by Matt Spragg

National XC

“Where’s the mud?” cried the traditionalists as we arrived at Harewood House for the 2019 National Cross Country Championships. Completely dry ground, ridiculously warm weather and a magnificent setting all contributed to a memorable day.

Two long 6k laps for the two thousand or so men who assembled on the start line. And no mud meant faster running which, combined with the hills, meant that the race was as tough as always. The advice beforehand was to get a fast start to avoid any bottlenecks; all very well for those on the front row but for everyone else the first half mile was a frantic head-down shuffle, avoiding flailing arms and spikes until the field started to thin out.

Then the hills started - a long slog up to the back of the course (amazing views from here), before a steady downhill section which I hoped would take us back to the end of the lap; but no, the course went back up for a steep couple of hundred metres before a rapid descent down to the start/finish area.

So one more lap of the same. No letting up because any time you slowed down, a hundred people would overtake you. More of the punishing hills (no enjoying the views this time round) and then a seemingly endless sprint to the line.

Tremendous vocal support on the course from the SHM fans, with Dave and Brian popping up here and there to shout out their usual encouragement and words of wisdom.

Fantastic running all round, and great work towards the front of the field with Nigel Martin in an impressive 11th overall, with Luke, Callum, Gaz and Dan making up the fifth placed men’s team.

The fun wasn’t over as we faced an interminable struggle to get out of the car park and then through the traffic in Leeds – although the minibus crew weren’t complaining as Glenn Savage had come up with the goods, producing a crate of Old Speckled Hen to help pass the time.

The day ended with some still bemoaning the lack of mud as we tucked into a well-deserved curry back in Sale. It was a true privilege to represent Sale Harriers in such a prestigious event. Here’s to next year!

Position

Name

Time

11

Nigel Martin

37:43      

59

Luke Betts

39:10

65

Callum Rowlinson

39:16

83

Gareth Raven

39:42

100

Daniel Kashi

39:59

106

Matt Barnes

40:05

186

Phil Robertson

41:26

245

Ken Hunt

42:06

340

Sam Aspinwall

43:05

370

Alex Bradford

43:31

419

Chris Donnelly

43:55

469

Ben McIntyre

44:32

534

Richard Edwards

45:20

730

Matt Spragg

47:05

754

Paul Rowley

47:17

774

Olivier Gaillemin

47:27

956

Conor Donaghy

49:10

1066

Alastair Knockton

50:13

1076

Paul Barrett

50:22

Nigel Martin

The Armagh 5k is just under 5 laps of ‘the mall’, right at the centre of Armagh in Northern Ireland. The course is all road in a sort of oval shape, but with tighter turns. Looking at the course you wouldn’t think it was perfect as there are a couple of inclines, so it’s not totally flat. This was the 3rd time in a row I’d done the race and for good reason. Not only does it produce lightning fast times, but like no other race I’ve done, it takes care of the athletes. There is not a large amount of prize money on offer, instead most of the sponsorship money goes into getting the athletes to Armagh, putting them up in accommodation, providing meals and just generally creating an atmosphere which makes everyone feel like a professional, if just for a couple of days. The race has grown in depth rapidly over the last few years with ever tougher entry requirements, potentially 15:30 next year!

I arrived on the Wednesday night along with some others from my training group, but surprisingly no other Sale runners. After arriving at the hotel I did basically what you do up until the evening of the race – rest in bed. There’s a lot of time to kill as the race isn’t until 8:30pm, but it’s perfect as the late time is usually conducive to running fast and any wind has normally died down. Lunch wasn’t until 1:30pm so a few of us did a Shake-out run at 12:30pm. For those not in the know (which included me until a couple of years ago) a shake-out run is just a very easy jog for 10-20mins generally between 4-8 hours before the race. It might not sound important, but I’d say it’s crucial and just as important as a warm-up. Conditions were mild, but with a bit of a breeze. The inevitable question of “what time are you aiming for” was asked. I said 14:15, but I was thinking 14:10 was a real possibility. More importantly my aim was to just stick with the lead group, which I’d need to do given it’s usually won in around 14 flat. Training had gone really well and unlike last year where I was past peak shape and actually a bit over-trained, this year I’d come into form at just the right time. I was confident I could stick with the leaders.

After napping in bed most of the afternoon (another definite performance booster that tends to be unique to this race unless you’re a full-time athlete), I thought at about 5:30pm it was time to get up with 3 hours to go until the race. I had a “proper” filter black coffee with 2 hours to go, having brought a French Press with me! We went out for a warm-up an hour before the race, giving us loads of time. The women’s 3k race was underway as we were doing drills and conditions were perfect. Unlike previous years it was not freezing cold, but a mild ~10°C. The breeze from earlier also seemed to have gone away. The women’s race times were very similar to last year, being won in just under 9:00, then it was time for the 5k. Every meter of the course was lined with spectators 3+ deep. Geoff Wightman, the famous athletics commentator, had been flown in again to do the race commentary. The mall was decorated in lights, anything and everything to add to the atmosphere.

