NEARLY 800 runners from across five counties battled poor conditions at Goodwood as Chichester Runners hosted their annual Hampshire Cross Country League fixture.
Gale-force winds and driving rain affected the final race of a day when top national distance club Aldershot & Farnham were joined by strong teams from Southampton, Winchester and Portsmouth.
There was fierce competition in all the ten age groups as Reading, Bournemouth and Poole, Salisbury, the Isle of Wight clubs and Jersey and Guernsey joined in the action.
Competing over a longer course than in the Sussex League, the senior women had to run two short 1k laps before moving into their 4k woodland circuit making the 6k a true test of endurance.
Chichester’s Rose Ellis and Amber Westron, although still under-17s, opted to run in the senior event to test their fitness over the longer distance and, with veteran Jane Harrop, fully justified their decision by helping Chichester to fourth team spot overall out of the 20 clubs in the league.
Ellis finished sixth overall and second under-17 out of a high-quality field of more than 150 finishers.
Harrop was next home in 28th overall and first in her over-50 age group while Westron crossed the line less than a minute further back in 43rd and in the top half-dozen under-17s.
Also making the top 100 was Clare Waring in her first cross-country race for Chichester. Other finishers were Sophie Wright in 113th, Julia Hammond 114th. Helen Dean 117th, Frances Carruthers 120th, Maria Wright 122nd, Rebecca Brown 134th, Sue Baker 137th, Sandra Nemorin-Noel 138th, Karen Miles 143rd, Ally Vasilascu 151st.
As expected the senior men’s 9k race started at a furious pace over their short opening 1k circuit before they embarked on two of the 4k woodland laps.
Going immediately to the front was Winchester’s Toby Lambert, no stranger to the Goodwood area having been runner-up to James Baker in last year’s Chichester Half Marathon.
Lambert kept his lead at the head of the race hotly pursued by a group of under 20 athletes from Aldershot and firmer international Jermaine Mays, running for Basingstoke.
At the finish, Mays emerged victorious by the thickness of a vest from Lambert, both runners given the same time of 27min 32sec, a fine achievement as the senior men not only had to contend with the gale-force winds but also driving rain for the majority of their race.
Ever-consistent James Baker opted for a steady start over the opening lap but scythed his way through the field for 14th in just over 29 minutes, just behind Commonwealth Games marathon representative Steve Way from Bournemouth.
Harry Leleu went off hard at the start and was rewarded with a fine 19th place, putting him well up in his under-20 age group. Next home for Chichester was Steve Davy in 93rd overall, 23rd veteran across the line to help Chichester’s seniors win their division in the team category.
Close behind Davy were fellow veterans Andy Nicholson in 122nd, John Bullard 125th and Matt de Lacy 135th.
Leading the rest of the Chichester contingent was Gary Williams in 159th followed by Alan Rowley 171st, Tom Blaylock 184th, Colin Harley 207th and John Betts 226th.
In only its second year, the under-11 invitation race proved popular with a field of nearly 50 runners negotiating two laps at the top of the course battling into the teeth of the wind.
Continuing his good form from the Sussex League three weeks previously, Chichester’s Douglas Smith finished a fine third in the boys’ race with Seamus McCormack close behind in fourth.
Leo Stirzaker was next Chichester athlete to finish, in tenth, followed by Jake Trafford in 12th, James Bullard 15th, Albie Sisted 17th, Charlie Sharpe 18th and Eden Murphy 19th.
In the girls’ race Gracie Roberts was first Chichester runner home in fourth, just in front of Nina Moranne in seventh, with Nicole Boltwood completing the scoring in 14th.
In the older junior age groups, Chichester’s usual good turnout was depleted by a clash with a schools’ cup fixture and a Sussex squad training day on Sunday, also at Goodwood.
Those who did run gained valuable experience in some very competitive racing, in which a number of national top-ten athletes were in evidence.
Ben Collins was unlucky to be forced to drop out with a knee injury when lying close to the leaders in the under-15 boys’ race, leaving Brodie Keates and Benedict Robinson to finish 22nd and 43rd respectively.
There was good packing from Harry Lyne and Will Kallaway finishing 29th and 34th in the under-17 men’s race, which included a gruelling lap of the senior course. Harry Sage had another solid run to finish 13rd in the under-13 race.
For the girls, Charlotte Bullard was well in touch with the leading pack and finished 30th in the under-13 race with team mate Caitlin Brown in 70th.
Normally a sprinter, Rosie Riedel-O’Brien tackled the 4k under-17 course to good effect and gained valuable stamina training in finishing 33rd.
Chichester’s next cross-country focus will be in just over a week’s time when the second round of the Sussex League will be held at Plumpton Agricultural College just north of the Downs above Brighton on November 22.
As well as racing for team placings, it will be a final chance for athletes to impress the Sussex selectors before the county teams are finalised for the South of England inter-county race at Oxford on December 13.
A full report of Chichester’s indoor Sportshall League match at Horsham will be in next week’s Observer.