The Saucony English Cross Country Relays took place on Saturday 2 November at Berry Hill Park, Mansfield where they have been staged since 1989. This year saw some 1281 teams entered over the 10 races, just two down on the record 1283 teams entered in 2017. The Senior Women’s race saw a record 184 entered, with 205 entered into the Senior Men’s race. The event is also now part of the build up to the “Trials” at the end of November, to get into the GB Team for the European Cross Country Championships. Although this was the 28th year the event has taken place at Berry Hill Park, I had personally never run at the venue before and was, therefore, unfamiliar with the course. Photographs posted on the English Cross Country Association Facebook page the night before the race suggested we were in for a muddy one.
Ask any Valley Strider about their races recently and they would likely tell you that the conditions were wet. Ask anyone travelling to Mansfield that morning and they would tell you their hopes for dry, firm conditions were shaded out by a thick grey sky and quickly extinguished by the persistent torrential rain that followed. Thankfully the rain had just about stopped before the Senior Women’s race at 14:50, but this wasn’t before parts of the course and the tent area had turned into a mud bath. Both the Senior Men’s and Senior Women’s races took place over the same undulating course which took runners through trees, around a pond, and over open fields – the men completing two laps and the women completing one lap. All in all, the definition of a ‘proper’ XC.
The atmosphere at the event was fantastic. The course proved to be a fantastic one for spectators to watch and shout encouragement owing to its sinuous nature, not needing to walk or jog very far to spot individuals again at different points of their race. The usual stalls and sponsors were present, along with a “scran van” to provide post-race sustenance (just ask Myra). Most importantly, whilst this it was an opportunity to stand on the line with some of the best XC runners in the country, the event attracted teams across the length and breadth of England who are all passionate about the sport.
Valley Striders had teams representing both of the Senior races: the Senior Women covering 3 X 3 km and the Senior Men 4 X 5 km. In the Senior Women’s race, Aldershot Farnham & District took the title ahead of Leeds City AC and Cambridge & Coleridge AC, who finished second and third respectively. Our Valley Striders ladies were 43rd, finishing in the top third, in a field of 127 complete teams. Sarah made her debut as a Valley Strider, bringing the team home strongly on our anchor leg. In the Senior Men’s race, Leeds City AC finished in first place, ahead of runners-up Cambridge & Coleridge AC and third place Bedford & County AC. Our Valley Striders men were 57th out of 161 complete teams. A big thanks for Tom Thomas who stepped in at the last minute to make up a complete team.
Both teams ran fantastically and placed well in their respective races. Relays are amazing team events in themselves, but this one was made extra poignant, giving club runners the opportunity club runners to complete in a quality event against some of the best teams in the country. This race is definitely in the diary for next year.
Results for the each of the races are found here: http://www.englishcrosscountry.co.uk/nationals/2019-xc-relays-results-all-age-groups/