If you’d gone by the Welsh weather forecasts, you might have turned up expecting rainstorms and mud, or not turned up at all. In the event, the first round of this year’s Gwent League Cross Country, held in conjunction with round 1 of the UK Athletics Cross Challenge, unfolded in unseasonably mild temperatures in pleasant central Cardiff parkland, with no rain all day and only the odd puff of wind.
The Cross Challenge attracted elite male and female athletes from across Britain and Europe, with medals and cash prizes for the podium places, a proper big inflatable finishing line, chip timing and a tireless all-day commentator/DJ burbling over the PA system. Westbury Harriers, young and old(er), turned out in good numbers. In every age category and race there was great Westbury running, loud and vocal support on the sidelines and good team spirit in the tent all day. To cap it all, the League re-introduced the popular “finish in the top 10% of your race category and win a free t-shirt” rule, for which dozens of Harriers would would later qualify. Look out for them being shown off in training.
The day could hardly have started better, with the very first race of the day – the Novice Girls (U11) – being won by Erin Davis with a storming finish, to pip her Swansea rival by 1s (pictured above). Estelle Lowe was not far behind in 3rd, and Westbury ended up with 5 runners in the top 14, out of a field of 105, to take an early and convincing lead in the team standings. Well done not just to Erin and Estelle but also Jasmine Spear, Felicity Lowe, Isabelle Hugill and Sophie White.
The great running continued, and the medals kept coming in the U13 race, with Laura Chance and Clemmie Lee 2nd and 3rd, and strong and brave runs behind them from Abbie Woodworth, Maeve Robinson, Megan Orriss and Sophia Bailey, lifting the team up to 4th out of 29 overall.
In the U15s, Dalis Jones was 3rd on the podium in the Cross Challenge (pictured), and 1st Gwent Leaguer, for an impressive 10th successive league race victory. Kate Howard finished an impressive 10th, Amelia Honor 14th and Eva Ward ran bravely to finish 39th and keep the team high up the standings, in a close 2nd behind Cardiff.
The U17s were a little depleted in numbers, and their team was more of a duo, but Rosie Hamilton-James (3rd) and Rhiannon Paton (17th) flew the flag with distinction in a tough and long combined U17s and U20s race, with several elite flyers out in front. Despite being two short of a full team, they are still 5th overall and the Cardiff teams are eminently catchable if they can get a full turnout next time.
New joint team managers Jayne and Jason were very proud:
“Really impressed with the standard of running from our junior girls today….Love the determination you all had – and the support you then gave the adults during our races. A really solid start to the season.”
“This is the first time since the new age groups were set up in 2002/03, that we have had girls in the top 3 in the Novices, u13s, u15s and u17s in one race meet. Great strength throughout the age groups.”
The future looks bright for the boys too. The Novice race saw a good few Gwent League debutants and some fantastic runs. In another big field (of 101 starters), there was an outstanding 5th place for Daniel Pemble, but all the Westbury lads ran well and finished in the top half. So well done to Henry Watson, Tom Woodworth, Seth Harkness-White, George Long and Noah Wilson, lifting the team up to 2nd out of 32 teams and looking like a good bet for a team medal if they keep up this level of enthusiasm and performance.
The U13s also had great numbers and several debuts, in a fast and highly competitive race. Top finisher was George Peacock in 11th, but well done also to Theo Hester, Sam Huckett, Solomon Scott, Finley White and Oliver Wilson. The ‘A’ team lie in 8th out of 31 teams but look set to climb up the standings as the season progresses.
Seamus Robinson led the U15s round with an impressive 2nd place, but strong runs from Luke Shrewsbury, Artie Savage-Swain, Alexander Wilson, Ceredig Jones, Finn Goodhew and Christopher Page helped the team up to a close 4th overall.
As in all the races, the combination of the Cross Challenge with the Gwent League made it difficult at times to work out the positions in the latter, but in the U17 Boys’ race, Abdi Hasan was in the leading elite group all the way, securing 4th place and some prize money in the Cross Challenge while also being 1st placed Gwent finisher. Not too far behind him were James Harrod, Josh Morland, Greg Hayward, Johan Hobbs, Thomas Reed and Oliver Shrewsbury, running well in an exceptionally fast and strong field to lift the A team up to 3rd overall and the B team to 12th.
In the U20 Men’s race, the standard was again exceptionally high, and the young Westbury trio of Aidan Noble, Ben Rawlins and Jack Derrick made their debuts in this category, finishing successively in 20th to 22nd places.
When it comes to the Gwent League, the Westbury Women seem to have the magic ingredients of big numbers, great camaraderie, and plenty of ‘packing’ and mini-battles in the races. Their great spread of ages, and strong running in all categories, must be the envy of many of the other 85 teams taking part.
Team manager Tamsin:
“What a start the senior ladies had to their cross country season at the first Gwent League fixture in Cardiff. Despite the awful weather predictions it was actually a warm and pleasant day, dry underfoot, with a strong breeze. As this race included the Cardiff cross challenge a top class field ensured a good pace!