The main ‘problem’ with the 5k now is there are too many good runners. The race is chip timed, but there is just a line in a road, no starting mat. Everyone obviously wants to be at the front. It’s been suggested for future races there needs to be a mat or even a B race. I hung back before lining up, keeping an eye on the likes of Jonny Mellor as I knew he’d be on the front. Everyone moved forward as the marshals came in and I nearly got swallowed up, but then everyone was pushed back to the start and I found myself on the front, which was quite lucky!

The k split times are called out, but I can never see where the markers are, so I’m usually running totally blind. My watch gives an idea, but with the tight corners it’s not accurate. Usually a big advantage I find as all you focus on is racing those around you.

Nigel Martin

I stuck to the back of the lead train and ignored all the moves off the front people were making and just settled into the pack. Gaps opened up at times as a select few ran off the front to form a lead group, but generally we caught them back up. We went under the finish gantry in 2:27, which was after around 900m run.  Each lap is slightly over a k, so my aim was to keep chopping the seconds down, running under 3min per lap. I found the 2nd lap tough and drifted to the back of the group, but we went through again in 5:18 and I started to get more into it on the 3rd lap. I found that the downhill immediately after the incline was where people were really pushing hard. Once I prepared myself for that I felt better. We hit 3 laps in 8:09 (3k called out in 8:20, a PB for me!) and we were down to quite a select group at this point, with Sam Stabler (last year’s winner) still right next to me, waiting to time his long push for home. My watch showed I was running a lot faster than last year, but I still didn’t have better than 14:10 in mind as I was convinced that was as good as I could do. I was inspired running alongside such great runners and the longer the race went on the better I felt. Usually whenever I have a really good run, it’s not particularly painful.

Nigel Martin in NI

4 laps were hit in 11:04, suggesting a sub 14 was on the cards, but still I didn’t register that, blind to how fast I was running. Things really picked up on the final lap. Sam in particular was really flying to catch the lead group, who were a few seconds ahead. I got detached slightly and just kept the England vests in focus, just trying to match their speed as I pushed hard down the ‘back straight’. Some people were dropping back, paying for their earlier efforts, but even they were still running very fast. Helpfully this year they had 600/400/200m to go signs and with 400 to go I was giving it everything. An England vest was just a second or two in-front and I was matching his pace, but it wasn’t until I saw the clock with about 80m to go reading 13:39 that the disbelief set in. I forgot all about the pain and sprinted across the line in 9th in 13:53, thinking that somehow a mistake had been made, since there’s no way I could run under 14... This despite it being the exact same course as the last 2 years. I’d just run 32s quicker than the PB I set in the same race the previous year.

Thinking about it after, the confidence I had that I could run with the leaders, the fact I didn’t know how fast I was going, the perfect conditions and incredible depth were what led to such fast times. This was the 29th running of the race, but this time the top 10 all beat the old course record! A world record of 113 athletes ran under 15 minutes (beating 90 odd the previous year). The conditions have been good the last 2 times I’ve done it, just not perfect. Needless to say, if you can, you absolutely have to do this race!

Nigel Finish

Full race video:

 

Race results

Fechin McCormick

John Stalker

JOHN STALKER, former club chairman from 2000 -06 ...died on 15th February 2019 aged 79.  Like so many, John came to Sale Harriers through his daughters Colette and Francine. Progressively he became involved in coaching Primary youngsters and hosted Primary section meetings in his home in Northenden. Clearly a man of immense ability, he was elected Club chairman in 1988, a post he held until 1995. In 2000 he was elected President and wrote in the Harrier , “It’s a great honour to be elected President.  I will make sure our great club is not found wanting as we take the run up to the Manchester Commonwealth Games.” (Issue 36). 

Older members will remember John as the deputy chief constable of Gtr. Manchester who was controversially removed in 1982 as head of an investigation into the alleged secret ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy operated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary against IRA terrorist suspects. It was a huge national controversy in which he found himself up against increasing resistance and obstruction from members of the RUC. He was taken off the case at the moment he believed he was about to obtain an MI5 tape of one of the shootings.

He was just as often in the public spotlight after his retirement from the police in 1987 as he was while still a serving officer; carving out a career in the media as an expert on policing, appearing on crime-related TV shows including Crimestalker and writing his autobiography.

John was one of life’s gentlemen. Despite his demanding responsibilities outside the club, he  was dedicated to Sale Harriers and was approachable,  mild-mannered, sociable and down-to earth. Above all he was an efficient administrator who brilliantly represented the club especially in negotiating sponsorships.

Sale Harriers extends condolences to his two daughters, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife Stella died in 2017.

The funeral will be held at St Peter’s Church, Oughtrington Lane, Lymm on Friday 1st March 2019 at 10.45. The church service will be followed by a burial at the Dunham Lawn cemetery Altrincham, which is next to the Dunham Crematorium, and then lunch at The Swan with Two Nicks where everyone is welcome to help us celebrate the life of a wonderful man.

