National Cross Country – Parliament Hill, Saturday 21st February 2015
There were records galore achieved at the Saucony English National Cross Country Championships, held at Parliament Hill, London on Saturday.
The numbers entered were already very high and the numbers running matched this. Firstly 5283 runners finished across the 10 Races, nearly 600 up on the previous best.
On a day that was very wet and muddy underfoot, the conditions were cool but dry with some sunshine but neither of these put the athletes off. From the first race onwards numbers competing were high culminating in 2005 runners finishing in the Senior Men’s race over the 12K course. The Men’s and Women’s Championships were first held jointly in 1995, the previous best of 1948 finishers came in 1996 when the race was held at Newark and previous entry restrictions were lifted.
The Senior Women’s record also went with 865 coming home an increase of 157 on last year’s record, while the two youngest age groups in action also saw records. This is good for the sport in general with 433 under 13 Girls crossing the finish line and 395 under 13 Boys finishing. The other age group to notch up a record was the under 17 Women’s category where 235 came home compared with last years record of 211. There was a near miss in the Junior Women’s race 130 finishing compared with last years record of 134.
There were good numbers in all other races with 379 completing the under 15 Girls, 371 the under 15 Boys, 280 the under 17 Men and 190 the Junior Men. So despite the mud – and there was plenty of that around – many thousands went home happy after a very competitive day at London’s famous venue.
Senior Ladies… 646 Karen Frissen (48:39) 865 finishers
U15 Boys… 357 Shaun McKernan (22:36) 371 finishers
1070 Anthony Raine (55:30)
1383 Stephen Lofthouse (59:16)
1389 Matthew Day (59:20)
1594 Martyn Breslan (1:02:31)
1742 Paul Frissen (1:05:47)
1803 Stephen Wilbraham (1:07:20)
National Cross Country Starting Pens and Race Numbers
Senior Men: Pen 93
8945 M Breslan
8946 M Day
8947 P Frissen
8948 S Lofthouse
8949 A Raine
8950 D Tomlin
8951 S Wilbraham
Senior Women: Pen 201
5498 K Frisson
u15 boys: Pen 208
910 S McKernan
Saucony English National Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill Fields, Hampstead Heath on Saturday 21st February at 11am.
Nearly 9,000 athletes are preparing to take part in the race and a small team from Torbay are travelling up to race: Shaun McKernan (u15 boys), Karen Frissen, Stephen Lofthouse, Stephen Wilbraham, Anthony Raine, Martyn Breslan, Paul Frissen and Matt Day.
Parliament Hill will be staging the event for the fourteenth time since a women’s championship was held there in 1950 – and the number of admissions received for this year’s championships are the highest since 1995 when entry restrictions were removed for the event, held at Newark.
Paul Maskell, events manager for the City of London Corporation, which manages Hampstead Heath, said:
“Parliament Hill Fields is the most popular venue in England for cross country and this year is extra special because we are celebrating 65 years since the first time a National Championship was held at Hampstead Heath.”
Ian Byett, President of the English Cross Country Association, said:
“I have been coming to Parliament Hill Fields regularly since 1964 when I first raced there, and I still get a thrill of being at this great venue. I’ve seen great athletes race there and I hope Saturday will once again be a fantastic occasion for the athletes and spectators. Thanks to the City of London for their support and hopefully some newcomers to the venue will go on to be star performers.”
Over the years great names such as Olympic, World and European 5000-10,000m champion Mo Farah, double European Cross Country Championships winner Hayley Yelling, European Athletics Championships silver medallistAndy Vernon, former 5000m European Champion Brendan Foster and Hampstead’s own legendary runner Dave Bedford have won Senior or Junior Championships at Parliament Hill
2015 ENGLISH NATIONAL CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIP –
The greatest running race you have never heard of
Five thousand people took part in the English Cross Country Championships in a cold, wet London park last Saturday. Jolyon Attwooll was one of them
A pair of dog-walkers looked curiously down towards the Parliament Hill Lido, the London skyline gleaming in the soft winter sunshine. A gun fired, signalling the start of the 2015 English National Cross-Country Championships. More than 2,000 male runners were unleashed, stampeding up one of the city’s best known viewpoints.
“Oh my god, it’s like Ben Hur,” said one as the human cavalcade thundered towards them. “More like Braveheart,” said the other, when the forerunners of the brightly coloured pack crested the first hill, then disappeared sharply right into a quagmire-like descent.
It was like a scene from medieval battlefield. Beside the course, hundreds of tents were pitched over a churned hillside, banners unfurled, bearing the colours and crests of running clubs from across the country. What the walkers caught by chance is one of most magnificent sights you can watch in running, and arguably in all sport. But few outsiders, except such random passers-by, get to see it. It’s not televised live. No national newspaper reports on it these days.
Only the bible of the club runner, Athletics Weekly, reports on it along with a handful of local newspapers. Yet it’s one of the greatest, most epic events you can ever be part of. You don’t have to be a budding Mo Farah or Paula Radcliffe to do so – although she has taken part in the women’s event on several occasions, winning gold as a junior in the 1992 championship at Cheltenham.
You just have to belong to a running club and want to be there – and that covers a very wide gamut indeed. This is an event that “equally belongs to the star and to the scrubber”, as Athletics Weekly apparently once put it.
Stars may be in short supply these days. And that’s to take nothing away from the winners – Charlie Hulson and Lily Partridge – both promising young athletes, but not household names. There was no modern equivalent of Steve Ovett (13th on the same course in 1977, behind Brendan Foster in 1st). No Paula. No Mo.
But there were many, many scrubbers. I was one, floating somewhere in the middle of 2,005 fellow runners.
If the start was impressive to watch, it was magnificent to take part in, a season’s highlight for any runner. Even from my vantage point, watching the leaders scythe upwards then concertina to the right over the hill, it was exhilarating. Then, after that sharp surge of starting adrenaline, the reality of a 12km slog around Hampstead Heath set in.
Up and down we went; on slipshod paths down churned slopes, jostling – politely mostly – with other runners, bottlenecking in the narrow points on the first lap, plunging shin deep into bog past a lost shoe from a previous race; cursing up hills; free-wheeling in the dryer wooded at the course’s far end. One man tumbled on a tree root. Another limped off in the sideline. “My spikes have come all the way through,” he explained to a passing club-mate.
A relentless procession of colours, ever more mud-spattered, slogging, dodging, weaving and racing their way around the two loops of the best known National Cross Country courses (it is held here few years). We made an incongruous sight, skirting the edge of genteel Kenwood House, the North London stately home where we’d joked we’d stop for a cup of tea mid race.
The leading men would have had time for a brew by the time I completed the two laps to cross the finish line, roughly mid-way down the field. And there were many plodders more to come. Even after I had made myself look as respectable as it is possible to look when you have worn half of Hampstead Heath for the previous 54 minutes, they were still going. “There are still three out on the course,” one cold official shouted out to a colleague as we headed towards the pub.
2005 finishers, 2,005 tales to tell from the senior men’s race alone. And this year, there were almost 5,300 participants across the 10 age-group races – an increase of more 10 per cent on any previous year, taken from the relatively small pool of runners that belong to a club. That’s without the draw of a big name, little coverage, and preciously limited marketing – cross-country officialdom not being known for its media nous.
In fairness, cross country has always been a tough one to explain. “Oh, I always used to skive that at school,” people will tell you. But being part of this epic convoy ploughing through the heath is unforgettable. And maybe the numbers tell an unexpected story: word about the greatest event in the English runner’s calendar could be getting around.