Floren Villanueva Scrafton led the ladies home in fabulous 3rd place, showing her XC strength by finishing 24th overall in the cross challenge. Followed in by Katie Hughes in 6th place, in what must be her best Gwent position to date. With Kirstie Hamilton-James also having a storming run in 23rd, a welcome return to the ladies team by Robyn Esther Ellis in 26th who has been living in France for the last five years and Sophie Voller completed the first team in 42nd. Then we had Alison Rogers 48th, Vicky Waters 53rd, Emma Woodworth 55th, Jayne Pemble 62nd, Jennifer Stevenson 63rd, Tamsin Elson Chick 65th, Clare Eskell 110th, Abi Hall 111th, Maria Eriksson Hobbs 123rd, Elaine Fillis 130th, Phoebe Gould 135th, Judy Knights 136th, Sarah Thorne 140th, Helen Sawyer 144th, Shirley Hume 160th, Svetlana Jones 190th, Marilyn Palmer 204th, Anneke Bull 218th, Pat Gallagher 225th, Nicola Derrick 231st, Helen Kershaw 237th.
It is difficult to not speak about each team member individually as everyone contributes so much and really ran their socks off. In a field of 301 the ladies results were brilliant. But special mentions to Elaine for her first cross country race since school! Helen’s first Gwent for us. Hope you have both caught the Gwent bug! Phoebe stepping up into the senior ranks and a welcome return to Abi.
On a team front we did fabulously. Overall we came 2nd out of 85 teams. With our B team 2nd in the reserve division and really impressively our C team 4th, D team 8th and E team 15th out of 38 teams. Shows how all that close packing in and having such a great turnout of ladies made all the difference.
As well as scoring individually everyone scores in their age groups. Our V35 team 1st, V45 3rd, V55 2nd, and V65 way out in front. We fielded our strongest V45 team in sometime as well as having our highest number of V65’s take part which also helps our V55 age group.
I just want to say a huge thank-you as ever for the enthusiasm of our ladies team. We now have to keep this up all season! So do make sure the fixtures are down in your diary as the dates have swapped a bit. Remember the Gwent is for the many not the few. All ages and abilities take part. So do feel inspired to get involved and give it a go. Whether you can run one fixture or all five it all helps the team and I promise you it is great fun.”
[pictured: Chris McC on his Gwent debut; Matt E leads the Westbury men; the big start]
Come on, chaps. You are not quite matching the ladies’ enthusiasm and numbers. Great credit is due to the 12 runners who were there, and non-running team manager Scott, every one officially a “veteran”, but it would be great to see a larger turnout at the next races. As Tamsin said above, it’s great fun, there are plenty of cakes and biscuits, and you get to run with some truly stellar athletes – or at least see them very briefly at the start line before they fly away. The English National champion was in the men’s race. He finished 3rd. Behind the elite greyhounds, the ‘mature and experienced’ Westbury contingent ran well, with some notable debuts and returns. Kudos and commiserations also to Nick Smart, who made the effort to turn up and ran bravely before having to pull out injured.
Over to Scott:
“Congratulations to the senior/vet men who ran at the Gwent XC in Cardiff. Special mention to Matt Ellis who led the team home with an excellent run on his welcome return to the team after a number of years in France. Also good to see Tim Clothier back after another long absence and Chris McCabe making his XC debut….but let’s try and get a lot more runners for the next fixture to move us up the table and match the ladies’ numbers!
Results (out of 437):
Matt Ellis 23rd, Chris Palmer 108th, Tom Gange 146th, Ewan Paton 167th, Richard Noble 178th, Matt Swaine 229th, Tim Clothier 241st, Chris McCabe 295th, Mike Mewse 299th, Jullian Bailey-Gard 376th, Ian Derrick 394th ”
When the men’s professionally chip-timed results finally arrived a mere 6 days later, they revealed generally solid positions in the team standings, although the senior men’s team had been revised down to 21st overall on the day, and 11th in Division 1, flirting with relegation. The V35s are 9th out of 77, the V45s 7th out of 57, and the V55s 11th out of 30. Just imagine how high they could rise if they doubled their numbers….
Well done to all those who ran, and those who came along as parents, coaches, supporters and cake-bearers. These really are great days out, and at the heart of what a running club is all about. Spotting and cheering the elegant white-with-blue-stripe Westbury vests in the races, amid the colourful sea of Welsh club colours, is a strangely moving and rewarding experience, as is wandering through the rows of tents and stalls – a sort of mini-Glastonbury for skinny (and a few less skinny) runners, although without the drugs.
Next up is a 2 hour trip to the seaside, on the dunes and sandy turf of Pembrey Country Park in Carmarthenshire on 10th November. Don’t let the distance put you off – it’s a beautiful place and a fast race, almost more like road running than cross-country. So why not give it a go? Nearer the time we should try to offer and arrange as many lift shares as possible, to ensure a big turnout, and there may even be some tobogganing on the dry ski slope if weather permits (at least for the adults…).
See you there!
(All pictures courtesy of Les Stills Photography, Mike Mewse and Carmarthen Harriers)