Family flowers only – any donations will go to the St Rocco’s Hospice where John spent his final few days.

Carl Worthington

In 2014, British Athletics launched the Club:Connect initiative, with the objective of recognising and rewarding significant contributions made by clubs in supporting athletes through all levels of their athletics journey.

In recognition of Sale Harriers getting to the Junior YDL final in 2018, Club:Connect invited our junior U13 & U15 athletes to compete in a 4x200m relay competition at the Muller International Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham on Saturday 16th February 2019. Competing against some of the fastest junior athletes in the country, there was a lot of pressure on our young athletes; especially as the winning teams would each receive £250 for their club.

The U13 girls were first up and included Thea Brown, Holly Garner, Lily Edson and Tia Grover. Our first runner was Thea, who despite being given the outside lane stormed round the track and handed over to Holly in second place to Milton Keynes. Holly powered round the first bend and soon overtook the Milton Keynes athlete down the back straight. Despite being three meters in front, Holly was forced to handover to Lily on the outside, which meant Lily and then Tia had to cover a greater distance than any other athlete. Coming round the final bend, there was a three way sprint to the finish line with Sale Harriers eventually being placed a close third.

Next up were the U13 boys who consisted of Joshua Eme, Tolu Adeyemi, Max Cunningham and Tim Zola. Fortunately, the U13 boys were given the inside lane and took full advantage of it. Our first two runners, Joshua and Tolu were in a different league to the other runners and by the time Tolu handed over to Max, Sale Harriers had a 10 meter lead on the other clubs. Despite Max only being 11 years old, he ran with maturity and was able to maintain the lead when handing over to Tim.  Reading and Black Heath were defiant in their running and were right on Tim’s shoulder coming around the last bend. Despite immense pressure, Tim was able to hold off the other athletes and triumphantly came through the line in first place!

Our U15 fast girls were next to race and included Success Eduan, Favour Joseph, Jasmine Richardson and Natachi Nwosu. As expected, Success and Favour were dominant in their running and gained us a massive lead on the other clubs. Despite Black Heath gaining on Jasmine, their hand over was poor; thereby enabling Natachi to take a five meter lead and easily win the race.

Finally, it was the turn of the U15 boys’ team, consisting of Leonardo Scott, Basil Zola, Sammy Breingan and Tom Boyd. Despite a valiant effort from all four lads, Marshall Milton Keynes dominated the race throughout and convincingly won the race.

For the rest of the day, the athletes were able to relax and get inspired watching international athletes break world records.

Congratulations to all athletes who competed.

Peter Shaw

The final match at University Playing Fields brought to an end another highly successful league season for the club’s young athletes with all six of our youngest teams finishing in the medals. Pride of place goes to the U13 girls who have now won the team title for the 5th successive year.

Our U13 boys recently defended their Northern title and won the league title as did the U15 girls. Northern champion JACK SPARK extended his unbeaten run in the U13 boy’s age group to five races to secure the individual league title and teamed up with FREDDIE MEREDITH and OSCAR SCHOFIELD to win the team race. We also finished 1st B and first C teams. Well done to ED LORD, JOSH COLQUHOUN-LYNN, GEORGE NOBLE, MATTHEW GARDNER, JACK BATTEN and FINN DAY.  JASMINE REED had her best run of the season to finish runner-up in the U13 girl’s race and teamed up with SARA CLOUGH and CARMEN SAFRANAUSKAS to win the team race. We also finished 1st B team due to fine runs by ANNABELLE BYGRAVE, IZZY APPLEBY, ELLIE GILDART and GRETA BROOKS.

Out U11 teams both performed well to finish 2nd on the day which means the girls will be overall silver medallists whilst the boys will be overall bronze medallists. BEN KEELEY had an incredible run to finish 3rd in the boy’s race despite having another year in this age group. Our other counters were brothers JAMES & LIAM O’BRIEN who had their best ever runs. We won the B race with fine runs from ALEX FRASER, FRASER SINCLAIR and TOBY HUNTLEY. The U11 girls finished 2nd A and were 1st B, C and D teams. Well done to IZZY HALL, LIZ SINCLAIR, IMOGEN HILL, EVA KARALIUS, BETH TITTENSOR, AVA BYGRAVE, MEGAN JOHNSON, STEFFI BERNDT DE LA O and HOLLY NOLAN.

Out U15 teams both finished 3rd on the day which means the boys will be overall bronze medallists whilst the girls had already won the league having already won the first three matches. Well done to IZZY BURKE, LIBBY HILL, OLIVIA NOLAN, ALEX JAMES, LUKE CHINOY, WILL PARKER, CHARLIE TITTENSOR, ZAC GAILLEMIN and ROBBIE RIGBY.

In the U17 age group ANOUSKA BROOKS, LAURA HOLE and ALEX ARMSTRONG-BOND are to be thanked for turning out to represent the club.

Sara Clough, Jasmine Reid and Ava Clough

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