Kate Avery (club: Shildon) maintained her place at the top of the Cross Challenge standings with victory in gruelling conditions in Stirling as Kris Jones (Swansea AC) produced an excellent performance to take maximum points in the men’s race.
Avery’s second series win was done in comfortable fashion following a bold move on the final lap to pull away from Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis; Lincoln Wellington) cutting the tape in 29:20, 11 seconds ahead of Donnelly.
Bronwen Owen (Andrew Henderson; Leeds City) ran 29:39 for a well-deserved third place, following up her team bronze at the European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon last month, pacing her race well, while Mhairi MacLennan (Helen Clitheroe; Preston) spent most of the race in fourth, finishing in 29:47.
Avery admits she wasn’t one with the conditions today, opting to change her tactics – which paid off well in the end: “It was hard to get up for it when you’re warming up and you’re absolutely freezing but I’m pleased with the win. I was going to sit in for longer but because footing was so bad underneath, I just wanted to just get to the front and be the person to beat.”
In the men’s race, Jones found himself in a group of four in the first two laps and after pulling away on the third lap, held his form to win in 25:33 from Scotland’s Jamie Crowe (Derk Easton; Central), who was 10-seconds further back.
In dramatic fashion, Hickey and Butchart sprinted for the line, with the former taking third spot ahead of the Olympian in fourth in 25:49 and 25:50 respectively, with James Hunt (Cardiff) following the main pack home in fifth position.
Jones, who is particularly familiar with Crowe – a training partner in Dundee – knew what his competition was capable of today, judging his race well to hold off the threat from behind.
He said: “I know Jamie really well and I know that he was in top form. I was starting to worry a bit when he came back to me in the finish. I just tried to stay with the leaders and then went Andy [Butchart] fell off I thought he was gone, but then he came back to me so I knew I had to push on there. It was a really tough field and hard work but just glad to come out on top.”
With the under 20 men being set off two minutes before the women, it was a shock to see Megan Keith (Inverness; Ross Cairns) hunt down the male competitors as she dominated from gun to tape in the under 20 women’s race in a time of 26:14 over 7km.
The order of the top five was well-established early on as Cera Gemmell (Team East Lothian; John Lees) quickly put her claim on the silver medal as she followed close behind her fellow Scot, finishing in 26:25. Olivia Mason (Border; Graeme Mason) similarly followed behind Keith and Gemmell throughout keeping them honest as she came home as the first English athlete in the Home Countries competition in a time of 26:32.
Eloise Walker (Edinburgh; John Lees) made it three Scots in the top four a fair distance off the top three with Amelia Samuels (Wolverhampton & Biston; John Abbiss) rounding off the top five. Keith, Gemmell and Walker were the first under 20s Scottish women’s team to win the Home Countries cross country too.
Keith’s motivation was kept throughout by chasing her male competitors with such a large gap back to the rest in her race, “It was good to have the boys ahead of me and it gave me someone to look at and be able to reel in which helped me to keep going over such a long race. It was wet and muddy but it suited me because we train on this in Inverness, so I was used to it.”
Although Keith caught many men in the women’s race, no one was catching the under 20 men’s winner Tom Keen (Cambridge & Coleridge; Mark Vile) who triumphed in one of the most exciting finishes of the day. Keen was part of a solid group of seven athletes, all with a chance of winning, mostly comprising of England and England North athletes. It was a burn up between the top four with only nine seconds separating them in the final stages.
Keen’s quick finish resulted in a time of 23:38 ahead of Matthew Stonier (Invicta East Kent; Peter Mullervy) who has been solid so far in the British Cross Challenge, having taken bronze in Milton Keynes and sixth in Liverpool. This time he would finish second – his best of the season having pipped Josh Dickinson (Leeds City; Andrew Henderson) by two seconds in 23:41, with the Yorkshire athlete settling for bronze in 23:43.
Tomer Tarragano (Brighton & Hove; John Clements) would miss the medals by a matter of seconds in fourth with Oliver Newman (Cambridge & Coleridge; Mark Vile) doing enough to hold onto a top five finish.
