The last but by no means least of the three big races in four weeks for Herne Hill Harriers young athletes was the English Schools’ Cross Country Championships at the Norfolk County Showground. Maintaining form over this intense month is a real challenge, and this event saw a stellar Herne Hill Harriers turnout of 18 athletes – easily the biggest number from any London athletics club selected for their county schools teams - and some outstanding performances.
The best individual performance by a Harriers athlete came from bottom of age Charlotte Alexander, running for a strong Surrey Schools’ team in the Intermediate Girls race. Alexander was always in the lead group and as the race unfolded was one of three protagonists were locked together with 500m to go, as they exited the main field and embarked on the downhill finish. A superb third place was another outstanding performance for an athlete who is so new to the sport. The third Surrey scorer was Alexander’s club mate Olivia Stillman who, building on her excellent National performance, produced her best run to date finishing in sixteenth position, helping Surrey to a team win.
Congratulations to Wayne Vinton who coaches both athletes and had prepared them extremely well for the fast course. Also in this race, Alex Brown has had another fantastic season, including third in the recent National and second in the Inter Counties Championships, but her preparations were badly affected by illness in the days leading up to the race. It was a credit to her that she still committed fully to this race, ultimately finishing twenty-fourth and was part of a silver medal winning London team.
Very close behind Alexander in the pecking order for run of the day by a Herne Hill athlete was Jaden Kennedy’s storming fifth place whilst also bottom of his Junior Boys age group. Kennedy made a more cautious start, but was running strongly in what turned out to be a superbly executed tactical race. He moved gradually through so that, with 600m to go, he was in tenth place with his opposition lined up and as they tired from their early exertions, Kennedy was able to capitalise by using his finishing speed to move up to fifth at the finish line.
This was an outstanding English Schools’ debut, and another fantastic demonstration that he is a big race competitor. Also in the Junior Boys race, two more bottom of age athletes making their ES debuts, Jacob Harrison was 156th and Benjamin Harrison 178th, whilst Jacob Alley was 235th of the 345 finishers. To fill half of the London squad of eight in this age group is some achievement for Herne Hill as a club and a tribute to James McDonald’s coaching.
Alongside the success of the Surrey Inter Girls team, the London Junior Girls team secured an excellent gold team medal. Herne Hill were well represented in this race, with Eva Holland, Poppy and Rosie Hammond running for London, Lulu King for Dorset and Susannah Hirst, Wiltshire. Holland, bottom of age, produced an excellent run to finish 51st, and was a member of the winning London team. Craig-McFeely, also bottom of age, just missed out on the scoring team, but finished 117th, whilst Hammond was 149th, King, 237th, and Hirst, 277th of the 344 finishers.
In the Senior Girls race, Harriers’ athletes also comprised half of the London squad, and all four contributed to this team’s excellent sixth team position of the thirty-seven teams. The London team included Ella Newton, who committed from the start and was with the lead group of ten for half of the race and held onto seventeenth place, which was by far her best performance so far on the national stage. Two more bottom of age athletes, Zoe Tompkins and Tatiana Cooke were the next London finishers in 90th and 99th position, whilst Kate Brown, older sister of Alex, completed an outstanding clean sweep of six consecutive English Schools’ Cross Country Championship appearances, finishing 113th of the 301 field.
The London Girls’ teams were second in the aggregate team scores Junior, Intermediate and Senior combined, behind Surrey, with Herne Hill athletes contributing to the successes of the two strongest female county schools teams in England.
The remaining two Herne Hill athletes in Norwich were Oscar Millard, 149th of 338 finishers in the Inter Boys race and Laurie Pope, Senior Boys, 174th of 324 finishers.
To represent your county or London in the English Schools is a fantastic achievement, and one that will remain with athletes for the rest of their lives. Winning or a podium finish does not guarantee future stardom, but many who have done so in past years have gone onto great things. Equally, there are examples of athletes who have finished in the 100s and 200s in these races who have subsequently become internationals when reaching the senior ranks. Grit, determination and perseverance will enable an athlete to achieve much. Well done to all who raced at these Championships and to another excellent winter season for the young athletes of Herne Hill Harriers.
Very best wishes to Alexander and Kennedy who as a result of these great performances will be competing for the England Schools team this coming weekend in Wales, another real opportunity for them to sine brightly.