The highlight of the cross-country season in the south saw nearly 5,000 athletes do battle at Parliament Hill Fields in some of the most benign conditions seen for many years at the iconic Hampstead Heath course.
Normally, by the end of the meeting the course resembles a mud-bath, but this year’s event provided testing but firm ground and even the senior men were able to enjoy good conditions in the final race of the day.
Chichester’s senior men for once stole the show for the club as a full contingent of 12 scorers plus a reserve completed the arduous nine-mile course and reclaimed the Sussex 12-man cup after a gap of more than a decade.
In one of the most famous sights in British athletics, well over 1,000 good club runners charged up the opening hill from the start at the bottom of Hampstead Heath.
Nearly half a mile of steady incline helps to string out the field a little but there were still bunches of 20 or 30 athletes racing to get a good position on the first of their three laps of three miles each.
James Baker was leading Chichester’s charge just inside the top 100 with Charles Rodmell and Conrad Meagher next best placed.
At the head of the race Andy Maud who came out on top, leading his Highgate Harriers team to victory, which bodes well for the standard of this Sunday’s Chichester 10k, with Maud on the entry list and probably now one of the favourites.
Sussex champion Jon Pepper from Brighton Phoenix was always in the leading group and finished 13th while Chichester Parkrun record holder Steve Naylor was just behind in 15th, helping his Bedford squad to team silver.
Chichester’s 13 runners all came through with flying colours with Baker once again in the top 100, no mean feat in such a competitive race to finish 93rd.
Meagher had a strong second half of the race to finish 261st while Rodmell overcame a bad patch on the second lap to finish 311th.
Graham Woodward had a fine run in his first race at this standard in 549th while Keith Akerman and Simon Ludlam completed the top six in 738th and 775th. Packing well were Jason Boswell in 782nd, Gary Williams in 799th and Richard Pullen in 836th.
The next trio making sure Chichester closed in 12 runners were even more tightly-packed with David Pike, Dave Reading and Craig Bowdery separated by just 15 seconds after well over an hour of running in 927th, 931st and 926th.
Club chairman Tom Blaylock was still out on the course providing reliable back-up in case one of the others failed to finish but was happy all his team-mates were safely home and had the satisfaction of making the top 1,000 in 997th place.
It means the silver bowl for the top Sussex club will be in Chichester’s hands.
In the senior women’s race, Sue Baker flew the flag for Chichester as the club’s sole competitor to finish 534th.
With important school and club fixtures fitting into the three months after Christmas, some of Chichester’s top juniors decided to concentrate on school races this year to try to make the English schools championships in just over a month’s time.
But Chichester did field complete teams in the under-15 boys and under-13 girls’ age groups.
In the boys’ race, Alex Mani had a confident start. An illness had left him below full strength, forcing Mani to drop his pace but he still managed 83rd spot in a quality field. Mani was probably a minute below his best – and his best would have put him into the top 20.
Ned Potter was next home in 143rd while JJ Staples and Jack Dean completed the scoring in 182nd and 200th with reserve David Bisatt 280th and the team in 24th.
The under-13 girls’ race was won by Sussex champion Bethany Cook with a fine display of front-running with the Chichester’s team finishing one place lower than the under 15 boys in 25th.
Nina Moranne just missed out on a top 100 place in 101st with Nicole Boltwood 174th, Cerys Dickinson 189th, Hannah Carmichael 212th and reserve Rose Potter 253rd.
Elsewhere there were good runs from Archie Sadler 168th in the under-13 boys, Caitlin Brown 213th in the under-15 girls, Brodie Keates 103rd in the under-17 men and Charlotte Reading 60th in the under-20 women.
This weekend the southern schools inter-counties take place on Saturday at Brands Hatch while Chichester hope their strongest all-round squad will be on form on the following Saturday, February 11, where individual and team medals will be decided at the final Sussex league fixture of the season at Hickstead.
Rebecca Moore’s Bermuda trip
While the rest of her clubmates have been racing in cold and mud, Chichester’s top road runner Rebecca Moore has been in action as part of the England team in the Bermuda Festival of running.
Running both a 10k and half-marathon over the course of a weekend, Moore finished third behind England team-mates Gemma Steel and Jenny Spink in the 10k and second in the half marathon behind Steel, GB international and former English cross country champion.
While the hot and humid conditions on an undulating course were not conducive to setting fast times, Moore was delighted with the experience and will be looking forward to racing in her home 10k this Sunday at Goodwood.
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