Keen, a specialist on the track, timed his race well to break from the pack and feels he timed his race plan perfectly, assessing: “I didn’t want to get away too early in these conditions. I knew it’d be quite close and come down to the last kilometre and it was good to get away then and stay strong. I would’ve liked it to be drier, but the mud was good because it was so wet. It’s the sticky mud that I don’t like while with the wet I was able to run over the top it.”
Anna Hedley (Fife; Mick Woods) continued her dominant form in the under 17 women’s race with a time of 22:40 over the 6km course. The result never looked in doubt for the Scot who made it clear from the start her intent to win. She also won the Celtic International ahead of Emma Landers (Ireland), finishing well to take second on the day in 23:01 ahead of Pippa Carcas (Edinburgh; Sandy Cameron) in 23:11 for third.
With top four receiving prize money and Landers not being eligible for prize money as a Republic of Ireland athlete, Anna Mason (Border; Graeme Mason) and Meredith Reid (North Ayrshire; Norrie Hay) in fourth and fifth received third and fourth-placed prizes as the podium held a rare five athletes.
In the under 17 men’s race, Jenson Connell (Mansfield; Richard Massey) similarly stormed to victory by 20 seconds in a time of 19:39, a fantastic result having ran every race in the series so far with his best performance before Stirling being 10th in Cardiff.
Archie Lowe (Middlesborough (Mandale); Martin Peevor) improved on his fourth place in Liverpool to take a comfortable silver ahead of Jack Patton (Kilbarchan; Robert Hawkins) in 19:59 and 20:10 to round off the podium. Sean McGinley (Olympian Youth) would narrowly miss the podium in a sprint with Patton, but would claim prize money in fourth.
Christopher Perkins (Birtley; Gary Curtis) took the under 15 boys’ win in 13:42 – a great feat for an athlete who practises multi-events during the summer. Swapping javelins and high jump for mud this winter, Perkins won his second race in the series having finished first in Milton Keynes in November.
Behind him came local athlete Connor Bell (Central) nine seconds off the lead in 13:51 ahead of Jake Wilson (Vale Royal; Andrew Carter) who emulated his bronze-medal performance in Milton Keynes with another third in 13:54 over 4km.
Kiya Dee (Highworth AC) made it four British Cross Challenge race wins in a row as she once again won the under 15 girls’ race, having claimed victory in every leg of the season so far. Her time of 14:55 was 20 seconds ahead of silver.
That silver would go to Elsie Robinson (Saffron; Robert Griffiths) who had an incredible last 600m to overhaul the advantage of Anna Cairns (Inverness; Ross Cairns) to claim silver in 15:15 with Cairns settling for bronze in 15:22. Catching the tiring Cairns was Hannah Ryding (Giffnock North) who ran out of distance; finishing fourth in 15:25.
Dee’s four-in-a-row form was quite like the under 13 boys’ winner, Alden Collier (Chiltern; Nick Hughes) who kept his 100% record this season too. Having raced only Milton Keynes and Liverpool and winning both, it was no surprise that Collier would lead the pack in Stirling, clocking a time of 11:27 over the 3km course.
Rowan Whitworth (Livingston AC) had a close finish with Craig Shennan (Giffnock North) in 11:45 and 11:47 respectively to round off the top three with fellow Scot, Oliver Patton (Kilbarchan; Robert Hawkins) finishing fourth a fair margin off the podium.
Finally in the under 13 girls’ race, Freya Murdoch (Stockport; Mike Nixon) won her first race that she competed in in the series in 13:00 in an exciting finish between four girls separated by only ten seconds. Five seconds behind Murdoch came Millie McClelland-Brooks (Banchory Stonehaven; Norrie Hay) in 13:05 to claim silver.
The final position on the podium was determined by a hair as Olivia Warboys (Kilmarnock) and Freya Campbell (Giffnock North) both finished on a time of 13:10 with Warboys being awarded the bronze.