6 Boys race. Daniel Arnold was first home for WGEL. The outstanding front three, of Fred Jones (Wolverhampton), Noah Homer (Royal Sutton Coldfield) and Freddie Sharpe (Wreake& Soar Valley) led from the start with Jones finishing one minute ahead of second placed Homer and third placed Sharpe.

Behind them, Daniel battled it out in a pack of eight for a top 10 position. Daniel has been training well, loves his running and was looking strong throughout. However, as the pack approached the final hill, Daniel started to lose his place, but as they emerged onto the flat, his new track speed kicked in and in a close finish Daniel took 10th place, one second ahead of Jacob Duncombe (Leicester Schools) and Noah Willamson (Britley AC).

Next for WGEL was Archie Antony in 19th with Felix Lamm in 31st and Zac Everitt 32nd. These three train regularly with Daniel at Wasps and, like Daniel, take a lot of their fitness from their football. They are all talented athletes with quick feet and positive attitudes. This was the first cross-country race for Archie and Felix in WGEL colours and they excelled in their performances alongside teammate Zac Everitt. Exhausted after the race, they still managed a few smiles and as they progress training and get more race experience they will get better and better.

Year 7 races completed the event and they were spectacular. A number of experienced and well-known boys and girls from across the country competed in fields of over 50 athletes. The girls were first off, with Natasha Wynn and Eliza Bridges running for WGEL.

Both these girls are improving and were rightly involved at the top end of the race with national standard competitors. Natasha started steady as advised and made her way toward the top ten over the first 1km of the 2.2km race. Her track speed kept her ahead of peers Katie Betts (Scunthorpe AC), Rosie Thistlewood (Wakefield) and Eva Barton (West Suffolk) on downhill sections, but she slowed slightly on the final uphill. This was only temporary and Natasha recovered well, with a good show of endurance to finish strongly, to take a fine 6th, putting 7 seconds on Thistlewood, who had led the chasing pack, in 7th.

Eliza was also looking strong behind Natasha, holding her position around 20th for most of the race. This was a well-judged race, her first over any longer distance, having focused on track work during the summer. Eliza (10:26) finished in 25th and despite being disappointed in her own result, should be very pleased with her progress. There is lots more to come from Eliza as we start work on the engine!

The race winner was U11 Met league winner Posie Shaw (SHB). Posie showed her class to take top spot on the podium (08:58) ahead of Poppy Henson and Lucy Bilbertson.

Final race of the day was Year 7 boys. Oliver Brown, Leo Everitt and Ethan Day took to the start line under blue skies as the rain decided to pack its bags after a hard day at work!

Jake Meyburgh (Windsor & Slough) led from the start with Archie Clarke (Wreake & Soar Valley) and Daniel Campbell (City of York) in hot pursuit. These three strung the field out with a big gap developing between Meyburgh and the chasing pack at half way in the 2.2km race. Behind this pack, Oliver was running well in and around the top 15.

Oliver has been training consistently for the last two months after illness disrupted his training in the summer. Oliver came into the last 200m looking strong. This was a good sign. On command from his coaching assistant, he held his final move until he reached the gate with 150m to go. At that point, Oliver opened the guns and flew through the pack, taking four tightly contested places over the final 100m and secured a place just outside the top ten. He was rightly pleased with his run for 11th (09:13). This was a good comeback run for Oliver, who loves long distance running.

Ethan Day and Leo Everitt brought the WGEL contingent home. Ethan was only 90 seconds behind Oliver and gave it his all. This was a good run considering his training was disrupted by moving to a new school and had been limited. His positive attitude enabled him to tough it out and, despite finding himself in 45th, he should be pleased with his run. Leo, a member of the sprints team and more accustomed to track than grass, ran a well-judged race to take 51st and bank a very good, if rare long distance run!

That concluded the event. Like most competitors, this was the athletes' first time racing cross-country since March. It was always going to provide more learning points than finished articles and act as motivation for the athletes and as a learning point for them in training and for their next race. Above all this was a rare and privileged chance for them to have fun, racing with friends and enjoying the simple beauty of cross-country competition! We look forward to the next one!