Runners Ellis and Baker lead the way on the hill

Chichester's Rose Ellis in action in the under-15s girls race at the South of England cross country championships on Saturday
Chichester's Rose Ellis in action in the under-15s girls race at the South of England cross country championships on Saturday

A TOTAL of 22 runners across all ages travelled to Parliament Hill Fields on Saturday for the prestigious South of England Cross Country Championships.

It was the biggest event so far in the season and only bettered in quality by the English National and Inter Counties Championships which take place over the next month.

With many junior and senior internationals on view, as well as a handful of Olympic athletes, competition was always going to be intense, but nonetheless the Chichester Runners’ squad was delighted with a couple of outstanding performances, as well as a number of other athletes inside the top 100 which is considered a benchmark at these championships.

The highest placer of the day came in the under-15 girls race with in-form Rosie Ellis in a fine 15th place, just missing out on a coveted top-10 finish by eight seconds.

Ellis charged up the first iconic hill inside the top 20 and was then battling with a group just outside the top 10 for most of the 4,000 metres course. It was only on the fast downhill stretch to the finish that the Chichester athlete was overtaken by a fast striding group of four runners.

Nevertheless, her 15th place ranks third in the club’s history behind previous winner of the event, Charlotte Browning just over a decade ago and a runner-up spot from Becky Allen a couple of years earlier.

In the same age group, Saskia Gardam and Charlotte Reading finished just six seconds apart in 94th and 98th respectively, with only the lack of a fourth scorer depriving the club of a certain top-10 team finish.

Chichester’s two senior women had been in action the previous weekend in the Sussex masters at Bexhill so were used to conditions which had become a mudbath.

Over a strength-sapping eight kilometres course, Sue Barty in 220th just beat teammate Sue Baker by nine places, in a race dominated by national champions Aldershot and Farnham, for whom Steff Twell and Emily Pidgeon finished second and third.

The senior men’s race remains the last cross country championships in the country to be run over the nine-mile distance and Saturday’s race was not for the faint hearted.

Team captain James Baker used, in his early days of racing, to not perform as well over soft ground, but his development saw the 16-year-old achieve the club’s highest-ever placing in 28 years of taking part to finish a fine 22nd out of well over 500 finishers.

Behind Baker it was very much a veteran’s showing for Chichester with Andy Maynard next home in 312th, followed by Mike Moorcroft 412th, Keith Akerman 427th, Tom Balylock 465th, Dave Reading 512th and John Betts 517th.

Full report and more from Chichester Runners in this week’s paper.